Nestled at the foot of the majestic Apuan Alps, Lucca is a tiny medieval town in northern Tuscany with big personality.
Despite its modest size, Lucca has it all. Expansive piazzas. Majestic towers. And stunning churches. The Church of San Michele in Foro is one of many examples of the city’s unique Pisan-Luccan architecture. The clean, distinct lines of ancient Greek buildings inspired this Romanesque and Gothic mix. This church is particularly interesting for the Romanic statue of Archangel Michele on top. Back in the day, priests climbed a hidden staircase to the roof to “flap” the angel’s wings to awestruck believers down below. Ah, the many “miracles” of religion.
In Old Town, we strolled past handsome cafés and welcoming panificios. We marveled at historical storefronts featuring exquisite original signage from the 1800s. Open-air markets displayed precise, symmetrical rows of fresh, colorful produce. In local eatery, Pepa, a nifty paper bag o’ chips for just 2€ let us “stab” tasty, hand-cooked fries with a pick-up-stick utensil. Perfect for continuing our wanders.
Adding to Lucca’s charm are locals riding old-fashioned bicycles everywhere.
Riders range from fashionable young women to dapper older gentlemen. And everyone in between. Nuns, students, moms with children. They’re all peddling off, each with a place to go and a different story to tell. Spotting two local police officers at Caffe Monica (always a good sign), we popped in for an afternoon cappuccino. Later, we learned that our frothy drink of choice is strictly a morning time ritual. Italians would never drink a cappuccinos after a meal (they believe the milk interferes with digestion.) Oops… now we know.
By far, our favorite feature of Lucca is its beautifully preserved Renaissance-era walls.
Despite the city’s growth and modernization all these years, the walls have remained intact. Eventually, they were transformed into an expansive pedestrian promenade. Here, locals (and tourists) can enjoy long walks, take a nap in the grassy parks or like us, rent a bike and circle the city’s entire perimeter.
Like Spain, Italy has its own evening promenade called La Passeggiata. When the sun sets, locals of all ages take to the Old Town streets. Stores remain open and lit up for optimal window shopping. In a tiny wine shop, Arte e gusto, owner Giuseppe graciously treated us to mini focaccia bread sandwiches and his homemade wine, a blend of Sangiovese and Syrah grapes. Amazing.
During our stay in Lucca, we spent most evenings in at our modest guesthouse. There was something comforting about the ritual of cooking, something we hadn’t done much while traveling. One evening, we prepared a delicious prosciutto tortellini with fresh carrots, zucchini and broccoli from the local market. Opening a bottle of red wine we brought with us from Cinque Terre, we toasted charming Lucca and the continuation of our vagabonding adventures in Italy.