After Pisa we drove about half an hour inland towards our next stop, the Roman city of Lucca, still in Tuscany, sited alongside the Serchio river, the 3rd longest river in Italy. We didn’t fancy trying to park the motorhome too near the busy city centre so opted for a campervan sosta nearby where Buzz could rest in peace while we went off to explore.
The heart of the city of Lucca is completely surrounded by huge 16th and 17th century ramparts forming a high wall around the entire perimeter thereby providing a wonderful tree-lined, broad promenade perfect for cycling and walking. With this in mind we got the bikes off and were soon cycling around the leafy pathway along with many other people out for a stroll, cycle, jog or just enjoying sitting on one of the many benches amongst the plane, lime, ilex and chestnut trees, overlooking the green lawns on one side and buildings on the other. We cycled the whole 4km perimeter, occasionally going down one of the steep pathways into the city if we saw something of interest, otherwise just pedalling along looking into gardens, the streets below and the arches and tunnels along the walls. On the outside of the wall, wide green lawns form a moat like surround which in the past were deliberately kept clear so that attackers could be easily be seen approaching, taking away the possibility of them hiding in the undergrowth.
It wasn’t long into our ride when we spotted a street market below and being interested in the possible foodie delights on offer went down the steep slope to the bottom, chaining up the bikes at the side of the road so we could take a closer look. There were a mixture of offerings including some nice training shoes which caught Julian’s eye, but mostly it was food, which caught mine. The first stand we came across was selling a huge selection of breads, pastries and other sweet and sugary delights, strangely with the odd bottle of sweet Sicilian wine thrown in for good measure. We have to pace ourselves indulging in these very tempting treats so had to make do with just gazing longingly at them and walking away empty handed. We did sample some delicious pistachio paste though on another stand with little squares of bread you could spread on a whole range of spreads and jams including fig (Julian’s favourite), apricot and peach. The temptation continued with more stalls selling wheels of pecorino cheese, giant focaccias which could either be bought whole or sliced to size, bright red and green chilli peppers, enormous fresh olives and the strange looking but tasty scamorzza cheeses hanging up on strings.
Tearing ourselves away we continued our bike ride passing through several of the covered gatehouses which sit atop the gateways through the walls into the city below (of which there are 8). There was definitely a very autumnal feel in the air and although it was warm, it was also breezy and the orange leaves that had already fallen were swirling around in the air as we cycled passed. There were a handful of artists out on the promenade, set up with easels and paints working on their masterpieces depicting some of the grand old houses and their peachy, yellow exteriors, colourful window boxes and well kept gardens. The famous composer Puccini was born here in Lucca and we passed the actual home where he was born, which has now been turned into a museum celebrating his life and musical achievements. Shortly afterwards we had completed a full circle of the city and went down to discover more of the streets inside.
We’d both worked up a bit of a thirst so we found a nice looking cafe with tables outside in the sun as it wasn’t too hot and ordered a couple of glasses of the local white wine, Colline Lucchesi, produced in the hilly vineyards surrounding the city. Hunger soon followed and we sorted that out with a ham and cheese focaccia which hit the spot perfectly. We had thought we were sitting in a peaceful piazza but after a while car after car turned up, parking in every possible inch of space and we soon realised we were sitting right outside a school squashed into the unlikeliest of small corners on the square. Dozens of small children dressed in blue uniforms and chatting animatedly started pouring out of the gates, being scooped up and driven off or in the case of one little girl who could only have been about four years old, perched on the front of a scooter and sped off without any restraint, helmet or anything else! There were several oohs and aahs from a table of Americans sitting next to us and exclamations of ‘how cute’ which it sort of was, but also potentially quite dangerous.
After lunch we set off along the cobblestone streets towards the main shopping street and heartbeat of the city – Il Fillungo – an ancient, narrow street leading off to many other streets, passing shops, cafes, churches, museums and historical buildings. On the right a large open archway led onto the famed Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, a large oval plaza built on the site of the old Roman amphitheatre which no longer exists. Retaining its shape, the backs of the buildings sit along the same lines as the original theatre of which only fragments of its walls remain. The large archways on the cardinal points are a reminder of the original openings where the gladiators and beasts would be sent through to fight for the entertainment of the spectators. These days, surrounded by tall medieval houses of different heights, painted in shades of yellow with green shutters it paints a pretty picture with the buildings at the base occupied by bistros, shops and cafes and the centre of the plaza is used to host markets, festivities and events year round.
There is definitely lots to like about Lucca. It’s quite small but that makes it easy to explore without being too daunting or feeling that you’ve missed things out, and the walk along the walls really adds another dimension to what could otherwise be just another Italian city. Visiting at the beginning of autumn with the changing colour of the leaves was very picturesque and spring and summer would probably be even better.