Lucca – The City of 100 Churches
Lucca is a Tuscan town which is less than 20 minutes by train from Pisa. Whether you are arriving by train or car the first thing you’ll notice are the fields of sunflowers, a swathe of yellow against the green hills. It is known as ‘the city of 100 churches‘. There certainly are a lot and all are very beautiful.
Lucca’s 2 Parts
It is split into 2 parts. The old town is entirely enclosed by the Renaissance era city walls. They are 4.2 kms in length and almost 30 metres wide with 6 main entrance gates. They are the perfect place to hike or cycle with beautiful views of old Lucca with its historical buildings, gardens and towers on one side and the Tuscan hills and Apuan Alps on the other.
There are many places to rent all kinds of bicycles in Lucca. Part of the walk is under a magical canopy of trees. There are many places to sit in the sun or the shade and some of the old military buildings have been turned into bars and cafes. It is also a lovely place for a walk in the evening to watch the sun set.
There are places to stop off on your walk or cycle around the walls. I spotted the lily pond of the botanical gardens and decided it looked worth a visit. It was. It was celebrating its 200 year anniversary. It was a lovely, tranquil place to walk around with beautiful trees and flowers. The lily pond held an extra surprise, some very friendly turtles. They even climbed out of the water to say hello.
Also visible from the walls is the Palazzo Pfanner, an impressive villa with an even more impressive statue garden. Some might recognise it as the setting for scenes from the 1996 film ‘Portrait of a Lady’ with Nicole Kidman and John Malkovic.
Lucca is also known as the city of towers. In medieval times there were 250. I climbed some of them, it is a fabulous way to have a panoramic view of the old town and the Tuscan hills.
I started with the Guinigi Tower, this is easily recognisable due to the trees growing on top of the tower. It is named after the wealthy merchant family who commissioned it to be built in the 14th century. It is 44.25 metres high with 230 stops. On top is a garden with Holm oak trees which was planted to represent the re-birth of the city. You need to book a tour and be accompanied by a guide.
Also worth climbing is the clock tower which has 207 steps. You can purchase a joint ticket for both towers and one that also includes the botanical garden. From the top there are more panoramic views as well as an excellent view of the Guinigi Tower.
Climbing the Bell Tower
My final climb was the bell tower of the cathedral. Not so many steps but so me a little more challenging. It looked like a scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s film Vertigo. Not the best for someone who doesn’t who doesn’t like heights but these things have to be done.
The Holy Face of Lucca
You can get a joint ticket to climb the tower and visit the inside the cathedral which has a very impressive ceiling. It also houses the ‘holy face of Lucca‘ a wooden crucifix which forms part of the Holy Cross celebrations and parade held on 14th September. Inside are also works by Rennaissance artists and the tomb of Ilariadel Carretto.
Other churches worth visiting include the Chieso Di San Michele in Foro. It is built on the ruins of an ancient forum and has a beautiful marble facade.
The Basilica of San Frediano is the oldest church in Lucca. It is named after an Irish bishop who established the church. It is famous for the beautiful mosaics on the facade.
The public square Piazza dell’Anfiteatro is built on the ruins of an ancient Roman amphitheatre where gladiator shows were once held. Now it is full of restaurants and musicians.
Lucca was also the birthplace of Puccini and a statue sits outside his old house.
Where to Stay – A Palazzo Busdraghi
I stayed at ‘A Palazzo Busdraghi‘. Set in a courtyard behind this amazing door off the main street in the old town. It was a lovely place full of artworks and an enormous breakfast that included lots of homemade tasty treats.
I was told that Pizzeria in Santa Maria doesn’t have the best view but has the best pizza. It was very good!
For dinner it was Bar da Gigi on Plaza del Carmine. They make there own pasta and their own wine. Both were delicious.
One of my favourite activities in Lucca was just wandering through the old, winding streets.
Lucca is very beautiful and deserves to be visited.