It’s amazing how much you can see and do in 24 hours! I’d been to Lucca before but nearly 20 years ago, and it seemed an ideal stopping-off point on my journey from Florence to my friend Annette’s home in Comano, where I’ll be staying for the weekend until I go home on Monday. Just a 1hr 20 minute train journey from Florence and a chance to revisit one of Italy’s most beautiful cities.
I always like to stay somewhere central when I’m in a city for a short time but with just 24 hours in Lucca it was essential to be close to everything I’d want to do and see. I found B&B Caterina on the internet and it looked ideal, especially at just €77 a night. I had a lovely and warm exchange by email with Fabiana before my arrival and she was so kind and friendly when I arrived, it was a great start.
I took a taxi from the railway station, although you can walk it in 17 minutes according to Google Maps. I’d arranged that I could leave my suitcase at the B&B early, arriving around 10.30am. The taxi weaved in and out of narrow streets, quite a circular route given the one-way system, but eventually I got out and faced big green double doors. I rang the bell and was immediately let into a shared apartment building hallway and Fabiana called a welcome from the first floor.
Happily I could get straight into my room and was given a set of keys for this, the front door and the door to the apartment; the B&B has 5 rooms. The room was lovely. Quite spacious, simply but elegantly decorated with an en-suite shower room. The next morning there would be a simple but nice buffet breakfast.
Fabiana gave me a map and some suggestions of what to do and where I might eat that evening. Given Lucca is the birth place of Giacomo Puccini (1858), I remarked that I felt I should be going to an opera. A great alternative for someone there for just a day was a concert at the Chiesa San Giovanni: there are hour long concerts every evening at 7pm. Fabiana gave me a leaflet and said if I bought a ticket in advance I saved 20%, so part of my plan for the day was to include going to the church and buying a ticket for that night – a selection of Puccini and Verdi arias – for €20 instead of €25.
I went via the trattoria to book a table for 8.15 and climbed up onto the medieval walls that circle the city. You can walk all round the edge, 4km, and there are steps frequently offering a way down into the centre.
I was reminded of how beautiful Lucca is. One of the great things about the city walls is that you can always move away from the crowds in the centre by climbing up and walking amongst trees for a while. It also gives you great views across and outside the city.
I cut down into Piazza San Frediano.
Then on into the famous amphitheatre. It dates from the Romans in 2AD but the buildings surrounding it came later in medieval times.
Although I’d been before I was struck by how small it is; in my memory it was much bigger. It was a bit of a shame (from a selfish point of view!) that it was filled not only with the usual restaurants and cafes round the edge, but an open air market, selling mainly gifts and non-food stuff. I hoped that later in the day it would be dismantled but even late evening it was still there. However, it didn’t spoil my pleasure at being in this beautiful place. And with the glorious weather and clear blue sky backdrop, it was stunning.
I spied the Torre Guigini down a narrow street and remembered climbing it 20 years ago for the fantastic views. It’s extraordinary with trees growing on top. I wasn’t sure I’d have the stamina this time … but later, after lunch, I’d be too tempted to resist.
I simply wandered round the city, weaving in and out of the narrow winding streets, which often opened into piazze – squares – large and tiny. I bought my concert ticket and walked round the corner to find the cathedral facing me in Piazza San Martino. Then onwards some more, passing wonderful food shops.
I took pot luck for lunch and sat down at a restaurant with its tables laid out in a quiet open area. The caprese salad was fresh but not particularly exciting, but it was a nice place to relax and the staff friendly.
I decided gelato was needed! Well I can’t be in Italy and not have a gelato every day; it’s a family fact. In nearby via Santa Croce I found excellent ice cream at La Bottega del Gelato. There were some interesting flavours on offer and the gelato was stored in lidded metal pots – pozzetti – which is a good sign.
Then I walked to Piazza San Michele.
And just off the piazza found Puccini’s birth house in Piazza Citadella.
The ticket office is across the square from the house. It costs €8 to go in.
It was fascinating to see. The first room, the Music Room, had the Steinway piano Puccini bought in 1901 and used to compose most of his last opera, Turandot.
There are handwritten libretti, letters and costumes made for some of the operas. Visiting the house is a ‘must’ for any Puccini and opera enthusiast but it’s also great for anyone wanting to get a glimpse of life a hundred years ago through the layout and contents of the house.
I found myself close to Torre Guigini again and this time decided to pay the €4 and climb up. It actually wasn’t so bad and quite fun to do.
And at the top you’re rewarded with magnificent views across Lucca.
From here I walked to the Botanical Gardens (€5 entrance).
They’re quite small but lovely to see.
Then back out onto the city wall again where I walked in the direction of the B&B and went back for a while before setting out to the concert.
The church was full for the concert.
The programme was a bit of a people pleaser – mainly famous and well-known arias – but actually perfect for the occasion and such a delight to be there in Puccini’s home town hearing some of his music.
It was time for dinner when I came out and about a 10-minute walk across the city. Lucca is so small it never takes more than a few minutes to get anywhere within the city walls.
I had a mixed antipasti to begin.
Then homemade pasta with a fresh tomato sauce. It’s the best time for tomatoes here and they have such a deep gorgeous flavour, they’re wonderful. A lot of Tuscan recipes require them but the locals will only make certain dishes – like pappa al pomodoro – requiring fresh tomatoes when they’re in season.
It was a nice meal, though not exceptional, but very conveniently close to the B&B.
Afterwards, as it was a little early for bed, so I took a walk to the amphitheatre to see it at night before returning to the B&B.
The next morning I had just a few hours to spare before catching a train to travel to my friend’s. I went out after breakfast; Fabiana kindly gave me a set of keys so I could leave my bag there and let myself in to get it when I was leaving. After a while I found a nice historical cafe to stop and have a coffee and small pastry, sitting outside overlooking the Piazza San Michele.
I decided to go to the Palazza Pfanner. I’d seen it and its gardens while walking along the city wall. Entrance was €6.00. The gardens are glorious and so beautifully kept with statues and fountains; huge terracotta pots with lemon trees hanging heavy with lemons.
It was great to go inside too.
It was a little museum, with a 19th century kitchen set up and various interesting items to see as I went round.
I went back to the Amphitheatre to get a snack for lunch. I’d seen a good deli that I thought would be a safe bet for lunch at its tables outside but had possibly the worst bruschetta of my life. How do you get it wrong? But it only proved that eating in a very tourist place wasn’t a good idea!
I loved the statue by Andrea Roggi. A number of his statues were dotted all round the city and they were stunning; beautiful.
Now it was almost 24 hours since I’d arrived in Lucca and time to move on. I was so pleased I’d returned – albeit it briefly – to this beautiful city. There are so many good things to do and the B&B was great. The only disappointment was that I had found only fairly ordinary or even poor food (apart from the gelato), which after the glories of Florentine food was a bit disappoining, but another time I clearly need to do more research!
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