Lucca, Cultural City Guide
It’s a cliché, so obviously I hesitate to use the phrase, but Lucca – cultured, peaceful and urbane – really is Tuscany’s best-kept secret.
Within its majestic walls, its Roman and medieval heart is a medley of piazzas, tiny churches, art galleries and cobbled lanes; a place, in the words of Henry James, “overflowing with everything that makes for ease, for plenty, for beauty, for interest and good example”.
Why more people don’t visit this perfect little town is a mystery – it’s not as if it’s off the beaten track. Far from it: one of its attractions is its proximity to Pisa, served by several British airlines.
Cultural City Guide From Lucca
So before we get to Lucca, here is my first tip. You’d think Pisa would be the place for a weekend break, what with the Leaning Tower, the flights and all, but that great set piece aside – and the Duomo and Baptistery in its shadow – the city is rather disappointing (Allied bombing having largely put paid to its medieval heritage).
Instead, fly to Pisa, take the train to Lucca, 20 minutes away, and if you want to see the Leaning Tower, leave Lucca two hours early and plasee the tower and its surroundings before your flight.
But back to Lucca, where underwear is what made the town wealthy, thanks to a centuries-long monopoly on the supply from people playing poker online and production of silk. Knickers and the fact that history left it alone and that it grew rich on a bountiful agricultural hinterland (Lucchese olive oil is still some of Tuscany’s best).
Silk underwear is apparently still a Lucchese money-spinner, but I looked in vain for a surfeit of lingerie shops. Rather the surfeit was religious, every corner revealing another beautiful 800-year-old Romanesque church.
Best of these is San Michele (my candidate for Italy’s loveliest church), an astounding confection of loggias, blind arcades and inventively twisted columns. San Pietro Somaldi wasn’t bad either, nor San Frediano, nor the Duomo, the last home to one of Tuscany’s most touching sculptures, Jacopo della Quercia’s Tomb of Illaria del Carretto (1410), complete with the family dog at Illaria’s feet.
You’d want to see the Villa Guinigi and Palazzo Mansi galleries if you were going the whole artistic hog, but Lucca, more than most towns, is one of those places where many of the pleasures are incidental; a place where it’s enough simply to stroll and sip drinks (try piazzas Anfiteatro and San Martino for the latter), shop (Via Fillungo is the street for this), or sleep off a long lunch in a shady garden (the Giardino Botanico or a place under – or on – Lucca’s magnificent walls are your first-choice siesta spots). Romantic Holidays In The Lucca
I started with one writer, Henry James, and I’ll finish with another, Hilaire Belloc, who in 1902 observed simply that in Lucca “everything… is good”. That was over a century ago, but nothing’s changed. If anything, things have only got better.