Country houses and gardens
Some of the loveliest country houses and gardens in Tuscany await in the hills around Lucca. To the north at Marlia, Villa Oliva is a wonderful expression of the architecture of Brunelleschian design and the work of local 15th century architect Matteo Civitale (whose seated portrait statue is sitting under the loggia at San Michele in Foro in central Lucca). Villa Grabau is encased in a neoclassical shell and is surrounded by well-tended grounds with formal chapters behind the house and English park planning in front. Likewise, Villa Reale is a marriage of two gardens put together by the Duchess of Lucca and then Empress of Tuscany, Elisa Baciocchi (Napoleon's sister). To the east of Lucca is Italy's answer to Houghton Hall: a veritable baroque homage to Versailles and one of the loveliest rose gardens in Tuscany - look no further than the splendid Villa Torrigiani.
Younger members of your party will enjoy the Pinocchio Park and a rather quaint homage to Cado Collodi's 19th century novel based on a wooden boy who dreamed of being a real boy. Walt Disney certainly softened his character but much remains of our long-nosed children's hero at this hilltop medieval village. Much more interesting is the Butterfly House in the hanging gardens of Garzoni, again in Collodi.
We are sure you will fall in love with this beautiful walled city. Take a stroll along the tops of the tree-lined walls, sip a cappuccino in one of the many cafés or visit the stylish boutiques that line the cobbled streets. There are many lovely churches to discover including Romanesque masterpieces like San Frediano and San Michele. Often overlooked, the National Picture Gallery at Palazzo Mansi contains a minor collection of Medici pictures and a number of very rich rooms decorated in historic silks and tapestries. Likewise, Villa Giunigi sketches in Lucca's history through a variety of objects from medieval wood cuts, busts, Roman statues and some superb allegorical pictures by the 18th century Grand Tour's favourite portrait artist Pompeo Batoni, a native of Lucca.
The breathtaking mountainous scenery and terrain of the Garfagnana offers wonderful hiking opportunities.
A Day Out in Pisa
Pisa is a very pleasant city set on the banks of River Arno, a bustling university town where everyday life carries on despite the tourists that descend on it! The main hub is the Campo dei Miracoli, where you will find the cross-shaped Cathedral, the Leaning Tower and the Baptistry, as well as the Cemetery. All are incredible works of architecture and no matter how many pictures you have seen, nothing really prepares you for seeing them in real life.
Torre del Lago
North of Pisa, Torre del Lago is famous for being associated with Puccini. The great composer had a villa on the side of Lake Massaciuccoli, now a museum full of Puccini memorabilia including original scores to his operas. An open air theatre by the lake is the wonderful setting for the Puccini Festival which takes place in July and August. The lake is in the Parco Naturale Migliarino San Rossore Massaciuccoli, and will appeal to bird lovers as there are over 200 species of birds to spot.
Viareggio is the main seaside resort and one of the most popular in Italy, bustling and lively in summer with plenty going on. The seafront promenade is lined with hotels, some of them in beautiful Liberty (Art Nouveau) buildings from the 1920s, and good seafood and pizza restaurants. Head to the southern end of the town, by the pier, to watch the fishermen sell their catch of the day, or join a boat trip along the coast or to the islands of Capraia and Elba. Behind the town there are pine woods laced with a network of well-maintained footpaths.
Lucca is the gateway to the Garfagnana, a verdant mountainous area which traces the course of the River Serchio between the Apuan Alps to the west and the Apennines to the east. The principal towns are Castelnuovo and Barga. Castelnuovo is known for its local produce - typical mountain food such as chestnut flour, spelt (called the mountain grain), and local cheeses and hams. A big market takes place in the old centre every Thursday morning. Be sure to round off a visit to Barga with an ice cream from La Gelateria!
A day out in Florence
Florence's art galleries and museums (in particular the Uffizi) are known all over the world. Wander its streets and you will see the cathedral, the Piazza della Signoria, the Ponte Vecchio with its jewellery shops. Walk up to Piazzale Michelangelo from where you will have the most splendid view over Florence. You can reach Florence by car or by train from Lucca.
A little gem in Lucca
The Palazzo Pfanner is well worth a visit. For a few euros you can visit the house and/or the beautiful, peaceful garden, with its fountain, statues of gods and goddesses, colourful flowerbeds and terracotta pots containing lemon trees.
Walk or cycle the walls of Lucca
The wonderfully intact walls provide a walkway right around the town, about 4km total length, which can be followed on foot or by bicycle - bikes can be hired in Lucca. Rub shoulders with Lucchesi families as they promenade on a Sunday afternoon and admire the 68 churches within the walls.
Visit the marble quarries of Carrara
where Michelangelo himself got the marble for his creations. From there you can visit the villages of Fabbiano and Azzano where you can see many sculptors. Carry on slightly further and you find the quarries of Monte Altissimo.
Lucca’s Summer Sun festival in July attracts big name performers such as Elton John, Mick Hucknall, Sheryl Crow & Leonard Cohen. For classical music fans, there is the Puccini Opera festival at Torre del Lago in September, and Barga hosts an excellent Opera Festival from mid July to mid August.
Take a boat trip from Viareggio
They go along the coast passing Lerici and the gulf of La Spezia to the beautiful coastal villages of the Cinque Terre.
Spend a day in Bagni di Lucca
a lovely old spa town, just north of Lucca. There are shops, cafés and a small children's play park, as well as the spa itself where you can pamper yourselves with various treatments.
Enjoy an evening out in Viareggio
Walk along the sea front, which will be bustling with Italians (all looking very chic!), stop for an aperitif and then choose from one of the many restaurants along the front for dinner on the beach.
Children will love the River Lima
This river, which runs through Bagni di Lucca, is great for paddling, stone skimming and trout spotting. Head upstream from Bagni di Lucca - parked cars on the roadside generally indicate where the river is easily accessible.
Siena, San Gimignano and Volterra are all within all within 2 hour's drive, and well worth the distance. Chianti, the world famous wine-producing region is also within reach, the chance to taste and bring back delicious bottles of the best Italian wines to enjoy with your dinner.
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