One of the most beautiful towns in Tuscany, if not in the whole of Italy, Lucca is a Renaissance jewel. Perfectly preserved, the walls encircling the city are no longer needed for defense, so have been turned into a tree-lined pedestrian promenade - 4km in length. Its cobbled streets, handsome piazzas and shady promenades make it a perfect destination to explore by foot. The Piazza Anfiteatro at the heart of the city was built on the site of a Roman amphitheatre, its unique oval shape circled by a row of colourful houses. It is still accessed by the four low archways through which the gladiators were ushered in. In July, the Anfiteatro hosts an international music festival. One of the most famous sights in the city is the Torre Guinigi. After climbing the 200 plus steps to the top, you will be glad of the shade of the oak tree growing there!
For an alternative view of Lucca...
Hire a bike and cycle along the city walls, about 4 km in total.
Art and architecture in Lucca
Lucca contains many lovely churches including Romanesque masterpieces like San Frediano and San Michele. The picture gallery at Palazzo Mansi is often overlooked, but contains a small collection of Medici pictures and a number of very rich rooms decorated in historic silks and dated 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 weekly market is held in Lucca every Wednesday, starting early in the morning and going on until about 12.30/13.00. The market is the best place to buy your fruit and veg, as well as the local products and the freshest fish, meat and cheese. Choose your ingredients to take back to the house, and cook a delicious meal to enjoy on the terrace!
Some of the loveliest country houses and gardens in Tuscany await in the hills all 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.
Tennis and horse riding...
can both be be practised nearby - don't forget to pack your racquets if you fancy a game of tennis during your holiday.
Play a round of golf
at the Vicopelago or the Maglificio Romana golf courses, both near Lucca. Or tackle the 18 hole course at the renowned Versilia Golf Club at Forte dei Marmi on the coast, just under an hour from the house.
A day at the beach
There are a number of beaches to choose from between Pisa and Carrara, the nearest being at Viareggio, about 50 minutes from the house, where there is a large swathe of sand. Or try Forte dei Marmi, where Armani has a villa.
Take a boat trip from Viareggio
You will sail up the coast, passing Lerici and the gulf of La Spezia to the stunning coastal villages of the Cinque Terre.
Enjoy a music festival
If you are visiting in July, Lucca's Summer Sun Festival attracts performers such as Elton John, Mick Hucknell and Sheryl Crowe. Barga plays host to an Opera Festival from mid July to mid August and September visitors can enjoy the Puccini Opera Festival at Torre del Lago.
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. In the town itself you will find some interesting shops, good restaurants and less touristy cafes. The Piazza dei Cavalieri is a beautiful irregular shaped square, noted for its facade adorned with frescoes and topped with large busts of the Medici family. The Botanical Gardens, only a few minutes' walk from the Tower, are the oldest botanical gardens in Europe, founded in the 1540s. For a view over the city's rooftops, climb the Torre Guelfa on the northern bank of the river.
One of the most beautiful cities in Italy, if not the world, Florence (Firenze in Italian) is not to be missed. Surrounded by hills, the city sits either side of the River Arno in a natural bowl, and harbours an overwhelming abundance of Renaissance 'palazzi', museums and churches that are world famous for their beauty, art and history. For this reason, be prepared for crowds year round especially at the main 'sights'. However there is a great atmosphere and it is a beautiful city to simply wander round at your own pace.
Sights of Florence
Piazzale Michelangelo is the place to go for a breathtaking view over the Arno, the rooftops of the city, the Duomo and beyond - a great way to introduce yourself to the delights of Florence. From the piazza, steps lead down the hillside through the narrow back streets to the Ponte Vecchiom the immediately recognisable bridge lined with buildings - it was the only bridge not to have been bombed during World War II.
The Serchio Valley
Heading north, away from Lucca, you can make a day of it by driving up the Serchio valley. Roads on both sides of the river closely follow its course, and there are fairly frequent crossing points. A key sight is the 'Ponte della Maddelena', also known as the Devil’s Bridge, as legend has it that it was built by the devil who offered to give it to the locals in exchange for the soul of the first person to cross it the next day. Bagni di Lucca and Barga are lovely towns to stop at. And over the river from Barga are the 'Grotto del Vento' caves with fabulous curtain stalactites.
Visit a spa town
Bagni di Lucca is a lovely town, renowned for its thermal waters. There are shops, cafes and a children's play park, as well as the spa itself where you can indulge in some treatments.
Walking and hiking
To the north of Bagni di Lucca lies the Orrido di Botri, a natural gorge known as the Canyon of Tuscany. Guided walks are available, but not obligatory. Hard hat hire is obligatory, and you will need to bring trekking shoes. Take a change of clothing and a picnic, and enjoy the dramatic scenery and tranquillity. Continue up the Serchio Valley and you will reach Castelnuovo della Garfagnana, from which there are also many wonderful hiking opportunities in breathtaking mountainous scenery.
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.
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