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!
Visit the neighbouring Villa Oliva
Built in the late 15th century by Matteo Civitali, a famous Italian Renaissance architect it was originally the country residence of the Buonvisi family. Now you can enjoy a stroll around the beautiful grounds, designed on three levels with fountains and waterfalls and admire the stables, where the walls are covered with “Louis d’Or” French gold coins. A legend tells us of a bet between Cardinal Francesco Buonvisi and Louis XIVth of France. Buonvisi claimed that his stables were more beautiful than any of the rooms in the newly constructed Palace of Versailles. A curious Louis XIVth sent his ambassador to Lucca who, after inspecting the stables, had to agree with Buonvisi.
Sitting on the banks of the Arno, Pisa is famous for it's leaning tower but there is much more to discover in this vibrant city. The main hub is around the Tower on the Campo dei Miracoli, the square that the Pisans claim is the most beautiful in the world. You can now visit the Tower and it is really something you should do - don’t forget to take a photo of you holding it up as well! To the south of the Campo are the quieter streets of the town itself. Here you will find interesting shops, good restaurants and cafés. Or take a walk around the Botanical Gardens. They were founded in the 1540s and are the oldest botanical gardens in Europe and during the summer you may stumble across some outdoor theatre for children. If you don't want to drive you can get a direct train to Pisa from the station in Lucca, it takes about 30 minutes.
Visit the local markets
Market day in Lucca is Wednesday. It starts early in the morning and goes 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.
Tennis and horse riding
Both activities can be be practised nearby... don't forget to pack your racquets if you fancy a game of tennis during your holiday.
For an alternative view of Lucca....
hire a bike and cycle along the city walls, about 4km in total
Spend a day at the beach
Try Lido di Camaiore, where the wide golden sandy beach and the palm tree lined promenade will appeal to families. Viareggio is the main resort on the Versilia coast and one of the most popular in Italy. It is a bustling, lively resort in the summer with a long stretch of golden sand and a promenade lined with cafés and restaurants. Forte dei Marmi is seen as a chic and exclusive beach destination by many Italians, and the designer shops and elegant villas set amongst the pine trees are testament to this.
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 over half an hour from Casa Milly.
The Festival Puccini is an annual opera festival which is held in the open-air theatre at Torre de Lago during July and August and is a short distance from the villa where Giacomo Puccini lived and worked. His house is now a museum, full of Puccini memorabilia including family portraits, his piano and original scores to his operas. The programme can be found at www.puccinifestival.it and tickets can be purchased there too.
Take the train to Florence or Pisa
Travelling by train is an easy, relaxing way to reach these beautiful, magical cities. There are hourly departures from Lucca to Florence, with the journey taking about 1h 20mins. And Pisa is only a 30 minute journey and trains depart every half hour.
Children in the party will enjoy
spending an afternoon at the Pinocchio Park in Collodi, towards Florence. The author of 'The Adventures of Pinocchio' took the name of the town (his mother's home town) as his pseudonym. The park celebrates the author and the stories about the wooden puppet who wanted to be a real boy. Combine with a visit to the hanging gardens of Garzoni and the Butterfly House, also in Collodi, which will enchant young and old alike.
The ‘Selva del Buffardello’ Park makes for a fun day out with a treetop adventure course involving rope bridges, swings and zip wires through the trees. There are 6 levels of difficulty to choose from. Access to the park itself is free, so those who don't fancy the rope swings can relax in the sun, or at the bar! There is also a play area, and space for picnicking or barbecueing.
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.
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.
Visit the spa town of Montecatini Terme
Montecatini Terme is a beautiful town that was built around its mineral water springs. The most famous spa in the town is the Tettuccio Terme. Built in the late 18th century by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Leopold of Habsburg, it made Montecatini Terme famous all over Europe, and a favourite place for the rich and the royalty. Now you can visit the Tettuccio to admire the liberty architecture and to enjoy a treatment from the thermal waters. You can also take the funicular (1898 cablecar) to Montecatini Alto, the historic part of the town, which offers a spectacular view and a typical square full of inviting restaurants.
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