LOST IN LUCCA – what to do?

Somewhere in Lucca. Don't ask me where - a lot of it looks like this.


I had the impression people feel a little lost in Lucca, in more ways than one.

The week before we came here, the BBC screened an episode of Top Gear, the motoring program which we never watch except this time, featuring a stunt set in Lucca.

The three unbearably smug hosts of the show arrived in the centre of the Amfiteatro, an oval square (shut up, geometry teachers!) in the centre of the mediaeval walled city.

Lucca's Roman Amfiteatro. The Romans have gone, and the apartments shut out any chance of a cooling breeze.

The task was to drive out of the town. Much merriment followed as they tried to squeeze their hatchbacks down ridiculously narrow alleys without losing the wing mirrors, attempting to navigate out of the maze.

Inconvenienced locals quickly became charmed by the hilarious Englishmen, when they realised they were Famous Television Celebrities.

Forewarned, we parked our rented hatchback (a Fiat Panda – 0-30kph in 37 seconds with me driving) outside the city wall and entered the puzzle on foot.

We liked this statue of Puccini, near the house where he was born (which we failed to find).


Within minutes we were lost in the winding alleys too.

We chanced upon the church where Puccini used to play the organ. But when the same pillar with the same statue on top appeared in front of us the third time we were telling each other ‘this is where we came in’ and wondering if there were important things to do in Lucca that we were missing.

There was little use asking directions – we had no idea what we were trying to find anyway.

Lucca is on lists of Top Ten Towns in Italy, but it has no world famous museums, works of art, or must see icons for visitors to tick off.

There are three obvious things to do: (1) walk or ride a bike around the 4km walled perimeter (2) take a photo of your companion posing in front of the duomo and (3) climb the tower with the trees on top and take a shot of Lucca’s rooftops.

The duomo. More interesting on the outside.


You can comfortably do all three in less than an hour, which leaves visitors with most of the day to fill in.

The gleaming white duomo is indeed impressive on the outside, though a few minutes in the sober grey interior was enough for us.

With some difficulty and the help of an inadequate free map we found the Palazzo Pfanner. Entrance EUR4.50.

Apart from an elderly French couple, we were the only visitors. It was indeed a pleasant oasis, though like much of Lucca, the outside (the garden) was more interesting than the few refurnished rooms on the inside.

The garden of the Palazzo Pfanner. Ah, this is more like it - water and shade!

After sitting in the shade for half an hour, we realised we’d found the answer to enjoying Lucca.

Forget about the maps and the guidebook. Don’t worry about getting anywhere in particular, just stroll, admire the little details of the architecture, sit on a terrace, drink caffe and watch the passing stream of locals and tourists.

We possibly missed some fabulous things but we didn’t mind. Lovely Lucca had earned its place on our Top Italian Cities list.

The bike is the way to get around Lucca. We would have rented them ourselves, if we'd found the bike shop.

Washing drying in the street - this must be the real Italy.

Not much going on here, but who cares?

13 Comments

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13 responses to “LOST IN LUCCA – what to do?

  1. The best thing to do in Lucca is just wander. As you said, it has no leaning tower or huge museum, but it is a gorgeous town. Puccini’s house is the one behind Puccini’s left shoulder. It probably still has scaffolding on it as it is being renovated to open as a museum later this year. Ask Luis at Paris Boheme. He will point it out.

  2. Thanks for the advice, BdL. We did see his house, then, though Puccini left Lucca at the age of 22 to study and compose in Milan and eventually died in Brussels. But it’s only natural that Lucca wants to celebrate and honour their famous son.

  3. Lucca does have a few gems, but their charms are as much in the stories attached to them as the objects themselves. I wish I’d been with you to tell you the story about the Volto Santo in the duomo (it too wandered across Lucca) and about the mummy of Santa Zita in San Frediano (I call him Saint Freddy, since he was Irish). Next time.

    • Heather, Wikipedia tells me that the Volto Santo in Lucca’s duomo is not the original version crafted by Nicodemus after he and Joseph of Arimethea laid Christ in the tomb, but a 13th century copy.

      Small wonder that people don’t spend much time looking at such cheap modern tat.

      I’d like to know who’s got the real Volto stashed under the bed.

  4. Ah yes, Heather, never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Does that also apply to travellers’ tales on blogs?

  5. So that’s what the front of the duomo looks like. It was covered in scaffolding when I was there.

  6. Gin

    To enjoy Lucca you must do as locals do. I am originally from there and while there might not be much to do in terms of museums such as the Metropolitan in NYC, there are a lot of concerts and life in the evening. July is the best month (Lucca Festival), Medieval Festivities and just a lot of locals drinking and eating until 2am. The villas outside the walls are a must see. Also there are restaurants outside the wall that are really good. Def Lucca is better than Pisa. ahahhahah cheers

  7. antoguida

    Dear Richard, I was really sad when I read “You can comfortably do all three in less than an hour, which leaves visitors with most of the day to fill in.” But now I understand you appreciated the spirit of the city! Lucca is different from the most famous Tuscan cities and you can decide to spend a couple of hours or a couple of weeks and you will be happy and satisfied with the things you can do or see as Lucca is a “way of feeling”. :-)
    Of course, as a Local Tourist Guide, I suggest to follow a guided tour in the city: a couple of hours with one of us will let you to discover the true heart of the city and the people and will give you a lot of information about things to see and to do as visiting some Silk Merchants’ Palace or finding the rent-a-bike!
    Probably you didn’t visit the Duomo: the church you wrote being the Duomo is the church of San Michele in the roman forum (we Lucchesi are so traditional that we still keep the original name of the square..). Yes, the romanesque inside is simple but you surely appreciated the Filippino Lippi’s canvas or the XIII C. painted cross or the Matteo Civitali’s Virgin…
    Please, come back to Lucca, I will be pleased to guide you. :-)
    Antonella

    • Thanks for the visit to the blog and all this information, Antonella. As you can see, despite the lack of obvious famous attractions we loved our day in Lucca and would love to come back some time. I will certainly contact you when that happens, and I hope it won’t be too far in the future!

  8. Marion

    Hi we will be tomorrow in Lucca for the day. Antonella how much would be a walking tour for 2 persons?

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