Lucca in Tuscany.
The arena-shaped Piazza del Mercato.
Little ever changes in this beautiful part of Italy, with its romantic hill towns full of cypress trees, olive groves, fields of sunflowers and rows of grapevines.
Tuscany has changed little since the days of the Medicis. Past and present merge and cities such as Florence, Siena and Pisa, with the smaller towns of Lucca, Cortona and Arezzo, guard some of Italy’s most wonderful artistic treasures. Its landscape ranges from the spectacular mountains of the Alpi Apuana to Chianti’s gentle hills.
Cypress trees, olive groves, fields of sunflowers and row upon row of grapevines add to the beauty.
The little-known Lucca is a medieval treasure, off the beaten track, unspoilt and dotted with palazzi, towers and countless churches. The town is enclosed by a huge and perfectly preserved Renaissance wall, keeping out traffic and the modern world.
It is laid out on a Roman grid, streets of tall houses and palazzi opening onto beautiful squares with Romanesque churches. A promenade with a double avenue of trees runs along the top of the 12 metre high city walls. Cycling is the best way to see the city and the wall is wide enough to cycle around.
Lucca was founded in 180BC and stones from the Roman amphitheatre have been ransacked over the centuries and used for building churches and palaces. The few stones left are studded in the arena-shaped Piazza del Mercato. Low archways at the cardinal points indicate gates used by beasts and gladiators for entry to the arena.
The beautiful churches of San Michele and San Martino blend perfectly well with noble palaces which were built four or five hundred years later.
Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Baciocchi, ruled Lucca from 1805 to 1815 and the Piazza Napoleone was named for her brother. San Martina, the beautiful 11th century duomo was built as a dedication to St Martin.
Between the villages of Tofori and San Gennaro is the 40 hectare estate of Fattoria di Fubbiano. 15 hectares of the estate produce organically grown wine, olives and grappa – more than 70,000 bottles of wine are supplied to local restaurants, home market or exported each year. It is bounded on two sides by natural springs, feeding an ancient fountain in a secret grotto in the woods. The house is from the 18th century and is a good example of Tuscan architecture.
Piazza Anfiteatro is on the site of a Roman amphitheatre – some of the original elements remain, particularly in the outer walls. Built between the 1st and 2nd centuries AD as a colosseum, it became apartments in the middle ages and is now a beautiful square, used mainly for concerts.
Speaking of music, the Luccans are extremely proud of the fact that Giacomo Puccini was born in their town in 1858 and his house is still there. The elegant and talented man was the 5th generation of the Puccini family to produce music, but Giacomo’s operas have endured and are performed in the world’s grand opera houses.
Via Fillungo is a beautifully preserved street full of fancy shops and cafés – try a bucellato, a dry sweet cake or a typical Luccan dish of polenta and cod.