Saturday, October 24, 2009

Why is Lucca so Lucky?

Driving through the imposing medieval walls into the small Tuscan city of Lucca, we asked ourselves three questions:

Why does everyone look so happy?
Why is everyone on a bike?
Where is all the tourist hoopla?

Over the course of our three-day break, we found answers to all our questions.

First, everyone looks happy because they live and work in one of God’s green acres. According to Forbes magazine, Lucca is the second most idyllic place to live in Europe (after Patmos, Greece) and “has all the charm of Tuscany without the crowds … This is a quiet, though classy town, with lawyers and housewives peddling the narrow cobblestone streets past thousand year old churches and made-in-Italy fashion boutiques.” OK, that explains the contentment but …

Why does everone ride a bike? Because the busses don’t fit through the walled entrance and because most of the perfectly preserved historic centre has been pedestrianized. Locals and visitors alike find it more fun and easier to wiz around on bicycles. Bike rentals are everywhere and prices are reasonable (inquire at the tourist office). A highlight for visitors is to cycle the 4 km circuit around the broad, tree-lined ramparts.

But what about the tourist hulabaloo? As Lucca is a classy town and seems to appeal to a more discerning kind of tourist, the “tour bus, fake handbag and warped post card” options you find all over Florence and Pisa are in short supply. We did find lovely and fairly priced Italian linens in a shop called Butterfly on the Piazza S. Frediano and our daughter was able to find beautiful but affordable Italian paper and notebooks at the tobacconist on Via Santa Croce. Cultural offerings including churches, museums and ‘climbable’ bell towers were equally impressive and uncrowded.

Finally, we were delighted with our hotel and the restaurants. Thanks to the suggestion of Italian friends, we stayed at the mid-priced Hotel Ilaria, which was a great recommendation. This hotel benefits from an excellent location, charming staff, and lots of freebies including parking, WiFi, bicycles and drinks and snacks. Our rooms in the annexe, a former 14th century church, were large, nicely appointed and dead quiet. Rates include a generous buffet breakfast.

The best meal we had was at the Buca di Sant Antonio. This romantic restaurant has been a Mecca for the great and the good since 1782. The food and service were excellent. Also good was the Antica Locanda dell’Angelo where we feasted on budget busting truffles. We had a tasty €10-a-head lunch at Ristorante Gli Orti di via Elisa and the Café di Simo, with its belle époque interior, is a great place to see and be seen.

All in all, our three days in Lucca was hard to fault on any count. This town is indeed lucky, and we’ll be back.

Photo from Rex Maximillian's photo stream on Flickr.


  1. Dear Kate, thanks for this article. I think it really captures the spirit of Lucca, which IS a lovely place. I fear that tour busses are increasing though ;(. I'm also glad that you found Gli Orti di Elisa which is run by friends of friends.

    I write TuscanyArts, the official blog for the arts in Tuscany ( and I found you through Context Travel, who posted your great review of their Natgall tour on facebook. Are you on facebook or twitter so we can keep in touch?
    Best regards

  2. Hi Alexandra,
    Thanks for the feedback. Delighted to hear that you thought the article was a good representation of Lucca and sad to hear that the tour busses are increasing. Also pleased you liked my review of Context Travel. I am so impressed with their approach.

    I had a chance to look at TuscanyArts. What a beautiful site - a work of art itself.

    I am on Twitter (@NoCrowds) and Facebook (Kate Hedges) and I'd love to stay in touch.