Everybody’s heard of Pisa; its eponymous leaning tower graces thousands of postcards and t-shirts packed into tourists’ luggage en route home from Italian vacations each year. Somewhat less well known, but of just as much historic interest, is the nearby walled city of Lucca. In fact, Lucca is a much more pleasant and fun place to spend a day while traveling in Tuscany, Italy than is crowded, touristy Pisa. A bike tour is a highly recommended way to see Lucca during a trip here.
Bike Rentals for Tours of Lucca, Italy
We drove from the Pisa Airport to Lucca, parked outside the wall, and immediately went inside the walled city. There are a couple of bike rental shops in Lucca; bike tours of this town are particularly recommended for traveling families, as most kids like to go on bike rides, and biking along the perimeter’s wall gives a good sense of the compact nature of the town. It’s green up on Lucca’s wall, and my children had a great time with this family-friendly travel activity.
We rented our bicycles from Cicli Bizzarri. The bikes worked and were clean, but frankly we only chose it because the location was at the entrance of the city. No complaints, though. Another option is Chrono Bikes.
Shopping in Historic Lucca, Italy
After biking on the wall, we coasted down to Lucca’s interior and continued to pedal around the Italian town. It was a little crowded (but nothing compared to tourist hotspot Rome). The last time I was in Lucca, approximately 4 years ago, the city was still off the beaten track, and there were hardly any tourists. It appears that the world is catching on to Lucca’s charms.
While there are several piazzas, the main shopping street in Lucca is Via Fillungo. A traveler with shopping in mind should be able to find something to sate that desire, with low-rent to luxury stores available. There is an ancient Roman amphitheater right off this street as well.
The original town, we learned, predates the Romans. Because of the great wealth of the city and its surrounding area (renown for silk and leather), Lucca was able to remain independent of Tuscany at a time when the region was being otherwise conquered and turned into a united Tuscan state. The relatively immense wealth and the walls surrounding Lucca led to power brokers in Florence actually having to deal with the powerful merchants and leaders of Lucca (rather than the standard conquer and assimilation). This made it unique in Italy: Lucca was the only town in Tuscany not conquered by Florence.
Family Dining in Lucca, Italy
This was our vacation’s first real stop in Italy, and my kids had one thing on their mind: Pizza. They had their first pizza in Italy within the walled city of Lucca, though it was far (wayyy far!) from their last pizza-from-the-source on this trip. We bought the kids’ pizza at a no-name cheapo restaurant on Via Fillungo. Really, though, you can hardly go wrong. Any of those trattorias will do a good job providing Italian fare pleasing to children’s palates.
Now, Lucca, having a long history of being wealthier than other Tuscan towns, has in turn a different culinary history. Pizza is a relative newcomer, in fact, and my husband and I indulged in some of the food that historically indicates a moneyed town in Italy (this was at the more upscale Ristorante Giglio). Because eggs were hard to come by historically, only the monied class could reliably dine on them. Therefore, egg-based noodles typify wealthy Lucca cuisine. Our lunch of thick meat ragu atop eggy noodles — tortelli lucchese — was rich and satisfying, though it was also heavy. Really heavy. We groaned as we mounted our rented bicycles to continue touring Lucca.
Sightseeing in Lucca, Italy
Travelers stopping for the day in Lucca should make a point of seeing the Basilica of San Frediano. This was initially constructed in the 1100′s, with a vibrant facade added in the 1200′s. Also, while it doesn’t compare to the majesty of El Duomo in Florence, the Lucca Cathedral’s Duomo di San Martino (the Cathedral of St Martin) has its own long history and beautiful medieval architecture. Consecrated in 1070 AD by Pope Alexander II, its steep porticos and intricately carves multitudinous statues within are fascinating.
Another “must see” is Torre delle Ore — it’s a wonder. It’s a clocktower dating to Medieval times, and the clock still works! Meanwhile my watch battery keeps needing to be replaced. Torre delle Ore is right on Via Fillungo, and it’s hard to miss, as it’s the tallest structure within Lucca’s city walls. One other point of interest that my family liked on our day trip to Lucca was the Torre Guinigi, or Guinigi Tower. There’s a tree growing right out of the top of the Medieval tower. This sounds strange, and it really is a startling sight.
Traveling in Italy with children means more snacks and less museum time, but both are right at hand and accessible in the walled city of Lucca. It’s a living museum, what with the Medieval architecture all around, with gelaterias and pizzarias in most piazzas. Rent a bike, pedal around, and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Lucca is a highly recommended day trip destination in the Tuscany region of Italy.