Medieval Walled City:
Perfectly Positioned to Explore Tuscany
By Cathy H. Burroughs, International Travel Writer, BOLD Favor Magazine
Less than 30 miles from Florence you’ll find the lesser-known, lovely and tranquil Medieval-walled city of Lucca. The other end of the spectrum from the vesper-hectic and extraordinary art-infused frenzy of Florence, you’ll find, as an added benefit, considerably less pricey than Florence, Venice or even Rome (although the resourceful traveler can make it work, as we did). Relaxed as well as pedestrian and bike-friendly, this intimate and contained city is the perfect perch from which to capture all of Tuscany.
Before you explore outside, take a leisurely meander through this luminous Tuscan town whose native son Puccini – one of the foremost composers of Italian opera after Verdi – is just one reason it is etched indelibly on the map of the region. To learn more about this late 19th century romantic opera great, there is a fact-filled English tour at Puccini’s house museum on Corte San Lorenzo. There you will see hand-corrected librettos, the piano and worn bench where the maestro composed long hours and actual costumes from his Tosca, Madame Butterfly, La Boheme and other artifacts including a love letter attempting to calm his wife, crazed with his frequent and flagrant dalliances. At night you can experience the master’s “thrilling music” first hand in a live concert at the nearby church of San Giovanni.
Tour Guide Roberta – Lucca Tour
Once run by its own Princess Elisa, Napoleon’s sister and female version, she ruled the town with a steely hand, ushering in progressive changes and enlightened innovations. According to the engaging guide Mary Cort for the nighttime MAGIC Lucca tour, Elisa was not satisfied with her several hundred roomed office/ residence and insisted upon a summer palace for herself just outside the city.
Ten miles away she found her beloved summer home, first purchased in 1806. During her heyday her country estate Villa Reale with its massive grounds, botanical garden, menageries and aviary was the site of at least one performance by the world famous violinist Paganini and visited by both surrealist painter Salvador Dali and American portrait painter John Singer Sergeant. We spent one fine day as well also as privileged guests under the watchful tutelage of guide par excellence Roberta Pellegrineschi.
During our breath-taking ramble of the sprawling and splendiferous 33 acres, Roberta with her meticulous and charmingly intoned English, entertained us with her encyclopedic knowledge of its secrets and history, its quirks and its proliferation of rare trees, herbs and flowers. From the peak of its human-made hill, we surveyed the boating lake which could rival Central Park’s as well as the Bishop’s home, the ornate Spanish Garden, St. Xavier’s Chapel, the Lemon Garden, the Camellia Walkway, the Clock House and the original 1920’s swimming pool with cabana and tennis courts. There’s also a one-of-a-kind outdoor natural green theater complete with hedged orchestra pit as well as stables, fountains, and a grotto of Pan whose sprouting water works prompted risque romps, from what we understand.
Less visible from the hilltop are the villa’s landscaped Easter egg-like layers and undulations, manicured mazes and inner sanctums as well as the imposing house itself. On our virtually private tour, we were privy to the locked annex where realistic and intricate miniature dollhouse replicas of the villa were on rare view. We did not get to see the illustrious manor’s interior so must wait – with the rest of the world – for the Swiss couple who is restoring it to its original resplendence to officially reopen it. This may turn out to be the region’s most spectacular luxury hotel and grounds.
For more, write , (0039 0572 091832) or stop by the Lucca Tourism Office. Try to stay within the city walls for easy walking. Outside of the walls but not too far are two highly recommended and reasonable places to stay: B&B La Casa Del Gufetto (Owl) and Lucca Studios Apartments ().
Cathy and Roberta at Villa Reale
Here Cathy H. Burroughs international travel writer and adventure blogger shares excerpts and highlights of her three montsh European journey with us.