If you haven’t explored the delights of Tuscany, I urge you to add this to your “must go” list. But deciding where to stay to make the most of the region can be difficult. If you want something that ticks all of the boxes, I suggest Lucca: A well-preserved and perfectly located small town, surrounded by its famed historic wall, which oozes Italian charm and style.
The historic centre of this walled town is mostly pedestrianised, making it the perfect place to wander around before dinner, or looking for an afternoon ice cream. Given its relatively small size, Lucca is often visited just as a day trip from Florence, but this town has so much more to offer than just being a stop off for a few hours.
One of the first things I would recommend doing on your visit to Lucca is to find your way to the historic town walls, where you can complete a full loop around the town, giving you a fantastic vantage point to see everything this town has to offer. If you are feeling brave, there are several places just inside the walls where you can hire a bike, or even a tandem – just make sure you practice before you get on the roads!
We were lucky enough to be staying just outside the city walls of Lucca, and one of our favourite things to do in any place we visit is to get up early and go for a run to explore the local area. You find so much more than if you just drive into the main towns and cities, and feels like you get to see what the area is really about. One of our favourite discoveries on this trip was the local aqueduct, which was an imposing and stunning piece of architecture to run alongside.
Most people think of Italy, and they think of good food – and going to Lucca you will certainly not be disappointed by the delicious food on offer! We had so many great meals, but one particular of note was at Ristorante Al Corso, where we were treated to some of the most delicious, local food I think we’d had in a long time – highly recommended. Of course, I also made it my daily mission to find the best gelato the town had to offer: it was hard work, but someone had to put in the effort!
If you are looking for something even more off the beaten track, there are so many small villages just outside of Lucca which feel almost untouched and undisturbed by tourists. A few hours spent out in the Tuscany countryside can feel like such a retreat – a perfect relaxing getaway to refresh the soul.
A day trip to Montecarlo, a historic walled town just 12km from Lucca. Montecarlo is known for the vast vineyards that surround the town, and is a popular stop on the Lucca vineyard tours. Given its location atop the stunning Tuscany hills, once you have walked your way through the town walls to the historic centre you are greeted with wonderful panoramic views of the rolling countryside.
Most people think of Tuscany and instantly think of great food and fantastic wine, so a visit to this region would not be complete without a tour of a vineyard and some wine tasting. We spent an afternoon at the Fattoria di Fubbiano vineyard, where we were able to see how both the local wine and olive oil was made. This was followed by a very extensive wine and olive oil tasting experience. It may have been helped by the stunning setting, but this was some of the best food and wine we had ever tasted!
Lucca as a base to discover Tuscany
While Lucca itself has so much to offer for a truly relaxing break, it is also ideally positioned to explore so many other beautiful places that Tuscany has to offer. Below are some of the day trips you can make from Lucca, either via car or train.
A thirty minute drive or train from Lucca, and you can find yourself in Pisa: one of the most famous Italian cities. Its fair to say that Pisa is a busy, touristy city – especially during the summer. However, its definitely worth seeing, so there are some things you can do to still make the most of this city. It does tend to quiet down once all of the large tour groups have left for the day, so consider making a trip later in the afternoon and staying for an evening dinner.
Five sleepy Italian fishing villages make up the Cinque Terre, which is now one of the most famous coastal landscapes in the world. It is a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site which means that it is very popular with tourists, especially over the last few years. Despite the popularity, its still definitely somewhere I would recommend visiting.
The villages making up the Cinque Terre are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore, and each village has its own slightly different feel. One of the popular things to do is to spend the day walking along the coastal trail between the villages, which does give you stunning views of the villages and the dramatic coastline. However, some of these walks can be a few hours long, so if you are after a slightly more leisurely day, there is also a train line with connects all five villages.
If you are short of time, and wondering which villages to visit, you can easily visit just two or three and still get a feel for the area.
Monterosso is the largest of the villages, and the only village with large beaches, so generally there is more space to move around. Perhaps the best village to visit if you have children who would like to paddle in the sea. It also has the widest range of restaurants and hotels, so is somewhere that can please everyone.
If you prefer a smaller, more lively town, then Vernazza is a good place to visit. There is one one main road, leading directly to the beautiful harbour. Lots of cafes and shops line the streets, which is almost fully pedestrianised. We stopped and had a fantastic dinner at Ristorante Belforte, watching the sun set over the ocean – does it get any better?!
But before our dinner: of course Elliot had to jump off the harbour walls into the ocean to cool down!
An hour drive from Lucca, or a 2 hour train ride, is the famous city of Florence. There is so much to say about Florence that it probably deserves its own post, but if you fancy a day of culture, a trip to Florence is something not to be missed. There is so much to do here: whether its a trip to the Uffizi Gallery, a wander across the Ponte Vecchio or just to soak up the culture and style of this must-see city.