If Oxford is the City of Spires, then Lucca is the City of Towers. (Towers which, in my humble opinion, outshine the iconic Leaning Tower in neighbouring Pisa.) Having spent three days exploring the nooks and crannies of each of the Cinque Terre’s picturesque villages, we were keen to make the most of our time in Italy and, at Laurence’s colleague’s suggestion, decided to spend our final full day in Lucca. It was a hop, skip and a train ride away from Manarola, and we felt it was a day well spent.
After picking up our customary breakfast pastries, we caught the 08:54 service to La Spezia, where we boarded a high-speed train to Viareggio. Arriving with just minutes to spare, we made our final connection and hopped aboard the local train to Lucca. With only a vague idea of what the city had to offer, we decided to simply go as the fancy took us.
Following the steady trickle of people through Porta San Pietro, we meandered down side streets and back alleys, eventually emerging in a piazza bordered with little cafés and pizzerias. Chiesa di San Michele in Foro commanded our attention, with its ornate façade and patterned, marble columns. (Can we have more jazzy columns like these over here, please?)
We happily wandered down winding streets, taking left turns and rights at random. Without a map and with every street looking (almost) identical to the last, it wasn’t long before we completely lost any sense of direction.
At this point, a map might have come in handy, but finding the tourist information point was as straightforward as escaping the Labyrinth of Crete – in other words, nigh on impossible. (We stumbled upon one completely by chance towards the end of the day, and it turned out that they’d relocated but hadn’t updated any of the signs or maps scattered across the city.) Enter, Lucca’s many towers: an unconventional but highly effective way of working out where on earth you are in this labyrinthine city.
Of all Lucca’s towers, my favourite – without a shadow of a doubt – was the Torre Guinigi, a gorgeous brick tower with oak trees growing on the roof. After purchasing tickets, we made our way up the many, many steps to the top of the tower.
From above, Lucca is a patchwork of red-roofed, pastel-coloured buildings. Stone towers dot the cityscape; a bricks-and-mortar reminder of rivalries between wealthy families. Many moons ago, well-to-do families built their own private defence towers, a symbol of status and wealth. Centuries ago, there were almost two hundred and fifty towers; today, only nine remain.
Once a Roman amphitheatre, today the Piazza Anfiteatro is home to gift shops galore and any number of (overpriced) restaurants and cafés. Its distinctive oval shape made it easy to spot from atop the Torre Guinigi.
Framed by woodland and mountains, the surrounding landscape is every bit as scenic as the Cinque Terre further up the coast.
Having just about got our bearings, we set about finding sustenance; slices of pizza fitted the bill, both metaphorically and literally. (Naturally, we followed those up with a tasty gelato later in the day.)
Once we’d finished munching, we set off for the Orto Botanico on the other side of town. We hadn’t yet explored the city’s walls, so decided to take to the ramparts and loop around the city to reach the botanical garden. The wide, tree-lined Passeggiata delle Mura Urbane forms a circuit around the ramparts, with a different tree species planted on each side.
We’d purchased a combi ticket to the Torre Guinigi and Orto Botanico, though by early October the botanical garden was somewhat lacking in, well, plants. Or rather, exciting plants. If lots of trees and green bushes is your jam, you’ll be fine. If you’re looking for something more, well, maybe you’d be better coming in a different season.
With the afternoon slipping by and a train journey ahead of us, we decided it was time to make our way back to Manarola – and the inevitable chore of bag-packing that comes at the end of any trip.
- If possible, buy your train tickets from the counter. When we caught the train back from Lucca to Manarola, we initially went to the machines, which told us it would be €20 each. That was more than we’d paid on the way out, so we went to the counter where we were sold tickets for €11 each. Bingo.
- If you’re lucky enough to be in possession of a student card, you can make some useful savings on attractions in Lucca.