Extended Article I wrote for the Nomadic Lifestyle Blog
Florence is a big draw card for Northern Tuscany, as is Pisa with its leaning tower, but because of time frames and schedules Lucca often gets overlooked, but this really, really shouldn’t be the case. In fact, my lazy afternoons riding a cheap bike in Tuscany (for want of a better phrase) have been amongst the happiest times of my travelling life ..... and I'm not just talking about knocking over rubbish bins with my slightly odd cyclist's gate... all distended knees and flapping ankles. I can say this though, not having to wear a helmet, really adds to the pleasure, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
One of the negatives that many visitors have when visiting Tuscany is the problem of transport - Often on hectic tour schedules or not able to drive, hire or afford a car, many of Tuscany’s more rural or seemingly remote delights get pushed to one side, but catching a train solves a lot of these problems. Not only is Lucca easily accessible from both Florence and Pisa by rail, you can also throw the incredible Cinque Terre and the Livorno coast into that mix too, plus many other towns slightly further afield.
Not only is it easy to get to, the train station is right outside the city walls so there are no nervy walks through dodgy areas, no expensive or annoying cab rides into town and no hanging around for buses, rickshaws or malnourished donkeys - it’s right there, right on Lucca's well scrubbed doorstep. Added to this is Lucca’s biggest selling point (outside of its obvious and breathtaking beauty), which is the ability to hire a bicycle right outside the station - Now, this Renaissance gem becomes palpably flawless. To ride around Lucca’s battlements, to sweep down the easily navigable and wide access roads into the city’s labyrinth is a pure delight. It’s as if it was designed for this purpose..... I doubt it was however, as the town dates back to Roman times and lycra had yet to be invented.
The broad battlements are completely pedestrianised - They ring the city and provide frequent access points down into the main town when it’s time for refreshments or a change of pace. They also offer great views out into the lush green Tuscan countryside. If you then factor in the consistently sunny Tuscan weather, 3 of the most beautiful traffic free piazza’s in the world, spacious cycle friendly roads, empty lanes and a plethora of great Trattoria’s, why would you bother with the frenzied activity beneath the leaning towers and trinket ridden bridges of Pisa and Florence? Don’t get me wrong, they are ‘must sees’ and ‘must do’s’ but they won’t provide you with possibly the most memorable part of your trip, or life for that matter.
Often, crossing off tourist attractions from a well thumbed list is just that - Something to say you've done or to get it out of the way. Travel is about experiences and enjoyment, and these moments usually come well away from Lisa's wandering eye, St.Peter's adoring Basilica or David's ... historically and religiously inaccurate appendage. They will just put a tick in a box and enable you to move on to the next mass tourist attraction - Often having queued, often in need of a pee, and often more than a little disappointed. Lucca affords you time to breath and yet does still have plenty for you to see. Obviously it doesn't have as many or as well known landmarks as it’s bigger, brasher sisters can provide, but this plays into our hands as visitors too. No queues, no street pedlars, great food and a friendly welcome. For example, Puccini was from Lucca and it's well worth catching one of the frequent festivals or performances of his music whilst your here. This practice shouldn't be limited to just Lucca, by the way. The same principals can be applied when visiting Venice and Vivaldi, Leipzig and Wagner, Mozart and Vienna or Halifax and Sheeran......
Lucca will always be on my list of ‘return to’ cities because, at the end of the day, it couldn’t be more of a stress free and simplistically old school delight. My idea of Tuscany isn't frenzied crowds with eye gashing selfie sticks, hop-stepping over discarded Happy Meals or toe-to-toe with travel groups who'd rather be dragged around Magaluf on an inflatable banana. My idea is this, a beautiful Renaissance masterpiece; unspoilt by time, unmolested by Disney, and unphased by its elder siblings. A place to relax in the afternoon sun, in earshot of a church bell, in arms reach of a glass of crisp Soave, with a mouth full of Spaghetti Pomodoro and a grin on my face from here to ear.
Cycles cost about 8 Euros for 3 hours and 12 Euros for the day between 9am and 6pm, which is great value. The Tourist Centre Lucca (touristcenterlucca.com) is on the left hand side of station square but there are many other equally helpful places from which to rent your bike. The bikes themselves are clean and well maintained and it’s merely a case of checking your passport and you are away. The town is mostly pedestrianised, save for a local residents, and as a result is perfectly safe for anyone with at least basic riding ability. Trains both to and from Lucca are regular and details can be found on all major train ticket sites in Europe but are operated by TrenItalia (trenitalia.com/tcom-en).