These Cookies cast away the Winter blues!

Posted Posted in Insider Food, Lucchesi, Recipes
The very best cookies from Lucca!

Overwhelmed by work & cloudiness?  Here’s a quick & wholesome fix

Whether you go with la Befana’s best Befanini or any other of these delicious cookie recipes, all  are sure to make you feel yummy again — without going to a lot of trouble.

Nonno’s Biscotti

These cookies are delicious dunked in a morning cappuccino or in red wine…


300 grams/2 cups Flour

100 grams/1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon Sugar

A generous pinch of salt

20 gr/1 teaspoon Baking powder

30 gr/3 Tablespoons Anise seeds


2.46 mL/½ teaspoon Anise flavoring

5 mL/1 teaspoon of Vanilla extract

113.4 gr/1 stick of softened Butter

3 large Eggs

Optional, quantities to taste:



Preheat the oven to 350 degrees

Combine the flour, sugar and anise.

Cut in the butter using the Mixmaster or pulsing on a Cuisinart until the butter is the size of peas.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, anise flavoring, and vanilla extract until combined.

Slowly add the egg mixture to the flour mixture in the Mixmaster with a pastry hook.

Or, if you’re using the Cuisinart, pulse it in thru the feeder tube.

Taste the dough to see if it needs more anise and/or vanilla, and add these as needed.

If you want to include raisins or nuts work them in with the Mixmaster or by hand at this time. Don’t use the Cuisinart to mix in these ingredients because it will pulverize them 🙁

When the dough is combined, put it onto a floured surface and shape it into cylinders that are about 2 inches in diameter and about two inches shorter than your cookie sheet. Add a little flour if the dough is too sticky — it should be easy to work with and not fall apart.

Space the cylinders of cookie dough about two inches apart because the dough will spread.

Bake until the dough is set and slightly golden, but not brown.

Remove the loaves from the oven but do not remove them from the cookie sheet.

While the loaves are still very warm, make cuts in each at a 45 degree angle, a little more than ½ an inch apart. If the dough crumbles, make the cuts further apart so that the cookie holds together.

After the cookies are cut, flip them over on their sides on the cookie sheet, not allowing any overlapping. Turn off the oven and return the cookies on the cookie sheet to the oven.

The biscotti (the name means twice-cooked) are ready when they are crisp throughout–probably in the amount of time it takes the oven to cool down.

Biscotti can keep for a very, very long time if you store them in an airtight container so they stay crisp and dry.

If you’re craving the cookies la Befana brings, here is her own recipe:

I Befanini

Says la Befana…

“Good Evening kind folk

I’ve brought you little Befana cookies

Just the recipe to keep in mind

For those wonderful little kids.


In a well of eight cups (one kilo) of flour

One and ½ cups each of butter and sugar are needed

Then two eggs

And one orange, juiced, won’t hurt either.


A little grated lemon rind

Will give the cookies great aroma and a lot of flavor

Then add a ½ teaspoon baking soda and a ½ teaspoon cream of tartar

And your dough is ready.


With cookie cutters and a rolling pin

You give life to the little Befana cookies

And just to make everything more beautiful,

Don’t forget the sprinkles.


It’s a very old recipe

From Lucchesia

That shouldn’t wear you out

If you make them with joy.”

— From “La Befana Raccontata” by Lucia Pardini



Buttery, fragile and delicious creations in virtually any shape you’d like…

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Mix together thoroughly:

1 cup soft Butter

⅔ cup sugar

3 egg yolks

1 teaspoon almond extract



Work in slowly:

2 ½ cups sifted flour

Force the dough through a cooky press onto an ungreased baking sheet in rosettes, or other desired shapes.  

Consider decorating with blanched almonds, sprinkles, or candied fruit.

Bake 7-10 minutes until set but not brown.



Buona Befana! Happy New Year to all!!!

Posted Posted in Lucchesi

Lucca came alive for an ancient tradition today:

La Befana, the Italian original substitute for Santa Claus, visited via Fillungo to deliver treats to children in an atmosphere of traditional songs and love for all the young.  This legendary, poor old woman delivers gifts to children on Epiphany, the day that the Three Kings delivered their gifts to the Christ child — January 6th.

Watch la Befana here in action as the chorus of la Befana a Lucca Dentro sings in her honor, thanks to our correspondent Giulia Lippi:


Posted Posted in Art Shows, Day Trips, Insider Food, Insider Sights, Lucchesi, Restaurants

In italiano a:

ON VIEW NOW: A Rare Luminous Glimpse into Nomellini’s Evolution

Thru November 5, 2017

Palazzo Mediceo – Seravezza (LU)

Seravezza, the site of the Nomellini exhibit, is an easy and lovely escape from the city into the mountains — just 30 minutes away on A11.  We highly recommend that  you combine this great cultural experience with a gastronomic one as well.   Check the exhibit hours before you go so that you can see the show after 5 pm and follow it with an exceptional dinner at the Communist Club in Solaio — officially, the Circolo ARCI.  Yes, we said it was Communist, but it is now socialist in name alone, and reservations are a definite must on weekends.  It’s the perfect place to hang with your friends and family because they handle crowds like pros. You will be amused by the Che Guevara fresco that greets you at the front door, but you will be astounded by the home-made tordelli con sugo (Lucchese meat-filled ravioli with meat sauce) that are probably the best that this author has ever tasted — except for my Nonna’s!

The experiences of war and dictatorship have plunged many an artist into exhortative depictions of horror and despair.  Yet others, like Plinio Nomellini, the subject of a stunning retrospective at the Medici Foundation in Seravezza (LU), Italy, found the inspiration to celebrate the beauty of life’s everyday moments despite political events.

With her show Plinio Nomellini – From Divisionism to Symbolism toward the freedom of color, Curator Nadia Marchione gives light to rarely seen pieces from private collections, as well as the Archivio Nomellini in Florence, and the Uffizi.  While the painter was widely respected in Italy throughout his career as he is today, Nomellini, like the Macchiaioli who mentored him, is hardly known outside of Italy.  This beautiful collection offers an extraordinary chance to learn about his evolution as a painter.

Over the course of his long life (1866-1943) Nomellini synthesized a Romantic sensibility with Pointillism strokes, and Expressionist intensity, to celebrate family and friends captured in bucolic settings, even as Italy rode the emotional and economic rollercoaster of its Unification, World War, Depression and Fascist euphoria thru the early 20th century.

The Romantic poet Giovanni Pascoli, the Decadent writer and political activist Gabriele D’Annunzio, Giacomo Puccini, Futurist Lorenzo Viani, Nobel prize winning author Grazia Deledda, and Macchiaiolo Giovanni Fattori were only a few of the friends with wildly divergent views who frequented Nomellini’s salons and who influenced him.

A frequent exhibitor at the Venice Biennale, “Nomellini was the artist who most courageously introduced the study of the divided brushstroke to Italy, borrowing the French pointillist theory on juxtaposing pure colors on a canvas, and translating it into an absolutely personal language,” says Ms. Marchioni.

Nomellini’s canvases are luminous, and often huge, capable of immersing the viewer in a joyous, quasi-mythic world.  As the Carlo Sisi, of the Fondazione Medicea says, the chronological progression of the exhibit permits viewers to see and learn from the evolution of a master’s vision as he seeks to express the “profound, impassioned, and mysterious” nature of the human spirit.

ABOVE:  “Kisses of the Sun” or “Baci di sole, 1908,” one of the featured paintings by Italian impressionist Plinio Nomellini, exhibited at the Palazzo Mediceo in Seravezza thru November 3rd.

ABOVE:  The exhibit is housed in a 15th century Medici palace which straddles the valley in Seravezza.

AN INSIDER LOOK: Where to Stay & Where to Eat Made Easy

Posted Posted in Insider Food, Lucchesi, Restaurants, Where to Stay

Lucca is a great place in and of itself.  In fact, it shouldn’t be treated like a quick stopover, but rather as a place from which to savor the best of Tuscany.  This means not rushing in and out on a bus or even by train — though transportation on either is extremely convenient.  Enjoying the best of Lucca and Tuscany means staying in a hotel or apartment with the amenities you deserve on your grand tour, or just for Santa Croce… 

We want you to enjoy your vacation and not need another to recover from it!

Step 1:  

Book a stay at the city’s best hotel: the Hotel Ilaria.

Does it have 16th century frescoes on the walls?  No, sorry.  Nor is it decorated for nouveaux cardinals or princes.   It’s rather plain on the outside, BUT the Ilaria has many more valuable aspects: an exquisite breakfast (+ coffees of all types! More about that later), a gorgeous location (imagine a balcony bordering on one of the city’s most beautiful gardens), and amazingly, in and out parking that’s painless to access.  The rest can be taken for granted since it is a 4-star hotel: there are clean, modern, functional rooms, with clean modern baths.  Perhaps less usual, the hotel has gracious and comfortable common areas, where coffee and aperitifs are offered gratis at all the appropriate hours.  The Ilaria also quickly feels like home thanks to its accommodating and personable staff, in particular its owner Franco Barbieri.  At breakfast, the freshness of the offerings from smoked salmon to budini di riso (pastries filled with rice pudding) put to shame all other attempts to provide all-inclusive breakfast fare.  The coffee machine alone, is heavenly, pumping out freshly ground coffee of all types, and even hot chocolate, in a marvel of high tech proficiency.  Wander outside and you can choose between a leisurely stroll through the garden of Villa Bottini and along the fossi, canals punctuated by flowers, or head straight into town on via Santa Croce by walking through the medieval towered walls visible from the hotel.  Want to explore on a bike?  The Ilaria has free ones for you you to use.  You can even stay at the annex of the Ilaria where your beautiful suite can occupy what was once a chapel.   There is not enough we can say to praise this location as a launching point for your stay.  If you don’t want to worry about anything except how many circuits of the walls you’ll need to do to work off breakfast, stay here.


Book an apartment for a week’s stay.

While airbnb is popular, it is not the best choice for Lucchesi nel Mondo and others looking for a worry-free experience.  Apartments are for those who know the city and are looking for quality accommodations, without the need to be fed or attended to daily.  Lucca Holiday Homes, directed by Debora del Sonno, has, for many years, offered reliable and beautiful alternatives to hotel living in apartments ranging from one room to three bedrooms.  Worry not if you are driving into Lucca either, for it is possible to easily find in/out affordable long term parking at Garage Pasquinelli, via Vittorio Emanuele 78, or at one of the city’s larger parking garages.

Once you are situated, you’ll want to eat something…

A refreshing combination of hibiscus flowers and citron complement freshly made fettuccine at La Buca di Sant’Antonio.

The best soul food:

Critics and celebrities agree with locals that La Buca di Sant’Antonio is Lucca’s best restaurant for the dishes which make Lucca’s cuisine so distinctive and delicious.  Locally sourced seasonal ingredients have determined its menus since long before these concepts became trendy.  La Buca is far from being the bettola that it was when it first opened in the 18th century.  Yet its elegance is never stuffy, and its chef-owner, Giuliano Pacini, frequents the dining room as if it were his home.  Don’t miss the tordelli, or the goat, or the piatto forte for dessert.  Hopefully, you’ll be dining with many friends there, so you’ll be able to sample many dishes.  You won’t be disappointed.

A veil of raspberry puree` crackles over a foamy pate` of chicken livers at La Buca di Sant’Antonio

The BEST fresh take on Italian cuisine:  Ristorante il Giglio

If you have never tried crostini con fegatini, you might want to start here with il Giglio’s incredibly light pate` topped with a crisp, microscopically thin sheet of raspberry, and served with melt-in-your mouth slices of pan brioche.  Yes, this dish is to die for and threatens to outshine everything else you might eat in Lucca — whether you ever thought you’d like chicken livers or not.  The restaurant’s atmosphere is again, elegant, but not stuffy.  There is 18th century wainscotting on the walls in the high ceilinged, air-conditioned dining area, but it is balanced by clean, heavy linens and photos of Summer Music Festival stars.   (Casually elegant places must be my favorite kind, because I sense these terms are a recurring motif to this website…)  The three young chefs at the helm keep the menu vibe fresh.  We loved the fettucine with citron and hibiscus flowers.  It wasn’t a fussy dish, just light and flavorful.

The BEST pizza:

When a light meal or snack are needed, MaraMeo serves pizza and cecina (a flat pie of chickpea flour) fresh from their wood-burning oven at all hours.  We especially like this Lucchese-owned place for their pizza Margherita con mozzarella di bufala.  If you’re in town for Santa Croce or during the winter, check out their torta di neccio too.


Garden Lucca

Lucca’s Best Kept Secret Garden

Posted Posted in Insider Sights
Secrets of Lucca
The doors to the garden mysteriously open in the morning to reveal a lovely quiet space.

























Hot? Tired?  Need a quiet space to rest?  Worry not.  Lucca has many gardens, not just atop its walls…  


One of the most lovely hides just steps from the mayor’s office in via Santa Giustina.

Garden Lucca
Passersby once could only catch a glimpse of the garden thru the iron grates.

The garden’s walls that rise over 20 feet once kept out all but the Pierantoni family which most recently owned the adjoining Palazzo facing Piazza del Salvatore #1, aka della Pupporona.  In the past, one could only stand on tiptoe to peer thru the iron grates in the wall for a glimpse of the garden.  But for a few years now, the doors to the garden at via Loreto, 21, mysteriously open every morning and close again at night, providing conoscienti the chance to rest under the garden’s ancient, overarching wisteria or catch the scent from its sweet roses.  Warning: no dogs or picnicking allowed.  The rationale: finding peace is a serious business that requires quiet contemplation.

If you are observant, you can catch glimpses of more gardens like this one spread throughout the city.  In fact, at least until the 19th century, almost every building inside Lucca’s walls had a garden, or in the absence of this, benefitted from the presence of an open space or orto, in even the smallest dimensions, according to historian Domenico Taddei (170).

Being proponents of humanist values, renaissance Lucchesi began incorporating gardens into the plans for their palazzi for both practical and aesthetic reasons.  The water feature was tied to a well that supplied potable water.  Ornamentals stood in close proximity to the residence so that the proprietor might, from inside, relish the garden’s amenities, according to a 16th century directive cited by Taddei.  Even the regular subdivision of the plantings, the position of the walkway axis with regard to the residence, the pergolas and the placement of benches along perimeter walls and walkways, the addition of  lemon trees in vases along the central pathway, all corresponded to universal criteria that were readily accepted and applied to garden design thru the 19th century (171).



Thankfully, examples remain to be enjoyed to this day.  Check out the gardens of: Palazzo Pfanner, Villa Torrigiani, Giardino Garzoni, and Villa Mansi to name just a few….

Lucca's Secret Garden
As you leave the garden, admire the ornate carvings on the entrance door to the Palazzo Orsini across the way on via Loreto.


Posted Posted in Day Trips, Fun with Kids, Insider Food, Restaurants


Many years ago we discovered a happy, mysteriously isolated place.  The hills, nearly mountains, there are rich with dense forest and wild boar, thickly built stone homes as well as beautiful vineyards and fields of grain.  This is the Casentino, a region in Tuscany that’s conveniently just two hours directly east of Lucca and just north of Arezzo, yet it is mysteriously free of tourists.  It is the home of the famous eponymous woolen fabric casentino which hunters, children, and noblemen alike wear proudly and comfortably during the winter, as they have for centuries.  It is where Civettaja — one of Italy’s new award-winning organic pinot noirs — originates, and near the vineyards of Castello Pomino and other Frescobaldi wines.   This is also where the mountain, Montefalterona, gives birth the Arno river that flows through the heart of Firenze, and which inspired political exile Dante Alighieri to reminisce about its fame in his home town.

Years ago, my father, children and I escaped all responsibilities by booking a room at an agriturismo in the Casentino where the owners raised wild horses and led excursions into the forests to hunt mushrooms and wild boar.  Even though my kids were too young to indulge in more than a ride around the corral, my sons happily soaked in the atmosphere imagining themselves something between cowboys and knights.  The innate warmth of our hosts made the excursion idyllic, and our communal evening meals of wild mushrooms and fresh game that other guests had snagged, were extraordinary.  The experience embodied “locally sourced” and “slow food” before either term was invented.

Alas, there was no locating the Agriturismo Croce ai Mori this year.  But we did discover a new place well worth the trip: the horse farm at Equinatura in San Donato (near the towns of Pratovecchio and Stia).  Its owner and chief trainer, Giovanna di Buonamico, has lived in the area for over 30 years and is an expert with a sixth sense for assessing riders.  After an orientation in their corral, her husband guided my son and me on a two hour tour on horseback through the countryside, passing blackberry brambles, wild cherries, golden fields of grain (yes, they do exist!) and finally, circling the imposing 10th century fortress of Castello di Romena.  During the tour, we crossed the Arno on horseback twice, saw a couple of wild boar parents usher their six babies across our path, and stopped by a spring which inspired lines in Dante’s Divine Comedy. We felt so out of touch with modern life, so immersed in the early renaissance feel of the place, that we forgot about the time and finished an hour late.

We did not stay in a farmer’s stone ranch as on our first foray into the Casentino, but at an unassuming and charming hotel, Albergo Falterona, in a 15th century palace in Stia.  While our room was London-hotel room-tiny, it was beautifully designed to make maximum use of every inch.  The decorating felt historically correct, yet it was unpretentious, even casual — a truly Tuscan feat that was refreshing and welcoming.  The bedroom easily accommodated three of us plus luggage and was complemented by a very modern bath — fresh and clean. Across the street, the hotel’s restaurant offered sophisticated nouvelle Italian cuisine and great wines, while not forgetting to offer excellent bistecca alla fiorentina.









After our horseback excursion, we explored the Apennines around Stia, working our way to the mountaintop called Croce ai Mori (Moors’ Cross).  The exceptional view from the 955 meter peak compensated for the switchback, sometimes one lane drive through the forest to the top. On the way back down, we lunched at Locanda Fonte allo Spino. Our appetizer of fried dough with stracchino and prosciutto was an unusually scrumptious dish.  Better yet was the chef’s take on pappardelle con cinghiale (wide noodles with boar sauce).  It was the best I‘ve tasted in years.  The secret: juniper berries and cinnamon incorporated into the sauce.

The pappardelle con cinguiale at Locanda Fonte allo Spino benefit from the addition of juniper berries and cinnamon — yum!

 All this hospitality and gastronomic quality makes one wonder why the Casentino isn’t a more popular destination.  In the meantime, the lack of tourists gives those in the know all the more space and quiet to take in all the region has to offer.

How to get from Lucca to Stia: Click Here


"Il passo sospeso" City of Lucca


Posted 2 CommentsPosted in Art Shows, Insider Sights




Morphing mammals, dismembered body parts, and reimagined classical figures stand in unexpected locations throughout the historic center of Lucca, Italy. They are part of an exhibit entitled: Il passo sospeso ~ Esplorazione del limite or The Suspended Step ~ An Exploration of Limits. The bronze works of over 40 international artists are featured among Lucca’s famed, park-topped Renaissance walls, and they make touring historical sites thought-provoking and even fun.

The show’s contemporary works, sponsored by the Fondazione Ragghianti of Lucca, explore the timely concepts of boundaries, borders, and limits, by forming connections between the sculptures and their positioning throughout town.

Figure 1: Gustavo Aceves, “Lapidarium.” On the rampart of San Paolino, Lucca. Photograph by Grace Roberti.

At the city’s principal gate, San Paolino, those who enter through it may feel threatened by the 30-foot tall equestrian guard on the rampart above them (Figure 1). After a glance around the city, he is not alone: Congo warriors and horses in various stages of disintegration fill the 16th century military staging area just behind him (Figure 2). Little boys shout in glee to see the swords, parents of all nationalities read about Gustavo Aceves’ work Lapidarium, and locals gaze approvingly on what appears to be preparations for some apocalyptic battle. For Aceves, this is a “work in progress [that] will grow with each installation until its final exhibition.” He intends each bronze work to represent a fragment of human history, creating a silent space of reflection available to all. From Lucca, the Lapidarium (previously in Rome’s Imperial Forum) will travel to Athen’s Acropolis, il Trocadero in Paris, Beijing, and finally, Mexico City, where Aceves plans to show 100 unique large scale sculptures.

Figure 2: Gustavo Aceves, “Lapidarium.” On the rampart of San Paolino, Lucca. Photograph by Grace Roberti.

Inside the ring of its park-lined walls, Lucca’s 9th century church of San Michele is an important destination for visitors because of its ornately decorated façade featuring the sculpted heads of important leaders from over the centuries. One can imagine them judging the merchants cutting deals in the piazza below, which was once the city’s Roman forum and chief marketplace. Now neo-expressionist Sandro Chia has positioned his sculpture, Offerta damore or “Love Offering” there. It features two 17th century-like figures passionately discussing a love offering, where farmers once came to sell their crops (Figure 3). Chia is a Florentine painter and sculptor with works on display at MOMA and the Tate Gallery.

Figure 3: A new type of bartering. Sandro Chia, “Offerta d’amore.” Piazza San Michele. Photo by Grace Roberti.

From here, a visitor would traditionally walk up the via Fillungo, the original Roman road leading out of town to the countryside. The ancient road is usually crowded with locals on their passeggiata, admiring one another and the fashionable shops that line the street. So, after a brief walk, it is a pleasant surprise for visitors to escape through a tunneled archway and discover an oval-shaped piazza, once a Roman amphitheater. Surprising even to Lucchesi is the sight of Tindaro in the center of the restaurant-ringed piazza. The sculpture, a towering bronze head in a neo-classic style by Igor Mitoraj (Figure 4), seems to dignify the setting of the ancient Roman amphitheater, soberly reminding tourists that in the past, the venue was hardly a dining destination. Mitoraj, who died in 2014, is well known in Lucca for his adoption of nearby Pietrasanta as his artistic home. Like Michelangelo and Henry Moore before him, the Polish-born sculptor appreciated the quality of its Carrara marble and set up a studio there.

Figure 4: Igor Mitoraj, “Tindaro.” Reminding visitors that Lucca’s Piazza dell’anfiteatro is oval-shaped, thanks to the Roman amphitheater that once stood there. Photo by Grace Roberti.

Many visitors to Lucca wisely rent bikes to ride around the top of the city’s walls to admire the views, and now they can also enjoy other artworks on exhibit there. Atop the elegant structure of Porta Elisa, an entrance and exit gate through the city wall, male and female figures Ikaro Alato and Ikaria also by Igor Mitoraj (Figure 5) seem ready to attempt another winged escape from earth.

Figure 5: Igor Mitoraj’s “Ikaria and Ikario Alato” appear ready to take off from the wall’s Port’Elisa. Photo by Grace Roberti.

Further along the walls, one can admire works by Greek sculptor Sophia Vari: Lhomme and La femme (Figure 6). These intentionally appear on a 17th century rampart scarred by the remnants of a 16th century defensive tower which sits alongside a barracks still in use today. The artist was attracted by the stratification of so many time periods within the space, a stratification akin to her use of polychrome sculpture.

Figure 6: Sophia Vari, “L’homme and La femme.” Mari create parallels between the statues’ construction and the stratification of rampart. Photo by Grace Roberti.

Other works seem to spring impromptu from forgotten spaces and galleries throughout the city, giving one pause, as the shows title suggests, to consider the possibilities life offers. Artworks are displayed at the Fondazione Ragghianti, and other locations as shown on the foundation’s map.

Alessandro Romanini curated Il passo sospeso to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the passing of the foundation’s founder, Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti, who educated present and future generations about 20th century art by exposing them to the perspectives of international artists.

The show opened on June 23, and runs through September 3, 2017. It is free to the public.

PARTICIPATING ARTISTS: Marina Abramović, Gustavo Aceves, Bas Jan Ader, Roberto Barni, Alighiero Boetti, Marcel Broodthaers, Enrico Castellani, Sandro Chia, Michelangelo Consani, Leone Contini, Vittorio Corsini, Gino De Dominicis, Aron Demetz, Giuseppe Donnaloia, Mario Fallini, Roberto Fanari, Davide Ferrario, Lucio Fontana, Luca Gaddini, Peter Greenaway, Emilio Isgrò, William Kentridge, Joseph Kosuth, Markus Lüpertz, Piero Manzoni, Marisa Merz, Igor Mitoraj, Jonathan Monk, Alexey Morosov, Luigi Ontani, ORLAN, Mimmo Paladino, Giulio Paolini, Massimiliano Pelletti, Marc Quinn, Enrique Ramirez, Bernardí Roig, Wael Shawky, Santiago Sierra, Giuseppe Uncini, Sophia Vari, Massimo Vitali, Guido van der Werve, Kan Yasuda

5 sites

5 Top Sites in Lucca

Posted Posted in Fun with Kids, Insider Sights

VISITING LUCCA FOR THE FIRST TIME? Don’t miss these 5 top sites:

TOP SITE #1. The city’s park-topped, Renaissance walls — aka, le mura.  

Rent a bike or go on foot: every meter of this 4.2 kilometer walk encircling the city is a pleasure for the senses.  Look out onto vistas of the city or the mountains beyond.  Admire bronze sculptures from around the world.  People watch couples on their passeggiata (daily walk), see families reconnecting as they peddle buggies, folks relaxing in the shade of hundreds year old trees, and joggers pushing themselves into shape.  Scope out what you’ll be seeing next…

Top 5 sites Lucca
Top among visitors & locals alike: the tree-lined walkway on Lucca’s walls with a bird’s eye view of the city’s beauty & is never more than 5 minutes from anyplace inside the walls.

TOP SITE #2.   The Church of San Michele in Foro

Admire the facade of the 13th century Church of San Michele set on the site of Lucca’s Roman forum. Look carefully at busts that decorate the tops of the columns: not all are original to the church — not all are even saints!

top 5 sites lucca
There are jewels up there… or so the legend goes. There are also definitely some heads of political and cultural figures that aren’t original to the facade. Can you find them?

TOP SITE #3:  The Torre Guinigi

Rise to the top: climb the 230 steps to the top of the Torre Guinigi & be cooled by the shade of its trademark trees as you take in the magnificent 360 degree view of the city and beyond.  The tower is part of a palace built by one of the city’s wealthiest signori, an international businessman, patron of the arts & leader of the independent Republic of Lucca who died in 1432.  His lovely villa (or country estate) was just outside the city’s medieval walls.  It is now a national museum worth a visit for its architecture. 

Top 5 sites Lucca
The tree-topped tower of the prominent Guinigi family makes a terrific outing, especially if you have energetic kids in tow.

TOP SITE #4.   The Cathedral of San Martino

It may look lopsided on the outside, but don’t discount this Duomo — there are treasures within.   Most beautiful is the tomb of Ilaria del Carretto — the young wife of the city’s leading citizen, Paolo Guinigi, who died in childbirth.  The tomb is his tribute to his love for her.  It’s a striking contrast to the frightening countenance of the Volto Santo (Holy Face) which stares down at visitors from a massive cross within a wrought iron gazebo.  The Volto Santo is said to have been carved by an eye-witness to Jesus’ crucifixion, Nicodemus.  The cross arrived in Lucca on an unmanned boat in the river Serchio.  It has been performing miracles for believers ever since — hence the golden crown, robes, shoes, and countless other tributes that surround the ebony and ivory figure — all are gifts from the grateful.   If you time your visit well, you can see an impressive candlelight procession  for the feast of the Volto Santo on the evening of September 13th, which attracts Lucchese pilgrims from around the world.

Top 5 sites Lucca
Candles illuminate San Martino and buildings along the procession route for the feast of the Volto Santo.

TOP SITE #5:  The Church of San Frediano

Look up at the gilded facade of this simply lovely 13th century basilica.  The eyes of Jesus seem to follow visitors as they enter and leave thanks to the architect’s tilting out of the upper portion of the mosaic–an early way to simulate perspective.  Yet the wonders of  San Frediano don’t stop there. Its simple interior is true to Romanesque style.  There you’ll find masterworks by Jacopo della Quercia, a baptistry font attributed to Andrea Pisano, and a beautiful lunette by Della Robbia.   A garden bursts into bloom in the piazza of San Frediano and the nearby Piazza dell’Anfiteatro (once the Roman amphitheater) during the week before April 27.  It celebrates the feast day of Saint Zita who lived just blocks away from the church. Don’t miss this beautiful holiday if you’re nearby!

Top 5 sites Lucca
Fireworks sparkle against the mosaic facade of San Frediano during the Feast of Santa Zita.


Narcissus, known as the flowers of Saint Zita, are everywhere for her feast day, as are flowers and fruit of all kinds.

Lucca's Top 5 sites in one dayLucca's 5 top sites in one day


So there you have them: the 5 Top Sites to visit in historic Lucca…

Check them out and let us know what you think.  Photos and reader contributions are always welcome.  Contact Us


Location, location, NOT

Posted Posted in Day Trips, Insider Food, Restaurants

It can be intimidating to defy SIRI and take the “road less traveled,” but the rewards can be huge.
On the way to Lucca from an errand in the Florentine suburb of Scandicci, we chose be different and take the Via Statale/State Route 66 (rather than the Autostrada 11) on the way home. While even my car’s GPS loudly insisted that I’d taken a wrong turn, we dove down a two lane highway between factories of furniture, fabric, and clothing, to discover one of the best authentic meals we’ve had in a very long time.

The Bar Giratempo in Quarrata (a suburb of Pistoia) is tiny, featuring nine tables in a clean modern setting (mostly outside). The fact that one end of the cafe` doubles as a resale shop of old clothes, may dissuade some, but in its quirky honest way Bar Giratempo brings back flavorful memories of the working class osterie that once served artists, bricklayers and other working class customers excellent meals at affordable prices in Firenze, so many years ago.

The kitchen prepared deliciously homemade Spaghetti alla Carbonara (customized, upon request, to a lower fat version with baked ham) and Gnocchi with Gorgonzola and Radicchio (photo below). The atmosphere was punctuated by jokes among truckers, and the occasional passing car on the nearby road. But considering we were seated on a terrace just 15 feet from the highway, all was peaceful. In fact we were impressed by the guests’ high expectations for lunch and felt a little slighted that the host hadn’t told us about the homemade tordelli (meat-filled ravioli) and super fresh ricotta that he happily offered to his regular guests… In addition to the great pastas, we had half a liter of house red, water, and a Crostata della Nonna for dessert, all for just 17 euros for two — definitely worth a visit if you are passing by.

Bar Giratempo, via Statale n. 172, Olmi Quarrata (PT) 0583 717369



Overcome Jet lag on the way to Lucca: Indulge in a drive on E80

Posted Posted in Day Trips, Fun with Kids, Insider Food, Insider Sights

Driving from Rome’s Fiumicino Airport to Lucca?
You’ve had a grueling time on the plane. Enough is enough. Indulge in some R&R on the way to Lucca. DON’T take the Autostrada del Sole – A11.
Drive north instead on the wind swept, tollway known as E80/SS1. The sea views will take your breathe away.

This highway, originally completed by Roman ruler Marcus Aurelius, has some of the best views on the Italian peninsula without sacrificing speed, since it is still a four-lane autostrada, which will occasionally require a toll. But because for bureaucratic reasons it isn’t completely refurbished and as fast as A11, it will whisk past summer beach resorts and yes, a few power plants and cities, exposing you to Italian history on fast-forward.

First up, the city of Tarquinia beckons with its claim to beautiful women and some of the country’s best preserved Etruscan necropoli — think Fellini’s Roma, before the frescoes faded… It’s worth a stop, if you have the time, or worth noting for a return once you are looking for a day trip.
This is Lazio where rows of umbrella pines punctuate the landscape in elegant rows, demanding attention. There was a time when my sons would spend hours smashing the seed pods of these trees with rocks, in order to extract their prize: a pine nut! If you stop for a break, you now know what to do…

In some stretches along the highway, the speed limit falls to 90 km/hr as the road drops to two lanes. The slow down should help you to admire the scenery, the sunflowers and wheat, cattle and sheep, mixed with gorgeous sea views. Stay the course and you will pass Orbetello and industrial Grosseto. If times allows, this is where you need to take a quick detour, to catch sight of Castiglione della Pescaia, and its resort sister: Punt’Ala.

Best of all this is a great place to grab a delicious lunch.

Exit at Grosseto and take route SP152 to Ponti a Badia where the restaurant of the same name serves exceptional tordelli (ravioli stuffed with fresh ricotta) covered with pomarola, a fresh tomato sauce. Also recommended: the vongole: mussels steamed in a lemony wine concoction.

After an espresso, continue on SP152 to Castiglione della Pescaglia, a picturesque sailing and boating town populated by Italians getting away from it all. After exploring the area, hop onto SP158, taking a left turn onto Strada Provinciale Tirli, and cruise by lovely homes and seascapes on the way to Punta Ala. At this point on the peninsula, literally named Wing Point, there is a nature park along the reef with stunning views that sometimes include dolphins and whales! You can park near the tip of the peninsula and explore it on foot. The private residences in Punta Ala’s resort community have access to beaches, sailing, horse-back riding, tennis and golf; but others choose to camp there in a setting that feels untouched, even if, in reality, it is just very well-maintained.

From Punta Ala, the road passes Follonica, and reaches Castagneto Carducci, a hilltop town named for one of Italy’s greatest poets, Giosue` Carducci, who had a home there in the 19th century.

Perhaps even more scenic is nearby Bolgheri, whose allee` of cypresses inspired Carducci to write a poetic ode that has been memorized by generations of Italian middle-schoolers. Nowadays, most know the area for its SuperTuscan wines, like Salsicaia by Tenuta San Guido, and the Antinori wine, Guado al Tasso.

Have an aperitif, but hold out for dinner in Quercianella. There, on the terrace of the unpretentious, kid-friendlyHotel Belsoggiorno (photo above), you can reward yourself by experiencing one of the best fish stews, known as cacciucco, anywhere around Livorno, where the dish was invented. The space is clean and simply summery. The service as warm as the sun. The windsurfers abound, and you can follow their progress on the surf well below you, as you gaze out on the islands of Gorgona and Capraia, Elba and more…

At this point, you have overcome your jet-lag and are ready for Lucca. Your destination is just 43 minutes away…