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

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.

Alternatively:

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.