We left the countryside of Tuscany for the walled, Medieval town of Lucca. To be honest I had no idea what to expect. Kelly and her mom planned most of Italy, and after 8 months of planning logistics I was more than happy to just come along for the ride. I knew there really wasn’t a lot of touristy things to do in Lucca, which again was fine by me.
But before we got to Lucca we had to stop by Pisa for the kids. I had seen Pisa before during my college years for the obligatory 1 hour stop. I don’t really get the appeal but I understood why the kids wanted to see it. Also, thankfully my father in law Doug was at this point more than happy to drive (and park) our 9 person beast of a van in order not to deal with the periodic outbursts from my kids on car rides. Our trusty Garmin GPS speaking proper British English (nicknamed Sarah) got us close enough to the leaning tower.
We just followed the crowds, and boy it was crowded. The girls took the “look I’m holding up the learning tower” pics and they lined up to go up the tower until we found out it was 18 Euros each. So we grabbed a quick lunch and drove another hour to Lucca. What I will say about the leaning tower is that is probably the nicest lawn I’ve seen in my life.
Once we drove into one of the few gates through the massive city walls of Lucca and down the primarily pedestrian streets, we got a pretty good vibe from this place. We stayed at Palazzo Busdraghi which had 15 or so rooms and was in Rick Steve’s guidebook. It was old school but pretty nice and right in the middle of town. During our first night there we were the only guests.
We had a couple highlights during our stay in Lucca. The first one was being shown around town by our friend Dannys relatives, Domenico and his daughter Beatrice. We couldn’t have asked for better guides of Lucca. Domenico was a career journalist ,native of Lucca, and general man about town. Both he and Beatrice were constantly being greeted by friends on the street as they took us around, pointing out interest shops, churches, and buildings. Domenico has also spent a good amount of time in the Bay Area and goes back on a regular basis. I never really realized this, but he said that most of the Italians in San Francisco are from Lucca, followed by Sicilians.
During our first tour with Domenico he took us to a high fashion Italian fashion house-Atelier Ricci. It was one of those let’s see if anyone is home moments. Fortunately, Patrizia, daughter/designer, was home and the girls got to see a little glimpse of this world – the fabric, the sketches, the luxurious rooms where people not only get fitted, but small fashion shows take place. There were beautiful gowns and clothes out for all to see. We even got to go into the back sewing room where 5 seamstresses bring the fashion to life. The house itself was amazing. This might have been the highlight of the things we saw in Lucca. This isn’t in any guidebooks or on any maps – we only go to go since Domenico knew the owner. I wanted to play it cool and didn’t take too many pictures but you can google it.
On another day Domenico took Kelly and I out to the countryside to see all the villas surrounding Lucca. This was pure European old money, with massive, gated, landed estates everywhere. I expected someone to pull up next to our car and say, “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon???” One recently went for $35 million, which some considered a deal from the original ask of $60 million. Several of them had young (30-40s), single women living in them, not including servants of course. I asked if they were the last living members of their family. “No,” said Domenico, “The other members have their own villas.” Oh to be born on home plate. So for all you single people our there maybe you should ditch tinder and hang out in Lucca.
Of course Dominico knew a good number of the owners socially and he called one of them who happened to be home so we can look around the beautiful gardens. There was actually a marathon the next day where you run through the gardens of several villas, including the one we just stopped at.
So as you can see we saw a side of Lucca that most tourists never see, and Domenico and Beatrice really made our time there very special.
Another highlight in Lucca was biking along the city walls. The girls haven’t biked in such a long time and we had a blast. When I am taking city walls, it’s as wide as two city streets with parklets and restaurants. Domenico said that up to about 10 years ago you could drive your car on the city walls. The girls loved it so much we did it two different days.
Lucca was a positive surprise for me, I really liked the relatively small size, the car free streets, and the biking culture. I find we are liking the smaller cities just as much or maybe more than the larger ones.
The gang in Lucca.
Next Stop: Roma