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Italy For Dummies
By Bruce Murphy
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-7386-1
Chapter OneNorthern Tuscany and the Cinque Terre
In This Chapter
* Exploring city ramparts in Lucca
* Checking out the Leaning Tower in Pisa
* Discovering fishing villages in the Cinque Terre
Northern Tuscany is an area rich in history and natural beauty. In this book, we concentrate on its eastern part, near the beautiful Tyrrhenian Sea, where you'll find Pisa, with its justly famous Leaning Tower, and Lucca, one of Italy's most delightful medieval walled cities. However, no trip to the area could be complete without a glimpse of the Italian Riviera, especially as it is experienced in the national park of the Cinque Terre, a group of five picturesque villages clinging to abrupt cliffs and recently declared a World Heritage site by UNESCO.
Three days is the minimum you will need to visit these destinations, but of course, if you have the leisure and the disposition, this region could justify a longer stay. Pisa makes an excellent base for visiting any of the destinations in this chapter; it's not only central but it's also a pleasant city to visit, with a choice of moderately priced hotels. Alternatively, you can easily visit any of these destinations in this area as a day trip from Florence.
The great English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley passed by here and wrote "The Baths of Lucca," celebrating the unspoiled medieval townsurrounded by powerful red ramparts. Lucca's architecture speaks of its past glory: an important city under the Romans, it later became a republic, fighting for its independence against Pisa (see Chapter 2). It was - and still is - famous for the works produced in its music school, founded in A.D. 787. A famous student of the school was Giacomo Puccini, who gave the world some of its greatest operas, such as Madame Butterfly and Tosca.
Lucca is an easy day trip from Florence or Pisa, but if you have time, it's also a wonderful place to spend a couple of days leisurely strolling the walls or enjoying an opera or a concert, especially during the September festival (see "More cool things to see and do," later in this section).
Lucca is about 64km (40 miles) west of Florence, and 22km (14 miles) north of Pisa, easily reached by train, bus, or car.
Trains for Lucca leave Florence every hour - and sometimes even more frequently. The trip takes about 1 1/4 hours and costs about 4.55 ($5.20). Trains from Pisa to Lucca travel as frequently, but the trip is only 20 to 30 minutes and costs 2.05 ($2.40). Lucca's rail station (0583-467-013) is just south of the walls, on Piazzale Ricasoli, off Porta San Pietro (St. Peter's Gate). You can easily walk to the center of town - if you don't have luggage or if you left it at the train station - or take a taxi or bus (see "Getting around," later in this section).
By bus, the company Lazzi (055-363-041; for schedule information: 050-46-288 in Pisa, 055-215-155 in Florence, 0583-584-896 in Lucca; lazzi.it) runs regular service to Lucca from both Pisa and Florence. The trip takes about an hour from Florence (for 4.70/$5.40), and about 30 minutes from Pisa (for 2.20/$2.50). Buses arrive at Piazzale Verdi, within Lucca's walls, on the west side.
If you have a car, from Florence take autostrada A11 toward Prato, Pistoia, and Lucca. From Pisa, you can take A12 north toward Viareggio and turn off toward Florence on A11; Lucca is the first exit after the junction with A11. You can also take the local road SS12 from Pisa to Lucca - it's narrower (two lanes) but shorter. You'll have to park your car outside the walls unless you are going to drop your luggage at your hotel - only locals are allowed to drive inside.
Parking lots are located near most of the six city gates; make a note of the city gate you parked near and of the bus route number that takes you there.
To fully enjoy the medieval flavor of the town, the best way to visit is on foot. However, Lucca is larger than one might think and, if you get tired, public transportation comes in handy: the electric navette (shuttle bus) system runs regularly with routes to and from most of the city gates and all parking lots, and through the center of town. You'll find a map at the city bus office (CLAP; Piazzale Verdi 800-602-525 toll-free in Italy or 058-35-411) and you can buy tickets (0.60/70¢ for 1 ride and 6/$7 for 12) at any tobacconist, newsstand, or bar displaying the CLAP sign.
On Sundays the navette service is less frequent and most ticket vendors are closed.
Taxis are also a great way to get around - and they operate on a regular schedule on Sundays. There are stands at the railroad station on Piazzale Ricasoli (0583-494-989); Piazza Napoleone (0583-492-691); Piazza Santa Maria (0583-494-190); and Piazzale Verdi (0583-581-305).
Another possibility is to do like the Luccans do: Although residents' cars are allowed within the city walls, Luccans seem to prefer biking (see "More cool things to see and do," later in this chapter.).
BEST OF THE BEST
Spending the night
Hotel Ilaria $$ Via Santa Croce
Tasteful guest rooms, breakfast on a quiet terrace overlooking a beautiful park, free use of bicycles, a parking garage on premise - all right in the center of Lucca. What else do you want? Discount prices at the best restaurants in town? You got it: The management of Hotel Ilaria has an agreement with three restaurants in town, including the well-recommended Giglio and Buca di Sant'Antonio (see "Dining locally," later in this chapter). Beautifully renovated, this elegant hotel is housed in the former stables of the Villa Bottini and overlooks the villa's park - a quiet location near the canal that crosses the city toward the east. Guest rooms are spacious and pleasant, with modern dark wood furniture and good-sized bathrooms. Some rooms are accessible to people with disabilities.
See map p. 242. Via del Fosso 26, off Via Santa Croce. 0583-47-615. Fax: 0583-991-961. hotelilaria.com. Free parking. Rack rates: 230 ($265) double. Rates include buffet breakfast. AE, DC, MC, V.
Hotel La Luna $ Anfiteatro
This well-maintained hotel, renovated in 2003, offers a great value right in the historic center. It's divided between two buildings; some of the ceilings have 17th-century frescoes. All the guest rooms are spacious, decorated in warm tones, and furnished in classic style. Bathrooms are relatively small, but a few have Jacuzzi tubs. The hotel also has a number of suites - some quite grand, with large beds and high ceilings (for 175/$201).
See map p. 242. Corte Compagni 12, off Via Fillungo. 0583-493-634. Fax: 0583- 490-021. hotellaluna.com. Free parking. Rack rates: 110 ($127) double. Rates include buffet breakfast. AE, DC, MC, V.
Palazzo Alexander $$ Piazza San Michele
This hotel, which opened in 2000, offers luxurious accommodations right in the center of town, with a staff committed to your service. The palace, originally from the 12th century, was restored according to the style of the original furnishings and decorations. Guest rooms are quite magnificent, in what the management defines as stile nobile Lucchese (Luccan aristocratic style), with much gilded furniture and stuccoes and damasqued fabrics; the bathrooms are decorated with marble and other local stones and some have Jacuzzis.
See map p. 242. Via Santa Giustina 48, near Piazza San Michele. 0583-583-571. Fax: 0583-583-610. palazzo-alexander.it. Free valet parking. Rack rates: 170 ($196) double. AE, DC, MC, V.
Piccolo Hotel Puccini $ Piazza San Michele
In the heart of the historic center, this is a romantic hotel, offering moderate-sized rooms cozily furnished at low rates. Situated just across from the house where Puccini was born - hence its name - it is housed in a small 15th-century four-story palazzo. All the bathrooms were being completely renovated at press time and should be completed by the time you arrive. Note that there is no elevator or air conditioning. This popular hotel is always full, so book well in advance.
See map p. 242. Via di Poggio 9, off Piazza San Michele. 0583-55- 421. Fax: 0583-53-487. hotelpuccini.com. Parking: 15($17) in nearby garage. Rack rates: 83 ($95) double. AE, DC, MC, V.
There are fewer good restaurants in Lucca than you would expect, but most provide a decent meal - you are in Tuscany after all - although sometimes it's overpriced. Those listed below are the best in town. See Chapter 2 for more in-depth information about Tuscan and Luccan cuisine.
Antico Caffe delle Mura $$ City Ramparts LUCCAN/TUSCAN
With its fantastic location atop the city walls, this elegant restaurant tries to revive 19th-century atmosphere. In the paneled formal dining rooms and, during the good weather season, in the gardens at the back, you will be able to choose from traditional Luccan dishes or other Tuscan favorites, such as the homemade fresh pasta and some of the delectable secondi (main courses), including such specialties as rabbit, duck, and lamb.
See map p. 242. Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, at Baluardo Santa Maria. 0583-47-962. Reservations necessary. Secondi: 14-18 ($16-$21). AE, DC, MC, V. Open: Lunch and dinner Wed-Mon; closed 3 weeks in Jan.
BEST OF THE BEST
Buca di Sant'Antonio $ Piazza San Michele LUCCAN
Lucca's best restaurant, Buca di Sant'Antonio, boasts excellent food at very reasonable prices. The cuisine is strictly traditional, and you wouldn't expect anything else from a restaurant that's been around since 1782. The capretto garfagnino allo spiedo (spit-roasted baby goat from the Garfagnana area) is a classic well worth the trip, as are the tortelli lucchesi al sugo (special round ravioli with a meat sauce); the petto di faraona all'uva moscato (faraona hen breast with a moscato raisin sauce) gained our full approval as well. The remarkable atmosphere is characterized by a labyrinthine succession of small rooms decorated with musical instruments and copper pots. The service is professional and very kind.
See map p. 242. Via della Cervia 3, near Piazza San Michele. 0583- 55-881. Reservations necessary. Secondi: 12.50-13.50 ($14-$16). AE, DC, MC, V. Open: Lunch Tues-Sun; dinner Tues-Sat; closed 3 weeks in July.
Il Giglio $ Piazza Napoleone LUCCAN
Less formal than Antica Caffe delle Mura (reviewed above), Il Giglio offers excellent traditional Luccan specialties and a friendly atmosphere. Dine indoors or, during pleasant weather, you can dine al fresco under an awning. Try the famed zuppa di farro (thick spelt soup) or the homemade tortelli al ragu (round ravioli in meat and tomato sauce). The secondi are also very tasty; you can never go wrong with the coniglio alla cacciatora (rabbit in a wine and herbs sauce) or the roasted lamb.
See map p. 242. Piazza del Giglio 3, near Piazza Napoleone. 0583-494-058. Reservations recommended. Secondi: 14-16 ($16-$18). AE, DC, MC, V. Open: Lunch Thurs-Tues, dinner Thurs-Mon; closed 2 weeks in Feb.
Puccini $$ Piazza San Michele FISH/LUCCAN
Specializing in seafood, you'll always get a fine meal but you may not receive the service to match it. The cuisine mixes tradition with innovation, and the offerings vary with the season and the daily catches. More creative dishes such as tortelloni neri di crostacei con asparagi e pomodorini (black round seafood ravioli with asparagus and cherry tomatoes) and salmone marinato al pepe rosa (marinated salmon in a pink pepper sauce), are offered side by side with great classics, such as the excellent frittura di paranza (fried small fish) - one of our favorites. They also have a special children's menu offering simpler dishes, with fewer spices and special ingredients.
See map p. 242. Corte San Lorenzo 1/2, near Piazza San Michele. 0583-316-116 Reservations necessary. Secondi: 16-21 ($18-$24). AE, DC, V. Open: Lunch Thurs-Mon; dinner Wed-Mon; closed Jan-Feb.
You might want to take advantage of the Cityphone Guided Tour, a recorded tour - available in Italian, English, French, Spanish, and German - that offers explanations and historic facts on all of Lucca's sights. Rent one Cityphone for 9 ($10), two for 14 ($16), and each additional one costs 7 ($8.05). Together with the free city map, it's all you need to explore the city in as much depth as you like. Both are available at the tourist office in Piazzale Verdi. (See "Fast Facts: Lucca," later in this chapter.)
You can buy a cumulative ticket that includes the Duomo and Sacristy, the museum of the Cathedral, and the church and baptistry of Santi Giovanni e Reparata for 5 ($5.75). Another cumulative ticket includes the Museo Nazionale Palazzo Mansi and the Villa Guinigi for 6.50 ($7.50).
The top attractions
Chiesa e Battistero Santi Giovanni e Reparata Piazza San Martino
The 12th-century church of Santi Giovanni e Reparata was partly rebuilt in the 17th century. Together with the adjacent baptistry, adorned with a Gothic dome, they are a lovely sight. However, the real attraction here are the excavations under the church that take you back in time through layers of history. Beneath the later constructions, you can see the remains of a previous basilica, beneath which are the remains of a paleo-Christian church, itself built over a Roman temple, which was built atop a more ancient Roman house. The excavations are accessible to the public by guided tour, and it is best to make a reservation in advance. Expect to spend about an hour here.
Piazza San Giovanni. 0583-490-530 for reservations. Admission: 2.50 ($2.90). Open: Winter Sat-Sun 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; summer daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Duomo (Cattedrale di San Martino) Piazza San Martino
Sitting on a medieval square, this cathedral is a perfect example of Luccan- Pisan Romanesque architecture. Striped with green and white marble, the facade is decorated with three tiers of polychromed small columns. Take some time to walk behind the church and admire the imposing apse, surrounded by a small park. The interior is Gothic, divided into three naves, and contains several fine pieces, the most important in the Sacristy: Ghirlandaio's Madonna with Saints and Ilaria del Carretto Guinigi's funeral monument, a Jacopo della Quercia masterpiece that's one of the finest examples of 15th-century Italian sculpture. Ilaria was the first wife of Paolo Guinigi, ruler of Lucca, and he had the monument built to commemorate her death (she died at 26 after only 2 years of marriage) and beauty. Other interesting works are the Last Supper (Tintoretto Ultima Cena), on the third altar of the right nave, and several sculptures by 15th-century Luccan artist Matteo Civitali (among which are the two angels in the Chapel of the Sacrament [Cappella del Sacramento] and the altar dedicated to San Regolo in the adjacent chapel). Also by Matteo Civitali is the marble housing for the Duomo's relic: the Volto Santo, a wooden crucifix showing the real face of Christ, said to have been miraculously carved. Adjacent to the cathedral is a museum containing artworks once housed in the cathedral. Count about 30 minutes for your visit to the Duomo and another 40 minutes for the museum.
Piazza San Martino. 0583-494-726. Admission: Duomo free; Sacristy 2 ($2.30); Museum 3.50 ($4);. Open: Duomo daily winter 7 a.m.-5 p.m., summer till 7 p.m.; Museum, Nov-Mar Mon-Fri 10 a.m.-3 p.m., Sat-Sun 10 a.m.-6 p.m; Apr-Oct daily 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
Museo Nazionale Palazzo Mansi and Pinacoteca Nazionale Porta San Donato
This lavish 17th-century palace is still decorated with some of its original furnishings and frescoes. Of special note are the Music Room (Salone della Musica) and Nuptial Room (Camera degli Sposi). The collection of paintings in the pinacoteca (picture gallery) includes Italian and foreign artists from the Renaissance to the 18th century; highlights are a portrait by Pontormo of a youth and works by a few big names, such as Andrea del Sarto, Veronese, and Domenichino. For a quick tour, allow about one hour.
See map p. 242. Via Galli Tassi 43. 0583-55-570. Admission: 4 ($4.60). Open: Tues-Sun 9 a.m.-7 p.m.
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