Pedaling around the top of Lucca’s city wall-turned-city park, feeling the wind in my hair and the sun on my face, it occurs to me: This is why you travel.
Another thought occurs to me: Where are all the tourists? Aside from a few well-behaved international families pedaling and strolling along with me, virtually everyone I see up here — and throughout the town — are locals.
Lucca is a mid-sized city (of around 90,000 people) on the northwestern edge of Tuscany. It’s about a 30-minute drive or train ride from the tourist droves in Pisa. But somehow, Lucca has escaped everybody’s notice.
It’s not for lack of charm. Lucca is right up there on a list of most charming Tuscan cities. Frankly, great artwork aside, I’d rank it above Florence, and possibly even Siena.
And that’s probably Lucca’s secret: No world-class artwork. If there were a Michelangelo or a Leaning Tower here, Lucca would be an obligatory stop on the tourist circuit. But there isn’t…so it’s not.
Lucca does have some gorgeous churches, and a few decent museums. But the city’s real draw is its everyday-ness. It’s a place still owned and operated by local people — not the tourist-industrial complex. It’s simply a delight to wander.
The big landmarks are the rampart park that surrounds the city center (you can bike all the way around in under a half-hour), a couple of piazzas with towering churches, and an oblong square that echoes the footprint of a Colosseum-like arena that once stood here.
But the real joy of Lucca is simply wandering its streets. Despite its approximately regular grid plan, the city is a maze. I get lost here more than in any town in Italy. But maybe, subconsciously, that’s intentional — few places are more enjoyable to simply be lost.
Every side street you pass is a perfect Tuscan tableau.
And when you dine out on a square, it’s just you, a tasty dish of Tuscan pasta, and centuries of elegant good living.
The last thing I want is to drive more people to Lucca. But the most obnoxious breed of tourists — the ones who won’t bother with a place unless it has a famous landmark or piece of art they can tick off their list — won’t bother coming here anyway. Everyone says that when they travel, they want to see a “real, untouristy” side of Europe. If you really mean it…then go to Lucca.