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Things to Do In and Around Lucca
Mare from Seattle
Here are a few sights we found interesting (spring 2000) west of Pistoia.
Drive to Bagni di Lucca and Borgo a Mozzano
From Pistoia head WEST on S-66 then onto S-633 and finally onto S-12 which is the road that eventually leads to Bagni di Lucca and Borgo a Mozzano. Drive west on S-12 (not too far west from S-633/S-12 junction) until you see signs for the hamlet of Popiglio. Look for a restaurant sign for "Scacco Matto". It is down a long dirt road below the highway on the left side of the highway (assuming you are going west bound). Scacco Matto is a wonderful ristorante-pizzeria run by Antonio & Maria Ida. The restaurant was closed when we arrived but a very warm and gregarious Antonio welcomed us and made "toasts" for us. He speaks excellent English albeit heavily accented. He worked in Greenwich Village for 20 years - it's a small world! He loves to look at maps and probably has good sightseeing tips. If you want to spend the time, you might ask Antonio to introduce you to a Dane who we were told was the "mayor" (with Antonio one never knows if he is kidding or not). By the way, the Dane and Antonio converse in English as Antonio speaks no Danish and the Dane speaks no Italian!
Next town west is Bagni di Luca, a spa town and tourist destination (we did not stop here).
Further west is the village of Borgo a Mozzano which is famous for its Ponte del Diavolvo (devil's bridge) - for details see the Rough Guide. This 11th century bridge is very narrow with a steep arch. It is constructed of stone, an engineering wonder. It is one of the most photographed attractions in the area. Bridge was supposedly built under the auspices of Countess Matilda!
Another great find was Collodi (birthplace of Pinocchio). We drove in a loop and included Collodi with the above sights. Collodi is due west of Pistoia near Pescia. It is only 15 km east of Lucca so it can easily be combined with that day trip too. It offers two major attractions. First is Parco di Pinocchio which was built in 1956, a Disneyland type park mainly for children (we skipped this). For more information, www.pinocchio.it
Collodi's other great attraction is Villa Garzoni which is located across the street from Pinocchio Park. The villa was closed so I cannot comment on it but garden was fantastic. You can tour both the villa and its Baroque 1650's formal garden (garden starts out at ground level and continues up the very steep hillside). It must have been magnificent in its glory. Rumor has it that Napoleon stayed in the villa.
In Lucca, walk or bike along the town's tree-lined ramparts (about 3 miles) to get a good overview of the city. There is virtually no parking within the walls. Assuming you park outside the walls in one of the many large municipal lots, make certain you keep track of which lot and which shuttle bus route you take into the city. There are many lots and buses so this can be quite confusing. We enjoyed our overnight stay in Lucca but would not rush back. We did not realize it is such a big city (even inside its walls). According to my Michelin book, population is 85,657 (must include sprawl beyond the city's walls).
If you are interested in archeology check out Chiesa di San Giovanni. This church has a 16th century facade and a 12th century body (located in Piazza San Giovanni). During a fairly recent excavation, workers discovered that there are five structures or layers below the existing church. It sits atop a Lombard church which was Lucca's cathedral until the early 700's. The Lombard church was built over the top of a 4-5th century paleochristian church. That church was constructed over a Roman temple which was built atop Roman houses. You can view a 1st century baptismal font and Roman mosaics on a self-guided underground tour. Be sure to use the map provided otherwise it is very difficult to identify the different structures, levels and antiquities.
Another lovely church is San Frediano. Its 13th century facade two-story facade is decorated with gold leaf mosaic tiles, a piece of art. Mosaics depict a scene of Christ with the twelve apostles. A great photo opportunity if the light is right.
If you feel up to a hike, climb the stairs to the top of Torre Guinigi for a fabulous view of the city and surrounding countryside. Torre is 146' high and the top is planted with Holm oaks. A great opportunity for panoramic photos.
Another beautiful church worth a visit is San Michele in Foro. It's a 12th century Romanesque church with a very unusual facade of arches & columns that extend four levels high. Each of the 40+ columns are unique in material and color. To capture the detail, you will need a telephoto lens.
Piazza Anfiteatro is worth a look. A series of houses were built in the middle ages into the remains of a 1st century Roman amphitheater (unfortunately all that is left today is the oval space in the center). A great spot to people watch while drinking coffee or eating gelato.
I love to photograph architecture details such as old doors, window boxes, narrow alleyways, etc. and Lucca is full of them!
We did not have time to explore any museums so I cannot comment.
As for dining, I strongly recommend Buca di San Antonio (c. 1782), a bit hard to find but worth the effort. Interior is nicely decorated with copper pots and various types of antique musical instruments.
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