If you are contemplating taking the car and heading towards (or from) the fabulous walled city of Lucca, check out these 9 select ways “super charge” your itinerary. Consider that with one little stop on the road between Florence and Lucca, it is possible to find a vineyard, visit the Etruscans, explore a castle or play with Pinnocchio. It doesn't make a difference if your holiday rental is near Lucca or closer to the Florence, this list of suggestions range from kid friendly parks, imagination sparking castles, the beginning of a spiritual quest to the delicious wholesome flavours of olive oil and IGT wines has got you covered..
Everything we suggest will keep you close to the main highway (the A11) between the cultural mecca of Florence to the delightfully, provincial town of Lucca. And its so much fun when culture comes in many forms: a villa built in the 1600’s, a fun park dedicated to a well beloved fictional character, the cultivation of vineyards that hark back to French origins or border towns and fortifications which existed with the dawn of the Etruscan trading routes.
1 - Altopascio
The via Francigena which passed through the town of Altopascio was well known by the pilgrims from the north heading to the crusades. It was an important stop offering food, healing and a place to rest until they moved on the next stop. This trail has been revitalized by the local government and you can either arrive by car or walk it just like the pilgrims did in the late 1100-1200’s. Check this site out for a path from Lucca to Altopascio.
2 - Montecarlo and Region
This area is dedicated to wine (and olive oil). A visit to the small town of Montecarlo will definitely include a stop at the Rocca del Cerruglio, the fortified “borgo” was founded in 1333 and guaranteed a prime lookout for Lucca against the bellicose city of Florence. Hours to visit the Rocca: May to October on Saturday and Sunday from 3pm to 7pm. You need to make an appointment to visit during the week and from November to April. Definitely less celebrated but not because the wine and olive oil are of a lesser quality - only because they are only just starting to promote their “bontà” with more energy. There are several vineyards which offer tastings and visits to the wine cellar in this area. Check this site for one that tempts your curiosity. I have personally visited Fattoria del Teso and found the atmosphere, the tour and the landscapes beautiful as well as the wine and olive oil absolutely delicious and diverse, especially the history of the grapes. We opted for the light lunch and tasting set in the cantina with over 50 “botte” surrounding us. Tenuta del Buonamico, with a different, more modern flair, also comes highly recommended by my personal wine consultant ;.)
3 - Capannori & Villa Torrigiani
(featured in main photo above) If you are only to do a one day or just an afternoon trip to Lucca it is frustrating not to be able to include everything because the city Lucca will truly captivate you all day long with the lovely architecture, the city park and walls, the fascinating main square and all the little shops. However, with less than a 30 minute ride into the uncontaminated and often unexplored countryside around Lucca you can visit one of the many historic villas which dot the landscape. The first mention of the villa is in the late 1500’s and the again when it was restructured in the 1600’s with probably what is understood to be one of the best examples baroque architecture in Tuscany. Completely different, more ornate and prestigious to the eye, this villa still maintains not only the gardens but also much of the original decor and artwork. Fashioned after Versailles, a visit to the villa and the prestigious garden will be the highlight of your holiday in Lucca. Visits: the park and the villa are open every day from the first Sunday in March to the second Sunday in November. Timetable: from 10.00 to 13.00 and from 15.00 to 18,30. From the second Monday in November to the first Saturday in March it is open only after booking. Entrance: €uro 7; Park and villa: €uro 10 Reduced entrance: for over 65 and groups of more than 20 people: Park €uro 6 / Park and villa €uro 8 Free entrance for under 16 years old with family and professional guides.
4 - Pistoia
Pistoia make a good stop for an afternoon, or as an internval as you enter into the landscape that surrounds it. (Exit at Pistoia from the A11 and follow signs to Pistoia centro) It is positioned approximately in the middle between Florence and Lucca, this charming city will definitely delight. Not only is it the gateway into the mountains between Tuscany and Emilia Romagna, it is also the gateway to snow skiing in Tuscany. But that is really only a secondary option for those who are looking for a way to expand your day trip to (or from) Lucca. Besides the relaxing and enchanting atmosphere that embraces you as you stroll the medieval streets, pastry shops and boutiques, the historical beauty of Pistoia is evident as you contemplate the colorful Duomo facade, Palazzo dei Vescovi, Ospedale del Ceppo (hospital) in piazza Giovanni XXIII and the Baptistery of San Giovanni in Corte from the 14th century. This and more awaits you as make your way around this compact and easily walkable city center. Read more about what to see when in Pistoia.
5 - Montecatini Terme
Bring your swim suites and take the exit Montecatini T. coming from either Lucca (less than 30 minutes) or Florence (approximately 40 min.) and follow the indications into town. This is definitely not just “another historic” town with ties to Florence Lucca, Pistoia and everywhere else., this small town is definitely a pleasant surprise, especially if you feel like indulge and spoil yourself in a luxury setting. The special treat at Montecatini are the thermal waters and the beautiful spa where you can relax and enjoy in the same royal style that the nobles did almost 600 years ago.
6 -10 Castella
Sometimes called the little Switzerland in Italy. If the spas were a warm comforting retreat than the mountainous hillside of the Svizzera Pesciatina will be a stark contrast but, just as enchanting. There are a total of 10 little towns which frame the typical characteristics and culinary delights of the area though each was considered a fortified point, some of these towns risk becoming a “ghost town” with the changes in today’s economy. But while they are there I encourage to read this article in full and make a point of adding at least one if not two of them to your itinerary.
7 - Collodi
Toyland for the kids. Where Altopascio appeals to your more spiritual aspirations, Collodi will appeals the playful side of one’s personality! (exit Chiesina U. about an hour outside of Florence. From the town of Lucca, Collodi is fairly well indicated) So up until now we have covered history, Etruscans, Romans, thermal spas, ghost towns and now I offer you something for the playful at heart. Disney may have made this little wooden puppet famous outside of Italy but, Pinocchio is as much a part of the Italian culture as pizza and mozzarella. This fictional character was born in the hills of Collodi where there now stands a fun park for all ages. Though it is not necessary to know the entire story to appreciate the well maintained garden with its artistic statues - it certainly doesn’t hurt. A stop at this park will give the kids a place to run around, laugh and be silly while for the adults, there is a more structured garden at Villa Garzoni which will offer a magical setting of colors and architecture. Read here to find out times and costs.
As close as 15 min to Florence, exit Prato Est from the A11 Autostrada. You can plan a full day in Prato, visit the museums and eat a typical Tuscan meal or even just a quick stop and stroll around the historic center. Prato, often overshadowed by Florence, has a history as long and almost as turbulent as its neighbor. Initially the battles were against the city of Florence until it was put (sold) into the hands of Florence - some say for protection others say for greed. Prato boasts a truly diverse panorama of activities ranging from the unique historic center with a very particular Duomo, Palazzo Pretorio and the Castello dell’Imperatore to the Contemporary Arts Center Pecci to Textile Museum that covers centuries of a craft that has made Prato international recognized. Read More about what to do in Prato.
9 - Montemurlo and La Rocca
This addition to your day will have you winding through the green olive groves to a prime panoramic position...it is no wonder it was used as a strategic military outpost since the Etruscan times. From here you can walk around a small but picturesque hamlet, enjoy a meal at the terrace restaurant and take photos of the landscape that stretches from the Duomo of Florence and Prato to the skyline of Pistoia. Located less than 40 km from Florence, just exit at Prato Ovest and follow signs or if you are visiting Prato then follow the back roads and signs for Montemurlo. Here is more information about a visit to Montemurlo.
top photo credit © Sailko