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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A Perfect Day in Tuscany

Every now and then, I experience a perfect day...where everything seems just right. I had such a glorious day last September in the magical city of Lucca, northern Tuscany, Italy.

Lucca dates back to 180 BC as a Roman colony. Today it is a charming, hillside town fortified with double thick, massive red-brick walls built from 1504-1645 that provided centuries of protection and defense to its citizens from invaders who sought the wealth of the thriving silk merchant families.

Lucca managed to keep the marauders at bay and then had the good fortune to be protected and ruled by Elisa, Napoleon's sister, so its beauty was enhanced and its history preserved.

Even now there are portals with massive gates for entering the town where pedestrians, mopeds and small cars wind their way around shops, cafes, open markets, piazzas, and gelato stands in the gentle bustle of the town.

Today the walls, wide enough to be a two lane road, tower above the city as a 3-mile park circling the city that offers views of the medieval look-out towers and exquisitely landscaped gardens of the villas it rings and embraces. Outside the wall lie the newer city and the countryside abundant with olives and grapes.

The top of the walls are like a park where families stroll with their children, lovers walk hand-in-hand, cyclists stop for a picnic lunch, and runners jog under the shade trees.

A garden show and exhibit hug the wall's banks where local flowers and plants are artfully displayed to the pleasure of passersby.

My perfect Lucca day started with a stop at a small grocer's inside the walled community where Gina, my traveling companion and guide from, and I select the ingredients for a fresh sandwich plus fruit and cheese for our bike ride and picnic atop the wall.

Next we rent our bikes at the foot of the wall and begin our climb onto the multi-story high walls and ramparts to enjoy the ambiance and the magnificent vista on our bike ride. The weather is just right, sunny, comfortable and clear, so we can see for miles.

We could have been in Central Park with people leisurely enjoying the day on the promenade along the tree-lined wall. Midway we pause at a grassy spot to eat our delicious lunch of prosciutto, tomatoes, pecorino (sheep-milk cheese) and fresh, juicy peaches.

Gina shares a legendary story of the great jazz musician Stan Getz being incarcerated for a month for smoking pot. The locals sat outside the jail and listened to him play from his cell every night as if they were at a concert.

After our relaxing ride, we enter Lucca through one of its portals and stop at a famous cafe where Puccini and other creative artists of his day sipped their coffee.

We wander through the city's narrow lanes, still intact in their ancient Roman street plan, to the piazza where a bronze of Puccini, legs crossed, sits and looks out at the square.

Children climb on top of his lap while adoring parents take their photos with the composer.

The shops nearby display the latest fashions of stylized, supple leather and haute couture from Milan and Rome's finest designers.

For dinner we decide to eat at a small cafe that was recommended by Elizabeth Gilbert in her book, Eat, Pray, Love; like her, we had the risotto with wild mushrooms and a fine red wine.

The most magical part of the day was yet to come. We went to the cathedral, where Puccini was once the organist, to hear aspiring opera students, accompanied by a grand piano, sing Puccini's famous arias.

A small audience, seated in folding chairs, listens in rapt appreciation. The night is balmy and the music enchanting. Some of us are moved to tears.

It was the perfect ending to a perfect day in Tuscany. Bellissimo!

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Lucca, Italy photo by laurab
toscana2 photo by Gabriella Pataky

1 comment:

  1. Indeed a wonderful day - beautifully captured here for us - thank you - And I wear the scarf you picked out for me all the time - love it! Grazie Erana!