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Tuesday, October 4, 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 fall 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.

The wall, wide enough to be a two lane road, towers above the city as a 3-mile park circling Lucca and  offering views of the medieval look-out towers and exquisitely landscaped gardens of the villas it rings and embraces. Outside the wall at ground level lies the newer city and the surrounding countryside abundant with vineyards of olives and grapes.

On top of  the wall, families stroll with their children, lovers walk hand-in-hand, cyclists stop for a picnic lunch, and runners jog under the shade trees.

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 selected the ingredients for a fresh sandwich plus fruit and cheese for our bike ride and picnic atop the wall.

Next we rented our bikes at the foot of the wall and began our climb onto the multi-story high walls and ramparts to enjoy the ambiance and the magnificent vista on our bike ride.

The weather was just right, sunny, comfortable and clear, so we could see for miles. A garden show and exhibit hugged the wall's banks where local flowers and plants were artfully displayed to the pleasure of passersby.

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

Gina shared a legendary story of the great jazz musician Stan Getz being incarcerated in Lucca 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 entered Lucca through one of its portals and stopped at a famous cafe where Puccini and other creative artists of his day sipped their coffee.

We wandered 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. We watched children climb on top of his lap while adoring parents took their photos with the composer.

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

For dinner we ate 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, listened in rapt appreciation. The night was balmy and the music enchanting. Some of us were moved to tears.

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

Copyright © Erana Leiken, 2010-2011 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Autumn in Lucca by Jscarreiro
Pusseggiata delle Mura by Tango 7174
toscana2 photo by Gabriella Pataky


  1. Thank you for taking me to Italy. I'm not able to travel much but it seems I can find a wealth of information from the comfort of my home!

    Beautiful pictures captured a magnificent spot, thanks for sharing.

  2. You are describing this in a way that one wants to travel to these places.Thank you Erana!

  3. Ive been to several parts of italy but never in tuscany... i heard a lot of beatiful feedbacks though from friends and seeing the pics here makes me want to visit it so soon... thanks for sharing

  4. I was so fortunate to get to live in Lucca for about 4-5 months a few years back. Magical memories. I bought a bike while I was there and rode that wall many times. Ahhhh. thank you for sharing. And a little side not, not Stan Getz. It was Chet Baker. Know because he was my aunts first husband in the 50's.