Falling in Love with Lucca

Why Lucca? That is a question I hear a lot. Why do I keep going back to this one Italian cittadina (small town) every year? Why do I hold a space for myself there, adopting it as my second home, falling more in love with it every time I visit?

 Lucca, as seen from atop the Torre Guinigi.

Lucca, as seen from atop the Torre Guinigi.

Some history: A chance encounter in an Italian train station pointed me toward Lucca. A fellow passenger described a wonderful town surrounded by a wall - a wide park-like wall where people biked, walked and socialized. A town with few tourists and amazing charm. That sounded intriguing and so I put Lucca on my "must-see" list. I had no idea at the time that it would be so many years before I would actually get there.  

 The wall that surrounds Lucca.

The wall that surrounds Lucca.

Fast-forward 15 years - by this time I had made several short trips to Italy and I was looking for a different, longer, more authentic experience. I remembered Lucca from that earlier conversation and had also recently seen a TV show filmed there - complete with video of those walls. I also thought it would be fun to spend some time studying the Italian language in Italy and my research led me to Lucca Italian School.  It was definitely time to check out Lucca! 

 Lucca's famous tower - the Torre Guinigi - and the characteristic rooftops of Lucca.

Lucca's famous tower - the Torre Guinigi - and the characteristic rooftops of Lucca.

In 2011 I spent four days in Lucca to "try it on for size" and see if it would be a good spot for a future, longer stay. For me, it was love at first sight - and I like to think that Lucca fell a little bit in love with me too for it has certainly welcomed me back with open arms ever since. I knew immediately that I would feel comfortable (and safe) there, even traveling solo. Several things contributed to that instant feeling. For starters, Lucca is small in size. The entire centro storico (central part of the historic city) is contained within the walls, which are about 2.5 miles in circumference. The walls really are the Central Park of Lucca, full of vibrant activity. Lucca is a walkable city, it takes 15 to 20 minutes to walk from one corner of the town to the opposite corner. Every step of the walk takes you past historic buildings, fountains, statues, beautiful churches, and cafes that invite you to linger over a cappuccino. What a combination of sights and experiences! Add in the musical sound of the Italian language, the warmth and friendliness of the people, the enticing scents drifting out of bakeries and restaurants, and the magic of sitting in a piazza for an aperitivo on a warm summer evening. Falling in love with Lucca was easy.

 The back of the Basilica of San Frediano as seen from the wall

The back of the Basilica of San Frediano as seen from the wall

I have returned to Lucca each year since that first visit in 2011. I spent a month there in 2012, my first experience with solo travel and with studying the Italian language in Italy. At the time I thought that month would be a once-in-a-lifetime adventure, but I was quickly drawn into the magic of Lucca and found myself planning a next trip well before the current one had ended. With each new visit I have become more enamored. I love studying the language in a place where I hear it spoken all day, every day, all around me (not to mention that Lucca Italian School is an amazing place with amazing teachers - more on that in a future post). I love the solo travel experience and find it absolutely life-changing. I like living car-free, walking everywhere. I've made friends from all over the world with other students at the language school; friends I now connect with routinely throughout the year (thank you Facebook) and in person when we meet in Lucca each year. I feel at home in the shops and restaurants and have made friends there too. I love the serenity of the churches and the excitement of the many festivals. Lucca has truly become a second home for me, a place always in my heart, and I am counting the weeks until I can return. Until then, I will retrace favorite walks in my mind, cook Italian dishes, crank up the volume on some Italian music, and brush up on my language skills.

 Aperitivo in Piazza San Francesco, Lucca.

Aperitivo in Piazza San Francesco, Lucca.

 I hope that you too will plan a trip to Lucca in the future  - let's meet there for an aperitivo!

                                                                                                                                                          -post by JB

Contacts:      Lucca Italian School    www.luccaitalianschool.com