When picturing Tuscany - beautiful cities, art, fabulous food, rolling hillsides, umbrella pines and Cypress trees - it’s easy to forget the area is also home to coastline, lakes, and nature preserves. Recently, I was able to visit one of these lakes with a small group of students and teachers from Lucca Italian School. This was a different slice of Tuscany, and one well worth visiting.
First, a bit of history. Once upon a time, the areas of coastal Tuscany, including Lucca, contained large areas of marshland. Teeming with wildlife, these areas frequently flooded, causing problems for nearby cities (damage, mosquitoes, malaria). Eventually, many of the wetland areas disappeared, some naturally and others drained in the name of creating more livable environments for humans and a greater productive land mass.
Today the largest remaining wetland in Tuscany is Lago Massaciuccoli (a bit of a tongue twister, pronounced Mass-a-choo-co-li). It lies about 12 miles (18 km) from Lucca, an easy 35-minute car ride. There is also a bike path that begins just outside Lucca and goes all the way to the lake. Lake Massaciuccoli is also connected by a series of canals to nearby Viareggio and can be reached by bike path from that city as well.
Lake Massaciuccoli has two very different shores. On the west, closest to Viareggio, lies the town of Torre del Lago. Here, in a beautiful lakeside villa, Puccini wrote many of his famous operas and also hunted in the areas around the lake. Here, too, is the Teatro Puccini, home to the Puccini Opera festival. This is the “civilized” more urban part of the lake. On this visit I skipped the western shore and headed straight to the “wild side” on the eastern shore
On the eastern shore, by the tiny town of Massaciuccoli, lies the Oasi LIPU protected wetlands, a wild bird sanctuary. The edges of the lake, full of marshes with tall reeds, are crossed by wooden boardwalks that skim just above the water and have small observation blinds at key points, allowing visitors to watch the wildlife while hidden from view. Staying still, quiet, and out of sight allows for great bird watching.
There are informative signs about wildlife and flora posted along the boardwalk and in the observation points. Also offered are guided bird-watching expeditions and various types of boating expeditions (canoe, kayak, and larger tourist boats). This is a great place to sit with a pair of binoculars, walk along the boardwalks, listen to the sounds of bird calls, or peer into the shallow waters to see what lies beneath.
This peaceful place provides a nice side trip from nearby cities, a chance to experience the “wild” side of Tuscany, and an easy walk along the boardwalk. I visited in mid-March when plants were still in winter mode, the dried stalks of last summer’s flowers had a beauty all their own.
A stop in the town of Massaciuccoli provides a good spot for a coffee, lunch, or a glass of wine post exploration. There is also a nearby archeological site - but that’s a topic for another post. -post by JMB