Falling in Love with Lucca on our Italian Escape

Some Italian walled cities can feel a bit eerie. It’s as if centuries of trying to ward people off finally worked and there is no one left clamoring to get in. Other walled cities, like Orvieto, are bustling with tourism but feel a bit staged for the benefit of day trippers.

We were looking for a place to settle down for a while. We had been travelling continuously for two years and we needed a break. We knew from experience that wherever we stopped had to have that special feeling of home, balanced with the vitality of a healthy community. We were going to keep driving until we found it.

As we approached Lucca we were drawn through the gates. The fiery autumn foliage had reached its zenith and from the moment we arrived, we couldn’t imagine leaving. We had found our casa per ora—our home for now.

Lucca is strategically located less than an hour west of Florence and a half-an-hour east of Tuscany’s best beaches. This Tuscan city is special because it boasts not one, or two, but four circles of walls which are, in many cases, intact. Lucca is preserved without being sterile and visited without being trite. The final circle took over a century to complete because it extends for just over three miles. The ditches and bulwarks are grassy embankments that frame the imposing wall and lead to open gates that have a tangible magnetism. There is something about this walled city that is so authentic and yet updated enough to be modern and desirable for people today, centuries after its first walls went up.

As we wandered through squares with charming crumbling churches and priceless works of art, we eventually stopped at Piazza San Michele. With frothy cappuccinos and chocolate-orange brioche from Pasticceria Taddeucci, owned and operated by the same family since 1881, we took our place in the square. In the piazza, that was once an ancient Roman forum, we watched ladies doing morning shopping, men meeting in the square and toddlers chasing pigeons. It was a scene we have witnessed so many times, but somehow in Lucca it was different. It felt as though people had been gathering here for centuries and that it would always be that way.

We climbed worn spiral staircases into apartments with every modern convenience, as Tuscan light danced through the beveled windows. We quickly realized Lucca can be expensive for short-term stays. The good news is, for long-term lodging of three to 12 months, it becomes not only affordable, but a steal. Because we were looking to rent after the bustling summer season came to a close, we were spoilt for choice. We settled on a two-bedroom, classically furnished, bright apartment with views of the breath taking Romanesque cathedral, for around $750 per month. The property was also for sale for $138,830.

What we appreciated about wandering these Roman-medieval streets we called home was that the evidence of re-invention was gradual. There was an authentic respect for the past and a discerning eye toward the future. It was a unique balance we have only felt a handful of times in Italy.

When it was eventually time to move on, we walked the indelible wall one last time, secretly wishing someone would close the gates, so we wouldn’t have to leave…

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