UNTRODDEN TUSCANY; Beat the Crowd in Italy's Lucca -- a Maze of Art and Music in Serene Streets

Daily Mail (London), September 5, 2012 | Go to article overview

UNTRODDEN TUSCANY; Beat the Crowd in Italy's Lucca -- a Maze of Art and Music in Serene Streets


Byline: Ray Connolly

SURPRISES make a holiday. I thought I knew Italy, but I wasn't aware of the luminously green mountains of northern Tuscany and the everpresent smell of wood burning in the tiny one-street villages that straddle its ridges. And, to tell the truth, I didn't know much about Lucca.

The eastbound railway that leads from Pisa airport to Florence has to be one of the most beaten tourist tracks in Europe, and no one can deny the magic to be found at that journey's end.

But those who want to get away from the mob would do well to consider the alternative of heading north-east towards the hills and the compact, walled old town of Lucca. And in September or October is a perfect time to visit.

Its narrow street layout, apparently scarcely changed since the Romans, is like a small maze, with all its piazzas, palazzos and many churches, including the Romanesque cathedral, Duomo di San Martino, all within just a few minutes' walk. It's that compact.

In many ways, the town resembles an island, a medieval city standing in the centre of encircling green meadows. The banks and almost three miles of the encircling high walls that once defended the town are now used for walking and riding bicycles. Quite why Lucca has remained a relative secret is difficult to understand. Art historians have long flocked to see the elaborate carvings on the arched facade of its cathedral and Tintoretto's painting of the Last Supper -- which, thank heavens, is rather less psychedelically colourful than the image shown in the guidebooks.

And archaeologists love to point out how the stones from the Roman amphitheatre, its oval shape cleverly transformed into a piazza in the early 19th century, were partly used to build the city's marble-clad mansions.

Around almost every corner there seems to be a view of another tower, but still tourists don't dominate as they do in so many other places of beauty and history. …

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