One of Italy's prettiest (and probably lesser-known) small towns is Lucca, in Tuscany (Italy's central region). It is a beautiful old city that snuggles in quiet splendour behind its protective ancient walls. These encircle the city and acted as fortifications in the early sixteenth century. Nowadays they serve as a tree-lined pathway, or promenade, for bicycle or walking tours around Lucca, offering stunning views of the city and the countryside surrounding it.
A tour of the fortifications enables visitors to take in the six gates and eleven bastions of the ancient city over a stretch of four kilometres and to climb the bell-towers to survey city skyline. The Torre Guinigi is the tallest (at 44 metres) and most famous tower and with its rooftop garden from which an ancient oak tree grows. This affords a spectacular view of the entire region.
One such sight (and not to be missed) is the Piazza Anfiteatro, a Roman amphitheatre situated off the Via Fillungo. This dates from the second century AD and, despite having been built over in subsequent years, the ancient remains are still visible today. The piazza was restored in the first part of the 19th century and is the central hub of the city, buzzing with shops, cafes, music festivals and fairs.
Lucca's history dates back to Etruscan and Roman times, but its greatest artistic influence was the Gothic era prior to the Renaissance. Many fine examples of this can be seen and admired today in the architectural landscape. The carefully preserved and lovingly tended villas and gardens on the hillside attract many visitors each year as do the numerous churches, some of which now incorporate art galleries. The Romanesque San Frediano Church, with its golden mosaic and 12th century baptismal font is perhaps Lucca's most famous church. It houses a shrine to St Zita, the patron saint of maids and domestic servants, whose relics are carried in each April for pilgrims to worship.
Lucca is the birthplace of the gifted and celebrated musician Puccini and there are many music festivals to celebrate his genius but Lucca does not advertise itself as loudly as some Italian cities. Instead it waits quietly behind the protective armour of its medieval walls for the more discerning travellers to discover its serene beauties, knowing that once they do, they will never forget this captivating city.