Located in northern Tuscany, the Province of Lucca spans several different areas: the Versilia coast, overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea; Garfagnana, on the border with Emilia Romagna in the northeast; and, further inland, the Valle del Serchio and the Lucca plain.
Changing landscapes succeed each other, creating magnificent sceneries. The Parco delle Alpi Apuane provides the backdrop to the blue sea and the beaches of Versilia, while the stretches of hills covered by olive trees and woods dominate the landscape of Garfagnana. The territory is home to numerous other wonders, from Lake Massaciuccoli to the thermal springs of Bagni di Lucca and the coastal dunes of the Migliarino-San Rossore-Massaciuccoli Natural Park.
The Province is rich in tradition and history, and thanks to its central position it has been a thriving hub trade for centuries. The Via Francigena - the great Medieval pilgrimage route along which lie villages, castles, abbeys and parish churches - traversed it.
In the countryside around Lucca are beautiful historic villas surrounded by spectacular parks, from Villa Torrigiani to Villa Mansi.
These remains from the past coexist with the social life and entertainment scene on offer in Versilia's seaside resorts, including Viareggio, Lido di Camaiore, Pietrasanta and Forte dei Marmi.
From the coast inland, art centers and seaside resorts, entertainment and culture, history and nature render the Province of Lucca unique and extraordinary.
WHAT TO SEE:
The first stop on any tour of Lucca Province must be Lucca itself, a city of ancient origins, surrounded by its boundary wall that dates back to the 16th-17th Centuries.
This great work of military engineering, with its ramparts and bastions, is today a unique and scenic public area. Particularly evocative is the old town, which has kept intact its Medieval appearance composed of typical narrow streets and piazzas overlooked by stone towers, tower-houses and brick houses with arcades. Among the most typical streets, Via Fillungo stands out, the main axis here, surrounded by noble buildings and ancient towers the likes of the famous Torre delle Ore. Via Guinigi, where the complex of Medieval buildings built by well-to-do families is concentrated, is equally worth noting.
Religious architecture of particular importance includes the Duomo di San Martino with its magnificent facade and interiors rich in precious artworks; the Duomo Museum that houses paintings, sculptures and liturgical furnishings; the Church of San Michele in Foro, a unique example of Pisan-Lucchese architecture; and the splendid Basilica of San Frediano.
Outstanding examples of civil architecture are: Villa di Paolo Guinigi (15th Century), site of the National Museum showcasing Etruscan and Roman archaeological finds and several painting collections; Palazzo Mansi with its priceless furnishings and site of Lucca's second National Museum; and the 17th-Century Palazzo Moriconi-Pfanner, a magnificent example of Lucchese Baroque, surrounded by a spectacular garden. Neither should the birth house of musician Giacomo Puccini be passed up. It has been converted into a museum showcasing the maestro's documents and mementos.
The countryside in Lucca's environs offers the opportunity to visit magnificent villas, built between the late 16th and mid-19th Centuries to serve as the country residences and holiday homes for the nobility, all set inside picturesque parks. Among them two stand out the most: Villa Torrigiani with its characteristic gardens, and Villa Mansi, a splendid 16th-Century construction with frescoed rooms and a grand garden designed by architect Filippo Juvarra.
Among the historic sites, Altopascio was of great importance in Medieval times thanks to its position along the Via Francigena. The village preserves Romanesque-style buildings, churches and the famous 13th-Century bell tower, which once guided travelers with its tolls.
From the slopes of the Apuan Alps to the Migliarino-San Rossore-Massaciuccoli National Park, the splendid Versilian coastline is a highly-attractive tourist destination, thanks to its enchanting scenery, rich plant life and fascinating places. See the romantic Torre del Lago Puccini, where it is possible to see the villa-museum of Giacomo Puccini; it is here that he found inspiration for his masterpiece Madame Butterfly.
Other touristic hotspots within Versilia are Viareggio, famous for its carnival but also for its beaches and nightlife; the elegant Forte dei Marmi; Pietrasanta and its rich artistic heritage; and Camaiore, with its Romanesque architecture.
Do not miss the Valle del Serchio or Garfagnana with their characteristic villages - among them Borgo a Mozzano, famous for its spectacular Devil's Bridge; and Barga, an enchanting Medieval village with its prized architecture.
Other towns typical of Garfagnana are Castelvecchio Pascoli, featuring the house-museum of Italian poet Giovanni Pascoli, and the chapel that guards his remains; and Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, whose Duomo and Fortress are nestled in a spectacular and inspiring landscape.
WHAT TO DO:
The coast provides great opportunities to spend entire days relaxing by the sea, engaging in water sports or bike rides through the pinewoods.
The Apuan Alps are the ideal setting for strolling, trekking and trips on horseback. One must is an excursion to the Grotta del Vento, an amazing cave system with spectacular stalactites.
At Terme di Bagni di Lucca, one can indulge in therapeutic treatments and spend relaxing days immersed in the mesmerizing scenery.
The local calendar is chock-full of events, from the Carnevale di Viareggio, the national literary prize Viareggio Rèpaci (in June) and the Puccini Festival at Torre del Lago (July and August).
Among historical re-enactments, the Calderon d'Altopascio (July) is one worth attending.
Some important religious festivals are the Luminara Procession of Santa Croce to Lucca (September) and the Procioni Procession of Garfagnana di Castiglione (yearly on Maundy Thursday).
WHAT TO TASTE:
The gastronomy of Lucca is rooted in ancient traditions.
Of the first courses, soups have an important place, especially the garmucia (a soup with artichokes, peas, broad beans and asparagus).
Local specialties include roasted pork, pork with chestnut polenta, lamb with olives, spit-roasted thrush, and spit-roasted Serchio trout.
Recommended deserts include: buccellato, a typical doughnut-shaped dessert; castagnaccio, a tart made with chestnut flour; and necci, also made with chestnut flour.
Among the flavorsome local wines try Montecarlo white or red. Biadina is a typical liquor from Lucca.