8 Things to Do in Lucca When You’re Not Bike Riding | Lucca Cycling Club

8 Things to Do in Lucca When You’re Not Bike Riding

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Alison_Testroete_Profile

Ciao! I'm Alison.

If you're planning or dreaming about cycling in Italy, my job is to make it happen for you.

Alison_Testroete_Profile

Ciao! I'm Alison.

If you're planning or dreaming about cycling in Italy, my job is to make it happen for you.

There’s simply nothing else like a warm summer bike ride in the Apennine foothills of Lucca, but to stop at cycling would be doing this captivating corner of Italy an immense injustice.

Variety is indeed the spice of life, and not everyone longs to labor up San Pellegrino’s hellacious ramps with little more than pie and a Strava route to show for it. As the adage goes, if you want to be more interesting, learn new and interesting things. The decade I’ve spent here has lent me a plethora of those mantra-driven experiences. Experiences I want to share with the world.

I’ll leave out the “things to do in Lucca” basics. Yes, Pisa is next door, where there’s a tower that’s not reliably level nor made from pizza, which to some is disappointing. Lucca is a (beautiful) walled city with fortifications dating to the Renaissance. You can definitely walk on those walls. We’ve also got a tower, though ours isn’t leaning. It’s likely for the best, given it’s got a family of centuries-old oak trees perched precariously atop, purportedly propagated by the former Princess of Lucca, Napoleon’s sister Elisa Bonaparte herself.

Fortunately, you’re not in a guidebook—you’re here, where I can share my beyond-the-bike slow travel secrets unfettered.

So, without further ado: My favorite things to do in Lucca that don’t involve pedaling.

Fabbrica di San Martino Things to do in Lucca
Giuseppe Ferrua of Fabbrica di San Martino. Photograph courtesy of Fabbrica di San Martino

8. Wine Tasting at Fabbrica di San Martino

Have you been paying attention to wine lately? If so, you’re probably familiar with the relatively recent craze around “natural” and “biodynamic” wine. While the funky fermentation methods might feel new, they’re actually quite old, and have been celebrated amongst the vintners of the Old World for time immemorial.

Giuseppe Ferrura carries on the natural tradition at his Fabbrica di San Martino, being amongst the first in Lucca in modern times to embrace a biodynamic and sustainable way to make phenomenal wines. Their Baroque chateau overlooks Lucca and the vineyards date to 1735. It feels exquisitely rural but still lies within the city limits.

While their varietals center on Sangiovese, a host of other unique Tuscan wines round out their outstanding biodynamic collection. And yes, you can definitely get a bottle to-go or an entire case to ship back home.

Location: Via della Pieve Santo Stefano, Lucca
Phone number: (+39) 0583 394284
Website: Fabbrica di San Martino

7. Lucca Summer (Music) Festival

Mass gatherings might still be verboten, but perhaps by summer we might be able to let our hair down if but un po’. Lucca’s three-week Summer Music Festival is truly a wonder to behold, drawing huge acts from every corner of the world to our small bit of Italy.

Artists like The Rolling Stones, Elton John, Sting, Bob Dylan, and James Brown have all graced the stages in our little Tuscan hideaway. This year, we’ve got tickets for John Legend. Other big names swinging through? Beck, Ben Harper, and Celine Dion. Tickets go fast, don’t procrastinate on scooping them up!

Location: Piazza Napoleone, Lucca
When: Late June through late July
Website: Lucca Summer Festival

Things_to_do_Lucca_Sagra
Sagra di Oliva Dolce di Matraia (pre-pandemic obviously). Photograph: Alison Testroete

6. Summer Sagras

Imagine an entire town getting together to celebrate their traditions around their food. Now imagine that town in the heart of Tuscany, where so many Western culinary traditions emanate from, and where everyone is family.

Welcome to the Sagra, when communities come together to—well—eat, drink, and be merry. As much a celebration as a cultural preservation, you’ll see eye-searing roadside posters pedaling during the summer months, ones advertising Sagras far and wide.

My picks for the best? Sagra di Oliva Dolce di Matraia and Sagra della Zuppa di Aquilea, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a bad one.

Sagra schedule for Lucca: Sagre Toscane

5. Pines to Palms

One of the biggest draws to Lucca is its proximity to the Tyrrhenian Sea, a mere 30 minutes away by car. Mountains in the morning, beach in the afternoon. In a way, the Tuscan coast is the original California.

It’s dotted with sparkling, warm beaches buttressed by craggy peaks a stone’s throw away. It’s awash in nightlife, fine dining, and youth looking for good times. But, unlike its younger counterpart, there’s more variety—and if we’re speaking frankly, it’s mellower, too.

The closest and most accessible beach to Lucca is Marina di Vecchiano, where there’s a host of smaller beaches to choose from. I usually go for Bagno Mare e Dune. Just want to lay your towel on the sand? No charge. If you want to turn up the experience a step, there are sunbeds and umbrellas available for €20-25.

If you’d like to venture a bit farther, you can find fancy beach clubs in Forte dei Marmi at the north end all the way to wild beaches in Calafuria, just south of Livorno. Lying between the two is an aperitivo spot, Bagno Siesta, where you’re sure to find a younger crowd.

Things to do Lucca villa reale
Villa Reale and The Clock House (right). Photograph courtesy of Villa Reale

6. Visit Villa Reale

Italian villas are, for the uninitiated, something else. Vast expanses of what can only be described as “house,” city-state sized tracts of land, and 15th Century construction techniques all come together to make something inconceivable, impractical, absurd, and ultimately, patently beautiful.

Dating from the 1400s, Villa Reale has a storied past, culminating in Princess Elisa Bonaparte’s purchase of the property in 1806. Her keen eye for aesthetics and decor elevated the estate far beyond any other villa in the area. It changed hands multiple times in the intervening 200+ years, finally falling into disrepair—until now.

Purchased in 2015 by a Swiss couple passionate about its storied past, it’s undergoing an exhaustive restoration. Their dedication shines through every aspect of the rehabilitation, from the estate’s Babylonian hanging gardens to Princess Bonaparte’s bedroom. Each and every detail is impeccably mapped out, including an on-grounds cafe.

This is one of my go-to things to do in Lucca when my parents and other non-cycling friends are in town. You’ll easily get lost in the gardens and spend half a day here. If not by car, reach the villa via the Puccini bike path along the Serchio river with a hybrid bike (almost any shop in town rents them).

Location: Via Fraga Alta, 2, Lucca
Website: Villa Reale

5. Puccini Opera Concert

Giacomo Puccini was one of Italian opera’s greatest composers, and until recently, few knew he was Lucchese—that is, from Lucca. In 2004, 80 years after his death, local citizens started the Puccini e la Sua Lucca International Festival, a continuously-running opera concert that celebrates his life and work. His most famous operas like La Bohéme, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot are all performed.

Every evening year-round, the Church of San Giovanni presents various Giacomo Puccini concerts—popular for opera and non-opera lovers alike. Buy your tickets for €25 at the door (there are always tickets available, as they have 380 shows per year).

Location: Piazza S. Giovanni, Lucca
Website: Puccini e la sua Lucca

The marble quarries in Fantiscritti. Photograph: Giuseppe Panìco
The marble quarries in Fantiscritti. Photograph: Giuseppe Panìco

2. Tour the Marble Mines

Marble has been an integral part of Italian history, from the time of Rome through to the Renaissance to today. Where did it all come from? It came from Carrara, just to the north of Lucca in the Apuan Alps.

The Roman Forum, Michelangelo’s David, the aforementioned Leaning Tower of Pisa, and countless other landmark works were hewn from the gleaming alabaster quarried from the mountains around Lucca.

If you don’t already have a visual of the magnitude of this marble, take a look at this video:

While Italy has shifted away from constructing buildings with Tuscan marble, the huge mines remain in operation, supplying the prized stone to every corner of the globe.

If you can make it out to the Marble mountains, it’s an awe-inspiring detour you won’t want to miss. Say you do find yourself shopping for marble, you may as well swing into the coastal burg of Forte dei Marmi on your way back, one of Italy’s hidden shopping gems.

On its pedestrian-only streets you’ll find the usual laundry list of high-end designer shops (Prada, Versace, Moncler, Rolex, and Off-White to name a few). Sandwiched amongst the big names are high-end local gems like Morini (jewelry/watches), Colibri (beachwear), and Borelli’s (menswear). Just be sure to book a guided ride (or a few) with us before you max out your cards.

Location: Fantiscritti marble quarries (near Carrara)

1. Learn Italian

Last but certainly not least is something to do in Lucca that will fundamentally change you on a heart and soul level. If you’ve been in the club for a while, then you know I’m all about taking a deeper dive and really getting to know a place. It’s why I found my home in Lucca and why I’ve become a big fan of slow travel. That is, tapping the brakes and really getting to know a place. Its people. Its culture. Its past.

One of the easiest ways to get started down that path is to learn the language, and in Lucca, I recommend the Lucca Italian School. To make progress on something as seemingly useless as the Italian language isn’t a goal most people have. Yet, if you identify as a life-long learner, then you find teachers anywhere and everywhere. And when you find a good Italian teacher, you’ll learn much more than the Italian language.

2 thoughts on “8 Things to Do in Lucca When You’re Not Bike Riding”

  1. I’ve been to Lucca three times already, twice for cycling with fantastic support by Lucca Cycling Club. You’ve mentioned a few things that were still on my list to do and added some more – thank you. I can’t wait to go back.
    Cheers, Stoph

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