Italy is one of those countries where you could close your eyes and still instinctively know you were there. This couldn't be more true of the charming city of Lucca. There is something in the atmosphere, in the smells, in the sounds that tells you that you are a standing somewhere steeped in history. It is the kind of city that you just have to love at first sight.
I have just had the pleasure of spending two weeks there doing a Language course at the Lucca Italian School. So I felt that it was only right to temporarily leave the wonders of London behind and look Luccawards.
So here are my hotly contested top 5 must dos in Lucca
1. Marvel at the Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto
This work of art is part of the reason that I chose to go to Lucca to study. One of the professors at York gave a paper on it and it has always stuck in my mind. Seeing it in the flesh I could completely understand the fascination. It is truly beautiful. There is an almost glacial calm to Ilaria’s face yet the beautifully crafted marble seems to emit warmth from its surface. The contrast of these two effects draws you in and the expression appears to take on a new aspect from every angle. While the docile puggish dog at the figures feet looks eternally loving towards its mistress.
Comissioned by Ilaria’s husband Paolo Guinigi it seems to paint an illusion of this husbands love and dedication to his second wife. However, bearing in mind that Paolo Guinigi had four wives in his lifetime this interpretation should perhaps be treated with caution. It is also important to bear in mind that although this tomb is found in an Italian church and bears tribute to a Italian woman it is probably not by an Italian sculptor. The style of the costume and the lightness and delicacy of the form is far more French in appearance.
It is a truly enigmatic work and worth so much more that a fleeting visit. I had to return to the beautiful cathedral of San Martino three times to visit.
2. Study at the Lucca Italian School
I researched a few different schools before I landed on this one. I chose it because it had some fantastic reviews and I have to say every word was true. The school was perfect! Easily situated a short walk outside the city walls in a nice building with good resources. There were after hours activities laid on every day except Friday. But the outstanding thing had to be the teaching. Every teacher that I met was kind, supportive and enthusiastic and tried to cater for your level of knowledge. I couldn’t recommend it more strongly!
3. Go and bask in an hour of opera in the atmospheric Chiesa San Giovanni
Additionally if you head to the church earlier in the day you can go and explore the archaeological site underneath the church floor where you can see remnants of Roman baths and the original foundations of the church. All in all an experience I will never forget.
4. Eat at the Trattoria da Leo
5. Visit the church of San Michele in Forno
Take the time to really explore the churches façade which is ornamented with numerous mythical beasts, watch out for the two tailed mermaid on one of the columns. The other intriguing detail about this church is that the statue at the top of the façade wears a ring which it is possible to spot only by the light of the moon when standing on a particular drain in the square. I was hugely sceptical about this when I was told by my guide as it sounds like a myth but to my surprise some friends and I tested it out on our way home one night and loe and behold it works when you stand on the inauspicious drain the light of the moon reflects off the ring and you can see a bright spot of light.
And a final few I just couldn't leave out
6. Walk/cycle/run the medieval walls
7. Locate the little church of San Pietro Somaldi and look at the beautiful painting by Michelangelo di Pietro Membrini
8. Eat lots of Gelato (goes without saying really)
9. Climb the iconic Torre Guinigi
10. Visit the Lucca Musei Nazionali in the Villa Guinigi