A recent question on a travel forum asked what was so great about Lucca, why did so many love the town? The other day I had to wait around for a while in Lucca on a very cold morning. To kill time and with that thought in mind I took some photos of whatever struck me as special about Lucca. When I looked at them later I realised many were of shops. This surprised me as I’m not a girl who much likes shopping. But then I realised most were food shops-which makes much more sense!
Lucca is our nearest ‘big town’ and no matter how many times I go I find it always enchanting. Lucca isn’t about ‘must see’ sights and that’s a big part of its appeal, it’s still real. It has a lovely atmosphere and feel to it, a great place to just stroll around, any time of year. It is enclosed by 4.2km of intact walls and nothing within the walls is modern, nothing jars. I think the quaint, traditional style of these shops is a huge part of the charm of Lucca. The fact that they are unchanged for decades. These are small, unique, family run businesses, a far cry from impersonal multi-national chain stores.
I always aim to buy foccacia at steam bakery Amedeo Giusti. Often I don’t manage it- because the tiny shop is usually so incredibly packed and I’m not always patient enough! But it is worth braving it, their breads are excellent and so fresh. As it was early morning on a very cold day I was lucky to find it almost empty.
At Giusti I bought foccacia bread and cenci which are special pastries for carnival. At the Chifenti bakery on via San Paolino I succumbed to another seasonal treat, frittelle, which are sweet fried balls with rice, crema or nutella fillings. Unable to choose I had a mixture!
I had to include the vegetable tarts in the window to save readers from the mistake I made when I first bought one-of thinking that these vegetable tarts were savoury! Maybe the fact that they are surrounded by chocolate, cream, almond and fruit tarts should have been a clue! They are sweet vegetable tarts, a Lucca speciality.
The most well known Lucca sweet speciality is probably Buccellato, a fruited aniseed bread, lovely toasted with butter. Most bakers in the town offer it, some specialise in it, like this one on Piazza San Michele.There are a lot of bakeries in Lucca, these are just a handful, plenty more to choose from. And there are other shops, albeit not as high up on my personal shopping priorities! This one I don’t go in, china and glass is not my thing, but I like to stop and admire the exterior.
I don’t know the name of this shop on via San Paolino, and I’ve never been in, but I love the fact that it exists! It sells all kinds of useful implements. There are sickles for cutting, each with a slightly different blade from different areas of Tuscany, and special tools for gathering truffles, olives and asparagus. Pans for chestnut flour cakes, glass flasks for cooking beans, knives for opening oysters -where else would you find such things?This shop probably sums up Lucca, what I mean by it being ‘real’. In some popular towns tourism has eaten away at the true nature of the town, and shops are full of souvenirs and ‘tat’. Of course there is some of this in Lucca, but not much, most of the shops in Lucca cater for their traditional Lucchese clientele and the tourists are incidental. The shops aren’t fake ‘olde worlde’, they are genuinely unchanged and original. When a tourist goes to Lucca they can feel they are ‘living’ in a real town, doing what the locals do, even if it’s just for a few hours.
Getting there. Lucca is 24km from Bagni di Lucca and can be reached by bus or train. It also easily reached by public transport directly from Florence, Pisa and Viareggio. Bus drops within the walls at Piazzale Verdi, train is just outside the walls, only a minute or two. By road use the A11 autostrada and park in the large car parks outside the walls. Do not attempt to drive inside the walls.