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On our way to Pisa for a flight back to the U.S. after visiting a training camp in Tuscany, we realized we had eight hours to explore the magical town of Lucca. And we did.
Founded by the Etruscans, host city to the Lucca Conference in 56 BC when the First Triumvirate was announced with Julius Caesar, Crassus and Pompey (that didn’t end well) and a Roman colony since 180 BC, this ancient town is worth a visit, even if you only have eight hours. Plan to eat well.
If you need another reason to visit Lucca’s Renaissance-inspired city walls (which are now a walking path encircling the city), Mario Cipollini was born there in 1967. The former European base of many cyclists, including Ted King, Taylor Phinney, Tejay van Garderen and Chris Barton, the modern Lucca is a combination of ancient architecture, modern shops and food that will change your life in only a few hours.
Go Up: Torre Guinigi
Your first stop to get the heart pumping is to pay the £4 fee and climb to the top of the Torre Guinigi (Guinigi Tower) above via Sant’Andrea. It was a personal brick tower built by the Guinigi family in the 1300s and is now owned by the Lucca town council. Resting at the top of the tower are a collection of Holm Oak trees, which represent rebirth and provide shade. If you have time, try and figure out how they get water up there consistently for the oaks. Otherwise, take in the view of Lucca and stop on the way down to peer through the unique windows.
Lunch: Pizzeria Da Felice
A quick and sublime place for lunch where you can get a few slices of pizza and drinks—or take the food to go and then head to the city walls, sit down and eat. Return here at some point and order gelato as well. Brave the crowds. It’s worth it.
Basilica of San Frediano
After lunch, head to the Basilica San Frediano in the Piazza San Frediano. Built in the Romanesque style, this church houses the mummified remains of St. Zita (1218-1278), a former servant and the Patron Saint of maids and domestic servants. Also in this church are the remains of St. Richard of Wessex, who died in 722 in Lucca on his way to Rome.
Rest and Snack: Osteria Piccola Lucca Drento
Adjacent to the Basilica is a great place to put your feet up and try some Tuscan wines. Mostly frequented by locals, Osteria Piccola Lucca Drento offers a free selection of local meats and cheeses with your drink order prior to dinner in a great and calm atmosphere.
Dinner: Antica Drogheria
What at first looks like a pharmacy (it is) on Via Elisa, the Antica Drogheria was recommended to us by former BMC rider Chris Barton. A welcoming and loud restaurant (good if you have kids with you) with a wood-burning pizza oven in the back, the Antica Drogheria offers an amazing selection of fresh soups, seasonal vegetable dishes and the best pizza in Lucca. Try the steak as well.
From issue 28. Buy it here.