The first time I ever visited Lucca was the fall of 2011. I had been fulfilling my internship at the study abroad center in Castiglion Fiorentino for most of the year when my good friend Vanessa sent me a message. She and her boyfriend at the time were staying in Lucca and were shopping for apartments. I had a day or two free from work so I hopped on a train for this small town west of Florence. It was a quick train ride through Western Tuscany, an area I had only passed through as a student on our to the Cinque Terre. As the train rolled into the train station at Lucca, I spied a tower with trees growing on the top of it and wondered how in the hell had I never heard of this place before.
As soon as I got off the train, Vanessa and I went to the nearest bike rental store to get me a bike for my stay. Once I had a bike we set off towards the walls that encircle the historic center of the town. We rode through the main arch closest to the train station, San Pietro, and found the nearest ramp up to the top of the walls. The walls were originally the ramparts used to protect the city from invasions (they were never breached...or attempted to be breached...) that's now used as a walkway and bike path around the WHOLE city center! It was such a strange vantage point to be looking down along these cobblestone streets as we zoomed by on our bikes! It was fall when I visited so the trees were turning orange and yellow, each a different shade on each quadrant of the wall where different species of trees were planted.
We rode a while longer before riding back to her apartment to find Rip, Vanessa's boyfriend. They were staying outside the walls with the hopes of finding an apartment inside to move into. We caught up and found our way to dinner inside the city. After a long and delicious dinner we rode back to the apartment along the canal that runs through a portion of the city, another fun element to this quirky little town. The next morning we rode to grab pastries and cappuccini at their favorite bakery at the time (V&R always have the best recommendations for food) before I set off to do some sketching around town before catching my train back to Castiglion Fiorentino.
Soon after I finished a few sketches, I was returning my bike and back on the train headed to Florence then Castiglion FIorentino. Although my visit was brief, I knew it wouldn't be my last. I went back to Lucca for 2.5 months in the late summer of 2012 and stayed in Vanessa and Rip's new apartment in the center of the city. This visit gave me more time to explore the city and try not to get lost again...I still got lost but the walls helped me find my way home again.
I returned again for 3 months in the summer of 2014 to help manage some of Vanessa's AirBnb apartments too, which have now become the home base for this year's Lovely Lucca Retreat! I got less lost this time as it became part of my routine to explain to guests how to navigate the city and find all my favorite gelato shops, bakeries, restaurants and more.
Every time I go back to Lucca, I'm likely to find myself wandering down these winding streets again and finding new little streets that I've yet to sketch. But Lucca really is loveliest town to get lost in.
Written by Chelsea Ward, the host and founder of Wanderful Retreats