Nowhere in Tuscany can claim to be undiscovered. Some places are more undiscovered than others, however, and for no good reason Lucca is one of the most underrated of ancient Tuscan cities. Many know of its exceptional attractions, but few allow themselves the opportunity of getting to know it properly. Only by staying for several nights, and by allowing time to absorb, observe and reflect can real familiarity develop – not only with its historic fabric and works of art but also with the rhythm of life of its current inhabitants. For Lucca is not a museum but an agreeable and vital lived-in city.
To the approaching visitor, Lucca immediately announces its distinctiveness and its historical importance, while at the same time secreting the true extent and glory of its built heritage. The perfectly preserved circumvallation of pink brick, ringed by the green sward of the grass glacis, is one of the most complete and formidable set of ramparts in Italy.
Unlike many Tuscan cities, Lucca sits on the valley floor. This feature and the traces of the grid-like street pattern – albeit given a medieval inflection – betray its Roman origin. Within the walls, the city is a compelling masonry document of the Middle Ages. There is a superb collection of Romanesque churches with the distinctive feature of tiers of arcades applied to the façades. There is good sculpture, too, including the exquisite tomb of Ilaria del Carretto, and some quite exceptional (and exceptionally early) panel paintings. Looming over the dense net of narrow streets are the imposing palazzi of the mercantile elite, including some grand ones from the age of Baroque.
The Romanesque theme of the tour is continued on the excursions to the nearby cities of Prato, Pistoia and Pisa, where the style has its greatest manifestation in Tuscany in the ensemble of cathedral, baptistery and campanile (the now not-quite-so-leaning tower) at Pisa. Likewise, medieval sculpture features prominently in all these places.
The Renaissance is represented by some of the best loved works of the Florentine masters – by Filippo Lippi and Donatello at Prato cathedral, for example, and by the della Robbia workshop in Pistoia. There are also visits to small towns and to a country villa of the eighteenth century.
Fly at c. 1.00pm from London Heathrow to Pisa (British Airways) and drive to Lucca.
Lucca. Visit the cathedral of S. Martino, a Romanesque church with important sculptures (tomb of Ilaria del Carretto) and paintings, and the Villa Guinigi, a rare survival of a 14th-century suburban villa and now a museum with outstanding medieval panel paintings. In the afternoon drive to the Villa Torrigiani which has a 19th-century landscaped garden with a sunken garden from the 17th century.
Prato. Drive inland to Prato, a city that built its wealth on cloth-working. The medieval cathedral has outstanding Renaissance sculpture and painting, notably Donatello’s pulpit with dancing putti and the Filippo Lippi frescoes. Visit also the Museo di Palazzo Pretorio, open after a long period of restoration, housing works by both Lippis, among others.
Barga, Lucca. Drive up through forested hills to Barga, a delightful little town with a fine Romanesque cathedral at its summit. In the afternoon visit S. Michele in Foro and S. Frediano, one of the finest Romanesque churches in Lucca, with façade mosaics and chapel tombs sculpted by Jacopo della Quercia. Some free time.
Pistoia. The exceptionally attractive town of Pistoia has important art and architecture. Buildings include the octagonal baptistry and the cathedral, both at one end of the main square, and the Renaissance hospital, Ospedale del Ceppo. Sculpture includes the pulpit in Sant’Andrea carved by Giovanni Pisano, one of the finest Gothic sculptures south of the Alps, and a unique silver altarpiece in the cathedral, the product of 150 years’ workmanship.
Pisa. In the High Middle Ages Pisa was one of the most powerful maritime city-states in the Mediterranean, the rival of Venice and Genoa, deriving great wealth from its trade with the Levant. The ‘Campo dei Miracoli’ is a magnificent Romanesque ensemble of cathedral, monumental burial ground, campanile (‘Leaning Tower’) and baptistery, all of gleaming white marble. Among the major artworks here are the pulpit by Nicola Pisano (1260) and the 14th-century Triumph of Death fresco.
Lucca. On the way to the airport visit the Romanesque basilica of S. Piero a Grado. The flight from Pisa arrives into London Heathrow at c. 7.30pm.
Dr Michael Douglas-Scott
Associate Lecturer in History of Art at Birkbeck College, specialising in 16th-century Italian art and architecture. He studied at the Courtauld and Birkbeck College, University of London and lived in Rome for several years. He has written articles for Arte Veneta, Burlington Magazine and the Journal of the Warburg & Courtauld Institutes.
Price – per person
Two sharing: £2,380 or £2,210 without flights. Single occupancy: £2,620 or £2,450 without flights.
Flights (Euro Traveller) with British Airways (Airbus A319); travel by private coach for airport transfers and excursions; hotel accommodation; breakfasts, 4 dinners with wine, water, coffee; all admissions; all tips; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager.
Hotel Ilaria, Lucca: an excellently situated 4-star within the city walls, with friendly staff. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
There is quite a lot of walking, much of it on roughly paved streets. There is a lot of standing in churches and galleries. The tour is not suitable for anyone who has difficulties with everyday walking and stair climbing. Average distance by coach per day: 39 miles.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
'I finished the tour feeling that I had learnt a lot about that particular area of Italy in very congenial company.'
'One of the nicest things on a tour of the Randall type is the little extra added especially if one could not do it on one’s own.'
'The itinerary was well planned. Lucca is a splendid choice for base camp.'