Imagine returning from the Sun King’s Palace at Versailles, outside Paris, and thinking, “I must have some gardens like that !” . . . .and then being able to . . .
Villa Torrigiani is situated in the most beautiful countryside NE of Lucca towards Montecatini. In 1636 the villa was bought by Marquis Nicolao Santini. The Marquis was ambassador for the Republic of Lucca at the court of Louis XIV at Versailles. The Marquis was so impressed by Louis XIV’s gardens that he employed Le Notre – mastermind of Louis’s gardens - to create them at Villa Torrigiani.
Only a small part of these gardens remain – the Gardens of Flora and the Grotto of the Winds are especially attractive. Le Notre designed two large fountains which were to reflect the Baroque façade of the villa. Fashions change, however, and much of the park was altered later into an “English Garden” with sweeping lawns and trees instead of the very intricate parterres and terraces. I feel that both styles are lovely – in very different ways.
The villa, is beautifully kept, is still in private hands, and is one of the loveliest places I have ever seen. The inside has beautiful frescos and furniture and a “trompe l’oeil” window – a window which seems to be in three dimensions - by the Lucchese artist Pietro Scorzini.
Visiting times: 1st March – 1st Sunday in November.10.00 – 12.00 and 15.00 – 17.00.
Summer 10.00 – 13.00 and 15.00 – 19.00pm. Closed Tuesdays. Guided tours of the villa.
Price: 9 euros – park and villa. 7 euros – park.
Directions: From Lucca via Pesciatina (SS435) until junction for Camigliano, follow signs for the villa. From A11 exit for Capannori, follow signs for via Pescia and then for the villa. Parking in the grounds.
During my time in Lucca I also took a day trip by train to the Cinque Terre at the Ligurian coast. The Cinque Terre consists of 5 fishing villages which are situated at the bottom of a steep rocky coastline.
This unique landscape has been included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. With its scenic footpaths, it is an ideal area for hiking excursions. For more information, please have a look at my Vernazza page.
Imagine having the vision, the labour force, and the financial clout to carve gardens out from a hillside – and not to need planning permission either !
Garzoni gardens are about 20 km north east from Lucca at Collodi, not far from Montecatini. Collodi is the home of the Pinocchio legend – where there is a visitor centre and parking.
The palace was being restored when we visited in July 2004 and I believe is being turned into a hotel. The gardens, also undergoing extensive restoration, seem to “tumble” down a hillside. They were built over 170 years and reflect changing ideas and the desire of different generations to contribute to the estate. In its time this must have been one of the most flamboyant of private estates.
A description of the gardens in 1652 describes a labyrinth, a stream bridge, terracing, a wood divided by parallel paths. In the 18th century the cascade, the green theatre, parterres and two circular fountain basins at the entrance were added. What a play ground !
The “parterre de broderie” – created at the end of the 18th century near the two circular fountains - has been restored, research found that coloured sand, and not seasonal flowers were used, so this has been put in place. In the 18th century a parterre made up of coloured stones was created, only the Garzoni Coat of Arms and Monogram are left – proudly set out on the hillside.
This is an ongoing story, restoration of the massive palace was in full swing and it was totally off limits. Some of the gardens had been beautifully restored and work was continuing. The statuary on the higher levels was still in a sad state of decay and the Bassine – wood divided into parallel paths – had become very overgrown.
We shall visit again one day. If we won the lottery, maybe we could stay there !
Entry price: 5.20 euros (July 2004) for the gardens.
Opening times : 9.00 am until 1 hour before sunset.
15th November – 15 March - Saturday and Sunday and holidays – you would need to check about the holidays.
AKA Ponte del Diavolo (Devil's Bridge) this bridge is located in Borgo a Mozzano, 10-15 Km far from Lucca towards Garfagnana.
His name is due to its shape, so incredible to let people say it has been built by the devil.
Every halloween night there is a popular fest in which a carriage containing a puppet of Lucida Mansi (a rich lady of Lucca who sold her soul to the devil to keep her beauty for ever) is thrown down the brigde.
Pisa is not a off the beaten path destination, on the contrary, it is too touristy. But it is very near to Lucca, about 20km so I guess it is worth a visit if you have some spare time and enjoy that kind of place. No need to say what is a must see in Pisa: the leaning tower, the duomo, the baptistery and the cemetery.
Pisa is not my cup of tea: I found it too touristy, mainly because we visited during peak season (July). But we spent a pleasant evening there and visiting the leaning tower at night was a nice surprise, while enjoying my delicious Italian ice cream on a hot summer night. Actually, a lot of other visitors were doing the same and enjoying the green grass to sit and talk.
On the opposite side of Piazza San Michele respect to Via Fillungo there is Piazza Bernardini with his homonymous palace.
IF you look at the first window of the ground floor you can see a stone bended like it was iron: it is called the "Devil's Stone".
The legend says that Mr. Bernardini was peruaded by the Devil himself to build the palace where a holy image took place. During the construction a stone of a window of the ground floor started bending and there was anything that could stop it.
In this old palace belonged to Guinigi family is the city historical museum. The whole history of Lucca and its surroundings is represented here by several handcrafts, paintings and sculptures going from the Romans Age to the late Renaissance.
Beautiful roman and medieval marbles are in the well kept gardens near the Walls.
Near about Lucca there are several opened old villas. Those villas are usually open for wedding celebrations or other kind of important party. In spring and summer it's possible to visit the huge beautiful gardens and, in some of them, also the buldings.
The most famous are located a few kms North-East far from the centre (Villa Reale in Marlia, Villa Mansi in Segromigno and Villa Torrigiani in Camigliano).
You should ask the tourist office for opening time.
In this building, that once was a church, there is the old town market. There are several food shops (butchers, grocers and so on) and some craft shops.
The exterior appearence is little bit scruffy, but it's going to be restored by the fine arts office.
It's really characteristic and a few lucky tourist can see it because is out of the main path.
It's a few step far from the middle of Via Fillungo in the very centre of the town.
The Tuscan seaside resort Viareggio is located only about 20 mins by train from Lucca. With 10 km of sandy beach and a 3 km long promenade, it is the most important bathing resort of the Tuscany.
Among all kinds of summer entertainment it offers a colourful harbour and some worth seeing buildings, like the Saint Paolino Church (Chiesa di San Paolino), which dates back to 1896.
This is an unusual side trip to Lucca. The Villa itself is not open, however you can get a tour of the gardens. There are several unique gardens that make up the grounds, and you could easily get lost in them. Villa Realle was owned by Napoleon's sisters and was a opulent palace of it's day hosting many parties for dignitaries. The gardens remind me of Verseaille, very formal Baroque gardens that are quite interesting and lovely.Our guide was the caretaker and he hardly spoke any English, however he was pleasant and answered questions when he could.
The owner of our hotel told us about the beautiful small town of Montecarlo (short distance from Lucca).
We drove there one afternoon, spending a leisurely few hours exploring the town of 4,000 inhabitants, stopping for refreshments (we had delicious gelato), petting cats/kittens that we spotted; we rested & watched the day-to-day activity of this lovely, small village.
The well preserved historical center is surrounded by splendid walls. Today, wine & flowers are produced here. There is not any contamination, and it is void of any air pollution; only a marvelous relationship between man & nature exists.
Don't let the small size of this village fool you about its historic importance! After many wars, the inhabitants of the territory of Montecarlo found refuge on the top of a hill. In this place, a stonewalled village was built. Montecarlo is a place of great importance for its road system, crossed first by via Cassia, then in the Middle Ages by the Francigena, & boasted the presence of 2 hospitals. It was founded in 1333 by the lucchese people, and it was named in honor ofCarlo di Boemia, Arrigo's VII's grandchild in honor of the help he was given during the war against Florence.
Montecarlo has THE SANT'ANDREA'S COLLEGIATE CHURCH, THE SANT'ANNA CONVENT, THE THEATRE OF RASSICURATI.
The town is on a high level, giving beautiful views of the countryside. There are many steep streets to climb as you explore this darling village. Most buildings & homes have small flower boxes displaying beautiful plants. The attitude is quite "laid back"; it is a great place to just wander & "people watch". We had a great time.
You can easily reach Montecarlo from Lucca (a distance of 17 Km) driving along Via Romana toward Altopascio.
It's good to know that in the wooded areas (known as "AI Comunali")an ecological & educational trail with varied vegetation was created. Inside a little valley, near a stream, the remains of a hermitage have been found (the hermitage of Santa Margherita).
Almost everyone who visits Lucca seems to be intrigued by the Guinigi tower with tall trees growing on top, which is unique among towers!
However, it is fun to ascend the Guinigi Tower to view Lucca and its redtop roofs spread out below. The addition of the trees allows for some great framing of the rooftop pictures because there is no way to take a photo without the tree limbs framing the picture.
The tower is located in the historic district, and it features an observation tower.
Be sure to use the observation tower for more great photographs..
As I mentioned previously, Lucca is somewhat a quiet destination, not over-crowded with visitors, even in peak season, as was the case of my visit (July).
Wandering around its less touristy streets is amongst my best memories of this city. It is so peaceful and quiet and you get the chance to feel how the real city is - the beautiful architecture, the decayed buildings with the flowered balconies, the clothes hanging to dry on the windows, ladies chatting at shop's door or from their windows to the passers-by.
Barga is a lovely medieval hamlet nestled up in the mountains about an hour away from Lucca. Very lovely and untouched for several hundred years. The drive to Barga is pleasent and you get to pass the famous Ponte del Diavolo (Devil's bridge) on your way up.
Check out the Barga town website: