A Perfect Day in Lucca: Required Recreation for Tuscan Travelers
An expert perspective on vacation time well spent.
As the Presidentessa of Lucca Cycling Club and having lived la vita Lucca for over a decade, allow me to take you on a day-long tour of the old Renaissance town I’ve come to love.
I discovered Lucca in 2010 when a friend introduced me to a local team slated to hit all the important races of the euro circuit. Without knowing much about Tuscany, nor Italy for that matter, the decision to ride my bike in Lucca was (and still is) a no-brainer.
Introduced to the pro-cycling world by former Danish pro, Bjarne Riis, Lucca has been training grounds for names like Rachel Neylan, Ben King, and how can we forget the show pony himself, Mario Cipollini. It’s also home to the godfather of power and inventor of the SRM PowerMeter, Uli Schoberer. From long climbs in the Apuan Alps and Central Apennine to rolling hills and the Pisan flats, this northern Tuscan town has something special for everyone.
I came for pro cycling and stayed for the beauty, the sunshine, and one of the most vibrant cycling communities I’ve seen. If you’re on the hunt for your next cycling adventure, imagine a perfect day in Lucca unfolding just for you. Life’s too short for sub-par anything, so let’s make it count.
Wake Up and Win
I’m often asked, “Should I stay in the historical center or on the hillside outside town?” If you’re visiting Lucca alone or as a couple, you’ll want to stay inside the historic wall. Everything is accessible by foot — including the train station so you won’t need a rental car.
Albergo alla Corte degli Angeli is a 4-star locally-owned hotel with 21 uniquely decorated Tuscan-style rooms, a restaurant and for their best, most loyal customers, a family from afar. I’m not kidding; get on an Italian’s good side and you’ll get perks like extra glasses of vino, specialty digestivo and maybe even an exclusive tour of the wine cellar.
Now that you’re here in the heart of Lucca, which cafe shall we start the day with?
Due Cappuccini per Favore
There are endless choices within a stone’s throw, but let’s go to Caffè Santa Zita since they just re-opened their version 2.0 establishment. Entering the front doors of this little gem is like traveling back through time. It’s one of several historic shops still alive today and what’s known as a Biscotteria — or cookie shop.
Take your cappuccino (or cappuccini plural) saloon style — at the bar alongside the typically smartly dressed Lucchesi — or seated on the terrace overlooking the gold-faced San Frediano Basilica. It’s never too early (or too late) to reminisce, and if you’re sipping a cappuccino here, life’s indeed been good to you.
Dreamscapes for Discerning Cyclists
Evidence suggests that a full-time job doesn’t hold back any Lucca-based cyclist from pouring hours into the bike and you, my friend, could easily follow suit. But if you’re in town for just one day, best stick to a three or four-hour intro ride — my iconic Super Scenic Must-See Lucca Hills loop.
If it were possible to trademark cycling routes, this one would rank among my most cherished assets. After countless hours of riding, mixing and mingling with local rides and random bike shop banter, I’ve proudly covered almost every paved surface in and around Lucca.
No matter what you’ve been through or are going through, these timeless Tuscan vistas never fail to uplift, elicit emotion and inspire one to decisive action. It will be the highlight of your vacation, I promise.
Lazy Lunch for a Table of One (or More)
Ride to eat or eat to ride? Either/or, you’ll appreciate the homemade pasta and zero kilometer ingredients at In Pasta Cibo e Convivio. On the shady side of Corso Garibaldi, this place is right in my neighborhood and the ideal spot to swing by for a lingering post-ride lunch.
To Be or Not to Be Cultured?
Variety is the spice of life, and not everyone longs to labor up San Pellegrino’s hellacious ramps without even a Strava cup to show for it. Stopping at cycling would do this captivating corner of Italy an immense injustice but, then again, dolce far niente always presents an inviting alternative.
If you’re in the mood for the sweetness of doing nothing, skip this step and head straight for Undici Undici. If not, come with comfortable shoes and a camera in hand.
While there’s a host of things to do in Lucca, you’ll definitely want to stroll the historic walls, drop into Piazza dell’Anfiteatro and climb up Guinigi Tower. For opera music lovers, here’s your opportunity to pay homage to Giacomo Puccini and attend at least one of his operas performed every evening, year-round at the Church of San Giovanni. After all, it’s thanks to this notable Lucchese that the world has La bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, and Turandot.
Aperitivo among the Lucchesi
Speak with anyone who lives in Lucca and they’ll have an opinion on where to get the best aperitivo. As your Top Guide for the day, Undici Undici is our next stop because it’s my favorite for summer days. You won’t find a comparable place in Florence or even Chianti that doesn’t cater solely to tourists, meaning you pay Lucchese — not tourist pricing.
Located in Piazza Antelminelli, Undici Undici overlooks Saint Martin Cathedral and a glorious fountain that doubles as a mist sprayer on breezy days. I’ve spent countless hours here with a spritz in hand scheming my next big ride or visualizing life goals.
From Antipasto to Dolce to Digestivo
Tucked away on a side street opposite composer Giacomo Puccini’s birth house and now museum is Ristorante Schiaffino. This family-run eatery with outdoor seating and white tablecloths is the quintessential Italian food experience. It’s a touch fancy, but I figure a perfect day in Lucca is worth celebrating.
Uli Schoberer is just one of cycling’s illuminati who call Lucca home.
If a visit to Lucca is in your future, we welcome you with open arms. Head over to LuccaCyclingClub.com to learn more about our Turnkey Bespoke Trips and Guided Rides.
Lucca Cycling Club is a virtual atelier for cycling travel founded by Alison Testroete, former pro cyclist and Canadian National Champion. From our base in Lucca, we curate experiences for bike lovers across Italy.
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