Lucca is one of the most popular and beloved cities of Tuscany and is also an excellent base for exploring the surrounding areas if you're staying for a few days. Lucca's surroundings are of great interest for their art, history, culture and food. Lucca's surroundings can be divided into four big areas: the Piana Lucchese, the Media Valle, the Versilia and the Garfagnana. We rounded up some good out-of-town trips for our readers and here are 10 ideas that include many beautiful places.
1. Bagni di Lucca
Bagni di Lucca is considered one of the most important spa towns in Europe and is made up of a collection of about 25 villages in the Lima Valley. Bagni di Lucca and its thermal baths reached their peak during the 19th century. Today, the spa water still continues to spread good health to the people who bathe here. Each village in the Bagni di Lucca area has something to offer to visitors. It’s a perfect spot to see authentic Italian life away from the crowds in the big cities. Read more about Bagni di Lucca in this post.
2. Colognora di Pescaglia
Colognora di Pescaglia is a village surrounded by chestnut woods in the municipality of Pescaglia (Lucca) that dates back at least to 828 a.C. It has beautiful examples of rural architecture with large courtyards, loggias, old buildings with residences, ovens and kitchen gardens. American movie director Spike Lee chose to shoot the film Miracle at St. Anna in this village. Read more about Colognora di Pescaglia here.
3. Orrido di Botri
One of the hidden treasures in the Tuscan Apennines near Lucca is the Orrido di Botri, a deep limestone gorge carved by the Rio Pelago in the municipality of Bagni di Lucca. It is the biggest canyon of Tuscany and access to the area is only allowed from mid-June to September. Read more about Orrido di Botri.
4. Borgo a Mozzano
Borgo a Mozzano, located on the Serchio River at about twenty kilometres from Lucca and about thirty from Castelnuovo di Garfagnana, is famous for the Ponte della Maddalena, also called “del Diavolo” (Devil's Bridge). Borgo a Mozzano is the first town of the Serchio Valley and the oldest part of the town has many medieval palazzos. Don’t miss the parish church of St. Jacopo with its imposing tower and baptismal font from 1590. Also noteworthy is the convent of St. Francis, with the beautiful Baroque church and the elegant 16th century cloisters. One of the most important events in Borgo a Mozzano is the Azalea Biennial (a market exhibition held in April). Read also this post about Borgo a Mozzano and this post about Devil’s Bridge.
Montecarlo is an enchanting town situated on a hill not far from Lucca and known mainly for its great wines. The historic center of Montecarlo is surrounded by a fortified wall and the symbol of the town is the Fortress called Rocca del Cerruglio, which dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Among the things to see there are the Chiesa Collegiata di Sant’Andrea, the Pieve di San Piero in Campo, built in 46 AD, and the small Teatro dei Rassicurati. This is also the area where you’ll find the “Oak of the Witches”, an enormous, 500-year-old oak tree along one of the many footpaths weaving through olive groves and vineyards.
6. Capannori and the tour of the villas
The vast area of the city of Caponnori boasts numerous fortresses, castles and medieval towers alongside Renaissance villas and other elegant and refined buildings. One of the most interesting activities to do in the area is touring the villas. You can start from Villa Bernardini built between 1600 and 1615 among the green hills of Gattaiola; then Villa Oliva, built in the sixteenth century by the very famous sculptor and architect Matteo Civitali; then the very old Villa Reale di Marlia; Villa Mansi, a quintessential, symbolic example of Lucchese architecture; and the magnificent Villa Torrigiani in Camigliano and Villa Grabau, an outstanding example of neo-classical architecture. Read more in this comprehensive post about the Villas of Lucca.
Barga is a medieval town nestled in the heart of the Serchio river valley at 410 metres above sea level. Barga has received several awards for its cultural and artistic importance and is known for the Jazz Festival that takes place in August as well as for its narrow, little streets running between the irregular buildings. There is a post dedicated to Barga on Around Tuscany, which lists all the main sights.
Pietrasanta was once the ancient capital of the Medici headquarters in Versilia and boasts many artistic and architecture gems not-to-be-missed. In the outstanding Piazza del Duomo you can see the Duomo di San Martino (fourteenth century), the Baptistery (sixteenth century), the church of Sant’Agostino (fourteenth century), the Historical Archives (Palazzo Moroni) and the ex-convent, which now houses the Luigi Russo Cultural Center and the Municipal Library (here, you can find beautiful frescos in what used to be the cloister). The Brick Bell Tower, built at the end of the 1500s, is also noteworthy. All around the square, you’ll see the remains of the city’s ancient fortress walls (you can also climb to the Rocca and have a beautiful view over the Versilia area). You can read more about Pietrasanta in this post.
9. Castelnuovo di Garfagnana
Castelnuovo di Garfagnana is the commercial and administrative centre of the Garfagnana area, which unites 16 municipalities. (We’ve talked about them in these two posts: Garfagnana part 1 and Garfagnana part 2). The town has a long history, and despite the destruction and rebuilding after WWII, it still preserves part of its Renaissance ramparts, with three gates and two bell towers. The Duomo named after the Saints Pietro and Paolo was built in 1500 on the remains of a pre-existing Romanesque church and houses many important artistic works.
10. Fabbriche di Careggine
Fabbriche di Careggine is an abandoned village in the province of Lucca, in the municipality of Vagli di Sotto. This town was submerged in the ‘40s by the raising of a dam and sometimes, with the appropriate technical checks and dam maintenance, the town is drained of water and numerous visitors come to see this striking show. This event has occurred only four times: in 1958, in 1974, in 1983, in 1994. The town was famous for the iron industry, inhabited almost entirely by the descendants of those workers who immigrated to the Garfagnana in the thirteenth century. Between 1947 and 1953 a 92 high dam was built and the medieval village, which consisted of 31 houses and had only 146 inhabitants, was gradually flooded. The residents were moved into new houses constructed to faithfully reproduce the medieval village that was evacuated. Next draining? We’re hoping in 2016…