I just wanted to share a little hedonism and a rather splendid lunch with you.
Lucca is a very beautiful town, everywhere you look there is something wonderful to take in. My recent trip to Tuscany ended there and I took the opportunity to see this amazing place. It is perfect to enjoy on foot as the centre is theoretically a car free zone – although some of the locals seem unaware of this fact and also appear to take very little care when riding a bike, but as long as you keep your wits about you this is a small price to pay.
I was thrilled by the old city walls which completely encircle the old town and have been turned into a pathway. Walking around them gave me a chance to see the entire town from all different angles and to get the lie of the land. It was nice to see the local people enjoying the walls in the lovely Spring weather, they are, in effect, Lucca’s leisure centre giving the locals a stunning place to go walking, cycling and jogging while surrounded by beautiful sights.
Having seen it from afar, as it were, my next step was to dive in to the maze of tiny streets and see what Lucca has to offer, which it turned out is a great deal – given that you can walk an entire circuit of the town in just over an hour and across it in less than 20 minutes. Being something of a Bonapartist my first stop was the elegant Piazza Napoleone, which is named after Napoleon 1’s sister Elisa Bonaparte Baciocchi who was given the throne of the Principality of Lucca and Piombino in 1805 before becoming Grand Duchess of Tuscany in 1809. When the First Empire fell she lost her throne, but has not been remembered unfavourably and one of the loveliest piazzas in the town is named in her honour. I enjoyed a beer whilst watching the life of the square go on around me and planned the next part of my day.
The whole place really is a delight of narrow, winding streets, some of which look as though they are stuck in the Renaissance, while others like Via Fillungo boast an impressive array of luxury shops – as with nearby Florence it would appear that jewellery and leather goods are the things to buy here. I strolled down this delightful thoroughfare which eventually brought me to the oval shaped Piazza Anfiteatro which was once the ancient town’s Roman amphitheatre. This is a beautiful space and it is wonderful to soak up all the history for a while – I kept wondering how much of the theatre is left below the houses and at what date it became a memory of an amphitheatre rather than an actual one?
However, the serious business of the day now took over – where to go for lunch? I had a few candidates from prior research, but my favoured contender was a clear winner once I had examined them all – you see, even more walking. This was Trattoria da Leo in the Via Tegrimi, a terrific place that goes straight to the top – or very near the top – of my list of truly great traditional, casual eateries. Leo is one of those places where it is clear right from the start that it is going to deliver good food and it really does. I have written before of my love of places like this, traditional, family run restaurants that serve good, traditional and unpretentious food and this joins my list of absolute favourites.
Just like my favourite place in Spain, the wine list was limited, to just two in this instance – Vino Toscano at 12.5˚ in either quarter or half litre carafes or Vino Colline Lucchesi. I had a half of the Toscano and it was pretty nice actually, good fruit, fresh acidity and nicely balanced alcohol – nothing special, but really very acceptable – even when drunk out of tumblers. I find it amusing that the colour of neither wine was mentioned, I correctly assumed that they were red.
The menu was full of good things and after much dithering and drinking I chose Mezze maniche ai fegatini, which was short cut/half length – mezze – Rigatoni in a superbly tasty liver sauce – it was delicious and very me with a wonderful depth of flavour.
I followed this with Vitella arrosto con patate arrosto – roast veal with roast potatoes to you and me. This was a lovely simple dish that I enjoyed greatly, but as always in Tuscany the pasta was the star turn – I often wish that I am not too embarrassed to order two pasta courses! After all that food and wine I was feeling somewhat stuffed, but the Leo did me proud with a wonderfully restorative caffè macchiato, the best of my trip in fact.
On the way back to my hotel I passed by the birthplace of Lucca’s favourite son – Giacomo Puccini and at the nearby Gelateria Santini I had one of the best ice creams of my life. It was a scoop of dark, bitter chocolate and one of milk ice cream and it was fabulous – almost worth the airfare on its own – they make the ice cream themselves and have been doing so since 1916 and their experience shows.
I had a great day in Lucca with a perfect combination of lots of great food and loads of walking and the next day I just had a short train ride to Pisa airport, easy really – I wonder if Trattoria Leo is open tomorrow?