Like Being on Top of the World: Walking Atop Lucca’s Ancient Walls

There’s a special cycling tour in Tuscany offering one-of-a kind views of countryside and putting you literally on top of history. It doesn’t require grueling Giro d’Italia level fitness to do it.

Lucca’s 16th and 17th century walls ringing this exquisite jewel of a Tuscan town are the route to follow. But instead of cycling around these walls, you pedal on top of them.

The ramparts enclosing the town in western Tuscany no longer serve for protection. Instead they make for a delightful 2-and-1/2 mile cycling path. The top of the walls double as Lucca’s public park. Elegantly-dressed business people pedal to appointments with leather satchels strapped to their bicycle, students leaning forward from the weight of schoolbooks in backpacks ride on their way to class and homemakers balance bags of vegetables, meat and bread on handlebars or tucked into baskets as they do their daily rounds in the morning.

Come afternoon, the pace is often more leisurely. The route atop the walls serves the Lucchesi, as Lucca’s natives are known, for promenades, just like seafronts or town squares are the haunts for that late afternoon or pre-dinner ”passeggiata, or relaxing see-and-be seen stroll in cities small and large throughout Italy..

Benches stud the pathway atop the walls, meaning even if a gentle spin around the town is too challenging, there are ample spots along the way to rest and reflect on this past of this proud medieval town.

After burning off the calories, trattorie and restaurant beckon in a town boasting some of Tuscany’s finest food.
Pastas tend to be hearty but not heavy — sauces can feature the likes of fresh porcini or rabbit meat. But rustic, lighter fare abound on menus, too, like the faro (spelt) or bean soups, made extraordinary by dribbling on some of Lucca’s fine olive oil from bottles left on dining tables.

Tuscans are naturally proud of their rich history, stunning art and architecture and, they will tell, you, of an Italian pronunciation they claim is the purest among Italy’s regions. Lucchesi quietly radiate that pride, while being very welcoming of visitors who decide to explore Tuscany beyond Florence and Chianti countryside.

Lucca gives off an air of ”benessere” — being well-to-do. Its rich history sinks back to ancient Roman and Etruscan times, and medieval houses line present day streets. Merchant traditions date back to its location along the silk trading route. Culturally, Lucca is rich, too. The hometown of opera composer Puccini hosts several musical festivals.

One of its art treasures is the sculpture adorning the sarcophagus of Ilaria del Carretto, an early 15th century masterpiece by Jacopo della Quercia. When restoration left it squeaky white clean a couple of decades ago, the citizenry and the art world fiercely debated whether the cleaning went too far, robbing the artwork of its nuances, The acidic criticism even formed the basis for a court suit heard in Florence.