Wine and Walled Towns- The Essence of Tuscany

Sunday 3rd of June by CarpediemEire

The second day of a short Tuscany trip with attention today directed towards a tour of a vineyard and the wonderful town of Lucca.

After a much needed sleep I awoke at 9am after a comfortable night. We had pre-booked our breakfasts the night before and I choose 9am. It arrived after 2 minutes of being awake so I groggily received the trolley in to the room. The breakfast was as continental as they come coffee, juice, breads, jams and 7 different pastries. I tried my best but even that much sugar was too much for me.

I wanted to walk around the area so I ventured upstairs at 10am. Luckily I did, one of the guys Sean was just heading up to the town of Montecarlo (no not that one) to buy some shoes so I jumped at the opportunity to go with him.

Montecarlo

The town of Montecarlo sits on a hill above the vineyard and was visible beyond the vineyards from my room. It’s town walls drew my interest in. A 14th century town it is surrounded by walls which are punctuated by gates. These gates give great views of the surrounding countryside. An old fortress the Rocca del Cerruglio defends the north of the town.

The taxi driver dropped us off at the foot of the fortress and we asked could he come back in 30 minutes. Language let us down a little here. The town was wonderfully quiet at this time of the morning and it was a pleasure to stroll its streets. A tall clock tower stood in the town centre, and steep streets led down to timeless gates and out to hills of grapes. The fortress was closed but the towns appeal was found in its medieval streets. The odd car struggled through them.

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We had a wonderful experience in a shoe shop, Sean finding one trainer he liked. The shop without shelf or order, proved to be a maze for the owner. He tore it apart in search of a match, boxes and shoes were littered everywhere. We looked on in amusement. For someone with OCD it would have been a living horror.

Our Taxi Man was still waiting for us and took us back to the vineyard. That’s when the language barrier let us down. We realised the meter had been running all the time. Sean was now €27 out of pocket.

Back to Buonamico

The group had assembled, and we were treated to a full tour of the vineyard. Sylvia our guide was full of interesting information from the grape varietals to the tips how they keep the vines strong. Roses are planted to keep an eye on the spread of disease and fava beans help the soil. Some 50 hectares of land are used to produce over 500,000 bottles of wine a year.

The tour took us through the shop, and down to where the wine ferments. Depending on the wine, this was done in modern, electronically temperature controlled aluminium tanks, or in the more traditional barrels. The barrels had more authenticity and we were bemused to watch a wine maker filling them up.

When the vineyard was taken over the owners inherited a stock of old wines dating back as far as 1964. They now line the shelves of the cellar, but having been found sitting on a damp floor, no one dares to drink them.

After an off tour visit to the factory floor, more wine tasting was in order. Again we were treated to antipasta, the freshness of the tomatoed bruschetta tantalising our taste buds. A pasta plate of pork stuffed ravioli with beef mince ensured we left the vineyard with nothing but happy thoughts. Posing for a group photo with Sylvia and Eugenia, the owner, we were then whisked off to Lucca for the afternoon.

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Lucca

The drive there passed stone churches and farmhouses. Tuscany is one of those rare places where derelict farmhouses evoke romantic feelings and the sight of cypress trees draws sharp breaths of delight.

The driver took us for a short driving tour through the town. It was cool to drive through the town gates and under those impeachable walls. He then brought us up what looked like pedestrian streets to bemused looks of those walking there. But in doing so he pointed out squares and churches of interest. I, the travel buff had everything saved in my google maps, but he did give us an insider look.

Leaving us just outside a tourist office he legged it in to grab us all maps. At this point the diversity of the city was seen, 2 of our group elected to hire and cycle the city walls, the girls went shopping and the rest of us splintered to find our own piece of Lucca.

I started by visiting the tourist office itself, not much to see, but a beautiful building from the outside. I understand it used to be a library.

Lucca Tourist Office

The town of Lucca dates from Roman times and has been conquered by stronger enemies throughout the centuries. The town walls have grown as a result of this and the current walls built in the 16th century are rare in that they are fully intact. Circling around the town and four kilometres in length they are nearly thirty metres wide.

The walls were my next stop and they are magnificent, now serving as a pleasure walk. Three of the original gates still exist so I visited the gate of Saint Donato which was nearby. As I walked the wall the draw of seeing the town within, brought me down. A distant sculpture intrigued me. A public exhibition of art can be found within the walls of Lucca. The sculpture of an ape with baby was excellent. Walking through the walls tunnels lead outside. It was here I discovered Declan who had a similar plan to see the city, so we set off together through the streets.

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Lucca’s Towers

Lucca as with any old town is best enjoyed by walking aimlessly. It’s not big enough to get lost and invariably you come across the sights along the way. Narrow side streets give a feel of Italian life, and the town has 100 churches so these are to be found throughout. Medieval towers sit on corners and shape the skyline. Those towers were our preferred destination, so we found our first the Torre Guinigi. This 14th century tower and its famous tower-top oak trees are probably the most iconic sight of Lucca. 230 steps await those brave enough. We paid €6 to access this and the Torre delle Ora. The clock tower was another 207 steps. Its tough going in the Italian heat. But both towers give superb views and each has its own rewards. The trees atop Guinigi seen from close, and across the rooftops from the clock tower make for an original sight. The mechanism of the clock tower and its cogs and pendulums can be watched in its workings. But watch out for the bells. They chimed while we were up there and made us both jump.

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Lucca

Lucca’s Churches

Looking next for a taste of those aforementioned churches, we first rewarded ourselves with some gorgeous gelato. The Chiesa Di San Michele in Foro has an amazing facade so we visited there first. Aptly described on google as wedding cake like, the shoe fits. Four rows of pillars and columns are topped by three statues (not a bride and groom). The church was rebuilt in 1070 and the facade is from the 13th century. Entry to the church was free, but to be honest there wasn’t much of note to be seen. Our driver had told us of a 12th Century crucifix, the one here was certainly not of note, and we wondered why it was of renown. It certainly cast the abilities of artists back then into doubt.

Lucca

Lucca

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Lucca

We still had time to spare so St Martins Cathedral became our final stop. Admission of €3 euros was charged. Whereas the Chiesa de San Michele was beautiful on the outside but lacklustre on the inside, this was the opposite. A large bell tower stood beside the church but this wasn’t obviously accessible. The interior is distinctive in its huge arches, and high pillars that run to the ceiling. The ceiling’s decoration is distinctive and eye catching as is the altar and the artistic cupola above.

The 12th Century crucifix was actually here encased within a golden shrine. We laughed at our earlier mistake. This one was unmistakably artistic and surprisingly dark in tone. It is called the Holy Face of Lucca, and is the towns most famous relic. It’s worth the price of admission alone.

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Lucca’s streets truly astounded with most of them pedestrianized. Those that weren’t had few cars. It had a true timeless feel. Yet amongst this tranquility a surprising number of quality and good value boutiques competed for tourist pennies. Restaurants and bars were plentiful. All of them housed in typical Italian houses. I adore Italian architecture, even in simplicity it is sumptuous.

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Our rendezvous point was the above amphitheater square, an homage to the original roman relic which stood on this site. The square is perfectly round with no entrances other than a number of arches. Cafes line the square. After a visit to a local jewellers to buy a gift I joined the others in a bar called Parlascio. Two pints of Menebrea Biera went down very well after that walk.

We made our way to our restaurant, Buca Di Sant’Antonio and after some confusion about our booking we were seated. The meal that followed was amazing. The menu was incredibly diverse, and after being tempted by the goat, I settled on a terrine like rabbit starter, followed by a main of guinea fowl with bacon and grapes. The most wonderful guinea fowl dish I ever had. Then a dessert of waffle hazelnut and gelato. Simply sublime. Again Buonamico wines provided the perfect accompaniment.

It was near midnight when we made our back to the hotel via our driver. We all hit the hay, another early start before us, with a morning flight back to Dublin. But what a superb couple of days in Tuscany. I eagerly await another adventure in this wonderful land of wine and walled towns.

To read day 1 of my trip tap here.

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