There’s something about Tuscany that just takes your breath away. Perhaps it’s the charming little towns, the ancient churches, or being home to Europe’s most incredible wine regions. I’d only visited one time previously, but when I’d gotten the opportunity to go back and experience it through a new lens, I immediately jumped at the opportunity. Even better, I’d get to explore two off-the-the-beaten-path towns: Barga and Lucca.
Barga, a peaceful Italian village known for its cultural, architectural and breathtaking countryside, and Lucca alternatively, known for its churches, historic city walls, Medieval constructs and the Lucca Summer Festival, offer something for every type of visitor.
If you’re not sure where to start when planning your Italian bucket list escape, here’s how to do the destination, in two different ways.
Hidden away overlooking the Serchio Valley close to the Garfagnana in northern Tuscany, Barga is probably most known only to Italy insiders. I’d certainly never heard of it before and was surprised to discover it was just a two hour drive away from Florence. What’s more, it’s a perfect day (or overnight trip) for those wanting a little bit of peace and quiet outside of Florence’s bustling city limits, and it is also easily reached from Cinque Terre.
A hilltop town surrounded by mountains, your time spent in Barga will be walking the narrow streets, where you may be just as likely to hear English spoken with a Scottish accent as you are to hear Italian. The influence is pervasive as we even stumbled into a Scottish bar. The architecture is beautiful, but not overrun by tourists — which spoiler alert — if you’re not careful you may just end up lost as you wander. Perhaps one of the safest places in Italy, it’s a true “hidden gem” where you’ll feel comfortable every step of the way however.
After wandering around the somewhat deserted cobblestone streets, you’ll inevitably end up climbing steps toward the town’s Duomo, also known as the Collegiate Church of San Cristoforo (Saint Christopher). The views after the climb are absolutely worth it, because they offer an incredible panoramic view of Barga and the surrounding geography. It’s also the artistic highlight of the entire town, so definitely make sure you pay a visit.
After a day exploring, those looking for an escape immersed in nature, Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa, is the perfect respite. The resort is located on a hilltop, where you can delight in Barga’s skyline from your balcony. Whether it’s a cooking class with resort’s private chef, wine tasting with a local sommelier, relaxing at the property’s spa, exploring the surrounding medieval villages, or just simply enjoying the property’s stunning views of the mountainous Serchio Valley (one of the most unexplored areas of Italy), couples, families and girlfriends alike will bond and enjoy some much needed R&R at this property.
This beautiful, fully walled Tuscan city may not have the fame of cities like Florence or Pisa, but it’s so enchanting, you’ll definitely want to visit. A lot more popular than Barga (which is only an hour away), as you wander through Piazza S. Michele you’ll be drawn in by how safe and welcoming this little town is — particularly for Black women.
Known as the city of 101 churches, Lucca is located in the heart of Tuscany, at the foot of the Apuan Alps. These historic and picturesque walls wrap around the city, which is also quite flat compared to other hillier Tuscan villages (and neighboring Barga). Originally built by the Romans, the walls were later enlarged and fortified with great mounds of earth in the 1500’s to fend off attacks by the Medicis of Florence.
Whether visiting Lucca for a day or a week, there are many ways to stay busy exploring the Roman ruins in the basement of a cathedral, visiting the home of one of Italy’s most famous composers, or packing a picnic and going for a leisurely bike ride along the historic walls. Once home to Roman games, now it is a social gathering spot, popular for its music festivals (such as the Lucca Summer Festival, where John Legend headlined this summer) and where some of the city’s best spritzs and spaghetti carbonara I’ve ever tasted.
The only brand hotel to reside in proper Lucca, Grand Universe Lucca is a must to check out. The 55-room boutique hotel is in a former 16th century Palazzo of the Paoli family during the Renaissance, and then it was transformed into a hotel in 1857. The hotel has now undergone a multi-million dollar renovation, as it joins Marriott Autograph Collection. Aside from the rooms, the hotel has an Italian restaurant, Legacy, as well as a rooftop bar, Sommitá, where you can cap off your night drinking endless amounts of champagne.
What’s also unique is that the hotel has an omnipresent musical theme throughout, and you can take part in its ‘Prelude of Existence’ experience, where the hotel’s Italian composer curates a personal prelude for guests after meeting with them and determining their key personality traits. It’s not surprising, as Lucca is the historic birthplace of composer Giacomo Puccini.
While touristy destinations like Rome and Milan are certainly a draw, Barga and Lucca will offer a different vantage point of the Italy experience. Though, whichever you choose is sure to be the time of your life!