Lucca, and the region of Tuscany more generally, has a steeped musical history – some of the world’s most famous composers (and their tunes) were birthed here
Those regions of Italy that are renowned for exquisite cuisine and fine wines typically possess a third quality, marking them as truly extraordinary – their musicality. Tuscany is no exception to this unwritten rule. Music can be found everywhere here and has played an integral part in making the province a sanctuary for our most passionate emotions.
Nowhere is this truer than in Lucca, whose streets have routinely been graced by the sound of the world’s most famous musicians and composers. Its charming sun-kissed buildings and terracotta roofs seem to have soaked up every note and lyric ever performed in the city. Home to the Lucca Summer Festival, one of Italy’s most anticipated musical events, and birthplace of world renowned composer Giacomo Puccini, the city’s sunny streets put a song in your heart and a rhythm in your stride.
These are the streets that first heard his La Bohème, one of the most performed operas of all time. But to give you an idea of the scope of Lucca’s contemporary devotion to music, this year’s Summer Festival hosted Bob Dylan, Celine Dion and Kiss. Running for a month annually, nabbing a festival ticket would be the perfect excuse to explore this harmonious Italian haven.
Lucca has regularly avoided the conflicts that plagued the rest of Tuscany. Renowned for its renaissance city walls, which still fully enclose Lucca’s old town, the city is delightfully walkable, with much of its charm emanating from its majestic architecture. Unlike nearby Pisa or Florence, the city doesn’t feel overcrowded, even in the sizzling August sun, making it the unparalleled destination in Tuscany for the height of summer holiday season. Lucca’s green space and grand piazzas give it a breathable quality, and yet the abundance of outdoor cafes and restaurants keep the city in a constant state of animation, with bustling delis and superb gelato vendors.
A city so steeped in cultural history demands a stay in an equally distinguished hotel. The Grand Universe Lucca, formerly known as the Hotel Universo, first opened its doors in 1857, taking up residence in a former renaissance palazzo. For close to two centuries, the building has played host to famous musicians and poets. Today, the boutique hotel deftly blends the classical and contemporary. The space is characterised by lofty off-white archways and eclectic pops of colour, leaning into a cool, swish elegance that spills out onto the piazza outside. The Grand Universe’s history is not the only thing that makes it special. Centrally located, the hotel sits opposite the Teatro del Giglio, which regularly stages Puccini’s beloved operas, and backs on to the Piazza Napoleone, the square used for the Summer Festival.
The festivities are viewable from the Grand Universe’s recently renovated rooftop champagne bar, the first in Tuscany. The hotel also offers exclusive wine tastings in its basement, filled with artefacts from Lucca’s fascinating past. However, the Grand Universe’s most distinctive experience is that the hotel’s resident composer can work with you to create your very own musical prelude. For longer trips, the Grand Universe La Residenza apartment suites are the ideal choice. A short walk from the hotel, these brand-new suites are fitted with a full range of long stay amenities and while they’re on the pricier side, setting up in one of these apartments would be an ideal base from which to explore the rest of Tuscany.
Half and hour’s drive from Lucca, the coastal town of Torre del Lago is a must-visit. Puccini spent much of his life in the town, and composed many of his great works in Villa Puccini, now a museum dedicated to the composer’s life and music. Just a five minute walk away from the museum, the Gran Teatro Puccini is home to the annual Puccini Festival. Sitting in the open air, watching the sunset and drinking a glass of something sparkling while hearing the first notes of a Puccini overture has to be one of life’s greatest pleasures.
If you would rather commute into Lucca or Torre del Lago, or simply prefer a more rural retreat, the Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort and Spa is the obvious choice. Less than an hour’s drive from Lucca, the hotel is nestled between the Apennine Mountains and the Serchio Valley. It’s no exaggeration to say that the hotel possesses one of the most impressive views in all of Tuscany.
The restaurant’s late night live music is a regular feature and is a matchless atmospheric accompaniment to a sip of local shiraz
With mists rising from great hills in the west, the sun casting its rays on the medieval town of Barga in the south-east, and endless greenery filling the space in between, describing it as breathtaking doesn’t do it justice. This vista can be seen from the many personal balconies, one of its two pools, and its restaurant La Veranda. With a menu full of cherished Italian and Tuscan classics, the view from La Veranda is not the restaurant’s only redeeming quality. Between the superbly executed pappa al pomodoro, a tomato and basil soup, served with a dome of fresh bread and the beautifully plated ravioli, it is impossible to make a poor choice. Finishing the meal with a pistachio mousse is a necessity.
The restaurant’s late night live music is a regular feature and is a matchless atmospheric accompaniment to a sip of local shiraz. Situated on a hill, the Renaissance is ideal for lovers of biking and hiking, with Barga being an exemplary target. This sleepy Italian town is the unlikely home of an international jazz festival, and even more unexpectedly, has a deep-rooted cultural connection to Scotland. It’s easy to spend an hour or two wondering around its winding medieval streets, before a refreshing aperitivo at one of the many neighbourhood bars. The Renaissance is also close to the Podere Concori vineyard, which is a perfect destination for an afternoon stroll. The family-run vineyard is the impeccable combination of chic and convivial.
The array of seductive wines can be tasted daily alongside a homemade light lunch. Eating and drinking locally cultivated wines and dishes, with a timeless record player serenading you with 70s classics lovingly preserved in their original vinyl sleeves, it’s hard not to conclude that you are living life as it ought to be lived. A life filled with enthusiasm and pleasure-seeking, approached with a heart full of joy – bellissimo!
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