GENERAL INFORMATION ON THE AREA
Banks open from 08.30-13.30 and from 14.30-15.45 (but again this varies from bank to bank). Banks do not generally open on Saturday mornings.
As well as often having phones, bars also double up as tobacconists. There is a large letter T on a blue background for bars (and grocery shops) which sell stamps, bus tickets and matches.
In bars in towns, there
are two sets of prices for drinks, pastries etc.
One price for standing up at the counter and another (usually double) for sitting down with waiter service. One normally pays on leaving. Nearly all bars have toilets.
If you're around the Via Fillungo
and fancy an interesting aperitivo, try Bar Il Centro and ask for the Aperitivo della Casa (it's in several coloured layers and is set on fire!! – it is very potent and very good).
Beaches operate on a pay system, which means that one pays for the day (or sometimes half-day) spent on the beach.
The prices vary according to the beach and their facilities and also at what period of the season it is. If you wish to go to the beach, approach the management hut and they will tell you the price and direct you to the deckchairs and umbrella. The least crowded beaches are around the far right hand end of Lido di Camaiore. The beach at the Ariston hotel is excellent and there is a superb casual restaurant for mid day meals. Typical beach charges for an umbrella, two deck chairs and a sun bed are 20 euros per day.
Push bike hire by the hour, day, and week is available from several shops in the Piazza Santa Maria.
Rent a Scooter, Viareggio 0584 46410 or 0584 31221.
Tickets must be bought in advance - usually obtainable from bars or from Piazzale Verdi, where the Lazzi Bus Company office is situated and from where the buses depart. If you wish to go to Florence, it is
better and quicker to go by bus - which, by the way, are air-conditioned.
The buses are taken from the central bus station (just inside the Lucca walls as you drive there from here) in Piazzale Verdi. Buses go about every 60 minutes - make sure you ask for the Diretto, otherwise you could end up calling at every village between here and Florence!.
Entering the walls of Lucca directly from the Sarzanese, you will find car parks on the right hand side. Follow this right further and you will find another pay car park by the tobacco factory.
Remember white line parking is free (none inside the city walls), blue is pay parking and yellow is residents only.
The car hire company is called Pittore and is situated in Piazza Santa Maria (immediately through the Santa Maria gate, which is opposite Borgo Giannotti).
There is a sign on the front door of every chemist showing which chemist is open for that night.
We have a good doctor, called Aldo Morotti, who speaks passable English and who is very capable and pleasant. His surgery is at via Filungo 192 next to the chemist. Please telephone Erlana who will make
an appointment for you.
Our dentist is Roger Staal on 953633. He speaks fluent English.
Petrol stations observe the normal siesta time - they close between 12.30 and around 15.30 and then close again at around 19.30.
They are almost all closed all day on Sunday. There are now quite a few 24-hour stations open on Sundays, where you insert banknotes for petrol. On the toll motorways, petrol stations are open 24 hours a day.
Zebra crossings do exist here but do NOT assume that cars will stop for you.
Although people have been trying for a long time to stop cars driving through the very centre of Lucca, they still do. So please, especially if you have children, always expect to see a car, even on the narrowest streets. Mopeds and bicycles drive the wrong way down one way streets both inside and outside the Lucca walls, so again, be prepared!
Lucca Hospital is signposted on the ring road around the walls. Turn left when you get to the walls and keep going until you see the signs. Emergency telephone number is 118.
Very few newsagents sell English newspapers but there is one called Brancoli on the street between Piazza Napoleone (the paying car park inside the city walls) and Piazza San Michele. There is also a small one
in Piazza Napoleone and at the railway station.
Tipping is not obligatory, because the service charge is normally included in the bill. You could add 5% if the waiter has been particularly helpful.
Most restaurant staff in the Lucca area do not speak ANY
English and quite a few restaurants do not have any written menus - so a dictionary will always be useful!
SAGRAS (Village Festivals)
Every year, almost every village in the area has a series of village parties. These are usually on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday night; they are sometimes for a week or a month at a time and they are sometimes
on 2, 3 or 4 weekends running! Anyway, suffice it to say that they are an absolute must if you want to get the full local flavour.
Basically, you will see signs along the road wherever you drive.
They are usually small square posters attached to a tree, saying "Sagra della ": the "..." is usually connected with food e.g. sagra of fagioli (beans) or penne (pasta) or zuppe (heavy Tuscan soup). So, if you go to a 'fagioli' sagra, there will definitely be some dishes with beans in - a soup, a pasta dish and/or a side salad or vegetable dish. The food is always reasonably good and reasonably hot but the main thing is the experience!
The whole village gets involved e.g. the local butchers cook the barbecue, others distribute food or wine or raffle tickets etc. The aim is to raise money for a new church roof or some local cause.
They take over a local field (often a sports ground or park) and fill it with food stalls and tables and benches.
There is always a dance floor and a band (to which the locals do the tango, waltz etc) - it's lovely! There are usually swings, slides etc and sometimes even carousels and fairground stalls.
You arrive at
around 8 p.m., grab a table and then go to the stall where they take your order (a menu is written on a board).
They give you a ticket and then you either sit at your table and wave your ticket at a passing waiter or you go to the various stalls where they hand out your food.
In Lucca, and in fact in most large towns in this area, including Florence and Pisa, most shops are closed on Monday mornings. All shops are closed on Sundays. Shop opening hours vary but generally they open from
09.00-12.30/13.00 and from 15.30/16.00-19.30/20.00. Supermarkets are open throughout every day but they, together with almost all food shops, are closed on Saturday afternoons during the summer. Other small food
shops close Wednesday afternoons.
There are now three exceptions to the rule – the first two are part of the Esselunga chain. These are now open on Saturday all day, but closed on Monday morning. The
other is SMA which is open from 4 - 8 p.m. on a Saturday (please see the map for their locations).
SHOPS - Bread
Many people (including us) find Italian bread a little hard on the teeth - no matter how "morbido" (soft) you ask for your bread to be. We have three favourite bread shops: one is called Panificio,
which is a tiny shop on the right hand side on the via Sarzanese, just before the Viareggio motorway sign on the way into Lucca. Better still is Il Fornaio, which is half way down Borgo Giannotti on the left
(Borgo Giannotti is a well-known street of shops, which leads down to the city walls).
This shop is worth finding because all its bread and cakes are divine and it sells good wholemeal bread also (pane integrale). The best white bread there is either Fisarmonica or Treccia. Finally, whenever you are in the centre of Lucca in Piazza San Michele (the main square) go to Via S. Lucia 18-20. one minute's walk away, to Giusti, where there is always available the most delicious freshly baked foccaccia you will ever have tasted. Foccaccia is a flat salted, oiled bread, also available studded with olives. Ask anyone if you can't find the shop -it's very well known, as it is the best bread shop in Lucca.
SHOPS - Clothes
If you want to see the best clothes, shoes, etc that Lucca has to offer you should walk down Via Fillungo (just off the main square inside Lucca).
The very best time to go there is at around 6 p.m. on a Saturday when the whole of Lucca goes there for their "passeggiata" - to see and to be seen by all their friends. Otherwise, any evening at around that time is good. Please note that all non-food shops, museums etc are closed on a Monday morning.
SHOPS - Fish
There is a fresh fish in the Superal supermarkets. Please see the location map
SHOPS - Markets
Markets in this area are very good value, especially for clothes and shoes. Lucca market is situated just inside San Iacopo gate and takes place on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
This market is good for silk flowers, men's shirts, women's leggings/tops and table linen - look out for one stall which sells old lace VERY cheaply. Viareggio market is bigger and better than Lucca. Don't miss the central section under cover which has a very large selection of shoes. This market is situated near the sea front - just ask anyone for directions. Some stalls are open every day but the main day is Thursday.
Another large and excellent market is in Forte dei Marmi about 45 minutes drive from here - go to Lido di Camaiore, turn right and travel along the coast road for about 10 minutes.
This market takes place on Wednesday mornings, with a condensed version on Sunday mornings. The other advantage to Forte dei Marmi is that it's a lovely town situated right next to the beach with fabulous shops and seafood restaurants to visit as well as the market. Please bear in mind that market hours are . 8.30 – 12.30.
SHOPS - Souvenirs
If you wish to take examples of Tuscan pottery back with you, there are obviously many shops in Lucca, but I will mention here the one which, even though it is situated in Lucca's main square, has the most authentic
collection at the most reasonable prices - and by the way they do not bargain in this shop:
A Cariola, Piazza San Michele 10, Lucca
Obviously Tuscany and Umbria are crowded with places to see - the obvious ones being Florence (1 hour's drive), Siena (1.5 hours') and San Gimignana (2 hours').
Also well worth a trip is to follow the Piero della Francesca trail (as in John Mortimer's book Summer Lease) which you can start in Arezzo (beautiful city, 1.5 hours' drive from here) and continue to nearby San Sepolcro and Monterchi, to see other examples of his stunning fresco work. If you have time when in that area, Assisi and Perugia are also well worth a visit. Volterra is a beautiful hilltop town well worth a visit.
Closer to home, of course, are Viareggio (famous for its boat building at the port) and Forte dei Marmi, both very attractive seaside towns. You can also visit Lerici on the coast, a pretty place, from
which you can get a short boat trip to Portavenere and enjoy the lovely seafood restaurants there.
Again on the coast are Cinque Terre, five lovely coastal villages all connected by train, boat or foot and well worth a visit.
If you want a short trip, it is worth going to elegant Montecatini (on the road to
Florence, about 30 minutes from here) a spa town (but don't wear shorts as you won't be allowed into the baths). You can take the railway (or a taxi!, or drive yourself) up to the old hilltop village which is
very pretty. An alternative place for lunch is Montecarlo (20 minutes from here) or Vinci (home of Leonardo da) which, in addition to some very good restaurants, has a fascinating museum with scaled down
models of all his inventions and posters of his works. For much more local information please visit www.knowital.com
Telephone any of the following numbers: 492691 /494989 /494190 /950623 581305. Please prefix all numbers with 0583.
There are telephones in most bars. If you wish to make a call, there are pay phones, but there could also be a "scatti” system in operation. You make the call normally and the counter clocks up the number
of digits (or "scatti") that the call has lasted. The bar management will tell you the total at the end of the call. There are also card phones commonly available now. The dialling code for England
is 00 44,and America 00 1 followed by the STD code minus the O. To call all local numbers you must now dial the prefix 0583.
Please do not leave any valuables in the house since, unfortunately, there are a number of burglaries especially during the summer tourist months. Please ensure that whenever you go out all doors/windows
are closed and locked.
The Tourist Office is near the Porta San Donato on the piazzale Verdi, tel:0583 419689. It is open daily and the office also hires out bicycles.
There are also several very attractive villas outside Lucca, which if you particularly like gardens are worth a visit.
The Villa Reale at Marlia is surrounded by magnificent gardens. Viewing by guided tour.
The Villa Torrigiani to the south of Segromigno is a 16th Century villa converted into a summer residence in the 17th Century and it stands at the end of a long tree lined avenue.
The Villa Mansi at Segromigno. The Villa is a superb 16th Century building situated in the middle of a huge park, with a walkway lined with statues leading to a large lake.
This is all right to drink, unless Non Potable is written near the tap. If you prefer to buy bottled water for drinking, it is available in any food shop as "still" (acqua naturale) or fizzy (acqua