About 20 mins away, Lucca is our closest city. It's also one of our favourites. Mostly pedestrianised, the city is wrapped in Medieval walls. The passegiata (the Italian pre dinner stroll & a see & be seen event) is a great time for cycling around them and taking in the city. A 'loop' takes approx 20 - 25 minutes. We suggest going at about 6ish, which means you bump into the Italian romantics rather than late night flashers (always fun!).
Parking can be slightly tricky so you'll need to be on high alert to catch any free spots. We always try to park at the Piazza Santa Maria entrance, which is also where you can pick up your bike!
It might not look much but Gelateria Sauro in nearby Ponte A Moriano serves up the best gelato for miles. The Lucchese venture out of Lucca for it! Be warned the scoops are small so you'll need a few!
For those wanting gelato number two, try Moka bar on Via Fillungo, Lucca. You won't miss the ice creams in the window.
When the Italians 'do' the beach, they need their mod cons making it hard to find wild beaches. The nearest stretch of beach is Viareggio less than an hour away by car. We tend to go to Marina di Pietrasanta between Viareggio and Forte dei Marmi.
Our go-to beach club is Bagno Dalia Dauro run by a sweet Italian lady called Tiziana Bigongiari, her mother & daughter. For a daily rate you can enjoy the convenience of sun beds, shelter from the sun, showers, changing rooms and parking. There is also a good seafood restaurant called Trattoria del Pesche on site. Look for the sign as you go by.
Tel: +39 0584 20 929 , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
A few doors up is the more glam Twiga http://www.twigabeachclub.com owned by Flavio Briatore (F1 Beneton owner & QPR football club etc).
For those wanting a few pebbles, beautiful water and a wild beach, Tom and I like Cala del Leone towards Castiglioncello, south of Livorno. It's further away but still only takes about an hour in the car.
The Italians love to say that they 'live to eat' rather than 'eat to live'. There are plenty of great restaurants in the area but we've included a few of our personal favourites below.
This is our favourite. The Johnsons celebrated buying their house over lunch here 20 years ago and they've been friends with the owners ever since. A family run trattoria, it dates back to 1368. Everything you eat has been made by the family. The eldest son is the Head Chef, papa makes the house wine and olive oil and helps his son in the kitchen, the youngest son takes care of front of house and helps mama make the pasta and dolci, granny is too old for pudding making these days but oversees in the kitchen.
www.anticalocandadisesto.it Via Ludovica, 1660, 55100, west side of Ponte a Moriano. Tel: (0039) 0583 578181
This restaurant is another old one - it's meant to have opened in 1760! It's simple and traditional with a spacious garden on the river. A popular place for local Italians celebrating birthdays in the summer.
www.ristoranteerasmo.it Via Nazionale, 1782 Ponte A Moriano, Tel: 0583 406362.
Volpi is a picturesque hotel, spa and restaurant.The local grape-vine claims that Tom Cruise and ex wife Katie Holmes stayed there pre-split. It's in the Johnson's neck of the woods so if you decide to visit, feel free to stop by their place too!
www.hotelvillavolpi.com Tel: (0039) 0583 406137 Address: Via di Mastiano e Gugliano, 47, 55029 Mastiano.
CASINA DELLE ROSE
South of Lucca is a yummy fish restaurant situated under the huge aquaduct so try to sit outside if possible. The portions are big so go slow! We've rolled out of there too many times to count.
Note: the head-phoned staff ;)
www.ristorantedellerose.com Via dell’Acquedotto, Sorbano del Giudice, Lucca. Tel: 0583 946 41.
Positioned in a lovely country location, a 25 minute beautiful drive away at Pieve Santo Stefano (west of Lucca). This restaurant has been on the scene a while and has a good reputation.
www.vipore.it/restaurant.htm Tel: 0583 394 065
Another restaurant near the Vipore. We really enjoyed our first meal here, although we were a bit suspicious the menu needed a 20 minute introduction by the Maitre d’it! ;)
www.locandadavignailaria.it Via Per pieve S.Stefano 967/C S. Alessio. Tel: 0583 332 091
LUCCA HOT SPOTS
A lovely gem of a restaurant in Lucca. The food is excellent, especially the risottos. The service is also great. Hugh and Hazel visited in April, returned the following day and three days later!
www.ristorantegiglio.com Piazza del Giglio 2, Lucca Tel: (0039) 0583 494058
BUCA DI S.ANTONIO
A well known, very good Tuscan restaurant.
www.bucadisantantonio.it Via della Cervia 3, Lucca Tel: (0039) 0583 558 81
ANTICA LOCANDA DELL’ ANGELO
Comes with a very good reputation.
http://locandadellangelo.it Via Pescheria 21, 55100 Lucca. Tel: 0583 495 445
OFFICIANA DEL GUSTO
In the centre of Lucca, this has been recommend by local Lucchese foodies.
TOWARDS THE SEA
This restaurant was recommended to us by friendly Tiziana at Dahlia Beach club. A very well known trattoria with really yummy daily specials (lots of fish!) and a perfect way to end the day after the beach.
www.trattoriabuonamico.it Tel: 0584 943 266
RISTORANTE DA MIRO
Recommended fish restaurant by the port in Viareggio with daily changing menu.
We love the arty, chilled seaside vibe of Pietrasanta. It's a great place for wandering - especially off the back of a day at the beach.
Interesting fact (maybe!?) - it's meant to house the most concentrated amount of artists in a given space!
Where to eat?
Designer Paul Smith’s favourite place to eat is L'Enotecca Marucci but to be honest there are lots of great places to choose from. We often go for an aperitivo and have a wander before choosing where to go!
If you do decide to head to Marucci, you can eat outside or inside in the wine shop. It's not cheap but the quality is good. Arrive early to avoid disappointment or book, as it is very popular with the Milanese. The restaurant really captures the arty Mediterranean atmosphere and is pretty trendy (last time we went the staff were head to toe in Armani!!)
http://www.enotecamacucci.it Tel: 0584 791 962 La Cantina dell’Enotecca Marcucci, Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, 40, 55045 Pietrsanta
We love Florence - despite the hoards of visitors with cameras! Our favourite area is probably 'Otrarno' (beyond the river Arno). It's very different from the hectic touristy central part and has a chilled out, boho feel. The Santa Spirito piazza is a really nice open space that has lots of good restaurants, without the tourist price tag. Aperitivo is big in Florence so go for an Aperol Spritz by the river or in one of the squares before settling down to dinner.
For our favourite restaurant in the whole of Florence go to La Beppa Fioraia, on Via dell'Erta Canina Gr which is two minutes away from San Nicola (Otrarno way still!). Although it's fairly tricky to find, it's worth it (and you'll escape the tourists). The antipasti platters are particularly yummy and the fillet steak was the best Tom's ever had! As with all restaurants in Florence, try to book.
For the best pizza in town (Italian friends swear by it!), try out Il Pizzaiolo in Via de Macci. This place is always busy so be prepared.
If you want to escape the heat and chaos, head to the Boboli Gardens. You have to pay to get in but not much. The beautiful gardens are typically Italian and overlook Florence.
For the best view of the city, the walk/climb to San Miniato is worth every step. Most of the tourists stop at Piazza Michelangelo but carry on up and you'll be rewarded!
How to get there:
About an hour away by car (depending on your speed and traffic), you can also get the bus from Lucca (again 1 hour ish) or let the train take the strain (scan your ticket before travelling to escape a fine!)
Go on an empty stomach! If you enjoy Italian food then a trip to the markets, delis and restaurants in Bologna is a must. The home of infamous ragu (Bolognese) and many other famous delicacies such as tagliatelle, mortadella and tortelloni. It's a very interesting picturesque historical town with the oldest University in the world.
To help you weave your way through it all: http://bolognauncovered.com/2013/04/23/bologna-for-food-lovers/
Possibly not one for veggies ;) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-20970092
How to get there: Approx 1 hr 45 by car or just over 2 hours by train from Lucca.
Maybe one to tie in with your travel to and from the airport, Pisa is actually less touristy than you'd expect from a city hosting the leaning tower. If you're a culture vulture, there are a number of your typical must-see buildings to tick off including the Piazza dei Miracoli, Leaning Tower, Duomo, Basilica and Battistero. Slightly more off the beaten track is Palazzo Blu and the Chiesa di Santa Maria della Spina.
Chianti (& wine!)
If you're after typical rolling expanses of Tuscany countryside, take the day to explore Chianti. Siena and the slightly smaller San Gimignano are beautiful towns and both really charming!
If you like your wine, there are also a number of well known wineries to explore. We have visited the one that produces Carluccio's chianti but there are plenty to choose from. The majority come with great restaurants and small hotels tacked on (perfect if you want to get stuck into the wine!) You can also do vespa tours, which is a fun way of exploring the countryside. I can't remember the name of the tour guys we went with (blame the wine) but it was less touristy than expected and very off the beaten track - proof that there are some good ones out there!
For those wanting to do some wine tasting closer to home, just ask us to point you in the right direction. We always order house red in the local trattorias and restaurants - all of which is locally grown. We swear it means we don't get bad hangovers as they're predominantly organic! ;)
How to get there: Take the car! Approx 1hr 40 to Siena, less to San Gimignano.
A rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera boasting five crazily constructed villages set amongst some very dramatic coastal scenery. The majority can only be accessed by boat or walking!
It's near enough to be a day trip but we are going back for more this September and spending a few nights in some local B&Bs. If we find any must-see gems, we'll report back!
The mountainous part of the nearby countryside is called the Garfagnana where you can ski in the winter. It's a conservation area of outstanding natural beauty and can get quite remote! From experience, Sat Nav can be very temperamental up there!
If you fancy a good walk (after too many Italian dinners!), try visiting Orrido di Botri aka the gorge. Depending on the weather, you can visit from June - September, setting off from Ponte Gaio, the only access point where you'll find the hospitality centre of the State Forestry Department and the ticket office. It's not an easy walk; the ground is broken up with big rocks that get very slippery so you need to be kitted out. Wearing a helmet is rudimentary (along with the very attractive hair net that comes with it!) The trek takes about 3 hours to the plunge pool and back. You can finish up with a beer and a bowl of local pasta / stew at the very humble pit stop on your return.
How to get there: Don't look down! It takes approx 1 hr 15/30mins up some very windy roady by car.