May 30, 2012

Lucca with Kids



After three years of wonderful Italian adventures, I think we may have finally found the very best spot for a family vacation in all of Italy, at least it was for our little family: Lucca! An inviting little city in Northern Tuscany where the oldest part of town is nestled  into the protective arms of former fortress walls which are now pulsing with life: leafy green trees, walking/biking paths, playgrounds, and many happy faces.

We were lucky to be staying in a wonderful apartment in the heart of everything with easy access to all of the charming little nooks,crannies,and lively piazzas old Lucca (which is primarily a car-free zone). And in addition to our central location inside the city walls, the city itself was located within easy range of some very memorable side trips: Pisa and its famous leaning tower, Cinque Terre (more about that later), and even an impromptu visit to a cave, Grotta del Vento in the Alpuan Alps.




Bikes 

Bikes, bikes, and more bikes! It's the perfect way to get around town and a fun way to enjoy those paths on top of the walls. Although it seems as if there is a bike rental place on just about every corner, not all of the shops have kid friendly gear.  We ended up using the shop in Piazza Santa Maria (next to the tourist info office) since it seemed to have one of the largest selections of kids bikes including wild cats, bike trailers, and baby seats on adult bikes. It's actually a good thing we ended up here because we went through several different bike options with Camille before finally finding the best solution. She's been riding without training wheels for awhile now, but she didn't feel comfortable on any of the rental bikes she tried so we eventually just rented a bike trailer which made her very happy. I actually felt safer with her in the trailer since there aren't any barriers along the tops of the walls and the paths can get busy in certain spots. We also decided to rent bikes on a Monday which I think is a good option for families with young kids. The paths seemed pretty congested during the weekends and that can make it tricky for young cyclists to handle. Also, there aren't any bike helmets so either plan to bring your own, buy some, or just ride as the locals do.  Bike rental prices seemed to be pretty uniform throughout town: 3 euro per hour per bike. Highly recommend doing this!

Parks 
Perhaps we have been in southern Italy for too long, but we were shocked by the sheer number of parks and playspaces for kids in Lucca. It's one of the most puzzling aspects of Sicily and most parts of Italy to us...how can a country that adores children so much have such paltry parks? But Lucca proves to be the exception. There were actual playgrounds pleasantly situated under large trees both on tops of the city walls and down below with functioning equipment and very little graffiti. It really was a wonderful surprise for all of us and one of the reasons Lucca felt like such a family friendly spot (not to mention the welcoming mix of German, French, and Italian kids).



Food

Another enjoyable aspect of Lucca was the food. We ate at several delicious and kid-friendly spots. Thanks to Martha's suggestion, we made reservations at Antica Locanda di Sesto on our very first night in Lucca and it turned out to be one of our favorite meals of the entire trip...a cozy trattoria with local, seasonal dishes and amazing hand made pastas (need a car to get to this pretty place outside of town). We'd also recommend Trattoria da Leo for a quick but enjoyable meal within the city walls. And finally thanks to Giacomo for suggesting Osteria del La Manza (pictured above) and Pizza da Felice (good pizza and the place to sample the local chick pea snacks). We ate well all weekend!


Accommodations

I always spend a big chunk of time searching for apartments during our trips since they really make traveling with kids so comfortable and we enjoy being immersed in the local community, but our recent stay in Lucca took our apartment stays to a new level. The apartment itself has a great layout for families with two bathrooms and two bedrooms. The ancient stairs leading up to the apartment are quite a little work out (so not recommended for folks with mobility issues), but there is a place at the bottom of the stairs to store bikes and strollers which is great. The location could not have been better and although it was on one of the main shopping street the apartment itself was very quiet due to the inner courtyard. 

But the true bonus of this apartment was the connection with the Locanda Sant'Agostino. The family that owns the apartment also runs the very romantic and chic little B & B a few streets away. As part of our rental agreement we were able to have a lovely breakfast each morning at the B & B. Giacomo and his family were so welcoming, and helpful with local suggestions. We really did have the best of both worlds...the independence and space of an apartment with the personal amenities that come with a bed and breakfast. Highly recommend this special place if you are considering a trip to Lucca.


Prior to our trip, someone tried to convince me that Lucca could easily be seen in an afternoon and that we should plan to see more of Tuscany by staying in multiple spots. I am so glad we didn't follow that piece of advice. In general, I think we lean more towards the slow travel approach and would rather savor local experiences, than rush through a checklist of must-see sites. I honestly think our family could easily have spent a week or two in Lucca and been very happy just to ride bikes, fill up our water jugs at the fountain in the closest piazza, and wander the streets at dusk. Lucca lured us into her beckoning arms and made us wish we could stay for even longer.

7 comments:

Dana said...

Good for you for not listening to that advice.
I've been to Lucca a number of times, and, I have to agree that it is a the perfect place. I love it, too.

We have park after park after park ... in the north. There are other things we don't have, of course. I still contend that we live in two different countries.

Are you even still here?
D

Dana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dana said...

We (esp. Richard) loved the lifestyle in the south, but when M was born it was clear to us that it wouldn't jive as much with a family. When people ask us why we we choose to move to the north, and we mention things like parks ... we often get puzzled looks. Now I know you get it!
D

Corinne said...

Um, those pictures look pretend, they are so amazing and beautiful. How I wish I could someday put all this information to good use :)

Lisa @ Gone with the Family said...

Lucca sounds like a charming town! You have pretty much described my ideal trip to Tuscany. I would love to settle into one place (like Lucca) and just explore from there. We spent two weeks in Provence doing just that and although a lot of people thought that we were crazy not moving around - it suited us well to be in the same place the entire time.

Sonja said...

I'm definitely bookmarking this post, because if it's your favorite family town in Italy it's gotta be good! I know you've been everywhere. Lucca is now on my list!

Maddie & Emily said...

Hi there!

Found your lovely blog by searching for "Bike Rentals Kids Lucca."

We're going there on a day trip w/a 1 year old and our 4 year old.

I'm so excited that there are parks, playgrounds and bikes she can ride. Poor thing will have been on day 10 or so of a museum-filled Europe trip with 9 family members. We're doing Lucca as a "respite" for her from the travel madness. Loved your insights!!

I have a weird question-- where are there bathrooms for a 4 year old in Lucca (other than restaurants)?