Travel itineraries: Pistoia and Lucca. Jewels of Tuscany

In the minds of tourists, outsiders but probably also Italians, the word Tuscany invokes immediately spring to mind Florence, Pisa, Siena, Arezzo and then rolling hills, cypresses and vineyards. Beautiful places, absolutely stunning views but Tuscany also contains other jewelry do not miss, cities like Lucca and Pistoia, within half an hour by train from each other, rich in history, beautiful architecture and a unique culinary tradition. I went in the winter months, at the end of February, to touch their more intimate, more natural, less linked to tourism high season. Lucca, with her looks serious and austere, its dense network of roads from the medieval layout, the towers, palaces and churches with polychrome marble and rows of balusters amplified to infinity. Pistoia, with its discreet charm, that few notice the subtle splendor, sometimes snubbed by toscani (“What are you doing in Pistoia?”, I heard you say), but one of the most beautiful squares in Italy, with its Romanesque-Gothic imprint has remained intact over the centuries, and waiting to occupy its rightful place as capital of culture in 2017. Two cities to discover.

LUCCA – The people of Lucca pride themselves on living in a city with a wall intact, the second in Europe, After that of Nicosia, in Cyprus. A circle that encompasses the entire Lucca, more than 4,2 km and built between 1504 and 1648, never used for defensive purposes. Those arriving from the station, you realize right away. Now the walls are a beautiful pedestrian promenade, Thanks to the intuition that had Maria Luisa di Borbone in the early 1800. From Piazza Ricasoli you can easily reach the Duomo di San Martino, Cathedral of Lucca, It also houses some works by Ghirlandaio. The slender columns of the dome encloses two of the most beloved symbols of the city: the Crucifix of the Holy face, revered in the middle ages throughout Europe and is currently kept in a shrine built in 1484 by Matteo Civitali in the left aisle of the Cathedral. And especially the funerary monument to Ilaria del Carretto, Bride of the Lord of Lucca, Paolo Guinigi, dead just 26 years after giving birth to her second daughter. Its sweet form trapped in stone continue after 400 years to enchant millions of tourists. The sarcophagus that shows her asleep is the work of the great Sienese sculptor, Jacopo della Quercia, and is of French school. The small dog at the foot of the maiden, that still seems a little girl, win the hearts of tourists.

A few steps from the Duomo, Don't miss one of the best views over Lucca. You have to climb a steep and tall flight of stairs but what you see from the top of the Bell Tower of the Church of Santi Giovanni e Reparata worth the hassle. As well as the archaeological excavations beneath the Church who guard still vestiges of the ancient Roman baths, and Roman medieval churches that stood on the site is either. Then choose any road, between narrow alleys and dark, to arrive in piazza San Michele and admire the beautiful church of San Michele in Foro, in Renaissance style that compete in beauty with the Cathedral, especially for polychrome columns and all of different shape. The streets of Lucca, by evocative names like Via Buia, via Del Moro, via del Fosso, hidden courtyards, statues, frescoed medieval and Renaissance palaces, which today are occupied by luxury shops, Jewelers and antiques, According to tradition it belongs for centuries to this city. There is also a place for shops and groceries as the Bakery Giusti – Steam oven where to taste the sweet focaccia, the Factory of Buccellato T with its buccellato (a semi-sweet bread with raisins and fennel seeds) But even the nougat and the gingerbreads, the pizzeria da Felice in via Buia, where to try the cecina and neccio, or the Prospero's virtual shop in via Santa Lucia, where to buy typical Tuscan soups and pulses. Don't forget to look up towards the Tower of Guinigi (Open), on top of which you will find olive trees, and admire the piazza dell'anfiteatro, surrounded by medieval buildings which have replaced the old bleachers. Two steps, the Church of San Frediano. If you want to make a purchase with over 150 years of history, buy a bottle of China Magee, a digestive drink produced by maceration of the bark of the Cinchona officinalis, a plant coming from South America (Amazon), with the addition of herbs and spices, This company still produces 40-50 thousand completely handcrafted litres per year.

Restaurant The Funnel, in Lucca
WHERE TO EAT IN LUCCA – For many gourmet, the young Christian Tomei is the creative actor Viareggio Tuscany. His restaurant The Funnel, well concealed within the Lucca Center of Contemporary Art (ring the Bell if you wish to enter) offers modern works between and on tables. The menus are tailored: 50, 70 and 90 euro per course surprise and almost sartorially sewn on customers. Different paths depending on whether your is or is not the first time. Among the typical recipes, the primitive steak (Garfagnana beef shredded by hand on maritime pine bark heated, with fat baked potato chips), ravioli stuffed with olive oil and Parmesan cheese with grilled kale and cuttlefish powder, the rice soup in sauce of roasted fish with grated dry Octopus, almonds and lemon. In the path that I am getting lot, I loved especially the one called ' sea ' pizza Tomei: tomato water and sea water with helichrysum, raw pink shrimps and baking powder, that smell and taste has managed to rebuild flavors and scents of pizza marinara. And the crème caramel salted pigeon liver based. Wine list with very low mark-ups, and large selection of bubbles and pinot noir from Italy and France. There is research and technology in Tomei, clarity and concentration of flavors, irony and balance. See a Michelin-starred chef yells at you because you have a cell phone on the table (“now think about eating”) and serving at tables explaining in detail your dish is really unique in the Italian culinary scene.

PISTOIA – I had visited Lucca as a teenager and I remained impressed on the memory of his beauty, but Pistoia didn't know her and I must admit I didn't expect to see this medieval wonder. I'm used’ a city that suffers from very close vicinity almost is overwhelming’ two great protagonists of the itineraries Tuscany as Florence and Lucca. Now take a little revenge and waits quietly on 2017, year in which the Italian capital of culture. An honor but also a burden. For sure, its cathedral square, remained intact over the centuries, is reason enough to pay a visit to this town: Bishops Palace built in the year 1000, the Gothic Baptistery of San Giovanni in corte, the Cathedral of San Zeno (with the silver altar of San Jacopo that he worked on Brunelleschi), the Bell Tower, one of the most beautiful and highest in Italy (67 metres), in Romanesque style dating back to the time of the Lombards, the Praetorian Palace, the 12th-century Palazzo comunale, with the Medici coat of arms on the façade. Thirty meters of the medieval tower of Catilina is not far. Not to be missed in the the historical center, girded in part by walls, ancient buildings such as the churches of San Bartolomeo in Pantano, Sant'andrea (with the pulpit by Giovanni Pisano), St. John Fuoricivitas (with white and green coloured marbles and sculptures inside of Fra Guglielmo da Pisa and Luca della Robbia), Sao Paulo, San Pier Maggiore.

For nice streets like Via della Torre or the lively Piazza della Sala, It turns out the soul of this town: pork butcher shops like Historic Butchery by Romulus, stalls, selling cheeses, vegetables, Specialties greeneries as brigidini of Lamporecchio and artisan butters, up to the most modern street food that here means cecina, sandwich with lampredotto, castagnaccio. To try and buy the typical products drop by to La Botte Gaia, which is also wine bar and osteria. Very strong food traditions of this town, that is the homeland of the jurist and poet Cino da Pistoia, friend of Dante Alighieri and Boccaccio: soup of the prisoner (stale bread in broth, trippa and lampredotto, originally the scraps of the slaughter of cattle), Stuffed Chicken neck, neccio (a crepe made from chestnut flour stuffed with ricotta, not sweetened), porridge with Tuscan Kale. For a coffee of excellent workmanship, Maybe with a nice hot cream doughnut, Select Café du Globe piazzetta San Marco. Not to be missed, the ospedale del Ceppo from where the path of Pistoia Underground: a series of tunnels brick cottages built to cover the Brana and its gore and to support the foundations for what is still one of the oldest hospitals in the world that operate continuously since the foundation year, in this case, the 1277. Medieval ruins are visible along the underground, Roman bridges, Mills that took advantage of the power of water to crush the olives and wheat. The project of the Association plans to continue excavations in order for this to become one of Europe's longest underground paths.

Trattoria La Bettola, in Pistoia

WHERE TO EAT IN PISTOIA – The first choice, What I suggest you do not lose, is the osteria La Bettola, the likeable Paola Pazzagli. I'm used’ a family restaurant, where are the result of research proposals ancient recipes of Pistoia that Paola also leads with power historians. Beyond an excellent raw material, from salami to Tuscan pecorino, up to meat, Since Paola shop from his butcher, as if it were home shopping, the dishes proposed are very rare. The soup of the prisoner, made with white bread trippa and lampredotto, the porridge with Tuscan Kale, the salad of nose, tortelli di patate al ragu di cinta senese, Stuffed Chicken neck, lamprey stew and tripe in a loaf, the roasted pork livers. Even the cantucci (in the soft version and not toasted) are homemade. Paola cooking everything yourself and also serve at the tables. The value for- really good price (appetizers and pasta at 7 euros, main courses at 10 euros).

Osteria of abundance, in Pistoia

Other address to be entered is’Osteria of abundance, also under the banner of the local tradition, managed by Ibiamu, an institution of gastronomy town today decided to give more space to the children in the management of the restaurant. Among the proposals, all of Tuscany and pistoiese clear imprint, I tried the porridge with Tuscan Kale, pappa al pomodoro, the soup of the prisoner (very well made), the meatballs fried cod with polenta (crispy and not oily), peposo dell'impruneta with beans and noodles with wild boar sauce. Here, too, a good value for money. You eat with 30 euros.

Ristorante Baldovino, in Pistoia

The third restaurant I've tried has l’Enoteca Baldwin: the ambitions are those of a refined and creative cuisine, but I think there is something to be reviewed. The proposal provides for meat and fish; several tasting menus. I opted for a like Cardoon flan with bagna cauda sauce, whose influence on the plate was barely perceptible. Then, handmade dumplings with radicchio and pecorino di fossa: good texture and flavor of the dumplings but slightly’ lacking in verve seasoning. To follow, veal cheek pesciatina, Perhaps the most successful dish though he cared little about the aesthetic side. How sweet the neccio, that did not meet my taste for the total lack of a sweet element: both the chestnut crepe is ricotta were naturally, According to tradition, but the addition of cocoa powder and a small coffee made him bitter. A value in my opinion unbalanced: appetizers and 10 euro, seconds between 12 and 20 euro, sweet 5 euros and a wine list with a wide range of offers but with very high mark-ups on some wines. The enoteca Baldwin is still an alternative if you don't want to concentrate on tradition.

ACCOMMODATION IN PISTOIA – I chose the Locanda San Marco, that today occupies the former Palace Caballero, a building of 1600. I'm used’ in the Center but not in the most touristic area, then you can relax in a peaceful atmosphere. I'm used’ a bed and breakfast in a period residence with original furnishings, rooms, suites and apartments with painted ceilings, a nice terrace in the summer should be a riot of greenery and flowers, common rooms where a good book or take a hot tea or a brandy before bed. The breakfast is definitely worthy of note, with cakes, cookies, croissants, fruit juices. The cost of the rooms ranges from 70 to 120 euro depending on the type that you choose.

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