Outside Lucca’s walls: Borgo Giannotti

If you come to Lucca for only a day, arriving from Florence late morning and off early the next to get to the Cinque Terre, you’ll miss the pleasures of Borgo Giannotti. Compared to the amphitheatre, the Guinigi Tower with oaks growing on top, the wedding-cake columns of San Michele church and the massive encircling walls of the historic centre, Borgo Giannotti doesn’t look like much.

Borgo Giannotti Lucca

Looking north up Borgo Giannotti

Immediately outside the north gate of Lucca, it was a meeting point for merchants coming from the port of Viareggio, a place to stop and refresh themselves before turning up the Serchio Valley to sell their merchandise in the Garfagnana. It developed into a thriving artisan quarter, and retains that vibrancy of people making and doing things, occupations that the waves of mobile phone shops haven’t yet totally swept away. So come with me for a Saturday morning trawl in Borgo Giannotti.

Traffic on Borgo Giannotti

Locals arrive in droves (and park anywhere) to shop and have things mended.

We might be mistaken for drunks, rare as they are here in Lucca, weaving from one side of the street to the other following the trail of my favourite places. On the left we come to coffee importers and roasters Bei & Nannini.

Bei & Nannini Lucca

Coffee importers and roasters

It’s not my favourite coffee, but I like the shop front and, apart from the coffee beans themselves, it’s local. It was founded in 1923 by Guido Nannini and Giovanni Bei and is still in the ownership of the two families.

There are many small groceries, delicatessens and specialist food shops in Borgo Giannotti. You can do all your shopping from the friendly vendors in the space of a few hundred metres without ever entering the anonymity of a supermarket. Crossing over to the right we find a fishmonger.

La Pescheria

A handy lifesaver hangs above the blackboard listing the catch of the day.

Over on the left is one of many fruit and vegetable shops. Since it’s Saturday, we’ll continue up the street to the farmers’ market.

Fruit and vegetable shop

Fresh fruit and vegetables

Still on the left, look at that exquisite tiled shop front (it was even more beautiful before some developer painted over the ochre wash above).

Tile-fronted kitchen shop

Across: Porcelains, Laveno Ceramics, Crystal – Down: Cutlery, Crockery

On the right we come to a bakery with many enticing goodies in its window.

Buccellato lucchese

Buccellato, Lucca’s answer to panettone

Torta di verdura lucchese

Torta di erbi co’ becchi

I suspect torta di erbi is a relict of Renaissance, and maybe mediaeval, times when sweet and savoury were often mixed in a single dish. As strange as it sounds, this delicious tart is filled with Swiss chard, parsley, bread crumbs, raisins, candied peel, pine nuts, grated pecorino and parmigiano, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, rum and eggs. Becchi means ‘birds’ beaks’ and refers to the form of the pastry; shaping them is a skill in itself.

Over on the left again is a tap where locals come to fill their water bottles for drinking at home. It’s free!

Water fountain in Borgo Giannotti

No need to carry bottled water. It’s on tap in the street.

Next to the fountain is Angolo Bazaar where you can find almost any utensil or container you need for your household and many gifts to take to friends at home. It used to be on the corner (angolo), but moved down one space to make way for a discount sport shoe shop. Via Stalle means street of the barns—something like a mews in London.

Angolo Bazaar

Angolo Bazaar for every household need

But if you don’t find what you’re looking for there, try my favourite Cesteria Lucchese.

La Cesteria Lucchesi

La Cesteria Lucchese

You could spend a couple of hours in this Aladdin’s cave starting with the baskets at the front and penetrating into deeper and deeper caverns stacked  from floor to warehouse ceiling with crockery, wooden kitchen utensils, garden tools, hosepipes, canvas—an inventory too long to list.

La Cesteria interior

Owners Marco and Paolo amid the treasures of La Cesteria

I’ve brought my sickle and pennato lucchese (a kind of billhook) to be sharpened opposite at L’Arrotino. Many people take their utensils to artisan sharpeners, and itinerant ones come to some open-air markets. The Bertinis have been sharpening knives in Borgo Giannotti since 1956. They also sell quality knives from those forged traditionally in Italy to Japanese knives of Damascus steel. Every kitchen needs at least one!


Father and son knife and tool sharpeners

Continuing on the right, we come to a delicious smelling grocery stuffed with tasty products, including tortellini fresh from the Favilla pastificio of Lucca.

Salumeria da Raffaello

An especially alluring grocery

There’s something special along the road to the right, but first we’ll continue to the top of Borgo Giannotti.

Street sign to Bagni and Castelnuovo

Remember this monument for our return trip.

When it’s lunch time, we can eat at Buatino, where the cook changes the menu every day to take advantage of seasonal ingredients.

Buatino trattoria


We cross over the outer ring road and come to the Foro Boario. This has nothing to do with wild boar. Boario refers to cattle and the Foro Boario was the cattle market, used in September when herders brought their animals to sell in the city. The Festa della Carne e della Macelleria Tradizionale (Festival of Meat and Traditional Butcher Shops) held annually in the middle of September commemorates this practice. More in the old spirit of farmers selling their produce to the public is the farmers’ market that takes place at the Foro every Saturday morning.

Farmers' market, Foro Boario

Handsome gate houses to Foro Boario

If you buy your fruit and vegetables here, they’ll be fresh and seasonal. You’ll meet the growers and can ask for recipes for ingredients you’ve never used before.

Farmers market Foro Boario

How does she cook that deep orange zucca Mantovana?

Time for a coffee at the bar opposite the Foro and then we walk back to the monument, which turns out to be a road sign.

monumental street sign

Monumental street sign pointing merchants to towns in the Garfagnana

We turn left and if I weren’t with you, you’d walk right past this grey-green building and boring gate.

Tessieri exterior

Unprepossessing façade

You would be missing a great treat. It’s a handmade tile factory founded by the current owner’s great-grandfather in 1902 to make tiles in the ‘Liberty’ or Art Nouveau style, which was all the rage in Europe at the time.

Tessieri tile factory

Prize-winning tile factory A Tessieri & C, founded in 1902

Press your nose against the dirty showroom window (perhaps never washed since 1902?) and you can see some of the patterns that Francesco Tessieri’s four artisans still make by the same techniques.

Tessieri showroom

Tessieri showroom

They’re closed on Saturdays, but if we come on a weekday, Francesco will take us into the workshop and explain as we watch the process. Among his many commissions were restorations of floors in the homes of Gucci and Pavarotti.

Tessieri cement tile

Tessieri coloured cement tile

Around the corner are some over-the-top examples of ‘stile Liberty’ houses whose floors are surely paved with Tessieri tiles.

Stile Liberty iron gate

Fantastical iron gate

Stile Liberty villa

Exuberance gone wild

Our tour is done and it’s time for a delicious lengthy lunch accompanied by good wine and conversation. So like the merchants of old, why don’t you make Lucca your city to dawdle in, to catch your breath and refresh yourself?

Erica Jarman invites you on inspiring culinary tours of life behind the scenes that you won't find in any guidebook — get to know the food artisans and craftspeople of Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna, Piedmont and Liguria. Come join me and my Italian friends and dip into a lifestyle where lunch is more important than business. Find out more at Sapori e Saperi Adventures and follow Erica’s own adventures on her blog.

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4 Responses to Outside Lucca’s walls: Borgo Giannotti

  1. antonella says:

    Borgo Giannotti is out the classic tour of Lucca, but one must find time to walk along the street and enjoy the true, old face of Lucca.
    Nice and useful post! 🙂

  2. Heather Jarman says:

    Thank you, Antonella. You probably know more than I do about Borgo Giannotti. We should meet for a coffee in one of the many bars.

  3. Debra Kolkka says:

    There are certainly lots of wonderful places to shop and eat here. I need to spend a lot more time in the area. I really want to get into that tile shop.

  4. Heather Jarman says:

    Debra, let’s try to do it when you’re here this next time. BUT, no photos allowed in the workshop — trade secrets.

Comments are closed.