Slow Traveling in Lucca

Of course I’m biased, but I believe the best travel is done slowly. I suppose we all have our own definitions of what “slow” means. One size may not fit all. My own take on slow travel simply involves staying in one place long enough to begin feeling comfortable – long enough to discover a few of the less publicized places – time to allow for kicking back and relaxing.

Walking the city wall at dusk

Walking the city wall at dusk

We have taken several small groups to Lucca, starting before the Tuscan town became such a popular destination.

Piazza San Martino after the day trippers have left.

Piazza San Martino after the day trippers have left.

And yet, slow travel does not preclude making day trips from your home base. These quick visits can be rewarding in their own right, and traveling with a small group (as you’ll find in a Slow Travel Tour) allows for flexibility and personal exploration, even on a brief day trip.

I’d seen the mountains of Carrara many times from the coastal autostrada and train line, but had never actually been close to them. The first time I laid eyes on the pure white peaks in 1994 I thought they were capped with snow, but as most of you know, it’s one of the world’s most spectacular deposits of marble – quarried since Roman times. Michelangelo’s David is sculpted from Carrara marble.

In 2015 we decided to take our Arts Sojourn Lucca group on a day trip to Carrara, first stopping at the impressive art town of Pietrasanta.

Pietrasanta's main piazza with a display of monumental sculpture

Pietrasanta’s main piazza with a display of monumental sculpture

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Our relaxed pace allowed for plenty of exploration. Some of us stumbled on a yard where many sculptural maquettes were stored.

IMG_1125IMG_1128After leaving Pietrasanta our van wound its way around the city of Carrara and up to the quarries. The mountains are not visible as you ascend a series of rolling hills. Suddenly our entire group let out a collective gasp. No photos can even begin to convey the sense of awe that comes from your first glimpse of the marble mountains up close! IMG_1142 But we would be getting even closer as our driver continued on.IMG_1146

We were lucky enough to stumble onto a little out of the way pizzeria in a tiny mountain hamlet below the quarries. There was barely a sign for the restaurant, but we later discovered the pizzaiolo (the pizza maker) was a two-time European champion – a fantastic meal and memorable experience.

My wife pointing to the graffito left by some scribe on the town sign. "Bronx" is where I was born and raised.

My wife pointing to the graffito left by some scribe on the town sign. “Bronx” is where I was born and raised.

Our driver helping get us assembled for the obligatory group photo.

Our driver helping get us assembled for the obligatory group photo in the restaurant parking lot.

After lunch we were able to drive along the quarry roads way up into the mountains right along with the heavy trucks transporting huge marble block down to the port for processing and shipping.

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On our way back to Lucca we decided to stop for an hour or so at Torre del Lago, the home of the great composer Giacomo Puccini. We had two professional musicians with us, great Puccini fans, and we thought it would be a nice “gift” from the group to take them there.IMG_1164

Most of us were not interested enough to take the tour of the house, so we sat at a lakeside bar while our friends enjoyed themselves. Another benefit of slow traveling with a small group.

Matthew Daub is a professional artist and university professor with works in major public and private collections throughout the United States and Europe. He has been leading plein air painting workshops in Italy since 1994. In 1999, Matthew and his wife Barbara formed Arts Sojourn as “a vacation for artists and their friends.” The program is designed to appeal to artists of all levels as well as non-artists who enjoy the company of creative people in a slow travel format.

Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.
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