In the 16th century they built Luccas imposing walls to keep out raiders. These days the structure, Italys best preserved city fortification and nearly 40ft high in places, seems to have another purpose preserving Lucca as an oasis of picturesque, unspoilt charm amid the hubbub of tourist Tuscany.
Anyone thinking of investing in Lucca property will find a Tuscan town as it should be an almost medieval warren of charming streets full of boutiques, meeting in a series of airy squares littered with al fresco restaurant diners.
No blaring car horns here, either. The town is mainly pedestrianised and the only sound youre likely to hear above the everyday chatter of passers-by is the tinkling of a cyclists bell as it makes its way through the cobbled streets and piazzas of Lucca. Property here remains good value, despite a surge in interest from Italy real estate investors over the past 10 or 15 years. Around €185,000 can get you a two-bedroom apartment and €200,000; a house close to the centre.
Lucca birthplace of composer Giacomo Puccini is best seen by foot or by renting a bicycle at a local hire shop, so if youve come in the car it's best to leave it outside the town walls.
And the wall is as good a place as any to start your exploration. Along its top runs a broad, tree-lined avenue 2½ miles long that is an ideal vantage point from which to appreciate both the beauty of the town and the surrounding countryside and Apuan Alps in the distance. Arguably its most scenic stretch is between Santa Croce and Balluardo San Martino on Luccas northern perimeter.
Once you return to ground level, one of the first things to strike you is the number of medieval churches; Lucca is often called The Town of the 100 Churches.
Assuming you dont plan on visiting all of them, top of the list to see is the Duomo of San Martino cathedral, rebuilt between the 12th and 15th centuries. Stop outside to marvel at its stunning Romanesque facade, while the exquisite sculptures inside include Jacopo della Quercias Tomb of Ilaria del Carretto and Ghirlandaios Madonna With Child.
But the most famous relic is the Volto Santo (Holy Face), a life-sized wooden representation of Christ said to have been carved by Nicodemus, who witnessed his crucifixion, and therefore to be his truest likeness. It attracts pilgrims from the world over.
See also the San Michele in Foro church for its remarkably ornate facade. The young Puccini sang in the choir here and the house almost opposite in which he was born is now a museum and music school.
No visit to Lucca is complete without climbing the 15th century Casa Guinigi tower, which not only offers great views of the town and beyond but also oddly has an oak tree on top whose roots extend into the room below.
Aside from the sightseeing or your search for a property in Lucca, another principal attraction is the shopping, in Luccas extensive range of designer boutiques. Most are to be found in Via Fillungo, Luccas main shopping street, in Via Santa Croce and Via Vittorio Veneto, off Piazza San Michele.
In keeping with its rich history and tradition, Lucca is a great place to pick up cultural artefacts. There is a large, open-air antiques market on the third weekend of every month, while mid-November sees the start of the three-week Olio e I Tesori di Lucca (Oil and Treasures of Lucca) festival, where the numerous delights on sale include the local olive oil, said to be among the very best in Italy.
Theres entertainment of a more contemporary nature, too. Music fans visiting in July may want to catch Luccas annual Summer Festival, where recent performers have included Elton John, Eric Clapton, Paul Simon and Oasis, while July and August marks the Puccini Music Festival in nearby Torre del Lago.
If you have time to venture beyond the walls, try to visit the splendid Renaissance villas and gardens that lie north of the town and are open to the public, including Villa Peci-Blunt, where Napoleon Bonapartes sister Elisa lived when she governed Lucca.
The villas lead on to nearby Collodi, birthplace of Pinocchio creator Carlo Collodi and home to Pinocchio Park. Youngsters will love the park; youll simply love everything about this corner of unspoilt Tuscany. And thats no lie
How to get here:
Pisa, 12 miles away, and Florence, 50 miles away, are the nearest international airports. Frequent bus and train services connect both to Lucca.