Organised for The Arts Society Hallamshire
Visit Lucca and Pisa, two of Italy’s finest medieval cities
Several important villas and gardens included
Many seen under private ‘connoisseur’ viewing conditions
Unhurried itinerary allowing for free time to enjoy this part of Tuscany’s beauties
Excellent food and wine
Comfortable and central quiet 4* hotel
The history of medieval Italy is a most colourful patchwork of clashing egos. First, the Holy Roman Emperors and the Popes were always at loggerheads. Caught in the middle were all the Duchies, City-States and other assorted territories which had emerged from the chaotic end of the old, western, Roman Empire. They fought amongst themselves and Tuscany was a hot-bed of inter-city strife. Florence, Siena, Pisa and Lucca formed a bewildering series of alliances, engaging in endless betrayals of each other! This is most beneficial for us as Tuscany’s strongly walled cities, magnificent castles and the fortified palaces of each city’s noble families have all bequeathed to posterity the most extraordinary range of architectural and artistic delights.
Eventually, peace arrived in the sixteenth century. The leading families turned to a new fashion, born in Florence and then sweeping Italy – the villa suburbana! These were villas built just outside the walls of cities rather than at a great distance. Here, noble owners could enjoy the benefits of rural relaxation while staying close to political and economic events in town. Our visit to Lucca and Pisa offers the perfect opportunity to examine this footprint of Italian history and culture as we too move back and forth, from the two cities’ palaces and churches to country villas and gardens of great beauty.
Lucca’s ancient origins are pre-Roman and it was an important Imperial city. It enjoyed great wealth due to two factors. First, in medieval times it developed strong traditions in textile manufacturing; second, its strategic position on the medieval Pilgrim’s Route to Rome, the Via Francigena, was of great value. Of course, it fought with all of its famous neighbours, but then settled down when in 1369 it was given civic independence by Emperor Charles IV, an Imperial status it maintained until Napoleon annexed the city in 1799.
Pisa was one of the great medieval maritime republics (along with Venice, Genoa and Amalfi) and grew rich on trade with Africa and the Middle East. Its heyday was the twelfth century but its success led to confrontation with Genoa, who defeated it at the naval battle of Moloria in 1284. Decline followed until it was captured by Florence in 1406. During their periods of civic independence, the local noble families in both Lucca and Pisa endowed churches, built palaces and then commissioned luxurious villas in the nearby hills, surrounded by a remarkable series of gardens. These twin themes of urban art patronage, leavened by rural retreat, will be the focus of our six day visit.
We shall stay at the 4* San Luca Palace Hotel. This is ideally situated just inside the medieval town walls and it is a charming hotel which is a part medieval and part renaissance palazzo. The bedrooms are comfortable, there is a lively bar and the hotel has decent Wi-Fi coverage. Excellent bars and restaurants are immediately adjacent. The tour will be guided jointly by Tom Duncan (Days 1 – 4) and James Hill (Days 1 – 6).
Day by day
- Day 1: Saturday 25 April
- The group will fly from Manchester to Pisa, arriving early afternoon. Met by Tom Duncan and James Hill, we continue to Lucca and check into our hotel, the 4* San Luca Palace. You will have some free time to unpack after which we meet in the early evening for our group dinner in a local restaurant – wine, water and coffee are included with all group lunches and dinners.
- Day 2: Sunday 26 April
- The medieval centre of Lucca is a most atmospheric place – “wall to wall loveliness” as described in one guide book. We begin at San Michele in Foro, built on the site of the city’s ancient Roman Forum. It has Lucca’s most festive Romanesque façade, clearly based on traditions imported from nearby Pisa. We continue to Villa Guinigi, now home to the city’s main museum, where we explore its history. We pause for lunch, not included, in the highly evocative Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. We continue to the nearby church of San Frediano, dedicated to the Irish saint who converted the local Lombard ruler in the sixth century. We end our day at the city’s Duomo, executed in a most handsome Romanesque style. We return to our hotel and a free evening.
- Day 3: Monday 27 April
- We drive the short distance from Lucca to Pisa where we spend the day exploring the city’s wonderful buildings and museums. We spend the morning inspecting a stunning group of Romanesque monuments, the Duomo, the Baptistery and the famous ‘Leaning Tower’, amongst the best of their kind in Italy. After an early lunch (not included) we continue to the Museo dell’Opera and the remainder of the afternoon will be devoted to a select group of churches and other sites, which depending on access arrangements, will be selected nearer the time of our visit. We return to Lucca and the evening will be free.
- Day 4: Tuesday 28 April
- A gentle morning walk will take us not far from our hotel to Palazzo Mansi, where the real treat is the series of rooms retaining magnificent textile embellishments, the walls hung with tapestries and the famous local silks and velvets which made Lucca so rich. We continue to the delightful Palazzo Pfanner, a handsome palace with a fine period garden, enlivened by fountains and statues. Lunch is not included today and you will have the afternoon free for independent explorations. Tom will return to the UK at the end of todays’ visits and James will guide for the final two days. That evening we have dinner in a highly regarded local restaurant.
- Day 5: Wednesday 29 April
- This morning we visit Villa Torrigiani, a splendidly ornate celebration of the influence of Versailles. It has fine frescoed interiors with remarkable contents. We continue to Villa Oliva-Buonvisi where the gardens are divided into a series of formal and more informal areas. The villa itself is not open but we shall have the privilege of a private visit. We break for a group lunch in a local restaurant and in the afternoon we continue to the nearby Villa Reale. It takes its name from its time as home to Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Bonaparte. She joined together several adjacent properties to create a remarkable ensemble combining an elegant villa, formal gardens and a fine landscape park. We return to Lucca and the evening will be free.
- Day 6: Thursday 30 April
- We leave Lucca for the final time and drive to Villa Bernardini, still lived in by the family who built it in 1615, and who will be our very charming hosts. It has changed hardly at all internally and is a wonderful amalgam of treasures collected by generations of the family. The gardens are charming and the eighteenth century box theatre is particularly special. We continue towards Pisa and visit privately Villa di Corliano, a historic property, the home of the Counts Agostini Veronesi della Seta. Sixteenth century in origin, it has a series of fine reception rooms and the gardens were laid out in their present form in the nineteenth century. After a group lunch at the villa, we continue to Pisa airport for the return flight to Manchester.
- Price: £1,840 per person
- Deposit: £275
- Single Supplement: £145 (Double Room for Sole Use)
- Tour Manager: James Hill
5 nights with breakfast at the 4* San Luca Palace Hotel
Outward: EZY1847 Depart Manchester 1005, arrive Pisa 1330
Return: EZY1848 Depart Pisa 1650, arrive Manchester 1815
Outward: EZY8233 Depart London Gatwick (North Terminal) 0900, arrive Pisa 1210
Return: EZY8236 Depart Pisa 1615, arrive London Gatwick (North Terminal) 1730
2 dinners & 2 lunches with wine, water & coffee, all local transfers, entry fees & gratuities, City Tax, the services of Tom Duncan & our local Tour Manager, James Hill
Travel to/from Manchester, 3 dinners & 2 lunches
We do expect a reasonable level of fitness. For full details see our frequently asked questions.