Lucca a summer sensation
GOING beneath the walls that surround Lucca is not an everyday opportunity.
The walls that are synonymous with the lovely Tuscan town are solid, apart from 11 bastions (or ramparts) around the four kilometres of the wall.
Guided tours of the underground sections are possible, but we were fortunate to see them at night during the Lucca Notte Bianca, the White Night of Lucca.
This annual August celebration means museums, towers and historic palaces are open to everyone, and that includes some of the bastions along the walls.
The bastions once housed guards and their horses who protected the walls.
Instead of horses on this festival night, exhibitions of art, ceramics, wood carvings, clothing and accessories were on display in the eerily beautiful depths of the bastions.
It was a thrill to be under the walls, to see their vast space, their imposing vaulted ceilings and heavy stone columns.
Then there was everything else going on in the small Tuscan town on this night to celebrate Lucca Notte Bianca.
Shops were open and festively lit, crowds packed the squares where bands played and DJs did their stuff.
For us, the enjoyment lay in wandering slowly through the masses choking the narrow cobbled streets to pop out into yet another piazza to watch displays of ballroom dancing, flash mob routines and sand painting.
In Napoleon Square the throng of young people were dancing frantically even though the air was empty of music.
Individual headphones explained this silent disco, the perfect way to please both young participants and oldies content to just stand by and watch.
It was a big night of partying in Lucca, but then the Italians really know how to put on a party.
Days before, we had driven half an hour out of Lucca to Torre de Lago, a pretty hamlet in Viareggio on the Tuscan coast, most known for being the lake-side summer retreat of composer Puccini.
Giacomo Puccini was born in Lucca and his imposing statue in the Piazza Cittadella is much photographed.
He loved to spend time by the lake at Torre de Lago, which he described as his paradise and where he no doubt composed many of his operas.
Now, every July and August, Torre de Lago presents the Puccini Festival with performances of his operas in a large open-air theatre overlooking the lake and surrounded by gardens and sculptures.
The festival attracts opera-lovers from all over the globe, so it is just as well the theatre can hold 3000 people.
On the hot August night we attended, it was full house for the performance of Turandot, the final opera Puccini wrote before his death, and one he never finished.
Just watching the crowds fill the enormous theatre, most dressed in over-the-top bling, was enough opera for us, philistines that we are.
We sat mesmerised by the multi-mixed crowd in sequins, diamantes, feathers and stilettos, and outfits of every rainbow colour.
We are not opera people, find opera hard work, too much concentration required, but we do love the spectacle of opera productions and could happily sit without understanding a word, just admiring the sets and costumes and magnificent voices.
Turandot, you may or may not know of, but it has a familiarity about it because it features the most famous aria of all opera arias, Nessun Dorma.
Set in China and featuring a Chinese Queen who hated men and enjoyed beheading suitors that did not suit her, Turandot at this magical theatre in this gorgeous Italian setting was something unforgettable, an event every opera-lover would give a fortune to attend.
And there we were, sitting among the 3000 flamboyantly dressed people listening to Nessun Dorma and then listening to it over again as the crowds called for encore after encore.
Summer in Italy is the place to be for any festival lover.
Read more of Ann's musings at annrickard.com