After a year at his new post as executive chef at Culina at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, chef Luca Moriconi finally had a chance to travel back to Italy.
“When you’ve been away from home for so long, you see things through different eyes,” he told Travel + Leisure. His trip began in his hometown of Lucca, where he spent time cooking with his mother and even picked up local products to use in his next dishes in L.A.
Moriconi said growing up in Tuscany was the main influence on his cooking, and that his quiet hometown is a stop more travelers should add to their itineraries.
“It’s not a well-known location. It’s a quieter city, so you can have an amazingly authentic experience. The people in Lucca stick to their traditions, so it’s the perfect location to immerse yourself in the culture and get lost in the food, drink, and people,” he said. “Lucca is surrounded by a 500-year-old wall, still intact. You can even walk or ride bikes on it.”
Moriconi and his family also traveled to Florence, Chianti, Cortona, Pisa, Capri, and Rome. His best piece of advice for travelers to Italy is to “spend less time in the big cities, and get to know the small towns. Go someplace where they do not speak English, and find a café to eat some local prosciutto and bread.”
What to See in Lucca
Torre Guinigi is one of the few remaining towers in Lucca. Built in the 14th century by a rich merchant family, the Romanesque-Gothic structure has a garden at its summit. “The garden on top overlooks the entire city,” Moriconi said. “Local families gather there to chat and share stories with the view of their town in the background.”
The Piazza San Michele faces the 8th-century Church of San Michele in Foro. Once surrounded by a canal, the church features a huge statue of Archangel Michael defeating a dragon. Moriconi advises visitors to “get lost inside the walls of the city.”
Nearby, but outside the city walls, Moriconi suggests travelers “visit all the villas around Lucca and Capannori, have wine in Montecarlo, and end the trip in Garfagnana. You can pass through Barga, a small town where I went for culinary school.”
Where to Eat and Drink in Lucca
Ristorante Il Giglio serves authentic food with a modern twist perfectly executed by three young chefs. They offer an extensive wine list.
Buccellato Taddeucci, a fifth-generation Lucca family business, is the place to stop in for some of their traditional Buccellato sweet bread.
In nearby Montecarlo, family-owned La Terrazza Ristorante serves local wines and delicious food with a beautiful view over the Lucchesian Valley.
La Botteghina del Maialetto is the place for a glass of wine, and Moriconi’s favorite panino with salsiccia cruda, raw sausage spread on Tuscan saltless bread.
Biadina Massagli is a Lucchesian Amaro served with toasted pinenuts. Unique to the area, Moriconi’s advice is to have one in every bar in Lucca.
Where to Stay in Lucca
Most of the accommodations within the walls are small hotels or bed and breakfast style inns.
L’Antica Bifore, on a main pedestrian street in front of St. Cristoforo Church, combines old-world charm with modern conveniences including TV, air conditioning, heat, and buffet breakfast.
San Luca Palace Hotel, a small hotel conveniently located just inside the walls near the bus depot and parking lot, offers breakfast and refurbished rooms.