If you're looking for a bike ride near Lucca that isn't too long, has the least traffic, is mostly in the countryside and has the fewest hills then this is the one, especially if you're renting a bike and need to start and finish in the center of Lucca. A regular reader of this website was in Lucca this autumn and we did the longer version of this together and he seemed to enjoy it so it comes with at least one independent recommendation.
The first 4 miles of this route would also make a good out-and-back walk, some of which I did both ways every day for a month many years ago while attending a cooking school in the hills; the traffic is always light and it's a really pleasant country walk after the first mile.
The route described below is a total of only 22 miles and gets you quickly out of town onto quiet roads avoiding all the busy suburbs. Then the route meanders west on the Lucca plain through attractive countryside and small villages and at various points follows the railway line, the river Serchio and the autostrada with just one short climb at Massaciuccoli. It's the flattest ride possible with no more than 1,000 feet of cumulative ascent.
The prevailing winds are from the sea so if you struggle a bit on the way out there’s mostly a tailwind for the return into Lucca, always the best way round on a bike ride.
Leaving the centro storico using the pedestrian/bike path at the southern end of Via Veneto Vittorio there’s an underpass that gets you safely across the busy Lucca ring road and puts you heading south on Viale San Concordio which has a bike path (currently being rebuilt) part of the way alongside it on the left-hand side.
After continuing straight on for only 1 km and 2 roundabouts you go under the autostrada and then immediately turn right onto Strada Ronco where you leave all the traffic behind.
You’re quickly in the countryside now and then it’s left on Via di Villa Altieri, cross over the bridge and first right on Via della Chiesa VII, followed by some gentle up and downs for several miles through a lovely part of Lucca.
This is still very close to town but there is no urban sprawl here. Instead there are old villas and country houses hidden behind big gates at the end of long drives surrounded by vineyards and olive groves. Lucca’s nobility invested in property here many generations ago and you rarely see any of these estates for sale as the Italian way is to keep them within the family, forever it seems. The general direction of the route is west, keeping the Pisa mountains on your left and the autostrada and the flood plain on your right.
Via della Chiesa becomes Via del Campaccio briefly and then the sequence of turns continues as follows;
Right on Via per Vorno
Left on Via per Gattaiola e Meati passed the Antica Osteria Meati
Right on Via della Polla
Straight on Via dei Ronchetti
Right on Via della Romagna entering the village of Cerasomma
Left on Via di Cerasomma, past the bar/cafe Circolo which is where the old and less than fully employed men of Cerasomma seem to spend the entire day sitting outside in animated conversation or playing cards, usually tressette or briscola. Briscola is an addictive native Italian card game that has different variations depending on how many players there are and you'll see men playing it in bars throughout Italy. Anyhow, it doesn't seem to matter what time of day I'm passing, it's always the same scene at Circolo in Cerasomma.
Follow the road as it goes under the autostrada through a short narrow tunnel. Turn left onto the Lucca-Pisa road and continue towards Pisa for about a mile and as soon as you go past Ripafratta railway station take a right turn over the railway tracks and over the river Serchio. At the T-junction turn left where the sign points to Migliarino and Avane.
This road is the Via di Filettole and takes you through the small village of the same name. (It bears a remarkable similarity to ‘Frittole’ which was the name of the fictional town in the legendary Roberto Benigni comedy Non ci resta che piangere. The film was set, but not filmed, in the Tuscan countryside so maybe Filettole was their inspiration).
1.5 miles later keep right instead of crossing the bridge over the autostrada and continue straight for no more than a couple of miles into the village of Massaciuccoli where you come to the only climb of the ride of about 400 feet. Turn right uphill at the restaurant Osteria Le Terme (a great place for lunch with a good wine list) and continue up for a mile and then downhill for another mile into Balbano.
The next sequence of turns is as follows:
-Left at the roundabout at the bottom of the descent.
-Right after 400 yards towards Castiglioncello then quickly left before going under the railway line.
-Straight for a mile almost into Nozzano Castello, recognizable by its very small castle, then a quick right and then left onto Via di Filettole again and you are on the road back to Lucca following the river which is now behind a large levee on the right hand side.
After 2 miles at the next T-junction turn right onto the main Lucca -Viareggio road called Via Sarzanese and then it’s another 2 miles back into the center of Lucca.
Half way along there’s a bike path on the left-hand side that goes through a new underpass directly into the centro storico without needing to navigate the roundabout and busy Lucca ring road.
If you'd rather ride with other cyclists then go to Paladino's bike shop, Chronò, in Corso Garibaldi after breakfast where there are always Italian and foreign cyclists of every level from professionals on down getting ready to ride, but be careful which group you join.