Vorno Part 2 (Part 1 link here)
This is one of those rare ideal walks where you can start in the center of a town and be in the countryside in a matter of minutes. And in this particular case without having to navigate the miles of suburbs that you would have to contend with on every other route out of the center of Lucca. That fact alone makes this walk worthwhile and everything that follows just adds to the enjoyment.
Having done the aqueduct walk many times in both directions our preference is always to start in the centro storico and walk towards the hills of Vorno (below) where the water begins its journey to the fountains of Lucca.
The aqueduct is only 2 miles long but the entire walk from Lucca to the center of Vorno, where we normally finish, is about 5.5 miles. This will take up to 2.5 hours depending on your walking pace and how many times you stop but it’s not a walk to hurry if it’s the first time, and perhaps the only time, you’re going to do it.
It’s unlikely that you’ll want to turn around and walk back from Vorno so the alternatives are either to get a taxi back or to do what we do (assuming you already have a rental car) which is that I drive to Vorno first with my bike in the back of the car, leave the car there and then cycle back to Lucca; all of which takes about 45 minutes. You can rent most types of bike from our friend Paladino at Chrono Bikes in Corso Garibaldi, who has the best stocked bike shop in the whole of Lucca and now also has electric bikes.
The beauty of the long version of this walk all the way to Vorno is that you get the added attraction of the lovely climb through the woods up to the mediterranean pines and olive groves above Vorno (above photos). This is completely different vegetation to everything on the walk beforehand and when we last did this walk on a very warm late February day we were met with those wonderful and instantly recognizable scents of pine and mediterranean brush that are typical of the Tuscan coast.
The out and back shorter version of the walk to Le Parole d’Oro isn’t in fact much shorter than the longer version we describe here but it stays mostly on flat land. It's a much less interesting walk though.
But however you choose to walk the aqueduct, it’s an excursion that is best done in the morning during any of the warmer months because there’s no shade until you reach the woods at Le Parole d'Oro. Otherwise it can get very hot and uncomfortable and even the 66 degrees with clear skies that we had on our February walk to Vorno was as warm as we needed.
There are several water taps along the aqueduct itself so you only need to carry one water bottle and the final refill should last you through the uphill section and down into Vorno. Our recommendation would be to book lunch at A Bimbotto (or Lo Scompiglio, but it’s a little further) for 1.00 pm and start the walk a little after 10.00 a.m. and that would make for a great way to spend half a day of your vacation in Lucca.
The aqueduct might look like it’s Roman but it was actually designed in the neoclassical style in 1823 by a Lucchese architect called Lorenzo Nottolini and it was finally completed in the year of his death, in 1851. Nottolini had a distinguished career, starting out at only 20 years old in 1807 when, as an assistant to one of his teachers, he helped with the redesign of the Villa Reale for Napoleon’s sister, Elisa Bonaparte. He put his name to many other projects including a significant restoration of the Piazza Anfiteatro and many drainage works on the plain of Lucca.
His design of the aqueduct allowed for the flow of water to be purely by gravity with just a few centimeters of height reduction every 100 yards from start to finish. There are 459 arches remaining today, constructed of brick and filled with layers of various stones, visible in the photograph below.
The water was (and still is) collected from 18 different natural springs in the hills above Le Parole d’Oro, then filtered through a mass of stones and collected in the cistern designed in the Doric temple style (below) at the start of the aqueduct near Vorno.
Then it was propelled gently by gravity in two channels cut into the top of the aqueduct to a similarly styled cistern in San Concordio for transmission through pipes, first to Piazza San
Martino in front of the Duomo, and then to fountains throughout the centro storico.
The first act of vandalism was committed by Mussolini when he had a section of the aqueduct removed for the new road to Florence and this was compounded later by German soldiers destroying even more to cover their retreat in 1944. Unfortunately it was never restored after the war and the autostrada today cuts right through it so the gap is permanent and as a result the aqueduct has not actually carried water for almost a century. However, the water still arrives in the centro storico fountains from the hills of Vorno, but now travels underground the whole way.
1. Start at the fountain in the middle of the street at Porta San Gervasio (above) and walk south on Via del Fosso. It bends to the right and after about 300 yards on your left hand side take the gate through the Lucca walls (photos below).
2. Follow the path on the other side of the walls towards the main road and continue as it bends to the right following alongside the road. After about 200 yards, on the opposite side of the road you’ll see the small green park of Piazzale Ricasoli with the Lucca railway station on the far side.
3. Cross over the main road at the safe crossing point and as you approach the entrance to the station go to the left instead and take the underpass to the far side of the tracks, exit and at the top of the steps turn left on the first street, called appropriately Via Nottolini.
4. After about 150 yards there is a small unpaved street on your right called Via del Tempietto. Take this and you will see the Tempietto a few yards away and the aqueduct behind it stretching away into the distance. There is also a Via Francigena sign (one of the many variants of the current official route) which gives a walking time of 70 minutes to Le Parole d'Oro. It doesn't give the distance but it's no more than 2.5 miles from this point, so the time estimation is generous.
5. Follow the aqueduct for the next two miles. After the pedestrian bridge over the autostrada there are only a few reasonably quiet roads to cross but traffic often emerges suddenly from behind the pillars of the aqueduct so the usual care is required. Take advantage of the drinking water taps located on the interior walls of the aqueduct at intervals along its length.
6. When you reach the start of the aqueduct and the Doric style cistern follow the path behind it which will quickly become a slightly raised stone path. Turn right at the junction and it’s now uphill for a while until just above Vorno.
7. You will soon reach the bridge called Le Parole d’Oro (above) with its Latin inscription. Beyond the bridge are the various water collection points and causeways funneling the water down to the Doric cistern.
8. You can cross back and forth over the water course as you wish for several hundred yards as you continue uphill past the bridge but eventually you will need to be on the left hand side when the dense woods appear in front of you.
9. Stay on the main path which is quite wide and well-trodden and ignore the smaller paths off to the left. You are on trail number 128 though all you will see are the red and white markings at intervals as you climb through the woods (bottom right).
10. After a little while the vegetation will change to pines and the path will become wider. And then you will reach a road with the bottom sign pointing to where you have come from. There are also nice walks from here to the three Compito villages a little way east and a longer more difficult walk that is a continuation of number 128 up to Santallago close to the 3,000 foot peak of Monte Serra, but all of these are walks for another time. Take a right turn onto the road here and follow the road all the way down into Vorno.
11. As the road descends past the pines and olive groves you will catch glimpses of Lucca five miles away through the trees.
12. When you arrive at the church, the restaurant A Bimbotto will be 50 yards further on but Lo Scompiglio will require almost another mile of walking. It is well signposted on the right-hand side as you go north on the road towards Lucca.
Some hikers choose to spend the night in Vorno and then continue on over the mountain to walk the much older and smaller Medici aqueduct that starts at Asciano, the first town on the southern side of Monte Faeta. It travels about 3.5 miles towards Pisa and has 954 much smaller arches and is another worthwhile and popular walk.
The map below outlines the full length of the walk from Lucca to the church in Vorno ( a few yards from A Bimbotto) with the entire straight section marking the aqueduct.