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Walking the river Serchio


River Serchio near Lucca on a September morning
Early morning at the end of September looking west from the footbridge at Tiro a Segno

The best walk in Lucca for visitors is always going to be the 2.65 mile circumference of le Mura described here, but after almost 8 years and well over 1,000 laps it was time for a change and our move last year out of the centro storico provided the incentive. And I confess that I had never actually taken the path along the Serchio river before because it was always much easier to walk out of our building and go straight up onto the Lucca walls. But now we’re about the same distance from the Serchio and le Mura so I can alternate between them.


River Serchio in Lucca
Grey herons looking for fish

And when the walls get a bit congested with tourists in the summer the river is looking its best and is always quiet. The walk described here is only a short 3.5 mile section of the river and it forms part of the much longer Puccini inspired Lucca to Massaciuccoli bike route (Ciclopedonale di Puccini) some of which was covered here, but I omitted this section because my road bike doesn't have fat tires and as this part is mostly gravel, it's a walk for me not a bike ride.


path along the Serchio in Lucca

There are a couple of ways to reach the path depending on your starting point in the centro storico. The first way is to leave through Porta Santa Maria to the north and walk through the attractive area of Borgo Giannotti which is outside the centro storico but still feels like it’s part of the center. The via Borgo Giannotti will take you just over half a mile to the Ponte San Quirico where you can cross the river Serchio into the small community of Monte San Quirico on the northern side.


Monte San Quirico, Lucca
Monte San Quirico on the opposite bank

Turn left immeditaley onto Via Sant’Alessio which doesn’t have much of a sidewalk but after 200 yards you will turn left again onto Via delle Piagge and after another 200 yards you’ll find the path which on the map is grandly called Percorso Parco Fluviale Fiume Serchio.


River Serchio in early December in Lucca
Looking east towards the center of Lucca in early December

After about a mile you’ll come to a very nice looking bridge that obviously someone was given too large a budget for because it’s a bit ostentatious for a simple footbridge with no navigable waterway underneath. You can cross over and continue on the path on the southern side or stay on the path on the northern side, as you wish.


Footbridge over the river Serchio in Lucca
The footbridge over the river by Tiro a Segno

I use both and they are both quiet and underutilized paths because Italians are not really joggers, but as south of the river is residential whereas north is mostly fields the northern side (below photos) is always very quiet and often completely devoid of people.



The second way to reach this river walk is to leave the centro storico on the west side through Porta Sant'Anna, take the sottopassaggio under the main road and walk straight west down Viale Puccini for a few hundred yards and make a right turn on Via del Tiro a Segno. Cross over Via Vecchi Pardini and continue straight for a few minutes until you see the bridge ahead of you after the trees. You will hear gunfire as you reach the river because tiro a segno translates as 'shooting range', but it's completely indoors so there won't be any stray bullets whizzing around.


Saplings planted in recent years to keep the Serchio a green zone

On the southern side not very far after the bridge there are a few narrow paths down to the river itself. These paths are not in regular use because they are completely overgrown but if you push through the foliage for about thirty yards you will come to a completely hidden and quite large stone beach and all that’s missing is a deckchair or something. I’m thinking of hiding one in the bushes there because it is a rare place of complete isolation close to the center of Lucca.


stony beach on the river Serchio in Lucca
Robinson Crusoe would feel at home here

The Serchio is about 80 miles long from source to sea and the second largest river in Tuscany after the Arno. It rises in the Apennines, high up near the Tuscan border with Emilia Romagna and then it flows down through the Garfagnana and is joined by the Lima river whose source is Abetone. The Serchio doesn't actually go through the centro storico of Lucca but skirts around it just to the north and continues on through the San Rossore Park where it empties into the Tyrrhenian Sea a little north of Pisa and quite close also to the mouth of the Arno.


The river Serchio in Lucca looking towards Pieve Santo Stefano
Looking north to the hill of Pieve Santo Stefano where some of Lucca's biodynamic wineries are located

The river is very clean these days and there's always some wildlife to be seen on and around it but I doubt that it's ever particularly warm.



Below are the first and last verses only of quite a long poem written by Percy Shelley. His last three lines suggest that San Rossore Park was not nearly as attractive 200 years ago as it is today, probably because most of the Italian stone pines (pinus pinea L.) along the coastline were planted in the 1820s after Shelley's death. It was a fierce windstorm in 2015 felling many trees that enabled experts to reliably date the onset of the artificial plantation of the present Italian stone pine forests here.


The Boat on the Serchio by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792–1822)

Our boat is asleep on Serchio's stream,

Its sails are folded like thoughts in a dream,

The helm sways idly, hither and thither;

Dominic, the boatman, has brought the mast,

And the oars, and the sails; but 'tis sleeping fast,

Like a beast, unconscious of its tether.

[...]

The Serchio, twisting forth

Between the marble barriers which it clove

At Ripafratta, leads through the dread chasm

The wave that died the death which lovers love,

Living in what it sought; as if this spasm

Had not yet passed, the toppling mountains cling,

But the clear stream in full enthusiasm

Pours itself on the plain, then wandering

Down one clear path of effluence crystalline

Sends its superfluous waves, that they may fling

At Arno's feet tribute of corn and wine;

Then, through the pestilential deserts wild

Of tangled marsh and woods of stunted pine,

It rushes to the Ocean.


Sunset on the river Serchio in Lucca

Shelley wrote the poem in June 1821 while staying at the Villa Poschi in the tiny village of Pugnano half way between Lucca and Pisa. At that time he had been living in Italy for three years in something of a self-imposed exile from critics in England and it was a very productive writing period for him. The Boat on the Serchio poem was published posthumously by his wife Mary Shelley (the author of Frankenstein) because Percy Shelley died before his 30th birthday in a boating accident the following summer, with his body washing up on the beach in Viareggio where it was quickly cremated.

Shelley was known to be an avowed atheist and the day after the news of his death reached England, the London Courier newspaper rather unkindly printed: "Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned; now he knows whether there is God or no."


River Serchio Lucca

The photograph above marks the turnaround point for a 7 mile round trip from the center of Lucca. There's a bridge just out of the photograph to the left of the buildings which is Ponte San Pietro.


The river Serchio in Lucca in early December
Looking west from the footbridge at Tiro a Segno in early December