Have you been to Venice recently? Are you planning a trip to Venice? Maybe you’re just interested in the most unique city in the world? There is so much to see and do in Venice, and amongst all the options available to you are some trips to the outer islands.

Everyone hears about buzzing out to Murano and Burano, but fewer seem to make their way to Torcello. One of my Glam Italia tours this summer had several days in Venice, and Torcello was on the schedule. I was amazed at how many people tried to talk me out of taking people to this more remote island. I hadn’t been for a few years, but remembered it as being special, so thankfully I didn’t listen. In case you are hearing some of the same, I want to make sure you add Torcello to your list of must sees.

The Story Of Torcello

Torcello was the first of the lagoon islands to be inhabited. After the fall of the Roman Empire the Veneti fled the mainland for the safety of the island, escaping the recurring barbarian invasions, especially around 452 when Attila The Hun wrecked his path of destruction through the area.

Over the next 200 years the relative safety of the island lead to a recurring influx of refugees including the Bishop of Altino. Torcello became the official seat of the bishop in 638. The island’s importance as a trading center grew and by the 10th century between 20,000 and 35,000 people lived there. 20,000 is the most commonly used number, but some archeologists are saying it was more likely around 3000.

The successive plagues of the middle ages devastated Venice’s population. The growing marshland around Torcello attracted malaria carrying mosquitos and traders stopped coming to the island. In 1689 the bishop’s seat moved to Murano, and by 1797 the population was down to 300. The current full time population is 10.

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Things To See On Torcello

Torcello is quite small, with the main tourist attractions all centered in one area. From the vaporetto it’s an easy 10 minute walk along the canal past restaurants and bars into the heart of the tiny town.

Most of the palazzi, the parishes etc are all gone, the materials having been recycled into other buildings around Venice, but there is still one medieval palazzo surviving.

The Devil’s Bridge

Ponte del Diavolo Torcello

As you walk in to town you pass the 15th century Devil’s Bridge/Ponte del Diavolo. There are several legends attached to the bridge. One says it was named because the devil built it in just one night. Another says the devil waits there to steal the souls of 7 innocent children as payment for reuniting 2 lovers, a Venetian girl and a murdered Austrian soldier (who may have died at the hands of her family)

RELATED: My new book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy is now available here on Amazon.com

The Museum Of Torcello

In the heart of town the Museum of Torcello (1887) has both medieval and modern works of art as well as archeological finds. Around the museum you will see statues, pieces of columns, and stone reliefs, backing onto a lovely vineyard.

Torcello Italy

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Torcello Italy

Statues, vines and roses

Attila The Hun’s Chair

Also known as the Throne of Attila sits there too, but is actually thought to be the chair used by the bishops of Torcello, not the Hun.

Opposite the  museum there are 2 churches.

The Church of Santa Fosca

Torcello church

This Greek-style church was built in the 11th century to house the remains of 15 year old Fosca of Ravenna, martyred in the 3rd century, and who’s bones lie under the alter.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta

Santa Maria Assunta Torcello

The basilica stands next to Fosca, and on its own in my opinion, is worth making the trip to Torcello. Originally built in 639 but rebuilt in 1008 Santa Maria Assunta is home to 11th and 12th century Byzantine mosaics that are just breathtaking. Newly restored and just ethereal when the light hits them, these mosaics are sensational.

Santa Maria Assunta mosaics

The mosaics taking up most of the west wall at the entrance, are complex and majestic. The Crucifixion is at the top, above the high energy Harrowing of Hell, which in turn sits above the Last Judgement.

The series of The Damned, to the right of the doorway is quite fascinating all by itself. The bottom panel to the right of the door shows what happens to the envious, with worms coming out of the eye sockets of skulls. It must have been quite terrifying to people who couldn’t read, only knew life here in this place, and got all their information from the church.

Santa Maria Assunta mosaics

At the opposite end of the church the main apse features the huge and famously beautiful mosaic of the standing Virgin Hodegetria alone against the gold background, above a register of saints. She really is majestic, and completely mesmerizing. I could sit there looking at her for hours.

Torcello mosaics

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Torcello Italy

Wandering around Torcello

Torcello Venice

Vines, roses and blue kies on Torcello

How To Get There

Torcello is only a few minutes from Burano by vaporetto.

From Venice you can get the 12 Vaporetto at Fondamenta Nove. The 12 will take you to Murano, Torcello and Burano.

 

 

Lucca is a gorgeous little medieval town in Tuscany. It was founded by the Etruscans (800 B.C. – 350 B.C.) and taken over by the Romans in 180 B.C.

The city center still reflects the Roman street plan, the ancient forum is now the site of Piazza San Michele, and the Roman amphitheater became the current Piazza dell’ Antifeatro. In 56 B.C Julius Caesar, Pompey and Crassus were there at the Lucca Conference reaffirming their political alliance, known as the First Triumverate.

A gorgeous place to base your Tuscan vacation, Lucca is also a fabulous day trip from nearby Florence (roughly an hour by train), Genoa, the Italian Riviera, Pisa, the Tuscan beach towns around Viareggio – lots of great holiday spots in Tuscany and Liguria.

Should you take the time to visit Lucca be sure to buy the local (world famous) olive oil and the local wines, but also make sure you don’t miss these 10 things:

10 Things You Absolutely MUST Do In Lucca

Visit The Cathedral

How do you stand out in the city of 100 churches? San Martino, the Lucca Cathedral, is one of the first sites you will see if you arrive by train.

lucca cathedral

image via Discover Tuscany

 

 

Built in the 6th century and consecrated in 1070 by Pope Alexander II, the current exterior was built in the 1200’s. At first it seems an odd place to put the cathedral, off to the side at the edge of town, but the center of town was already overcrowded when building began. San Martino stands in a large piazza of the same name, almost as an afterthought, but if you sit anywhere in the piazza and take in the façade you will feel the beautiful tranquility emanating from it.

I particularly love the ceilings inside the cathedral, and also Tintoretto’s Last Supper.

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Basilica of San Frediano

Another stand out basilica that you  must see is the Basilica of San Frediano. It is tucked away a little, so you pretty much have to be on a mission to find it or you could easily pass by.

San Frediano, Lucca

Founded by Saint Fredianus, Lucca’s bishop from 560 to 588, this is one of the oldest churches in Lucca.

Inside the church you will find beautiful frescos from the 1500’s and a 12th century baptismal font with reliefs telling the stories of Moses and also of the Apostles.

But what I love most about this basilica are the mosaics on the exterior. They date back to the 13th century, and are incredibly rare for Tuscany, the only other mosaic façade in the region is at St Miniato al Monte in Florence.

San Frediano, Lucca

They tell the story of Christ the Redeemer ascending into heaven. The apostles are below him but Mary is missing, having been replaced by a window.

If you get there at the right time of day the sun dances off the mosaics, making them look truly ethereal. (but largely unphotographable!)

By the way my new book Glam Italia! How To Travel Italy is now available here on Amazon.com

The Church Of San Michele In Foro

Another must see church in Lucca is San Michele in Foro. Easy to find in the heart of town, this basilica was built over the ancient Roman Forum. First mentioned in 795, the current building was commissioned by Pope Alexander II in 1070. (busy year for him!)

San Michele In Foro, Lucca

The four levels of loggias on the exterior are truly remarkable. On top of them stands the 4 meter tall statue of St Micheal the Archangel defeating the dragon, flanked by 2 angels. On a sunny day you can see a green sparkle on the statue, which legend says is an emerald planted somewhere in or on it, but it has never been found.

San Michele In Foro, Lucca

From every angle this church is spectacular, so take the time to walk around it and to view it from different places in the piazza.

San Michele In Foro, Lucca

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Piazza San Michele In Foro

Lucca Piazza San Michele In Foro

Dwarfed by the basilica and it’s loggia, the piazza of the same name is a must see. Flanked by restaurants and bars you can enjoy coffee, wine, or a meal with a view. On one corner, (via Vittorio Veneto) you will find the Palazzo Pretorio with the clock on the façade and its loggia where you will often find art exhibits or musicians playing.

On Sundays market stalls set up in the piazza, street musicians are playing on the corners, and it is just fabulous!

Climb Torre Guinigi

Look out across the skyline of Lucca (from the wall) and you will see the city’s most important tower, easily identifiable from the rest. The 14th century Guigini tower has a rooftop garden with trees growing on it!

Guigini Tower Lucca

The floor below the garden was the kitchen, from where the chefs and cooks could go upstairs to pick their produce and herbs. Now the tower is open for those strong of thigh to climb. The 360 degree views of the city are spectacular, especially on a clear day.

Guigini Tower Lucca

At one time there were around 250 towers in Lucca, but now there are only 9. These were defendable homes during a time of constant raids and also considered a place to hide during the plagues.

Guigini was a wealthy silk merchant who at one time ruled Lucca. He built the tower attached to his palazzo as a sign of his wealth and power.

See Piazza Antifeatro

This bustling piazza was built on the ruins of a Roman amphitheater. The amphitheater was built in the 1st century, its 18 rows of seats being able to hold 10,000 people. It was the heart of entertainment in Lucca. At some point around the 6th century during the Gothic wars the site was fortified, after which houses and even a prison were built on the ruins.

Piazza Antifeatro Lucca

Centuries later it became a piazza, notable for its huge elliptical shape. You are aware of the size and shape when you walk into the piazza from any of the four entrances, but it is best appreciated from above.

Piazza Antifeatro Lucca

Piazza Antifeatro is ringed with eateries and is a great place to enjoy lunch as well as being one of the nightlife hubs of the city.

Piazza Antifeatro Lucca

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Relax In Piazza Napoleone

Also known as Piazza Grande, Piazza Napoleone is a large, open air, tree lined square that is a lovely place to cool off in the hot summer months, or ice skate at Christmas time.

Lined with wonderful restaurants and eateries you can enjoy a Tuscan lunch or a glass of wine with a beautiful view.

Piazza Napoleone Lucca

Eat Buccellato

Buccellato is a local sweet bread/cake product with raisins.

buccellato from Lucca

Traditionally it comes in a ring like a cake, but you can also find it in individual bars/buns at local bakeries.

buccellato Lucca

Lovely as an afternoon snack after a long day of walking and climbing, buccellato is also a great breakfast food paired with a steaming hot cappuccino.

Walk or Bike The Wall

Of course one of the most famous things to do in Lucca is to enjoy walking or biking along the top of the wall!

Lucca Wall

Tuscany has many walled towns and cities but the Lucca wall is perhaps the most renowned. What makes it so remarkable is its width (or breadth?) It is as wide as a road and is beautifully tree lined, making it a perfect escape from the summer heat.

Lucca Wall

At any time of year you will see locals walking and biking the wall, and as a visitor this is a must! The wall is 4km circumference, ideal for a late afternoon stroll or bike ride. (You can rent bikes inside the wall at the edge of town.)

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Wander Without an Agenda

Corinna B Lucca

Lucca is a town best explored by wandering aimlessly.

Lucca Streets

There is so much to discover down the little side streets, away from the main tourist sites.

Lucca StreetsStreets in Lucca

The town is small, and is ringed by the wall, so you really can’t get lost! Make sure you allow yourself plenty of time to discover the magic of Lucca on foot.

Lucca streets

Do you worry about bed bugs when you travel? Are you traveling this summer? Bed bugs are insidious. Not only will they leave you covered in bites, but they will make their way home with you, infesting your house. Whether you travel for work or for pleasure, you need to use these 5 steps to prevent getting bed bugs while you are away.

 

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Eco Raider Bed Bug Killer

I often get asked if I’m scared of terrorism when I travel. The answer is absolutely not. Not even slightly scared. The chances of being in that place at that time are actually very slim. You are far more likely to come undone on the freeway on your way to work. But do you want to know what does scare me when I travel? Actually it terrifies me. Bed Bugs. They not only give me the creeps, but the thought of bringing them into my home after a trip is just horrifying. A bed bug infestation in  your house is difficult and expensive fix, and just the thought of it is grotesque.

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During the years that New York hotels were suffering bed bug infestations  I turned down makeup jobs in the Big Apple – I didn’t like the odds of getting a bed bug hotel. During that time one of my flight attendant friends had an overnight layover in New York and woke during the night thinking she was on fire, but instead her back was covered in bed bug bites!

I heard another story recently about a mother and daughter on their international flight home seeing bedbugs crawling out of the seat in front of them. The flight was full, so they couldn’t be moved, and hence came home covered with bites and with bedbugs.

One of my best friends took her family to Hawaii for a vacation a couple of years ago and got bedbugs. Getting the little devils out of their clothes, luggage and home was a long, difficult and expensive procedure.

Allowing for the fact that I can’t travel and sleep in a hazmat suit I have to be a little more proactive re bedbugs.

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Eco Raider bed Bug Killer

5 Steps To Prevent Bedbugs

1.Pull back the bedding

Pull the sheets back off the bed and inspect the mattress. Look for little red or black spots on the mattress (also on the bedding).

2. Look along the mattress seams

Apparently these critters like the seams and joins of mattresses, so look there for bug carcasses. They may look like black dots or ground pepper.

***** if you see any, get your luggage out of the room and go to the front desk. You need to have your room changed or go stay somewhere else.******

3. No bags on the bed.

Use the luggage rack. Don’t put your suitcase on the floor or on the bed.

4. Use A Trap

If you are worried that there may be bedbugs bring a bedbug trap like this one from Ortho. In less than an hour you will know if they are there. Find the Ortho Bed Bug Trap  on Amazon.com here

ortho bed bug trap

5. Use A Spray

Use a spray. I have Eco Raider Bed Bug Killer from Amazon.com. I haven’t actually ever had to use it, but it does give me a little peace of mind. It is non toxic, non pesticide and 100% child and pet friendly. I have it in 2 fluid ounce bottles, one goes on the plane with me (after hearing the story about bedbugs on the plane I have to have something on hand!) and one goes in my suitcase.Bed Bug Killer by EcoRaider is available here at Amazon.com


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