From Pisa To Lucca
May 9, 1999

Distance: 40 miles/64 kilometers
Elevation: 1,000 feet/300 meters (including 600-foot climb to San Gimignano)
Difficulty: 3/10
Scenery: 6/10;
Route: San Gimignano-Poggibonsi-(train to) Pisa-Gello-San Giuliano-
Lucca-San Donato-Ripafratta-Pugnano-San Giuliano-Gello-Pisa-
(train to) Poggibonsi-San Gimignano


Sunday. It was the third of my four days in Tuscany. I’d done two fairly strenuous rides (strenuous for the early season, that is) in two days, so I decided to take this day easier. I wanted to check out Pisa and Lucca quite a few miles northwest of San Gimignano, but did not want to put in the bike mileage required to get there, so I decided to take the train from Poggibonsi (down the hill from San Gimignano) to Pisa and then to ride from Pisa to Lucca. It was a rather chilly, overcast morning when I rode down from San Gimignano to Poggibonsi at 7:00 AM to catch the early train. From Poggibonsi, Erasmus and I transferred at Empoli, then got off at Pisa Centrale.

(Above: The downhill road to Poggibonsi in San Gimignano)

One thing that had worried me since the day before was that, in case of a puncture, I had neither a spare tube nor a patch kit. I’d used my one spare after a flat in Chianti and then realized as I tried to patch up the punctured tire that my four-year old glue had long since dried up. The lady at the Pisa Tourist Info office was pessimistic that I would find a shop (much less a bike shop) open on a Sunday. I did a quick ride around central Pisa to check and sure enough, almost all the shops were shut. Oh well, the road between Pisa and Lucca appeared to be busy enough that, were Erasmus to puncture, we should be able to hitchhike or get some form of assistance. The Tuscans I’d encountered on this trip so far had been friendly enough. With such a half-baked contingency plan, Erasmus and I rolled off to start our tour.

(Below: Looking east over the Arno from Ponte Solferino. The remarkable
14th century Gothic Santa Maria della Spina can be seen at the right bank)

One of the first things I noticed as I left the train station was that everyone (everyone, that is, who was not a tourist) was riding either a bicycle or a moped, and for a change, I didn’t feel too conspicuous being on a bicycle. I quickly checked the city map I’d torn out of my guidebook and noticed that many of the tourist spots were north of the river, so I headed that way.

(Above: Partial view of the Campo dei Miracoli's 11th-century Duomo,
and some tilted structure behind it)

More Pisa pictures.

If ever a city looked and felt old, Pisa was it. The city had developed around the river Arno. The network of streets north of the river was a wonderfully confused jumble of meandering narrow alleys roughly surfaced. Overlooking these streets were stacks of three- and four-storey apartments crowded next to each other like crooked rows of teeth. Most of the residences were in tones of gamboge, brown, orange and grey; colors which, when dulled by an overcast sky (such as the one that morning), gave the appearance of a city that was once important but is now in decline. But o, what a happening place Pisa must have been at its peak. Particularly noteworthy was the wonderful Piazza dei Cavalieri, a square surrounded by architecturally stunning buildings. From there I rode over to the Campo dei Miracoli where, to my great disappointment, most of the structures were under scaffolding. Still, there was a lot to see and to take in; one needs at least a full day to do Pisa justice. As it was a drizzly, overcast morning, I decided to get moving after less than an hour of sightseeing, lest I got too cold.

(Above: The view from the road just north of Pisa, on the way to Lucca)

After a couple of wrong turns, I finally managed to get on the A12, the road that directly connected Pisa to Lucca. Though it looked menacing on the map, the A12 that morning was actually quite pleasant. The pavement was smooth, the road level, and though without a shoulder, was comfortable enough for a bicyclist to ride on. My plan was to take the A12 for about 5 kilometers and then turn off to get on what appeared to be a "B" road (curiously numbered 12, as well) that arched parabolically from San Giuliano and approached Lucca from the west. As it happened, I turned off prematurely, and ended up riding an even more enjoyable flat, minor road that paralleled the A12, going through the small town of Gello north of Pisa.

(Below: The flat A12 to Lucca was actually rather pretty)

After about three miles on this straight road, I reached a junction near San Giuliano, having only the vaguest notion of where I was. I asked an old man who’d been watching me and who obviously knew that I was a bit lost. He told me that the strada giallo (the yellow road on my map) was somewhere between the ferroviaria and the strada russo, a fact that I can already see from my map and thus shed little light on the road’s exact location. After a couple of "a destra"’s and "sempre dritto"’s from il signore, I nodded my head and pretended I knew where I was going. I ended back on the A12 without realizing it.

Just past San Giuliano, the A12 rose up about 400 feet above the Pisa valley and into the lower reaches of the Monte Pisano region. The highest peak in the area, the 910-meter Monte Serra, hovered to my right, its top shrouded with clouds. The climb looked tempting. I studied my map and sure enough, the climb to Monte Serra was represented by an intriguing set of switchbacking roads, but I resisted the temptation to veer off in that direction. This was to be an easy, recovery day after all. There was a fairly long tunnel (600 meters I reckon) that was uphill when coming from the south; though a bit unnerving (to me, all tunnels are) the tunnel was at least lit and wide enough for cars to overtake safely.

(Above: Looking south to the Pisa valley from the hill north of San Giuliano.
Pisa's tower and dome, 7 kilometers away, were actually visible from here)

(Below: The straightness and levelness of the A12 betwee Pisa and Lucca is
broken only by this uphill stretch to the tunnel in the Monte Pisano area)

Last Updated: June 18, 1999