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Trip Report An introduction to Italy (Lerici, Barga, and Lucca)

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This was my first visit to Italy, but I did not want to spend a week in a city or overdo it, so I went with a triangular triad of places around Pisa, where I flew in/out. Here's a brief trip report--with apologies for any misspellings, as I am typing this up without my notes.

1) After negotiating the train from Pisa airport to Sarzana, we were picked up by our b&b agent for the drive to La Serra, 2 km above Lerici. He stopped at his sister's gelateria in San Terenzo, where we were treated to free gelato--one of the best I had all week (fior di latte...sublime).
On to the b&b Pimpanella, also known as as La TaTa, which I recommend for its setting in tiny quiet La Serra and Raphaella's fantastic cappuccino and breakfast pastries. It is bright and clean, with a nice sea view over Lerici. In low season, there are only buses during the day, but we were up for the 2km uphill/downhill walk along a lit path. (In summer, buses run at night). http://www.liguriaguide.com/b-and-b-pimpinella.html
We spent the next two days walking the trails to Tellaro and around Montemarcello. Some trails (unfortunately those to beaches) were closed due to landslides. We barely passed any other people while walking. Had simple fantastic lunch fare in Montemarcello and Tellaro. Notable restaurants: Il Pescatori; Bonte Nascoste; Enoteca Marina for apertivo.

2) To the mountains and breathtaking Barga, and wonderful Casa Fontana, which more than lived up to its rave reviews http://www.casa-fontana.com/. The food here equaled that of the coast, even the seafood. Notable mentions: L'Altana, L'Osteria (including a bit of opera!), Scacciguai. Luckily, we spent the day hiking to make up for all of the eating! This region is just gorgeous.

3) To Lucca, where we stayed in a spacious room just outside the city walls at http://www.luccainvilla.it/elisaindex.asp. Nice breakfast too, but unless you wake up very early I found it quite loud -- do not stay in room 3, just across from the desk.
Spent our time meandering through the streets and the city walls on bikes and foot. We even took bikes outside of town along the river pathway, which was also nice. Dinner was never as good in Lucca as in the previous towns, but simple things like sandwiches were still excellent, and my favorite gelato was probably had here---pinola.
Dined last night at Il Cuore, which was overpriced but delicious.

I left the last few days rather open for day trips, but we just enjoyed Lucca and then decided spur of the moment to go to La Cinque Terre. Mistake. No matter how gorgeous those views are, what I will remember is miserable crowds. I would only return to do the other trails, not the main one, and I would not want to stay in one of those towns.

A few basics
Learning a bit of Italian was definitely useful. House wine was excellent in the vast majority of cases. Use the ticket machines at stations when possible, or arrive early as there is often a line. The only confusion I ever had with train system was knowing when to transfer, as this was not indicated on tickets. I had looked at the train lines in advance of the trip, so that helped a lot.
Don't order all four courses unless you have a mammoth appetite. I usually wanted to try everything so over-ordered anyway, but I often could not finish it all. I thought the antipasti and primi would be small, but they were rarely small enough.

Thanks to everyone who commented on my previous questions when trip planning!

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