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Small Towns In Italy Are Near The Big Sights, But Removed From The Big Crowds

You'll find the Tuscan city of Lucca about 50 miles west of Florence.

KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley is working in Europe this month. He’s been with groups in Budapest, Hungary, and was just recently in Berlin.

“I was in a 1910 ballroom, hanging out with some cabaret singers,” he said.

He’s not kidding.

But now he’s changed his pace a little. After a 90-minute flight to Florence, Brumley finds himself in Tuscany. The places he’s visiting are outside the city, and smaller than usual tourist destinations. But he says they’re very much worth the detour.

Cities To Explore

Montecatini Terme is about 30 miles west of Florence, and famous for its spas and thermal baths.

“This is the place where famous people went … and they’d sit in this hot water, and then drink the water,” he said. “If you did this, it was supposed to cure you of all your ills.”

Brumley says he’s feeling fine, by the way.

Then there’s Lucca, another 20 miles west. This walled city is full of churches, narrow alleys, open piazzas and outdoor cafes. Stroll, sit, read, relax.

Why Smaller Towns?

“They’re less visited by the mainstream tourism,” he said. “You have more time to speak with people, to enjoy the simpler things in life.”

And they can be relatively affordable. Brumley says he got a three-course lunch for 20 euro (about $23 USD, at the last check of the exchange rates).

Brumley recommends staying here for a while, and using it as a jumping off point for relatively short drives to the coast, into Florence for museums, and down to Pisa to see its famous leaning tower – all while still having an escape from the crowds at the end of the day, back in Lucca.

One More Thing ...

In the audio version of this segment, Brumley mentioned visiting his friend Mattia Campetti, who played some early-20th-century opera records on an old hand-crank phonograph. After we recorded the segment, Brumley sent this video. Enjoy!


"Going Places" is KPLU's weekly exploration of travel topics. Matthew Brumley is the co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions, on Bainbridge Island, which provides small-group travel to clients including KPLU. 

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.