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Puccini Supreme

Puccini wrote magnificent operas. And there’s no better place to see them than his birthplace. The annual Puccini festival takes place every July and August at a purpose-built Amphitheatre by a lake not far from the medieval town of Lucca in Tuscany.

Fly to Pisa, then our car whisks you to your hotel within the city walls. Lucca itself excels with its beautiful churches, bell towers and enchanting squares. It also hosts fabulous rock concerts with Elton John, Damon Albarn, Sting and Scorpions performing during our stay.

The hotel welcomed us with a free drink and superb service and a splendid breakfast. We Soaked up the evening atmosphere around the cathedral square. We loved the views from the bell towers, roaming the walls, the roman Amphitheatre (now the restaurant zone) and visiting the palaces. The food is fabulous and typically Tuscan, and the shopping is very tempting with leather goods well priced and stylish Italian fashion stores everywhere.

The concert was due to start at around 9.15, in Torre del Lago around 30 minutes away using the hotel’s shuttle bus. This was particularly convenient, and we met some very pleasant other British guests who were attending - which was handy later when we needed people to chat to.

Totally uncharacteristically for the warm Italian Summer in Lucca, there was lightning, thunder and heavy rain that night. We went anyway fearing the worst. But apparently this was very rare indeed and the festival almost never cancels a performance. And as the rain stopped - the performance started - about an hour late.

But we soon forgot the rain had ever fallen as the music was spellbinding and Madam Butterfly was an exceptional performance. We could hear every note clearly and the acting was superb. The driver waited patiently to whisk us home even though the performance finished at 01.30am!

So some tips:

- Don't economize on the opera seats. We upgraded to Zone 2, but it would have been worth the extra for Zone 1

- Don't assume it won’t rain - it seldom does but take a waterproof mac anyway, as umbrellas are frowned upon as they can obscure the view of the stage.

- Be comfortable and buy a seat cushion there - the folding seats can be quite hard

- Bring small binoculars or opera glasses - the acting is worth it

- Dress up a bit - but no need to go overboard

- Take an opera-lover with you - their pleasure will rub off on you.

On the way back we diverted to see the Leaning Tower just outside Pisa. It was a bit crowded and you must book to climb it a long time in advance or queue on the day. We didn’t bother climbing as the Tower is the best thing to see, and you are already inside it... but the experience was well worth the detour.

Flights to Pisa are frequent from all major airports but try to book early to get good prices as they do go up to quite high levels on peak weekends if you leave booking too late.

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