About an hour west of Florence in picturesque Tuscany, Lucca is known for its historic ramparts, terracotta roofs, narrow cobblestone streets, and many beautiful churches (99 of them, to be exact). And this month, it got its first full service luxury boutique hotel. Following a two-year renovation, the Grand Universe Lucca has just launched as a member of Marriott’s prestigious Autograph Collection and Departures got an exclusive first look at the gorgeous interiors.
“The Grand Universe is a little jewel that balances tradition and innovation, representing a philosophy tied to the culture of Lucca, but also introducing new technology and materials that have the spirit of the past but reinterpreted in a modern way,” Giovanni Polazzi, principal of Florence-based Archea Associati, who was entrusted with the renovation, told Departures. It’s a miraculous rebirth—the building lived a past life as the Hotel Universo e Tosca, which opened in 1857 and hosted artists, philosophers, poets, and musicians like Giacomo Puccini. Before that, it was a private palazzo owned by the Paoli family during the Renaissance. It stands in the heart of the city facing the Teatro del Giglio and adjacent to Piazza Napoleone, where each year the Lucca Summer Festival hosts some of the biggest names in music. But when the Hotel Universo e Tosca shuttered in 2015, this historic jewel was left abandoned.
“For Lucca, this is a very significant opening because there was this empty building in the heart of the city,” Polazzi said. “Rediscovering this abandoned building in a historic palazzo means giving back to the city a piece of itself with a new image.”
For Polazzi, it was important to imbue the hotel with the spirit of Lucca, a city with a rich tradition in music, the arts, and craftsmanship. “Lucca was one of the most important cities for the production of silk,” Polazzi explained. “So the inspiration for the interiors and the various rooms came from the silk.” He chose strong Tuscan colors—burgundy inspired by the region’s wines, golden yellow, and pine green—softened by more neutral colors, like brown, beige, and gray. Clean-lined, modern furnishings harmonize with classic elements like parquet floors and vaulted or wood-beamed ceilings. There are 55 rooms and suites, none of which are exactly alike. They range from cozy abodes of about 130 square feet to spacious 300-square-foot suites and duplexes with a sitting room and lofted bedroom.
Guests can dine at the Legacy restaurant, which serves local cuisine and fine Tuscan wines, sip an aperitivo on the rooftop bar Sommità, which boasts panoramic views of the city’s terra cotta rooftops, and listen to some music while relaxing in the Symphony Lounge. But that’s not all.
“There were some pleasant surprises during the renovation. We found the remains of an ancient Roman wall, which was reopened and given a new prominence,” Polazzi said. “So one of the experiences will be to descend into the wine cellar where there will be a room for wine tastings, but people will also be able to sit down in front of these ancient ruins in the center of the city of Lucca.”
With its central location, the hotel is the perfect base from which to explore Lucca and the Tuscan countryside. Hotel staff can arrange cooking classes, wine tastings, and excursions to surrounding villages. Cruiser bikes are available so guests can ride around town like the locals. “In Lucca, the important sites are all around the hotel,” Polazzi said, explaining that guests should see the Duomo di San Martino, the elliptical Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, and the Guinigi Tower, where oak trees—the symbol of Lucca—grow on the summit.