Gary Sutherland

CYCLING along a 40ft high wall with a child on the back of your bicycle might seem a reckless act. Except that the child in question is loving every minute of it and her father has not taken leave of his senses because we are talking about the walls of Lucca which, in addition to being 40ft high, are 80ft wide.

These Renaissance ramparts, designed by Leonardo da Vinci and never breached, form a four-kilometre circuit encircling Lucca's old town. Today the walls are topped by a tree-lined promenade shared by cyclists, joggers, dog walkers and courting couples.

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My wife is pedalling along with our three-year-old son up front while I’ve got my daughter on the back with her arms around me. As quality family time goes, it’s up there.

We look out to green Tuscan plains and the Apuan Alps. Gazing inwards, we are treated to close ups of San Martino Cathedral and the occasional palazzo with exquisite gardens.

But the children are more interested in the colourful playgrounds dotted on and around the walls. So we dismount to give them a push on the swings and watch them slide down chutes. There’s no hurry when the sun is shining.

Once we have completed a circuit of Lucca’s walls, we ask the children what they want to do next and get the classic response. "Again! Again!"

We remain on the merry-go-round of church spires, mountains and see-saws and manage a third lap before returning our bikes to the hire shop on Piazza Santa Maria, paying a handful of Euros for two hours of pleasure.

Besides the thrills of circling Lucca on two wheels, the town is a delight to explore on two feet. You are more likely to hear the ring of a bicycle bell than the beep of a car horn since much of the historic centre is traffic-free.

Able to wander Lucca’s atmospheric streets to our hearts content, we stumble upon pretty piazzas and yet more playgrounds. With lunchtime approaching, the children start clamouring for pizza and ice cream but that’s easy. We're in Italy.

We join the queue at the popular Pizzeria da Felice and order slices of margherita which we scoff on a bench outside then it’s off to the nearest ice-cream shop for dessert.

Having polished off their lunch pronto, the pair are asked what they wish to do next. Our son wants more ice cream but we point out he’s had plenty. His sister would quite like to see the "crazy tower" so we go with that idea and jump on the train to Pisa.

Within the hour we’re there among the crowds, my daughter wondering if the tower is about to fall down and her little brother asking where the pizza is since Pisa makes no sense to him.

I’m struck by the number of tourists posing for the same picture by standing side on to the world’s wonkiest structure and pretending to prop it up with their bare hands.

We all agree it was worth seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa but another "crazy tower" awaits our inspection back in Lucca and it is right next door to our holiday apartment.

The 15th-century Torre Guinigi was once the home of Lucca's leading family and has to be seen to be believed. Even then it is hard to get your head round it. The Torre Guinigi is quite vertical but the twist is it is topped by oak trees.

"Trees!" shouts my son pointing up into the sky and he is not wrong. We set about climbing the surreal tower but my wife and children fare better than I do. Two flights of steps from the top, my legs turn to jelly. My fear of heights prevents me from going any further.

Forced to sit down, I watch the rest of the family continue to the summit. After a while they descend and report back to dizzy dad about the outlandish trees and unbeatable views.

I share in their excitement and am even more thrilled when we reach the bottom of the tower and plant our feet on terra firma.

Following a pasta dinner in a bustling trattoria, we take an evening stroll through Lucca in the fading light and end up hanging out in a square that is not a square.

Piazza dell’Anfiteatro stands on the site of a Roman amphitheatre, which explains its unusual oval shape. The children run around in near circles and once they have tired themselves out, we ask them what they want to do tomorrow.

"Bikes!" comes the unanimous reply.

Getting there and where to stay

Lucca is convenient for Pisa Airport (PSA, 30 minutes by taxi or less than an hour by train or bus). Ryanair operates a budget service from Glasgow Prestwick Airport to Pisa ( Alternatively, British Airways flies from Glasgow Airport to Pisa via London Gatwick ( A spacious two-bedroom apartment in Lucca’s historic centre was booked through Airbnb ( at the cost of £80 per night.

Gary Sutherland’s Life Cycle: A Bike Ride Round Scotland and Back to Childhood is published by Birlinn in paperback and ebook formats. See