CYCLING along a 40ft high wall with a child on the back of your bicycle might seem reckless. 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 on 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. The walls are topped by a tree-lined promenade shared by cyclists, joggers, dog walkers and courting couples.
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. 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 manage a third lap of the merry-go-round of church spires, mountains and see-saws before returning our bikes to the hire shop, paying a handful of euros for two hours of pleasure.
Lucca is a delight to explore by foot since much of its historic centre is trafficfree. Wandering through the atmospheric streets, 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, after all. We join the queue at the 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, the pair are asked what they wish to do next. Our daughter would like to see the “crazy tower” so we 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.
We all agree it was worth seeing the Leaning Tower of Pisa but another “crazy tower” awaits us back in Lucca and it is 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 tower is quite vertical but the twist is it is topped by oak trees.
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 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 terra firma.
After 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 and, once they have tired themselves out, we ask what they want to do tomorrow.
“Bikes!” comes the unanimous reply.
Gary Sutherland’s Life Cycle: A Bike Ride Round Scotland and Back to Childhood is published by Birlinn in paperback and ebook. See www.birlinn.co.uk
Cycling round Lucca’s 40ft high ramparts was a delight for Gary and his family