It is with words like “Donatello” and “Michelangelo” meandering through my head like the bending Tuscan roads … and with the recent memory of the taste of ravioli in a light, buttery sauce melting in my mouth … and with dirty laundry up to my eyeballs, that I write of Italy. Our most recent family adventure took us to the beautiful chaos of Rome, to the rolling hills and nearly untouched ancient villages of Tuscany, and finally to the home of the Renaissance – Florence.
Our family of four chose Italy over a number of other European destinations this time around for its mild springtime weather, its fabulous food, and its generous nature towards children. We are blessed with two good travelers, girls ages 7 and 13, but it’s nice to know that they would always be met with a smile at a restaurant rather than an eye-roll, which is what we received a few times during our travels to another country containing the City of Love … named as such as a place for the making of children, not (it seems) for the enjoyment of children.
Once Italy was chosen, we debated long and hard about where to go with our gift of 10 days. We sort of figured Rome had to be on the list. Our youngest had never been, and our eldest was there last when she was only 4 years old. After that, we looked at Venice, Milan, Bologna, Cinque Terre, the Amalfi Coast, and of course the two places that we chose, Tuscany and Florence. Based on our last two trips, we knew our itinerary would be best served to follow the my patented (not really) family travel sanity rule: Go-Rest-Go.
The rule works over the whole of the vacation, as well as on a daily basis. On the whole, I suggest starting with a city or an active adventure, then move to a quieter location for some rest and relaxation, then finish strong with another city or adventure. Days should follow the same rule – morning tours or hikes, afternoon rest or card games (or our family favorite, Dominoes), then more exploring in the late afternoon/evening before crashing at the end of the day. This is as much for the kids as it is for me, who gets a little overwhelmed with the constant barrage of sites, sounds, people, and smells.
For our cities that would bookend our trip, I already mentioned that Rome felt like it needed to be part of the plan. Beyond that, we considered Venice because … well … Venice. It looks surreal and we’ve never been, but after speaking with a few people who had, we decided to cross it off our list. Apparently, (and obviously), it’s a tourist trap. At the time we were going, we were told it would be overcrowded and unenjoyable. Maybe next time. Though Milan sounds chic and stylish, and we had heard good things about Bologna, we decided to stick to the Western side of Italy and chose Florence to complete the bread portion of our Go-Rest-Go sandwich.
Now for the good part (according to me) of the sandwich. We considered 1) the Amalfi Coast, 2) Cinque Terre, which is a string of 5 villages on the Italian Riviera, and 3) Tuscany. We wavered considerably between these three areas. Google some pictures and you’ll see why. We had toured the Amalfi Coast previously during a cruise along the west side of Italy and were floored by its beauty. With lemons the size of your head and colorful villages clinging to cliffs, it’s a wondrous site to behold. As for the Cinque Terre, the villages hover over the Ligurian Sea, an arm of the Mediterranean Sea, and are connected by trains, hiking trails, and boats. In the end, we got a great recommendation from one of Dave’s colleagues for an amazing boutique B&B in Tuscany. It served to settle our dispute. To further solidify our decision, we found that hotel options were few and far between in the Cinque Terre. Due to the lack of usable territory, they have mostly small B&B’s more suitable for couples, not families. As for the the Amalfi Coast, much of the lure would have been the beaches and pools, neither of which would have been quite ready for use at the beginning of a still chilly April. Rather than dangling a carrot that couldn’t be eaten in front of our children, we chose Tuscany, which might be seem a rather odd choice for a family (as it is mostly known for its wine), but you will see we had a great time exploring the terrain and the hilltop villages.
With all that said, you could probably fit all of the above into a 3 week itinerary via trains, planes, and automobiles, but we didn’t have that time … or the budget for this trip. So here is what we did instead:
I must interject here that we also considered 2 P’s. 1) Pompeii, a site that is on mine and my eldest’s bucket list. It’s possible to take the bullet train from Rome to Naples, then switch trains there for a commuter train that takes you to a stop just steps from the ruins. However, we had planned to go on the first Sunday of the month when it’s free (i.e. overcrowded), and we had just toured the Roman ruins the day prior, and finally it would have taken a day from Rome, so the family voted against it. 2) Pisa. Again I would have liked to have seen the famous leaning tour, however time did not allow. We discovered while in Tuscany that distances don’t always translate like they do here in Michigan (i.e. 60 miles equals about an hour drive). The twisty, turny, possibly stomach-churning tiny roads do not allow for quick travel. But I’ll get to that and many other details about our trip in a later post. So, until then … Arrivederci!