Where to take the kids in Italy?

A traveler on TripAdvisor asks,
"My husband and I would like to travel to Italy this summer with our children ages 6,5,2. I would appreciate any recommendations on family friendly areas and things to do. Thanks!"
Here's how I responded:

Hotel Review - Villa il Poggiale (Tuscany)

The main sitting room
Located just outside Florence, Villa il Poggiale is a dreamy retreat in the heart of Chianti, and it hits all the right chords in both service and style. This authentic and tasteful country estate is a place where families and children will feel completely at home.  In fact, Villa il Poggiale considers itself a family home first and foremost, and kids are enthusiastically welcomed. 

The villa itself dates back to the 16th century and was the family home of the current owners. The Vitta brothers have done a marvelous job at cultivating an atmosphere that’s elegant yet comfortable. Despite the beautiful surroundings,  it never feels stuffy or overdone. 

Book Review: Baby Travel Tips

How to Travel with a Baby or Toddler on a PlaneRick Hartwig has tapped into a deep-rooted anxiety among parents who often cite the stress of flying with young children as the one of the main reasons they don’t travel or don’t travel internationally.  Long flights, jet lag, and flight cancellations are bad enough. But our fellow passengers seem increasingly vocal about their annoyance by the mere presence of a child on their flight (How dare those babies fly to see Grandma!).

Add to this recent news headlines highlighting how airlines arereducing the family-friendliness of our skies by eliminating the courtesy of early boarding for families, not guaranteeing families be seated together, and even going so far as to restrict children from first class. It’s understandable why flying with babies or toddlers—or any child, really—creates such anxiety. 

Hotel Review - Castello di Gargonza (Tuscany)

A heavy autumn fog shrouded Castello di Gargonza on the early Sunday morning of my visit, much like a theater curtain waiting to open before a big performance. Upon my arrival, church bells in the tiny Romanesque town peeled out, almost as if to signal my arrival through the castle’s main gate.

Gorgeous short film of Basilicata

I'm in love with Basilicata right now.  Francis Ford Coppola's gone to Basilicata and taken me with him (figuratively, of course). It's unimaginably beautiful in this remote region, and if you don't believe me, maybe you'll believe your own eyes.

For anyone interested in getting off of the well-trod path, have a glimpse of this dreamy 4-minute film. When you're ready to pack your bags, contact me!

Is a City Pass Worth the Price for Families in Italy?

photo credit: Context Travel

One question that frequently comes up for me as travel consultant is whether it's worth buying a city pass. The concept of the city pass is to package free or discounted admission to several major and lesser-known monuments, museums, and special exhibitions, and frequently they include a limited-time, transit pass for busses and subways.

In Italy, these passes are most popular in the major destinations like Rome, Florence, Naples and Venice. Cities like them because they encourage visitors to use public transportation by simplifying the ticket-buying process, and they typically offer visitors the benefit of fast-tracking your entry in a city's most popular attractions--or even eliminating the queue altogether.  Passes also encourage visitors to discover lesser-known museums and attractions and seek out cultural events.

But are they worth the cost for a family?  That's the question that two journalists set out to investigate just this past week.  In some cases, the answer is a resounding yes.

Which cities offer the best City Pass value?  Click over to Budget Travel's blog post, and the U.K.'s Daily Mail article and decide for yourself.  And while this article is a little older, Jessica at Italylogue has done a very detailed analysis of Rome's City Pass in a past article.

What's your experience?  Did you purchase a city pass and did you think it was worth it?  Share your comments with other family travelers.

Gladiators and police clash in Rome!

A visit to Rome's most recognizable monument, the Colosseum, typically involves an encounter with a kitchy gladiator who poses for your pictures (then asks you for money). For years, men in full gladiator and centurion battle gear, including helmets, swords, tunics and feathered helmets, have set up here, and elsewhere in the city, and have made a fairly decent living doing this, either to the delight or the annoyance of tourists.

A man dressed as an ancient Roman centurion shouts slogan during a protest in front of the Colosseum Thursday.Men who dress as ancient Roman centurions and ask for money to have picture taken by tourist at the Colosseum clashed with police on Thursday as authorities tried to enforce an eviction order.
photo credit: New York Post
However complaints about these faux gladiators -- which included charges of verbal harassment of tourists, sometimes to an aggressive degree, and pandering for money in exchange for photos or shabby tourist advice -- had reached such levels that city officials finally took notice, and took action.

The Buzz in Basilicata

The communal kitchen at Palazzo Margherita
photo credit: Palazzo Margherita 
The buzz around Basilicata right now is the recent grand opening of Francis Ford Coppola's stunning 9-room boutique property, Palazzo Margherita.   Mr. Coppola owns other hotels, but the fact that he’s chosen Basilicata—a region practically unknown, undiscovered, and most certainly not on many people’s bucket list –is quite remarkable given it's very off-the-beaten track location.  

One of the last truly unspoiled corners of Italy, bleak, barren, beautiful Basilicata will captivate your family. Here, you’ll find locals who are happy you're in town, uncrowded restaurants, crystal clear waters absolutely void of English-speaking tourists, colorful, local festivals, and hearty, peasant cuisine that is simple and sumptuous. 

With the opening of Coppola’s new hotel and the subsequent buzz it's generated in the travel press, bella Basilicata is on the verge of being discovered, and ready for its close up, Mr. Coppola.   

You just might want to visit it now, so you can have the bragging rights to say, 'you knew it when.' 

An easy day trip to Rome's ancient ruins

Pompeii tops the list of sights that many families want to see during a first-time trip Italy.  However, depending on your itinerary, it's sometimes a challenge to get there from other popular destinations in Italy, like Venice and Florence, both of which are also typically at the top the list of places families  want to see.

Unless you're planning to stay in or around the Amalfi Coast or Naples, Pompeii is simply too long of a day trip for most kids.

photo credit: ostia-antica.org

If an ancient Roman city is on your bucket list, then I typically recommend a visit to Ostia Antica, which is easier to get to. Ostia was ancient Rome's seaport, and it's just a short 30 minute train ride from the city center. 

So why don't more families choose to visit?  Today's blog post, Ostia with Kids, from Context Travel's founder Paul Bennett, will perhaps help provide the right amount of inspiration.  

Socializing with the Natives

Ever lament the fact that traveling sort of puts you in your own private bubble? This is particularly true if you travel to a country where you don't speak the native tongue.

Young children seem to have very little problem making new friends, regardless of the language barrier. Neighborhood playgrounds are a natural setting for integrating with local families. Particularly in major cities in Italy in the late afternoon (when moms and dads come home from work and head to the parco giochi with the bambini), you're likely to find Italians who speak English.

Getting Through the Airport

I used to think the recent invention of the Family Security Line was created out of an airport's desire to accommodate frazzled parents. 

After all, if you're traveling with children, you're likely unpacking and re-packing practically the entire contents of your three carry on bags in the span of a few minutes. Simultaneously unbuckling your pants, taking off your kids' shoes, and ensuring the kids' DVD players--so desperately required for the 12 hour flight--doesn't get confiscated because you neglected to put it in its own bin on the conveyor belt.

Ditto for the emergency boxes of aseptic milk you packed.

Tips for Creating a Kid-Friendly European Trip

If you’ve been considering a family trip to Europe, now is a good time to start planning. As a travel planner specializing in family travel to Italy, as well as being the mother of 4-year old twins whom I’ve dragged across the pond a fair number of times, I like to suggest several ‘rules of thumb’ for making an overseas trip to Italy or Europe more kid-friendly.

Italy: Three Special Places to Take the Kids

Thousands of years of history, art and architecture, and great food make Italy the most popular destination in Europe.  Most families tend to stick to the traditional Rome, Florence and Venice circuit, and while this itinerary is certainly worthwhile, two weeks of visiting the big tourist cities can easily wear out even the most heroic little traveler. The solution?  Combine an iconic Italian city with one of these three inspirational, family-friendly destinations and enjoy authentic cultural interaction and a truly family-friendly vacation.