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Planning for Italy trip with a two-year old

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Big essay first, a few questions later.

My husband and I have travelled a fair amount, both separately and together. We've gone on some smaller trips with our now 15-month old baby (including flying at Christmas as well as a couple of long car trips) and we think we're ready to take him to Italy. (I know that travelling with a two-year old sounds awful to some people, but we enjoy spending time with him. We understand that he might have bad days and are willing to take it easy in order to have him with us.) We're currently thinking we'll go in March of next year, to get the warmest weather possible while avoiding the crowds that come with Carnevale and Easter (and anything after Easter).

A little about us: We enjoy hiking, good food (but generally love "home-style" cooking rather than molecular gastronomy, tiny portions, or waitstaff who put our napkins in our laps for us), interesting architecture, and nature. Examples of places we really enjoyed were Santorini, Newgrange, the Alhambra, Montserrat, Eilan Donan castle, and pretty much everything else about the Isle of Skye. I've been to Italy twice (Rome, Florence, Cinque Terre, Venice, short stops in Lucca, Pisa, Assisi, and Verona); my husband has never been.

Where it's available, we like to take the train rather than bus or renting a car. In the past, I have generally pre-booked a lot of things, and we have been willing to handle long days of travel or long day trips, but we expect that having our then 2-year old along will change our travel style. In planning this trip, I've tried to aim for about two hours of transit per day with a maximum of four hours per day (well, other than our flights to and from Italy - we live in Seattle). We'll pre-book hotels and a few things (an early morning entrance into the Vatican Museums, for example), but otherwise, I'm going to try to play it by ear a little more than I normally do. We generally try not to spend just one night anywhere, and I think that's especially important because we'll have our son with us.

Lodging-wise, we're hoping to have a crib as well as a separate room for our little guy in most cities to help us all sleep better. We know that won't be cheap (and are looking at apartment rentals - some seem to have cribs available), but we're still hoping to spend less than $300 a night on lodging.

Our current itinerary is:
Fly into Rome
Rome for 5 nights
Sorrento for 3 nights, including a day trip to Pompeii
Orvieto for 2 nights, including a day trip to Civita
Assisi for 2 nights
Florence for 3 nights
Venice for 4 nights
Leave from Venice

First question: We have two more nights. Where would you spend them? I loved Cinque Terre, particularly the hikes between the cities, and I really want to shove it into this trip, but I'm concerned that we would need to give the CT three or four days - I did the hike in a day when I was there, but I can't imagine my son would have the patience to hang out in his carrier that long (or the focused energy to do the hike). I did not particularly like Florence either time that we were there. To be honest, it's in this itinerary more as a convenient stopping place between Assisi and Venice than anything else, so I probably would not add time there - I keep trying to shave time off from Florence and add in the CT, but my logical side says that's a bad idea and I should add more time to existing cities instead.

Second question: I'm concerned that the Amalfi Coast bus won't really work out with my son - I've read it's three hours - and the ferry doesn't seem to run until the summer. Does the bus to Positano and back to Sorrento sound like a good idea? I might consider using the extra days above for that.

Third question, more general: Any other recommendations for us, especially with respect to lodging?

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    I think March is early for the Amalfi Coast. Yes, you can do Pompeii (but a 2 year old won't be interested) and the cut towns down the coast (ditto). He would probably like the boats best but the ferry schedule is sparse that time of year and they can be cancelled - even to Capri - if the seas are too rough. You may be lucky and get sunny and 60s or you may get 50 and rain - so not sure how much fun a beach resort will be.

    I think a 2 year old might like cities - with parks and playgrounds - better, and Venice (where the boats always run) and perhaps an agriturismo with farm stuff and animals. (You run the risk of bad weather there too - so need to be sure you're near enough a town for indoor things.

    I know here in NYC on rainy days in spring and fall the Natural History Museum is mobbed with parents or nannies and little ones - since it is huge and has room for them outside of strollers - and they seem to like looking at the stuffed animals. So not an art museum - but perhaps something kid friendly (must admit I haven;t see Nat'l Hist in italy - although have in most other places - even if as part of the local history museum).

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    Even if it is a bit more crowded, consider going a little later when better weather is more likely. Even in early April, we have been in Florence and cancelled a trip to The CT because it turned cold and rainy. Your little one will be a toddler on the move by then and being able to have outside, running around time will be important and enjoyable for all of you.

    If you do not love Florence, then choose other places with central parks and play areas and lovely old carousels.

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    I agree with going a little later if at all possible. If you can't go later, I'd skip Sorrento/Pompeii and leave it for another trip when you'd have more time to explore the Amalfi Coast, Capri and Naples and a better chance of good weather.

    FYI, Palm Sunday is March 29th, and Easter is April 5th. March 29th is also the day clocks change, and you'd get an additional hour of daylight in early evening after that date. Italy's Liberation Day (national holiday) is April 25th which is also the Feast of San Marco in Venice.

    You know your son best, but I think it would be easy for the first couple of days of your trip to be upside down as your son adjusts to the time difference, unfamiliar surroundings, bed, food, etc.

    Before you add any more destinations (which I wouldn't do), consider all of the stuff you'll be carrying on/off trains. One of you will be carrying the child while the other schleps the luggage. A rental car between Rome and Florence might help, but driving into the center of most cities is restricted and parking is expensive, so the benefit would be limited.

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    Just a little thing and it's a few years since we were there, but I'm not sure if Pompeii would be very stroller friendly. I remember lots of cobblestones. I'm more than happy to be corrected if my memory isn't correct.

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    If Florence doesn't really rock your boat, I'd give it a skip. Maybe stay in Siena? Reachable by direct bus from Rome, so you avoid an otherwise inevitable change of trains. You wouldn't need three days for Siena, so perhaps add one of those day on to Sorrento, where there is so much to see and do.

    I don't think Pompeii is workable for strollers. The cobbles are very rough. Either he runs free on his own or you carry him.

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    What about instead of doing Florence, a stay in Lucca?

    It is much smaller and child friendly, with the wall ringing the old centro storico being paved for easy stroller use and great views. The train station is right at the wall, so couldn't be more convenient. One of the squares has a children's merry-go-round and there are plenty of large piazza's with benches where you can let a toddler roam under supervision. You could even rent one of those pedal-bike-car thingies and take a family spin together if you were so inclined.

    I'm with the others. March is a bit early for CT travels; we've planned a visit there 2 years in a row and not made it either time because of bad weather that day. April, yes there are national holidays, but the weather is usually better and even if there is rain, it's not really cold.

    We traveled with our 9 month old nephew and loved it. The Italians love children and they garner plenty of extras...extra attention, extra gelato, extra music...they bend over backwards for children. Enjoy!

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    Oops, sorry, missed you'd already been to Lucca. Old town Siena and pretty much any of the hill towns are pretty rough for strollers.

    Had you considered Bologna as a way point between Assisi & Venezia? My fear is that if you weren't "taken" with Florence, you might feel the same about Bologna...but at least you would have a new experience.

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    If I'm counting right, the child will be just 26 months next March, and I doubt that he'll be much interested in boats or any type of museum. He might enjoy fountains and pigeons, of which there are plenty in Italy.

    You said, quite wisely, that you want to keep the transits as short as possible. The trip from Sorrento to Orvieto will be well over four hours. The train from Sorrento to Naples is a commuter train, which will be very crowded in the morning; this train takes an hour in the best of circumstances, and you'll also have the trip to the station, and you'll have at least a short wait for the train, so let's say an hour and a half to get to Naples. Then allow half an hour in Naples station, so that's two hours already. The train trip to Orvieto takes about 3 hours at best, depending on the connections you make in Rome. Then you have to get to your hotel in Orvieto. I would guess that door-to-door, this trip is going to take 5 1/2 to 6 hours. There will be two changes of train, and the first leg will be on a crowded commuter train.

    If you don't think you'll like Florence, I don't think you should go there at all. The trip from Assisi to Venice is no worse than the one from Sorrento to Orvieto. Both are longer than I'd want to do with luggage and a baby, especially because of the changes of train.

    Staying in apartments is not a bad idea when traveling with a small child, but most apartments won't rent for less than 3 nights, and some will require a week. Also, finding a good apartment with an honest and aboveboard owner requires a lot of research, much more than finding a decent hotel, and with your present plans, you're going to have to find six of them.

    I myself wouldn't take a child that age to Pompeii or to the Vatican Museums at all. We've gone to Rome four or five times with my granddaughter, starting when she was two; she's now eight, and I wouldn't take her there for another few years. She's about the age where I would consider taking her to Pompeii, but I would probably first take her to Ostia Antica, the ancient port city of Rome.

    Easter is early next year (April 5th), so Carnevale will be in mid February. Not that it would interfere with your trip; if you could find a small-town parade, it might be the one thing your son would enjoy.

    In most of the places you're going, it's unlikely to be warm at all in March. Cold damp weather is a real possibility, rain is to be expected, and in places like Orvieto and Assisi, you can't rule out snow in March. Given that Easter is so early, it wouldn't be a bad idea to plan your trip for mid-April, when the chances of nice weather are better (but never guaranteed). (At the moment, in late April, I'm wearing two wool sweaters, in an area that's usually warmer than Assisi.)

    I don't think you'll be taking it easy at all on this trip. Counting day trips, you have seven travel days planned, some back to back. That's one-third of the days on your three-week trip. You really can't play it by ear on your travel days or on your day trip days. Once you've got a certain distance from your lodging, you have to see it through.

    I would encourage you to spend an entire week in three separate places, and to choose places closer together, especially if you don't want to drive. That way you'll have only three apartments to find, and since all of your excursions will be day trips, you can cancel them at the last minutes based on mood and weather. You should plan on doing nothing at all on some days except exploring your immediate surroundings and taking your son to a playground. You can always add day trips if things are going well, but it's much harder, if things are getting too hectic and stressful, to trim plans that involve six different lodgings in three weeks. With that in mind, I would choose three locations with good day trip possibilities, and with interesting immediate surroundings.

    Rome is not a bad choice, with lots to see and do without going far. There are some nice day trips possible, such as to Ostia Antica, which might be a better place to go than Pompeii, because it's less crowded and there's more shade. We've had many nice stays in Rome with my granddaughter, going to little uncrowded museums, touring fountains, watching the cats at the cat sanctuary, seeing the fantastic art in some of the churches (free, and easy to leave if there's a melt-down).

    Then I would suggest maybe a week in Ferrara, another nice relaxed town with great food and a beautiful ducal palace, easily reached from Rome. Ferrara is very flat and many people travel mostly by bike. You could perhaps rent bikes with a baby seat while you're there to get around town. Ferrara is close enough to Venice and Verona to be able to make day trips, playing it by ear.

    Verona is also a nice city where you might want to spend a week. It's even closer to Venice than Ferrara is, and there are a few direct trains a day there from Rome.

    Lucca is another very nice small city, with an imposing city wall, on top of which is a park, where you can rent bikes. It's very close to Pisa and Florence, so day trips to both by train would be feasible. It would also be a good final destination, flying home from Pisa airport.

    Pienza is another town that is a good base, but very small, so I would really want to have a car if I were to spend a week there. If you're willing to rent a car, a week in an agriturismo with farm animals might be a lot of fun for your son.

    Assisi is very hilly, so perhaps a bit difficult to manage with a toddler and a stroller. It's another destination where I would want to have a car and to stay a bit out of town.

    These are just some possibilities of places where you could spend a week and find enough to do to either in the immediate area or on a day trip. You probably have a long list of things you want to see in Italy, but why not save them for when your son is ten years older and will enjoy them as much as you will?

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    Thanks for your replies, everyone. First, I should have mentioned that we have a "baby backpack" type of soft carrier that our son would ride in when we go to places like Pompeii - we probably won't bring or use a stroller at all. We've walked and hiked some with him in the carrier, and he really enjoys riding in it and looking at the surroundings, although he certainly won't want to spend all day in it.

    I'll talk to my husband about going later in the spring. We're from Seattle, so we're pretty used to cold and rainy weather, but we might appreciate a break from that, too!

    I'll also look into consolidating or switching to some of the other cities recommended. Although I did go to Lucca once, I remember very little of it - we may only have stayed for one night - so I wouldn't mind going back for longer.

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    Great post, lots of questions, I love it! I fear my response will be longer than your post.

    First of all, don’t fear travelling with your son. You seem to have the right attitude and understand that the way you do things will need to change. Slow down, watch how he is doing, and don’t try to fight it. You know your child better than anyone, but pushing him will likely not produce positive results.

    The description of you and your husband and what you like to do sound exactly like my wife and I, so I think I can relate well. We travelled a lot before our daughter was born and didn’t want to stop when she came into our lives. We also thought she would grow more as a person from doing it with us, even from an early age. She just turned five and has been to Italy twice and England once, along with many more trips domestically. We’ll be taking another trip to Italy five weeks from now, and this time with our 9 month old son as well.

    I would agree with many other posters that if you can move the trip later then you should do so. April at least, but May if you can. We’ve done Italy in May a few times and it’s been great. Excellent weather and we didn’t find the crowds to be a problem. A few more people would be worth the improved weather, IMO.

    If you can’t move it don’t worry about it. Make the trip happen but I would rethink Amalfi. It is difficult enough with a small child and with so much of it being shut down and the weather being iffy I don’t think you would really get the experience you’re looking for. Save it for a future trip when you could get the most out of it. It’s also a bit difficult logistically and really stretches the travel to and from, as others have mentioned.

    Same with squeezing in the CT in March. The weather would only be worse up there and it would be VERY quiet (and largely shut down). I love the CT and can’t wait to go back. The setting, the pace, the people, the hikes – perfect. We were there when my daughter was 16 months and she spent a lot of time in her backpack on the trails. Long lunches in Vernazza’s piazza, overlooking the sea, with my daughter running and playing with local children – these memories will never leave my mind. I would actually say that with a child the CT would be easier than the AC. I have not been to Amalfi (full disclosure), but my impression is that it is larger and more spread out than CT. Getting between the towns in the CT was very easy with our daughter. The trains were frequent and inexpensive. The ferries were the same. And the hikes were wonderful. Towns were small and car-free. It was perfect. Maybe the AC would be the same, but it isn’t my impression. As I said though, I don’t think I would go in March. The CT is one of those places where the weather plays a large role in your enjoyment, particularly with a two year old. The whole point of the CT is the natural experience, there isn’t much else to do (not a complaint). I wouldn’t want to be stuck inside with a two-year old if the weather didn’t cooperate, and March could be dicey.

    Don’t do Florence if you and your husband don’t want to. You’re flying a long way and spending a lot of money. Try someplace new. Worst case you don’t love that place either, but at least you’ve seen someplace different. It also sounds like you’re staying here only because it makes the rail transit easier, which begs my next question…..

    Why are you trying to avoid a car? It really opens up so much more for you, particularly in Umbria or other rural areas. Driving in Italy is no different than at home, and I find the signage to be very good, even in the countryside. You can also get a handheld GPS if you’d like when you rent your car (or use your phone depending on your service). I actually think that a car would make your trip easier in most cases. Travelling by train is harder with the little one and the inevitable gear they come with. It isn’t so much the actual time on the train as the getting to and from the station and transiting within. That is one big change you’ll have to expect. To me, I would rather dump my stuff in a car outside my hotel and drive somewhere than schlep to the train and manage that process. Trains make sense at times, but so do cars.

    As for recommendations, I’m going to assume you would consider a car. If not, then I can rethink things. I would suggest beginning and ending in the big cities, just as you’ve done, and spending the middle portion in more rural areas. Four stops total. I think the below would work in either March, April or May (though May would be best).
    - Fly into Rome and stay for 6 nights
    - Pick up a rental car and drive to Tuscany. Stay for 6 nights.
    - Keep car and move to Umbria for 4 nights.
    - Head to Venice for final 5 nights, returning car there (at airport or wherever convenient).

    Your first day or two in Rome will be tough, particularly for your son, considering the distance you’ve travelled. Maybe give it an extra day and don’t plan anything concrete for the first two days. That should allow for a more casual pace, maybe some mid-day naps to get your son rested, and enough days after adjusting to see a decent amount of the sites. Consider renting bikes and touring the Appian way when/if you want a break from the rush of the city (http://www.aviewoncities.com/rome/viaappia.htm) . Also Ostia Antica could be a good alternative to Pompeii. Easily accessible from Rome via public transit and great with your son (http://www.reidsitaly.com/destinations/lazio/rome/sights/ostia_antica.html).

    You love good food, architecture and nature yet you still have not spent, or planned, any significant time in Tuscany or Umbria? The food is the best, it’s naturally beautiful and there is plenty of old stuff to look at. You really need a car though in order to appreciate all the area has to offer.

    In Tuscany I like the area around Montepulciano as a base. Great town in and of itself and access to so many more. I could provide lots of recommendations in this area. Look at Villa Poggiano just outside town (http://www.villapoggiano.com/ ), we’ve stayed here a few times. They also have another property nearby called Montorio (http://www.montorio.com/ ) that has apartments in a rural setting. We have visited but never stayed. It is wonderful. Politian apartments offers apartments right in town (http://www.politian.com/ ). You could also base yourself further north in the Chianti area (Gaiole or Panzano area).

    Umbria is similar to Tuscany, but will feel a bit less traveled. It can also be a bit more wild, naturally speaking, if you head east. It has beautiful towns to explore - Orvieto and Assisi were already on your list but also Perugia, Bevagna, Montefalco, Spoleto, Todi, Norcia and Gubbio. Norcia and Gubbio are more off the beaten path and scenically beautiful. We positioned ourselves in the region’s capital of Perugia. Somewhere between a large town and a small city it had a great feel, provided excellent access and was loaded with medieval alleyways and very interesting architecture. Hotel Brufani Palace is where we stayed. It was great but this was before our daughter and I think it was more pricey. An excellent choice, but maybe an agritourismo outside one of the smaller towns would be better in this case.

    Wrap it all up with 5 days in Venice and I think you’d have a fantastic trip and memories to last a lifetime. Venice is still on my to-do list, so no recommendations there.

    Maybe you want to consider Emila-Romagna instead of Umbria? Home to some of Italy’s best food, closer to Venice, a bit more of a contrast to Tuscany than Umbria provides – a good alternative (or an alternative to Tuscany if you want to see Umbria).

    No matter the choices I think you’re in for a wonderful trip if you remember to slow it down with the kids and try to simplify the logistics of everything, particularly the travel.

    Happy to offer more suggestions if/when you narrow your ideas down a bit more. BTW, if the trip can be moved to May you could totally fit the CT into it then. Start in Rome, train to CT (long day, but doable), rent a car in La Spezia and spend time further north in Tuscany (Gaiole or Radda) and then end in Venice. Great trip!

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    Poster above hit it with the suggestion of Montepulciano. We loved it. Stayed there overnight and when the crowds left, the town was delightful. not bad during the day, but great at night.

    I also second the use of a car. Not hard to do in Italy. My sister and I navigated just fine with only the lonely planet map to guide us. Granted we have a pretty good sense of direction and I am a decent navigator.

    My sister and I are planning a similar trip this summer with my two year old son but doing Paris to Brugges to Leiden, netherlands. good luck!

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    Hi,

    I am traveling in August to Lake como, Venice. Bavaria and Prague with my husband and my 16 month old. I have the same attitude as you: I think that traveling with children is wonderful. Like mentioned already above, I traveled quite a bit before children and I did not want to stop. What I have noticed so far is that the advantage of traveling with children is that you switch from tourist mode to "I just moved here for a few days" mode. I go to parks and let her have few with the local children; I savor my coffee for a hour while she plays with the fountain,and runs after the birds.

    I love Cinque Terre. My favorite is Vernazza. People think it is overun by tourist but it has not been my experience. I was there with my sister in May and it was just amazing. We really enjoy swimming and the water was so clear. People swim from one village to the other along the coast (just make sure you have the skills and go with someone). I can see myself spending a week there with my family (and yes, CT is better with children than Almafi, and I have been to both 3 times). However skip CT if you cannot push back your trip.

    I don't like to drive and I try to take to train as much as possible. ( I rented a car in the deep south in France: Pont du Gard, Rousillon, Gordes; and we are renting a car in the Bavarian Alps). I have been to Civita using public transport and it was not fun. Sometimes you have to decide whether to stay on the major train lines or bite the bullet and rent a car.

    I looked up where Isle of Skye is. Now I want to go there.

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