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Italy with two little ones, Summer 2015


Aug 13th, 2014, 06:51 AM
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Italy with two little ones, Summer 2015

Hi all,
My husband and I, and our two young boys (ages 4 and 6), will be taking our first trip to Italy next summer. We imagine we will be there 3-4 weeks. Because we are both teachers, late June and July is the earliest we can get that (not ideal, we know!) Based on others advice, we've figured out a few pieces:
1. Rome and Florence don't need to be on our itinerary (based on being packed in the summer and age of our kids)
2. Venice does (based on a life-long desire to go!)
3. We'd like to spend some time by the ocean/ a lake
4. We are more interested in being places where we can just experience life in Italy, rather than hitting all the tourists spots.
5. We don't want to rush between locations,and want to make sure that the boys are not getting fried by trudging them through every last museum

So, a simple (but hard!) question: WHERE would you go? Which cities/towns/villages do you think would be most appropriate for a first time ramble with two little boys? We are trying to balance weather, crowds, interests of little boys and keeping the itinerary simple against this being, in many ways, a trip of a lifetime. Difficult!

Thanks for the help.
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Aug 13th, 2014, 07:31 AM
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I like this northerrn loop for families:

Get car---to Dolomites--3
To Lake Garda--read about Gardaland---3
To Tuscany-----rent a rural apartment for a week--7
To Ligurian coast---Italian Riviera---3
To Lake Maggiore---Stresa---3
Fly home from Milan

This maximizes the natural beauty and family fun.
You fill in the days, but the geography makes a big U loop.
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Aug 13th, 2014, 08:06 AM
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If you really want to get away from the tourist spots it is very easy and very welcoming. Italy is absolutely overloaded with wonderful places that are dominated by the life of Italy, rather than catering to foreign tourists.

Having entertained many small children in Italy, and others somewhat older than yours, it is extremely unusual for children to take an interest in any type of sightseeing. They might enjoy the walk or the boat ride, or 15 minutes at the castle walls, but fundamentally they will be more interested in doing the exact same things they like to do at home, whatever that might be (playing ball, playing with toys, drawing etc.)

With 3 or 4 weeks, I would not be moving around every 3 or 4 days. I suggest you give yourselves a full week or a bit more in Venice. Apart from that, I would really try to minimize the amount of time spent driving on winding roads over hills and mountains with the children in the back seat -- and therefore would eliminate lodging in rural Tuscany where you need to drive everywhere and eliminate touring the mountainous Dolomites. Since your children are not toddlers, one thing they might really enjoy is train rides.

Some lovely towns for experiencing Italian life that are more dominated by bicycles than cars and motorcycles are Ferrara and Modena, and I would consider Arezzo in Tuscany. Some time on Lago di Garda would be good geographical fit, and it is easily reached by train. You could rent cars for a few days in each location to do some additional sightseeing, but with the luxury of time and the desire to actually experience the life of Italy, I would not put yourself behind the wheel of a car everyday trying to hit all the famous scenic destinations (which are just as touristy as Rome and Florence).
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Aug 13th, 2014, 09:45 AM
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I basically agree with the ideas of Sandralist, and will add that Ferrara is one of my favorite small cities in Italy. Being in the Po valley, though, it is sometimes very hot and muggy in the summer.

If you spend more than a few days in Venice, I would suggest staying on the Lido (but near a vaporetto stop). The children might enjoy playing on the beach at the end of the day. I'm not sure I would stay in Venice for a whole week, though.

Lake Garda should be a good spot for the whole family. There is a big amusement park, Gardaland, near the town of Garda, but I don't think there's much there for smaller children.

There is a wonderful amusement park for little kids in Riccione, called Fiabilandia. It's probably too babyish for kids older than about 10, but we took our grandchildren there when they were five and six and they loved it. We arrived early in the day and had to drag them away in tears when the park was closing.

Riccione is about three hours south of Venice by train, so it wouldn't be a great day trip with little kids, but you might want to spend a few days at a beach town on the Adriatic coast. Riccione is famous for its discoteques, so maybe it would be a bit noisy at night. Nearby Cattolica and Gabbice Mare are more family oriented. Rimini is more famous, and less family oriented, and attracts a lot of foreign tourists, but none of these towns will be overflowing with beachgoers in June, especially on weekdays. All of them are very near Riccione, and all are on the train line. There are buses to Fiabilandia from Riccione and Rimini train stations.

There's also an aquarium in Cattolica, and a water park called Acquafan in the same general area, but I haven't been to them, so I can't express an opinion.
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Aug 13th, 2014, 11:57 AM
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Even though Gardaland is probably not worth the price of admission for smaller children, there is a lot of kid friendly activity in that area of the lake when it comes to paddle boats, swans, ice cream parlors and milder kid stuff. There is also wine for the adults and interesting sights and history to enjoy.

Likewise if you spend some time on the Adriatic coast it is not hard to find cultural sights of great interest, the greatest among them being Ravenna, but there are others. The roads along the coast are flat and straight, and there are trains as well.
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Aug 14th, 2014, 06:32 AM
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Thanks for these ideas. Much appreciated. Other possibilities? If we did head to the Adriatic Coast, is Ravenna the place to set up shop?
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Aug 14th, 2014, 06:49 AM
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Everybody who goes to Ravenna (including me) seems to have a wonderful time whether they stay for a day or many days. Ravenna turns out to be, remarkably, one of the rare Italian destinations nobody argues about and everybody feels is worthwhile (whereas you will always find yays and nays about Capri or Rome or Florence or Venice or you name it).

Since you will be looking at longer stays in several places, you might do really well to join the message board for Italy on the Slow Travel website. I seem to recall that one of the moderators there spent an extended time in Ravenna with kids, and other regular posts frequently rent apartments in Venice, with and without kids. Some go every year and have a lot of knowledge about settling in and making the most of a stay there. And many people have had stay in other places with kids.

One thing I think you might consider is that even if you don't want to set foot in Rome (wise choice) that you still might find it worthwhile to head south for small towns and beaches and depart from Rome airport. Depends on what kind of air deals you can find and whether the internal transport logistics are convenient.

But overall, Italy is an immensely rich and rewarding place that does not require moving around a lot to have a staggeringly fabulous time. It is really hard to convey to people that the famous tourist places are really sort of like the frosting curlicues on a cake. Of course it is a wow moment to see them and incredibly delightful, but the flavor of Italy is really on the inside, and it is layer after layer of interest. It can make it hard to choose, but you can choose with confidence that getting off the most famous tourist map will still provide abundant beauty and wonderful encounters with wonderful Italians.
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Aug 14th, 2014, 07:36 AM
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I thought Gardaland was worth it for young children. There were a ton of little kid rides. You can read my trip report of when we went to Italy with kids a bit younger than yours.

I would get apartments and stay there for a while in each one. I disagree about the daytrips in Dolomiti and Tuscany. My kids were always fine with a one to two hour drive and that's how they took naps on our vacation. I also disagree that kids don't like sightseeing. Even at young ages mine were fascinated by things that were different. You just have to tell the story that goes along with the thing, as in: here is a slot for an arrow where they would fire at the bad guys. Of course they need to climb and run around too, but there are tons of playgrounds in Italy and you'll actually meet locals there.

Here is the link to the trip report: http://www.markandmonica.com/Travel/italy.htm
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Aug 14th, 2014, 08:36 AM
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Good advice above, I'd also look at appartments, agroturismo and anything with a pool, some grass and some shade. Certainly the Po valley ( so Ravenna, Ferrara, Padua, etc tends towards the flat, slightly muggy but with places to rent, book soon before availabity goes.
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Aug 14th, 2014, 01:48 PM
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Let me jump back in with another question. For the above suggestions (and for others to come), would these all be places you would stay for a week? Ideally, we wouldn't want to be moving more than once a week with the boys. Would Ravenna,Garda, etc be good for week stays?
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Aug 14th, 2014, 02:49 PM
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They are only good if they meet your interests. I'll stick by my experience with a lot of kids that trying to arrange a trip to Italy so as to be entertaining to kids can't be the priority. (Maybe its because my understanding of history is that most often arrows are shot at the good guys!) I think you need to arrange your trip for maximum travel convenience -- meaning towns that are kid friendly in terms of having lots of pedestrian zones and piazza, not loads of car traffic, lots of convenience in terms of shops and restaurants. If your kids don't easily get car sick then no problem with one and two hour rides on mountain and hilly roads in a car. But also think about whether you need car seats, etc.

Otherwise, I think the places you stay for a week need to be interesting to you and your husband. If you two are interested and happy, the kids will be fine with your choices, and you won't feel very frustrated if they happen not to be and would prefer to play with a yo-yo while you look at more mosaics or ruins or shop or do watercolors of the views. Whatever interests you.

With respect to convenience for a family with small children, and I think all the towns being mentioned have that. (Not all of rural Tuscany does, however, and I assume you are prepared to deal with all the stairs you are going encounter in Venice).

Something you have expressed a desire to have in your trip is the chance to experience life as Italian families do. That is part of the reason people are suggesting places like Ravenna instead of more touristy areas. For other people, a week's stay might be chosen on the basis of how much sightseeing was available in the area. So if you and your husband think you might get bored in a place that has a historic foundation and centuries old architecture but is otherwise simply where Italians get on with their lives of making money and being Italians and raising their kids, etc, then there are other towns that are convenient for families but have more typical tourist sights right there or nearby -- places like Lucca or Arezzo or Bevagna. Some need a car and most are more of a trek from Venice.
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Aug 14th, 2014, 03:31 PM
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I'm not pushing Ravenna, but I thought I would give you these links to give you an indication of why many people would find it unusually interesting for a week, along with a few day trips



But there a literally hundreds of small towns and small cities in Italy with pedestrianized centers and great charm where a week goes by all too quickly. Sometimes just about the only way I can choose among them is by deciding what I want to eat for a week (seafood? cheese? salami? frogs? chocolate?) and what general climate I want.
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