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Please help me with a loose Tuscany itinerary (long, sorry)

Please help me with a loose Tuscany itinerary (long, sorry)

Mar 8th, 2010, 10:00 AM
  #1  
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Please help me with a loose Tuscany itinerary (long, sorry)

We will be in Tuscany for 7 nights of our March-May trip and I'm having a really hard time figuring out what we want to do. It will be myself, husband, boys ages 5.5, 3.5, daughter 1.5... we are staying at an agriturismo about 2 km outside of Pienza from April 5-12. Essentially this is what I have so far:

April 5: drive from Rome to Pienza, spend that half day in the town of Pienza (i think) and acclimating to our new place
6: fill in the blanks...
7:
8:
9:
10:
11:
12: leave in the morning, driving to Malpensa to arrive by 8pm, stopping somewhere either on the coast or in Parma (thank you, people who commented on my other thread)

Based on our reading, one or both of us is at least somewhat interested in Siena, San Gimignano, Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Chiusi, Volterra, Montepulciano (I think our farm stay includes a wine tasting here), Montalcino. Perugia was mentioned to me as something my boys might enjoy b/c there is a chocolate factory there, but I don't know if there's anything else that would entice us there over another place. Cortona is permanently etched in my mind thanks to the magic of Hollywood, but I don't know if it's something we want to actually devote a day to. Of all these places, the only one we have visited before is Florence.

As far as what we are interested in seeing, we have pretty much written off museums on this trip b/c of the kids. Short attention spans, and I don't want to ruin someone else's experience by having to hear "when are we going to leave here?" over and over again. We would love to see shorter walk-throughs such as churches and duomos, and we love architecture. DH is a war history buff. My boys will be very excited to climb to the top of anything that will give them a great view. We'll probably be doing a lot of just hanging out, letting the kids run, eating, walking and exploring. Hiking is good, parks are good, animals are good. We're also interested in seeing anywhere "off the beaten path" (I know this is difficult in Tuscany, but what I mean is any less touristy, more overlooked places).

I thought that we would want to plan on one town a day. However, a friend of mine took this same trip a few years ago with her kids who were almost the same ages. She said they did Lucca/Pisa in the same day, and San Gimignano/Volterra in the same day. I don't know if that's reasonable or not.

We will not be married to our itinerary because of, well, small children. We may end up having to drop a destination or two from our "final" plan. What I'm hoping for is some concrete advice to help me prioritize our destinations. If you are reading this and you have any advice on places to drop, add, or anything else, I am totally open! Fire away. Gently.

I really appreciate the advice I have received on these forums and I am grateful to those of you who take your time to help others.

cheers,
ET
etonmymind is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 10:01 AM
  #2  
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oops, I forgot to say that if it's nice, weather-wise, and there's a beach...that would be a great day for us. Any recommendations?
etonmymind is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 10:17 AM
  #3  
 
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You are way too far away from many of the cities and towns you mention to do them comfortably has day trips, even if you weren't toting 3 kids. It is too far for you to day from near Pienza to San Gimignano, Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Volterra and Perugia.

If your husband is a war history buff and you want to get off the beaten track, read up on the Battle of Trasimeno near lago di Trasimeno where Hannibal defeated the Roman army. A trip to there and the lake might be fun.

I enjoy Chiusi for its Etruscan museum but I see no point in going there with the kids.

You and your family might enjoy Bagno Vignoni.

I'm called a "contrarian" on Fodor's because I have this weird idea that when people go to the farm country in Tuscany, they should enjoy the farm life, and when they go to the art cities of Italy, they should see the art. Increasingly, what I see is tourists bombing into the farm country of Tuscany with a sightseeing list of "hitting" multiple hill towns per day, and heading off to Venice to "wander "get lost" instead of admiring the amazing artwork in the museums and churches because they are sick of so much sightseeing.

I would get in touch with your Italian landlord (or ask around on message boards) about places where your kids can see some farm animals near Pienza, and visit where cheese is made. There are hikes in Monte Amiata. You might plan a picnic or two.

Have a great time!

You are also going to need to see how well your kids handle the motion sickness of twisty Tuscan roads before you commit to being in a car all day.
zeppole is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 10:43 AM
  #4  
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thank you Zeppole for reality check,

I see what you are saying about driving times so I used Google Maps to estimate some of them (brilliant idea, I know ).

I can see where Pisa, Lucca, and Volterra might be on the long side--2 hours plus each way. I'm thinking maybe we want to instead plan on stopping in one of those on our way to Milan on the last day. However, Florence is estimated at 1.5 hours, Perugia at 1:11. To me, this is not a long way to drive one way, particularly because our kids will sleep a decent length of time. We live in a large metro area and it's pretty typical for us to drive an hour or more one way to reach friends or family or whatever for a few hours.

So far, none of my kids have been carsick, though I'm not sure they have been driven on anything worse than the Oregon coast in the US (and the roads that connect it to I-5, which are pretty nasty). I'm hoping they don't start on this trip. I will get some children's dramamine just in case. Good warning, thanks!

Love the idea of the hiking and picnicking, I will definitely look more into it. And the farm animals are a must--my oldest has told me many times that he wants to see baby chicks.

I really want to enjoy our trip and strike a balance between seeing stuff and relaxing.

thank you again,
ET/karen
etonmymind is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 10:55 AM
  #5  
 
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Our closeset friends owned a home in San Quirico (village just west of Pienza) & we've stayed there for about 8 weeks over several years, plus another week in Pienza. We've taken many day-trips to San Gimingano, Volterra, Perugia, Assisi, Cortona, etc. "Too far away" depends on how far you consider "too" far.
- San Gimignano - 1 hr 40 min one-way. Volterra is very close to San G
- Perugia 1 hr 20 min Assisi is close to Perugia

Lucca & Pisa are farther away than I would want to drive.

I think your kids would love Perugia. It is surrounded by some pretty ugly urban sprawl, but if you can find the correct parking lot, you can take an escalator up through the remains of an old villa that they discovered when building the escalator. Music plays while you ride through the ruins (you can get out & explore). Perugia is one ofour favorite cities. Lots of nooks & crannies to explore, and unusual streets to wander through. Wonderful Etruscan gates.

Here is something I posted on another thread on Fodors. It contains several suggestions for day-trips in the Pienza area.
http://www.fodors.com/community/euro...-20th-28th.cfm

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 12:41 PM
  #6  
 
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You could also go to Orvieto. You park in a lot at the bottom of the hill, take escalators and then a tram up the steep, steep hillside to town. Near the tram stop there is a deep, deep well that was dug 500 years ago in case the town ws under siege. You can (for a fee) take stairs down to the bottom, using a double helix stairway (they say -- I have not done this because of my knees) or at least far enough to look down. Also on the other side of the tram station is a park that once was a fort and lookout. Up in town there are restaurants that are in caves, as, like Perugia, the hill is riddled with them. One restaurant which is not really cheap but not outrageous is Le Grotte di Funaro. It's a very small town and almost no auto traffic so the streets are all pedestrian. Very safe for kids.
charnees is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 02:09 PM
  #7  
 
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etononmymind,

It would be foolish to try to include either Volterra or San Gimignano on your way to Malpensa from Pienza.

The drive time estimates for Florence and Perugia do not include the traffic you will encounter, the difficulties you will encounter parking. Both Florence and Perugia are the two cities that rate highest as 'I HATE TO DRIVE THERE" cities by foreigners who visit Tuscany and Umbria.

I have excoriated Stu Dudley several times on this board for what I think is the irresponsible advice he gives, especially since he himself doesn't drive in Tuscany. He leaves it to others. He specializes in evangelizing the same super-busy sightseer itinerary for every American, no matter who is making the trip and paying for it. With 3 very small children in tow, you will have to slow down in Tuscany. Florence, Perugia and 2 hour winding daytrips to steep hilltowns like Volterra strike me as not advisable, even if you give your kids dramamine. You can also check out the time and trouble needed to get to Orvieto. I don't recommend it either

I am glad you are using viaMichelin and such websites. Be aware that these are only estimates, and that once you reach your destinations, you will face uphill climbs from parking lots, thick crowds in places like Assisi, and lots of other family-unfriendly issues that via michelin and blithe internet travel "authorities" don't mention. (I live in Italy.)

The immediate area of Tuscany where you are going is rich in delights for adults and children. There are hot springs, piazze, farms, walks through fields of flowers, There are tombs and caves -- but above all, I sincerely recommend you drop the "sightseeer" mentality and enjoy rural Tuscany and its precious towns for what they are. Find a town you like a visit it every day at the hour that the children come out and play in the piazza after school. Go to the morning market. Have a long lunch on the farm.

You are going to have a beautiful time in Italy if you do a fraction of what you are contemplating and if you don't spend 4 hours trying to see San Gimignano. The joy of Italy -- truly -- is that life stops being television, all about eyeballing life as a camera shot and channel surfing. There are many people who cannot travel without constantly being on the road commuting for several hours to live in a tourist snapshot. They zoom right past marvelous, relaxing places with delicious things to eat and enjoy, to get to what some guidebook or internet blowhard told them to see.

You might go to the Slow Travel website, where many people have stayed in the val d'Orcia, with children, and can steer you to marvels at the doorstep of your agriturismo in Pienza.

Your husband might be interested in buying this book and visiting La Foce

http://www.amazon.com/War-Val-DOrcia.../dp/0879234768

http://www.lafoce.com/

Your children might want to visit the Portale Pienza farm near Pienza, whose website describes it as having" A flock of hundred sheep, goats, pigs of the old and rare breed 'cinta senese', chicken, ducks, peacocks, dogs, cats, a pony and three donkeys add to the rare charms of this farm."

http://www.portalepienza.it/Siti_com...icamp_ita.html

I am not coming back to this thread because I don't want to turn it into a war between me and not only Stu Dudley, but his crew, who will tell you to listen to him, not me, because he is an "experienced" traveler. He has been to a very few small areas of France and Italy over and over and over and over. Hence his "expetise." Most of us have been to and lived in more than one continent. Please take his advice as you would any other internet advice. It is not "authoritative" and quite often dead wrong.
zeppole is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 02:23 PM
  #8  
 
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Yes, by all means, completely discount any advice you may get from others on this Forum and listen only to Zeppole--the true Messiah. It is really sad, and getting worse.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 03:02 PM
  #9  
 
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etonmymind,
This mat help http://www.slowtrav.com/italy/tuscany/hs_planning.htm


Henry
Henry is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 03:21 PM
  #10  
 
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hi Eton,

if you fancy Orvieto, have a look at my trip report from my recent trip to Rome, where we did it as a day trip. i think you and your boys would enjoy the funicular up to the town, and the bell tower up in the tower.

I wouldn't bother with the tour of the excavations there though - pretty boring for you and the kids, IMHO.

sorry can't help with filling in the gaps in your Tuscan itinerary. have you contacted the local tourist board for any ideas?

regards, ann
annhig is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 04:29 PM
  #11  
 
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Jeeze
More utter nonsense from Zeppole/Stepsbeyond/whatever-her-third-alais-is.

The "others" that drive me around is my wife. She is a better driver than I am but she can not navigate, and we can save a few $$$ by only having 1 driver.

The "the few small areas" that we return to are in about 30 different departments scattered around France (there are around 90 departments) for a total of between 75 to 80 weeks since we retired early in '99 (so we could travel more). We usually spend 2 months in Europe every year since we retired - about 75% in France, 20% in Italy (various locations - but most time in Tuscany - free digs) and 5% elsewhere.

I'll let others judge the value of my advice. The "Messiah" obviously gives it low marks, but I've received hundreds of "positive" e-mails back from some of the thousands (really) of people I've sent various Italy & France itineraries to. They seemd to have received some benefit.

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 06:26 PM
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Clarification:
>>The "the few small areas" that we return to are in about 30 different departments scattered around France (there are around 90 departments)<<

The 30 departments are places where we've stayed overnight - anywhere from a minimum of 1 week to a maximum of 12 weeks. We've probably explored all departments (including the 2 Caribbean depts) - except maybe a half dozen or so mostly north of Paris.

Stu Dudley
StuDudley is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 09:14 PM
  #13  
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thanks to everyone for your continued input. This has given me a lot of work to do tonight!

Zeppole or someone else, is Bagno Vignoni an ok place for little kids? I'm thinking that the water might be too warm (usually I don't take my kids in much about 99F/37C. Also, if it's spa-ish, I wouldn't want to ruin anyone's nice relaxing quiet day. But we love natural hot springs and that would be right up our alley in general.

thanks!
ET
etonmymind is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 10:37 PM
  #14  
 
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eton,

You can read up on Bagno Vignoni on line and make your own assessment, but some of the hotels offer children's pools at 35C, (I don't know if you can buy day tickets) and the most common thing to do is for people just to soak their feet in the natural springs, but that water may be too hot. But this is precisely the kind of detailed info that Slow Travel is good for.

http://www.terresienabambini.it/inde..._calda&lang=en

http://italy-travel.suite101.com/art...e_whole_family

I really do hope to DISCOURAGE you from making a trip to Perugia, because I have been there and I don't think the escalators are a safe children's game and driving access to the city can be more than just a challenge. The Slow Travel website at one time provided very detailed directions about accessing parking lots at the base of the hilltown. Traffic inside Perugia is extremely restricted and subject to heavy fines for those who innocently take restricted streets.

The multi-level series of escalators that you need to take to get up into the city are fast-moving people movers, and the Perugians who use them move fast on them too. Worse, they don't all always work. Even if they do, you'd have to be prepared to carry your 3 year old as well as your 1.5 year old, and keep the 5 year old close, shoelaces, pants cuffs and fingers in check. Perhaps someone on Slow Travel has done it with a few small children and can provide pointers.

I'm not trying to turn you into a slow traveler and I don't post over there, but you can get some very precise pictures of what you might encounter moving small children around Tuscany, and generally sober advice. Too often on Fodor's you ask a question like how to get to le CInque Terre and the retiree "experts" send you hours out of your way to Portofino without regard to traffic jams, and they never travel with kids.

Please realize if you are contemplating long drives to destinations that most places in Italy still close between 12:30 and 4:30, save for places serving food. So if you make a long drive to see something and arrive at 1pm, you and your kids will have to wait hours for it to reopen.

By the way, there is a small train that runs through that part of Tuscany you might want to know about, but I don't know if it will be in operation in April:

http://www.ferrovieturistiche.it/ep....calendario.asp

I encourage you to do more than just kids' stuff in Tuscany, but the val d'Orcia is beloved by grown up visitors precisely because of the nearness of dozens of delightful places all incredibly near to each other that each have their own special character. There is a surprise around every corner if you don't solely focus on famous big names like Perugia or San Gimignano.

Here are a list of markets in the area. You should also be on the look out for processions and festivals. The tourist office in Pienza can be a great help.

http://www.cretaiole.it/festival.en.php?mese=april

Have a great trip!
zeppole is offline  
Mar 8th, 2010, 11:38 PM
  #15  
 
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I will stay out of the fray; only you can decide how much time in the car will be ok or too much for your kids. You could always schedule a further-away day trip, and see how they do that day, as a test run for other days.

I'm more familiar with the Tuscan areas around San Gimignano. We did once, however, stay south of Pienza, in a TINY town called Celle sul Rigo - I was on a horseback riding vacation. While I rode, DH drove (a ways) to wine tastings in the Montalcino & Montepulciano areas. I do remember getting somewhat tired, when we did drive elsewhere, of the driving we had to do just to get to the more-main roads. I believe Montalcino (or was it Montepulciano?) that has an enoteca in the town's ancient fortress (fortezza), with outdoor seating. The kids might like visiting a fortress (basically, a castle), even if all that's in it is wine.

One place that we rode to on horseback may be a possibility for you to visit. It's the town of Radicofani, about 1/2 drive south of Pienza. There's an old tower / castle there; apparently there's now a museum in the tower. If the kids want to visit a real castle, it might be a nice place to visit.

Instead of visiting Pienza on your way from Rome, use that drive to stop off in Orvieto; the earlier poster does make it sound interesting! We visited there once, a long time ago, and it was just me and DH, so we weren't so focused on all of those other acitivites. It is a nice town, though.

I could see Siena being a good day trip. The main campo is large and traffic-free, and ringed with restaurants and cafes. The kids could run around a little bit in the campo. Monteriggioni, just north of there, is a tiny town entirely ringed by its medieval walls. I don't remember any car traffic inside the walls, so you could let the kids run around a bit there, too. There are two restaurants in Monteriggioni with large outdoor dining areas that might be just the right thing for you.

In San G., if you decide to visit, the main piazza also has relatively little car traffic, and two great gelaterias! There's a little park-like area around where you can visit the towers, as well. And if I'm remembering my towns correctly, there's a small playground area just outside the city walls (possibly on the SW side of town).

Enjoy!
Lexma90 is online now  
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