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Italy is famously child-friendly and family orientated. We hear a different perspective in this episode – from the kids themselves, about what they love when visiting Italy. We also share some tips on how best to plan a trip to Italy with kids, as well as what doesn’t work so well.
Untold Italy founder, Katy Clarke, recently took a 5-week trip with her family traveling all over Italy, including Lake Garda, Emilia Romagna, Rome, Capri and Naples, Umbria, and Tuscany, and finishing in Liguria. We hear from her 8-year-old twins about what they loved most on their trip to Italy.
Despite being happy with most of her planning decisions, Katy also reflects on some lessons they learned along the way and things she would do differently next time. We talk ducking in boats, balsamic barrels, cheese-free pizza, gladiators, gelato (of course!), and an unwelcome walk down the mountain.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- A boat tour to the blue grotto on Capri is on many people’s wishlists. It gets very busy, and you can only go in via the official boats, but that doesn’t stop it being a truly memorable experience for the kids. Ducking down in the boat on the way in and out of the grotto adds to the excitement and the few minutes when the light caught the grotto and it lit up blue, is a truly magical memory
- Coming from an Italian family and an Italy-obsessed mother, the kids have grown up with a love of what might seem unusual tastes for children, and as big lovers of balsamic vinegar, they loved staying on the Balsamic Vinegar farm and visiting the museum – learning the processes and of course, getting to taste!
- Similarly, after visiting the Parmigiano Reggiano producers our daughter was sure that she prefers the 30, 40 and 50-year-old aged cheeses
- Being a mostly sweet affair, the Italian breakfasts were a big hit with the kids. A buffet of cakes, sweet croissants, and other sweet delights – after a while though one twin had to admit it all got a bit sweet for her and she switched to a regular style breakfast
- The hot chocolate is something the kids can’t forget. Italian hot chocolate is very thick, rich, and creamy and often served at breakfast
- No trip to Italy can be complete without trying at least a few gelato flavors. One twin does not recommend pistachio and mint as the mint overrides the pistachio, but his a big pistachio fan and suggests sour cherry (amarena) with pistachio as a winner combination. The other, a big hazelnut lover, suggests throwing the works at it and mixing caramel or fragola (strawberry) with white chocolate and hazelnut
- The Colosseum always provides fascination for children and adults alike. Learning the history of the gladiators (like the favorite who fought with a trident and fishing net) and all the goings on there is great for feeding imaginations. Picture the arena being filled with water and sea creatures, even seals and hippos
- They had a great time eating lots of different types of pasta – everything from ravioli, to spaghetti, to the noodle-like Trofie and to tortellini, which they got to learn to make in Emilia Romagna
- White Lasagne was a big hit. This lasagna without a tomato sauce was made with smoked mozzarella, and zucchini and came with lemon on top
- Kids can surprise you with the foods they try and like. One twin was a big fan of tartare – a raw minced beef dish, which he had with truffles, a quail egg, and some special cheese ice cream
- The other meanwhile, who despite her love of aged Parmesan, is not so keep on softer cheeses, was delighted with the Marinara pizza – from the oldest recipes of pizza, this comes with no cheese, just tomato sauce, olive oil, oregano and garlic. The name Marinara can be confusing but there has no seafood – it’s named because the hungry fisherman would come back from a sea trip and eat this straight out of the ovens
- The kids heartily enjoyed some great pizza in Naples, with Pierpaolo of Joe Banana Limos & Travel – pizza aficionado and a favorite podcast guest. He also got top marks for the Naples gelato place where they put the gelato in a brioche bun, which you can then add whipped cream on top
- Something Katy planned into their trip and went down really well with the kids was having swimming pools at many of the places they stayed. This meant they could do activities in the mornings and then cool off and have a more relaxing time in the afternoons. In Tuscany, they even had an infinity pool in Tuscany and the kids loved the views and sunsets they watched from it
- Instead of going to Pompeii, on this trip, Katy chose to go to Herculaneum, an ancient town, like Pompeii that was covered when Vesuvius erupted, but which is much smaller than Pompeii so less ground to cover with kids – to save their shorter legs, or anyone visiting in the summertime, to avoid so much exposure to the sun
- When they go back to Italy next, One twin wants to go to Florence as it’s where gelato is from. Katy, however, has decided that they will save Florence for when they’re a little bit older, as it’s not the most suitable for younger children
- As with adults, getting your kids to learn a little Italian, makes for some more fun interactions and is sure to delight the locals
Tips on planning your family trip to Italy
- A good game plan, as Katy did, is to include a broad range of activities – that way each family member can tap into their own interests and have something to look forward to
- Planned 1-2 activities per day and try to reserve afternoons for chill/pool time. Katy booked most of our accommodation about 6 months in advance and made sure the places where they were staying in the countryside, had a pool. This turned out to be an especially good idea, due to the heatwave that occurred
- Staying in small hotels and agriturismi/farm stays often means a more friendly atmosphere and meant pools were more often an option (and to the kid’s joy, the buffet breakfasts). The sleeping quarters are generally a lot smaller than Airbnbs, which the family had usually stayed in on previous trips, but in the end, having a pool to splash about in was definitely the right decision and they’ll do the same in future
- If you’re thinking of doing a family trip and want to add some farm stays into your itinerary, make sure to book as soon as you can as they are very popular with European travelers and the best properties sell out very quickly
- Tap into your children’s interests when planning your trip. In Katy’s kids’ case, many of these were food related – so visiting farms and seeing the food production processes was fun and a little bit educational too
- Cooking experiences are great to engage the kids. Getting hands-on with creating dishes makes them understand what goes into the food we eat and you learn how satisfying it is to eat something you’ve created from scratch yourself
The joys of a good tour guide
- Hiring a tour guide is a great idea when traveling with kids and has several advantages. Not only do you get an insight into the city or attractions you are visiting but the tour guide is there to make sure everyone has a good time – including the kids, which also gives you a little break to enjoy your surroundings and not worry about logistics and explaining things. Most of the experiences they did were private as Katy feels it’s not always fair to outnumber other guests with your family’s needs but we did a few small group tours too
- For anyone who’s heard Pierpaolo of Joe Banana Limos & Travel on our podcast, he is hilarious and a lot of fun and unsurprisingly the kids adored him on their trips to Naples, Herculaneum and the coastline up to Baia.
- In Emilia Romagna, Giulia of Travel with Rezdora made all their dreams come true with an epic gelato tasting and tortellini-making class
- In Arezzo, Debora of Travel with Debora helped them to find their favorite souvenirs in a local artisan ceramics store
- They forgot to mention meeting the baby goats in Tuscany with Arianna and Alessio from KM Zero Tours, but that was definitely a highlight for the whole family
- Denise from Take Walks did their small group street food tour. As a parent, you never know when your kids are going to be in good form so Katy di think long and hard about booking a small group tour but decided it would likely work as they were so into food and cooking
- With any type of tour, especially a group one, it’s worth scheduled in a long rest before the tour so they (and you) are fresh and not grumpy from a day of sight-seeing
- The Colosseum and Roman Forum with Liv Tours was a fantastic experience. Their guide Jade was an archaeologist and had lots of interesting tales that appealed to the kids in both Katy’s family and the other family on the tour. She was also brilliant with the logistics – particularly of finding shade and water as it was a very hot day and it’s pretty tricky at the Colosseum. The family still talks about all the interesting things they learned on this tour
Be flexible and have a backup plan
For any traveler, let alone when traveling with kids, it’s worth being flexible if things change and having a backup plan. Due to the extreme heat, the family ended up swapping Herculaneum for Pompeii and this turned out to be a really good decision. Pompeii is a huge site and you need to cover a lot of ground. On a 35-degree celsius day that just would have equaled a lot of complaining (at best). The added bonus is that at Herculaneum you get a much better view of mosaics and frescoes because there are way fewer people there than at Pompeii
They had a car for the start of their trip in Lake Garda and Emilia Romagna and then caught the train south to Rome and then on to Capri and Naples where they also used ferries and had a guide for trips out.
They picked up another car in Naples for the final leg of their trip, as they were traveling through regions where you really need a car to make the most of your time, like Tuscany and Umbria. This combination worked well as they avoided driving in the major cities and were able to stop in tiny towns in the countryside and enjoy the rural atmosphere
What would they have done differently?
On the whole, Katy was happy with the way the trip was planned. She’d maybe have added an extra beach day to Capri and Levanto in Liguria. She also feels the kids weren’t quite ready for the bike ride on the Appian Way in Rome – it was very bumpy and there was more traffic than they had expected, which was a bit hair-raising as parents
They stayed 3-4 nights in most locations and did day trips within half an hour of those, but they still felt an extra day or two in each place would have been beneficial – but then it’s almost impossible to have a trip where you manage to fit absolutely everything in!
Planning a trip to Italy with your children?
Traveling in Italy with your family is generally really easy and fun. Everyone loves children (and actually you’ll find people even more friendly and helpful with kids in tow)
People might say there’s no point in taking children abroad until they’re at an age where they can remember the specifics of everything they did but Katy disagrees with this for a few reasons.
Sparking curiosity and an open mind
Children are never too young to have their curiosity sparked and to be exposed to different cultures and ways of doing things. It fosters an open mind, tolerance for difference, and a passion for learning – all wonderful qualities you would wish for any child
Travel often involves a lot of inconvenience and requires patience in spades. This may seem like a good reason not to travel with chilren, but these annoyances are something we all need to learn to live with and so it’s great to have these experiences and learn patience at an early age
As adults who love to travel, Katy and her husband love to share these experience with their children. They’ve certainly had to make some adjustments, but the trips they’ve taken as a family are Katy’s favorite. The vivid memory of their first licks of gelato one summer in Tuscany (and the ensuing mess) always makes her smile
Places mentioned in the show
- Capri – the beautiful island off the Amalfi Coast
- The Blue Grotto – grotto found on Capri which can be bathed in a wonderful blue light, accessed only by boat
- Acetaia Sereni – the agriturismo and balsamic vinegar makers they stayed at in Emilio Romagna
- Spilamberto – famous for Balsamico Tradizionale
- Caseificio Rosola – dairy farm where they make Parmigiano Reggiano
- Balsamic Museum – Museo del Balsamico Tradizionale located in Spilamberto and located on the ground floor of Villa Fabriani
- Gelato Modena – Gelato shop in Spilamberto
- The Colosseum – the ancient oval amphitheater in the center of Rome – the largest ancient amphitheater ever built
- Herculaneum – an ancient town in Campania, like Pompeii was buried under volcanic ash and pumice in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79
Food & Drink
- L‘Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale – this vinegar from cooked grape must, has to age at least 12 years in wooden barrels to be classified in this way
- Tortellini, Ravioli, Trofie – pasta types
- White lasagne – a lasagne made without a tomato sauce
- Suppli – Rome street food, a rice ball with breadcrumbs and cheese with a tomato sauce
- roasted artichoke
- Tartare – a raw minced beef dish, often served with raw egg
- Margherita pizza – probably the world’s most famous pizza created by Raffaele Esposito in restaurant Brandi, named after Queen Margherita
- Frogola – strawberry in Italian
- Pizza marinara – though meaning from the sea, this is not a seafood pizza but is named after the hungry fisherman returning from sea and eating the pizza straight out of the ovens. It has no cheese.
- hot chocolate – Italian hot chocolate is thick, creamy, and rich and (to the delight of the kids – served at breakfast)
- DOP (Denominazione di origine protetta) – a European mark of origin which is attributed to foods whose characteristics depend on the territory where they are produced
- Retiarius – a Roman gladiator who fought with equipment styled on that of a fisherman – a net, a trident, and a dagger
Resources from Untold Italy
- Read more on traveling as a family in some of our favorite locations in Italy in Venice with kids and the Italian Riviera with kids, the best Rome food tours and experiences as well as our guide on How to buy tickets for the Colosseum Rome
- Discover more about the foodies region in our Emilia Romagna guide and Capri in Capri boat tours – the best way to spend a day in Capri and read more on Naple’s best pizza in Pierpaolo’s full recommendation list here
- Listen: to our episode on travel in Italy with children in Episode 025: How to travel Italy with kids, on visiting Capri in Episode #42 Come away to Capri and with the kid’s memorable tour guides, Pierpaolo – on Naple’s pizza in Episode #73 Pizza from Naples – the full story, Giulia in Episode #114 Welcome to Emilia Romagna, Arianna’s Tuscany in Episode #57 Tuscany’s Chianti region and Debora in Episode #124 Enchanting Arezzo – Tuscan town of your dreams
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? You can download a PDF version of the full transcript of this episode.