Episode #025: How to travel Italy with kids

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Listen to “Tips and tricks on traveling as a family in Italy” on Spreaker.




Dreaming of a family vacation to Italy? We think it is one of the best places for children to dip their toes into international travel. Kids love Italian food and are excited by the living history all around them. And Italians love them right back! On this episode family travel blogger Marta Correale joins us to talk about the things you need to consider when planning a trip to Italy with your children.

Show notes
Our kids are veteran travelers to Italy. They started at 18 months and have been there at least 8 times on last count. We think Italy is an incredible place for a family vacation and want to share the reasons why we love it. Our guest Marta Correale was born in Rome. She now lives in Ireland with her family and travels back to Italy with them regularly. Together we talk about the joys of family travel in Italy and how to overcome the inevitable challenges you face. Hint – there’s nothing a bread stick or a cheeky gelato can’t solve!

As you plan your trip to Italy I’m sure you’re wondering what the best type of accommodation for families visiting Italy is or what transport you should use to get around. Then how to manage meal times. Don’t worry. In Italy it’s easy. All you need to do is a little forward planning and come armed with a big smile and kids that know how to say “Ciao!” and “Grazie!”.

Travel with kids is all about being a little flexible and having options for quiet time when you need it. That may mean bringing a stroller so you can relax in the piazza while your little ones take a nap. Or hiring a guide to show you the sights who is trained to work with kids. We reveal many more tips like these in the show that you can steal for your own family trip.

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What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. Recommended types of accommodation suitable for families
  2. The best way to visit the big museums and sites like the Colosseum with kids
  3. How to manage meal times when you’re traveling with your family in Italy
  4. Should you bring your stroller?
  5. The best way to get around Italy with kids in tow
  6. Where to get supplies like sun cream, baby formula and other child needs in Italy

About our guest – Marta Correale

marta correale

Marta Correale is an Italian family travel blogger currently living in Ireland with her husband and two kids. Born and raised in Rome, Marta has a passion for travel and particularly loves to explore Italy as a family so that her kids can experience their Italian heritage in full. Her perfect day in Italy is filled with coffee, kid-friendly sightseeing, aperitivo and lots of delicious Italian food!

You can get her tips on travelling to Italy with kids joining her FB group “Italy with kids – Travel tips and advice‘ or you can find her specialized travel guides about Rome and Italy with kids on her travel blogs MamaLovesRome.com and LearningEscapes.net

You can also find Marta on these social media channels:

Places and services mentioned in the show

  • Rome, Florence, Venice, Cinque Terre, Dolomites, Puglia
  • Rome: Campidoglio (Capitoline) Hill – Marta’s favorite place in Rome, Marta’s guide to visiting the Colosseum with kids
  • Florence: Le Cure – district where Marta’s family stayed over summer; Parco delle Cascine – park on the outskirts of Florence city center
  • Rome4Kids – tour company Marta recommends for the Vatican Museums
  • Arte al Sole – mosaic classes for kids in Rome

Resources from Untold Italy

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Prefer to read along as you listen? Below is a full transcript of our episode conversation. Unfortunately it does not pick up our lovely Australian and Italian Irish accents however!

Intro (00:05):
Ciao and ben venuti to Untold Italy. I’m Josie and I’m Katy and we’re here to help you plan your trip to Italy. Between us, we have many years of travel experience and we want to help you uncover your own as yet untold stories and adventures in Italy. Each episode you’ll hear practical advice, tips, and ideas to help you plan your own trips to the magical land of history, stunning landscapes, and a whole lot of pasta. We’ll have interviews from experts and focus on local destinations and frequently asked questions about travel in Italy. Thanks for listening and make sure to subscribe to our show. Now let’s get started on your regular dose of Bella Italia

Katy (01:01):
Ciao everyone. This is Katy with a big welcome to this week’s show. Today’s podcast. Episode is a little bit different because we’re going to be talking about a specific type of traveler to Italy – families. As many of you know, I have small children and twins actually, who have been very lucky enough to travel to Italy many, many times since they were about 18 months old. Family travel is a passion of mine, and it’s actually the place where I started my blogging journey about five years ago. And there’s no better place to travel with kids than in Italy, in my opinion. So today I’ve invited my friend and fellow blogger, Marta Correale onto the show to talk about some of the things you need to consider when traveling around Italy as a family. From getting around managing restaurants and places to stay. Marta is originally from Rome, but she now lives in Dublin with her husband and her two children. And she has the most amazing Italian Irish accent. It’s so gorgeous. She’s the author and editor of websites: Mama loves Rome and Learning escapes, and she’s a wealth of knowledge about traveling in Italy as a family. So stay with us to learn all her best insider tips.

Katy (02:15):
Ben venuti welcome to Untold Italy podcast Marta. So great to have you on the show to talk about one of my favorite things, traveling in Italy with kids.

Marta Correale (02:25):
Thank you for having me. It’s great to be with you.

Katy (02:28):
Thanks Marta. So before we get started talking about traveling in Italy with our families, can you tell our listeners a little bit about yourself?

Marta Correale (02:37):
Sure. So my name is Marta Corella and I’m from Rome. So I’m Italian, although I am now talking to you from Dublin in Ireland, because I have been living here with my husband and two children for the last few years. I work as family travel blogger. And one of the things that I write about the most is traveling with children because, you know, we go there very often to visit my family. And just because I love to show them, you know, the country and make sure that my kids grow up with that strong, personal connection with Italy because it’s obviously close to my heart as a place. It’s my home.

Katy (03:15):
Yeah. I can imagine that it’s very special for you to go travel within Italy. But what is the most special thing? Is it the culture? Is it the food? Is it the sites? What is the thing that really grabs you as soon as you get off the plane, when you get there?

Marta Correale (03:30):
I think what I love the most about traveling to Italy is that there is a little bit for everyone. Like any given day, you can mix up activities that are great, like for grownups and for children. So, I love kind of sightseeing, even if it’s my own country. I love going and seeing city attractions. I’d love to sit down for a coffee or a really nice meal. My kids like that, but they’re little. So they also like to just go to the playground and run around and mess around. And in Italy, you don’t have to choose. You can do it all. Like I always say, if we go to Rome, I usually bring them to let’s say see the Colosseum. Not every time inside, but we go to the Colosseum, we have a look at ancient Rome and then just beside it, there is an amazing playground for them. And there is a coffee, like, you know, an Italian bar when I can sit down and have my caffeine fix. And I was like, this is paradise. I’ve got culture, I’ve got a playground. I’ve got food. Italy is amazing for this. And not every place is as easy to get all of this within a short distance, I think.

Katy (04:34):
Oh, that’s absolutely true. Now I need to know a little bit more about that playground because we could not find that one.

Marta Correale (04:41):
You need to ask the locals, you need to ask me!

Katy (04:45):
Well, I’m going to get those details. We’re obviously going to put all Marta’s details on the blog for you so you can check out all her tips. So she’s got very many, and it’s really great to have a local to talk to a local about these things. So apart from Rome, which I agree, it’s one of those cities that captures kids’ imagination with all the fountains and the ancient history. It’s just grabs you straight away. Are there any other cities that you really think are great for kids?

Marta Correale (05:16):
Well, one of the most successful summers we had in Italy with the kids was when we did a home exchange in Florence. So Florence is not the best in summer in the sense that it’s very hot. So I feel, I need to say this. It’s a bit of a disclaimer. But despite that it was an amazing city for us and the kids. There’s a lot of attractions, a lot of places to see. It’s very easy to navigate because the city center is quite compact and there’s something to do at every corner, like beautiful parks in summer. We were able to bring the kids to the swimming pool to cool down. And it’s also a city that is really close to the countryside. Like it’s really easy from Florence to go to the Tuscan Hills or even the beach is not that far. You know, the car’s a little longer drive, but you can’t do it for the weekend. So that was Florence was like a great family destination for us Florence and the surrounding area. I should say, I feel it’s really family friendly.

Katy (06:21):
I agree with Tuscany, but I guess for me, we haven’t even taken our kids to Florence yet. And because I didn’t see it as the most kid friendly place, to be honest because yeah, I think just in that immediate city center, there aren’t so many parks, but I guess you have to go a little further out from the main city center to find that

Marta Correale (06:43):
Well, we found we found a great place to stay in Florence. Like as an area it’s immediately outside the city center, but still very much within reach. And I think it’s great for family. It’s called Le Cure. It’s a lovely residential area towards Fiesole and it’s green and quiet. It’s got a lot of shops. It’s a place where, you know, a local family would live. And so it’s very well served. And we found that, you know, with the buses in Florence, Parco delle Cascine, for instance, it’s not that far. Now, I agree with you in the sense, if you go for a weekend and you just need to see very many places, like maybe one or two days, maybe time at the park may not be as easy. But, if you have a slightly extended stay, and just three days, it’s very easy. Like my kids still talk about it. They still felt it was fabulous.

Katy (07:37):
I would love to be able to just sort of sit there for maybe a week or two weeks and just soak up everything because it really I found Florence really grows on me. It didn’t grab me actually. The first time I went, which was really sad because that was the one place I had to go to. But every time I go back, it grows on me more and more. So I think it’s definitely one of those places that you need to spend a little bit more time in.

Marta Correale (08:05):
Yes. I feel that the problem often with Florence is that it’s because the city center is quite compact. If you are short on time and you just want to tick places, there’s a lot you can see in one day. So you see a lot of itineraries and I do it myself. Sometimes I kind of go, well, if you want to see Florence and you’re short on time then just go for one day. But it really is doing a disservice to the city because it’s more than an open air museum is a real city. And you know, like Rome, like everywhere else, it only comes to life if you give it a bit of time. So you can see a lot of places in an afternoon, but you probably don’t experience like the full spirit of the city in that amount of time. And with kids it’s stressful because you know, it is busy and it is hot. Florence in summer gets really hot and even in spring. So I think you need to a little bit and be prepared for it in a way.

Katy (08:58):
Yes, I totally agree. And did you take your kids to the Uffizi gallery or the Accademia there?

Marta Correale (09:04):
Not that time. I actually I find that with kids, especially for these big museums, my way of doing it is to splash out on a kid friendly guide. I find that that has made all the difference when we have done it in other big museums. We’ve even done it for instance, in the Vatican, which is pretty tough to take on with kids. So I would say while they hadn’t done it also, they were quite small at the time. And I had already been to Uffizi. So I didn’t feel it was the best thing to do with them. I would definitely say get a specialized kid guide because they make it come to life.

Katy (09:44):
I, 100% agree. I think the museums are incredible, but to navigate them and explain the treasures in an engaging way would be quite difficult to do. So I’m waiting till my kids are probably 10 or over till I take them to some of those museums. But, I will go with a guide as well.

Marta Correale (10:08):
I think exactly. I think you can’t do everything, but when I went to the Vatican museums, let’s be honest. It was for me, I wanted to see them and I wanted the kids to come with me. And they had fun because we had an amazing guide that was brilliant with them. But what I say was that the highlight of our trip for them? No, it wasn’t. It was the best way to do it, but you know, these are not interactive children’s museums.They are big art museums. So if the kids go, it can be challenging for them. Every child is different obviously, but I do think having a professional to help you. And also, especially when they’re really busy, a professional who knows where to go, what museum rooms to go to and say, you know, this is the best journey across the different rooms. I think it’s priceless.

Katy (10:56):
Yep. I totally agree. And one thing that we learnt when we went to the Colosseum with a guide was that there’s a lovely lift there or elevator. I know would not have known about that otherwise. And it was one of those hot tips.

Marta Correale (11:13):
Absolutely. There’s the lift. And, I remember they were able to show us the best entrance. Because at the Colosseum you have to fold the stroller and it has to go through security. So they were able to help us do that. We took a few tours of the Colosseum because I graduated in classics, and I’m obsessed with ancient Rome. So I go all the time and my kids are like, “are you going to the Colosseum again?” I was like, “yes we are.” But one of the guides was able to bring us to the underground tier of the Colosseum. This is what captured the kid’s imagination. It is where the animals would have been kept, before they were ready to lifted up to the arena.

Marta Correale (11:54):
And now there is a reconstruction of the lift that would have been used to bring the animals up. And had I been there without a guide, I would have seen this contraption. It looks new because it’s a recent replica and I would have made nothing out of it. While the guide that was like “tada magic.” You know, the Colosseum suddenly became this alive place with people working down and the arena and the theater element and the public. It came to life. That’s literally sounds like a cliche, but it’s history coming alive.

Katy (12:26):
Yes. I totally agree. And I think it’s really true with the kids and without kids. I think you can just sort of wander around these sites and there’s so much ancient history there that unless you’re an expert, you don’t really know what’s going on. I like to take a walk down to the theater of Marcellus. It’s my favorite. But you know, I only found out about that from being with a guide. So I agree. I think it’s 100% worth the investment. Are there any tour companies that you particularly prefer for the kids,

Marta Correale (13:05):
So we have a mixed and matched a few different ones. We had an excellent tour of the Vatican specifically with Rome for kids. They were very good. For that one, it, I just say, if you, if you go visit the Vatican with kids, that was one that really worked for us. This wasn’t a tour in Rome but it was an activity which again, I highly recommend with kids. It was a mosaic class. So we went into an artisan workshop and they taught us how to make mosaic and all the history behind this form of art. And that was through a company called Arte e Sole. They also do tours that were actually on the cards for our trip at Easter, but, you know, that was postponed. So I’m hoping to tell you more about their tours in summer.

Marta Correale (13:53):
And another tour we took, which was fabulous was in Venice. It was with a company called Macacao tours. And it was in the form of a treasure hunt. And it was the best, it took us to a limited part of Venice, because I think with kids, it’s actually . key not to cover too much ground. So in a very easy to handle space, they have a treasure hunt kind of tour. And they discovered so much and they loved it. And I learned loads. They were able in a kid friendly way to tell us about the architecture of Venice, the history of Venice, picking up like details about the city that we all learned. And my daughter at the time was five and to be able to literally teach about a city at someone that age and keep it fun was mind blowing. So these would be, these are the people that I usually kind of go to whenever we go to Italy. I’m very lucky because I have a friend who does kind of a tour. So I have to be honest. I sometimes also just left one to her and I’ll asked her if I can share her details. And if she’s happy with that, I’ll send them on to you. So other people can benefit from that.

Katy (15:18):
That’d be great. I mean, I love Venice. Venice is my favorite city in Italy, and I just think it’s the most amazing place for kids as soon as they’re able to walk on their own and take instruction. You don’t want them falling in the water. I think we took our kids there first when they were four and they just loved every second of it. Just the little canals waving to everyone saying ciao!

Marta Correale (15:46):
I love the place. It is surprisingly kid-friendly. I mean obviously like if you have a toddler, you do need to pay attention along the canals obviously because there’s no barriers in most cases. So it’s not a place where you can just mindlessly let them run around. Although, you know, with toddlers, you’re always on your toes anyway, wherever you are. But you’ll find, there are a lot of places in Venice where they’re still super charming but they’re not directly on the water. So there are areas they don’t have to be restrained all the time. So I just find when we actually went to Venice with young children it was easier than I thought it would be before we went.

Katy (16:31):
I wouldn’t take the stroller there though. I think that’d be a nightmare.

Marta Correale (16:34):
The bridges! At the same time, I find when you’re out all day, in Italy, I mean, you are fighting cobbled streets, you’re fighting steps, potholes bridges. But to have a child in a carrier all day will also be so tiring. So I’m always really torn about the stroller in Italy, because I do find like sometimes when you can just get your child to sleep in a stroller and suddenly you can sit down and have a aperitivo. That’s quite nice. I always say, if you can find that balance between a lightweight stroller, that hasn’t got wheels that are so small, that they just catch on everything and kill your back. It is often worth having just for that downtime, when your toddler sleeps and you can sit down and have a glass of Coke.

Katy (17:38):
Well, we had our twins in the double MacLaren stroller and that was crazy. I mean a double stroller doesn’t really work terribly well anywhere, let alone in Italy.

Marta Correale (17:49):
So it’s funny because we had a McLaren stroller that was our main travel stroller. And it was a single, not a double though. And yeah, like the double stroller that worked for us in a space was actually a Phil and Teds. You know, the ones they’re not side by side, they’re like the two seats, one on top of the other. And that worked well because like the wheels are not all-terrain, but almost, but it was a bit of a nightmare on the plane because it’s not a small stroller. So, you know, there’s always a compromise.

Katy (18:19):
It’s exactly right. And I think that’s the reality of travel with kids. And you know, what I really love about traveling in Italy with kids is that you have to slow down a bit. And that’s really a good thing. I think you just have to take those moments in the piazza and just stop and let them run around for a bit. And that’s not a bad thing.

Marta Correale (18:40):
I think this is very much something that I noticed a lot about traveling to Italy. I think sometimes when when we go to a new place, I think the first thing I search for when we go to a country that we don’t know is “things to do with kids”. And, you know, Paris, London, and obviously, things to do with kids in Rome would be, you know, something to search before you’re going to know what is there for them. However, there’s a lot in Italy that’s not a thing to do. You know, it’s an experience. So you go, you sit in a piazza. Is that a thing to do? Well, it’s just the way to pass the time really, but it becomes a thing, you know? So I just think it’s a different kind of travel. You know, there are things that you tick off your list of things they want to do, and others, when you could just slow down and take in the scenery and that’s part of the travel experience as well. What I think is that in other destinations, you really need a list of, okay, I’m going to do this in the morning and this in the afternoon. While in Italy, it’s more organic. I feel.

Katy (19:33):
Yeah, totally. And then you have to be searching for the best gelato wherever you go. So that’s extremely important activity that we do as a family. And pizza. Absolutely. You have to try all the different types of pizza because people think that these pizza is the same all over Italy, but it’s not.

Marta Correale (19:52):
Oh God, no, it’s not. I had endless discussions with my friends from Naples about our own pizza and Naples pizza. And these are just the two main ones that you have. And what kind of mozzarella do you like? When you hone down on your trip to Italy, these are important details.

Katy (20:11):
Very important details. So just talking about food, another thing that I personally really like when we’re going around with kids is that Italian restaurants really know how to handle families. And I think every single restaurant around the world should take some time to go to Italy and see how it’s done, because it’s just so easy.

Marta Correale (20:38):
I agree. I think usually if it’s the first time in Italy, sometimes it can be a little scary because you can’t always find a children’s menu, or you wouldn’t have a place that is obviously family friendly. And I always say, well, the reason is that because the place is family friendly by default. Like it’s rare that you find a place that it’s not family friendly. The restaurants are usually able to make anything you want for the kids in a smaller portion if you just ask. So, but I do know that sometimes people just look at the menu outside and don’t see a section specifically for kids. I tell them, that’s true, actually. But that doesn’t mean that they can’t do it for you or they’re not willing to do it for you. So, it’s always possible to ask for like any form of pasta, plain pasta, or, fried chicken, called cotoletta. So you have children favorites as well. Even if you don’t have an adventurous eater, the restaurants will make them for you. Children are King in Italy. They do want to facilitate you. There are exceptions, but again, those are exceptions.

Katy (21:47):
It’s really true. So when, what we love is when you get to the restaurant, they just look after the kids first and make sure the kids are happy. Happy kids, happy parents,

Marta Correale (21:57):
Big time. And you want to be careful how much bread they eat, but usually the fact is that you sit down and there is a basket of bread and bread sticks. That goes a long way you know? You sit down and they eat a breadstick and you’ve just earned a bit of peace for awhile. And it’s not the most unhealthy or things that they could eat. So it’s fine. It works for us.

Katy (22:21):
We’ve had so many people like entertain the kids while we eat. They make them laugh and give them drawing things to do. And it’s just a really lovely way to travel because everyone’s sitting down enjoying the meal together. And we really try and bring that to our family at home as well, because it just keeps that sort of sense centered place. And everyone really looks forward to our meals when we go to Italy for that reason.

Marta Correale (22:47):
The same. And I think it’s nice for the parents too, to know that, you know, you can sit in a nice place, have a nice meal and the kids are happy too. So you don’t have to always compromise. I think sometimes family friendly places are great for kids, but often they can be noisy for adults. It may not be your ideal experience or not a place you would go to if you didn’t have the kids with you. One of the thing in Italy that actually makes everyone happy is I do bring the kids to the same type of places that I would go to on my own. And that’s brilliant because yeah, it’s easy for everybody.

Katy (23:19):
You know, I don’t really like chicken nuggets but I love cotoletta.

Marta Correale (23:20):
Funny enough. My kids don’t both like it. One child likes it. And the other one not. I was like, are you even Italian? I have a very fussy eater. I have one who tastes anything anywhere. And one who basically just wants plain pasta – don’t talk to me about anything else.

Katy (23:48):
Yeah, my daughter just loves pasta with red sauce. She genuinely loves it. It’s her comfort food.

Marta Correale (24:01):
And in restaurant always you can have, half portion of pasta sugo and that’s just simple pasta with tomato sauce and somehow they make it so nice.

Katy (24:15):
Now. One thing that is different in Italy is that, especially for dinner time, it can be quite late. So you may not start until 8:00 PM. How would you suggest we handle that?

Marta Correale (24:25):
I think what I find is it depends what the issue is and the age of the children. I think if the problem is that they get hungry much earlier, my solution is usually to stop for regular food stops. So for instance, I am very fond of Italian aperitivo, and I’ve always done it with the kids as well. So if I can see that the kids are getting hungry at about kind of seven, we stop for an aperitivo, which is, you know, a drink for the adults or juice for the kids. And something that comes with it and it just kind of stops like the hunger pangs and gains a little extra time to then eat later. Although I have to say, I find more and more in Italy it is possible to sit at a restaurant even at seven / half seven.

Marta Correale (25:04):
So, I would say wherever you are check the local times because they may surprise you. The other thing is, if it is a problem all the time, maybe try and mix and match places and times when you eat outside and places where you eat at home. I know people with toddlers kind of go, my daughter gets really upset if the routine changes too much. If they go to bed too late, it just doesn’t work. And in that case, I’ll go, well, then get your own self catering place. And it’s just easier for everyone. So I just think it’s your family, you know?

Katy (25:46):
Exactly. And sometimes like we would go and have a bigger lunch and then have something light for dinner as well.

Marta Correale (25:52):
Yeah, I think it depends also on snacking. Like I find it’s quite easy in Italy to find snacks that are reasonably healthy. You know, you’d go to like a forno, a bakery and get some fresh bread or fresh pizza – pizza Bianca without sauce. And maybe with something inside, could it be mortadella or prosciutto or whatever it is. And you know, if you have that in the middle of the afternoon as a proper snack that keeps them going. Then the fact that they need to wait a little longer for dinner may not be a problem. I do find though, each child is different. So I do find that when we travel to Italy to have a place where we can cook, at least part of the time is important.

Katy (26:27):
Yeah. I think I agree. We generally tend to use apartments and Airbnbs when we travel to Italy. And if we are out in the countryside, maybe an agriturismo because you do having that flexibility and the extra space is really useful.

Marta Correale (26:44):
Yes. Also because the Italian occupancy rules in hotels sometimes are funny. You know, it’s not always easy to find a room that accommodates a larger family. I think you’re usually okay if you have one child, but they’re pretty strict on how many people you can fit in our room. So you can’t just officially pile up another and another kid inside. So you may find yourself either spending a lot of money in a hotel or having quite a small space or an apartment and a great place. Agritourism is our favorite form of accommodation in Italy. Like by far to be honest,

Katy (27:16):
It’s so cool. I love it. They can be like mini resorts. Can’t they with pools and restaurants on site. Yeah.

Marta Correale (27:25):
Sometimes there’s the animals. Like I remember we were in the Liguria area close to the border with France when my children were tiny. My daughter was I think, five months old and my son was two. So I remember this agriturismo had this nice apartment and it was in an old borgo. So you were surrounded by others, but still quite private. There was the pool and had a little area with the animals, with little ducks. I remember there was a tortoise. It was lovely. Like every morning you wake up, you have your breakfast and you go and say hi to the animals. Like that’s for kids. It’s just so cute, you know, and so easy as a family and also to take it easy. So I highly, highly recommended agriturismos. I think they’re the best.

Katy (28:08):
They are really the best. We stayed in one in Sicily that was in a lemon grove and you could rent bikes. They just had them there for the guests and then they actually had a restaurant as part of their farm. And a wine cellar.

Marta Correale (28:27):
But that’s the thing that I love about these things is that we always start really virtuous. Oh, we’re going to cook for ourselves. It’s going to be budget friendly. That’d be great. And if there is a restaurant on site that we end up eating in the restaurant on site, like every night, because it’s so nice and pleasant. So I think it’s just nice to have the option.

Katy (28:43):
Oh yeah. I love options when I’m traveling, especially with kids. I think that’s the thing is you have to be really flexible and just make sure you’ve got options. Okay. So Marta, do you have some tips about getting around Italy? I think many people know that it’s a good idea to travel by train. However, they might be a little bit nervous about going on the train with children. What do you think?

Marta Correale (29:10):
Yes. Well, I find trains to be absolutely excellent in Italy. And once you’re on the train, pretty easy to use. I think the biggest problem with trains in Italy is the official website to book them is a bit of a nightmare. Like it’s not a user-friendly experience in terms of the web, and it’s not always easy to understand what is the family ticket. If you need to get them, if you need to show them. But I do find overall it is a great way to do it and it just takes a little bit of time to navigate to the small print of every possible ticket that’s out there. But usually the trains are on time. They’re clean, especially the longer distance train they tend to have, you know, air conditioning. There’s usually some form of food on board. And now I know that there are rule changes for safety reasons now. You’re going to have mostly a trolley kind of going around with snacks and stuff. So that’s kind of easy to buy stuff for the kids as well. Overall, I do recommend them also because I do drive in Italy. I learned to drive in Italy. So it’s not a problem for me, but I think in cities, cars can be a real burden. So I wouldn’t recommend driving in Italian cities and trains just to get straight into the center of town. You’re where you want to be. And there’s no hassle.

Katy (30:29):
I know it’s so easy and people are just so kind like if you think, Oh, I’ve got these cases and I’ve got the pram or the stroller and I can’t manage, people will just help you and help you get your kids sorted on the train. And it’s just such a lovely thing because they just want to help you.

Marta Correale (30:47):
It’s so funny, everybody volunteers to look after the kids, you know. I just find that this is very funny. You’re there with, as you say, like maybe a big bag or stroller and a child they’re going to go, I’ll just take the child. And start playing with them, you know, it’s interesting. And I do know that for some people it is a little disconcerting because it would be pretty normal sometimes, especially with families with kids, to maybe offer food to your own child., You know they’re feeding their child. It’s like, do you want whatever bread stick, or whatever they have. And I know people kind of go, I cannot accept food from a stranger for my children. And I understand how that’s disconcerting, but in a way I would like to say that that’s a bit how the country works. It’s perfectly fine to say, no. It’s not rude to not accept food for others, but chances are your kids will be offered. And it’s just the way the country is, you know? So don’t think it’s something completely weird.

Katy (31:40):
Oh my goodness. But you try saying no, when someone is handing you like four chupa chups (lollipops). It’s impossible. Like I think that’s my kid’s main memory of Italy is gelato and getting given chupa chups, like, Oh, it’s funny. But yeah, I think just getting around, if you’re going in between cities, it’s really a no brainer just to take the train. Even though people might think it’s hard, if they’re not used to it,

Marta Correale (32:12):
It’s much better. I always find like, if we want to make it easy for ourselves, we get a taxi from wherever we’re staying to the train station. And I think in Italy in taxis it’s not a legal requirement to have a car seat. So depending on how you feel about the whole thing, you can just hop on a taxi and then on a train without any major kind of hassle. Or you can bring your own seat and go this way if the age of the kids require it. So that’s how we do it. It’s taxi and train. However, sometimes there are some areas that are harder if only experienced by train. Like when we went to Puglia in last November, I found that having a car there was invaluable. It allowed us to go to let’s say Matera and a lot of small towns in Puglia in a fraction of the time that would have taken us to navigate the network of trains and buses. So I would say depending where you go, do consider a car. So in some areas definitely avoid it and in some other areas definitely consider it.

Katy (33:22):
Yeah. I think if you’re going through countryside and wanting to explore some of the smaller villages, you definitely need a car. And at that point you just need to do a bit of research don’t you and just make sure that, you know the rules.

Marta Correale (33:34):
Exactly. So big cities and most small cities, tend to avoid the car because it’s going to be busy. It’s a very different type of driving that people aren’t used to, depending on where they’re from obviously. The center of many Italian towns have ZTLs, like an area that is limited to traffic. Only residents can go in by car. For instance, it’s not often clear, it’s often very unclear. So you may think you’re driving into an area where you’re allowed to drive, and then you discover that actually you shouldn’t be there and you’ll be fined at some stage. So it is stressful. I think having the car in towns and cities adds to the stress, and there are also some areas where going around by car is busy and difficult. Like if you want to visit Cinque Terre, which with small children is challenging. At the best of times, the car is to be avoided. And the train is your best friend,

Katy (34:34):
Except when the ferries aren’t working. Because I learned that the hard way with the double stroller and it was awful. But Cinque Terre no car, but also check if the ferries are running because the train can get very, very crowded.

Marta Correale (34:52):
That’s a big thing actually in Italy and something that I come across over and over again. And you can visit Italy pretty much any time of the year. It’s a different experience if you go in winter, summer or mid seasons, but you can go. But you can’t do everything the same way every time of the year. So the ferries, for instance, if you want to go to Capri or if you want to go around the Amalfi coast of Cinque Terre, they would be seasonal. So the number of ferry runs changes every day. So you really need to check for the specific week or day wherever you need to be, because it does change.

Katy (35:35):
Yeah, it really does. And it was one of the things that I got caught out on in my planning for when we were supposed to be going in March, originally. I wanted to go to the Dolomites, but there’s no chair lifts running in March and April. It’s kind of mid season. So I found this out quite late in the planning. And I was like, Oh.

Marta Correale (35:58):
You know, we’re not a skiing family, so I’m not super familiar with how it is in the winter, but I know. The ski season would be kind of earlier than that. And summer starts quite late. I mean, June for instance is still considered the beginning of the season and a lot of hotels in the Dolomites have even kind of deals. They call them the green weeks because it’s still quite chilly at that time. You know? So while in July and August, it’s full hiking season. It Is warm, it is amazing. So yeah, that’s a great example of a place that you kind of need to check exactly when you’re going. And sometimes a few days can make all the difference. You know, like two days before the season iit’s close and then two days later on and everything is open. So there is a bit of studying to be done.

Katy (36:46):
It’s true. Now, when we traveling with kids, sometimes we need extra stuff that you don’t think about. And I think it comes up a little bit. I know in your Facebook group, which is dedicated to traveling Italy with, as a family, but where can we get things like medicines and baby stuff. And maybe even some of the bigger items. I know some people would like to buy a pram or a stroller when they get to a destination.

Marta Correale (37:14):
Keep in mind in Italy a lot of stuff that, let’s say here in Ireland you would find in the supermarket, is actually not in the supermarket but sold in the pharmacy or the chemist. So the shop is pharmacia is where you find your kind of main medications, but it’s also a great place to get baby things and children things. So a lot of stuff that you may need for them is there. So even if you walk into a chemist that’s not for a medical reason, it’s just for stuff. I find every time you’ll want sun cream or formula or this kind of thing. So that’s often my go to place, especially in places that may have like a smaller supermarket where the children aisle may not be that, that furnished and that may not have much. Strollers and bigger items shops are not right into city center. So again, you need to have a look at the specific place, you know, on what is what is available, where

Katy (38:24):
Okay. Yeah. And I do agree with a pharmacy. And if your child does get sick, that’s probably the first place that I would take them actually, because they have some magic potions. Especially for coughs.

Marta Correale (38:37):
Yeah. It’s funny. It’s true how things are handled in Italy – it is a hugely medicalized country. Like I said, a lot of prevention I’m actually quite fond of the health system. They will take care of you. And then obviously it’s up to the individual parents decide if that’s the right course of action for their child, if they’re happy with what they’re recommended. But yeah, there’s a, there’s a lot of stuff that’s for children as well. A lot of pharmacies also have let’s say alternative choices. So herbal remedies. So, you know, I would say it’s worth asking and it is a good port of call. And how much English you get however, depends on where you are. So I always say have with you a little booklet, a little app, Google translate, because especially in smaller centers or slightly off the beaten path places, you may not have that English proficiency from the chemists to talk about medical stuff.

Katy (39:41):
Yes. You definitely can’t assume that at all. Now speaking of speaking, Italian, I’m sure your kids are quite fluent.

Marta Correale (39:52):
Yes. We speak it out and in the house. So they’re bilingual.

Katy (39:56):
Good job, Marta. That’s great. I need to do better on that front. But I think it’s really charming, especially when Italians know that the children are not Italian, if the kids speak a few words. I think it’s a really lovely way to get them involved in the culture and Italians really appreciate that too.

Marta Correale (40:19):
Absolutely. And my children speak Italian in Italy, but we do travel extensively with them also outside of the city. And I find it’s just great to give the kids even just two or three words to say “hi, thank you, my name is,”. And you get them in the playground and then they find their own way and play with local kids. And I think that’s one of the nice things about Italy – you mix a lot with local kids. If you just go to the park because they are outside, they’re playing with each other and they’re quite welcoming. And I think the universal language for my son in Italy is a football. You know, he’s got a ball at a park and in the space of one minute he’s playing with tiny Italian kids. And I can see his Italian just skyrockets so quickly. Because in the house, he speaks Italian with me, but he doesn’t speak Italian with his peers and then after a little while there it gets better. And so I just think definitely those few keywords for them and for adults as well. I think it always goes a long way to be able to at least try and order in Italian or, greet people in Italian. I think people appreciate it.

Katy (41:27):
Absolutely. Well. Did you know Marta that my daughter got her first kiss from a little boy called Giacomo in Santa Margherita Ligure. She didn’t like it very much though. She was not impressed.

Marta Correale (41:47):
It is very important more to know the words for stop and enough. I know, it’s nice to know nice words like Ciao and buon giorno, but you also need your stop and no words.

Katy (42:03):
That’s true. It was an interesting situation because the mother was quite horrified. But looking back on it, it was a little bit cute, but she definitely said no in her own way.

New Speaker (42:20):
Okay. Marta, this has been such a great chat and so helpful for our listeners who are planning travels with their kids. I just have one more question for you when you do go back to Rome, as we’re still recording this and we’re still in a pandemic, where’s the first place that you’re going to go and visit after you’ve seen your family and friends and give them all a big hug of course.

Marta Correale (42:40):
Well, there are a couple of places in Rome that are important to me, but I think one that I always try and go to is in Rome city center, you know, you have the Campidoglio (Capitoline) Hill, which is one of the seven Hills of Rome. And basically from the back of it, you have an amazing view over the Roman Forum. And then in the back, there is the Colosseum and it’s a free viewpoint. And for me, it’s always a hugely emotional place becaus it’s really beautiful. They’ve got this view over ancient Rome. And I think for me as a person from the city and the classics graduate, that’s just Rome in a nutshell. It’s just a place when I look at it and it’s just, Rome’s beauty kind right in your face. It just hits me every time. And I’m like, wow, this just stops me in my tracks. So that for me would be this place. Like I can’t wait to go to Rome and just do that and feel that Rome sun on me and that view over ancient Rome.

Katy (43:35):
Oh I hope you get there very, very soon. I know you’re just absolutely itching to go. And obviously your family’s there. So that means even more. Grazie mille for joining us on Untold Italy. I’ve so much loved talking to you about traveling around this beautiful country with kids. It’s been lots of fun. Thanks again for joining us.

Marta Correale (44:00):
Thank you. Thanks so much.

Speaker 1 (44:02):
Now, if you’re planning to travel to Italy with kids, I am sure you have lots and lots of more questions that we weren’t able to answer today. A great point of call for you to go to now is Marta’s Facebook group Italy with kids, (travel ideas and advice) where parents from around the world help each other plan, their dream trips to Italy. Here you’ll be able to answer all those tricky kid related questions that only come up when you embark on travels as a family. I put a link to the group, as well as Marta’s websites: mamalovesrome.com and learningescapes.net, where you can find lots of tips and information about traveling in Italy and around the world as a family. I’ve also popped her social media accounts on there too so you can follow along with her family travel adventures. Thanks for listening this week and all your wonderful, ongoing support. We really appreciate it. If you enjoyed the show, please subscribe and leave us a review to let us know how we’re going. That’s all for this week. Ciao for now.

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