Italian Family Vacations

Italy’s welcoming spirit translates to fun for families

By: Susan Van Allen

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A father and daughter biking with
Ciclismo Classico in Sardinia.
As I strolled through Rome’s Testaccio market with Zelda, the one-year-old child of my American friends, signoras bent down to admire her and pinch her cheeks. At a restaurant near the Spanish Steps, the maitre’d propped Zelda up on his shoulders and paraded her around the room, while we grown-ups sat back and basked in the fact that children are prized all over Italy.

Along with its welcoming spirit, Italy has countless attractions for children. Little ones are awestruck by its fountains and castles. School-age kids see their history books come alive as they explore its ancient ruins. The country’s mild weather is perfect for outdoor adventures, with parks and beaches offering opportunities for hiking, biking and swimming. And with the best pizza and gelato at every turn, young appetites are deliciously satisfied.

With careful planning, an Italian family vacation can be a wonderful bonding experience. Clients should be encouraged to specify their expectations and requirements before leaving, so that everything from cribs to activities to English-speaking childcare can be pre-arranged.

Getting children involved in the planning is also helpful. The Italy Discovery Journal, offered through, is a great interactive guidebook that can be used pre-trip to spike enthusiasm, during the journey for such activities as scavenger hunts in Florence, and afterwards for scrapbooking experiences.

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Children cooking at Villa San Michele
Cookery School, Fiesole
Choosing accommodations that will be safe for children and comfortable for the whole family is key. Though most luxury properties would seem inappropriate for youngsters, an exception is the Villa San Michele, on the outskirts of Florence in Fiesole. The converted 15th-century monastery offers a four-day Children’s Cookery Program, featuring classes taught by the hotel’s chef followed by meals for the whole family; beautifully styled connecting suites; a swimming pool; and shuttle service for easy access to Florence.

Each of the family-friendly programs profiled below was created by women who are passionate about Italy and adapted their traveling styles when they became mothers. They bring expertise and personal experiences to clients to make Italian family vacations enjoyable and stress-free.

Celtic Tours World Vacations
Although this 36-year-old, well-established tour operator is most strongly identified with Ireland, CT also has a prominent presence on the Italian travel scene. Their customized family and school group tours can accommodate any budget range with itineraries in city and off-the-beaten-track destinations that include opportunities for interactions with locals all along the way.

“I think Italy is the most child-friendly country in the world,” said Carol Dimopoulos, executive director of CT’s Product Development Department, who has been visiting Italy with her three children since they were toddlers.

“My oldest son is now 17, so I’ve been through all the stages. Seeing their eyes light up with wonder over a statue in the Vatican or recently when we explored The Temple of Jupiter in Terracina (a seaside town between Rome and Naples), brings me back to why I travel in the first place,” she said.

Dimopoulos and her knowledgeable staff also arrange family reunions for Italian-Americans who want to visit the villages of their ancestors and perhaps even connect with distant relatives.

Ciao Bambino
“A big part of taking the fear out of traveling with children is knowing what to expect on the other end,” said Amie O’Shaughnessy, Ciao Bambino’s founder.

O’Shaughnessy’s inspiration to create CB came when she began making plans to travel with her infant son to Italy and discovered that property Web sites didn’t give her the details she needed to be confident the trip would run smoothly. The Ciao Bambino association of family-friendly properties (accessible on their Web site) features accommodations that have been visited and selected by O’Shaughnessy and her discerning staff. Each is rated according to what age ranges they are best suited to host, from “Baby-Ready” to “Cool For Teens.”

“We encourage most of our families traveling with young children to go to rural resorts in Tuscany,” O’Shaughnessy said. “They can provide cribs, laundry, a pool for the older children to mingle with travelers their own age, and are well located for day trips to charming towns nearby.”

CB caters to an upscale clientele with highly personalized service and can arrange activities for all ages, such as glass-making classes in Venice or biking in Lucca. They are also a great resource for kid-friendly restaurants and sites, or finding playgrounds and English-speaking babysitters in any region.

Ciclismo Classico
Along with their group biking tours all over Italy, CC offers family vacation multi-sport trips in Tuscany, Sardegna, Puglia and the Dolomites. Company founder Lauren Hefferon, a mother of three, created the tours to accommodate her own family and in response to returning customers who wanted to share their biking experiences with their children and grandchildren.

Week-long itineraries are set up to take the pressure off parents by including separate children’s activities that are led by Italian guides. These could include playing soccer with other Italian kids, eating lunch with shepherds in Sardinia, or petting llamas in the Dolomites. Educational components are also featured, such as cooking classes, language lessons and biking clinics, so riders at every level can improve their skills.


Celtic Tours
Commission: 10 to 16 percent

Ciao Bambino
Commission: 10 percent for properties
Trip consultation: $400 for a complete two-week trip, $300 for properties only

Ciclismo Classico
Commission: Starts at 10 percent

Villa San Michele The Children’s Cookery School
Commission: 10 percent