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
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 www.kidseurope.com, 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.
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
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
“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.
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.
Commission: 10 to 16 percent
Commission: 10 percent for properties
Trip consultation: $400 for a complete two-week trip, $300
for properties only
Commission: Starts at 10 percent
Villa San Michele The Children’s Cookery
Commission: 10 percent