Our Italian Adventure
We have spent many years going on beach holidays as a family, and while the girls were young, we always wanted a hotel with a kids club to keep them entertained. It’s worked brilliantly for us up to now. But as the girls are getting older, lying by a pool isn’t as inviting as it once was (well not for them anyway), and they’d rather have needles in their feet than be seen at a kids club (*sigh). So we decided to take them on a week long tour of Italy in the Easter holidays!! We had seven days so wanted to stay in Europe so that we spent as little time as possible traveling there and back and as much time ‘on holiday’ as possible. I have to say we had the most incredible time!!! Better than we ever expected. It was a busy itinerary but one that I’d highly recommend.
Landing in the early evening of Easter Sunday in Florence meant that we arrived at our Airbnb right in Santa Maria Novello Piazza, threw our bags into the beautiful apartment, and headed straight out to eat. We had all been looking forward to amazing pizza and pasta so we’d saved ourselves for our first Italian meal. It was around 7pm so we thought we’d have no problem getting a table as Italians generally eat much later than us. Unfortunately we hadn’t taken the huge religious festival into consideration and found ourselves traipsing from fully booked restaurant to fully booked restaurant. Eventually it was about finding ANYWHERE that had a table available, as by this stage, we were ready to eat our own arms, and we found ourselves in Toto’s….. and oh how we wished we’d just eaten our arms… it was awful. Having told our kids that its impossible to have a bad meal in Italy, we managed to find the only restaurant that was crap. Bad service and bland food, I could have cried. Instead we paid very quickly (and very Britishly said that everything was lovely and tipped them, grrrrrrr!) and hot-footed it to a little take away pizza shop that we spotted, and tucked into, what turned out for me, to be the best pizza ever from a shop simply called Pizza near the Basilica of Saint Mary.
TOP TIP: Book your restaurant for the first night, especially on busy public holidays.
The following day we had booked to see Michaelangelo’s David, we avoided the queues and it was worth it. Its stunning, and the museum itself, is small and manageable. They have audio guides for adults and also for the kids which was really helpful. We stayed here for quite a while in fact as it was such a lovely little museum.
No matter which city we go to, as a family, a couple, or on my own, I always jump on a tour bus, or in the case of Florence it was a golf cart! Eco Green Tours!! Its a compact city and the electric buggy was perfect for getting around, very close to the driver who gives you the lowdown on the history of this glorious place. Also got some restaurant suggestions, so the evening meal was much more successful than the night before.
Osteria Santo Spirito in the Santo Spirito piazza, was cool, lively and highly recommended. We ate our own body weight in burrata and tomato’s. Nothing tastes as amazing as tomato’s in Italy. And the gnocchi with cheese and truffle was amazing. We also went for the Fiorenti steak which was delicious. All put in the centre of the table for us to share and tuck into.
Only a short train ride away from Florence we decided to spend a couple of hours in Pisa to take in the Leaning Tower and the surrounding buildings. We packed all our stuff up (cabin baggage only, I saw as a challenge as I normally pack for every season and every occasion, but knowing we were going to have to lug all the kids stuff around too we streamlined), and jumped on the train that I’d pre-booked in the UK. Quick, clean and easy. We stored our luggage in the store at Pisa train station and walked the mile to the tower. Stupidly, I hadn’t pre-booked the tour so we only got to see it from the outside, but having been here before, you HAVE to go inside if you can. Properly freaky walking up the stairs to the top, the lean actually makes it feel like you are walking downstairs at some points.
Picking up a slice of pizza and a macchiato on the walk back we then jumped on the 2.5 hour train journey to Rome.
My husband Jason used to live in Rome, and its a place that he’s always wanted to take us as a family, to show us where he spent his youth. So much so, that we booked into a B&B that he remembered from when he lived there; The Pensione Panda, ideally located right by the Spanish Steps. Now I must admit that the location was perfect, but the actual B&B was absolutely horrific. I tried really hard when I walked in to like it, but after spending one night in the hot, uncomfortable, tiny room I decided that nostalgia wasn’t enough and comfort was the priority, so we booked into a fabulous little airbnb in the Trevi area. I was so relieved to have comfortable pillows and towels. The final nail in the coffin of the Pensione Panda had been at 3am, I couldn’t
sleep as it was 1000 degrees, so I headed to reception where I found a man who I presume must have been the receptionist laughing away to scantily clad and naked women on the tv. When I asked for the remote control to turn the air conditioning unit on he refused. Point blank. Ciao!!
Rome was magical, so much history and food and so little time. We managed to squeeze in quite a lot though. The obligatory bus tour was done, but we also arranged tours at the Coliseum and the Vatican as they are so huge and there’s so much to know about them you just don’t want to miss a thing. We visited the Pantheon, Campo de Fiori (where we found the most heavenly tiramisu shop called Zum). My favourite was finding out about the Roman Forum and the Coliseum. We were desperate to go home and watch gladiator after our tour. It was absolutely rammed though! They like a religious festival in Italy and it felt like the whole of the country had descended Rome. It meant lots of queues and again the restaurant situation needed to be pre booked. We ended up eating our evening meals in the Trastevere area, you honestly can’t go wrong here, so many gorgeous, traditional places to eat, and much more reasonably priced than the other more touristy side of the river.
The girls looooooved it!!! (thank goodness) I was really pleased to be back in the city that me and my husband had visited before we had children, I could have left out the Panda experience but everything can’t be perfect can it, otherwise we’d be spoilt wouldn’t we?
Our final destination was Naples, the city that invented pizza, and the city none of us had ever visited before, so for the final time we hopped on a train and took the 90 minute journey to Southern Italy. The sun was shining. Hoorah!!!!!
We arrived at 11am, checked into our Airbnb which was on Via de Medina, situated perfectly between the historical area and the waterfront, and then got stuck straight into the city. It has a very different feeling to Florence and Rome, a much more urban feel. After having a coffee and doing a recce for lunch we jumped onto the sightseeing bus. And that is where we fell in love. Oh Naples!!! It feels messy, complicated and a little edgy, but that’s the personality of the city. There is a sense of creativity through the historical haphazard streets. People seem louder, gesticulated more, but it buzzed, it was alive, and felt utterly authentic. We only had 46 hours so the tour gave us the highlights and the history on the ‘red route’, and the ‘blue route’ took us along the waters edge. It feels like a city of two halves, and we loved both.
Pompeii is a 20 minute drive from Naples and is a MUST SEE. We completely underestimated how long it would take to get around this famous fallen city. Armed with audio guides and our maps, 4 hours just wasn’t enough. It is mind blowing how well preserved it is, the streets, the forum, the shops, tiles, pictures, there’s even a brothel with pictures to help choose which ‘service’ you would like, all preserved after the city was destroyed by the volanco 1900 years ago.
Then it was back to the hustle and bustle of Naples…
where we found the best pizza in the city, which is saying a lot for the city that invented it. Pizzeria Sorbillo on the waterfront was everything and more. You can’t book, you just have to turn up and take your chances. You’re looking at a minimum 45 minute wait, but it really is worth it. Take your google translate as the menu is unapologetically in Italian. We put our names down, and then went for a walk down the promenade, it was glorious weather and everybody was out. And once we’d finished our pizzas we climbed down on to the rocks (no beach), we fell asleep with full tummies and sun warmed skin.
The shops were fab, the people warm, and for somewhere we had been warned could be a little dangerous in terms of pickpockets etc, we found it safe, friendly and very, very cool. 2 days was too short. We will definitely go back.Flying home we looked back on the week and having done 4 cities in 7 days we felt like we’d been away for such a long time, but that was because we had crammed so much in. We were full of food and good memories, but we were also tired. It was a lot to do in such a short time. Next time we might squeeze a little beach break in the middle so we can rest our feet and recuperate. But it was one of the best family holidays we’ve done and we won’t forget it in a hurry. There is no way this can merge in with any other holiday, it was one of a kind.