Name: Diane Black
Travelling with: Kevin (husband), Liam, 11, Dominique, 9
Itinerary: Six weeks starting and ending in Rome, visiting Vernazza (Cinque Terre), Florence, Venice, Bologna and Sorrento
My husband and I had never done the whole Eurail thing so deciding to do Italy by train pretty much determined our city-based itinerary rather than a more mixed itinerary that we may have achieved by car. The trains were fantastic – easy to book online and we were able to choose specific seats on specific trains. And then when we got there they were reliable, very fast, clean and on time! We wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them.
The choice of main cities wasn’t very hard. Rome – of course – but we split it into two stints which worked well. Our first five days we did ‘old Rome’ based near the Campo Di Fiori. The second five day stint we did ‘Catholic Rome’ and stayed up near the Vatican. With the exception of one afternoon where we had a picnic to celebrate the end of our trip we were busy the whole time so we don’t know how people do Rome in three days.
Florence had always been on my bucket list so that was a must see as well. We loved the cathedral and explored it fully, even climbing up between the skins of the dome to look down on the city from above. Did I mention the shopping? We took day trips out to Lucca (beautiful and on the list for more time next visit) and Pisa.
Venice was the kids’ prime candidate – with a strong parental vote it had to be on the itinerary. How surreal was it to walk out of the train station into this watery, historic, mysterious, and totally magical city. Great tip for seeing the city from the water is to buy a 12-hour vaporetto ticket and use it to its full.
We set off about 9am, went around the whole city twice, then out to Murano to see the coloured glass and the Lido to see the ‘beach’. After dropping home for a quick dinner we hopped back on to cruise down the Grand Canal after dark – oh wow!
Vernazza and the Cinque Terre were a special choice and so rewarding – see below.
We couldn’t go to Italy with children without taking them to the place where Spaghetti Bolognese was invented so Bologna ended up on the itinerary too. The other food here is also amazing plus we enjoyed exploring the old university museums and climbing the crooked towers.
My husband really wanted to see Pompeii and Herculaneum and following a strong recommendation from my parents regarding Sorrento (and a bit of strong discouragement from others regarding Naples) that was the spot we chose to base ourselves to explore the Amalfi Coast. An exhilarating bus trip down to Amalfi and Positano and gorgeous boat trip back was a great day. And climbing Mt Vesuvius was a memorable experience.
What did you love?
Well it is a little dfficult to pick something in particular when it is Italy you are talking about. If I asked the kids I think they would say the food – we ate gelato every day for six weeks! My husband and I also loved the food (and the wine, which was also consumed on a daily basis – when in Rome) but the culture and history were undeniably amazing. We came away particularly appreciating all the rich folk of the Renaissance for their investment in the artists and craftspeople of the time.
Type of accommodation used?
Self-contained holiday rental apartments.
When we first started travelling with our children we discovered very quickly that the more homely the accommodation the more confortable they feel about the whole experience. Give them a kitchen, a lounge, bedrooms (preferably one each – but at least separate beds) and of course a TV, and they feel at home. I have also found that self-contained accommodation is so much more cost effective. Dollar for dollar you get the most amazing value, more space and loads more amenities (eg laundry, balconies). Another bonus is living in amongst the locals, meeting the owners of your accommodation, shopping at the markets and simply sitting with a wine each evening watching the neighbourhood activities, learning how life is lived on the other side of the world. It is simply so much richer an experience than seeing the inside of another hotel.
I had used VRBO-Vacation Rental by Owner and other similar holiday rental websites on a previous trip so delved once again into the huge databases of properties to research what was available in the various cities we had chosen to visit. Oh my goodness, what choice! When I saw how many stunning, affordable and varied apartments were available I realised that I needed to look at bit more closely at the different areas of the cities we had chosen. That helped to narrow down the options as we tried to choose quieter, safer, more family-friendly yet central locales. Add on our various other criteria (I am a stickler for a view) and we came up with the following:
- Rome: 15th Century Apartment near the Campo di Fiori
- Vernazza: Apartment up the top of town – lots of stairs but roof top terrace with views down the Cinque Terre.
- Florence: Stunningly appointed apartment 100 metres from the Duomo
- Venice: Blissfully quiet place with its own balcony overlooking a small canal in the Canareggio
- Bologna: Ground floor apartment with its own courtyard in the older part of town
- Sorrento: Totally refurbished two bedroom apartment with balcony and views of the Bay of Naples
- Rome: Huge, top floor, high-ceilinged apartment in the Prati area with views of St Peter’s Dome
With regard to all your travel arrangements what worked particularly well for your family’s situation?
Our daughter has dietary restrictions so eating out is sometimes a challenge. Having accommodation with kitchen facilities means that we can cook food that is good for all of us, plus save a lot of money. We love wandering through the markets, dealing with the local shop owners, the challenge of the retail experience in a different country – particularly when there is a language barrier. In this case we soon learnt that Buon giorno, Grazie, Ciao and Ci (plus holding up 4 or 8 fingers as appropriate) got us through most exchanges.
We eat really well which is essential to a happy holiday and don’t feel we are missing out on local cuisne because we are self catering. Saying that we do treat ourselves to a meal out on the last night in each place we visit. During our stay we look at what is available in the area, inspecting menus, checking out the vibe and then collaborating on the final decision. We find having that meal out on the last night works really well – means the kitchen is clean and allows a quick get away in the morning.
What was challenging for you as a family and individuals?
Many, but not all, places we visited were very crowded. Though not being in the middle of high season (we visited in April/May) there were still a lot of tourists in the main centres. The one thing we noticed the most were groups of high school students who must have been on end of year school trips. We just got the feeling they really didn’t want to be there and were distinctly more focussed on each other and their screens than the historic and cultural wonder around them. The challenge with the crowds was keeping together as a family (ie. not losing our children) and being able to enjoy the sites without having to push our way through the disinterested throng.
A few of the many memories that are still so vivid:
- driving from the airport through Rome on our first day
- sitting on our rooftop terrace in Vernazza listening to the church bells as they played a little tune right on 8pm every evening
- viewing Florence for the first time from the Piazza Michelangelo
- travelling at 200km/hour in the train
- being in thousand year old buildings
- feeling stone cold marble that looks like silk
- seeing paintings and sculptures I had studied in art at high school
- our daughter being waltzed along the pavement by a restaurateur after we had eaten canalside in Venice
- our son pretending he was Hayden Christensen (Jumper) in the Colosseum
Vernazza was definitely the favourite for all of us. I had seen a story on the Cinque Terre on a travel show some years back and when Italy was chosen for our next adventure I knew we just had to visit this place. We chose Vernazza because it has the easiest access to the water and a small l