Italy’s Best Kept Secret: Umbria

Like a well kept secret, the gorgeous area of Umbria lies between the more famous areas of Italy, Tuscany (Florence) and Lazio (Rome). With it’s rolling hills, olive groves, vineyards and Italian terrain Umbria boasts a beckoning, pastoral beauty that should not be missed. Our family took delight in a recent weekend retreat there. After months of being cooped up inside, due to Covid, we were so ready for our holiday. During our stay we noticed that Italy had implemented excellent health protocols but we were able to, especially, relax in Umbria as there was hardly anyone around.

Read more

Top 3 beaches along the Tuscan coast

 

Most people do not think of the beach when they think of Tuscany.  The thought of rolling green hills, vineyards, and quaint villages come to mind.  If you have yet to discover the beaches in Tuscany,  I would highly recommend a getaway to Tuscany.

 

The beaches along the Tuscan coast spread for miles from Marina di Carrara to Forte dei Marmi and down past Viareggio. We’ve spent our last two spring holidays in Tuscany and have really enjoyed the beaches.

Most of the beaches along the Tuscan coast are private, although there are public beaches sprinkled throughout. Viareggio has a nice sized public beach, along with La Lecciona Lido, and also a small public beach in Forte dei Marmi. If you are looking for a public beach, you can find them but the private beaches have much more to offer.

 

Many of the private beaches have swimming pools, restaurants and bars.  You can rent an umbrella and chairs for the day, usually 2 or 3 chairs per umbrella. For a family of 5 we usually need to rent 2 umbrellas, most ranging from 30 to 70 Euros a day.  Some of the private beaches offer discounts for families, you just need to inquire.  If you are staying at a local hotel, the hotel may be able to negotiate a better rate for you.

 

In Viareggio I can recommend the private lido Nuova Italia. Their pool is pristine and a great place to cool off after an afternoon on the beach.  The only downside to Nuova Italia is they do not have a restaurant but it’s not a problem to leave and return. Once you rent your umbrella, it is yours for the rest of the day.

Just north of Viareggio is Camaiore where I’d recommend the private Lido of Primavera. They have a delicious restaurant, along with a pool, playground for the kids, and beach chairs to rent.

2017-05-26 13.17.02

 

The Tuscan coastline is amazing, there are so many choices of beautiful beaches along the coast.  Our top 3 picks for the beach and cities to stay in:  Forte dei Marmi, Viareggio, and Camaiore.

Have you been to the Tuscan coast? Drop us a line and let us know where you stay when you visit.

Vera Pizza in Naples

Pizza Napoletana style

Is it worth all the fuss? I’d have to say….. yes. Naples is the birthplace of Pizza. Literally, you can eat your way through Naples. Besides garbage, the streets are scattered with pizzerias everywhere.

If you want good pizza, look for the Vera Pizza Napolentana sign. Making Pizza is an art in Italy. Years back the Verace Pizza Napoletana was started to help regulate the making of pizza. There are plenty of great places in Naples without the Vera stamp of approval, but you can’t go wrong eating somewhere with it.

To be part of the Vera Pizza Napoletana the pizzeria needs to fulfill a few requirements:

1. Wood Burning Oven around 800 degrees Fahrenheit
2. Fresh natural ingredients from certain Regions in Italy, mozzarella, tomatoes, olive oil,     basil.
3. Knead the dough by hand. The requirements go a little more into detail but that is the basic. Pizza is simple in Naples.

We read about Il Pizzaiolo del Presidente being one of the best pizzerias in Naples. So, of course, it was on our list to visit. They changed their name after Bill Clinton visited.  (Pictured above the pizza boxes). Marinara pizza (tomato sauce, oregano, garlic, no cheese) was only 1 Euro, for a whole pizza. The Marinara was simple but delicious.

Another pizzeria with raving with reviews from pizza lovers is Di Matteo Pizzeria (off of Via dei Tribunali ).  We had to find out for ourselves……and yes, it was worth the time searching through the streets to find.  Marinara and Margherita pizzas were priced the same as Il Presidente, 1 and 3 Euros.

If I am going to be a food critic here I’d say the marinara at Il Presidente was a little better but really the differences were so minimal. They were both great.

Whatever the case, we are big fans of Vera Pizza Napolentana.  Do you have a favorite pizza place in Naples?  We would love to hear from you.

Villa del Balbianello

If you are visiting Northern Italy, I can highly recommend visiting Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como. Lake Como is less than an hour outside of  Milan.  Just a short drive from the city of Como in Lenno you will find Villa del Balbianello.

The Villa is protected under FAI, which is a non-profit organization that protects the Italian culture. 

If you join this organization, you are not only helping protect their culture but you can benefit from many discounts on FAI properties.  As a family we have joined and enjoyed visiting many historical properties. 

 

James Bond or Star Wars fans may find this Villa even more exciting to visit.  The Villa has been used in many movies. Before our first visit we watched a few clips from films, which got our kids even more excited for the visit.  

You can reach the Villa by hiking in or taking a boat.  If you choose to take a boat you can catch a charted boat from Lido di Lenno.  There are a few small boat docks with boats to take you to and from. You can also charter boats from other towns on Lake Como. The boats will drop you off near the museum and you can walk up a short distance to the entrance.  


The Villa is built right on the lake front with absolutely stunning views. Pictured above is where the boat will drop you off .

If you choose to walk in, I recommend parking by the Lido di Lenno and hiking in on the path. It is about a 20 minute walk (2.5 km) with breathtaking views.
Once you arrive at the Villa you can pay your entrance fee. You have 2 option, see only the gardens or take a tour of the home.
To view the gardens the entrance fee is 3 euros
A tour of the Villa is 10 euros for Adults and 5 euros for ages 4-14
I recommend the tour as the artifacts collected by the owner are fascinating.

A visit to Villa del Balbianello will not disappoint.  If you are planning a visit it is important to know the Villa is only open from March to November and closed on Mondays and Wednesdays.

Highlights in Venice

I find Venice to be a magical place.  Really, there is no other place like it. From the car-less streets to the hundreds of bridges, Venice is one of a kind.
Tourist flock to Venice making it nearly impossible to walk down some of the narrow street-ways (especially if you are pushing a stroller). But Venice is high on my list for a must see in Europe.

Arrival in Venice…..Fly, Drive or Train?

We have arrived/departed from Venice with all 3 modes of transportation. The Venice Airport is about 10km from Venice on the mainland. You can connect to Venice with a water taxi from there or opt to take a bus to Piazzale Roma.

If driving to Venice I would recommend parking at Tronchetto.  Right outside the garage, you can hop on a Vaporetto or the People mover.

We were very excited to see a People Mover has opened (Since April 2011). This is especially convenient for those who are cruising out of Venice, stopping right at the Port.  It also stops in Piazzale Roma.

If you ride in on the train it will conveniently drop you off near Piazzale Roma. Be alert on the trains. We’ve never been successfully pick-pocketed but have thwarted off a thief before.

Remember in Italy your dog needs to have a muzzle on trains and boats. You’d be surprised how many dogs are in Venice. It’s fun traveling with your dog, it’s always a good conversation starter with the locals. We find in Italy our dog gets more attention than our kids.

Venice is expensive.  Everything is tourist prices. You will find there are not many discounts given for kids either, full prices, kids, and adults. This can make a family trip to Venice even more expensive.  I’d recommend considering purchasing a Venice Card, and/or a Museum Pass to make your stay less expensive. Be alert in Venice. Count your money/change. More than once, on different occasions, I have had people try to short change me.

St. Mark’s Square is one of my favorite squares.  Find a cafe and have a drink on the square. You can relax and people watch and, if kids are in tow, they can chase the birds while you enjoy one of the most famous Squares in the world.

Visit St Mark’s Basilica.   The church is free to enter but the line can queue quite far, especially in tourist season.  If you are there in the winter months, you may get the chance to wait in line with water up to your ankles. If this doesn’t sound exciting you can opt to stand on the flood platforms they set out.  In a past visit to Venice (winter season) water was flowing up through the drains flooding most of the square even into the church. It is a city that is slowly sinking, so sad!

The Rialto Bridge is a famous bridge over the Grand Canal. It’s packed with shops just waiting to be browsed by you. Not to be missed.

And of course, make sure you ride a gondola down the waterways of Venice. What could be more romantic than this?

Some other sites I’d recommend to see in Venice: Doge’s Palace, home to past the ruling Venetian power. The Accademia, art museum and there is also a Guggenheim museum.

Where to stay?

I think staying in Venice can be very romantic. In the evenings when many of the tourists leave the islands it can be such a romantic place (assuming no kids this trip). It can also be very expensive to stay in Venice but it is possible to find some cheaper hotels in Venice.

If you are cruising out of Venice, and have a car, you may want to stay near Venice. This hotel is a great option.  We stayed here when we left on a cruise and the hotel even offered free parking for the week, great deal.

IMG_1906
Padua is beautiful city

 

Another option is staying in a surrounding town, like Padua. In the past, we have used Padua as a home base for exploring the area and Venice. Not to mention Padua has fabulous restaurants which, I think, can be tricky to find in Venice.

 

 

 

IMG_1190.jpgTraveling with 3 or more people can make it harder to find accommodations especially all together.  Our last trip to Venice we traveled with 6 people and opted to stay in an Agriturismo further outside of Venice. We found a great Agriturismo as a cheap alternative to the expensive Venice hotels, that housed all 6 of us and a dog.

*Some useful information when traveling with kids.  Sometimes we like to grab a pizza to go. I have read it is illegal to Picnic in Venice. (I think they have had problems with littering) We are guilty of this crime (a slice of pizza on some steps) but have never been caught.

IMG_1260

 

 

 

But if you want to follow the rules (always a good idea) find a local cafe and buy a drink. You can sit for hours if the kids will let you. Or better yet, cafe hop, from drinks to pizza, to gelato. Our kids have also enjoyed finding squares with local kids to play football with. Score!

Lastly, my advice would be to get lost in the streets of Venice. You’ll always find your way back to the main square but being lost for a moment is part of the adventure in traveling. (I don’t recommend losing your kids, though)

I have tried to highlight some of the points that I would find useful when traveling to Venice.  I am sure you will fall in love with Venice.