Top 3 favorite beaches in Tuscany

 

 

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 on the Tuscan beaches.

 

The beaches along the Tuscan coast spread for miles from Marina di Carrara to Forte dei Marmi and down past Viareggio. We spent our last holiday in Viareggio and really enjoyed the beaches.

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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, just ask.  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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

Top Five things to see in Florence

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Florence, home of the Renaissance, is packed full of museums, culture, art, food and more. Florence planted the I want to move to Europe seed in me. I fell in love on my first arrival and we have since returned many times. It is a city we will never tire of.

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How to arrive?

Santa Maria Novella is the main train station. We have arrived in Florence by train. Like most European train stations it is very central. The Frecciarossa is fast, comfortable and convenient.

Driving in Florence isn’t as nerve racking as driving in Naples, but with that said, you are still driving it Italy. It’s crowded and rules are meant to be broken. You might even find two marked lanes with 4 lanes of traffic on them. This can all happen before you reach the city center, which is why I wouldn’t recommend driving into the city.  If you must drive, the parking in Florence is better than many large Italian cites. Park on the outskirts of the city center and walk, bus, or taxi into the city center. I have found this site useful for locating parking in Florence.

The Florence airport is a few miles northwest of Florence. You can hop on a bus or grab a taxi to the city center. The train does not connect with the airport but there are many bus connections to the station.

Where to stay in Florence?

I think it depends on your travel situation. If you are traveling through for a few nights I would recommend staying in the city center to make the most of your time.  We have always had good luck finding accommodations on booking.

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But if you are staying in Tuscany for a few weeks, I would recommend staying in an agriturismo. We have stayed outside of Florence for a few weeks and enjoyed coming into Florence when we weren’t relaxing by the pool.

A must see? Our TOP 5 Picks

Our list of what to see is long but the following are the top 5 things I would not miss:

1.Uffizi Gallery, amazing collection of Italian art. I’d recommend making reservations before.

2.Accademia,  Michelangelo’s David is here.  Make reservations, it pays to think ahead.

3.Duomo, The Famous Gothic Cathedral in Florence

*Don’t forget to climb to the top of the Duomo – the lines are usually long. Our best luck has been arriving early to wait in line, before it opens at 8:30.

4.Pitti Palace,  There are 3  Museums inside a beautiful Palace.  I would recommend viewing the outside gardens, they are breathtaking.

5.Ponte Vecchio, The famous bridge in Florence lined with shops

This is just a start. Every time we visit I feel like there is always something new to see/stumble upon.

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I’ll end with a review on a restaurant called Il Latini. I must say we have been a few times but our first experience was our favorite. The restaurant is still very good but more tourists have found out about this hidden gem.

On our first visit, years ago, the crowd started to gather right before the opening, at 9 pm. Inside you could see the employees enjoying a huge feast (Great staff motivation if you ask me).  Once their meal was finished, they opened the door and started yelling off names from the reservation list. We yelled our name out, while waving our arms (yes it was that crazy),they grabbed my hand and pulled us in.  There was no menu, all you can drink table wine, and food fit for a king.  Give it a try if you find yourself in Florence.

Skiing in the Dolomites

The Dolomites are in the Northeastern part of Italy encompassing the provinces of Belluno, South Tyrol, and Trentino. The whole area is actually a UNESCO world heritage site and we were lucky enough to finally make a visit there.

We decided we wanted to take a family ski trip this year and, although Switzerland is an obvious choice, we wanted to try something new. So, we pulled out the map and started scouting out the Dolomites. There are plenty of ski resorts to choose from but we settled on Paganella in the village of Andalo.

We stayed five minutes outside of Andalo in Molveno Italy. Molveno is a quaint town situated on a lake with a little town square. It is scattered with restaurants and boutique hotels. We traveled this time with another family so we decided to rent a home together.


The ski resort of Paganella was a great family resort. They have a handful of ski schools you can choose from.  The adult all day ski pass was 42 Euros. Which for a resort of its size seemed like an incredible price. They were running a promotion when while we were there and our family of 5 was able to ski for 155 Euros a day. WOW! What a deal.

 

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As far as the slopes were concerned, there were many beginner/medium runs. For advanced skiers, there was only one black run, but it did happen to be the training run for the Norwegian Olympic Ski team.

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I feel like we have not even made a dent in our skiing in the Dolomites. This was our first trip of many to come.  There are so many resorts we would like to try. Have you been skiing in the Dolomites? Do you have a recommendation? We would love to hear from you.

Family Adventure Podcast

 

We had the opportunity to do a podcast last month with Family Adventure Podcasts. We were honored to speak with them about our personal story moving abroad. If you haven’t discovered them, they have an awesome podcast with inspiring stories of family adventures. I am not sure our story is as inspiring as theirs. They lived on a sailboat and sailed with their family for 3 years. How amazing would that be? If you get a chance please check it out and listen. Hopefully, we can inspire some to live out their dreams. Their story has inspired us to look into sailing as a family. Hooray for traveling families.

Link to the Podcast #111

Stresa and the Borromean Islands

Stresa and the surrounding area is one of our favorite places in Northern Italy. The city of Stresa is set on beautiful Lake Maggiore with views of the nearby Borromean Islands. The area is only an hour train ride from Milan, which makes it convenient to visit if flying in or out of Milan.

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When you arrive in Stresa I would advise purchasing your tickets to the islands first. Then spend the morning exploring Stresa.

When we visit the Borromean Islands we have always chartered a boat. The boats and their skippers are near the ferry station in Stresa, but no worries finding them, they will find you. The skippers, with their hats, will be hanging around the parking lot waiting to sell tickets on their boats. They have a fixed price and are reliable. We have used their services many times. For more information, you can check it out here.

Take a short stroll through the town of Stresa and fall in love with how quaint it is. The shops dotted along the cobblestone streets sell beautifully hand painted pottery, Italian leather bags, and other local goodies. During the tourist season, there is a small tourist “train” that drives through the town, which is a nice way to see some of the surrounding area and the Grand hotels.

When the stores close for lunchtime head over to the Isola dei Pescatori. This island is dotted with fantastic little restaurants.

After lunch, take the boat to Isola Bella and explore the Palace and gardens. The guides on the boats will give you a drop-off/pick-up location with flexible times. (every half hour, etc.)

In spring and summer months, Stresa is bustling with tourists. In fall and winter, the tourists are gone and the beautiful town is downright sleepy. We have visited every season and our favorite is the springtime. Remember, during the winter months many of the shops have closed on the islands and you can not tour the gardens of the palace.

One of our favorite places is the gardens of Isola Bella where white peacocks roam. Make sure you also tour the Borromeo Palace, it is furnished throughout with fascinating artifacts and history.

If you are in the area for longer than a day, here are a few other recommendations:

  • Take a 20-minute cable car ride up on The Cable Car Motorone. From the top, you have breathtaking views of the Alps and the lake.
  • The Lago Maggiore Express train is a gorgeous way to explore more of the surrounding area and see parts of Switzerland too.
  • On the outskirts of Stresa is Villa Pallavicino. This Villa is set on 37 acres of land with animals and plants throughout. You can enjoy a train ride through the park or a leisurely walk.

 

Trip Snapshot: Sardinia

For this week’s trip snapshot will be on the relaxing beaches in Sardinia


Fly, Drive, or Boat?

We flew to Sardinia on Easy Jet. (Not sure why we constantly torture ourselves with discounter airlines, but sometimes the deals are too good to pass up) There are quite a few discounter airlines that fly into Sardinia. Another option would be to take a ferry.   If you buy ahead, flying is usually cheaper than the ferry, but I’ve heard from friends that the ferry is relaxing, that is after you have made it to the departing port.

 

Home Base?

We stayed just outside Cagliari in the Quartu Sant’Elena, about a 15 minute drive.  We rented a holiday home that fit our needs. To be honest, the search for available holiday properties in Sardinia was pretty slim pickings.  Olbia, in Northern Sardinia, has more resorts than Cagliari.

 

A must see?
 The beaches. Beautiful, blue, breath taking beaches, it doesn’t get better than that.

We did do a few trips into the biggest near by city, Cagliari. It’s a typical Italian city, where great food can be found, but the beaches have way more to offer.  Mercato di Dan Benedetto, a large  market, was high on the list in what to see in Cagliari, not a winner for me. The shopping was sparse but gelato was plentiful. Overall Cagliari wouldn’t be a top pick. I’d recommend staying outside of the city. The smaller local towns & restaurants seemed to have more charm.
*A side note, the entire city of Cagliari has a free wi-fi by the port,  if you haven’t complete checked out of reality.

We spent most of our days relaxing on the beaches.  Since we were still in the off season we had the beaches pretty much to ourselves.
We sat on a beach with hundreds of umbrellas set up, awaiting the on coming crowds, so I imagine the summers in Sardinia are packed. (Travel in the off season months of April, May, & September, if you don’t want crowds but still want good weather)

There is plenty of ocean out there when there is no room on the beach in the summer…

Sardinia is a perfect holiday getaway if you want beautiful beaches. You have the added bonus of being in Italy and having great food at your disposal, so how could you go wrong?




Agriturismo: A Unique Stay

For a unique holiday stay you might want to consider staying in an Agriturismo.

Definition for Agriturismo’s (wikipedia):

“Agriturismo – Agritourism, A blend of “agriculture” and “tourism.” A working farm that doubles as a tourist destination for “farm stays”. Some agriturismi have fine restaurants serving the local ingredients grown on or around the farm, and many offer the opportunity for guests to work the fields”

We enjoyed a holiday in Tuscany at a local Winery,  Il Buonriposo.   Not only was the stay relaxing, we also got insight into the workings of an Italian vineyard.  Strolling through the vineyard after a long day in Florence is a great way to end the day.

 

 

Many Agriturismos make their property desirable for their visitors to stay; like a pool, restaurant, bikes, etc. A stay on a farm can give you a little glimpse into the life of a local farmer, making you feel part of the cultural.
A holiday stay on a cheese farm, De Vosseburch, in the Netherlands made for an exceptional experience.  The farm is in the outskirts of Amsterdam and had much more to offer than a hotel. From cows, to chickens, to horse back riding and cheese production, we experienced it all. We felt as if we were living among farmers and seeing the best the countryside had to offer.

 

There are  Agriturismos all over Europe.  Before booking your next trip maybe you will consider a stay in an Agriturismo.  In my opinion, it’s a better way to experience the cultural in a country then staying in a hotel. It can also be a fraction of the cost. Here are links for Agritourism in a few countries.  Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Portugal, UK, Netherlands , Spain, Czech Republic