I distinctly remember my first trip overseas. It was to Italy and it was at a time where I was stumbling through that haze of early adolescence. I was somewhere between embracing my almost too soon sexuality, which I was starting to learn was becoming a power I could manipulate, and shedding my childhood skin. It was a magical, confusing and sexual time. I was ready to explore the world and thankfully, my parents (who absolutely were not ready to let me slip from their grasp), were willing to do it with me.
So Italy it was. Put a young girl who’s brain is ripe for molding in in one of the most powerful cities with a history of extreme conflict and desperate romance and she’ll be changed forever. And I was. My obsessive need to travel to this day, I greatly believe, was because of that trip.
Fast forward 16 years (holy crap) and we decided to make our way back to one of my favorite cities of all time-Roma- with our pint sized almost terrible two. We bravely took the two week trip around Italy and were met with warm, still, blessed nights, chaotic, inspired, intense days and everything in between. One of the most beautiful gifts you can give your children is the chance to explore, to dream and to question the world around us in every unsheltered way. For then we are open and informed about the world we live and we make decisions for the rest of our lives based on true life experience that ends up educating us. Here is our second overseas trip with our daughter. Thank you for now being a part of our family’s journeys….
Don’t you love that most social media photos are of peaceful children sleeping on the plane? My child was chaotic the entire 10 hours and fell asleep on landing. This photo says ” praise the Lord I can have a second of silence!”
So we began our journey to Rome on the 18th of August. The airline routes to Italy always arrive at the crack of dawn and I’m most definitely not a “plane sleeper”. More like a “watch checker”. I’ve never liked flying, particularly after we had a plane crash, but that is a way more intense post for another time. If you can, I would try to check in to your hotel as early as you get in. You’d be surprised that most hotels are absolutely willing to let you check in once they have cleaned the room. And always ask for a bigger room, especially if you have kids. I’d say we have been upgraded 85% of the time JUST for asking. Being a loyal member to one hotel group, having an AMEX or AA card will almost always upgrade you to a suite. We decided to stay at the Rome Marriott Grand Hotel Flora.
After our two hour nap (if you sleep any more you will absolutely suffer from terrible jet lag) we decided to explore the city by foot. Make sure you stay in an area that is close to the things your family values most. Whether it’s great restaurants, parks, monuments, shops – you want to make sure you’re not spending a tiring amount of time in a cab. It’s quite beautiful after a big day to spend romantic time meandering near you’re hotel – knowing you are only a stone throw away.
One of my most loved areas in Rome is the Piazza Navona. It is built on the site of the Stadium of Domitian, built in 1st century AD (just unbelievable) and features important sculptural and architectural creations. Slightly touristy but for good reason. Lined with street performers, local artists and standard tasty Italian fare it’s an area I like to tick off first to help me get in to the Italian spirit.
After a pizza and a glass of wine (and maybe two gelato) we made our way to the The Spanish Steps. They are a set of steps climbing a steep slope between the Piazza di Spagna at the base and Piazza Trinità dei Monti. To me these steps have such a romantic energy to them. Young lovers sitting and kissing and just being in love (or maybe it’s lust) with each other. Surrounding the steps are local and international high end stores. I find this area to be great for walking and doing a little damage to the wallet.
After an exhausting and wonderful first day we spent the following day (my birthday!) with my family just spontaneously experiencing the city. I love a long lazy lunch and my family treated me to one of the most incredible foodie experiences a top the Hotel Splendide. The hotel boasts one of the best views over the city and is directed with the class and undisputed professionalism of Bruno Borghesi. I had my very first bottle of Dom Pérignon and savored every last drop.
My parents wanted to take our little lady for the rest of the day and my husband I and became Roman lovers. Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere has always been our most romantic piazza. Hosting one of the oldest churches in Rome and the oldest fountain that still functions. The piazza is like staying at someones house. The people are friendly, the food tastes like home and the atmosphere relaxed. You’ll feel like a native here.
Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere
We only spent three days in Rome before we made our way to the water. Having seen Rome many times in our life we avoided some of the overwhelming tourist spots especially because of the heat in Summer. But if it’s your first time here I urge you to see the main tourist attractions. The Colosseum, The Pantheon, the Trevi Fountain, Saint Peter’s Basilica, The Sistine Chapel to name a few.
Our family has spent many a summer driving down to the Amalfi Coast from Rome. And while the Amalfi would be my first choice we decided to go out of our comfort zone and drive north to Portovenere. Portovenere is a town and comune located on the Ligurian coast near the famous five villages of Cinque Terre. With a picturesque harbor, colorful houses and medieval streets peppered with restaurants, Portovenere is absolutely enchanting. One can see why writers such as Byron, Shelley and DH Lawrence loved this area. Around every twist and turn you can uncover something to write home about.
Our next stop was Verona and Lake Garda. Romeo and Juliet was my favorite play in high school and I had to one day visit the city famously known for the tragically romantic fable. I wasn’t too familiar with Lake Garda but when I first saw an image of it, I knew I had to visit. We spent three nights at the Villa Del Quar hotel in Verona and drove the 45 minutes to experience the lake each day.
Villa Del Quar hotel
On our first day we drove to the lake, parked our car in the Punta San Vigilio car park and ate at the beautiful Locanda Punta San vigil. Set on a point jutting into Lake Garda, this enduring hotel occupies a 15th-century building and is 3 km from town and 8 km from Museo del Vino (Wine Museum). BONUS! After lunch we wandered down to one on the most stunning pebble beaches I have ever laid my eyes on called Punta San Vigilio. (see below).There is a beach club, entertainment, child care and food stalls. We spent the rest of the day enjoying the sunshine and clear water. Heaven.
Outside Locanda Punta San vigi restaurant.
Enjoying Punta San Vigilio beach. Perfect for kids.
On our second day we went to the town of Verona that is rich in Roman history and experienced all the city had to offer. The two famous tourist attractions are a 14th-century house containing “Juliet’s balcony” said to have given Shakespeare the inspiration for Romeo and Juliet and also its grand Arena, a 1st-century Roman amphitheater which still hosts concerts and an yearly opera festival. The food in Verona is also pretty phenomenal. In the evening, my husband and I dined at the Antica Bottega Del Vino restaurant. There restaurants boasts the largest wine cellar in Italy?
The wine list at Antica Bottega Del Vino restaurant.
Our last day was spent beach hopping around Lake Garda. The are many beautiful spots to park yourself and soak up the sun. Some of my favorite beaches which frame the lake are:
Bagni Brancolino Beach – bar service, small car park, clear water, shallow areas, little shade (subject to fee).
Mirabello Beach– deck chairs, restaurants and bars, very little grass, deep water (subject to fee).
Spiaggia Dei Pini Beach – young scene, bar on the beach, vast grassy areas, self-contained swimming pool and theme parties and music.
Spiaggia delle Lucertole Beach – very small, very beautiful, small car park, close to town.
La Cavalla Beach – very close to Garda town, easy access, great for kids and families, free, clear water.
Our final stop on our Italian adventure was a place very near and dear to our hearts and soul. The city we visited last was Florence. My husband and I were married 4 years prior in a 30 person 3 day Italian lovefest. We were married atop Villa De La Vedetta overlooking the famous Duomo. It was the best day of my life and we knew we wanted to share it with that extra little person.
Our wedding in Florence 4 years prior. Note the two dresses ( you only live once!)
We spent most of our final day of our trip winding down, being lazy at our hotel and seeing the main attractions that we had already experienced but wanted our daughter to see. We bid farewell to my beautiful parents and then wandered the beautiful streets of Florence just the three of us.
My Florence must sees are – Santa Maria del Fiore (the Duomo), Ponte Vecchio, Uffizi Gallery, Palazzo Vecchio, Accademia Gallery, Boboli Gardens, Basilica di San Lorenzo, Piazzale Michelangelo, The Baptistery and the Boboli Garden and Pitti Palace. After that exhausting amount of sight seeing make sure to recharge on gelato, gelato, gelato!!!
Never forget the Gelato!
Our final night was something out of a fairy tail. As we made our way to one of the best Italian restaurants and on the way we stumbled upon this antique carousel of the Picci family in the middle of the Piazza della Republica. This wooden carousel has 20 horses and two king’s carriages and is strickingly painted in rich reds and cool blues. Fresh flowers fill the flowerpots. It’s a worth visiting if you are with your little ones. A nice shift from the endless amount of sightseeing!
Italy for us will always be part of our family. Our daughter is already asking to go back and I’m sure I’ve given her an injection of the travel bug. I’d love to hear some of your Italian adventures and must see’s and I can’t wait to go back an explore more of what Italy has to offer!