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Time: GMT+1

Language: Italian
Currency: Euro (€)
Dialling code: +39
Tourist information: enit.it

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Family Holidays in Italy

It’s one of those places you have to visit at least once in a lifetime – but should you leave Italy until the kids are older and more likely to appreciate its cultural and historical treasures? Of course not! Kids love Italy, and Italians love kids. Not only are the locals barmy about bambinos, but they also know a trick or two when it comes to feeding them. With a staple diet of pizza, pasta and pastries (supplemented, of course, with copious gelato), your children should have more than enough energy for at least a taster of Rome, Florence or Venice (Italy’s triumphant trio of World Heritage cities). Don’t be bamboozled into thinking you’ve got to see all the museums and ancient sites, and pay homage to every Michelangelo masterpiece – experiencing Italy has just as much to do with spending an afternoon in a piazza, lingering over lunch, playing around the fountain and, you guessed it, pillaging the local gelato parlour. Beyond the cities, Italy’s beautiful countryside encompasses rolling hills, mountains and lakes – perfect for a relaxed break in a villa with a pool. There’s no shortage of beaches for more traditional family holidays, while locations like Naples and Sicily add a bit of spark to sightseeing days, courtesy of Vesuvius and Mount Etna.

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FAMILY CITY BREAK IN VENICE

It’s going to be busy and expensive – and oppressively hot if you go in summer. And there might be the occasional fraught moment, cajoling your buggy up and down countless bridge steps, restraining your toddler from nose-diving into yet another canal or preventing teenagers from playing havoc with your holiday budget in all the fancy boutiques. But will any of this stop you from going to one of the world's most spectacular cities? Of course not. Venice is irresistible – an exciting watery maze, a fantasy city of palaces and churches slowly sinking beneath the waves. Go there soon while it manages to keep its head above water.

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FAMILY HOLIDAY AT LAKE GARDA

Lake Como is peaceful and relaxed, Lake Maggiore is romantic and sophisticated and Lake Garda is a bustling summer playground. That may be oversimplifying the allure of northern Italy’s three major lakes (all share stunning scenery, elegant lakeside towns, a rich historic and artistic heritage and plenty of beaches and watersports), but there’s no denying the obvious family appeal of Lake Garda. Largest of the trio, it has over 120 beaches and a wide range of places to stay, from villas to campsites. The medieval fortress town of Sirmione makes a great day out, but the real clincher as far as kids are concerned is Gardaland, Italy’s answer to Disney World.

FAMILY HOLIDAY IN PUGLIA
Tucked into the heel of Italy, this little-visited province may not have the cultural clout of Rome, Florence or Venice, but what it lacks in notoriety it more than compensates for with a quirky range of monuments – from Neolithic tombs and Gothic cathedrals to the curious trulli houses. And even if you are not a culture vulture, Puglia has plenty of rich pickings. Natural highlights include the lovely beaches and forests of the Gargano Peninsula, the spur on Italy’s heel, while 20 km offshore lie the Tremiti Islands, an unspoilt cluster of limestone islands.

FAMILY HOLIDAY IN THE BAY OF NAPLES
Italy’s third largest city, Naples is hot, crowded and chaotic. Not only are its pavements as congested as its roads, but scooters often fail to distinguish between the two. So why bring kids here? First and foremost, Naples is the jumping-off point for excursions to Pompeii – the most enigmatic ruins you’ll find anywhere. And then there’s the Amalfi Coast – a bit on the posh side, but nevertheless a fine excuse for beach hopping and a breathtaking coastal drive. But even Naples itself is worth a day or two of sightseeing. If the castles and archaeology museum don’t do it for your kids, at least you can introduce them to some of Italy’s most authentic pizza.

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Five of the best family-friendly places to stay in Italy

Tuscan View Apartments, Montaione, Tuscany

A perfect base from which to explore the hill town of San Gimignano, this working estate has lots to keep families happy, from tennis to horse riding. There is even a bar, restaurant and mini-market selling the estate’s honey and olive oil. Equipped with living rooms and kitchenettes, the apartments are located in attractively restored farmhouses.

Europa Silvella, Lake Garda
With its own lakeside beach, this well-equipped holiday park is ideal for watersports. It also has its own swimming pool, along with a range of other facilities, including shop, takeaway and restaurant. Accommodation is available in six-berth tents or mobile homes – all scattered through shady woodland. The Gardaland theme park is just 33 km away.

Ca’Savio Campsite, Cavallino, Venice
Venice is just a bus and boat ride away from this lively holiday camp with its vast swimming pool complex and nearby sandy beach. Accommodation ranges from five-person tents to well-equipped mobile homes sleeping up to seven. Facilities include a supermarket, restaurant and pizzeria, while activities range from minigolf to cycling, canoeing and archery.

Hermitage Hotel, La Bidola, Elba
With a variety of interconnecting rooms, the Hermitage makes a great bolt hole for families. There’s plenty to keep kids occupied, with windsurfing, waterskiing, jet-skiing and boat hire available from the private beach. As well as three saltwater swimming pools (including a children’s pool), the hotel offers tennis, golf, mountain biking, volleyball, football and pétanque. For adults there’s a wellness centre.

Villa Pia, Lippiano, Tuscany
Stylish, yet relaxed and homely, this 18th-century manor is within easy reach of Florence and Siena. In addition to four family suites, with interconnecting bedrooms, there is a living room and kitchen with help-yourself fridge. Boasting wonderful views, the villa has two swimming pools, a sandpit, trampoline, adventure play areas and tennis court.

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Our family holiday in Venice

It’s mid-August and we’re on a ferry that’s more crowded than a Ganges
Delta riverboat during rush hour. We’re making slow progress to the
world’s most adult, romantic, couply city. And it’s hot – the kind of heat
that usually makes kids whingy and clingy. But the voices around me
are hushed because the Campanile is coming into view, rising like a
giant exclamation mark above a sun-spangled sea.

“Is it really floating on the water?” chime Joe and Ellie, adding a touch
of innocent wonder to this most magnificent of city approaches. The
six-year-old twins look shocked when I tell them it’s actually sinking.
As soon as we disembark, Joe stamps on the pavement and Ellie
seems reassured.

The queues for the Campanile and Palazzo Ducale are positively
Disneyesque. Not that it matters – all Joe and Ellie want to do is
feed the pigeons, which allows their parents ample time to gawp at
the head-spinning façades of Piazza San Marco. It’s only when an overgenerous
handful of birdfood leads to Ellie being mobbed that we tear ourselves away and search
for something cooling and calming.

Unfortunately, the gondoliers are charging €150 for a 40-minute punt – €200 if you want to include Rialto Bridge. So instead we delve into the wonderful maze of narrow streets beyond St Mark’s Square and feign interest in Gucci handbag shops for quick doses of air-con before the staff get wise and evict us. The shops selling masks and little glass ornaments captivate the twins – as does the spectacle of Rialto Bridge where day trippers are scrumming down on the parapet, five or six deep, for a glimpse of the Grand Canal. There is something surreal about being wedged in this mêlée of pixel-popping humanity while below you people glide serenely past in gondolas, trailing their fingers in the water... but Joe and Ellie seem genuinely entranced by the graceful curve of palazzos and the non-stop bustle of boats.

We extract ourselves from the crowds, buy ice creams and catch a waterbus back to St Mark’s Square. There’s just time to feed the pigeons again (which are now so bloated they have almost lost the ability of flight) before catching our ferry back to Cavallino.

So is it worth taking young kids to Venice? Of course! Just don’t expect a romantic meal at a pavement café or a lingering look inside St Mark’s Basilica. Instead, you’ll experience the innocent fun of exploring a labyrinthine city floating on water. You’ll also introduce your children to one of the world’s cultural icons. And you’ll spend a lot of money on pigeon food.

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William Gray, the editor of Family Travel Expert, has written a series of award-winning family travel guidebooks. Find out more about family holidays in Italy by ordering your copy of Europe with Kids here.