Every year as we begin to plan our summer travels somewhere in the world, there is always this little nudge inside pushing us to go back to Italy. As we return home from our summer travels, and assess the positive and negatives of our trip, the one question we always ask is “Was it as good as Italy?” So it seems, Italy has become the standard by which we plan (and judge) every single vacation. It could be because it was the first really big trip we took as a family (we spent 6 weeks there in the summer of 2012). I’m guessing it is more likely because vacationing in Italy, is sheer perfection.
In preparing for our epic 6 week italion vacation during the summer of 2012, we started by researching the cities we wanted the kids to see. See our post on the Ins and Outs of Itinerary Planning for the steps to tackle the planning of a big trip like this one. Tom and I had been there already but we were excited to return. In April, we signed the whole family up for Italian lessons. Especially with smaller children, the key to a successful trip is in the preparation that takes place beforehand. See Getting Ready for the Big Trip! for more fun preparation ideas. Not only was the trip an enormous success, but it paved the road for all of our future family explorations. Since that summer, we have spent 4-6 weeks on the road every summer exploring a different part of the world. Here are a few reasons why we compare every one of those adventures to La Bella Italia!
Geography : Over 4,700 miles of mediterranean coastline means you are never too far from the sea. We have been to Italy several times and are always lured by the crystal clear waters of the one of the 5 surrounding seas. Our faves – Cinque Terre (pictured first) and Venice (because who doesn’t love Venice- pictured second). Cinque Terre, or the Five Lands are a string of traffic free, seaside villages built on the cliffs of the Ligurian Sea. A stunningly beautiful mixture of land, sea and colorful houses make these authentic Italian towns among my top 5 in all of Europe. Venice is a city made up of more than 100 small islands with no roads and only canals allowing you to get from one place to another. It really is magical and I cry every time I leave. If not for the crowds, it would be my #1 place in Europe.
History: Our favorite part of travel is the opportunity to teach the kids about abstract history in a very real and connected way. My kids have studied the more than 3000 year history of Rome in school more than once and I’m certain it will keep coming up, each time delving deeper into the history of the Roman Empire. Making the concepts more tangible, like being able to see the Colliseum or the Roman Forum in real life, gives the kids (and me!) a little perspective and something to connect with as they learn. In addition, as we make our way through the rest of Europe, we are always surprised to see Roman Ruins in countries that feel so far away from the Rome we know today. It is during these opportunities that they learn more than any text book can teach them!
Culture: Speaking of applied learning, how about the art in Italy?? It is said there are more masterpieces per square mile here than any other country in the world. My favorite city to “art” is Florence. The Uffizi, the Bargello, the Palazzo Vecchio, Pitti Palace, Academia, plus so many more. We have spent several weeks in Florence and never tire of exploring its gems. A favorite of the kids is the Museo Galileo. One 10 day trip to Florence resulted in 2 visits there! The secret Vasari corridor which connects Palazzo Pitti and the Uffizi gallery is a memorable experience that limits the number of visitors and is fun to explore. Not museum people? In Florence, you can soak up the art even without stepping foot in a museum. Here a street artist creates a masterpiece right on the sidewalk. We were so inspired by this, we created our very own Reviving the Renaissance Sidewalk Chalk Contest at my retail shop at Torly Kid in Tribeca, NYC. Seven years strong, our Sidewalk Chalk Contest has become a neighborhood event people look forward to every September. Register for the event this September, here.
People: The people of Italy may just be it’s best feature. In 2013, we spent 5 weeks in France. We were finishing up our vacation from the south of France and driving up to see friends in Switzerland. As we left France, and drove through Italy towards Switzerland, we stopped to spend a heavenly 36 hours in the shadows of the Alps at Lake Como, Italy. After the 4.5 hour drive from Monaco, the single most notable difference between Italy and France was the people. While we didn’t really notice it, during our 5 week stay in France, nobody paid any attention whatsoever to our two adorable girls. We didn’t find the French rude, just indifferent. What we did notice right away, upon arrival in Italy, was the lively conversation, smiles and just general attention paid to us and our kids.
Food: All the world over, people talk about Italian food. My 14 year old foodie daughter still describes some of her favorite meals as having been consumed in Italy. My husband, a man who is of the “eat to live” school of thought, still talks about the profiteroles we ate on our honeymoon there more than 17 years ago. My pasta eating 13 year old is in her glory in Italy. All of that is even before mentioning the desserts. Italian desserts are divinely delicious – if you can leave room for them after all that good food!
Style/ Fashion: Versace, Gucci, Prada, Armani, Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Marni, Ferragamo, Bruno Magli, Missoni, Dolce & Gabanna – need I say more? There is even a Salvatore Ferragamo shoe museum in Florence.
Tradition: America is such a young country, we have a difficult time wrapping our heads around the history and traditions of Europe. We were lucky enough to experience one such tradition in Siena, Il Palio. The Palio is a horse race held in the Piazza of Siena twice each summer and has been happening since the mid 1600’s. Hundreds of thousands of spectators from around the world gather to watch jockeys representing each of the 17 contrade (neighborhoods) in Siena ride 3 times around the circumference of the piazza in a race that lasts no more than 90 seconds. The winning contrade gets the privilege of celebrating their victory for the entire year until the next race. We had so much fun learning about each of the contrade and betting amongst ourselves who would win. Our youngest, guessed right :). If you miss the Palio, this is our favorite thing to do in Siena.
There are so many great reasons to return to Italy over and over again. Alas, it is February and time to discuss our next great summer adventure. Will it be Italy again? That little nudge is certainly pushing us that way…. but it’s a big world out there! Stay tuned to our blog posts to see what we decide.