Ten years ago we exchanged wedding vows and celebrated our nupitals with a dream-like honeymoon in Ravello on the Amalfi Coast. We were so enchanted with this amazing town that we made another vow: we would return in 10 years to celebrate our anniversary. A decade later we did in fact make it back; this time with two bambinis and some additional family to help us mark the occasion. We even extended our trip to include Positano, Tuscany and beautiful Lake Como.
While researching the trip, it seemed that everything we read about Ravello (and the Amalfi Coast in general), seemed to discourage it as a place to bring kids. We found the opposite to be true, especially in Ravello. Although located dizzyingly high on the cliffs above the Amalfi Coast, the town itself is relatively flat, very walkable and, in our experience, unusually accommodating to families with children. Viva Italia!
The ROAM Report : Italy – Amalfi Coast, Tuscany & Lake Como
Travelers : Jud, Sarah and the kids (8) and (4), plus Auntie Molly and Mémé in Positano and Ravello
Date : June 12–July 1, 2015
Itinerary : Ravello (3 nights) at the Hotel Rufolo, Positano (2 nights) at the Hotel Poseidon, Chianti/Siena (7 nights) at the Borgo Scopeto Relais, Lake Como (6 nights) at The Belvedere Hotel in Bellagio.
Budget : Without airfare, about $10,000. This included hotels, meals, all activities, transfers (including two car transfers and trains), unexpected medical costs (see below) and unlimited gelato.
The Good Stuff
Positano – Nocelle Perched high above Positano, the tiny village of Nocelle offers spectacular cliffside views with a quiet, away-from-it-all feel. It can be accessed by climbing 1,700 stairs or by taking a short, but harrowing, bus ride from Positano. The famous Path of the Gods walk runs through this town, which is otherwise very sleepy aside from a few small restaurants (we loved Trattoria Santa Croce for lunch) and quaint B&Bs.
Montepulciano – Palazzo Comunale About a two-hour car ride from Chianti, the hilltop city of Montepulciano is very much on the beaten path, but for good reason. Aside from its beautiful vistas, the fascinating history of this medieval town kept even our 4-year-old interested.
After negotiating the oddly complicated parking meter outside the city walls, we began a very uphill walk to the top of the city and Piazza Grande. Built in the 14th century, the Palazzo Communale still functions as the town hall. Once through the offices, an old elevator leads you to several sets of very narrow, very old stairs to reach the top of the tower. If you can manage feeling a bit claustrophobic, the expansive views on a clear day allow you to see the entire Tuscan region. Huge highlight for all of us.
Ravello – Villa Cimbrone We had wanted to do a very casual renewing of vows, but hadn’t scouted out a particular spot until a day or so after we arrived in Ravello and found the Villa Cimbrone. Built in the 11th century, with a large surrounding botanical garden and a famous outlook called the Terrazzo dell’lnfinito, Villa Cimbone has an illustrious history and has been frequented over the years by writers, artists, starlets and politicians; all of whom have sung its praises. We were hardly the first people to be blown away by this amazing spot, but oddly, the only ones up there on the afternoon of our very impromptu little ceremony. (Our daughter was particularly moved.)
Good to Do
Chianti – Parco Sculture Del Chianti Located in the very small town of Pievasciata, the garden is about eight miles north of Siena. While not exactly easy to find, the drive through the rolling hills of Tuscany was hardly something to complain about and, when we arrived, we had the whole park to ourselves. The space includes a small amphitheater for performance art and a meandering dirt path with contemporary art installations dotted along the way. All of the art is site specific, integrated into natural surroundings and created from a very international cadre of artists. Many of the installations were interactive and almost all provided great conversation starters with our kids.
Siena – La Scuola di Cucina di Lella A super fun, family cooking class in Siena. There are a few of these types of classes in Siena, but not all open to children. The class includes an hour or two of very hands on cooking (hand rolling pasta!) and a leisurely group lunch at the end. This class was not geared toward children, but they were invited to participate every step of the way. The teacher spoke primarily Italian, but she had a translator/assistant who was also great with kids.
Tremezzo – Villa Carlotta The Lake Como area is made up of several small villages dotting the three-armed lake, all of which are most easily accessed by ferry. We took several day trips from where we stayed in Bellagio, but our favorite stop was to the Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo. We had actually heard amazing things about the Hotel Tremezzo, but it was booked the days we were there. The Villa Carlotta was originally built in the late 17th century, but got its name when it was given as a wedding present from Princess Marianna of Prussia to her daughter Charlotte. The Villa now stands as a museum, with a very large and super diverse botanical garden. After exploring how princesses lived in the 1800s, the kids were able to run around the gardens, taking photos of statues and checking out the wide variety of plants and flowers.
Good to Eat
Ravello We loved the the casual, but festive Ristorante Pizzeria Vittoria. The waiter told our son he had a great accent, which basically made the trip for him. Grazie mille!
Positano Da Vincenzo, which was right around the corner from our hotel in Positano, was friendly and perfect for a larger group. Super fresh seafood and pastas, great wine and our daughter loved, I mean loved our waiter.
Montepulciano We had a terrific lunch at Ai Quattro Venti in the Piazza Grande. It was innovative, with an authentic farm-to-table vibe. We sat on the terrace for a long lunch while the kids ran around the piazza terrorizing birds and crashing into tourists and nice, old Italian nonnas.
Chianti (more specifically Ponte a Bozzone) All in all, Osteria La Piccarda was our favorite restaurant. The owner, Angela, was so warm and welcoming and the food was amazing and reasonably priced. We found the restaurant at Borgo to be a bit stuffy, so we actually had many lunches and dinners at La Piccarda. Angela also had an 8-year-old son with whom our son played soccer (futbol, I know) and our son had the opportunity to attempt his few Italian words. After-dinner strolls were always full of beautiful sights (like the lit-up Torre del Mangia in Siena.)
The Not So Good
Crowds and Stairs Overall, Positano was not a great choice for our group. It felt a lot more touristy since we had last been there (10 years prior), especially toward the beach. While breathtakingly lovely, the streets do not have sidewalks and getting around town meant ascending and descending many, many stairs, sometimes difficult for the youngest and oldest in our group. That being said, our bus trip from Positano to Nocelle was one of our favorite adventures, and made our two days in Positano worthwhile.
Upset Tummies If your kids have a tendency to get carsick and you will be driving or being driven around the Amalfi Coast or in the Lakes region, I strongly recommend that you premedicate your kids with Dramamine. We got careless en route from Como to Milan and both kids got sick before we even boarded our plane home.
Bzzz, Bzzz Mosquitos in Tuscany are no joke. Tiger mosquitos hang out not just at dawn and dusk, but all the time. DEET and long sleeves are no one’s favorite on a hot summer day, but when practical, probably a good idea. Maybe tote along a little tube of cortisone for good measure.
Jud had a more serious mosquito reaction, which required a hotel doctor visit, a steroid injection, plus medication for oral prednisone (note that, in all, this totaled $70. Three cheers for socialized medicine!). He was also told not to drink wine or eat tomatoes, cheese or chocolate because of the histamine. This advice was not strictly followed.
Good to Know
Avoid the Heat The timing of our trip ended up being incredibly ideal, as all the places we visited get much hotter and way more crowded beginning in early July.
Ice Cream Cures All Hot day? Gelato! Too many stairs? Gelato! Multiple mosquito bites? Gelato! We shamelessly bribed our children every day using this tactic and found it to be extremely effective.
Give a Kid a Camera Our best idea was giving our kids our old camera phones and having them document the trip trough their own eyes. Not only did it keep them occupied, but we ended up with some really great shots taken from a much different perspective.
Make Allergy Cards Our son is allergic to peanuts and our daughter is allergic to sesame seeds. Although neither of our children has a history of anaphylaxis, we have been told that these allergies could be life-threatening. Although we never go anywhere without Benadryl or Epipens, we were planning some stops in some isolated locations and wanted to take all necessary precautions, especially with a language barrier. To assuage our worries a bit, we laminated cards that were translated into Italian, specifying their food allergies and the potential consequences. While there were a few gelato shops that said we would not be able to try any flavors due to cross-contamination, we were mostly met with positive and very thoughtful consideration. One waiter actually brought a 20 pound bag of flour out of the kitchen to warn us that there might be sesame flour in the pizza crust.
Get in the Swim Accommodations with swimming pools were a very key part of our decision process and the promise of an afternoon swim turned out to be a powerful incentive.
Moving Around Travelwise, we moved a lot – but we allowed time for each leg so it wasn’t too much. We flew into Naples, and used Positano Car Service in the Amalfi Coast area. In Naples, we caught a train to Florence then rented a car and drove to Borgo, outside of Siena. We returned the car in Florence and took a train to Milan where our hotel arranged some rides for us in Lake Como region. We would have taken more trains, but Ravello and Bellagio are sort of tricky to get to. The only hassle was our kids getting car sick; everything else was a breeze.
Good for Next Time
Keep Moving Our kids were better travelers than we gave them credit for. We could have easily squeezed in another city; maybe taking a day or two away from Lake Como and adding in Rome, Florence or Venice. No regrets though.
by Sarah Hart, May 2016
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