A Journey Through Italy With Livia and Family
I met Livia years ago on a modeling job In NYC. Funny enough, it was for an Italian brand who "went bankrupt" and tried to not pay us the thousands they owed us. After a year of our agency battling them in court, the real win was not that we finally got paid, it was that we found each other!
As the years passed, we had children at the same time and would constantly check in with each other on lengthy phone dates about the ups and downs of motherhood. It was nice to finally have a friend to talk to about motherhood who shared a similar perspective as I did. One thing that came up often on those talks was our love for family travel.
Over the years, I've seen Livia and her beautiful family jet off to the most stunning locations across Europe. This year, Livia and her lovely family is giving us a peek into to their latest multi-stop excursion through Italy. Let's look and take notes!
Hey Livia, tell us a little about yourself and family?
So, we’re a family of four (four and a half if you count our pup, but she doesn’t travel.) Benjamin and I, and our two little ones – Talulah our 5 year old daughter, and Sebastian (Bash) our 21 month old son. We’re both self-employed, in creative fields, so although we’re often quite busy, and certainly don’t live an extravagant life, we do have the flexibility to take time off for longer vacations each year. Benjamin is also able to do some of his work remotely, so we feel very fortunate because travel is pretty much our favorite thing to do. Before we had children we traveled a lot. We would basically save some money, travel until it ran out, and repeat. We always agreed that once we became parents, we wouldn’t be one of those families that just stops traveling, and luckily our kids have taken to these wild adventures, so we’re planning to keep it going as long as that lasts. At this point Talulah is already on her second passport and has been to 10 countries outside of the US!
Where did you go This year? Can you please share with us your travel Itinerary?
Now originally we had said we weren’t going to do a big European vacation this year. Mainly because we were deep into toddlerhood with Bash and it seemed like it would be tricky. We took them last year on a European Odyssey to Amsterdam, Nice and Italy but thought it would be too much for his current age this year. However, as winter dragged on and that old familiar itch kept nagging, we talked ourselves into it with one concession– We would only go to one country to simplify things. And that country was Italy. Italy has one of the warmest cultures in regards to family and children that we have ever experienced. This simple moment sums it up well:
The year before, in Rome, we were walking by one of the famous churches, Bash in a stroller, his sister on the roller board attached. As we passed the young soldiers standing guard out front with large military weapons, in full uniform, faces as serious as the Italian sunset is long, one of them suddenly leaned down with a brilliant smile and ignoring Benjamin and I said “Ciao bambino!” waving and glowing. Then straightened back up to business.
It’s as if babies and young children, rather than being viewed as a nuisance or a wasted restaurant seat as they all too often seem to be in the States, are seen as the center of life, the reason we’re here, a gift to be cherished whenever one is blessed with the opportunity to do so, no matter how briefly. So yes, we returned to Italy…
We flew into Venice (it was the major airport with the best prices for direct flights, and not too far from any of the areas we wanted to visit.) There we rented a car and drove two and half hours to Malcesine, a beautiful castle town on Lake Garda.
***Side note: by the end of our trip we decided that next time we could spend 2 whole weeks in Garda, it’s such a lovely place with so much to do. But alas we were only there for 4 days, originally planning it as our “transition stop” a laid back place to adjust to the time difference and ease into the trip. We stayed in an AirBNB, which has become our standard for our family travel. Having the extra room, a place to hang out as adults when the kids are sleeping, a kitchen for easy meals, etc. is essential for us and makes for a much better experience than we could experience at just about any hotel. Also, the personal touch of a local host goes way beyond what any concierge can offer (at this AirBNB the washer stopped working the day before we were set to leave and the owner came to our house, picked up our laundry, took it home, washed it and returned it an hour or so later!)
From Malcesine we headed South to an Agriturismo in Tuscany. This was the destination that we actually built our trip itinerary around. A converted farm house in the Tuscan Hills with about 15 individual houses and apartments. A beautiful pool, restaurant, playgrounds, olive groves, vineyards, a working farm with piggies and horses and chickens and everything for the kids to visit and play with – it was a rustic, but truly divine experience for a family vacation. We were also able to do day trips to a few beautiful small towns nearby: Certaldo (which was probably our favorite) a little castle town on the top of a hill, we took a short cable car ride to get there and rode down at sunset. Also Montespertoli, San Gimignani, Greve in Chianti.
Next we drove from Tuscany to one our absolute favorite places in the whole world– Monterosso al Mare in Cinque Terre. We’ve been there twice before, once with kids, once without. Its becoming more of a tourist destination these days despite being a little tricky to get to, but is still well worth a visit. In our opinion the perfect Italian beach town with beautiful, peaceful beaches, a lovely and lively promenade with ice cream shops and restaurants, and a traditional European Old Town filled with cafes, shops, churches, more restaurants and gelato all day long. It is a delightful place to visit and with 4 neighboring towns that can be hiked or trained to, there’s a lot to see and do.
We were originally going to train to and from Monterosso, but ended up keeping our rental car to simplify some our travel days with two small children. Our trip completed in Florence. Which was quite different than our last visit (years ago before we had children) and was honestly not as charming as we had remembered. Regardless of the charm level however, it was clear to us on this trip that Florence is simply not a very child friendly city. There are no playgrounds at all, not much in the way of parks, and the pedestrian squares in the city center were messy with construction and not very well maintained, we did enjoy our time there, but it was a bit of a let down as the final leg of our trip. In both Monterosso and Florence we stayed in AirBNB apartments with multiple rooms, kitchens, etc. and that aspect of each city was phenomenal– Couldn't have asked for better accommodations.
What type of traveler are you? Go with the flow or planned to perfection?
We are sort of both (I think you have to be with little kids) we plan the logistics and the really important stuff out very precisely (like making sure we have a proper crib for the baby, a grocery store nearby, transfer time between trains or layovers, and so forth) and then we fill in the blanks by going with the flow.
How long in advance did you plan this trip?
We started talking about the trip in January. Were making accommodation reservations in mid February. But didn’t book the non-refundable (flight tickets, etc.) until early April. Our experience is that you need to plan enough in advance to get good deals on flights and whatnot, but not so far in advance that your life situation could change drastically between booking and actually taking the trip!
What was your favorite part? Highlights? most memorable?
Swimming in Lake Garda with the kiddos– absolutely delightful.
Watching astoundingly beautiful (and incredibly long) Italian sunsets every night we were in Tuscany.
Eating nothing but Pesto, Pizza, Gelato (and a few sandwiches and croissants) every day we were in Monterosso! Making GoPro videos of our babies in the Mediterranean Sea. Riding a Donkey on a Tuscan hillside… So many great moments.
What did the kids enjoy the most?
Swimming. Gelato. Chasing each other down cobblestone streets and finding funny little fountains to splash in.
What was the most challenging part of the trip?
Our 5 year old daughter got an upper respiratory infection and fever that lasted for several days and that became a bit of an issue. It had nothing to do with traveling, it was just a regular kid-getting-sick thing, but was much more stressful for us since we were out fo the country and all. However the pharmacies and doctors and everyone we were in touch with to take care of that situation were fantastic.
What are your family travel must haves?
Sound machine and other sleeping comforts. If the kids sleep well, the trip will be a success. So we find that making their sleeping arrangements as similar to home as possible, while traveling is key. And we should note we didn’t really have any time zone transition or jet lag issues, either on our trip or returning home.
A great camera, and a smaller action camera. My husband is a photographer/filmmaker so this part is natural for us. But having a really good camera to capture the special moments, and then a GoPro to play with in the water and running around, made a huge difference in how we enjoy, capture and remember our trips.
Baby wipes, hand sanitizer and cute art smocks (as bibs) – Baby wipes all day long, my husband used as many as my toddler. :) Combined with a natural lavender hand sanitizer even the longest, sweatiest, stickiest days out and about don’t feel so bad. And the art smocks save you having to scrub tomato sauce out of every outfit you bring for the kids.
Livia’s Travel Must Haves
What would advice would you give to another family anxious about traveling abroad?
Do it! Even if you’re kids are too young to really remember it, it will become a part of who they are in the best possible way. And it’s kind of like The Amazing Race for the parents, which definitely sparks the fun and romance for mom and dad in a whole new way.