Travel

Our Italy Vacation

Our Italy Vacation

As I’ve mentioned, we just took a family vacation to Italy, and the country completely stole our hearts. I’d love to share a few anecdotes and photos, if you’d like to see…

ROME

Our Italy Vacation

Our first stop was Rome. We knew our trip would have lots of logistics, so Alex and I decided to slow waaaaay down to the boys’ pace. For us, that meant a walk through the Colosseum, a fun afternoon at the Borghese Gardens, pasta lunches, playing in squares with fountains, and afternoon naps at home. The lazy pace ended up being really great and taking the pressure off all of us.

Our Italy Vacation

Our Italy Vacation

One morning, we met up with an awesome Cup of Jo reader and her two kids who live in Rome, which was a treat. We went to the Borghese Gardens and had a great time running around playgrounds and riding the little train. (I wasn’t able to sneak away to the Borghese Gallery on this trip, but it’s utterly fantastic with a gripping audio tour — next time!) Afterward, our friend took us a gelateria nearby, where they pour melted chocolate into the bottom of the cone. NO BIG DEAL.

Our Italy Vacation

Have you ever heard of Scooterino? It’s an Italian app like Uber, but you hitch a ride on the back of someone’s Vespa. How cool is that?! Alex took it a couple times, and the boys were totally starstruck.

Our Italy Vacation

Our Italy Vacation

We let the boys stay up late — Italian-kid style! — and all went to dinner at neighborhood restaurants, which generally opened around 7:30 p.m. It was kind of freeing to not have to make it home for bedtime, and we just enjoyed the evenings together. (Of course, we figured they’d sleep in the next morning, but no such luck! #5AMforever)

Our Italy Vacation

We had an especially fun meal at La Carbonara in Monti. The walls are covered with graffiti, and diners are encouraged to add to it. Alex etched “J+A” and Toby carefully wrote “Tobias.” :) It’s funny, when you take a romantic getaway with your partner, you often get extra schmoopy; but I felt the same way on this family trip — I fell even more in love with my children. I mean, look at that face!

Our Italy Vacation

Our last night, we walked over to the Trevi Fountain. The square is completely packed at all hours of the day, but oh my gosh, how beautiful is it? Legend has it that if you throw a coin over your left shoulder, you’ll return to Rome (or two coins for love, and three coins to get married). Crazily enough, a whopping 3,000 Euros are tossed into the fountain every day. It’s then collected, cleaned and given to charity.

BAGNOREGIO

Our Italy Vacation

From Rome, we rented a car to drive to Tuscany, but on the way we stopped for a night at the stunning hilltop town Civita di Bagnoregio. It’s teeny tiny — there are are only seven year-round residents — and you get there by taking a footbridge high over the valley.

Our Italy Vacation

Our Italy Vacation

Our Italy Vacation

We stayed at an apartment in the town, which was magical and peaceful, especially once all the daytime tourists left at around 6 p.m. The homeowners invited us to their apartment upstairs for dinner, and we gladly accepted. We had pasta with peppers and zucchini from the garden; and they grilled bread and sausages in the fireplace. For dessert, they gave the boys “Ugly But Good” cookies!

TUSCANY

Terre di Nano

The next day, we continued on to Tuscany. We stayed at the agriturismo Terre di Nano, which two friends had recommended. It’s a working farm with vineyards and olive groves, and they rent out two apartments and three cottages.

Our Italy Vacation

One huge bonus is that you can request breakfast and dinner each day, if you’d like. The first night, the chef, Georgio, served spicy pasta, lemon chicken, and beef with vegetables. It was Anton’s fourth birthday, so we were planning to put candles in his bowl of gelato — but after our meal, Georgio, who had overheard us celebrating, strolled out with a CHOCOLATE CAKE he had just whipped up! It was the sweetest moment for our wide-eyed little boy.

Our Italy Vacation

I often feel restless on trips and want to run around and see/eat/experience things, but the agriturismo was just so relaxing and chill. We spent our days swimming; playing bocce ball; petting their two dogs; visiting the goats, geese and chickens; and reading in lounge chairs tucked all over the property.

Every afternoon, the boys would get gelato from Terre di Nano’s cart. (Hazelnut was the crowd favorite.)

Our Italy Vacation

Our Italy Vacation

Honestly, I cannot explain how lovely this place was. I’d LOVE to come back with more family members and share the magic. I can see now why Tuscany is so beloved!

VENICE

Our Italy Vacation

After four days in Tuscany, we drove to Venice to stay with my friend Skye. She’s a food writer in London now, but grew up in Venice and comes back every summer to visit her mom.

Our Italy Vacation

It was fun to stay with a local and feel like we kind-of lived there. We took their boat out on the water, had pastries at the neighborhood café every morning, and drank wine at home in the evening.

Our Italy Vacation

It’s easy to think of Italian food as one big type of cuisine, but each place we visited had very specific regional dishes. In Rome, we had pizza and cacio e pepe; in Tuscany, Alex went bananas for the steak; and in Venice, we had things like fennel risotto, shellfish pasta, and fried zucchini flowers and sage. I’d love to learn more about the regional differences — I remember interviewing an Italian chef many years ago, when he told me, “To me, fusion is uniting Ligurian basil with tomatoes from Campania.”

It was also a joy to just soak up the boys during this trip. At home, I sometimes feel busy and distracted by work, and we’re often running around and hurrying from one place to another. But on a trip like this, it was so nice to just walk and hold hands and chit chat and chase pigeons and do a whole lot of nothing at all.

LAKE COMO

Our final stop was Lake Como, just a few hours from Venice (and close to the Milan airport, where we were flying out). We rented an apartment in this ivy-covered building, above, about a ten-minute walk from Bellagio. We spent A LOT of time swimming and chilling on that bench!

Feeding ducks at Lake Como

One evening, a woman named Monica, who lived around the corner, walked over with a giant bag of bread left over from restaurants. She sat on the steps and started feeding the ducks, pigeons and swans. I encouraged Anton to ask if he could help (“Posso avere pane, per favore,” he whispered nervously) and she welcomed him with open arms. She even taught him how to feed ducks from his hands. “Bravo! Bellissimo!” she kept exclaiming. The following night, we made a plan to meet her at the same place, same time, and Anton was thrilled.

Our Italy Vacation

Of course, as always there were bumps along the road: Early mornings, sibling squabbles, little boy meltdowns, long drives with wrong turns, trying desperately to get the boys to be quiet in quiet places, even a fender bender with a Roman cab (!). But needless to say, all that was worth it, times a million.

Our Italy Vacation

We had such an incredible trip and keep pinching ourselves. We miss you already, Italy! xoxoxo

P.S. On Instagram, we got a few questions about where we stayed, and I’m happy to share links…

Rome: We ended up staying in two different apartments, for logistical reasons — I wouldn’t recommend switching spots in the same city, but the bright side was that we got to check out two different neighborhoods. The first night, we stayed in this central family apartment, which had beautiful views and TONS of kids’ toys. The next two nights, we stayed in this comfy place in the cool, laid-back neighborhood of Monti. (One tip for traveling to Rome in the summer: Look for apartments with AC. It gets hot!)

Civita di Bagnoregio: This apartment.
Tuscany: Terre di Nano.
Venice: Our friend Skye‘s house.

Lake Como: We also stayed in two different spots here because we couldn’t find a place that was available for all four nights. First, we stayed for two nights in Bellagio in this incredible building (we stayed in Apartment Two). One head’s up: Bellagio’s town center was a 10- to 15-minute walk up lots of steps, and Anton always wanted to be carried, haha, so keep that in mind if you have younger kids. Still, I’m glad we stayed there, and it would be especially fantastic for adult groups. Our final two nights were spent in Varenna, the most relaxed, lovely little town that we all adored. (I wouldn’t recommend the rental apartment we booked, though; it wasn’t great.)

A few people asked about car seats and strollers. We brought a car seat for Anton and a booster for Toby, plus a basic folding stroller for Anton. We knew we’d be walking pretty long distances and he’d sometimes be jetlagged or need a nap. I doubted whether we’d need it, but Alex pushed for it, and in the end, the stroller was a lifesaver!

Please let me know if you have any other questions, and thank you so much for reading. xoxo

P.S. A Tuscan wedding, and 16 tips for traveling with kids.

(Photos by us, except first photo of Tuscany by Ashley Bruhn/Hither & Thither.)

  1. Rachel says...

    Hello! We’re planning a trip to Switzerland and Italy. I just looked at rental cars….holy $$$ batman! Any recommendations where you found yours? Thank you!

  2. I’m just back from eleven days in Italy and it was so fun to revisit my memories via your post. I too loved getting an understanding of the regionality of Italy cuisine. Some things you just don’t get until you experience them.

    My mom and I did a tour with Abercrombie & Kent because our travel styles are pretty different from each other’s. It worked well (although the pace was aggressive). We saw a ton. I can’t wait to go back.

  3. So fun! We have a 11 day street trip out west (AZ, CA, NV) in mid-August and this got me significantly more energized than I as of now am! It should be possible!

  4. hey joanna, hello from singapore! i am planning a trip to italy in feb next year and i am re- reading this again. i love your writing and your style. effortless, easy and sincere. Thank you so much. Just popping in to say thank you :)

  5. Nicole says...

    I just loved reading about this amazing trip! When you were at Lake Como, did you visit any of the other lakes? How did you choose Como over Garda? I’m planning a trip and can’t decide between the two….

  6. Maria says...

    Just spent 10 glorious days in Lake Como, it is magical! I want to explore Italy so much more.

  7. Stacey says...

    I would LOVE a post on all tips and recommendations for traveling abroad with young children. I have a 5 and 3 year old and we are hoping to visit Europe with them for our 10 year wedding anniversary next summer. I’d love to know everything g from passports, TSA precheck, to car and booster seat arrangements, efficient packing and luggage, in-flight entertainment, sleeping arrangements and all of it in between and along the way! ☺️ Thank you!

  8. Lauren says...

    Hi, this is totally specific but I wondered if you drove from Varenna to the airport before your flight. My husband, daughter (20 months) and I are staying on lake Como before flying out of Milan (10:30am flight) and I wasn’t sure if we should stay in/near Milan the night before or stay on the lake! Any advice/experience is appreciated!!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes we did! i can’t remember our flight time, but I think it was a little later (i think we had to get to the airport at 10/10:30.) the drive took about 1.5 hours and we then returned our rental car. since you have an early flight, it might be a good idea to stay in milan or at an airport hotel the night before, just to make your travel day easier. good luck!! xoxoxo

  9. I taught in Italy years ago and was also struck by the cuisine differences place to place. Liguria (the Italian Riviera) was all about pesto. Rome, you know, and then the region I taught in last was Emiglia Romagna, in a small town near Parma. They are sometimes called the Breadbasket of Italy because of all the farming- and all the pig farms. It is where true Prosciutto comes from and a number of special types of sausage as well as parmesan cheese, of course! It was funny because there are picky Italian kids too. At camp, they always offered a regular lunch or a picky eater lunch of “White Pasta” (pasta with parmesan cheese) and slices of proscuitto as the main dish.

    What caught my eye though was the zucchini you ate in Venice is also something we ate several times here. The nona of the family cooked it and the plant came from their garden. So lovely! It was my favorite thing I ever ate in Italy.

  10. Aya says...

    You, your writing and your family often bring me to tears. I’m so glad you had this wonderful trip together.

  11. Hi Joanna! I’m late to the game, but I’m leaving for Venice next week and I’m stressing over SHOES! Any recommendations?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      good question! i imagine you’ll be walking a lot, so i’d recommend something comfy but nice enough for wearing to restaurants, churches, museums, etc. for what it’s worth, i wore my nisolos every day: https://nisolo.com/products/ecuador-huarache-sandal-almond — maybe you’d like to wear some nice slides or pretty clogs? everlane has some pretty ones: http://bit.ly/2u294r3 and madewell always has nice shoes! have so much fun! xoxoxooxox

  12. archana reddy says...

    Hi Jo, loved this post and it is so timely! Did you rent a car and drive around? Did you rent a gps?How is driving around in Italy?

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      thanks for your note! we rented a car between rome and venice, and then again for the lakes. driving was totally fine! we used our phones as navigators, which worked really well. xoxo

  13. Rebecca says...

    What a brilliant advertisement (meant in the most positive of ways) for both travel to Italy and travel with little ones. So lovely.

  14. Lisa S. says...

    This trip looks absolutely wonderful. And I just have to say that the picture of Toby in Venice looks so much like your sister, Lucy. All the best to you and your family….

  15. nicole b. says...

    Truly blissful. Thank you so much for sharing every detail. It is my dream to visit Italy; my eyes welled up with tears at the sight of the Tuscan countryside… the sun through the trees… magical! I will get there. xo

  16. Lauren E. says...

    My heart is ACHING. Italy is one of my favorite places in the world. So glad you all had such a great trip!

  17. Flo says...

    I love this whole post, Joanna! Plus your boys are looking lovely and so are you and Alex.
    Thank you!

    Love from Chile

  18. Lauren says...

    We just did a very similar trip with a 4 and 6 yr old. My husband also pushed for the stroller…I was worried about being embarrassed where the kids were so old…we brought it and concur…LIFESAVER!

    • giselle taminez says...

      I visited Venice last summer and really felt that the article is correct. We enjoyed it early in the morning and evenings but mid day was unbearable. It is beautiful but my least favorite city in Italy. Also visiting Italy like a local is much nicer than doing all the tourist things.