Back to Tuscany . . .
After the first part of our week which included visiting the picturesque, tall-towered town of San Gimignano, biking the medieval city walls of Lucca, and running free on the lawn in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, we geared up for another three fabulous Italian towns: Siena, Florence, and Pienza.
Day 4 - Siena
Siena is considered Italy's best-preserved medieval city, and its historic center is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. The crescent-shaped town square, the Piazza del Campo, is unbelievable. As you stand in the center of it, you can transport yourself back 500 years ago and think about the town gatherings that would have taken place in that very spot. The city, developed on three hills, still retains its 15th-century street plan. The 7km-long defensive wall surrounding the city still stands. In Siena, you find Gothic beauty everywhere - the palaces, towerhouses, and public buildings; even the sewer grates are impressive.
After exploring Piazza del Campo, we took a 10-minute walk down to Orto de' Pecci, a farm cafe in a small valley just southeast of the city center. If you go to Siena, THIS is the place to take young kids. It is a fabulous green area with farm animals, ample space to play, a medieval garden, a restaurant, and fantastic views of Siena. We spent at least two hours at this spot. The kids met friends, played in the leaves, chased the peacocks on the property, taunted the donkey, and played games of tag. The adults? We had a glass of wine, a few plates of pasta, and just sat back and took in the view.
What we did in Siena
1. Explored, ran free, and showcased our ballet talent in the Piazza del Campo
2. Sought out Orto de' Pecci, a farm cafe, only a 10 minute walk (with kids in tow) from the Piazza del Campo
3. Made our way to La Vecchia Latteria, and indulged in the best gelato of the trip
4. Meandered the city streets of Siena, popped into gardens, made wishes in wishing wells, visited toy stores
Tips for Siena
- Parking was a nightmare (at first) for us in Siena, so listen up closely. We google-mapped to "Siena" and ended up right at the walls of the city, but not at any parking location. After some hectic TripAdvisor searching for parking advice, we headed to the "Il Campo" parking lot, which is just inside of the city walls. Don't worry, you can access it without special permission, as long as you head straight to the well-marked lot. The parking garage is huge and puts you very close to the Piazza del Campo.
- Orto de'Pecci has strict hours (12:30-14:30 for lunch, closed, and then open again for dinner), so check your watch before you go. To get to the park from Piazza del Campo, take the narrow street just left of Tower Mangia, turn right through an even narrower street until you reach Piazza del Mercato. Cross the market place and follow the street downhill. The street turns right and takes you through a gate which leads into the park. Or, when in doubt, Google-map it!
- There are some great playgrounds in Siena. Check out Orti Dei Tolomei, one with picnic tables, olive trees, open grass, and a climbing frame.
- You can climb the Torre del Mangia in the Piazza del Campo, but plan ahead and get your tickets online. Only 30 people at a time are allowed to ascend the tower.
- We LOVED La Vecchia Latteria, but also read that Gelateria Kopakabana is pretty awesome. Can you do gelato twice in one day? It may be worth it!
Day 5 - Florence
To Florence, or not to Florence? This was a big question for us. We visited Florence almost 10 years ago pre-kids and saw all of the requisite sculptures, bridges, and architecture. We happily ambled through the city among the crowds and discovered how special and romantic of a place it is. But is Florence for kids? After doing some research, we decided to go for it and tailored the trip entirely to the kids. Using some tips from Ciao Bambino, we headed straight to Boboli Gardens. Actually, we mapped to Boboli Gardens, and when we parked and arrived, we discovered an awesome park with playground and picnic benches just adjacent to Boboli Gardens called Giardino delle Scuderie Reali. It is here where we had a picnic lunch, and the kids met some great friends on the playground and ran free for a couple of hours. The park is free to enter and we were the only tourists. It was a low-key, relaxed, and uncrowded spot - the perfect way to start out our day in Florence.
Post-lunch and playground time, we entered the adjacent Boboli Gardens. These gardens are stunning - and huge! Expect to spend a significant amount of time enjoying your surroundings and discovering all of the centuries-old sculptures, fountains, and secret garden passageways. The changing foliage in October was unbelievable. The kids had a ball running around and playing hide and seek, and secretly, it was a great way to get from where we were parked to the Ponte Vecchio and into the old town. The kids hardly knew they were walking. As we exited the gardens at the north end (close to the Arno River), there was a great view of the famous Duomo and the old city center of Florence - a great family photo op!
After exiting the gardens, we made our once-daily gelato stop just before crossing the river. We then walked the kids across the (very crowded) Ponte Vecchio, and on to the Galileo Museum. We had read that the museum had some hands-on exhibits for kids. It did, but only a few. The bookstore was the real draw, and we bought several great science books for the kids. After the museum, we headed back across the Arno River, but via a different bridge - the Ponte Santa Trinita. This was key, as it avoided the crowds and gave us a beautiful view of the Ponte Vecchio. We stopped for pizza, then made our way back to the car and ended what was a great day in Florence, with kids.
What we did in Florence
1. Picnicked and played in Giardino delle Scuderie Reali
2. Hide-and-seeked our way through Boboli Gardens, admiring the centuries-old sculptures, fountains, oak trees and fall foliage
3. Gelato (but of course) . . .
4. Walked across the Ponte Vecchio (required, really)
5. Visited the Galileo Museum where the kids played with some hands-on exhibits (the museum only has a few)
6. Crossed the Ponte Santa Trinita, and admired the Ponte Vecchio from afar
7. Pizza (but of course) . . .
Tips for Florence
- Park at Parcheggio Oltarno lot was the way to go - great location, uncrowded, and easy. Do it!
- Florence is crowded. Super-crowded. It has more tourists than residents. Be aware and know that the crowds may be hard for the little ones in your traveling crew.
- When in doubt, find a playground or a big green space to play.
Day 6 - Podere Il Casale and Pienza
Our main goal for day 6 was to go to visit Podere Il Casale, a working farm and farm-to-table restaurant with incredible views of the town of Pienza. From there, Pienza was less than a 15 minute drive away, so naturally, we paired the two.
Visiting Podere Il Casale was a highlight for everyone. I pre-booked a farm tour and cheese-tasting (25€ per adult, kids are half-price). When we arrived, we were taken on a relaxed tour of the working farm by its Swiss owner. He and his family moved to Tuscany years ago to take up farming in the beautiful area where they are now located. The kids got a kick out of cradling guinea pigs (over, and over, and over), feeding sheep and donkeys, laughing at the loud and muddy pigs, petting the farm dogs, watching the pecorino cheese-making process, and learning how saffron was picked from flowers and used in the kitchen. We took little hikes around the gorgeous property in the rolling hills while we waited on our cheese platter to arrive.
Why did we love this place so much? Because the kids could be themselves. They could run around and enjoy the animals. They could collect olives and wine corks. We ate al fresco with beautiful views. There were no crowds, and this was the true Tuscan countryside.
After Podere Il Casare, we made our way to Pienza, which is quite literally pecorino-heaven. A small village, and easily walkable for kids, Pienza is quaint and warm. Pecorino cheese tasting is offered on nearly every street. The city walls are beautiful and perfect for expelling some post-gelato energy. It has a different feel to it than every other town we visited.
What we did at Podere Il Casale
1. Pre-booked a farm tour and cheese-tasting (no pre-payment required)
2. Enjoyed the 40 minute private farm tour, inhaled the cheese plater, and opted to stay for lunch. Lunch was phenomenal.
3. Took in the views, hiked around the property, played with the animals, watched pecorino cheese-making and saffron-picking in progress
What we did in Pienza
1. Set a course for Buongusto Gelateria, which was recommended by the folks at Podere Il Casale
2. Inhaled gelato
3. Ran the city walls of Pienza
4. Ambled down the quaint streets of Pienza, pecorino cheese-tasting all the while
Tips for Pienza
- Parking is well-marked, easy, and close to the entrance of Pienza
Day 7 - Capella Sant Andrea and San Gimignano
For our final Tuscan day, we feasted at the nearby farm-to-table restaurant and farm home, Capella Sant' Andrea. The hosts were warm and welcoming, the food was delicious, and the kids got a tour of the farm (always fun)! Following a big lunch, we headed back to our favorite town - San Gimignano, which was only 5 minutes away. We took in the tall stone towers once more, our youngest requested gelato (the rest of us just could.not.any.more), and we splurged on one gift from Tuscany for all of the kids - wooden crossbows and arrows.
That wraps up our time in this wonderful part of the world. Tuscany with kids is a wonderful privilege, and so much fun.