TUSCANY AND CINQUE TERRE TRAVEL GUIDE
Updated: Aug 10, 2018
I know I’ve mentioned this before, but Italy is absolutely my favourite place to go in the world. I love the food, the history, the architecture, culture… and (obviously) the wine.
For our first proper family holiday we decided to take Frank to experience our favourite place (not that he had any idea where we were!) and we headed over to Tuscany.
When looking for somewhere to stay we knew we wanted to be either in the lakes or the rolling Tuscan mountains. We chose the province of Massa and Carrara in Tuscany in the end, purely based on the villa we found there and availability, but it didn’t disappoint. I didn’t however take into account the terrain and rural location with a baby in mind (I’ll come on to that) all in all we had a great time, with a couple of challenges thrown in for good measure!
One of the things that appealed most to us about our villa was the location. We were in rural Tuscany, in a beautiful house set in 2km of olive and fruit trees, with some lovely little towns a short drive away. As an extra bonus, we were only an hour’s drive from Pisa for the airport, and within 45 minutes we could get down to the Italian Riviera and Cinque Terre, which have been on my travel wish list for a while now!
Firstly, the villa –
When it comes to accommodation with a small child, I would definitely recommend finding your own accommodation over a hotel! I couldn’t imagine having to occupy frank in a small hotel room; in our villa he had his own bedroom and we had our own large garden/ pool space to relax and play around in the day so he didn’t get the chance to get too bored too quickly.
The plus side of renting your own villa/ apartment is being able to relax and enjoy a leisurely evening meal when the mini person is asleep! We spent most evenings watching the sun go down eating local meats and cheeses and drinking prosecco, it was perfection.
The local area –
We really were in rural Tuscany, half way up a mountain up a one track road. There were some beautiful little towns within a short drive which we spent some time checking out.
The downside to being so remote, was that most restaurants only opened Thursday to Sunday, and those that did, only opened in the evening which wasn't ideal for us with having frank and being a car journey away from everything.
That being said, we did manage to enjoy some lovely food whilst out and about in the day time, and the local towns were picturesque enough to make up for it.
The Riviera –
Basically the coastal region of the province of Liguria, it stretches from Italy’s border with France down to the North of Tuscany. The Riviera is not like anywhere else I’ve been, it’s an area where classic rustic Italy meets medieval towns and wild countryside, all overlooking the Ligurian Sea.
Visiting in June meant we managed to avoid the high season and therefore the crowds of tourists, whilst still being able to enjoy lovely sunny days (apart from one day of thunderstorms!)
Cinque Terre -
Possibly the most famous part of the Italian Riviera, it is a National Park and a UNESCO world heritage site. Cinque Terre means “Five Lands” and is a string of five ancient seaside villages built into the coastal cliffs, originally to keep watch for pirates… Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore.
If you are travelling with young children you would probably be better to take a couple of days to explore, so you can take full advantage of all the lovely towns without having to rush to cram too much in. We didn't have a couple of days, so we just saw what we could.
If you are staying locally, you can drive to one of the towns and then head up the coast on a boat. We did just that, hired a car and drove into Riomaggiore to catch a ferry… to be honest, don’t do it. Get a train.
The trains in Italy are really good, they are cheap and run frequently, and they will get you where you want to be in half the time. We have driven a lot in Italy, the Amalfi Coast included, and the drive from La Spezia to Riomaggiore was hair raising to say the least. It took a ridiculous amount of time due to very, very narrow roads which clung on to every cliff edge in sight. The views were beautiful but you couldn’t really stop to take them in because there was nowhere to pull in! You can get a rail pass for about €12 for the day which will save you a lot of time and nervous energy (don’t forget, you need to validate your rail tickets at the start of your journey at one of the green machines before you get on the train. You only need to do it once for the whole day but you will get fined if you don’t)
We caught the ferry up the coast, but we only managed to actually visit two of the five villages before logistical challenges got the better of us.
The first village on our trip, and where we caught the ferry from. We parked up at the top and walked down into the town, it was very steep so hard work with a pushchair, especially going back up the hill at the end of the day! It is full of lovely little shops, cafes, and restaurants (expect tourist prices here… It was a lot more expensive here that we had been used to for the rest of our holiday)
We walked down to the bottom, before realising that the bottom was not in fact the bottom. If we wanted to catch the ferry (which we did) we had to go down four flights of stairs to the marina. We paused for a quick coffee and pastry break before heading off again. Once in the marina we then found out we had to go right around the cliff side to the actual ferry harbour… up another massive flight of stairs to buy a ticket, and back down the other side. All the time carrying a pushchair, frank, and our large change bag.
We made it on to the ferry without any more incidents, Frank absolutely loved the boat ride. We stayed inside despite the lovely weather… I didn’t want to risk a baby overboard situation when he got too over excited!! We headed straight up the coast and decided due to logistics we were only going to stop at one port – Monterosso – so we could enjoy a couple of hours there and still make it back on the boat and drive home in time for dinner and bed time!
From the boat, it looks like Monterosso is the biggest of the towns. It had a beautiful promenade and lots of little winding streets and piazzas just full of classic Italian cafes/ restaurants where locals and tourists sat enjoying the sun.
There are two sections to the town – old and new. We spent our time in the old town, wandering through the tiny little alleyways and soaking up the atmosphere.
When frank fell asleep we stopped at a lovely restaurant in one of the piazzas and ordered some food and an aperol spritz. The food was great (as it mostly is in Italy!) and we followed with a gelato before heading back to the boat.
Monterosso is a lot more baby and child friendly! No stairs or steep climbs to the ferry, and the restaurant even had a high chair.
There is a beach for those spending more time there as well, it’s definitely worth a day if you have the time. We didn’t, so we headed back to our little villa for a stiff drink and an early night – exploring rugged Italian coastal villages is hard work with a little person!
Another one of our day trips saw us driving down to Lerici. It is not far from La Spezia, and slightly larger and more developed than the towns of Cinque Terre which makes it perfect for a day out.
Lerici is on the southern end of the bay of poets, and is a nice, flat, easy stroll around the beautiful marina (once you get down the 10 min walk from the car park that is!) you don’t hear English spoken here very much, it is mostly an Italian tourist town which means it is not crowded with tourists like you get further up the coast.
It is a gorgeous town with a couple of lovely squares and full of lovely restaurants, you can easily spend a day here. We had planned to do so, however after a slight pizza burning incident with Frank, we cut our losses and headed home earlier than intended.
So there you have it, my (rather delayed) Italy travel guide… hope it is of interest and some use for you!
I'll leave you with some final happy snaps of my little fam loving life round the pool...
Until next time... L