For our second family holiday and our first summer break we booked with Tots to Travel (https://totstotravel.co.uk). This company is now a firm favourite of ours because it does family holidays so well – taking all the stress and worry out of the planning and organisation. We fancied Italy (who doesn’t love pizza, pasta and chianti!) and settled upon a one bedroom villa as part of a cluster at Villa Pian di Cascina – http://avillainumbria.com. Prior to arriving we were able to opt in for various added extras – nappies, formula milk as well as a whole load of baby friendly equipment. We were also able to select some adult treats – local wine, home-made jam, lasagne and local olive oil! Does holidaying get much better than this!
We flew with Ryanair to Ancona and this wasn’t as bad as we expected! As with so many budget airlines we had a ridiculously early flight. Now, before children this wouldn’t have been an issue but the thought of ruining a sleep routine meant that we checked into a cheap (ish!) holiday inn at the airport. This at least made our morning a bit easier. We pre booked our carpark and opted for the off site cheap option with a bus transfer…not ideal at 6am with 2 bags, a pram, hand luggage and a crying baby!
I recommend pre-booking your seats for the flight. I wasn’t overly keen to get a seat away from my husband (he may have felt differently about this!). We checked in various bits of baby equipment and purchased a new light-weight buggy (I picked this up second hand and had no choice in the colour!). We kept the baby bjorn out and this was mega useful when getting off the flight the other end (I’ve never quite understood why they can’t take the prams off first!?!). Our daughter coped amazingly with the flight and slept the whole way (beginners luck I’d say!).
We hired a car on arrival (again – we need to remember to book a bigger one now we have children!). We checked in our own carseat (a Maxi Cosi Pebble) and wrapped it in Ikea blue bags (they do come in handy!). We took our own Satnav as the companies tend to charge for these. The drive was a very manageable 1.5 hours. The directions to the villa were perfect and the added bonus of being given a list of nearby supermarkets made a huge difference (we could stock up before arriving).
We stayed in Villa Cantina – a very stylish one bedroom villa with a beautiful sunny terrace – with some afternoon shade for the little ones and reluctant sun worshippers! (my husband!) Having now travelled more with children I really appreciate the fact that we could sunbathe whilst the baby slept (its not possible in many places).
The villa was perfectly equipped and the box of age appropriate toys was invaluable. The selection was probably better than the selection at home. The field of toys would keep even the most fussy of children entertained. The swimming pool (whilst a tad on the cold side) was secure and again full of toys for all ages. There was a shaded paddling pool for the little ones.
You’ll soon come to realise that we love our food and that a holiday is not complete without sampling local specialities. We also love cooking so being able to prepare food using the amazing local produce is a must. Pian di Cascina surpassed our culinary expectations in every way. The mornings started well with Paul delivering fresh croissants and local bread and the opportunity to buy home grown (and possibly the best I’ve ever had) raspberries was incredible. Our daughter had not long been eating so when Isabel kindly offered to deliver some reduced salt, home-made, organic meals we jumped at the opportunity. The onsite restaurant (La Tavernetta) was divine – Isabel was an incredible cook! The restaurant is easily within baby monitor range so in theory your children can stay tucked up in bed whilst you enjoy an adult meal without the additional childminding cost (or worry!). Our first visit worked perfectly…our second ended with Isabel serving our desert (a delicious meringue) on our terrace whilst we tried to persuade our daughter to go back to sleep!
The long sunny days were mostly spent relaxing by the pool or reading a book on the terrace. We had a Zoggs baby training swim seat for our daughter – a great purchase (and often reduced on the Zoggs website). She loved bobbing around in the water and it certainly made it more relaxing for us. We also packed a small paddling pool for our daughter and this came in very handy when the thought of walking the short distance to the pool was too much! My husband treated me to a massage (a lady comes to the villa once a week) and this was very welcome after 8 months of carrying around a 98th centile baby!
We did manage a few day trips. Isabel and Paul had so many wonderful suggestions – we really were spoilt for choice! We settled on Gubbio (one of the best preserved medieval towns in Italy) and Assisi (the birthplace of St Frances). Both were an easy 40 minute drive from La Cantina and provided a perfect chance for a morning nap for a daughter. On both occasions we found the baby sling hugely useful (nothing worse than a fairly cheap pram and the cobbles of Italian towns!).
Paul and Isabel recommended going to Gubbio on market day. You need to get up early (but when is this an issue with a child!) to secure a parking space but it was well worth it. Our daughter was mesmerised by the colours, smells and hustle and bustle. She ate her way around Gubbio (fruit pouches mainly but chunks of melon from stall owners were also a bit hit). Gubbio is very hilly but there is an incredible network of pram friendly paths, tunnels and lifts that criss cross the city and save your legs. We took a precarious bucket lift up the hill to take in the view….well worth it but wouldn’t want to do it on a windy day!
By the time lunch time came our daughter was fairly cranky so we opted for a quick slice of take away pizza (in my humble opinion this is another reason Italy is seriously child friendly!). I braved a local butcher to get some delicious lamb cutlets for dinner and we got into the car so that our daughter could sleep. For what its worth I think the pram was an issue here – had we taken our pram system we would have been able to recline her and possibly spent the rest of the afternoon soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying a drink.
Our second day trip to Assisi was equally enjoyable. We got off after breakfast (again in time for the morning nap) and parked easily. A gentle stroll through some pretty streets took us to the Basilica. We had a quick look around but we didn’t linger. The officials were pretty keen on silence (quite understandably) – but impossible to explain this to an 8 month old! We enjoyed an ice cream sitting on some steps whilst our daughter polished off yet another fruit pouch, sitting on a muslin cloth (what would the health visitor say?!?).
All in all this was a wonderful family holiday. Booking through Tots to Travel allowed us to stay in accommodation that was not only child friendly but truly beautiful (I actually wish we’d found accommodation as perfect as this BEFORE we had our daughter).