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Italy for families

St Peter's Square, Vatican City. Image: Getty

Donald Strachan offers up Italian inspiration for travellers young and old


It’s hard to think of a more family-friendly country than Italy. Children are indulged pretty much everywhere — all state museums are free for under-18s, for starters. If there’s nothing on the menu for a fussy eater, a polite request for pasta al pomodoro (pasta with tomato sauce), pasta al ragu (with bolognese sauce) or una scaloppina (breaded chicken or veal cutlet) is usually met with a smile of assent. There’s plenty to do for a range of ages: terrain includes everything from white-sand beaches to Western Europe’s highest mountain (known here as Monte Bianco). It’s fairly easy to explore the country independently, but packages enable travellers to experience the country pre-prepped by specialists in a wide range of interests and regions. Turn the page for some favourites.

Outdoors in the Dolomites

Ideal age: Teenagers.

What’s great about it?
Northern Italy’s Dolomite range is famous for craggy natural beauty and dramatic sunsets. Some of Italy’s best family ski resorts are here, including Passo Tonale and Alta Badia. Hiking, mountain biking, climbing, kayaking and pretty much anything outdoor-orientated is on tap.

Sample: The self-guided, hotel-to-hotel Ice-Man and Witches of the Dolomites walking holiday costs from £875pp (first child under 14 from £695) with Inntravel (inntravel.co.uk). Includes seven nights’ B&B, four dinners, mixed-ability routes between hotels and luggage transfers.

Dolomites, South Tyrol. Image: Getty

The pleasures of Rome

Ideal age: Eight and over.

What’s great about it?
If there’s one Italian city that can entertain families of almost any configuration, it’s Rome. For those interested in art or history, the city is perfect. Younger kids will enjoy enrolling in Gladiator School and finding Italy’s best artisan gelato. For teens, there are ancient catacombs to explore beneath the Via Appia Antica, endless shopping and even free wi-fi on some city trams.

Sample: Three nights in a three-star Rome hotel (B&B) costs from £327, including flights with Citalia. citalia.com

Trevi Fountain, Rome. Image: Getty

Rural and coastal Puglia

Ideal age: Toddlers to primary school.

What’s great about it?
The conical stone trulli houses of the Valle d’Itria star in the photos, but Puglia is also Southern Italy’s breadbasket. Its simple cuisine is based on seafood and an abundant sun-kissed harvest — the classic Puglian dish is orecchiette pasta with cime di rape (turnip-top greens). The coastline is fringed with beaches and pretty ports, including Marina di Ostuni, Pescoluse and Savelletri.

Sample: Tots Too offers the Borgo Egnazia resort, near Savelletri, with tennis courts, a spa and family cooking lessons available. There’s a creche (from eight months) and kids’ club (3–12 years). Prices from £3,414 a week B&B for a family of four, excluding flights. totstoo.com

La Villa, Alta Badia, South Tyrol. Image: Getty

Trentino and South Tyrol

Ideal age: Teenagers.

What’s great about it?
The South Tyrol feels like a part of Austria — which it was, until the First World War . German is widely spoken and the food is miles from the ‘Italian norm’, with specialities including strudel. There’s typically Tyrolean scenery, but it’s also easy to plot cycling routes that are mainly flat. Several companies offer e-bikes to help power young or old legs uphill.

Sample: New for 2017 is Cycling for Softies’ one-week itinerary from Kalterer See via Trento to Lake Garda, which can be tackled on a touring or e-bike. Prices from £1,355 per adult, £1,215 per child, including breakfast, dinner and luggage transfers. cycling-for-softies.co.uk

A sandy beach in Sicily or Sardinia

Ideal age: Any.

What’s great about it?
Not everyone wants to fill a holiday with lots of doing. Although stretches of coast are marred by overdevelopment or sprawling campsites, there are gems on the Mediterranean islands of Sardinia and Sicily. The latter is a top choice for mixing culture and time on the sand, with baroque architecture in Noto and Ragusa, Greek ruins at Agrigento and Siracusa and Taormina, and spectacular Arab-Norman chapels and palaces all
around Palermo.

Sample: Aimed at teens and adults, Thomas Cook’s Sentido Acacia Marina resort is close to Ragusa and has a spa and private beach. From £1,759 per family all-inclusive, based on two adults and one child sharing (includes flights). thomascook.com

Cala del Bue Marino, Sicily. Image: Getty

Tuscan farmhouse with pool

Ideal age: Primary school.

What’s great about it?
Arguably Italy’s prettiest region, Tuscany is littered with converted farmhouses (agriturismi) where it’s possible to hide away, sample local wine and olive oil, and generally relax for much less than the cost of a private villa. Most of the best places come with a pool. Making a base in the centre of Tuscany means it’s easy to incorporate day trips to Florence and Siena (for a dose of culture), Chianti (for wine) and San Gimignano, Tuscany’s most Instagrammable spot, preserved in its 14th-century time capsule.

Sample: Headwater offers a one-week stay at the Casa di Tery, close to Casole d’Elsa in central Tuscany. From £209pp, including bikes and cycling itineraries but excluding travel. headwater.com

Horse-riding in Tuscany

Ideal age: Capable riders, 10 and over.

What’s great about it?
When it comes to horsemanship, Italy can match the Wild West: coastal plains in the Maremma had their own cowboys, the butteri, who herded white longhorn cattle from horseback. Tuscany’s rolling countryside and quiet lanes are ideal for horse-riding between medieval villages, wine estates and panoramic viewpoints. Regional parks, including San Rossore, near Pisa, have dedicated riding trails.

Sample: In The Saddle has a seven-night riding holiday based at Castellare di Tonda, a historic estate between Pisa and Florence. Itineraries accommodate experienced or mixed-ability groups, and include lessons. From £895pp half-board, excluding flights. inthesaddle.com

Lage Garda. Image: Getty

Exploring Lake Garda

Ideal age: Older primary to teenage.

What’s great about it?
Italy’s largest lake is popular with families from all over Europe, and not just for the Gardaland theme park and water slides at Caneva World. It’s also easy to explore the shores with a ‘rover’ ferry ticket, enabling trips to Sirmione (for its castle), Malcesine (for the Monte Baldo cable-car) and more. The northern shores of the lake, around Riva del Garda, are a hotspot for watersports, including windsurfing, sailing
and kitesurfing.

Sample: Seven nights all-inclusive at the Parc Hotel, Peschiera del Garda, this August, from £919pp with Inghams. Includes flights to Verona, transfers and buffet-style meals. inghams.co.uk

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