With almost twelve weeks of summer vacation, we had a full itinerary packed with a whole lot of travelling and fun activities. As soon as school was out, we were on our way to Italy for the first stretch of our holiday. Whenever we go away as a family, we try to mix our sightseeing itinerary with some special activities for the kids and I had found some great stuff online and booked a few special surprises for the children.
We arrived in Rome early in the morning and headed to the Rome Cavalieri Waldorf Astoria. The hotel is astonishingly beautiful, hosting the world’s most prestigious art collection within a hotel and La Pergola, a 3 star Michelin restaurant recognized as the "Best restaurant in Rome". As impressive and luxurious as the hotel is, it’s the perfect hotel to stay as a family. It is located in a Mediterranean-style park in quiet residential neighborhood just a few minutes away from the city center and Vatican City and it offers a wide array of amenities, including a children’s pool and tennis courts. We left our luggage in our suite and headed out right away towards the Colosseum. Mark and Olivia were thrilled scrambling around the amphitheater pretending to be gladiators. I smiled and winked at hubby knowing we had a big surprise planned for them the next day. With no time to spare, we grabbed pizza at a small pizzeria and sat on the edge of a beautiful fountain to eat. The reality is that no matter where you find yourself in Rome, there is always a wood over crackling and great pizza being made. We continued on to our tour of the Forum and later visited the Pantheon.
The next day was gladiator school. We had booked this as a surprise for the kids and we knew they would love it, but we just didn’t know it would be so great. The swords may have been fake, but the skills were very much real. The class started with a short gladiator history lesson where the kids go to try on all kinds of gladiator gear, followed by a gladiator-style warm-up and learning how to duel. At the end of the class, each kid got certificate with a gladiator name imprinted on it. For the rest of our vacation, Mark and Olivia were Attilius and Verus. We strolled around aimlessly in the afternoon, throwing coins in every fountain and walking through piazzas and into churches. The next day we toured Vatican City, the Sistine Chapel, the Vatican Museum.
We left Rome and drove to Florence on the Range Rover Autobiography we had rented. It’s a bit of a drive, but we stopped at various villages along the way, so it went by easier. In Florence we stayed at the Four Seasons Hotel, just a stroll away from the Uffizi and the Duomo. During our stay in Florence, we drove to the beautiful Al Gelso Bianco, a family-run wine and olive oil estate in Tuscany where we had booked a family cooking class. We got to pick our own vegetables in the property’s garden. We made pasta and the kids got to work hard to knead the dough and then had the chance to use the pasta-cutting machine, before we sat down in the garden to enjoy the fruits of our labour.
The last few days in Italy we spent in Venice. There’s a certain romance and mystery about Venice. We had told the kids Venice was known as the sinking city which had them extremely intrigued and partly terrified. It wasn’t until we arrived that they understood the city and were marvelled by it. We got on a Gondola down the Grand Canal, walked into Piazza San Marco and visited St Mark’s Basilica. While in Piazza San Marco, we told the kids how in Venice, mask wearing is deeply rooted in the city’s history and culture. We told them about Carnival and then took them to Ca’ Macana, a mask small shop that offers mask decorating workshops. We each picked two masks and decorated them using different techniques and materials.
Italy is really kid friendly and this was a fabulous start to our summer vacation.