When I began researching my recent trip to the northwest corner of Italy, I was amazed at the lack of information available for those of us traveling with children. There were wonderful sites and recommendations for those traveling to Rome or Florence with kids, but apparently Americans just don’t take the kids to Piemonte. This might be because of the reputation of Piemonte as a wine destination, but I prickle at the idea that parents are not allowed to travel to destinations that appeal to them. Not all of us want to shell out countless thousands to go on an amusement park vacation and wait in lines all day.
That’s why this post is almost a year in the making. I’ve know for months that this post was necessary to help others that might also consider visiting this culturally important yet often-overlooked region. In the end, my kids had a vacation to remember, met kind and hospitable people, enjoyed food they liked (without kids menus), and the only lines we stood in were at the airports! All of this while the grown-ups explored one of the most important food and wine regions in the world.
When we travel with our kids we are lucky. We have traveling companions that we know we travel well with – hubby’s parents. It is certainly not feasible for everyone, but teaming up with another set of grown-ups can be a tremendous help. Think about inviting your best friends and their kids or make it a family affair with Grandma and Grandpa. By doubling the adults, you (and your friends) bring a set of babysitters that can help you find a little grown-up time to taste the wines and foods of the region without having to worry about the tots. If your friends have kids of similar ages, it also helps because you’re bringing friends for the kids to play with too.
Surviving the jet lag
If you are coming from the States, be prepared for the jet lag with the kiddos. As if adjusting to the time difference as an adult is hard, once you throw the precarious nature of children’s sleep habits into the game, you will certainly end up with some very late nights and a some late sleepers. Make sure not to arrange early reservations in the first few days of your trip. Allowing your kids to keep late nights and late mornings will make it easier on everyone while on vacation and also when you get back home.
Where to stay
If you want privacy then do what we did and rent a villa. We chose the stunning Villa Carlotta in the Monferrato town of Viarigi. Its remote location and kind caretakers will ensure you have a comfortable and relaxing vacation (and the kids will love the pool). It was perfect for the kids because of the outdoor space. They spent hours searching for lizards and creating pretend truffle hunts. It was a magical place. Villas like Villa Carlotta are all over and easy to find with helpful search engines like homeaway.com, VRBO.com and Airbnb.com.
If you don’t want to worry about renting a place, then look into Agritourismos. These are (usually working) farms with rooms available to rent. Many of these have animals for the kids to admire (and maybe play with) as well as room for your kids to get out and run around. Because they are working farms and vineyards, you will taste local food in a traditional way and maybe even taste a little house-made wine.
Where to take the kiddos
If you want to visit Piemonte, or any other wine region, start your plans with a lot of research. Think about what type of places your children might like: Do they like cities or country side? Are farms and animals fun for them? Do they like to see factories and how things are made? Do they like historical places like castles, palaces or ancient ruins? Once you figure out what type of places they like to visit, find those sort of places where you are going. Most kids just want a place where they are allowed to be themselves. They want to run around, be loud and have fun. If they happen to see a few new things along the way, then all the better.
In Piemonte, there are countless options for kids. With a castle on every hilltop, lots of room to run around, every town loaded with patisseries and geletarias and every restaurant serving pizza or pasta, you are sure to have happy kids. Italy has a reputation for being a kid-friendly country. The Piemonte region certainly lives up to that reputation. The Piemontese are warm friendly people. They will welcome you with a smile (and probably a glass of wine).
When planning your days remember that Italians eat lunch between 12:00 and 2:00 pm (14:00) and most restaurants do not open for dinner again until 8:00 pm (20:00). If you are taking along young children, then plan your restaurant visits during the day for lunch. Other than perhaps the high-end Michelin-starred restaurants, your kids will probably be welcomed anywhere. Don’t spend your time figuring out what places will be happy to have your kids, instead find places that will make your kids happy.
For dinner you can make your own meals. This is where renting a villa, apartment or hotel room with a kitchen is very handy. We made delicious, simple meals for dinner compiled from fresh local produce, cheeses, pastas and wine (grown-ups only) we found during our travels during the day. A few nights this was little more than a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese, fresh salad greens and a bottle of wine.
The children greatly appreciated the dinner-at-home arrangement as well. They were much more willing to try new foods at lunch when they were not tired, and for dinner they knew Mom was making them something they recognized from home. Many nights the kids ate pasta with fresh veggies. One night they had omelets made from the most amazing orange-yolked eggs, and I gave them frozen chicken nuggets bought at a local grocery store a few times too because they were stretching their food horizons so far during the day.
If your kids are big fans of watching streaming content like YouTube or Netflix while waiting for a meal, you won’t be able to get this unless you plan on paying extortion-like rates for roaming data in Europe. Instead, consider investing in something like the MediaFlair personal wifi which allows you to upload content before you leave which can then be watched from multiple devices at anytime with out additional internet access.
Over the next few posts I will post more details of places to go. Piemonte is not something than can be pinned down into a concise check list of what to see. Once you do your research and discover what the area has to offer you will find the areas and places that draw you in. Part three will delve into some of our favorite adventures, so stay tuned…