DESTINATIONS / EUROPE / ITALY

Interrailing review – we take our children on a train trip around Europe

Interrailing review – we take our children on a train trip around Europe

The highs and lows of a family Interrail holiday using Global Passes

I get some strange looks as I edge down the corridor in my pyjamas.

I’ve already had to stand on a suitcase to get out of the room without waking the other three occupants.

It’s the smallest bedroom we have ever slept in and it’s moving at 100mph.

We are on our first overnight train and it’s certainly an experience we won’t forget in a hurry.

After boarding at nearly midnight, we have to make up the beds as the train rattles along.

There’s no room for us all to stand let alone store our two suitcases.

But it’s all part of the adventure. We have set ourselves a challenge to travel around five countries in 10 days by train.

And it’s made possible thanks to Interrail. We are trying out its Global Pass which allows us to travel on almost all trains around Europe.

This includes Eurostar and trains in our own country while on the outbound and inward journeys.

Frankfurt to Nuremberg train, Interrailing around Europe with children

Although the less said about our outward journey the better – signal problems saw our easy trip to London mutate into a four-train nightmare which left us wondering if we would even make it to the capital, let alone our Eurostar from St Pancras.

But we did. And it has been mostly plain sailing from there. Or plain railing, if that is even a word. And if it isn’t then it should be.

First stop Brussels. We visit Mini Europe with its miniature replicas of famous landmarks and indulge in Belgium’s famous waffles and frites (not together).

Most memorable is the famous Manneken Pis sculpture of a boy urinating in a fountain – he is everywhere we look – replicas are in shop windows, on socks and even made into mini chocolates.

The local trains we catch here are double decker delights to the joy of my daughter.

On day three we depart for Germany, changing trains in Frankfurt to get to Nuremberg.

The trains feel so clean, modern and spacious. Plus, we are lucky enough to have the first class Interrail option – the price difference is relatively small and worth the extra if you can afford it.

After settling into a big apartment hotel (review here) and armed with a Nuremberg Card (which gives free access to attractions and free local transport), we start at the city’s pretty zoo where we spot polar bears and enjoy a dolphin show.

We get a glimpse of German culture, lederhosen and bratwurst at the twice annual fair Volkfest and explore the Old Town.

Nuremberg
Nuremberg

Munich is our day five destination. Although it’s nearly 200 miles from the sea, we join crowds of spectators watching surfers take turns to ride the waves of the Eisbach River where it gushes out from under a bridge.

It then meanders through a huge park, the English Garden, where thousands are gathered enjoying the sunshine and the relaxed atmosphere.

We view the city from the top of St Peter’s Church and my son enjoys a visit to the home of Harry Kane and Bayern Munich – the Allianz Arena.

Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany
Allianz Arena

And you can’t visit Munich without stopping for a traditional Bavarian meal at world famous tavern The Hofbrauhaus, by far the biggest restaurant I have ever seen.

It’s nearly midnight when we take to our (not so comfortable) beds on the aforementioned overnight train, which is taking us from Munich to Venice in eight-and-a-half hours.

And the reason I am to be found early in the morning wandering around in my pyjamas? I’m in search of a toilet and my clothes are firmly inside the one suitcase we could fit under a bed. Our night has been disturbed by noisy passengers getting on and off and I’ll do anything to avoid waking the children.

Although I nearly turn back when I realise everyone else is fully dressed!

A couple of hours later, we arrive in Venice, not exactly refreshed from the journey.

But stepping out of the station is a feast for the eyes – the turquoise waters, fabulous architecture and gliding gondolas soon wake us up.

A canal in Venice
Venice

And the room back at our hotel later feels gloriously spacious after our cramped conditions the night before.

A travelling day beckons next. We take three trains from Venice to Paris with stops at Milan and Zurich. It’s our most stunning journey to date as we pass through the spectacular scenery of Switzerland.

We have three nights in Paris and manage a whistlestop tour of all the main attractions, without the help of trains, using the Tootbus hop-on hop-off buses.

A trip up the Eiffel Tower takes me back to the last time I looked over Paris from on top of it when my boyfriend asked if we could move it together.

Up the Eiffel Tower
Up the Eiffel Tower

So it is nice to return, now, married with children.

We can’t resist a trip to Disneyland for our last day where another train leaves an impression – but it’s just one of the rides, the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Then it’s back on the Eurostar home.

We have been on 28 trains this holiday – so you would think I would know how to exit one.

But at our final top, our village station, I press the wrong button, only to sound an alarm that makes everyone jump.

What a way to announce our arrival home.

Are you interested in an Interrail trip, check out our full guide: Interrail – our guide and top tips for travelling around Europe by train – The Family Holiday Guide

If you would like to hear more about this journey, here is our full day-by-day diary: Interrailing with children – a diary of our adventures on trains travelling around Europe

*All views are, as ever, our own. To help us review the experience and areas travelled around, we were given complimentary Interrail passes, Tootbus passes, a Nürnberg Card and accommodation in Nuremberg.

Interrail – our guide and top tips for travelling around Europe by train

Interrail – our guide and top tips for travelling around Europe by train

Everything you need to know before using an Interrail Pass

What is an Interrail Pass?

An Interrail Pass is a train pass that lets you travel as much as you want across most of Europe.

They are for European residents or citizens only, if you live outside Europe you need a Eurail Pass instead.

Different types of Passes

Location

Interrail Global Pass is valid in 33 European countries, perfect for if you are travelling across more than one country.

Interrail One Country Pass, is self-explanatory – it works across one country. It lets you explore all corners of one country to really get to know it.

Time

You can choose a pass which lasts for anything from four days to three months.

Class

You also have the option of first or second class passes and this depends on your budget.

Second-class is more affordable but the difference in price isn’t as much as you would think and the extra luxury when travelling can really be worth it. Also, meals are often included which you can take off the cost.

Mobile or paperless

Mobile Passes work on your phone if you have Apple devices iOS 13.0 and later and Android devices 6.0 and later. 

This means you can have access to your Interrail Pass straight away and should never leave it behind. It also doesn’t start until you travel.

Issues can occur if you are using the Interrail app and it crashes so keep your mobile pass code handy, it will be a six-digit PNR code.

Traditional paper passes can be ordered online or bought at railway stations. You have to state the start date which offers less flexibility.

What to take with you

Pack as lightly as you possibly can as you will be carrying your luggage around a lot. Backpacks are seen as a traditional option but many like us, opt for suitcases with wheels. We chose these ones from Amazon – the grey three-piece – really reasonably priced, attractive and sturdy, plus they hold a lot. We took the large one on our train trip and used packing bags inside it. We also took the small for spare items, rain coats and electronics.

While you need to limit what you take, don’t forget the essentials:

*Passports and European Health Insurance Cards.

*A steel water bottle that you can refill. This means there is no need to keep buying plastic bottles and everyone can see which is theirs.

*Travel adapters and multiple chargers. We took this European adapter for a British plug to use with my laptop and hair straighteners and this one with only USB sockets for phones and Kindles.

Make the most of sockets on trains and in stations to charge your devices.

*First aid kit – make sure you have painkillers, plasters and travel sickness tablets if needed, plus of course any medication you need and hand gel.

*Credit card/cash – We took some cash for emergencies, around 100 euros, but used specialist cards with no foreign exchange fees. Our preferred one is Halifax Clarity but there are others available. Take a spare card in case one doesn’t work. And always pay in euros never pounds, if you have the option.

*No matter how nice the scenery, nobody and especially children, will want to spend hours and hours on trains just looking out of the window, so make sure you take things to occupy you such as a Kindle or other e-reader (you don’t want to be lugging books around), tablets, card games, activity books, cards or travel games which won’t take up too much precious room. Download any books, podcasts, films or shows before you go, there is often WiFi but it can be sporadic.

*Headphones – the whole train doesn’t want to hear Peppa Pig.

*Comfortable clothes and shoes, this isn’t the time for worrying too much about what you look like and being fashionable.

*A random one, but if you like an uncommon tea, take a few bags with you, I take peppermint tea bags with me then can always ask for a hot water to put my tea bag in if they don’t have any.

Seat reservations

So the beauty of an Interrail pass is being able to hop on and off trains as much as you like. However it’s definitely worth booking seats on busy routes.

Some trains have compulsory booking including Eurostar, other high speed trains, night trains and many in France, Italy and Spain, so make sure to check first.

It also means you are guaranteed a seat, usually have access to a charging point and can sit with any friends or family you are travelling with, especially important when you are with children of course.

The price of seat reservations is sadly not included in the Interrail Pass and the cost can build up.

You can avoid paying seat reservation fees entirely by taking smaller regional trains but this will make the journey a lot slower. We preferred paying for speedier trips between locations but if you’ve got lots of time, it’s an option.

Interrail App

Download Interrail’s Rail Planner app to keep track of your journeys, book seat reservations and access your Mobile Pass.

It should also give you the latest information on train timetables although this relies on you keeping it up-to-date. Some people have also reported issues with the data being wrong in places like Poland.

Alternative sites for timetable data include DB Reiseauskunft.

There’s also a fantastic website which explains everything about European trains and tips and ideas for Interrail newbies called The Man in Seat 61 – we used it to plan a lot of our trip, especially reserving seats and looking at route options.

Accommodation

Book your accommodation in advance. If you are travelling with children you need to know you have a safe, welcoming space where you can all relax and recharge.

It also makes sense to book breakfast in the hotel if you’ve got a long journey that day so the children can fill up on food they like rather than relying on the train menu, which isn’t really designed for youngsters.

Night Trains

If you have a long journey and there is a sleeper train available, go for it! It is such a novelty for children and the cost is similar to a hotel.

However, don’t expect to want to do it again!

We took a night train from Munich to Venice. Boarding wasn’t until nearly midnight, then we had to make our own beds up in a very tiny compartment with a toilet down the corridor.

The beds were hard, the pillows very thin and the passengers getting on and off at the various stops, so noisy, it sounded like they were in a compartment with us!

Am I glad we did it though? Absolutely. It’s a night we won’t forget in a hurry.

When things go wrong

No matter how carefully you plan, something is likely to go wrong.

You can’t prepare for train delays or cancellations, except to try to allocate more time and vow to keep calm when plans change.

Our first day of travelling on our Interrail trip went very wrong before we had even left the UK – full diary here.

There were multiple train cancellations due to signal problems on the line and we struggled to even get to London in order to leave the country and get on the Eurostar. Thankfully, all went smoothly once we had boarded.

Try not to let children pick up on your stress, you don’t want to spoil the trip for them.

Let them know in advance that things might go wrong but that it is all an adventure.

Above all, make the most of this amazing opportunity to explore new places. And of course, have fun.

Now read our INTERRAIL DIARY: Interrailing with children – a diary of our adventures on trains travelling around Europe

*This article contains affiliate links to products we genuinely bought for our trip and recommend. We may make a commission if you make a purchase after clicking on one of them.

*We had complimentary passes for our Interrail trip to enable us to review a holiday like this, all views, as ever, are our own.

We would love to hear any other tips you have, have we missed anything? Please comment!

Interrailing with children – a diary of our adventures on trains travelling around Europe

Interrailing with children – a diary of our adventures on trains travelling around Europe

The highs and lows of our Interrail trip including a very memorable overnight train

We are off on a 2,000-mile train adventure around Europe, only it hasn’t started off quite as planned..

Day 1: Disaster

Route: Cheshire to Brussels. 

Our day starts on a high with a plan to catch three trains.

But fate will soon intervene. 

Carrying as little luggage as possible, we catch our local train to Crewe, a big hub for the north west and here is where our problems start. 

Our train to London Euston is cancelled with talks of a signal problem on the line. 

We find another train but it has to terminate at Birmingham due to the same issue between Milton Keynes and Watford. 

Panic around us is rising as are passenger numbers as people from multiple trains cram on to a platform at New Street awaiting another one. 

We make it on and breathe a sigh of relief. We even find seats. 

But catastrophe rears its head again. After a 20-minute wait at Rugby, the screens aboard ominously declare that the train is not stopping at stops including our destination of Euston. 

Eventually the train driver confirms this to be true and the entire train has to get off at Northampton. The issue means that the platform already resembles a cattle grid and we join the tense throng. 

We have been creeping further south train by train but it seems we may not get any further. Will we even make it to London today let alone Brussels? We start to look at buses and coaches, our journey by train apparently foiled at the first hurdle. 

Suddenly an announcement that a train to London is leaving from platform one and everyone – now waiting upstairs in the concourse – surges down the stairs and back on to the platform, staff urging caution.

To make it worse, we then get separated, three of us packed into one carriage like sardines, my husband in another one with the luggage. We get off and reunite and I’m amazed to see how much clearer this furthest away carriage is. Lesson learned. 

Might we still make it to Euston and then St Pancras in time for our Eurostar to Brussels? 

Train one!

Day 1, part 2 

After a challenging journey and four trains, we are thrilled and relieved to finally arrive at London Euston. 

A hurried walk to St Pancras and we are miraculously still on time for the Eurostar and we sail through security and two passport checks (UK and French).

We have been given Interrail Global Passes to try out for this review – train tickets that allow us to travel on almost all trains in Europe. 

This includes Eurostar and trains in our own country while travelling on the outbound and inbound journeys. 

We are lucky enough to have the first class option, which actually doesn’t cost too much more and is well worth it. 

Our Eurostar carriage feels plush and quiet and we have a meal included. 

It only stops once, in Lille and we arrive in Brussels, Belgium in just two hours. 

Our sixth and final train of the day delights us all. It’s a sleek double decker and we make sure to sit upstairs despite the short journey from one part of Brussels to another.

We walk to our hotel near the main square. 

The city is bustling, it’s fabulous and there are more frites and waffles than you can shake a stick at. 

Waffles in Brussels

Day 2: Brussels

We wake in Brussels. It’s a bustling, thriving, fabulous city whose most famous resident is a boy urinating in a fountain. 

If you’re on a European rail trip then this, the capital of Europe and home of the EU, is a great place to start.

And Mini-Europe is the place to learn more about the continent.

Travelling there is our only train ride of the day. 

It’s got miniature 1/25 scale replicas, made by hand, of famous landmarks like the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, Mount Vesuvius and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

We also visit a chocolate factory – Choco Story Brussels and a fun, famous sculpture. 

Manneken Pis, a bronze statue of a little boy and a fountain, was designed by Jerome Duquesnoy in 1619, and has become a familiar symbol of the city.

You can’t miss him, there are replicas all over the place!

And yes we tried the waffles, they’re delicious. And more frites. 

Only one train today. But three tomorrow, we are off to Germany. Next stop Nuremberg. 

Manneken Pis in Brussels

Day 3: Back on the rails 

Route: Brussels to Nuremberg 

After breakfast, we pack up and catch a train back to the main station in Brussels.

Comfortably settled on our next train to Germany, we are happy everything is going to plan.

‘Please get off the train. There is a technical problem. Please get off the train’.

We are good at this now and obligingly gather up all our stuff and exit, hoping this isn’t a repeat of day one in England. It’s not. 

Twenty minutes later, we are back on and moving. The train is so, so nice. So much nicer than any I’ve used back home in the UK. The glass doors between carriages automatically slide open as you approach. 

The seats are fabulously comfortable – recliners with foot stands. 

There are tempting, private little booths for four behind glass screens available to book. 

These trains just feel so clean, fresh and spacious. And yes we are lucky enough to have complimentary first class passes with Interrail but all the spaces feel more luxurious.

The children are engrossed in their tablets and I read a book (via the Kindle app on my phone in honour of the first Interrailing rule to travel light) and properly relax for the first time in a long while. 

The gentle swaying, the views – trains are my favourite way to travel when things go to plan. And with me they often don’t.*

A car is never an altogether relaxing experience, even when you’re not the driver, planes feel so cramped and your ears pop. 

The station at Frankfurt is a further revelation, it’s bright, airy and welcoming.

We board our final train of the day for Nuremberg. 

Boarding at Frankfurt for Nuremberg

*Just ask my friends about the time last month when I was meant to be meeting them for a long-awaited catch-up in Birmingham and accidentally ended up on a non-stop train to London Euston.

Day 4: Nuremberg

I wasn’t expecting to see polar bears in Germany. Or a dolphin show.

But both are highlights of our trip to Nuremberg Zoo, a pretty site and an unexpected workout (it’s very hilly). 

Travelling around this city is easy as it has both a tram service and underground trains.

And the tram drops you directly outside the zoo.

Paying for attractions and transport is a doddle* too as it is all free if you buy a Nürnberg Card.**

Worth it for the convenience as well as the cost – zoo entry alone would be over half the price of the card.

We are lucky enough to be here for the twice yearly fair Volksfest.

There are lederhosen, bratwurst, a great family atmosphere and lots of funfair rides. A real glimpse of German culture – and the weather helps as it’s an unseasonably warm and sunny 25 degrees. Shame I forgot to pack our sunglasses while ‘travelling light’. 

We are staying at The Living Hotel in the suburb of Gostenhof on the outskirts of the city.

It’s nice to be able to spread out as our roomy apartment has two floors, plus the bonus of a small kitchen and two bedrooms.

The Old Town is just a 20-minute walk away.

We have more exploring to do here tomorrow before we leave for Munich.

And I must buy some sunglasses. 

Nuremberg Zoo

*I pledge to drop this expression into conversations more regularly, it’s not used enough! 

Day 5: Munich 

Surfing and flirting 

Munich may be nearly 200 miles from the sea but it doesn’t stop professional surfers from flocking here.

They come to enjoy some of the best river surfing in the world and it’s a spectacle to behold as they take it in turns to ride waves that surge from under a bridge.

Crowds of spectators watch to see how long they last before plunging into the water and being whipped downstream. 

It happens on the edge of a park, the English Garden. The Eisbach river continues to flow through the park, creating a lazy river effect.

Today in 25C temperatures, dozens are using it to cool off.

There are thousands of mainly younger people enjoying the warm weather in this huge open space. There’s an amazing vibe and it’s fascinating to walk among them as they dance, play volleyball, sunbathe and flirt. It takes me back a few years. Or possibly decades. 

Games continue in another beautiful nearby park – Hofgarten – with groups of people playing boules.

There’s an almost film set feel about the place that I can’t quite put my finger on not least because of the appearance of some of the buildings. 

Loads get around by bicycle, but transport options are plenty, you can use trams, underground trains and electric scooters. 

It feels like a salubrious university city, which it is. This the country’s third biggest city is also one of its wealthiest. 

It took just an hour to get here from Nuremberg where we started the day wandering the historic streets around the Imperial Castle.

We’ve got another full day to enjoy here tomorrow before our very exciting overnight train to Venice. 

Surfing on Eisbach river in Munich

Day 6: Munich 

Workouts and lederhosen

I have an unexpected workout today. Three hundred and six steps to climb St Peter’s Tower in order to tremble on a narrow ledge with great views over Munich. 

We also look around the Viktualinen market which has opened every day (other than Sundays and public holidays) since 1807. And then wait with a crowd, phones all around pointed in the air, to watch the 11am Marienplatz clock tower show. It’s a mechanical clock which re-enacts scenes from Munich’s history on the grand New City Hall. 

Meanwhile my son is keen to see the home of Harry Kane – and Bayern Munich – the Allianz Arena. 

Inside you can do a tour of the stadium and visit the Bayern Munich museum and club shop. The museum’s very well done, with displays in German and English.

Next we take a flight through 7,000 years of Bavarian history (Munich is the capital of Bavaria) with VR technology at TimeRide Munich. 

There’s plenty of history in our dinner choice.

The Hofbräuhaus has been serving beer, sausages and more since the 1500s.

It’s absolutely huge, full of atmosphere, music and filling German food. 

Sat at tables around us are some of the regulars, often in lederhosen, drinking out of their own beer jugs – kept under lock and key for them. 

No time for trying too much beer though for any of us – we’ve got a night train to Venice to catch.

Next stop Italy.

At the top of St Peter’s Tower in Munich

Day 7: The reality of an overnight train and tears for Venice 

So I don’t get much sleep. 

As it turns out, overnight trains are rather noisy and the beds do not feel like fluffy clouds.

I’m a two-pillow kind of girl but I may as well be lying horizontal, they are so thin. 

Our compartment is obviously tiny. With four of us and two suitcases plus a ladder to get to the top two bunks taking up valuable floor space, attempting to make up the beds when we get inside at nearly midnight on a moving train, is a bit of a challenge. 

The passengers laughing, shouting and  chatting as they get on and off at the various stops, sound like they are in the room with us as we try to sleep. 

Plus a loud ‘Get off the train, get off the train,’ by a guard at one point to a man who presumably has wandered on when he shouldn’t have, is slightly alarming. 

I’m also not sure of the sleep train/pyjama etiquette. There is no en-suite to our cabin and I have to pop to the loo early in the morning while the other three are sleeping.

My clothes are shut in our smaller case which eventually had fitted under a bed (no such luck with the bigger one which I have to clamber over to get out of the room). So I am forced to shuffle self-consciously along the corridor in my PJs. 

EVERYBODY else I see is fully clothed. Is this an embarrassing faux pas? Should I have slept in my clothes? 

I also miss the nearest toilet and have to get into the next compartment along a wobbly connector. Then do the walk of shame all the way back!

Hoping for a final hour of sleep, the guard then brings around four breakfast trays which I balance on the bed around me, until they wake up. Then he is back again to collect all the bed sheets and pillows that they are still sleeping in.

It’s not all bad though. Although I won’t be hurrying to try out an overnight train again, I’m very glad we did it. 

What an experience to travel in a bed and wake up (if I’d slept) in another country for the cost of a hotel room. 

And what a country it is. We love Italy and the children have never been to Venice before. 

We’ve only had one weekend here pre-children and I feel emotional as we leave the station and our eyes feast upon the turquoise waters backed by picturesque architecture. 

My favourite part is standing on the little bridges watching and photographing as the gondolas pass underneath.

We make the most of our day in Italy to dine on divine pasta and pizza.

And I have never appreciated a hotel room as much as the one we are in now, its spaciousness is heaven-sent.

The view from the famous Rialto Bridge 

Day 8

Location: All over the place

We are having a travelling day, working our way across Europe from Venice to Paris with stops in Milan and Zurich. 

The route through Switzerland is slow through the mountains but scenic and I wish we had time to stop for a night here to take in the views some more. 

I also wish for the first time that I’d taken a travel sickness tablet as it is rather winding! 

The children have done well with journeys of two, four and four hours. 

Our last train is a double decker and we sit upstairs although much of the journey is through darkness as night falls. 

I sleep on and off despite the interior automatic doors sounding like the drum sequence used after a joke’s punchline on opening and firmly shutting on everyone on closing, even trapping my handbag in its clutches at one point. 

Other sounds come from our fellow passengers. We aren’t in first class for this leg. Despite our first class Interrail Global Passes (kindly gifted for our review) some trains require seat reservation costs and the charge for the better seats was much higher for this particular train. 

The family next to us make their presence known and break many unofficial train travelling rules throughout the hours. Starting with a loud FaceTime call to a toddler, continuing while watching music videos without headphones and ending with a series of loud, unapologetic burps from the dad! 

The seats are still lovely and comfortable with plenty of leg room. 

We set off at 8.30am and are due to arrive in Paris at 10.30pm. 

Day 9: Paris

I love the Eiffel Tower. Standing on it looking over Paris many years ago, my then boyfriend asked if we could move in together. 

So to return today, not only living together but married with two children, feels special. 

Although this time he says he wants to ask me to move out instead. He jokes. I think. 

Not only do I go back up it, I also photograph and film it from all different angles. 

Including from the top of a hop-on hop-off Tootbus. 

It’s a fabulous vantage point for lots of key Paris landmarks including the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Elysées.

There’s an audio guide on board and place to charge your phones. 

And it stops at all the best tourist spots so we can explore around the Louvre and enjoy a crêpe in the Tuileries Garden.

Notre-Dame is still impressive despite being under reconstruction following the fire nearly five years ago while a violinist gets even more attention than the cathedral itself as she shimmies about while playing beneath it. 

We finally alight back outside the Eiffel Tower, completed in 1889 and now surrounded by men trying to sell miniature sparkly models. 

My daughter, having started off the day excitedly spotting the Eiffel Tower, ends the day clutching a rose pink replica to take home. 

And I have another crêpe. 

Day 10: Paris

We hurtle along at an alarming rate, thrown from side to side while people scream all around us. 

This train is not the relaxing, comfortable experience we have come to expect over our mammoth railway journey. 

Thankfully it’s not part of our Interrail experience. 

It’s a coal train – the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride to be exact. 

We have decided to spend our last day before we travel home at Disneyland Paris. 

And it’s another sunny, warm day to end our Easter Holidays European adventure. 

We enjoy lots of rides and a fabulous Disney show under Sleeping Beauty’s Castle. 

Meanwhile we are getting our beauty sleep in a hotel for the last time. Tomorrow we are homeward bound.  

Disneyland Paris

Day 11: The journey back

After nearly 30 trains in 11 days you would think I would know how to exit one. 

But typically, it seems I don’t and have to bring attention to our arrival home. 

I confidently press the green button to open the door at our village station and a loud alarm sounds. 

I have inadvertently pushed the SOS button, scaring passengers and driver alike. 

It’s the end of another travelling day and the end of our Interrail adventure. 

Arriving in England on Eurostar I’m pleasantly surprised at how grand and welcoming St Pancras station is after being impressed with its European counterparts like Frankfurt. 

And impressed with the speed of the journey – six hours from Paris to our home in Cheshire. 

We have travelled over 2,000 miles on this trip.

If you include every journey, long and short, we have been on 28 trains, six trams, five hop-on hop-off buses and one water taxi. 

Plus of course, there’s been a lot of walking.

What an experience but now I’m glad to be at our final stop. 

We are home. 

Catching Eurostar home from Paris

All views are, as ever, our own. To help us review the experience and areas travelled around, we were given complimentary Interrail passes, Tootbus passes, a Nürnberg Card and accommodation in Nuremberg.

Holiday fun with our children on a family holiday to Lake Garda and Verona

Holiday fun with our children on a family holiday to Lake Garda and Verona

We try out family-friendly activities around the lake and take a trip to Verona

We are holidaying in the beautiful Lakes – but for once it’s not our beloved English Lake District.

The waters are a clearer turquoise, there isn’t a walking boot in sight and ice creams are in greater supply.

We are in the fashionable Italian Lakes for a slightly chilly October half-term break and I am feeling cosy but a little out of place in my ‘school run coat’.

We are staying on the southern end of Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda, loved by families and affluent travellers.

Peschiera

Peschiera

And home for the trip is also a family favourite with a great lakefront location.

Bella Italia – a five-star campsite – is a 15-minute lakeside walk from the town of Peschiera Del Garda.

It has four pools (sadly closed at this time of year), the same number of restaurants with well-priced tasty food, playgrounds, a children’s club, ice cream parlour, bouncy castles, fairground rides and more.

For our full review of our accommodation read Bella Italia holiday park and watch our video below.

Our three-bedroom mobile home, a Girasole Suite, is smaller than similar holiday homes we have stayed in but is an ideal base to explore the area.

Girasole Suite at Campeggio Bella Italia at Lake Garda

Girasole Suite

And we start out on the pebbly beach in front of the holiday park before getting on to the water itself – the quickest way to get around the lake’s beautiful towns and villages is by ferry.

The ferry around Lake Garda

You can hop on and off, visiting several spots in a day. Among our favourites were the enchanting village of Lazise with its castle and playground and tourist magnet Sirmione – the most picturesque yet busiest spot on the lake.

Boats at the town of Garda in Lake Garda, Italy

Garda

Another busy spot is Italy’s biggest theme park, Gardaland, just 15 minutes away.

There are plenty of rollercoasters for older children but younger children are well-catered for too – there’s even a small Peppa Pig Land.

And a Sea Life aquarium next door is a good rainy day option – you can buy one ticket covering a visit to both on the same or consecutive days.

Just a short drive away lies a more relaxing day out. Parco Natura Viva is a zoo and safari park with hippos, giraffes, rhinos and bears among a lovely site.

Riding a golf buggy at Parco Sigurta

Parco Giardino Sigurta

Another attraction worth a visit is Parco Giardino Sigurta. This 600-acre garden has a maze, small animal farm and plenty of space to run around in beautiful gardens. We explore on foot then hire a golf cart for 18 euros to get around the whole site.

Read our full guide here: What to do in Lake Garda with children – our top tips and watch our video below.

Further afield, but still only half an hour away, is Verona.

Our children love the huge Roman amphitheatre, the 2,000-year-old Arena.

Two children outside the Arena amphitheatre in Verona, Italy

The Arena

Others head to this city of Romeo and Juliet to leave love notes at Juliet’s balcony, linked to the fictional star-crossed lovers.

Romeo and Juliet's balcony in Verona, Italy

Juliet’s balcony

But it isn’t the most child friendly spot with a cramped courtyard full of selfie hunters taking photos at Juliet’s statue and balcony.

You are better off exploring Verona’s pedestrianised centre, the square around the Arena and its riverside walks. It is a compact city and in a day you can see historic churches, castles, museums or stop by one of countless gelato outlets.

To keep younger ones really happy, the city’s new Children’s Museum is a fantastic hands-on place where they can learn about light, water, power and science through play. It is well worth a couple of hours of your time.

Children's Museum, Verona

Children’s Museum, Verona

We throw ourselves into the Verona experience with an authentic Veronese feast prepared for us at Locanda Ristori – one of the city’s traditional eateries.

Afterwards we plan to walk it off up the Torre Dei Lamberti – the city’s 368 step tower.

However, the lure of the lift taking us most of the way up is too strong. And from there stretches street upon street of terracotta roofs, spectacular even in the rain.

For all our Verona ideas read: What to do with children in Verona and watch our video below.

As we stroll away from the city, one last ice cream in hand, it isn’t hard to see why this area has been one loved by visitors for centuries.

Our time in the city made famous by Shakespeare and Lake Garda has definitely been a triumph, not tragedy.

Disclaimer: We were provided with complimentary accommodation, entrance to attractions and a Verona Card for this visit. All opinions are our own.

What to do in Lake Garda with children – our top tips

What to do in Lake Garda with children – our top tips

Our full guide on where to take children on a family holiday to Lake Garda in Italy

Tourists flock every year to stunning Lake Garda (Lago di Garda) in northern Italy.

It’s a fabulous destination for a family holiday as we discovered on a recent trip.

Here’s our full guide to the best activities for children in and around this, Italy’s biggest lake, with its beautiful turquoise waters.

 

1. Visit a lakeside town

Spend time exploring the lovely towns and villages around the lake and enjoying an ice cream or two, such as:

Lazise

A pretty village on the eastern side of the lake dominated by a 14th century castle and walls.

The centre has a ferry stop, small harbour and plenty of ice cream shops and restaurants.

It is mostly pedestrianised with car parking around the outskirts which means it feels safer to walk around with children.

Near the centre next to the castle is a small playground.

Lazise

Lazise

Garda

The town which gave the lake its name has a nice lakefront walk along its harbour, cobbled streets to explore and a busy market every Friday.

Boats at the town of Garda in Lake Garda, Italy

Garda

Our children were interested in a fun bridge on the lake shore where couples from around the world have left padlocks proclaiming their enduring passion!

A bridge of padlocks in Garda, Lake Garda, Italy

Sirmione

This is the area’s tourist trap. Sirmione gets busy quickly, its narrow streets full of tourists, ice cream shops and restaurants.

It’s a stunning spot, the castle entrance is spectacular and worth a walk around (children enter for free, adults 6 euros).

On the other side of the town’s streets are thermal baths and at the top of its peninsula the remains of a Roman villa, Grotte di Catulla. It is incredible but a long walk for children so only for the most dedicated walkers.

Everything in Sirmione is more expensive than elsewhere in the area. The ice creams here are massive but at least double the price of other places.

There are plenty of lovely spots to sit and play away from the main thoroughfare, a few stony beach areas and nice park towards the Roman remains.

Peschiera

This town is made by the stunning blue waters of the river Mincio as it meets the lake. Its centre isn’t as pretty as some as Peschiera is also a working town.

Peschiera

Peschiera

However there are plenty of restaurants around the streets near the ferry port.

We walked into the town a few times from our holiday park Campeggio Bella Italia (see our review of it here here), which was a pleasant 15-minute stroll along a tree lined lake shore promenade.

2. Get around by ferry

The most fun and often the fastest way to see Lake Garda’s towns and villages is by ferry.

The ferry around Lake Garda

Every major place has a ferry stop and in high season there will be a boat roughly every hour between 8 and 6pm.

You must buy tickets before you board which are priced based on the distance you are travelling, from around 10 euros for a short return journey to 35 euros for a whole lake pass for a day. Children’s tickets cost around half an adult’s price.

The ferries are large, accommodating 500 people, boarding is efficient, there are toilets on board and a food and drink service in high season.

It is a smooth journey but because the lake is 50 miles long it takes at least three hours to get from top to bottom.

You can pick up ferry timetables from every ticket office where the boat docks or follow this link.

3. Parco Naturo Viva

This large zoo and safari park was set up by a husband and wife in 1969 and has expanded over a huge site.

The ticket price includes both the zoo and safari drive and you must do both to see all the animals – giraffes and zebras for example are only on the safari.

The safari takes around half an hour and is safe to do in your hire car. There are no dangerous monkey enclosures to threaten your windscreen wipers!

The main zoo is a large parkland which is steep in places.

It is divided into continents with the Africa section near the start featuring lions, rhinos and hippos. The Asian area has tigers and snow leopards with the Americas section including bears and colourful macaws.

A hippo at Parco Natura-viva zoo

Their latest attraction is a giants of the world indoor enclosure which has a Komodo dragon, anaconda, piranhas and giant otters.

There is also a dinosaur area with full size scale models of a T-Rex, stegosaurus and triceratops.

Picnics are allowed and there are several reasonably priced restaurants across the site.

The site is beautiful and makes for a pleasant walk – it will take you at least four hours to get round.

Signs are in Italian, German and English except for the dinosaur section.

Parking costs 2 euros on top of the ticket price.

4. Gardaland

This is Italy’s biggest theme park. There are lots of rides (and lots of queues) and you can easily spend a whole day here.

For smaller children there are four main sections, including a Peppa Pig Land.

Peppa Pig Land at Gardaland, Lake Garda, Italy

This is smaller than the UK equivalent with only four major rides – a balloon ride, small train, circular boat trip and Peppa Pig’s house, which is frankly just a room where you can find pretend strawberries and pancakes.

It won’t take more than 90 minutes to do this part of the park but will still be a thrill for Peppa fans. All the music and songs are in Italian but the signs are also in English.

Near the entrance is a large carousel and other rides for younger children. And it’s only a short walk to Fantasy Land which has a plane ride and farmyard tractor ride.

Our two children loved an area for under 7s at the far end of the park with two gentle rollercoasters, a relaxing monorail, teacups ride and a dizzying Peter Pan ride.

Tweens and teens are more than catered for in the rest of the park with rides including spectacular rollercoasters.

Daily shows take place in two on-site theatres and there are themed events through the year at times like Halloween and Christmas.

There are lots of food options from candy floss stalls through to a la carte restaurants and everything in between.

Car parking costs six euros on top of your ticket.

5. Sea Life Aquarium

At Gardaland – on the other side of the car park – is the Sea Life Aquarium. You can buy joint tickets to Gardaland and Sea Life and visit them on the same day or consecutive days.

It doesn’t take that long to go round but is interesting and a good option for a rainy day. Children can do a quiz on the way round, in English, with the answers to each question on the information boards.

There is also a cafe at the end of the route around the aquarium.

6. Movie World

This is a smaller theme park just up the road from Gardaland based on films and special effects.

It has live shows and themed restaurants. We didn’t have time to visit on our trip.

7. Parco Giardino Sigurta

For a relaxing day out, the huge gardens of Parco Sigurta are a 15 minute drive south of the lake, on the banks of the river Mincio.

This 600 acre park is vast with a small animal farm, beautiful gardens, a fun maze and other trails like a zig zag path through woodland.

Parco Sigurta

Parco Sigurta

The park would take hours to get around on foot but you can see it all in an hour if you hire a golf cart or take the train which circles it.

Our children enjoyed walking around first, despite wet weather and then taking a golf buggy (you need a driving licence to hire one) to explore the far flung parts. It has a screen with an interactive map and English commentary.

There are food kiosks and toilets around the park plus a restaurant on site.

8. On and in the water

The lake is clear and inviting – most towns have places where children can swim and some offer water activities like pedalo boats and windsurfing.

Lake Garda beach

The beaches are pebbly so take beach shoes for paddling.

More reading about our trip

For our full review of our holiday, go to:

To hear about our accommodation when we stayed at Lake Garda go to: We review a family stay at Bella Italia holiday park on Lake Garda in Italy

We also spent time in nearby Verona, read: What to do with children in Verona

Disclaimer: We were provided with ferry tickets and entrance to the attractions in exchange for this review. All opinions are our own honestly held views.

*Where have you visited in Lake Garda, is there anywhere we’ve missed? Let us know in the comments!

We review a family stay at Bella Italia holiday park on Lake Garda in Italy

We review a family stay at Bella Italia holiday park on Lake Garda in Italy

We stay in a mobile home at this campsite in Peschiera del Garda

Name

Campeggio Bella Italia.

Where is it?

On the shores of Lake Garda, at the bottom right of the lake, in Peschiera del Garda. Lake Garda (Lago di Garda), the largest lake in Italy, is in the north of Italy between Venice and Milan.

What is it?

It is a large holiday park with mobile homes, apartments, bungalows and camping pitches.

Is it family friendly?

There are little playgrounds/play parks, swimming pools and slides (not open out of season), a children’s club for 4-12 year-olds, as well as evening entertainment like mini-discos.

The site is good for riding bikes, walking and backs on to the lake which you can swim in during warmer weather.

Sport-wise, you can play tennis, football, basketball, beach volleyball and table tennis. And during the summer, guests can do water activities on the lake.

A girl plays on the beach at Bella Italia at Lake Garda

Accommodation

There are four types of mobile home here – we stayed in a Girasole Suite.

It slept six, with three small bedrooms, a kitchen/diner and bathroom with good-sized shower.

Girasole Suite at Campeggio Bella Italia at Lake Garda

Girasole Suite

The kitchen had a hob (no oven), microwave and fridge/freezer. Towels and bedding are provided in the Girasole Suite properties only.

The kitchen diner at our mobile home at Campeggio Bella Italia

There was a sofa bench on one side of the dining table and a TV (no English channels on ours). Outside the mobile home, there was a decked area with table and chairs plus parking space for a car.

A bedroom at our mobile home at Campeggio Bella Italia

It also had a heater/air conditioning unit and the warmth from it was very welcome when we stayed.

Food and drink

There are four restaurants on site and the prices are very reasonable. We ate twice at Le Terrazze, overlooking the lake.

At a restaurant overlooking Lake Garda at Bella Italia campsite

There is also Corte Riga, which has an almost identical menu to Le Terrazze but offers a takeaway option, Trattoria Bella Italia and a diner and takeaway cafe offering fish and chips and burgers which has an ice cream parlour attached.

Nearby

*The lake – the site is on the southern banks of Lake Garda. There are exits on to the shallow pebbly beach and a small pier where you can walk down steps into the lake for a swim.

Lake Garda beach

*It’s a 15-minute walk along the lake to the town, Peschiera del Garda, where you can shop, eat or catch a ferry.

*Gardaland theme park is a 10-minute drive.

*Verona is less than half an hour a way and we had hired a car so visited this city which was the setting of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. For our top tips on what to do with children in Verona, read our guide: What to do with children in Verona

*There are other lovely towns around the lake you can visit by car or ferry – we tried Sirmione, Lazise and Garda.

One of the towns around Lake Garda from the ferry

*Supermarkets – there is an Aldi and Lidl nearby, handy if you have a car and want to stock up.

Our highlights

*The park was lovely and quiet as we visited at October half-term in the last week before the site closed for the winter.

*The ice cream parlour – we sampled a LOT of ice cream in different towns on this trip and the ice cream from here was our favourite. Great to walk to for a leisurely dessert after a meal too.

*The park’s position next to the beautiful lake.

*The children’s areas which open in the evening – a little fair and another part with a bouncy castle and bouncy slide.

Combined with evening entertainment and mini-discos, there is a lot to do after dark.

There is also a games room/arcade.

*The choice of restaurants and good-priced range of food.

We ate at Le Terrazze where a child’s pizza was only 4 euros and a plate of adult pasta around 8 euros.

restaurant at Bella Italia campsite/holiday park, Lke Garda, Italy

*The swimming pools and water slides here look amazing. We sadly didn’t get to experience them as we visited out of season and they were closed.

*There are sports facilities like tennis courts and beach volleyball courts plus you can hire bikes.

*The distance from Verona airport – about a 25-minute drive.

Other information

*You can do water activities at the park’s Waterski Centre between May and mid-September. For an extra fee you can try parasailing, paraflying, a banana boat and more.

*You pay extra for wi-fi.

*You pay extra for bedding and towels.

*If your children will be going in the lake, take beach shoes as it is pebbly.

Address

Campeggio Bella Italia, Via Bell Italia 2, Peschiera del Garda 37019

For more information visit the Campeggio Bella Italia website.

Disclaimer: We were provided with complimentary accommodation for the purposes of this review. All opinions are out honestly held views.

RELATED CONTENT:

What to do with children in Verona

What to do with children in Verona

Our top tips for activities on a family holiday to Verona in Italy

How do you take in this beautiful, historic Italian city while keeping both adults and children happy? Read our guide for the best ideas of what to do and where to go.

Verona Arena

This Roman amphitheatre is right in the centre of the city in Piazza Bra square and makes a good starting point for exploring.

It dates back to the first century and is second only to Rome’s Colosseum in terms of its size and history.

You can explore inside, climb to the top, walk inside the walls and across the stage area where Roman gladiators once fought and our children really enjoyed it.

Inside the Arena amphitheatre in Verona, Italy

The Arena is really well preserved and is still used today – it is a world-famous music venue and hosts big operatic shows.

Piazza Bra (also called the Bra)

Verona’s main square, next to the Arena in the centre of the city, is one of the largest in Europe.

There are plenty of places to sit and eat with restaurants and cafes along one side.

Piazza Bra

Piazza Bra

There are historic buildings around it and a small park in the middle with a fountain. It is mostly car free.

Romeo and Juliet’s Balcony

A ten-minute walk from the Arena, through a pedestrianised shopping area, is ‘Juliet’s House’, Casa de Giulietta.

Romeo and Juliet's balcony in Verona, Italy

Juliet’s balcony

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet may have been fictional but this house is linked to the star-crossed lovers as it was once inhabited by the Cappello family, a surname similar to Juliet’s, Capulet.

Tourists enter the courtyard and queue up for photos with Juliet’s bronze statue (and rub her right breast for luck in love).

Juliet statue in Verona, Italy

People also take pictures of the balcony where they like to imagine Juliet was wooed by Romeo (although the balcony was actually added at a much later date) so keep a hold of your children as it gets busy here.

Inside the house is a small museum.

There isn’t much for children once they have seen the balcony and statue but the walls outside scrawled with love letters and graffiti are interesting to see.

And it is near Piazza Erbe with plenty of ice cream parlours and a market.

Torre Dei Lamberti

Just around the corner from the famous balcony is the best viewpoint of Verona – from the top of an 84-metre-tall tower.

Torre Dei Lamberti in Verona, Italy

Torre Dei Lamberti

There are 368 steps to the top of Torre Dei Lamberti, quite a way with children.

But there is a lift for an extra euro which takes you almost to the top of the first viewing platform.

And from there you get 360 degree views of Verona.

The view of Verona from Torre Dei Lamberti

The view of Verona from Torre Dei Lamberti

A ticket for the tower also gives access to the an art gallery next to the tower, the Gallery of Modern Art.

Verona Children’s Museum

This bright museum opened in 2019 and offers lots of hands-on fun for children.

Situated on the edge of the city, it is essentially one big space of science and learning, disguised as fun.

The Children's Museum in Verona, Italy

Before you go in, everyone must remove shoes and leave coats and bags behind, so you automatically feel more carefree.

Tickets are for allocated 90-minute slots through the day to make sure it never gets too crowded. Then the staff tidy up again so that everything is neat and clean ready for the next group.

It is designed and created for children – you can build your own mini-houses, milk a pretend cow, learn about light and shadows and play in a ball pit and climbing area.

There’s a also a water section where you can use water to create music, put balls into a whirlpool and more.

The staff are really friendly and helpful. If you have children under 10 they will love it here as ours did.

It also makes a good rainy day activity as it is all indoors.

Castelvecchio

This large Veronese building on the banks of the Adige river is part museum part castle.

Castelvecchio in Verona, Italy

Castelvecchio

There is a lot of 16th century religious artwork here which didn’t hold much appeal for our children. But some of the exhibits had old swords and armour.

And the walk around the castle was good fun. You get a good view across the river to Ponte Scaligero which was rebuilt after being blown up by the Germans in World War Two. And you can walk along the castle walls and into raised courtyards.

Visitors have to leave backpacks in lockers at the entrance.

Have a traditional Veronese meal

The Veronese take food very seriously. There are restaurants at every turn and they welcome children.

Almost all will serve you a plate of tomato pasta or a pizza, if that is what you are after.

For a real authentic experience, we tried Locanda Ristori, a traditional Veronese restaurant just outside the touristy centre near Castelvecchio.

Locanda Ristori restaurant in Verona in Italy

The restaurant was mostly full of locals when we visited on a Sunday lunchtime, which is always a good sign and staff are warm and attentive.

The lovely owner Lia, a former ballet dancer across Europe, is very friendly and passionate about the food, explaining it all to us.

The menu includes a mix of pasta and meat dishes.

The Veronese tradition is a big plate of up to eight mixed meats including tongue, which my husband tucked into. It was served with mashed potato, vegetables and a broth which takes four hours to cook.

Lia serves a Veronese speciality

Lia serves a Veronese speciality

My children just fancied a plain tomato pasta (pasta pomodoro), not on the menu, but Lia was more than happy to make them some and they loved it.

There is also a good selection of desserts, including ice cream and we grown-ups sampled some fabulous wine.

Get a Verona card

The quickest and cheapest way to get into the main sites is with a Verona card, which costs 20 euros for a day and 25 euros for 48 hours.

If you are going to visit the Arena and at least two other sites then you will save money with the card.

It includes free entry to all the attractions above (except the Children’s Museum), all the largest churches and city centre museums.

You can pick up the card at the tourist information office in a corner of Piazza Bra.

Our children were also given a couple of city centre trails to do while we wandered around.

Disclaimer: We were provided with a Verona Card and a complimentary meal for the purposes of this article. All views are our own.

*Have you taken children to Verona? Where did you go? Tell us below!

We take a family holiday to Tuscany in high summer. Can Italy be child-friendly in the August heat?

We take a family holiday to Tuscany in high summer. Can Italy be child-friendly in the August heat?

We take our children to Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano and Volterra in August and try out Airbnb for the first time, read our review of our Italian adventure here.

Famous landmarks around the world are a remarkably hot topic of conversation between our children.

This is thanks as much to the Cbeebies programme Go Jetters as educational efforts on our part.

So when the Leaning Tower of Pisa comes into view, even the sweltering August Italian heat doesn’t cool their excitement.

Children under eight aren’t allowed up the tower and the streets are heaving so we stop just long enough to take it all in.

A toddler girl in sunglasses smiles in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.

Posing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Alongside thousands doing the same, we get the all-important pictures next to the extraordinarily slanting building, before we grab some pizza and hot-foot it back to our hire car.

We’ve already managed a day in Florence, taking our two on a whistle-stop tour of the city before their legs got tired.

The Duomo cathedral, Ponte Vecchio bridge and glorious Boboli Gardens were ticked off in a morning, before another rewarding pizza and gelato.

Two children stand in front of the Duomo cathedral in Florence

The Duomo cathedral in Florence

We’d bagged a cheap deal in an airport hotel for our first two nights to tackle the cities but now it was time to leave these bustling hotspots in search of the tranquillity of the countryside and the Dolce Vita.

Off to the country and the Dolce Vita

Our home for the next five nights is atop a hill, very much off the beaten track. Literally. A 10-minute dusty, bumpy, beaten track.

We wondered where our first foray into the world of Airbnb had taken us.

This global phenomenon lets people rent out their properties or spare rooms to guests, from small rooms, to shared houses, villas and even entire castles, across more than 65,000 cities. Don’t miss out full guide to Airbnb here.

There were hundreds of appealing options at decent prices, even at peak season and we narrowed down our search using the list of criteria, map view, photos and reviews.

La Farneta with Airbnb

We finally chose an intriguing property on a large private estate in the hidden hamlet of La Farneta in central Tuscany.

Here there are a dozen or so apartments in a classic Tuscan setting, surrounded by olive trees, scorched fields and forests as far as the eye could see.

A family explore the grounds of their Airbnb accommodation in La Farneta, Tuscany, Italy.

Exploring the grounds of our accommodation in La Farneta.

The only sound – apart from our children in the shared swimming pool – was that of crickets in the towering trees of this 230 hectare estate.

The pool was the big draw here. The weather can get so hot in summer I would say you have to have one if you have children in tow.

The outdoor swimming pool at the apartments on the private estate in La Farneta

The outdoor swimming pool at the apartments on the private estate in La Farneta

The owner Gianfausto gave us the authentic experience Airbnb has built its success on – welcoming us to his home, giving us a guided tour and even playing his piano to provide some pleasant poolside accompaniment.

The accommodation wasn’t luxurious but it was authentic and I can’t remember staying anywhere as peaceful.

It may have been 15 minutes from the nearest shop or restaurant but two Tuscan treasures aren’t far away.

Surrounding area

The walled towns of San Gimignano and Volterra provided entertaining excursions. Our children loved the narrow alleys and the nooks and crannies of these picturesque places while the adults could enjoy the sights and sounds of Tuscany.

An aerial view of San Gimignano, an Italian hill town in Tuscany, south-west of Florence

We visited San Gimignano, an Italian hill town in Tuscany, south-west of Florence

Pizza and pasta time!

With every second shop seemingly selling pasta, olive oil or wild boar, food is a big part of any Tuscan trip.

We found several places for a plate of pasta including Osteria Del Borgo in the pretty village of Mensano.

Staying in a remote location meant it was easier to have lunch out and dinner on our terrace with views over the rolling hills as the sun dipped below the trees.

The perfect evening temperature was ideal for a family walk around the estate, roaming the land and spotting the occasional wall lizard or deer.

In conclusion

We knew Tuscany in August was a gamble.

But we discovered it is possible to beat the heat and the crowds and enjoy complete tranquility.

And we ticked a landmark off that rather demanding wishlist.

For more details of how Airbnb works, read our guide here.

Accommodation: Via Airbnb. We received a discount from Airbnb for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.

Travel: Flew with British Airways to Florence Airport.

How to do Tuscany with children – five top tips

How to do Tuscany with children – five top tips

Five hacks to help make a perfect family break to Florence, Pisa and Tuscany

 

Coping with the heat

It can be intensely hot in summer. The temperature is at its best before 11 and after 6. We found early morning excursions and late evening walks worked best for us.

The middle of the day is the time to make sure you’re either in air conditioned accommodation or by a shaded pool.

 

Beware the siesta

No fewer than four times in a week we were caught out waiting for the local supermarket to open (it was closed between 1.30 and 4) and as we were staying 10 minutes drive along a gravel track that wasn’t ideal.

If you need supplies for little ones plan ahead and get all the essentials in one go. Often in small towns the choice isn’t what you might be used to and shops close in the early afternoon.

 

Research your parking

At busy towns like San Gimignano and Volterra it can be tricky to get close by car. 

San Gimignano has a decent park and ride system but in August the car parks were almost full by 10.30am.

Volterra has even less parking near the historic centre, which means a long hot walk. The best idea to minimise a long walk is to visit early morning or late afternoon.

 

A view of Florence from the Duomo of the city in the sunshine

Keep walking to a minimum in Florence during the summer

 

Be picky

Florence has so much to see, but not all of it is interesting to little ones and the heat soon saps their energy.

Pick one or two main sights, rather than packing it all in, and choose two close together to cut down on walking under the blazing sun.

One good option is the Boboli Gardens and Ponte Vecchio, which work well and are quite close together. Similarly the Duomo and Palazzo Vecchio are quite close.

 

leaning tower of Pisa in the sun

You can’t climb the leaning tower of Pisa until you are eight years old

 

The Leaning Tower

Yes, it’s a must with children but stick together, get the pictures done and retreat to a little market outside the walls of the site where there are toilets, snacks and stalls to browse.

You have to be eight to climb the tower so once you’ve snapped that shot there’s not much reason to hang around.