Updated: Nov 11, 2022
Italy. Gorgeous, romantic, historical Italy. A country bursting with vibrance and passion; filled with secrets and old world charm; teaming with young designers of fashion, beauty and décor. Italy holds the most precious of places in my heart. It is in Italy that we feel at home... Walking the cobbled streets of the old towns, wandering through museums, bumbling through street markets lined with fresh fruits and vegetables, pausing in the coolness of the old stone churches and picnicking in the parks listening to the soothing cadence of afternoon bells ring out.
Italians, by nature are an exuberant people! They love life and they live it well. After my first trip to Italy in 2011, I knew that it would not be my last time visiting this country with its spirited people living against the backdrop tapestry of a rich culture and history. It's also probably the reason why every time we land in Italy, I cry! I know... I can't explain it... it just happens! My heart has an overwhelming nostalgic and physical pull to the undulating pulse that is at the center of the Italian way of life. We, (my husband and I) have long wanted to show our children the beauty and vibrance of Italy. Finally in March of 2022, we got the chance to travel overseas with all our children for the first time in 9 years.
As you can imagine, finding travel deals for a family of 5 is always challenging. There's the beautiful family of 4 specials or group bookings for 6-8 people, but no family of 5 specials! However we managed to find some specials that worked for us! When Anthony and I were planning the trip, we thought of all the gorgeous things we wanted to show the kids. The Duomo in Florence, the Ponte Vecchio, the Uffizi, the Colosseum... all these beautiful places that we so loved and enjoyed! But, we soon realized that our kids are not us. Whilst these places are incredible, our kids might enjoy something different. So we planned a few things but decided to allow them the space to discover the cities of Rome, Florence, Modena, Como and Milan in their own way. And that my friends, turned out to be THE best idea.
Whilst in Florence, my husband and I were debating where we should take the kids. Arriving the day before, we had taken them around the corner form our apartment, (shoutout to Duallook Apartments in Florence - absolutely gorgeous and so centrally located!) to see the Duomo and grab some lunch. Having travelled for most of the morning, our teenagers were of the opinion that they needed some 'chill time' in the apartment. I on the other hand, was having none of that and being the force of nature that I am, dragged my exhausted crew into the city of Florence! Trudging along with faces of disdain, they were none too pleased with me, but as we came in sight of the marvelous icon that is the Duomo, the penny dropped and our kids understood. The sheer magnificence of the Duomo literally left them speechless! No small feat, I tell you!
We made a beeline for a place right on the edge of the piazza. To our sheer delight, not only was Move On Firenze a pub restaurant but also a record store. This was a spectacular find. Our kids fell in love with the aesthetic of the place and reveled in the 'vibe' of the record store! We feasted Italian style and then spent a leisurely hour in the store each walking away with a vinyl treasure to take home. Day 1 in Florence was indeed a success and after the sheer chaos of Rome, our kids found Florence a different sort of 'amazing'.
So it was that on the morning of Day 2, we wanted our children's input as to, 'where to next?' We decided that we would take them out for coffee and ask them. We found a place on the Piazza Signoria and after ordering coffee and a bite to eat (necessary for barely awake teenagers,) we began tossing around some ideas. Our eldest, Michaela, suddenly spots something behind us. "Wait! Excuse me! Is that a GUCCI exhibit?" At this we all turn to see what it is she is talking about. "Looks like something GUCCI," I say, trying to be cool and not show my ignorance with regards to fashion. "Dad, can we see how much it is to go in?" After much to-ing and fro-ing, Dad rises to the occasion and strolls over to investigate. The kids are discussing the price. I can hear they are excited but cautious. Afterall, our South African Rand is not a leading force in the economic world of finance and we are on a tight budget.
Dad comes strolling back grinning from ear to ear! He is thrilled with the price of €12 per person. (Roughly R213 per person) This falls within our outing budget for the day and we are soon walking with much purpose towards the New Gucci Garden Archetypes Exhibition. And what a find it was! Basically it is an immersive and visual experience of some of Gucci's most iconic campaigns. I could not describe it adequately enough if I tried, suffice to say that I was blown away! Even if fashion is not your thing, this experience is well worth it! And your teens will love it. Unfortunately for us, there were no souvenirs to be bought in the Gucci shop afterwards as you can well imagine! Florence made an impression. Our adventure was off to a magnificent start!
Heading to Modena via train after Florence allowed us time to breathe. Modena is a peaceful town, home to the Casa Museo Luciano Pavarotti and a good place to stay for easy access to Bologna, Parma and Ferrara. The one thing we did plan was a visit to the Ferrari museum. Booking in advance is always a good idea as you never know how busy it might get. All three of our children have an appreciation for the finer things in life, like Ferrari's and Gucci, amongst other things. This outing was well worth it even though there was some construction happening on a new exhibition. Just to note, if you see a Ferrari Representative standing in front of one of the displays, don't take a photo of that particular car. You will be told to delete the photo as, in most instances, the new model has not been released to the general public. And yes, I did find this out the hard way. (Blush, blush!)
From Modena we found ourselves travelling up north to the beautiful shores of Lake Como. This was a new experience for Ant and myself also and what a gorgeous experience it was. Staying at the Hotel Argegno gave us a view that will be imprinted in my memory for years to come. The beauty of this hotel is that it is right across from where the ferry docks each day. It also has it's own restaurant where breakfast, lunch and supper are served. The staff are accommodating and extremely respectful. (Just a side note here, there is no lift in this hotel. Some advanced weight training may be necessary to get your luggage up the stairs.)
Lake Como is huge with many places to see. It can be overwhelming to begin with but we were able to see a lot of Lake Como just by riding the Ferry. We stopped in Como city itself and enjoyed a good few hours there on our twins 16th birthday. (I mean honestly, what teen wouldn't love to say that they spent their 16th birthday in Italy on Lake Como no less?) We explored the city and found beautiful shops and cafe's. We planned a day trip to Bellagio - the home of George Clooney and his gorgeous wife Amal. Sadly, we did not run into them... disappointing but I'm not sure they knew we were coming... all the more reason to return! You never know!
We also took a trip up the mountain to Pigra. Though I am no fan of heights, the views from Pigra are unparalleled! It is well worth the somewhat scary (completely terrifying for me,) trip up the funicular. Take your time, if you go, and walk around the small town. It is breathtakingly lovely. If truth be told, my most favourite time in Argegno was finding a little self-service laundromat where I sat reading my novel whilst waiting for our washing. There is something so appealing about doing something normal, like washing, in a foreign country. I chatted to some of the locals - because not all homes are plumbed for washing machines - and even got frustrated like a local when one of the dryers wasn't working! I found that my Italian comes out clearer and faster when I am either tired or angry. Again, the things you learn while travelling! Our time in Lake Como was the most precious time. The way of life is slow. People amble through the streets and chat to friends from their windows. Stores opening times are merely a suggestion and the sound of laughter and music wafts on the evening air dying away in the late hours of the night. Leaving Lake Como was difficult. I think each one of us left a piece of ourselves there with the firm resolve to return again.
We ended our trip with a two night stay in Milan. Our hotel, Hotel Capitol Milano, gave us a keen sense of elegant old world charm. The food was sumptuous, with an air of decadent sophistication. The staff were polite, friendly, yet reserved. Never over-stepping and always remaining quietly on hand to tend to our every need. On our day out in Milan we happened upon a stunning find, the Castello Sforzesco. This totally unexpected feast for the eyes was both exciting and awe-inspiring. We had no idea what lay behind the walls of this great place but ended up staying for well over three hours! Feeling rather exhausted afterwards, we thought we would pop into a restaurant for coffee and a bite to eat. No can do! We learned that you cannot go to a restaurant and order just coffee and a snack. For this, you must go to a coffee shop or a Cafe. Our waiter loudly proclaimed this seemingly obvious fact to which we received some very irritated glares from the local Milanese. We casually extracted ourselves from the restaurant and with as much dignity of a foreigner in a foreign land as we could muster, sauntered over the road. By this time, we were all just about losing the plot, holding it together by the skin of our teeth. Somehow we managed to get back to our hotel without a family brawl, where we collapsed and all engaged in a much needed afternoon nap. Milan is beautiful. We would like to stay longer next time and explore a bit more. For our twins, Milan calls to them the same way Como calls to me. Perhaps another adventure awaits!
I thought that travelling with teenagers might be difficult... it wasn't. Sure we had some off days, as any larger family will attest to, but on the whole, it was incredible. The freedom that our children found in Ireland stuck to them, travelling across to Italy like a well worn pair of shoes! Google Maps and Live Location became our companions and as such, the kids found themselves on mini adventures of exploration. It was for this reason that my husband and I often found ourselves having the most beautiful impromptu dates. We relished the time with our kids, but it was these seemingly stolen moments that brought us back to our 'dating years'! It reconnected us in a way we hadn't expected. Coupled with that, was a new found respect and admiration for our kids. They proved themselves more than capable of looking out for each other.
If you are thinking of travelling with your teens, my advice, do it! The only thing I would ask you to remember is that the trip cannot be about what you want to see and where you want to go. Allow your kids the space to explore and tell you honestly what it is that they would love to do. Even if it means an entire day spent riding the ferries on Lake Como or taking selfies on the Red Tour Bus in Rome or perhaps spending the day walking around the Ferrari museum or maybe it's discovering the Gucci museum in Florence purely by chance... Not everything needs to planned down to the last detail. There must always be room to wiggle, to shift or to change the itinerary completely. It may be uncomfortable but it will be worth it!