We’re in the process or organising a road trip across Italy with our kids this June. My four-year-old starts school in September, so it feels like a good year to do an extended holiday. Plus, I went freelance at the end of last year so, for the first time ever, it’s only the husband who needs to worry about booking annual leave.
We’re flying in to Venice, spending some time on the Venetian Coast with Eurocamp, then driving over to Lake Garda for a while – again with Eurocamp. We’ll then drive down to Tuscany to spend a week at an agristurismo we discovered in Cerreto Guidi a couple of years ago. We stayed there when my son was a baby, so it’ll be lovely to take him back to see the owners, Elena and Daniele, and for his little sister to join us too.
Essential daytrips in Sicily – with or without kids
Planning this year’s trip has made me wistfully think back to last year’s break, which was our first as a family of four. We spent a week at a beautiful villa in Sicily, and I wrote about the Festa di San Paolo in Palazzolo Acreide – a one-day religious festival we happened to be around for. To say it was amazing is an understatement – the kids still talk about the paper-streamer fireworks to this day.
It was pure luck that we were in town for the event, and I’m so glad we went. It was one of a couple of daytrips we took while we were on the island, and the other biggie was a visit to Ortigia.
A little island that juts out from the south-east tip of Sicily, Ortigia is the centre of the city of Syracuse, which it’s joined to by bridges. Together, they’re considered to be the historical heart of the island, and as we were less than an hour’s drive away we thought we’d pay a visit.
Driving there was a little bit hairy – it does get busy as you go through Syracuse itself, so I was glad not to be the one behind the wheel. I’d recommend setting your Sat Nav to Parcheggio Talete, a huge, covered parking lot on the island.
Just bear in mind it’s cash only, and there are two entrances. One has no barrier and you just buy a ticket. The other, where we went, uses number plate recognition at the barrier. You’ll need to pay before you leave instead, so make sure you’ve got some spare change at the end of the day. It cost us 50 cents for the first hour, then 1 euro for every hour after that, or 10 euro for the day. None of this is signposted, so we weren’t the only ones who didn’t have a clue what to do at first.
Things to do in Ortigia – gelaterias and… gelaterias?
In Ortigia itself we popped in to the tourist information centre, which was useless, then just asked the people in the cafes and shops when we needed any help (dove il bagno? came up a lot. Thanks, GCSE Italian). The locals are really friendly and seem to love kids, so we had no problems there.
There are loads of lovely places to eat in Ortigia, most of them perfectly family-friendly. But it’s worth bearing in mind that lots of places close from about 3pm and re-open in the evening.
Luckily that didn’t apply to the gelaterias and cafes, which we basically spent the afternoon testing out. We stopped for arancini at Caffe Apollo and the kids had a gelato while we listened to some live music courtesy of the locals.
We stopped for another gelato at Gelati Blanca, because, well, this is Sicily. And my then three-year-old had just discovered pistachio ice-cream.
In truth, although I’d picked out a load of things in the guide-book, we ended up just wandering through Ortigia’s beautiful streets. It’s really buggy-friendly, with lots of wide, open avenues, and we had no problems with our Phil & Ted’s double.
The Piazza Duomo was a particular highlight – the kids loved the wide, open space in this beautiful square, lined on all sides with equally beautiful buildings. And we wandered right over to the western shore to get a great view out to sea and a look at the freshwater spring, Fonte Aretusa.
On the flip side, lots of narrow medieval lanes lead off from the centre and they’re filled with little shops and – yes – more gelaterias and cafes. A lot of these smaller streets were closed off to cars, but it’s worth keeping an eye out for the Vespas that nip round the corners. And the occasional horse-drawn cart, of course.
We headed home as the day moved in to evening and I have to say, it looked like Ortigia was just getting started. The restaurants were re-opening and the shop shutters lifting back up. Alas, our kids were approaching the Witching Hour so we reluctantly said goodbye and set off home. We’ll be back when they’re older, and this time we’ll stay for the evening.