So earlier in the year – for one of Ella’s Year 2 projects they were asked to get a map of the world and point out 3 places that she wanted to visit and why. Her choices were as follows:
- Lapland – to see the real Santa Claus.
- Brazil – to see where the 2016 Olympics were held.
- Italy – so she could eat Pizza at the Leaning Tower of Pizza (her words – too cute to tell her otherwise).
So this holiday we tick one off her list. After saying Ciao to our buddies in Lake Garda we headed South to Tuscany.
Well, I say South, we followed the Sat-Nav and took a wrong exit off the toll and 50km later we could finally turn around and come all the way back to where we started. I kid you not – there was not a single turn off and just kept laughing for the whole wasted 100km about this fact.
So back on track and just past Florence we left the main road and the views of the surrounding countryside were epic. Picture in your mind a hill-side with tall trees surrounding the traditional Tuscan villas and that is what you view over and over again. It is such a joy to see and what I have been imagining for years.
Eventually we arrived at our second campsite of the holiday Camping Norcenni Girasole Club in the hills above the small town of Figline Valdarno about 30km outside of Florence. We checked in and at that point we realised that this campsite was HUGE. They have two massive pool complexes (with a train from the main centre of the campsite to one of them), 3 restaurants, amphitheatre – you name it they had it going on. Again with a full programme of animation going on there was always going to be something for the kids but after our chilled time in the Lakes it was difficult to get out of that habit.
On one of the nights they had a foam party and the kids loved it. There was foam everywhere and our clothes certainly got a good wash plus us big kids enjoyed watching (and joining in) the dancing. Another night Ella got stuck in to the kids show but other than that we chilled at the mobile, played cards, games and enjoyed each others company as well as the competition (girls v’s boys obviously). We tried a couple of the onsite restaurants out and they were great.
On this holiday one thing we did want was to really try some authentic Tuscan cuisine and our campsite recommended a restaurant further up in the hills – La Perlamora . There is no way we would have discovered this without local knowledge so definitely ask advice of the locals.
Well, the view and the setting alone did it for us. A villa nestled in a vineyard with an absolutely view and an amazing set menu. From canapes of fried vegetables and dressing, through salads, breads, pastas, meats from an array of animals and finished off with a silky pannacotta. This along with beautiful, rich vino tinto. It was a perfect evening and something I would recommend everyone tries. We are blessed that Ella is not a fussy eater and is open to try pretty much everything so we don’t face some of the issues some parents do with fussy eaters. Put any large plate of meat/pasta in front of Tyler and he is a happy bunny so the things we like as adults we are able to share with our kiddiwinks. Thankfully its not all nuggets and fries. Most people call if freakish but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
We did spend quite a bit of time just enjoying the pools as again it was sooooooo hot but did have to visit Pisa for Leaning Tower Pizza eating. There is no way Ella would have let us not visit. I had heard it isn’t the prettiest of towns and that the tower is pretty much the only place needed to visit. I found this information to be correct. We drove close by and there are lots of people asking if they can “look after your car”. Obviously this either comes at a cost or if you decline I am sure this is a serious risk so we drove a few streets down to avoid this. As it had been raining during earlier in the day it seemed you could be sold car protection or an umbrella by the same individuals – talk about covering all options, branching out!!!
Anyways we entered the area and got our first glimpse of the Tower. I always get a bit of a thrill when I see a new landmark – something you are so used to seeing in books, on tv, in films and whilst some may say it is just a tower – it is THE Leaning Tower of Pisa and another thing I am please I have seen. Ella really wanted to climb to the top but due to the queues we would have had to wait around 3/4 hours to get a space. Luckily the little lady didn’t want to wait – we would have been happy to climb but the cost was just ridiculous. It was going to be around £70 which to me is just a rip off. However, if you really want to climb I would recommend you pre-book and then skip the queues.
So after the obligatory photos of us holding it up, karate kicking and touching the top – it was time to grab a slice of pizza and take the shot and have the experience Ella had mentioned in her schools work. Job done – we located our car (undamaged) and then decided to head for the beach. It was a bit cloudy on this day but still warm enough. About 20 minutes outside of Pisa along the coast there are a few seaside towns. They feel very derelict and a bit run down but we parked up, found a breakwater and then dived in the sea. An espresso and gelato later we hit the road and headed back to the campsite.
Another must do when in Tuscany is Florence and we were not going to miss out either – hot or not. The campsite organised bus trips so rather than getting stuck in traffic we opted for this. We managed pretty much a full day and it was glorious. Florence is just breath-taking.
So let me digress here slightly, a few years ago my mum decided to go back to university to study French. For some additional credits she studied a bit of Italian and covered the building of Il Duomo in Florence. She spent many nights over the phone and in person telling me about the history of this building and (sorry Mum) I sometimes switched off. My lovely mum was mesmerised by this building and how it came about and when we rounded the corner I can totally see why she was so captivated by it. It is magnificent and both Nigel and I (and surprisingly the kids) were really impressed. In fact, we made a pact to return with my mum so we could explore properly.
The queues to get in again were insane and as we only had a few hours we were not prepared to spend it in a line so we continued to do one of our favourite things and just wander the city. We headed for the famous bridge, the Ponte Vecchio, with all its gold shops and then crossed the river and headed up towards the Piazzale Michaelangelo where you have the best views of the city.
The walk – like all our walks in Italy – was hot but once at the top the view was so worth the effort. I am pretty sure that most pictures of Florence you will have seen are taken from this vantage point. You just don’t want to tear your eyes away.
We needed a drink!! There is a little café just below the main viewpoint – unless you want to part company with serious amounts of money I would urge you do what we did and just head back down the hill or take some with you.
We passed a little pizzeria on the way up the hill that seemed full of locals so opted for that one and The bastions of St. Nicholas Trattoria & Pizzeria sorted us right out. A obligatory Aperol Spritz for me and the hubby and softies for the little ones cooled us down and then the Pizzas were amazing.
Fed and watered we made our way back into the centre of Florence, ambled the streets again, sampled more gelato and wandered in and out of shops before heading back to the coach and the campsite.
The weather on this part of our trip was slightly cooler than Lake Garda but still hot, hot, hot so we all needed chill time and so therefore enjoyed lots of lazy days around the pool. This week gave us a sample of what Tuscany has to offer and we would love to return and see some more of this stunning area. It may be a time for spring/early autumn when the weather is not so overwhelming.
We had a great time (as always when we are together) and would definitely recommend for a family holiday. We will return one day for sure and try some other areas of Tuscany. Our week’s taster has certainly whet the appetite.