March 10, 2017 - Siena and surroundings, Tuscany, Active, For Children, Culture
Visiting Tuscany with children is a delight, but sometimes you might wonder which places are good with kids, or if there’s somewhere you can take them to decompress after too much culture – here are some suggestions for our favourite places – some cultural, some wild and some organised.
1. Visiting hill towns and villages.
The hill towns of Tuscany are beautiful places to wander round, and
children often find them just as magical as the grownups, particularly
when ice-cream is involved! Here are some of our favourites:
a. Siena. The
centre is entirely pedestrianised, which makes looking after the
children that little bit more relaxing. The shell-shaped Piazza del
Campo is just a natural playground – made for chasing pigeons! It flows
towards the doors of of the Palazzo Pubblico, still Siena’s town
hall. If the children are old enough, you can climb the impressively
tall “Torre del Mangia” (so called because it costs so much to build –
“Mangia” means to eat and it was joked that the structure was ‘eating
money’!). Even the frescoes in the Palazzo Pubblico are fun for
children – take them to see the “Allegory of Good government” which
shows the result of good government contrasted to the results of bad
governance on the opposite wall, and spot the differences…
Ambrogio Lorenzetti [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
b. Hill towns like San Gimignanoand Monteriggionialso have towers to climb, high walkways that will be exciting for the
children, are pedestrianised and have excellent ice-cream shops,
particularly the “Gelateria Dondoli” in the main square at San
Gimignano. Many of the smaller villages and towns, like Casole d’Elsa, Pienza,
Montalcino are also pedestrianised and have great things to
explore and see – the narrow alleyways make for a great playground.
The museums in Tuscany are world class – some of them now have
developed separate sections dedicated to children. Some of our
favourites are the “Museo dei Ragazzi” in Siena, close to the Cathedral (the English section of the website is not working yet). In Florence the Museo Stibbert has a special section for children as does the Museo Galilei,
which has made a whole series of experiments for children to understand
the method and curiosity of the great scientist Galileo Galilei.
By Museo Galileo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
3. Wild swimming.
Before swimming pools become so ubiquitous we all used to swim in the
rivers – and there are some beautiful natural pools dotted along
Tuscany’s rivers. If you drive to Brenna (google maps),
near Siena, you can leave your car near the Pizzeria (great for when
you get back) and walk up river, stopping at the various pools. If you
wish you can cross the weir with your car and drive up the dirt track –
the road goes on for miles, always close to the river so you can stop
where you see parking spots and head off to the right to see what you
discover. While you’re here, you could also go by the tiny village of
“Orgia” and visit the Museo del Bosco, a museum about how these woods
used to be farmed, used and inhabited. Tiny, but fun - and there are themed, marked paths through the local woods too.
For days when you want something a little more organised, Tuscany does have places like zoos and waterparks. AquaVillagehas two large waterparks, one in Cecina, and the other in Follonica,
further south. I haven’t visited these so, if you go, let me know what
you think! Pistoia, just north east of Florence, is a beautiful city in
its own right, at the feet of the Apennines – but it also has a zoo, with a “laboratory for bio-diversity”. Worth a trip.
Mixing with the natives at the Pistoia Zoo - Photo courtesy of Tiziana Gori
5. Exploring abandoned villages and castles.
This is a favourite of mine and I used to a lot of it as a child in
Tuscany – it’s still fun, though you must take care as these places
often really are abandoned. One of my favourites is a small village near
San Gimignano, called Castelvecchio.
According to local tradition it was abandoned after the Plague of the
1480s, though the reality is a little more complicated and Castelvecchio
was actually caught in a power struggle between San Gimignano and
Volterra. The bases of the houses are still visible in the holm oak
woods, and the church is still standing. Once a year, a mass is still
celebrated in the church.
The Rocca di Sillano seen from the air.
Other good places are the castle of Rocca Sillano (google maps & Visit details),
out in a very wild part of Tuscany (and with excellent wild swimming in
the River Pavone, in the valley below) and the Abbey of San Galgano (google maps), complete with a roofless abbey and a chapel with a sword in a stone!
High in the mountains north of Florence and Lucca, there is an
enormous cave formation with long sections that you can visit. It was
impressive last time I saw it, apparently further sections have been
opened recently making it even larger. This is a great place to visit if
the August heat is getting a little too much as you drive up into the
Apennines and then spend a day in a large, cool, dripping cave –
refreshing! And it IS magical.
By Kessiye (Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons