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 della Signoria, 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 della Signoria 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…
b. Hill towns like San Gimignano and Monteriggioni also 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.
c. Many of the smaller villages and towns, like Casole d’Elsa, Pienza, Montalcino are also often pedestrianised and have great things to explore and see – the narrow alleyways make for a great playground.
2. Museums for children
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 Duomo (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.
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.
4. Water Parks and Zoos.
For days when you want something a little more organised, Tuscany does have places like zoos and waterparks. AquaVillage has two large waterpark, 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.
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.
Other good places are the castle of Rocca Sillano (google maps), 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.
Molino alla Torrente is in a valley of the Apennines, just over half an hour from the Grotta del Vento.