Ah, family vacations. There’s so much to love about them and a few things to be warned about. A couple of years ago, my husband and I took two of our three kids to Italy. Our middle son, Maxx had a work project and couldn’t make it; which made me feel like something was missing the entire trip. I debated photo-shopping him into a few pictures, but with my memory, I was afraid I might start believing he actually came with us.
We started our trip in Rome, the Eternal City to most, the land of pasta and wine to me. Since we landed so early, we decided the best course of action was to plow through the day, ignoring the exhaustion most of us felt for being up all night. Earlier, while on the plane, I looked over to find my daughter sleeping, which happened minutes after takeoff. She didn’t wake until breakfast was served, which had me feeling envious. Once in the city, we plopped our luggage at the hotel and took on the city. Of course, our first stop was for a cappuccino and a croissant, which set the tone for a week of overindulgence and blissful food comas.
As we walked toward the Colosseum, watching my college-age son’s eyes widen with recognition thrilled me. It was in those moments that I knew I would recall this vacation with so much warmth and gratefulness. And then there were the eye-roll moments, such as when my daughter ran around Circus Maximus, not with a chariot, but holding on to my husband’s legs as if they were in a wheelbarrow race. So much pride one-moment, total humiliation the next. But they were laughing and having fun, and that’s the best I can hope for. Add the Trevi Fountain and the Pantheon, and by dinnertime I was spent. But still, even if I had to drag myself, I was not going to miss a meal in Italy. We had several incredible meals in Rome, but two that stand out for me.
We had lunch at Dar Poeta, on Vicolo del Bologna in the Trastevere neighborhood, which was recommended to us by a friend, and it did not disappoint. A casual, hole in the wall, restaurant serving pizza cooked in a wood oven. There were so many pizza topping options to swoon over and even the house wine was fabulous. Another family favorite restaurant was Babette – Via Margutta, where we wanted to literally order everything on the menu!
We visited the Vatican on day two, with all it had to offer. If I can convince you of nothing else, I highly recommend taking a private tour that offers skip the line. Your time is valuable, especially when on vacation and standing in line for hours can be tortuous. Not to mention, good private tour guides provide incredible insights and perspectives. If you haven’t been, it will be a day to relish with its incredible history, museum, Sistine Chapel, and of course a chance to see the Pope.
We spent two magical days in Florence. Staying at the lovely Westin Excelsior was an absolute treat. In Florence, we visited the Uffizi (one of my favorite museums), climbed the Duomo (giving us a magnificent view of the city) and roamed the Pitti Palace (which houses several important museums). Needing a little me time, my daughter took a stroll by herself in the afternoon. Oddly, when we reunited, she and I had bought almost identical purses from a small shop on the Ponte Vecchio. Great minds…
Our favorite restaurant in Florence was Osteria Santo Spirito. We sat outside and reveled in homemade pasta. My son, Chad, spent the vacation seeking out the best gnocchi and was thrilled to find it there.
As you might have surmised, food was a priority for us on this trip. So, you may not be surprised to hear that for me, one of the best days included a private food tour in Naples. Two years later, we are still talking about that experience. If you go, here is a list of must-try foods:
• Fried Pizza
• Buffalo Mozzarella
• Parmigiana di Melanzane
• Neapolitan coffee
• Fish – any and all!
We spent a glorious day in Capri. To get there, we took a ferry to the island, famed for its spectacular landscape, luxury hotels and upscale shopping. And all of those things are fantastic. But what made Capri stand out for us was the Blue Grotto and Limoncello. The Blue Grotto, a sea cave where sunlight passes through an underwater cavity and shines through the seawater to create a surreal deep blue reflection that illuminates the cavern. It can only be reached by squeezing and ducking through a thin opening at water level, which is a little scary.
We ate lunch outside, overlooking the water and ate interesting foods, included live baby shrimp that they plucked from the water that morning. It wasn’t for me, but all the other fish was incredible. After taking a boat tour around the island, we headed to the funicular to Anacapri, a convergence of Mediterranean colors, scents, and sounds. There, I fell in love with limoncello, an intensely lemon-flavored liqueur. At this point, I need to admit how devious I can be when it comes to chocolate. I asked my family if they wanted me to buy them chocolate balls filled with Limoncello, and no one was interested. When I opened the bag days later, my enthusiastic family held out their hands. I am not too proud to admit that I hid the second bag from them when we returned and treated myself to one a day until they ran out. It’s still a point of contention. Please don’t judge me; they were that good. We also brought home a couple of bottles of Limoncello and were so sad when we finished the last bottle.
We spent the last couple of days back in Rome, exploring, tasting, walking and simply enjoying the city and each other, before heading home to NJ. As I reminisce about that trip, and I often do, my favorite memories are sitting at outside cafes each night, trying new foods, talking about our day, and forging incredible memories that I hold on to when I need to feel grounded. Like most of us, my family is my everything. And traveling is my bliss. Anthony Bourdain summed up how I think about travel by saying, “Travel isn’t always pretty. … The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you.” Being able to see the world with my family by my side changes me and is the food that fuels my mind, body and soul.
If you are interested in a family trip to Italy, feel free to reach out; I’m happy to share my insight. To receive my newsletter, visit beyondboutiquetravel.com. Or email me at email@example.com. Beyond Boutique is a member of Virtuoso.