What better way to spend some of the 12 Days of Christmas than town-hopping around northern Italy? Julia Smile did just this and found Christmas markets, mountains, cozy farmhouses, castles … even a two-horse open sleigh!
A great destination for family travel all year, northern Italy is particularly charming during the Christmas holidays. Beautiful Christmas markets brighten the towns and snow is falling in the higher elevations; it can feel truly magical. The fabled Italian love for family and children is true! Our small daughter was showered with hearty smiles and sweet words: “Bella”, “Bellissima”, “Bimba” greeted us on cobblestoned streets, hiking trails, or sitting in trattorias. Speaking of which, Italy’s cuisine does not present a problem even for the pickiest toddler!
This beautiful old city is famous for being the setting of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”. Could he ever have imagined his story of young lovers would be played off the stage as well as on? For "Juliet’s House" is crowded with tourists anxious for a selfie on her famous balcony and the walls under it are covered with the scribbles of lovers – pledges, promises, wishes, heartache … it’s all there.
As Verona is a small city, a day or two is enough to get a feel for it. We enjoyed the best pizza of our life at Don Peppe Pizzeria e Trattoria in the huge mall Adigeo (a shopping paradise and very child-friendly: kids' washbasins, playgrounds and a playroom for kids 3+).
We went to this small town as a day trip from Verona. It took us about two hours to see this town, including having lunch at one of the local restaurants, so guessing its size is easy. Fortunately, it was Christmas with Christmas markets everywhere, so it was quite lively and lovely.
In mountainous Pellizzano we decided to try an Agriturismo – which means you stay at a genuine, working farm! It's a popular thing in Italy, ideal for people who love nature and the quiet of rural life. Our farm had a wooden interior, a heated bathroom floor, hearty dinners, and smiles, and … rides in a two-horse open sleigh! Dashing through the crispy snow surrounded by rolling hills was romantic and peaceful! But our visit was only for a couple of days as there was heavy snow forecast which could have made our getting out very complicated (read about snow tires in Notes below). Be aware that in rural areas not knowing Italian can be difficult – Google translate doesn’t always cut it.
Trento is a very nice town with one of the most famous Christmas markets in Central Europe – try the treccia mochèna (plaited pastry cake) and the polenta brustolada (grilled polenta). Trento also has two wonderful museums that are great options if the weather is less than perfect:
Buonconsiglio Castle Museum: enjoy ancient frescos, carved ceilings, Egyptian and other collections. Not a lot for the youngest visitors (our daughter was napping in the packpack, fortunately) but older kids may find just being in a castle entertaining!
MUSE Science Museum: This little gem has everything you could wish for a visit with a child: interesting exhibits, every floor with its own theme, WC with changing pads and kids toilets on every floor, kids play areas for 0-5 and 5-10 year olds, interactive exploration activities for bigger kids and adults, and lectures about the many items in the museum.
Bolzano and Bozen
These towns are a piece of Austria in Northern Italy.The architecture, Christmas markets, cuisine – everything looks and feels Austrian. They even speak German here! Grab the opportunity to enjoy typical Austrian pretzels and white sausage without actually leaving Italy.
Street food is nice at the Christmas market but when it's cold, sooner or later you'll need to find a place to warm up and eat something more serious. The kid-friendly restaurant Aida can be recognized from outside by a row of buggies next to the entrance. They don't have a play corner but do have high chairs and a place to change the baby.
Riva del Garda
For New Year's Eve and Day, we found an exceptional place for a very good price: an ancient castle transformed into a very neat and stylish apartment hotel with picturesque views of the mountains and vineyards from all the windows. What could be a better and more romantic place to see in the New Year? It was so nice inside that we didn't even feel like leaving that beautiful castle but we ventured out for a couple of walks around the nearby lakes.
Walking around the Lago di Ledro took us about 2.5 hours with our toddler sleeping in the backpack carrier. The lake is at an elevation of 650 meters and it was several degrees colder than in Riva del Garda, with snow and ice all around. On our way we came across several playgrounds – on frozen beaches and in empty camping sites, all the houses and restaurants were empty and closed too. Obviously, this area is focused on summer holidays.
On New Year’s Eve Day we walked for two hours on a trail along Lago di Garda. The lake is huge and very beautiful and walking next to the mist-covered lake was pure pleasure. This trail seemed to be very popular, even on a cold winter morning.
The restaurant Ristorante Acetaia Del Balsamico offers beautiful views and delicious food, and its amazingly child-friendly waiters make it even more special. The restaurant offers their own home-made olive oil and 7 years old balsamic vinegar for sale – perfect to give as gifts.
- Winter tires cost extra, but as winter weather can make driving difficult in the higher elevations, it's a good idea to request them from your rental agency.
- Eating out in Italy can require some planning, particularly during holidays. Most restaurants are open from 12pm - 2pm and then after 7pm, and on New Year's Day only fast food places are open!
- Restaurants normally collect a cover charge ("Coperto") from every person in the bill, including children. It seems strange at first that children pay the service fee but when you look under the table after the meal is finished, you may think children should pay double!
Looking for family-friendly accommodation in Northern Italy? Consider booking your stay via booking.com/amsterdammamas. Find the perfect accommodation for your family while supporting Amsterdam Mamas at the same time!
Julia Smile is an expat mother who is passionate about traveling with her family and writing about these exciting experiences in her blog. Her other passions include reading and dancing. More about Julia and her family travels in her blog and Instagram. This article is based on a post from her blog Frogs in the Box .