Tuscany where you can buy wine by the litre, fill your empty water bottles with the local Chianti reds. Where you can eat wild boar ragu and drink vin santo e cantuccini to finish the meal. Where you can drive from hill top village to medieval town through vineyards and olive groves. Visit Tuscany with kids because there’s lots for them too, gelato, bike riding, walking inside walls and leaning towers!
Tuscany is special to us as the first place in Europe (outside the UK), Paul and I visited together. In 2004 we flew in to Rome and drove up to Siena, Florence and Lucca. This time visiting Tuscany with children, we didn’t want to face the craziness of Florence in July. We focused on our favourite places, introducing L & S to Siena, Lucca, and the surrounding villages and towns.
Camping in Tuscany
Due to camping availability we stayed first in Pisa at a campsite within walking distance of the leaning tower, Torre Pendente Camping Village Pisa. From there we could easily explore Lucca also. Then we moved to Siena. We stayed at Camping Colleverde Siena, where we got a huge and very pretty site with lots of shade, a short drive to Siena’s historical centre.
There is a huge variety of art, culture and history to explore in Tuscany but this time our visit was focused on revisiting some favourite places and indulging in the local produce. I started out writing a ’10 things to do in Tuscany’ blog post, but it was too long before I even touched on our stay in Siena. This post is about visiting Tuscany with kids exploring Lucca, Pisa, San Gimignano and the Chianti wine towns. The next post will be about beautiful Siena…
Cycle the walls in Lucca
During our months of travel the kids really missed their bikes so a cycling trip around Lucca’s walls was a real treat.
Lucca is a walled city. The walls we see today were constructed in the 16th Century, but there have been walls in Lucca since Roman times. Today the 4km long walls are a popular walking and cycling path around the city. It is fun entering Lucca by walking through the inside of the walls. How many cities can you do this in?
Where to hire bikes in Lucca?
It is possible to hire bikes from a number of locations in Lucca inside the walls. You can’t miss the signs for bike hire. It is cheap with prices starting from a few Euros for an hour and good value day rates. An hours hire will allow you to comfortably cycle the wall in Lucca twice. Once in each direction so you can see the scenery from different perspectives. Longer hire will allow you to explore the surrounding countryside.
Backpacks and Sunhats bike riding in Lucca
We had fun making some little videos for the blog and social media. All was going well until the last 10 minutes of our hire time. I pointed out to L an adorable puppy that was riding in a bike basket ahead of us. He decided to zoom ahead for a closer look. In his enthusiasm, he hit a kerb at high speed, and went flying off his bike with a dramatic crash into some startled Australian tourists.
Luckily one of them was a nurse and had some antiseptic wipes handy. They stayed for a few minutes to help us out, sacrificing most of their water to clean up his grazed knees and hands. Unfortunately he was sitting down when they poured the water all over his knees so it ran down his legs and he looked as if he’d wet himself!
Although we felt a bit mean we had to encourage him to ride back to the hire shop, a thunderstorm was starting and we were running out of time. We hid him around the corner when we returned the bikes. Paul didn’t want them to see the grazed knees and inspect the bike too closely for damage! By now the rain was pouring and so was the blood down L’s legs. Still it is a day we won’t forget for awhile!
We settled them both with a large gelato and unfortunately that was the end of swimming for a few days as L had a deep cut on one knee that needed a dressing. I’m sure there are other things to do in Lucca but we didn’t discover them that day.
Leaning Tower of Pisa
The leaning tower is located in the picturesque Piazza / Campo dei Miracoli (square of miracles) alongside the Pisa Cathedral or Duomo di Pisa, and the Pisa Baptistery.
It is possible to climb the leaning tower for those aged 8 years and over. S was too young so we missed it out. The lines were long so it would be worth booking tickets in advance if you wanted to do this.
Other options at the tower are to: purchase an unlimited number of tacky souvenirs related to the leaning tower, eat over-priced, mediocre, ‘pizza in Pisa’ and take posed photos of yourself ‘holding up’ the tower.
Option 3 costs nothing so we went with that…S was a bit short so she needed to sit on Dad’s shoulders to make this one work. L had fun with it and it is certainly much easier in the days of smartphones where they can see how it works on the screen.
Blanket sellers in Pisa
While we were there we witnessed a police raid on the ever present blanket sellers. It was a hilarious scene of a little police car filled to bursting with confiscated, fake-designer handbags. Sellers and police working together to cram all the bags into the tiny car. We couldn’t help but wonder how long it would be before someone was bribed and the seller was back at their blanket with their stock of counterfeit goods.
Paul and I had already seen the leaning tower of Pisa, and I wouldn’t have rushed to see it again, but the kids hadn’t and our campsite was a 10 minute walk away. So we went to take some pictures and watch the madness that is Italy in tourist season. It is fun to see and it doesn’t cost anything if you just look.
If you want to explore Pisa further check out Get Your Guide, our favourite site for tours and activities.
A town that is worth a detour is the hill town of San Gimignano. Encircled by 13th Century walls, it is known as the town of towers. In the 14th Century there were 72 towers, today just 13 remain. The towers were status symbols built by the wealthiest families to show of their economic power.
In 1348 the plague decimated two thirds of the population of San Gimignano and led it into a long period of decline. Many towers fell down or were cut off and the town centre remained unchanged by the new architectural styles and influences that can be see in the wealthier towns and cities of Tuscany.
This is a town with a historical centre frozen in medieval time. Now the population is around 8000 inhabitants but San Gimignano receives millions of visitors a year from around the world to visit this unique World Heritage Site.
In peak tourist season the volume of visitors means that parking is next to impossible. Cars aren’t allowed inside city walls (not tourist cars anyway). There is a lot of parking outside the walls and ‘park and ride’ systems available for parks further away.
If you are visiting San Gimignano with kids, you can bribe them to learn some history by promising a taste of the best gelato in the world…
Gelateria Dondoli San Gimignano
Gelateria Dondoli in the Piazza della Cisterna is world famous for it’s incredible gelato. There is a huge selection of flavours, we loved Raspberry and Rosemary. The line out the door is testament to this tiny shop’s popularity, but don’t be put off, it moves quickly. Just be ready with your order when you get there, this isn’t the time for indecisiveness.
More of our favourite Tuscan towns are Castellina in Chianti and Greve in Chianti…
Castellina in Chianti
On the scenic route between Florence and Siena, Castellina is a town of around 2,800 people. Much sleepier than San Gimignano here you can wander the quiet streets and take in the views of the Tuscan countryside in relative peace.
We came across this fellow relaxing on the pavement.
Greve in Chianti
Greve is the largest town in the Chianti Classico wine region. It’s centre is based around a triangle shaped piazza rather than the winding main street of Castellina. It was still relatively quiet, not as many tours come here, it is more of a self drive destination.
We stopped in Greve on our way to Modena, after a coffee we had a little wander around the shops and discovered these two gems.
Antica Macelleria Falorni
A traditional butchers that has been in Greve for 9 generations, since 1806.
Now a world renowned brand, their cured meat products are sold in 60 countries. The shop is almost a museum of local Tuscan tradition and food. They make a number of cured meats with Tuscan wild boar. Don’t miss the cheese cave downstairs, L & S loved this.
Owned by the same family company as the butchers, the Enoteca is a wine bar with a difference. Using technology and prepaid cards you can purchase tastes, half, and full glasses of wine from a huge selection of Tuscan wines. A great way to taste a few local wines without dragging the children around multiple vineyards.
These towns are just as much about the journey as the destination. The SR222 is the main tourist route through the Chianti wine region between Siena and Florence. The drive is stunning and takes you past vineyards, olive groves, castles and estates. With Greve being just half an hour south of Florence it is a popular day trip for those looking to get out of the city.
Photos edited vs. reality
In many of my pictures I wait patiently to get a scene without hoards of people in it. I take different angles and crop out of the stray person on the edges. But in this blog post I decided to share my pictures largely unedited and unfiltered. Just Tuscany like it really is, beautiful but busy!