Beautiful Tuscany, rolling hills dotted with swaying poplars and noble, crumbling farmhouses. A place I’d dreamed of visiting since reading, yes you guessed it, ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ by Frances Mayes.
Our family holiday to Tuscany was our first trip abroad together, so we combined two destinations with quite different accommodation flavours, glamping and a static caravan stay, all on a pretty tight budget in order to make the most of our time there.
Making the most of Nectar points accumulated over a couple of years (top tip folks if you shop at Sainsburys, BP etc), we flew Easyjet to Pisa during the May half term (2014) and hired a cheap and cheerful car, saving considerable money by taking our own Bubblebum inflatable booster seats (we bought ours second hand from Ebay, well worth it as car hire companies seem to charge a lot for booster seats.)
Our first stay was in a beautiful yurt at an Agriturismo in the Tuscan hills, Fattoria La Prugnola, slightly south east of Pisa at Montescudaio, just under an hour from the airport, close to the Etruscan coast and in the heart of wine country. A rural escape with great green credentials and abundant natural pleasures; chickens, house martins and breathtaking views, homegrown olive oil and wine, and open farmland to explore. The Agriturismo was beautifully kept with several yurts of different sizes. The yurt frames were painted in bright gypsy colours and beautifully furnished with wooden flooring and soft rugs. Each yurt had it’s own bathroom, again immaculately kept and just a few yards from the door. So early in the season there was only one other family there, so we enjoyed considerable peace and quiet. Each morning we meandered up to the terrace to a breakfast feast of local produce and delicious homemade spreads, made even more agreeable by the fresh morning sunshine and panoramic views. All of this at a remarkably reasonable cost. Fattoria La Prugnola also offer cottages, camping plots in the summer and for a more romantic getaway, a treehouse for two tucked away on the farm. We whiled away the evenings sitting by the yurt with a glass of local wine and watching the fireflies dancing… perfection.
Not too far away are the famous medieval Tuscan towns of Volterra and San Gimignano, both incredibly charming and worth a visit, if only for the breathtaking drive through stunning Tuscan countryside to get there. Whilst they are definitely tourist hotspots, Volterra’s lofty position and Etruscan heritage makes it a worthy stopping point. San Gimignano is famed for its 14 towers, the ‘Medieval Manhattan’ of Tuscany. The towers were a symbol of a family’s prestige and wealth hence the jagged skyline that greets you on your approach. Its a lovely place to wander through narrow streets admiring the medieval architecture and treat the kids to a tourist trinket or ‘the best gelato in Italy’ (they all say that or something similar, but they are truly delicious!)
After a few days of yurt loveliness we moved down to the coastal Maremma region for a few nights in a typical Italian seaside campsite with sea, sand and plenty of entertainment to keep the kids happy. Punta Ala Camping was close to the Maremma National Park which stretches from Talamone in the south, to Principina a Mare on the northern edge, and incorporates wild and varied landscapes including the Uccellina Hills, marshes, plains and beaches. It’s is the home of the Maremman wild horses and, surprisingly, cowboys; the ‘Butteri‘, who tend the cattle in the marshlands.
The campsite itself was commercial and busy, not my usual cuppa, but I wanted to try different things to see what worked for us. Also I have to admit I was defeated in finding anywhere in the coastal region that could qualify as a ‘small and quiet’ campsite, hence we settled for a lively stay. The children loved the onsite entertainment – tree trekking and disco’s to mention some. Plus my least favourite thing in the world – a small amusement arcade. Oh I hate them, but Jay was over the moon. And the beach beside the campsite was pretty gorgeous compensation too, with miles of golden sand and crystal sea backed by shady pines and not too busy at that time of year.
On our return to Pisa we did make time for a flying visit to the Piazza dei Miracoli (square of miracles), which encompasses the incredible leaning tower. You can’t really fly into Pisa then say you didn’t visit the leaning tower, although it’s quite visible from the plane as you descend. On this occasion Florence and Sienna were bi-passed in the name of our sanity. We weren’t quite ready for city sightseeing with little ones at that point, but now their tolerance and experience has grown we have a great reason to return to this gorgeous region one day – Tuscany with kids? Its definitely a yes from me!