Tuscany is one of Europe’s most visited tourist destinations, and there’s no shortage of family-friendly activities to choose from. While you can’t go wrong with a stroll across the Ponte Vecchio in Florence or a trip to Pisa to pose with one of the world’s most photographed monuments, some of the best-kept secrets are tucked within the lesser known foothills and mountaintop villages. From cheese-making at a local family-owned dairy farm to grotto diving to truffle hunting, here are some of the best family-friendly activities to enjoy under the Tuscan sun all-year round.
One of the best ways to enjoy the rich bounty of Italian cuisine is by learning how to make it from scratch. And there’s no better way to do that than at Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa. Chef de cuisine Alessandro Manfredini will take you on a tour of the local markets in the beautiful hilltop town of Barga before heading back to the hotel’s private kitchen, where he'll teach you how to make a traditional Italian meal.
Set in the world famous winemaking region of Montepulciano, Cugusi Dairy is a great place to stop and learn all about the art of Italian cheese-making. In the area’s largest producer of pecorino, the Cugusi family has been producing some of area’s most distinguished pecorino since 1962. Today you can tour the farm, meet the cows and learn how to make cheese in their on-site facility.
Beaches probably aren’t the first thing you think of when you think of Tuscany, but with more than 200-miles of beautiful coastline, a day on the beach — especially in the dog days of summer — can be just as appealing as a day in the countryside. Some of the most beautiful and family-friendly beaches can found along the Maremma coastline. Check out the beaches in Viareggio, which are known for their calm waters, long sandy shores and month-long carnival season every March.
Some of Tuscany’s most delightful, if not delicious, exports are truffles. Many of the best white and black truffles are grown throughout Tuscany due to the rich minerals and mild climate found there year-round. Go on a truffle hunt in the hills around San Miniato with the Truffle Hunter before enjoying a truffle infused lunch afterwards.
Lucca is easily one of Tuscany’s most charming medieval towns, and there’s no better way to see it than on a bicycle. One of the best places to start in this fortified city is by biking the very walls that were once meant to protect it. Dating back to the 16th century, the walls remain completely intact. Grab a bike from one of the many bike rental spots in town or hop on a tour. Either way, this is a leisurely, can’t-miss activity in Lucca.
Set in the northern part of Tuscany in Apuan Alp Park, Grotta del Vento — or the ‘windy cave’ — is an intricate system of underground caves and grottos that date back to the 17th century. See stalagmites, stalactites and the underground pools and waterfalls that abound in this otherworldly realm.
Perhaps one of Tuscany’s lesser known tourist attractions, thermal pools are ubiquitous throughout the region and are a great family-friendly activity all-year round. Located in the Maremma region of southern Tuscany near the village of Saturnia, Terme di Saturnia and Fonte Pura Thermal Baths are two great places to take a dip — if you can stand the smell, that is.
Just outside of Lucca, Ponte della Maddalena, or ‘Devil's Bridge’ as it’s commonly known, is easily one of Tuscany’s most beautiful places to visit. Built in the 12th century, the folklore surrounding its infamous name varies depending on who you ask. One of the most common tales stems from the legend of Saint Julian, the protector of travelers. When unable to finish building the bridge, he asked the devil for help — in return offering the soul of the first person to cross it. They struck a deal and according to legend, Saint Julian sent a dog across (some people say it was a pig). Either way, what stands today is a magnificent piece of architecture that is well worth the visit.
Heralded as being one of the smallest theaters in the world, Teatrino di Vetriano is an absolute must-do. Dating back to the 19th century and measuring 765 square feet, this 80-seat jewel box of a theater in the village of Vetriano still hosts small concerts and plays.
While there are a number of excellent family-friendly hotels to choose from all across Tuscany, Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort & Spa — set in the hills overlooking the village of Barga — is an especially great place for families. The resort is situated on 1,700 acres and is replete with both indoor and outdoor pools. a Plus, they also offer babysitting services so you can sneak in some romance or relax in the full-service spa. It makes for an ideal location to post up for a few days and explore the Tuscan countryside and just a few miles from outdoor activities ranging from kayaking and river-rafting to biking.
By Michelle Gross