If you are regular readers of Mudpie Fridays then you will know that over the Summer we visited rural Tuscany with James Villa Holidays. You will also know that it holds a very special place in our hearts since we spent some of our honeymoon exploring the vineyards, restaurants and hilltop villages. We had an absolutely amazing time. Returning this Summer we wondered if we perhaps may have been a bit ambitious. Would it be possible to enjoy the same destination with a young family in tow? Well you will be pleased to know the answer is yes! We went to some lovely places over the two weeks we were away. Some of which deserve a post in their own right. But for now a summary will have to do – Heres what we got up to on our Tuscan Adventure:
SAN SILVESTRO MINES
This is an exciting under ground experience and since Monkey is obsessed with caves now we thought we would give it ago. San Silvestro offer three different tours, one is a walking tour where you need to wear a helmet and takes about 40 minutes. They do not allow little ones on the walking tour so we opted for the train ride instead which is about thirty minutes out and fifteen minutes back. There is also another walking tour is onto the ruins at the end of the train ride, but since its a forty minute hike to them and over thirty degrees on the day we visited we also decided to give those a miss. However I can see if you have older children who are interested in mining then the benefit of linking all three together
There is plenty of parking and a restaurant on site selling pannis and a mixture of pasta, pizza an burgers , with ample seating both in and outside in the shade. There is also a couple of play areas more aimed at Monkey’s age than Kippers. Both kids truly enjoyed the experience. The tour is in Italian so make sure you read the paper handout before boarding as its pretty dark inside! Adult tickets were 11€ each both children were free.
BANJI SAN FILIPPO
Hubby and I use to visit Turkey a fair amount in our youth and one of the places we went was Pammukalai – the hot springs where the calcium in the water had over time created little bathing pools. We had no idea that such things existed in Italy, yet alone Tuscany. On doing a bit of research we decided to head to Banji San Filippo. The hot springs are not privately owned and free to enter. It also means that they are not maintained in anyway and they lack basic amenities such as toilets. The path is steep and uneven although some attempt has been made to put in a wooden fence. I managed to walk the length of the springs with Kipper in his carrier. But there is no way he could manage it and I am glad I had a good pair of shoes on. That aside its definitely worth a visit if you are local. When asked it was one of Monkey’s favourite days out.
This was the closest town to where we were staying. There is a central carpark which is perfect for young children as it avoids the hard work of walking up the hill but it gets busy quickly. I would suggest trying to time your arrival before mid morning it cost us 12€ from 10.30-5pm. Walking out of the carpark you can look over the Tuscan countryside, it really is beautifully picturesque. Head to the main Piazza to get a map from the tourist office.
Our first stop was the Roman Ruins. Its not possible to walk in amongst them anymore but we paid the 5€ per adult to walk along the viewing area. Its also possible to view them from the street above which a number of people were doing. Entrance to the ruins can be included in a family pass ticket which costs for 22€ includes entrance to six attractions within the town and is valid for two days. There are plenty of places to stop for a drink, food or some ice cream many of the streets are pedestrianised which is good and we saw very little traffic in the centre. The area is also very well known for Albasta. Being local we ate out a couple of times in the town exploring the streets, shops and finding viewing platforms to see the rolling hills.
We visited on a Thursday which is when the food market is on, there were stall selling pork baps, fruit & Veg, truffles and various other Italian delicacies. You enter the town through an archway and are instantly transported back to a time, either side of the pedestrianised road are little shops and eateries built into the archways of the buildings. Monkey was quite put off by the stuffed wild boar we found sitting in one of the shop fronts. There are predominately leather goods, ceramics and shops selling artisan pasta, mushrooms and oils. At the the top of the town its possible to wander around the castle ruin, with beautiful views of the countryside.
There are plenty of places to eat and drink in the village, a place to fill up before attempting to climb the only tower which accepts visitors – the bell tower. It cost 9€ for me and under 6’s were free. Monkey was very excited by climbing the tower that he did the in tally but in under two and a half minutes. At five Monkey was fine but I am not sure it would work for anyone young. The opening on the last ladder to get onto the roof is quite small so a back carrier wouldn’t work.
There is a long screen which runs down the centre of the tower and it plays an animated video of the development of the tower. Monkey thought this was great so we stood and watched it from start to finish. Its not really the thing I though he would be interested in. But he loved it asking questions throughout about what happened to the towers. As there was once 72 in the village. There are now 14. At the base of the tower there are several rooms which have a lot of religious artwork in them, but the tower was by far the highlight.
This is a great place to twin with Siena because it is so close. Monteriggioni is a medieval walled castle and a wonderful place to visit. Its small so you would only need a couple of hours there. Theres plenty of parking at the base of the hill and a short walk to the castle walls. Perfect for pictures once inside as everything centres round a large courtyard. Although it is open to cars. Theres a couple of cafes and a bar, plus a handful of shops including a rather nice wine shop that offers free tastings. For kids there are a couple of small museums where you can dress up as a knight. The highlight has to the walk around the castle walls.
The Grotto is around forty mixtures from Pisa so we decided to stop there on the way back. Having already researched it and realised that Monkey would be too young to climb the tower we had already warned him that it would be pictures only. Having been up the tower ourselves we were quite surprised by the fact that you have to be aged 8 to go up. We still managed to get some photos. Many people were standing on the grass despite the signs that sad ‘don’t’ or the bollards that are around the grassy area. Of course trying to direct a five year old for a ‘push’ photo was interesting. Yet I don’t think you can visit Tuscany without a marvelling at one of the man made wonders of the world. We have promised a return trip so we can climb the tower.
The day we visited Monkey was out of sorts so it didn’t go entirely to plan but this doesn’t detract from the fact that its a great town to explore. Its best to park outside the walled city in one of the many free carparks. Inside I would head first to the tourist office to pick up a mapThere are two towers to climb opted to try out the Torre Guinigi – Monkey enjoyed trying to get to the top as quickly as possible. The reason we picked this one is because the roof is covered in trees which provides much needed shade plus the last part of the climb is much more straight forward and more like a staircase than a ladder so good for Monkey’s age rage. Monkey was free, it was 4€ for me. Its possible to buys a combined ticket which includes other attractions.
Unlike the other towns that we have visited many of the buildings are covered in a yellow render and the roads are much wider between them. This does mean there is more traffic, but its also flatter. So much more toddler friendly. You can hire bikes from the Tourist Centre (which is different to the tourist office and located out of town), which seems like quite a popular thing to do as there was quite a few of them. Much of the city is in the shade so its a great place to explore when its hot. There are lots of different places to pick up an Ice cream around the main square which has a beautiful white marble church in its centre.
I will be writing about some of these places individually in the coming weeks. Below is a little video of our wonderful Tuscan Adventure.
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