10 days of Lake Como, Piza, Cinque Terre and Milan with copious amounts of gelato in Northern Italy
Mix together a grand serving of culture, an unlimited buffet of beautiful landscapes and a pinch of wild swimming. Round it off with a daily dose of gelato and an agenda to keep any age of child happy. Liking the sound of that menu, then Northern Italy is for you.
Northern Italy: Lake Como, Cinque Terre, Piza and Milan with a few stops in between.
How long will we need?: 10 days minimum
Flight time: 1hr 40 (Approx.)
When to go: June/July/August/September are the hottest months to go and give you more chance of a swim in the lake but they are also the busiest. I imagine it’s gorgeous and snowy in the winter but your itinerary might be drastically different from this one because of it. We went in July.
This is the itinerary that worked for us – but feel free to add comments to give other hints and tips of where to go.
Day 1: Lake Como: Drive from the airport to Lake Como and check into your accommodation.
Mum and Dad Highlights: The views, the lake and the food and drink
Kids Highlights: Travelling by plane, swimming in the lake
Take a dip in the lake to cool off from the flight, then pick a nice restaurant to sample the local pizza and gelato (and prosecco – the red sparkling is particularly delicious). We picked Argegno for our first evening meal spot, pretty and lively with a number of good choices. We also got an awesome view of the lightning storm that came in (as happened a few times during our stay).
Day 2: Lake Como: Spend the morning by the lake and then go exploring in the afternoon
Mum and Dads Highlights: Recovering, seeing Villa Balbianello from Star Wars and Casino Royale
Kids Highlights: Boat trip, feeding the ducks and the ice-cream
We wanted to recover from the travel day (with four hour delay) so spent the morning swimming in the lake. Colonno has a tiny beach (they call them Lidos) that makes it easy to take a dip and was seconds away from our accommodation. They have a number of these situated around the lake with varying degrees of facilities and services. The kids were happy splashing around and feeding the families of ducks that came by. Do as the locals do and take a siesta. Austin still needs a nap so it forces us to take a rest (not a bad thing in the heat). We drove to Tremezzo in the early afternoon and took the ferry to Bellagio for an explore, gelato and a boat trip.
Day 3: Lake Como: Gain a spectacular view via the Funicular and see some lakeside towns
Mum and Dads highlights: The view from the top of the light house in Brunate, the gorge walk
Kids Highlights: Riding the funicular, the waterfalls and taking the car ferry back across the lake
Today is a longer day so take it in your own pace. We started out early driving to Como and parked on the street by the funicular. It pays to get there early so you can avoid waiting in a queue in the heat, plus, let’s face it, you’re probably up early with the kids if they are anything like ours so why not make the most of it! Ride the funicular up to the top. You can then choose to ride a bus (for a small fee) or make the trek up to the top of the hill to the lighthouse. Be warned it’s a steep and long walk, Millie (4) managed it but it was tough – the bus is a much more comfortable ride. The views from the top are amazing and well worth the trip compared to the view at the top of the funicular, there is also a small park for the kids and a café and restaurant. Once you’ve taken it in, head down and have some lunch in one of the restaurants in the marina or feast on a picnic under the tree on the grass. Head back to the car for a longer car ride (giving the little ones their essential lunchtime nap) and head in the direction of Varenna. There is a nice gorge just outside called Orrido di Bellano which is well worth a walk around. Varenna is a another pretty town for a little wander before catching the car ferry back to the West shore (we went to Menaggio).
Day 4: Lake Como: Rest day/further exploring or the chance for one of you to do an activity
Mum and Dad’s highlights: Canyoning/gorgewalking & relaxing
Kids highlights: Swimming in the lake and the Lido.
It can be tempting to pack the itinerary full of things to do but with small kids it’s good to factor in a ‘nothing day’ to let them absorb their surroundings and recover from the exploring that they have already done. We chose to do that but with the exception of making the decision that Mike would go canyoning. They were happy to do this along with a few of the activity books we’d brought along with letting Austin have a proper nap. The canyoning is awesome here but they also have opportunities for other sports such as kayaking the lake. If you have older children, get them involved but ours were way too young for this, doesn’t mean you should miss out if one of you doesn’t mind doing it alone.
Once Mike returned, we headed to Lido di Menaggio for a quick swim. It was lovely there with a toddler swimming pool with the most stunning backdrop, a park and restaurant.
Day 5: Lake Como to La Spezia area (Ameglia for us) via Parma
Mum and Dad’s highlights: Parma food and driving through the countryside
Kids’ highlights: The pink Bapistry, the tuk tuk cars, more ice-cream and the pool at the campsite
Once a sad farewell to the lake is said, head down to Parma. I mean, how can you pass by what must be one of the food capitals of Italy, being the birthplace of Parma Ham and Parmesan cheese! It’s a pedestrianised city which is a nice change (aside from a few tuktuk cars). Take a wander round by the Duamo and the Bapistry – they are amazing buildings, but nothing delighted Millie more than the Bapistry being pink! Then take your pick of the restaurants to try the local dishes. It serves as a nice break for the kids to stretch their legs on the drive and allows you to enjoy some spoils. We headed to our campsite and enjoyed an evening swim before bed.
Day 6:Ameglia: Day trip to Piza and Lucco
Mum and Dad Highlights: Taking pictures at the leaning tower and cycling the walls of Lucca
Kids Highlights: Copying people at the leaning tower and riding on the bikes at Lucca and playing in the parks on the way.
Another early start here as Pisa is a popular stop for many. The good news is you can park really close and after a short walk enter through the walls into the Piazza del Duamo. The place was packed when we were there, take a moment to firstly take in tower – after seeing it so much on TV (and for Millie that meant Go Jetters) it was quite special seeing it in person. Once you’ve had an oogle, enjoy watching everyone try and take funny photos – it really is a spectacle. Without filling Millie in on why people were doing this, she started copying it, quite hilarious! Take a few moments to get a few pictures yourself then wander round the buildings – they are spectacular.
Use the car ride to mediaeval Lucca for any naps that are needed and park inside the city walls. You’ll be able to hire a bike to ride around the top of the floor, the adults do the pedalling and the children sit up front. It’s great to take in the city and there are multiple parks around the walls for the kids to stop and play and have a picnic for tea.
Day 7: Ameglia: Beach or swimming pool day
We needed another rest day so spent the day at the swimming pool where Millie made friends and they happily played and rested all day. As an alternative, you can visit the local beaches or the towns of Viareggio or Lerici which are supposed to be quite pretty.
Day 8: Ameglia: Day trip to Cinque Terre
Mum and Dads highlights: The beauty of the places, pootling around the shops
Kids Highlights: Swimming in the marina and riding the trains through the tunnels
Cinque Terre is stunning and so Instagram worthy, definitely worth the trip but it’s a long day if you want to see and enjoy all five. You can hike between all five if you have more time which is probably the best way to see it, alternatively a pricier option is to hire a sail boat to take you on a cruise to them all. We chose the train, as driving was massively advised against. You can park at La Spezia and get an all day ticket. Trains run very regularly between the towns and only take a few minutes. Then you can wander, swim and eat ice-cream in some of the most picturesque fishing villages you will have ever seen. Both Millie and Austin swam in the sea and were taken in by the places.
Day 9: Ameglia to Milan via Genoa
Mum and Dad & Kids highlights: The aquarium
Time to leave the coast and head back to the final destination. We called into the port town of Genoa purely as Europe’s largest aquarium resides there, and Millie adores aquariums. It was as big as advertised and they had many creatures big and small within (although they do have rescued dolphins which I’m not sure I approve of). Both Millie and Austin’s favourite exhibit was the Finding Nemo tank which had their favourite characters within. We spent a good few hours exploring, it also has a big play area and pirate ship out the front. The town itself seems industrial but there are many palaces to explore if you have the time and the energy. We however used it as a way of breaking up the drive back to Milan.
Day 10: Milan : Exploring the city
Mum and Dad’s highlights: a nap in front of the Duamo and walking the roof terraces once awake
Kid’s highlights: Riding the metro underground, visiting the children’s museum Muba and the interactive exhibit
We caught the underground to the centre much to Austin’s delight due to his new found love of tunnels. It’s easy to use as only has three lines so well worth it as you get taxed for driving into the centre. We headed straight to the kids museum where they were doing an interactive exhibit on colours. Although it was mostly in Italian, a kind staff member translated it for Millie and Austin. They got to crawl through tunnels showing how different animals see things differently, create shadows from different objects, change their own colour through light tubes and see how camouflage works.
We headed to the Duamo just in time for Austin to need a nap, so we settled in the shade to take in the magnificently gigantic structure. Before I knew it, they were all asleep and I was content people watching and absorbing the environment. When they awoke, we explored the roof terraces then the inside of the cathedral (you must cover your shoulders for this). There was a lot more that could have been done but that was all we had time for as the next morning we flew home.
Getting there and around:
Flights: Fly into Milan from the UK. There are a few airports in Milan and they are serviced regularly by many of the budget airlines. The flight time of 1 hr 40 minutes, it’s short enough to keep them occupied without pulling your hair out! The flights were cheap even though it was school holidays. We flew with Flybe from Cardiff to Milan Malpensa and found these flights on the SkyScanner App.
Car: We hired a car from Milan Malpensa and again used Skyscanner which at the time gave us Thrifty as the cheapest option. Driving is the easier option for the kids, especially when staying in AirBnB properties if you don’t know how close they are to public transport, plus you don’t have to try and repack each time you move as can put things in different bags in the boot.
Driving on Italian roads is only for the brave, with narrow streets and drivers who like to examine your rear bumper whilst going 70mph make for a tough, but it’s very doable and probably the easiest.
Train: Your alternative is the train as there is a great network and is probably quicker than driving. It does give you less flexibility with where you can stay but may give you a completely different experience.
We used AirBnB on the basis that we wanted to sleep in a separate room to the children (so we could have some sort of life in the evening!) and also have facilities to cook. There are plenty of places available in all three of the locations I’m suggesting you stay but as always, the further in advance you book, the more selection you’ll get. There are tons of other accommodation types so it’s just a question of finding your preference. Here are some suggestions of where you might want to base yourself for each of the locations along with where we stayed:
Where we stayed: A three bedroomed apartment in Colonno on the West shore of the lake for four nights. It was light, roomy, clean and well stocked. The beauty in this place lay in the balcony and views. You’re right on the lake so only seconds away from a dip in the lake itself. It’s quiet but is close enough to the bigger towns for an easy drive and comes with a much needed car parking space. It is all on one floor so once you’re down the steps to get to the apartment, you don’t have to worry about stairgates. It comes with a full size cot. You can find the listing here.
Other recommendations: I would stay in Tremezzo, Lenno, Menaggio, Bellagio or Varenna as they are main centres where the ferries connect and have plenty to do. Como itself is at the bottom of the lake and it’s a little more of a drive (or an expensive boat ride ) to get to where the action is.
La Spezia Area:
Where we stayed: A caravan in Camp River Village. We chose this for the location between Cinque Terre and Pisa for ease of visitation on day trips. We also wanted a pool and to be near the beach so this ticked the boxes. The caravans were a little small and hot but to Millie, this was her favourite place to stay. They had two pools and a toddler sized one in addition to a play park. A restaurant and a shop are also on site.
Other recommendations: There are multiple places around Ameglia including Lerici, La Spezia and Viareggio.
Where we stayed: In an apartment in Bolano which was near a big park, the metro station and a mall which housed a supermarket. All within a couple of minutes walk. It had a car parking space and was big and airy with a great view of the city.
Other recommendations: You could stay more centrally, but you’d have to check about the fees for driving in and out
Have you got any hints or tips to add to this? I’d be keen to hear!