From my vantage point in the Piazzale Michelangelo which is situated on the left bank of the Arno River on top of a hill, I could see the steaming heat shimmering across the beautiful rooftops of Florence – the iconic and recognisable Duomo dome standing proud against a backdrop of the hills and valleys of Chianti.
Fast-forward to some 25 years later, it was a wholly different experience. Driving past the same spot, all I could make out through the dark grey skies and rain, which was pelting the windscreen, was a blur of buildings – although the famous Duomo was still as easy to spot in the distance. While I was desperate to recreate the same moment from my youth, it wasn’t going to happen – well, not this time anyway…
However, you may misconstrue the manner in which I have begun this post. While my day in Florence was never going to be the same as my romanticised memory, it doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy exploring this Tuscan capital again – especially from a different perspective, investigating whether it would be possible to bring young kids and still have an enjoyable time.
I had been staying at the wonderful Villa Le Capanne with 12 other family travel bloggers, on a trip which had been organised by Bookings For You and this was our third day exploring the region of Tuscany. While the weather wasn’t kind, wandering the interesting streets of Florence soon perked me up and more so, after we met our LivItaly tour guide, Raffaela. She was so friendly and knowledgeable that it was hard not to be affected by her enthusiasm.
The Uffizi Treasure Hunt Family Tour
Originally constructed as ‘Uffiiti’ – offices to accommodate the Florentine magistrates under the instructions from the wealthy Medici dynasty – whose banking empire saw them rise to power and rule Florence for over 300 years – the art museum is home to some of the world’s most famous and priceless masterpieces, particularly from the Renaissance period.
Part of the private tour is having priority tickets and being able to skip the busy queues outside – a great start if you have impatient kids. Raffaela explained how she would then hand out a kit to each child, which would contain a Treasure Hunt map, a questionnaire and colourful pens – and then engage with them first by talking about art in general and then by regaling them with the interesting history of not only the Medici family, but several masterpieces by artists including Botticelli, Michelangelo and Da Vinci.
I had no idea we’d come face-to-face with Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus – such was the surprise of seeing it so close it took my breath away. We learned that it was the first non-biblical female nudes in Italian art since the Dark Ages.
And even better was being able to peek through the crack of a door and just catch a glimpse of the stairwell leading to the famous Vasari corridor, which if you’ve read Dan Brown’s Inferno, you’ll know is the secret passageway that was built for the Medici family to travel in between their palaces the Palazzo Pitti to Palazzo Vecchio.
Raffaela herself is a trained artist – so her insight into the artwork we saw was fascinating, while her stories and antidotes had me enthralled as did the breathtaking paintings.
The tour lasts for two hours and is just enough time to discover the most important and influential pieces in the collection as well as learn in a fun and imaginative way – searching for clues and at the end, receiving a prize personally picked by the guide, too, for completing the hunt successfully. I believe if Monkey had been there, he would have been hanging on Raffaela’s every word, much like we all were!
Things To Know
• The Uffizi Treasure Hunt is suitable for children ages five-12, and for groups no bigger than six people. It can also be adapted for children with special needs.
• You can only check backpacks into the cloakroom – and you’re advised not to leave any valuables in them.
• It’s advisable to pre-book Uffizi and tour tickets well in advance. In peak season the gallery can see 15K visitors pass through its doors!
• The Uffizi Treasure Hunt tour costs €299 for two adults with an additional €49 per child.
Food Tour and Gelato-Making Class
Earlier that day, we’d also accompanied Raffaela on foodie tour around the city. Making our way from the meeting point in the buzzy central Piazza della Signoria, we wandered along to the Ponte Vecchio and admired the views from the oldest bridge in Florence as the river Arno swirled and foamed beneath us. From here, we carried on deeper into the backstreets of the city, where we came across not only fabulous street art and architecture, but a more genuine feel for the city – away from the main tourist hotspots.
We were originally going to go to the Mercato Centrale (Central Market), which is filled with food stalls, shops and places to eat, but unfortunately, it had been cancelled so Raffaela took us to a small farmers’ market in a more residential district. This meant that it was less-crowded but we also got to experience a ‘true’ Florentine Sunday morning, browsing local stalls and drinking cappuccino in one of Raffaela’s regular hangouts. While perhaps younger kids may have been a little bored with this – the same can’t be said for what was to be a fun-filled hour learning how to make gelato.
During our wander, we popped into Perché No!, the oldest gelateria in Florence which opened in 1939 to pick up owner Ciro Cammilli – a gelato and semifreddo master, who then lead us to his special gelato academy around the corner. It was there we learned how it was at the request of Catherine de Medici, that semifreddo was first invented – a mixture of snow, honey and fruit. Ciro showed us an old churner which would be needed to be operated by hand for at least 40 minutes to get the right consistency. Luckily now, only hi-tech equipment is used which can be done in half the time!
He also told us that the more traditional flavours of lemon and blueberry and pistachio and sesame, while still his preferred choice, the shop’s best-seller is chocolate. And I can understand why… it really was decadent and creamy.
Ciro then asked for some volunteers and they set about making banana semifreddo, which turned out to be divine – who knew some cold water, sugar, lemon juice, fruit and a pinch of salt could be mixed to make something so delicious. Another discovery was that I now think pistachio is my favourite new flavour – paired with strawberry, it was so scrummy and moreish.
Even though it was cold and wet outside, it really didn’t deter any of us from eating plenty of the treats on offer including a glass of prosecco and a combination of tomato sorbet, olive oil and basil served on bread. As strange as it sounds, it was really tasty!
It was brilliant fun and so interesting to learn about the intricacies of gelato from someone who clearly has so much passion for it. Thank you, Ciro – saluti!
Things to know
• Children from five years old are welcome to join this tour – and there is plenty of gelatos to be eaten!
• If you don’t have time to do the class, you can still pop to Perché No! which is situated on Via dei Tavolini.
• The Florence Food Tour and Gelato-Making Class costs €299 for two people.
So can you tour Florence with Young Kids?
Absolutely. While really small children may find it tiring walking the Florentine streets (just make sure you bring your buggy) there is much to explore with children, as the Livitaly Tours that we experienced illustrated. There are plenty of child-friendly activities and museums including the Il Bargello museum which is set inside a small castle, as well as an abundance of pizza parlours… Pizza and gelato – a winning formula for any age, don’t you think?
I may not have been able to return to the Piazzale Michelangelo to look out over the rooftops of Florence, but getting to hang out with a great bunch of friends, setting my eyes upon priceless works of art, eating the best ever gelato, as well as amazing pizza; and strolling a beautifully historic city, even in the rain, meant I had a marvellous day. And I would be more than happy to return with the children.
* Both tours were courtesy of LivItaly but as always my thoughts are my own
Check out these posts for more details of LivItaly’s Tours:
Visit Florence and Michelangelo’s David and Duomo with LivItaly – Like Love Do
Uffizi Tour With Kids – A Day In Florence, Italy – Mummy Travels
Essential Sights of Florence – Tin Box Traveller
A LivItaly private food tour of Florence – Mini Travellers
A family-friendly tour of Florence – Dais Like These
LivItaly Tours: Florence with kids – Flying with a Baby
Child-friendly tours in Florence – Travel Loving Family