Archive for September 2009
September 30th, 2009
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
I kicked off DC Week with my list of favorite online planning resources. I’ve used all of them to plan our recent trips. For me, valuable articles and guides have an opinion one way or another—I use this feedback to narrow down a short list of things to see and do.
Here’s our list of favorite family-friendly activities in and around DC. Remember, keep it fun and take what you think you can do in a day and cut that that in half.
Off The Mall
International Spy Museum: An interactive museum that engages the group from the start. To enter, you create an alias and then climb through secret tunnels and see real tools of the spy trade. You can even play James Bond for the afternoon with the new Spy in the City tour that sends families on a 1.2 mile loop with a GPS in hand looking for clues to complete a mission. Make reservations ahead of time. (Ages 5+)
National Air and Space Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center: With over 80 aircraft, this addition to the Smithsonian is awe-inspiring. First, you’ll be amazed by the size of the building itself; when you see the collection of huge aircraft, rockets and spaceships, you’ll understand why it’s worth a trip out here (located by Dulles Airport).
Clock Tower at the Old Post Office Building: Looking for a great view without the line of the Washington Monument? Head to the top of the Clock Tower. The view is excellent, it’s easy to access, and is stroller-friendly.
The Wax Museum: The wax museum in Washington DC brings history to life. For me, this is the key to keeping kids engaged. Featuring historical figures and pop icons, this is a quick and entertaining stop.
Mount Vernon: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved visiting Mount Vernon. The graceful setting makes exploring the grounds a peaceful experience. The museum offers interesting perspective about the history of farming and George Washington’s life. There is a movie available, but some scenes are violent. We prefer walking around at our leisure (we skipped the guided house tour on our last visit). Pick up the Adventure Map for kids at the information desk. You can bike here or take a water taxi from Alexandria.
On The Mall
National Museum of Natural History: A Solomon family favorite! There’s something for everyone here including a Mammal Hall, Butterfly Garden, insects, and tons of gemstones, to name a few. Look for the family guides at each exhibit and the information desk. Don’t forget to stop by the gift shop packed with interesting kid stuff.
National Museums of American History: My kids enjoy the Spark Lab, Invention at Play, America on the Move (covering transportation), and the First Ladies’ Gowns. This museum is great, but with limited time, I’d choose the Natural History Museum.
National Air and Space Museum: Always terrific, this museum highlights the history of aviation and the exhibits are designed to teach kids the basics behind flight. The IMAX theater is a hit and the chance to see real spacecrafts is exciting.
Bureau of Engraving: Show kids how money is made. Watching millions of dollars pass by certainly captured my children’s attention. It’s great to learn about something we use every day and the exhibit provides a mini-economics lesson. Given that this is a popular site and often sold out, stop by the ticket booth first thing in the morning to book a tour time.
Monuments: For the monuments, take a hop-on-hop-off tour. Particularly if you have younger kids, the sites are very spread out and it is tiring to walk to each one.
Our absolute favorite tour is Bike the Sites. You bike to each monument, get an overview, and then move along. This is the perfect way to get close to the monuments, learn all about them, and ensure everyone has fun. I’m not sure my kids get the deep meaning of the monuments at this age, but they enjoy the open space to run and play. When the weather is nice, rent paddle boats on Tidal Basin.
White House: As a child, I remember our extensive tours of the White House. Today’s tours are not the same. Though interesting, the visits are limited in scope and difficult to book. Between not being able to bring any type of bag (very hard when you’re traveling with a baby), and the booking hassle, I have to say we were disappointed. I couldn’t believe it when my kids ranked the Wax Museum over the White House (I know, but itwasdry). If you go, stop by the Visitor Center. It has a terrific gift shop with an overview of the White House.
Bike The Sites
Next Visits: Like every family, we can only do so much on a single trip. These are the activities we didn’t get to and are saving for next time.
National Portrait Gallery
National Gallery of Art – Start this visit on the web at the amazingNGA Art Zone, one of the best online art programs for kids.
Washington Redskins or Capitols game
Washington DC Week: Top Resources
Best Washington DC family hotels
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September 28th, 2009
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
Urban destinations are more enjoyable when cooler fall weather arrives and you can walk around comfortably for hours. One of our favorite autumn trips for kids at any age and stage is to visit Washington DC. With wide sidewalks and excellent public transportation, the city is easy to get around, clean, and there is always something interesting to experience.
We love to enrich our kid’s education by visiting the various museums around the city. Whether it is the mammals and butterflies at the Natural History Museum, or the Sioux Indians at the National Museum of the American Indian, we find something inspiring and engaging to learn.
Although we often spend a week here, DC is easy to access by plane, train, or car and works well for long weekends too. Exploring this area requires thorough research and planning. I’ll spend Washington DC Week outlining what I’ve uncovered through our trips over the past few years. I’m kicking things off with a list of top planning resources. Then, I’ll cover top activities for families, strategies for exploring the city, and finish the series with my favorite hotels.
I’m all for spontaneity, but I find visiting DC works much better with a plan. Wandering aimlessly quickly because overwhelming. There is simply too much to see and do and before you’ve seen even the highlights, everyone will be exhausted. Keep in mind that the walking continues in the museums and monuments too.
Research is my thing. I spend hours on-line trying to create memorable itineraries that are suitable for kids and interesting for adults.
DC Websites, Articles, and Guides
Go Smithsonian: Online version of the free printed visitor’s guide to the Smithsonian. Includes a directory of all the special family events so you can map out the timing of museum visits.
The District: General tourist’s guide to DC
Washington DC’s official website
The Smithsonian: Articles on how to approach DC with children
Our Kids DC: Family-focused website offering thorough coverage of kid events in the DC area
Ciao Bambino Top 5 Kid-Friendly Activities
Cookie Magazine DC City Guide, family-focused comprehensive overview by geographic area
Taking the Kids to Washington DC by Eileen Ogintz for CNN
Guide to DC by The Washington Post
We Just Got Back Insider Guide to DC
Travel for Kids DC tips
Let’s Go Family Guide to DC
Travel & Leisure “How to Do DC” offers an innovative perspective with multiple theme-focused itineraries.
Family Travel Files coverage on DC with many links to other
General games for before or after their visit to help them get excited
Smithsonian Kids interactive website
In addition to the planning sites, there are two books that I recommend buying before you go: Open Roads Washington DC with Kids and A Kid’s Guide to the Smithsonian.There are also plenty of great stories and they will be more engaged in what see when they have read something interesting about the sites beforehand. Check out my DC book list for a few recommendations.
Ciao Bambino recommended places to stay in Washington DC
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September 25th, 2009
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
I grew up in Del Mar, a great beach town in the North County area of San Diego. What I find special about this area is that it has retained a laid-back beach feel despite the addition of outstanding accommodations, restaurants and shopping.
Twice a year we head West to get a snippet of California life. What could be a better way to connect with your inner Californian than riding the waves? But oh, I wish it were that simple. Surfing is harder than it looks, which is why we sign up for Menehune Surf Camp. Each year this has been the highlight of our trip. The instructors are always encouraging and fun, and my East Coast boys always crack-up about the ultra-low riding swimsuits.
Menehune runs camps and private lessons on multiple beaches throughout San Diego. We love the one at Powerhouse Park—the beach is beautiful, plus it has food and one of the area’s best playgrounds.
While my three older kids surf, I am able to go for a long walk with my 2-year-old. She plays in the sand and I get the downtime I need. Exercise, relaxation, and Starbucks two blocks away—all good!
We also just added two new hotels in the Del Mar area to the Ciao Bambino San Diego portfolio. Right in the heart of Del Mar is the newly remodeled L’Auberge Del Mar. The hotel has a great social vibe, gorgeous views of the ocean, and offers one of San Diego’s best restaurants at Kitchen 1540. Del Mar has cute coffee shops, casual restaurants, and easy beach access in a quintessential Southern California setting.
Two miles up the road, nestled above the breathtaking Torrey Pines State Reserve, is The Lodge at Torrey Pines. This hotel feels like a woodsy, grand lodge. Home to the renown Torrey Pines Golf Course, this is a golfer’s paradise. The beauty of this location is that adults can play too—send the kids to surf camp and head to Golf School (Golf School is also offered for kids). The hotel also has daily, guided hikes through the preserve. The Lodge features an award-winning restaurant, A.R. Valentien.
Check out more fabulous Photo Friday posts on Delicious Baby.
Ciao Bambino Recommended San Diego family hotels
San Diego family vacations
San Diego family travel, top kid-friendly activities
San Diego with kids, favorite winter family activities
San Diego Surf Camp for kids
Visiting Legoland with kids
Fun at the San Diego Zoo
San Diego Family Activities on Uptake.com
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September 23rd, 2009
Nancy from Ciao Bambino
This summer we took our kids to London for a week. We have fabulous memories, and with four young kids, we quickly figured out what works and what doesn’t. With that perspective in mind, I put together comprehensive tips for PeterGreenberg.com, A Traveling Mom’s Tips for Visiting London With Kids.
London is an amazing city and a great starting point for families wanting to experience an international destination for the first time. The combination of modern day life and rich history keeps everyone entertained. Because there is no language barrier, it’s easy for families to get around and take in the information, plus there are endless activities, parks, and kid-oriented attractions.
There is so much to see and do that prioritizing is a must.
London things to do and activities with kids:
1. Tours: Start with the Big Bus Double Decker Tour. A must-do London experience that will give a broad overview of the city while providing easy transportation. My children learned a lot from the live guides on the bus (there is also a headset available, but they didn’t like those). After the bus tour, think about a private guide. Although they can be expensive, it’s money well spent. We used Context Travel for a Food Tour of London. I also recommend Clare McCoy, a Blue Badge Guide, who is excellent with families.
2. The Royal Perspective: Royalty is important in London and novel for kids (at least American kids). With enthralling stories of kings and queens, the whole family will be eager to see the royal sites. Don’t miss the Tower of London where you are surrounded by 1000-year-old buildings and an entertaining beefeater. The opulence of the Crown Jewels is stunning. At Buckingham Palace, the pageantry displayed with the Changing of the Guard is well worth waiting wading through the crowds. You can see what “royal treatment” means for horses at the Royal Mews and the “coloring room” offers a quick family break. Embrace the British tradition of high tea at the Orangery. Also, not far outside of London, Hampton Court Palace offers a working “Tudor” kitchen, game room, maze and trails.
3. The Royal Parks: London offers a vast selection of public parks, including Kensington Park (Princess Diana’s playground with a pirate ship), Regent Park (zoo), Hyde Park (swimming, boating, and fishing)—all are outstanding. Try eating lunch at a different park each day. Not only is it economical, but our kids loved the visits to local stores for “take-away” food.
Watching the performers at Covent Garden
4. Covent Garden: This is a family favorite and we went back multiple times. Kids love the outrageous street entertainers. There are a variety of dining options and the London Transportation Museum is an easy stop and located here.
5. Museums: Perfect options for rainy days, London has an amazing collection of museums. Pre-screen them online to see which ones interest your group the most. The Imperial War Museum has huge tanks and a terrific exhibit on the “Children’s Experience of the War.” The Science Museum has a new “Wallace and Gromit” section that is fabulous! We loved the Tate Modern. Also, there’s The Natural History Museum, the British Museum and the Museum of London, to name just a few!
Note: London Eye: We did this the first day. Instead, I’d recommend doing it later in your trip so that kids recognize what they are seeing. The views and photos opportunities are stunning.
Great family friendly guides and walking tours in Europe
Ciao Bambino recommended family hotels London
Ciao Bambino recommended England family hotels
London Eye photos and tips
London food tour with kids
London Double Decker Bus photos and tips
Favorite London toddler playground
Kids attractions London, free family-friendly museums
London Guide for Families on Peter Greenberg
London things to do on Uptake.com
Ireland with kids
Dublin with kids
Galway with kids
Edinburgh with kids
Europe Family Vacations
Museums and Kids: A Winning Combination
Making Urban Destinations Fun with Kids
VisitEngland – official website for English tourism
, United Kingdom
September 22nd, 2009
Laura from Ciao Bambino
Photo by BradFranklin.net
October is my favorite month of year in New York City. It’s still warm enough to enjoy outdoor activities with the kids and the trees in Central Park are always spectacular. This year, there are a few special events happening around the city that are great for kids.
The American Museum of Natural History has a new show at the Planetarium through December 31st called Journey to the Stars. Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg, this show has incredible, never-seen-before images from telescopes on the ground of space. My kids (ages 2 and 4) loved it—I imagine this would be a crowd pleaser for all ages.
My girl’s favorite holiday is unquestionably Halloween. Trick-or-treating in Manhattan is a bit unorthodox—kids ride elevators up and down a building in search of candy, rather than walking from house to house. On Saturday October 24th, Central Park is hosting their annual Pumpkin Festival. There’s a terrific haunted house for older children, hay rides, face painting and pumpkin carving.
The Bronx Zoo has an October program called Boo at the Zoo to celebrate Halloween. They are having the first ever Haunted Safari and wildlife magic shows along with pumpkin carvings and loads of bats. Children wearing wildlife costumes get in free when accompanied by a paying adult.
The Modern Museum of Art is offering Tours for Fours, a morning drop in program on most weekends in October designed for four year olds and their parents or caregivers. Kids are introduced to painting and sculpture along with photography and an interactive gallery. The program is free after admission to the museum.
If you’re adventurous, Riverside Park is offering free kayaking on the Hudson every Saturday and Sunday through October 11th. Meet at Riverside Park at 10am, wear a bathing suit or t-shirts and shorts, and sneakers. Children must know how to swim. There will be a 20-minute instruction prior to leaving.
Ciao Bambino recommended hotels in New York City
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September 21st, 2009
Jamie from Travel Savvy Mom
Yosemite is one of our most popular National Parks. For good reason, Mother Nature put on her best show here with outrageously dramatic scenery. Jamie Pearson, Travel Savvy Mom, recently outlined a few strategies to avoid the traffic and crowds that can make appreciating all of the park’s wonders a challenge.
Jamie has great ideas—I especially like her suggestion to spend time in the high country. Some of my best childhood vacation memories are of our family treks to Yosemite’s network of back-country camps (food and tents provided provided). An experience with many of the benefits—and none of the hassles—of independent camping.
Photo by Jamie Pearson
Here’s a confession that’s likely to earn me a few rude comments (if not outright death threats): I don’t like Yosemite. Or at least I didn’t, until very recently. Hot, crowded, and dusty, it always held all the charm of a refugee camp for me.
I could see that it was magnificent, I just couldn’t transcend the tour buses and carbon monoxide.
In fact only about 5% of Yosemite’s 3.2 million annual visitors ever leave the valley floor. As of last month I’m finally one of them, and now I see what all the fuss is about.
Here’s how to do Yosemite right.
Sleep outside the park
It’s easier to enjoy Yosemite when you put a little space between you and the headliners (El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls, and Yosemite Falls). You can still go visit them for the day, but you don’t have to sleep near them.
An excellent choice is Evergreen Lodge on Yosemite’s western border, just a mile from the Hetch Hetchy park entrance. Not only is it a lovely and peaceful place to stay, it gives you easy back door access to the park. You can hike to Carlon Falls, harass tadpoles and bullfrogs in nearby Birch Lake, or just toast marshmallows for s’mores at the outdoor fireplace.
Read more about Yosemite on TravelSavvyMom.
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September 18th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Blue Angels, San Francisco 2007
October is a glorious month in San Francisco. Our Indian Summer brings warm days with crisp blue skies. If you want to appreciate the beauty of the topography of the Bay Area, this it the time of year to do it.
October also means Fleet Week, an annual event when the Navy is celebrated with a steady stream of activities including a parade of ships coming into the bay and an air show featuring the Blue Angels. 2010 dates are October 7-12. If you have plans to be in the area with kids, there is good reason to be excited. In my family, this is our favorite weekend of the entire year.
Flying over Alcatraz
The Blue Angels fly all over the world, but there is something particularly awe-inspiring about watching them buzz San Francisco’s landmarks.
Flying over the Palace of Fine Arts
They practice Thursday and Friday before the official weekend air show. The practice flights are as amazing as the real thing. If you want to avoid some of the crowds, you can watch them early, although the start time is flexible on those days which means everyone just stands around waiting for them to show up.
Where to watch them fly is a matter of great local debate. Part of the excitement for us is the noise, so we like to go where we can practically see the pilot’s head.
Pro: panoramic view of the the entire bay
Con: limited overhead flights and possible heavy traffic on the Bay Bridge
Pro: heart of all the action and the most noise
Con: limited views of flights in other areas of the city
Golden Gate Bridge
I’ve never watched it from there, but I’ve always wanted to. I would imagine that the perspective is amazing and they definitely fly overheard quite a bit. Walking vs. driving on the bridge to see them is essential.
Boat in the Bay
The other place that would be an insane vantage point is on a boat in the middle of the bay among hundreds of other boats. If you have any friends with a boat, beg and bribe to go out with them.
For more of this week’s Photo Friday posts, check out Delicious Baby.
Ciao Bambino recommended San Francisco family hotels
Favorite San Francisco attractions with kids
Favorite San Francisco Spring activities with kids
San Francisco Bay Area summer camps
Visiting Mount Diablo with kids
San Francisco with kids – Ciao Bambino guest post on Two Kids and a Map
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September 16th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
I’d argue that traveling with a toddler is the most challenging of all the stages. Babies take work, but they are portable and can’t venture off on their own. Meltdowns and tantrums aside, the real issue when traveling with toddlers is that they are active, mobile, and into everything and anything. Given all the time, effort, and money that we put into toddler-proofing our homes, staying in random accommodations for even just a few days can be very stressful.
Sleep is a big issue too. Parents work hard to get kids on a schedule and accommodations need to be set-up so kids can still nap and get to bed early, i.e. the right sleeping configuration is critical.
The bottom line is that when you are traveling with a toddler, where you stay matters. It may be the difference between a relaxing vacation and a nightmare.
What are things you can look for to ensure your hotel, resort, or vacation rental will be kid-friendly, safe for your child and relaxing for you?
Toddlers need an open, safe space to run around. In city hotels, it is unlikely that this will exist onsite at the hotel. Look for properties that are adjacent to a park or playground. In Europe, pedestrian-only squares are common—this will do the trick.
In rural properties, it’s easy to find accommodations with private, outdoor spaces. Look for options with flat, grassy areas that are away from open water. It is unlikely that this information will be published on the hotel or rental property website. Unless the property is featured Ciao Bambino or another family-friendly review site, you will need to call or email to confirm the exact details.
Toddler Travel Safety hazards
You don’t need to be on vacation to find that a steady stream of safety hazards exist outside of your home and parents are used to being on alert. That said, you may not sleep well if the inside of your guest room is unsafe.
Low windows. Windows set low that open wide are a problem, particularly in buildings that are two or more stories. We don’t publish this detail on Ciao Bambino, but if you have a little monkey, ask the property to clarify the window set up and make room decisions accordingly.
Balconies. A balcony with a gorgeous view can be the best feature of a hotel room. Most balconies have railings of some kind, but until you see it relative to your child, it’s difficult to predict if they are safe. Of course, you can lock the door that goes outside, but who wants to stress about that? When in doubt, ask for a room on the ground floor with a terrace instead of balcony.
Stairs. This is an issue that can be difficult to manage. In Europe in particular, many of the really wonderful countryside accommodations have stairs. If this is a concern, be sure and book a ground floor unit. If that is impossible, ensure the stairs are not the open kind where kids can fall through. I’ve found that most properties that cater to families are aware of issues like this, and when asked, will suggest the best room options.
Open water. An increasing number of accommodations have fenced pool areas. The reality is that your child will be with you and not running around the property unsupervised, but it is best to ask for rooms away from the pool if it is not fenced, and any other open water features like ponds and streams.
This is an essential issue to understand before booking a home or villa rental. In France, all villa rentals are required to have an electronic or physical fence around pool, but this is not the case in the majority of tourist destinations. Many rentals have unfenced pools that are right outside the building.
Toddler-proofing a room. Some hotel chains with family-focused programs like The Four Seasons will offer baby-proofing supplies on request. Ask if this is the case and/or plan on bringing your own basics like outlet covers (noting that for international travel the electrical sockets will be a different shape than ours) and lightweight, portable gates for multi-room guest units.
Disrupting precious sleep schedules is enough to keep some families at home. Time changes aside, managing sleep on the road can be seamless. The key is that the sleeping configuration must support your needs. If your child needs to go down at 7pm and you don’t want to go bed at the same time, you will need accommodations with separate sleeping areas. Unfortunately, in traditional hotels this means you will need a suite or connecting rooms and these larger room configurations are expensive.
If you just have one child, a workaround can be a walk-in closet where you can keep the door open for air. Or, we regularly ask for a room with a private outdoor area in warmer climates—this enables us to relax outside after we put our son down.
One important note is that some hotels call large, open-plan rooms suites. Understand if a suite is comprised of one or two rooms at the time of booking.
Young toddlers eat frequently. This is one reason why hotels with kitchenette facilities are so ideal with young children—you can at least prepare basic meals and snacks without having to go out to a restaurant. An increasing number of city hotels are offering kitchenette facilities now; it’s worth researching your destination thoroughly to understand the available options.
Most hotels can offer cribs to guests (all Ciao Bambino recommended family-friendly hotels do), but highchairs are a different story. A property may have just a few highchairs available in their restaurant. Bring a travel highchair or something similar to use in your room.
Every family has different needs and some kids are more flexible than others. Many of my friends never had to toddler-proof their homes. Not me! In fact, my concerns around how in the world I’d find a hotel that worked with my little monkey inspired me to start Ciao Bambino.
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Top family-friendly hotel chains (US edition)
Value remains king in 2010
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Finding the best kids clubs
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Things to consider before booking mega-resorts
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, Toddler Travel
September 15th, 2009
Amie from Ciao Bambino
Home of “Under The Tuscan Sun” – Cortona, Italy
Don’t miss the opportunity to spend a free week in a HomesAway luxury villa just outside of Cortona in Tuscany. There are only 3 days left to enter this fantastic giveaway, a $10,000 value! The entry deadline is Friday, September 18th at Midnight.
Click here for more details.
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September 13th, 2009
Heather from Heather on Her Travels.com
Thanks to Heather Cowper, I now know where I’m vacationing next summer—Croatia! Heather visited Istria with her kids recently and I invited her to write a guest post about her experience. I didn’t realize there is such a strong Italian influence in that area until I read her commentary. I’m intrigued!
Rovinj in Istria
This summer I visited the heart shaped province of Istria in Northern Croatia, for a short break with my family. Istria surrounded on three sides by the sea and is close to Trieste on the Italian border. Between 1917 and 1945 Istria was part of Italy, so there is a strong Italian influence in the food and culture. Many of the old towns by the coast and inland have Venetian influence in their architecture, and the landscape of the olive groves, poplars and old hill-top towns reminded me very much of Tuscany.
We stayed in the Plava Laguna (literally Blue Lagoon), close to the holiday town of Poreč, in the Hotel Laguna Molindrio. The resort certainly lived up to it’s name with stunning views over the sparkling blue sea, with the yachts bobbing in the marina and the rocky coastline clothed in pine woods. Istria is an ideal place for a holiday which combines natural coastal beauty, plenty of sport and resort entertainment, picturesque old towns and beautiful unspoilt countyside among vineyards and olive groves when you explore inland. We were there with our two children aged 12 and 14, and there’s a lot of variety to please families with children of all ages.
Here are some of the things we enjoyed …
Swimming in the lagoon at Plava Laguna
The coastline here is gorgeous, with rocky inlets and shady pine woods. As in the rest of Croatia, sandy beaches are rare and most of the swimming is done from the rocks or pebbly beaches. There are many swimming platforms, jetties and sheltered seawater pools set up to make it easier to swim, but you may need to buy plastic water shoes and choose your spot carefully if you have toddlers. Having said that, the water is clean and emerald green, with many interesting places to explore and great snorkling from the rocks. Almost all the resort hotels, apartment complexes and camp sites also had great pools, which could be an easier option for younger children.
Sports and Cycling
Cycling with my kids around Plava Laguna
Plava Laguna Resort and the whole of this part of the coast is well set up for sport, with tennis courts and excellent sports facilities—there was a water skiing loop right in front of our hotel. Many national teams come to this area to make use of the world class facilities and major tennis tournaments are also held here. A good way to get around is to hire bikes and cycle along the path which follows the sea through the pine woods, stopping every so often to take a cooling dip or buy an ice cream. There are also well-marked cycle trails through the olive groves and vineyards inland, taking in many points of interest along the way. You can hire a bike for the day and pick up a free map for these trails at your hotel, cycle shop or the tourist office.
Sightseeing in Poreč
Poreč is a bustling holiday town with a marina and harbour where you can take a sightseeing boat trip. We enjoyed wandering around the traffic-free old streets with mellow stone buildings and medieval architecture. You’ll find plenty of interesting squares to sit with a picnic or ice cream and lots of restaurants and cafes too. As the old town is surrounded on both sides by water you can see the locals swimming off the rocks here and enjoy the views of sparkling, clear water. Culture vultures will enjoy the beautiful golden mosaics in the Basilica of Eurphasius and you you can also climb up the bell tower for views over the town. From the Plava Laguna resort, we took the small tourist train through the pine woods and into Poreč which was a relaxing way to get around for families.
Visiting the hill-top towns
Old houses in Grožnjan
If you want to venture a little further afield, then hire a car for a day or two and venture inland to the old hill-top villages where you can park the car and then walk around the narrow old lanes and streets. We particularly enjoyed Grožnjan, which has become an artists’ town and now house many different galleries and artists’ studios. At nearby Motovan, you can walk around the old stone ramparts of the town with fantastic views over the countryside and this is the place to find many shops selling the local wines, olive oils and other gourmet products such as truffles.
Food and wine
Truffles at Zigante
Because of the Italian influence, pizza, pasta and ice cream are on almost every restaurant menu and the style is relaxed and family friendly. If you want to be a little more adventurous in your eating, then try the local specialties of dishes made with truffles. The area around Motovan is renowned for it’s truffles that grow in the moist soil of the nearby woodlands and the largest truffle in the world was found here. We tried the fresh pasta with a creamy sauce and shavings of fresh truffles, and you can buy jars of truffle paste and sauce to bring home. Along the coastal stretch near Rovinj you’ll find outstanding seafood, and our favourite meal was at the Limski Channel, a fjord like inlet famed for it’s clear water and farming of oysters and mussels. The Istrian wines are also excellent and widely served in every restaurant – because they don’t produce enough to export widely you should try them while you can, as you won’t find them at home.
We really enjoyed our family holiday in Istria and whether it’s swimming, culture, food or relaxation you’re after, you’ll find there’s something for all ages and tastes in this small self-contained region of Croatia. For more information on things to do and accommodations in Istria, you can visit the Istria Tourism website.
To read more about Heather’s experiences in Istria and a long list of other international destinations, be sure and check out her blog Heatheronhertravels.com. All of Heather’s photos of Istria are on her Flickr page.