Backpacking around Italy with a 1 year old
Written by: Mama Bea , 30 May 2018
1 baby, 2 backpacks, 4 destinations, 7 trains and just 8 days in Italy. Here is a chronological summary of our Italian backpacking adventure.
First things first, I say 'backpacking around Italy', yet the trip couldn't have been anymore unlike the alcohol-fuelled InterRail backpacking trip we did 6 years ago. Arguably both trips may have involved similar amounts of sleep, but for vastly different reasons! We swapped that extra glass of red wine for a double espresso and those late nights for early mornings. Yes we were unable to sample the local nightlife, but we were also up and out before the majority of tourists, meaning we had more time to experience places during daylight hours.
It was the first time we went away with Roscoe for longer than a couple of days and took only cabin luggage, in total we took two medium-sized rucksacks, a small foldable buggy and our ergobaby carrier. We find a pram is easier in airports as it can be used as a portable highchair or bed and also gives you use of the buggy basket to store all the extra stuff you end up buying in duty free. When trekking around cities though, the carrier always wins for us. In regards to our travel cot, for the first time we didn't take it with us on this trip and instead requested them at the places we stayed in.
We based our trip on a rough circular route as we were flying in and out of Pisa, hence an early morning train from Pisa to Rome was required on the first day. We love trains so this wasn't an issue for us but if planning a similar trip again I would fly in and out of different places just to make full use of our time.
FIRST STOP: ROME
We spent 2 1/2 days in Rome, ideally we would have had a little longer so we could have done more of the museums. For instance we didn't have that much time in Vatican City, from experience it takes days to fully appreciate the Vatican museums alone. Regardless we still managed to see an awful lot of Rome, decisions on whether we should go in certain places of interest were mostly made by judging the length of the queues and proximity of the closest gelato shop. The Colosseum, Roman Forum and Trevi Fountain are obvious must-sees but my favourite is The Pantheon, supposedly the best-preserved monument in Rome and in my opinion the most magnificent.
One of my favourite parts of the trip was the morning we strolled around the Villa Borghese gardens in Rome. The Spring sun was shining, trees were just starting to blossum and we found a perfect little coffee shop that sold pizza. To top it all off, Roscoe decided to have a mammoth nap giving us time to actually sit and do a bit of people-watching/pizza-eating. Felt like such a parenting win! Don't worry, that smug look was soon wiped straight off my face when an entire box of cheese sandwiches were launched out of the pram and into the Trevi fountain later that day. There is nothing more humbling than apologising to tourists about the projectile cheese sandwiches now providing an unusual backdrop to their special holiday pics.
SECOND STOP: FLORENCE
We actually found Florence easier than Rome with Roscoe, mainly because the centre is comparatively tiny and quite compact. Plus a lot of it is pedestrianised, meaning there were more opportunities to get him out of the pram to practice walking. He always seemed to walk better when he had a large audience, no more so than when he was doing laps (holding my hand) around Florence Cathedral with the entire line of people queuing for the bell tower cheering him on. He started walking unassisted for the first time just after we arrived home from Italy.
The galleries in Florence are one of the main reasons many people visit and surprisingly we found them to be very pram accessible. So much so we timed our visits during naptimes so we could stroll around at our own pace.
One of the most memorable parts of our time in Florence though would be the afternoon we spent in the Boboli gardens. We spent a few hours up there wandering around and Roscoe was able to crawl and play on the grass. Once you climb to the very top of the gardens there are spectacular views over Florence.
THIRD STOP: CINQUE TERRE
Cinque Terre is a collection of five small, colourful towns situated on the Italian Riviera, not far up the coastline from La Spezia. We actually managed to get a direct train all the way from Florence to the most southern town of the five, Riomaggiore, where we were staying. For me, the best part about Cinque Terre is the lack of roads, no cars are allowed and the only way to access it is by a 19th century trainline running through the cliffs that connects the five towns. The train stations are perched on the very edge of the coast, their rather dramatic position giving a romantic essence of almost storybook perfection. The view we were greeted with when we disembarked at Riomaggiore was breath-taking.
The centre of Riomaggiore can be accessed via two ways from the station, through a so-called 'Tunnel of Love' which runs deep into the cliffs or by hiking around and over the cliff. In line with our usual over-ambitious behaviour, upon arriving in Riomaggiore we hastily decided to go over the cliff to take in the view. Off I trot up the cliff, baby strapped to my front, rather large rucksack strapped to my back and a camera dangling somewhere beneath my armpit. Closely followed by Kieran with his own rucksack and holding a folded pram over his head. After a rather heated altercation as we approached the peak of the cliff we did finally make it down into the winding alleyways of Riomaggiore. Let's just say it required significant more exertion than we initially thought. Probably why they built the bloody tunnel!
The five towns are more similar than they are different, all possessing colourful little square houses clinging to the cliffside next to the sparkling blue sea. Creating fairytale-perfect pictures. It's really easy to get between all five towns by buying a day rail pass at any one of the stations. Manarola is the town most people think of when you mention Cinque Terre as it's possibly the most picture perfect.
Only two of the towns possess beaches, Vernazza and Monterosso al Mare, with the latter being much bigger and sandier. We made sure to factor in some beach playtime each day just to keep Roscoe happy/tire him out. The beach in Monterosso is huge, think sparkling blue waves crashing against golden sands with a backdrop of vineyard covered hills.
We stayed in a budget hotel in the very centre of Riomaggiore, literally a stone's throw away from the restaurants in the main street. The steps leading up to the room were not for the weak but the whole town is built on the cliffside so you kind of expect to be climbing steep steps. On the bright side, just nipping down to the bakery beneath us to fetch breakfast goods back to the room felt like a true workout. At the very least, I certainly deserved that extra crossiant! We had lots of fun exploring the maze of sinuous paths in Riomaggiore and even came across a little playground on top of one of the cliffs which offered incredible views out to sea.
FOURTH STOP: PISA
We only had one day in Pisa, one of our transit days on the way to the airport. Unfortunately it rained for most of it too. Not before we visited the famous leaning tower though.
Overall, we actually found backpacking around Italy with a baby remarkedly easy. All the trains were quite large and we had no trouble getting the pram on, sometimes we even left the pram up with a sleeping Roscoe in it. Much easier than transferring a tired baby from pram to lap. We booked most of our trains before we left the UK using the Trenitalia website, really simple and efficient. I would also say that Italy is probably one of the easiest places in the world to feed small children. Most kids love pasta and pizza, and with an odd gelato thrown in what's not to like?
Obviously there is so much of Italy left to see and although we have visited Venice and Milan previously, we can't wait to go back with Roscoe one day.
My plan is to write more posts on each individual destination to include the specifics of where we stayed, where we ate and where we visited. Mainly for anyone considering a similar trip and interested in the detailed logisitics. It really is amazing what you can fit into 8 days!
Thanks for reading.