Question: What is the best European country to vacation with a baby?
If you’re a family with a baby, toddler or young kids flirting with the idea of doing a bit of vacationing, please seriously consider taking a trip to Italy.
Many of us expats have our Mediterranean favorites. Mine has long been Italy the first time I laid my eyes on her six years ago. Italy has ingeniously mastered the art of living la dolce vita, embracing beauty through everyday life, art, culture, music and food. Best of all, Italians are ABSOLUTELY CRAZY about BABIES.
For our first real vacation as a family there was no question where we would go – Cinque Terre, Liguria. Being new parents, we wanted to have an amazing vacation that was the least stressful as possible, that would leave us feeling rejuvenated and able to really embrace la vita e bella. Why not then head over to a place we knew that would be baby friendly, have amazing food, breathtakingly unforgettable sights, and irresistible charm?
Where To Stay: Hotel Villa Steno
It’s because Hotel Villa Steno is simply the best.
Hotel Villa Steno is run by husband and wife team Mateo and Carla who are possibly the most dedicated hotel owners that we’ve ever come across. They are unbelievably accommodating to families, especially those with babies and very young children (they’re parents themselves!). They’ve mastered the art of customer service and hospitality from every detail imaginable: impeccable cleanliness, promptness, affordability, approachability, warmness..the list goes on and on.
I’m a firm believer that where you stay during your holiday can really make a difference on your lasting impressions of the place, long after you’ve gone home and the euphoria of the most recent vacation has long settled into a more distant place in your everyday reality. Staying at Hotel Villa Steno can make a world of a difference, almost guaranteeing you a fabulous vacation with your baby.
Insider tip 1 : Hotel Villa Steno is one of the very few hotels in the Cinque Terre region that actually has its very own parking lot. Every single travel guide will attest to how parking is a precious commodity in the five villages. Contact them ahead of time to guarantee a spot!
Insider tip 2: Die-hard enthusiasts of Cinque Terre often lament about the commercialization of Monterosso al Mare (where Hotel Villa Steno is located), a village that according to their criticism has strayed away from the authentic village experience. I would actually beg to differ. Lying in the heart of Monterroso al Mare is a community of villagers who love, care and support one another. It’s a place where you will see Nona’s (grandmothers) take their grandchildren to the local playground, the locals attend mass, and everyone knows each other. If you’re traveling with a baby, or young children, it is also the most convenient village to stay in because of it’s readily accessible beaches, plethora of eating options, grocery stores, local
Where to Eat: Trattoria dal Billy Manarola
Billy’s is one of my absolute favorite restaurants in the world. It is a restaurant after a true foodie’s heart. If you are a lover of seafood and/or would love to appreciate fresh homemade pasta, you definitely cannot miss out on Billy’s. It’s authentic Ligurian cuisine and the seafood is caught fresh each day from the local fishermen.
Where To People Watch (and Enjoy A Glass of Wine) : Enoteca da Eliseo
The perfect place to go during that special hour right before dinner and after heading back from a long day of hiking, sightseeing and living life to the fullest under the Ligurian sun is none other than Enoteca da Eliseo. Obviously it’s not the place to linger with a baby, but there’s something absolutely enjoyable about drinking local wine, chatting with the locals and having a nibble before heading off to dinner (or going back to the place after dinner). If you aren’t on parental duty, you should definitely go!
Best time to visit: Every single local in Cinque Terre we asked gave the resounding answer “May” as their absolute favorite time of the year. It coincides with their lemon festival (Sagra dei Limoni) and there are tons of wild flowers everywhere. The beginning of September came a close second.
Unfortunately, the weather gods were not so kind to us during our last visit in May. It was the worst May that any of the locals could ever recall. To be fair, it was a very craptastic Spring 2013 all throughout Europe with snow even making a guest appearance in May in the Netherlands. Perhaps global warming is upon us after all.
Personally, I would actually still give May another chance especially if I was traveling with a baby or very young kids. The hiking trails and villages were littered in flowers and there was a soft, warm breeze. I also love eating outside and would want to avoid those nasty wasps interfering with my much sought after Ligurian delicacies and possibly my baby. Wasps are the most prevalent in September, coinciding right in time with the harvesting of the grapes.
How To Get There: Flight and Train
The most convenient way to get to Cinque Terre (from Amsterdam) is to hop on a flight from Amsterdam Schipol Airport to Pisa. We would fly into Milan to visit our son’s godparents and then take a three hour train ride from there.
Insider’s tip: Book first class train tickets. The price of a first class, round-trip train ticket is actually quite affordable. Babies are free!
The train conductor loved Bram Jr. so much that he actually went back twice just to spend some time with him. We were left open-mouthed when upon seeing our baby he literally couldn’t help himself and beg to hold our bundle of joy. The second time around he brought along a female colleague beaming with pride as if Bram Jr. was one of his own. What parents wouldn’t be flattered?
All of these people that we met during our trip were essentially strangers. They opened up their hearts to us the moment they saw our baby. And that’s what makes Italy, the best European country to vacation with a baby – a place that genuinely embraces family.