Travelling around Europe with kids

Is travelling around Europe with kids a good idea or a bad idea?

Last Summer we decided to do something a little different with our Summer holiday. I’ve travelled all over the world and love nothing more than grabbing a backpack and heading for the airport. But, since having kids our Summer holidays have consisted of 2 weeks in France, Spain or Italy. We’d get an apartment or hotel and stay in the same spot for a couple of weeks. This is all perfectly understandable of course, who wants to go backpacking with young kids – not me! But, last Summer we decided that as they were a little older (9 & 12) we’d like to take them on a bit of an adventure. Trains, planes and automobiles…

We planned a little jaunt around France and Italy – no hotels with swimming pools this time! It could have been a disaster, but it wasn’t. It was the best family holiday we’ve ever had.

I posted a few pictures on Facebook as we were travelling and a few people commented that they’d like to go travelling around Europe with kids as well and were asking for tips. So, here’s the low down.

Itinerary

Day 1: Flew into Nice from Bristol. Picked up a car and drove to Villefranche.

Day 2-5: Explored Villefranche town, visited Eze and Aqualand near Frejus.

Day 6: Train from Villefranche – Ventimiglia – Milan. Collected a car in Milan and drove to Menaggio on Lake Como.

Day 7-17: Explored Menaggio and surrounding towns – Bellagio and Varenna and had a day trip to a chocolate factory and Lugano in Switzerland.

Day 18-21: Drove back to Milan to drop off the car and caught the train to Venice.

Day 19-21: Explored Venice, visiting Murano and Lido de Venezia.

First stop France

It’s a short flight from Bristol to Nice. Flights into Nice and out of Venice only cost £588 for all four of us with Easyjet. After lots of recommendations we’d booked an apartment in the medieval town of Villefranche, known for it’s natural harbour and picturesque views. We picked up a car at the airport (Goldcar). If you’re a James Bond fan (I am!), you’ll know about the hairpin bends on the coastal roads in the Cote d’Azur. The road followed the coast most of the way and was little hairy at times, especially as we arrived late at night.

We arrived in Villefranche just before midnight and had to find a car park near the water as we were staying in an apartment in the centre of town which is pedestrianised.

The first day was spent day exploring Villefranche. We walked around the Citadel St Elmo and the medieval town centre with it’s cobbled streets and alleyways full of shops and then spent a happy afternoon at the beach. In the evening, we consulted Trip Advisor and found a lovely restaurant called Achill’s overlooking the bay.

The following day, we drove up to the charming hilltop town of Eze. It was a stunning drive and we stopped a few times to take in the jaw dropping views of the Mediterranean. Eze is perched high up on a rocky outcrop and is a quintessential medieval town full of tiny winding cobbled lanes and surrounded by beautiful scenery. Parking is very limited in Eze, so we parked at the bottom of the hill and took the bus up to the town. The little town is choc full of shops, galleries and a gorgeous mountaintop garden known for its picturesque views of the ocean. We were given a free entry ticket to the gardens from the park and ride bus, which was handy.

The next day, we met up with friends at Aqualand, a waterpark just outside of Frejus. It was a day of pure fun on the slides, ending with dinner in Frejus before driving back to Villefranche.

Images of Villefranche and Eze

French Highlights

Villefranche, Eze and Aqualand.

Onwards to Italy!

Our last day in Villefranche was spent chilling out on the beach. The kids absolutely loved playing the sea, it was warm, clear and shallow (with the odd spot of rubbish!). In the morning we walked 10 mins from our apartment to the train station in Villefranche and caught the train to Ventimiglia. What a stunning journey it was. The train hugs the coast for most of the way and so you pass beach after beach. I was glued to the window! We changed trains at Ventimiglia and boarded our prebooked train to Milan. Milan train station is very impressive – it’s huge – the largest in Europe.

All train journeys for the trip were prebooked online with Trainline and Loco2.

We collected our car at the station and drove to the ancient town of Menaggio on the western shores of Lake Como. We chose B Rent for car rental because they were based at the train station. We’d booked another apartment in Menaggio with Happy Holiday Homes. It was a lovely little 2 bed apartment with stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains. We had a few massive thunderstorms during our stay and it was very exciting watching the lightning and sheets of rain pass over the mountain tops and town below us. The only downside with being half way up the hill was that it was a 5/10 minute drive down for us to get to Menaggio each day. It would have been lovely to have had an apartment within walking distance of the town but we knew we’d get a nicer place if we stayed a little bit further out, plus the views were better.

Pretty Menaggio is one of the most popular towns on the lake, with plenty of things to do and great ferry links to other towns. It’s a beautiful little town, nestled on the shore of the lake with panoramic views everywhere you look. The kids adored the Lido di Menaggio – which had a large swimming pool and also access to a little beach on the lake with a large inflatable obstacle course. We visited the Lido nearly every day (entry costs were included in the rental price of our apartment) and the kids happily played in the lake or the pool whilst I got some reading done. 🙂 There’s also mini golf available next door to the Lido which is a fun way to spend an hour or so. If you want to get away from the crowds at the Lido, there’s other beaches on the edge of the lake where you can spend a quiet few hours for free.

We stayed in Menaggio for 10 days, in hindsight, it was a little too long, I think a week would have been enough and we could have squeezed another stop in somewhere but we made the most of the time that we had there. There’s lots of ferries to other towns in the area – across to the centre of the lake to the beautiful Bellagio or all the way over the other side to the attractive village of Varenna. There’s plenty to explore in each town and lots of shops and cafes to visit too.

Images of Menaggio and Lake Como

 

One of the best things we did was to hire a boat for the afternoon. If possible it’s advisable to book a boat in advance as all the boat hire places were were really busy. We explored around the coast and visited some James Bond filming locations (ok, I was more excited than the kids!). The best bit was when we stopped in the middle of the lake for a swim. It was well worth the cost and something that the kids will remember for a long time. If you look closely below, you might see a rare picture of the photographer on holiday…

Boat trip on Lake Como

Lake Como Highlights

Awesome views, boat trip, swimming in the lake, the Lido in Menaggio.

A foray to Switzerland

The travel bug had bitten us and were keen to add another country to our list.  So we nipped over the border and spent the day in Switzerland.  We planned a trip to the Swiss city of Lugano, on the northern side of Lake Lugano and more importantly to the nearby Alprose Chocolate Factory. Yum!

Travelling around Europe with kids - Switzerland

Venice, here we come

After 10 days in Menaggio, we said goodbye to the beautiful Lake Como. We headed back to Milan to drop the car off and get the train to Venice! I’ve been to magical city of Venice a few times. I wasn’t keen on forcing the kids to queue up in the heat and look around museums. Been there, done that. I wanted them to get the feel of the place, lay their eyes on it and soak up the beauty. So we mostly mooched.

We’d booked a lovely apartment next door to the Hilton Hotel. We spent a couple of days exploring around Venice, making sure we ticked off the ‘must see’ places like St Mark’s Square, the Grand Canal, the Rialto Bridge, the Bridge of Sighs. Not forgetting the glass blowing island of Murano.

Our apartment was right next door to the Hilton Moline Stucky Hotel and the Skyline Bar on the roof of the hotel had been recommended to us for great sunset views. One night, throwing caution to the wind we decided to blow our dinner budget on the most expensive drinks we’ve ever bought. It was worth it though. The views were fabulous (and we got free crisps and olives!). On our last day we decided to go the beach (Lido di Venezia) to chill out away from the crowds before flying home.

Venice Highlights

Skyline bar in the Hilton Hotel at sunset, watching glass blowing in Murano, Grand Canal, general mooching.

 

Travel & accommodation at a glance

Bristol to Nice: Flew with Easyjet.

Nice to Villefranche: Car hire from Nice airport with Goldcar to drive to Villefranche.

Villefranche to Eze: Drove and then used the park and ride.

Villefranche to Frejus: Drove.

Villefranche to Milan: Train from Villefranche  – Ventemiglia – Milan. (Trainline & Loco2)

Milan to Menaggio: Collected a car at Milan train station from B Rent.

Menaggio: Used the car daily to drive into town. Accomodation booked with Happy Holiday Homes.

Bellagio / Varenna:  Ferry from Menaggio

Lugano in Switzerland: Drove.

Menaggio to Milan: – Drove.

Milan to Venice: Train. (Trainline & Loco2). Accomodation booked with Youatmolino.

Venice: Used Vaporetto’s to get around.

Venice to Bristol: Bus back to the airport. Flew home with Easyjet.

 

Any questions?

So that’s it! If you have any questions or want advice about doing a similar trip, drop me line. There’s so many opportunities for travelling like this across Europe that we’re already planning another trip for next year. We can’t decide between driving through France and Spain or going back to Italy and nipping over to Croatia. If you’ve got any travel tips, let me know!

Travelling to the Cote d’Azur isn’t just a great idea in the Summer months – check out this great blog post from Aberdeen Family Photographer – Iana Chtefan, on why visiting the area in February is a fabulous choice too!

Coming up on the blog – Beginners Photography Tips.

Read other blog posts here.

Gem x