Fine food, rich wines and stunning scenery. It doesn’t get much better than Northern Italy!
The Amalfi Coast, Tuscany and Rome are all unmissable Italian destinations. But with culture as regionally varied as the food, it’s worth a visit to Italy’s northern realms! Here you’ll find rolling hills and mountains where cheese, wine and food reign supreme. Our ideal itinerary involves a few days exploring the hillside area around Piemonte followed by a few days up in the alpine resort of Courmayeur. Here are our top picks for an unforgettable family Italian trip.
When To Go
With snowy, cosy winters and hot, hazy summers there is something to be said for visiting in any season. Autumn heralds the decadent truffle season, while winter allows for a skiing adventure. During the spring and summer get set for long, lazy days or get active by hiking and biking.
Despite multiple trips to Italy and a universal love of Italian food, it was Piemonte that stole our foodie family’s heart. The home to truffles, hazelnuts (and thus Nutella!) and an incredible selection of wines, its inland location and harder winters have produced an exceptional style of food and reverence towards produce.
We travelled in March when the sun was nice and warm but there was still a freshness in the air. Plan your days around wine tastings and restaurant locations (dotted around the various picturesque hillside towns). Much to our relief, without fail, every single town had a playground. Not only that, every adult we met seemed to be infused with an ingrained love of (and thus patience towards) children.
Every town you go to will have a plethora of vineyards, but many tastings are by appointment only. Work with your hotel to book in two to three a day. If you have a child or children accompanying you, you may want to skip the tour and just go straight for the tasting. Don’t forget to bring toys and games as distractions to keep the little ones happy.
Our top pick wineries to visit are Chiara Boschis in Barolo (the first in the area to be run by a woman and with sellout incredible wines), Schiavenza (very small scale with a great restaurant) and Pira (more established and with a fantastic history and cellar) both in Serralunga D’alba. Others worth a visit are Moccagatta in Barbaresco, G. D. Vajra near Barolo, Oddero in La Morra and any of the tiny, but very welcoming, producers in Asti where you can try the regions inimitable sparkling Moscato dessert wine.
Where To Eat
The undisputed top pick is dinner at Trattoria La Coccinella, one of our favourite restaurants in the world! We’re still desperate to visit during truffle season. Lunch can often be had in a vineyard restaurant so you can combine your tasting and meal, but choose one with a view. Trattoria Della Posta near Barolo and Da Felicin in Monforte D’Alba are great options.
You can always try to get a table at the Michelin starred restaurants in the area but in truth, we preferred the local osterias and trattorias. Something to note is that Italians eat late, so trying to feed our son at 5pm didn’t go down well. Think in advance for your kids’ meals or shift their routines a bit to make your life easier.
What To Do
You can rent a bike to take in the scenery at a more leisurely pace (although beware some steep hills await) and there are endless beautiful hikes to take along the way. Most hotels have swimming pools if you are visiting in summer months and arranging babysitters and taxis was never an issue for evening date night excursions. Renting a car is a necessity as the area is vast and there are too many places to go to stay in one place!
With a toddler in tow, we could entice him to follow our plans which included visits to Alba – the heart of truffle country – Barolo and Monforte D’alba where winding lanes meander. Other good to visit places include Neive, Bra and the castle at Grinzane Cavour (where there is also a wine collective for sampling). Ask your hotel to arrange some visits to artisanal food producers. Seeing how the regional cured meats, hazelnut spreads and other delicacies are made is always a treat.
Where to Stay
The approach to hospitality in this part of Italy errs on the side of classic. Thus child-friendliness isn’t the priority but they are so accommodating it doesn’t really matter. Two hotel recommendations are either Reva Monforte or Villa Tiboldi.
Reva is in the heart of the Barbaresco region, making a lot of recommendations easily accessible. The style is modern, the on-site restaurant delicious, the pool has a great view and the rooms are spacious (perfect for cots and fold-out beds). The biggest draw of this hotel was the impressive playground! Our son loved it and we took it as a chance to spend some time sampling the hotel wines. There is an on-site golf course and spa allowing for tag-team parenting whilst one of you mans the playground. Another more luxurious option, Villa Tiboldi, has a more classical feel. It is closer to Alba and has a glorious swimming pool.
Courmayeur is best visited in winter for a full-on ski addition or in the balmy summer months for hiking, biking and other alpine adventures.
What to Do
If you’re a family of novice to intermediate skiers then resorts don’t come much better suited than Courmayeur. The resort itself is perfect for long weekends and those with ambitions exceeding their skiing skills. Reached via a scenic cable car, you’ll find a varied mix of mainly blue and red runs with jaw-dropping views of Mont-Blanc and its surrounds.
Come summer months, the lifts stay open, the paths are well signposted and the whole area screams out for you to come exploring. Perfect for kids age 5+ who have excess energy to burn off. Ascend Mont Blanc in a cable car or seek some thrills with some white water rafting or rock climbing.
Where to Eat
Italy’s gastronomic reputation shines strongest on the slopes with a range of mountain huts serving up hearty, delicious pasta, pizzas and mountain stews. Our favourites were La Chaumiere for pizza on the sunny terrace, Maison Vielle for a cosy, hearty lingering lunch and Courba Dzelauna for a mid-ski coffee and chocolate stop with a view.
In the resort itself, there is a cute pedestrianised centre with some delis and gift shops, and a smattering of perfectly nice family-friendly restaurants. Plan to eat dinner in your hotel on a half board package.
Where to Stay
Newly opened this year, Le Massif is a masterful cross between a stylish wood-panelled luxury ski lodge and a child-friendly mountain haven. The spa has a warm but child-friendly indoor/outdoor pool and steam and sauna facilities. Open to kids before 4pm, it’s then blissfully child-free allowing lingering wallows in the outside pool staring at the mountain sunset. With two restaurants in the hotel, the dining options continue up the mountain. The hotel plays host to La Loge du Massif, with a prime position in the resort’s mountain hub and a spacious ski locker room. There’s a decadent terrace designed for midday lounging in the sun.
The best aspect of this hotel – it has not one, but two kids’ clubs! At the hotel’s main building a fully kitted out club caters for those 3+. Meanwhile, up at the hotel’s Loge, another kids’ club awaits, this one more suited to slightly older kids who can manage a couple of hours on the slopes but then need some R&R indoor time. Kids eat free and all baby-friendly amenities are on hand to make for an easy, enjoyable stay.
Getting There and Around
Flying direct into Milan with Cathay is the most straightforward access point to the region. You could always schedule a city break for a few days here, before breaking loose into the countryside.
For the simplest trip, rent a car at the airport. The drive between each location is only about two hours. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous it’s only a few hours drive down to the South of France or over to Verona (if you wanted to extend your European escapades)!