Italy has always been one of our most popular trip requests from Ciao Bambino clients — the magic of Tuscany and the Italian countryside, paired with spectacular cities like Rome, can make a perfect introduction to Europe with kids. Many families enjoy staying in rural areas or smaller towns with the laid-back atmosphere of an agriturismo (farm stay) or private villa, as kids have space to play and relax. Of course, being surrounded by those rolling hills dotted with vineyards begs for wine exploration and tasting.
It is tempting to plan a whole day visiting local wineries. However, wine tasting in Italy isn’t the same as in the United States. To navigate the cultural differences, it helps to follow these tips when planning an Italian wine tour with kids.
Tips for Planning a Family-Friendly Italian Wine Tour
Make appointments. Unlike many vineyards in the U.S., wineries in Italy mostly operate by appointment only, so plan ahead. If you are looking for a more casual and spontaneous wine-tasting experience, visit towns like Montalcino, Montepulciano and Orvieto, which are home to numerous tasting rooms and enotecas (wine bars). Here you can select a flight or design your own tasting.
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Hire a driver. Many wineries are located off small gravel roads and can be hard to find. The last thing you want to do is try to manage these narrow, winding lanes after a tasting. Plus, you can’t really rely on Google Maps to find the accurate entrances to some vineyards.
It really helps to have a local who knows the terrain and the wineries. The day will be much more relaxing if everyone can enjoy the experience and not worry about the journey. When hiring a driver, make sure the vehicle they use is comfortable for your family and that they can provide any required car seats. Just keep in mind that if you have a large group or you are traveling with another family, it might be more convenient to get two smaller vans instead of a large mini-bus, which may not be able to navigate to some of the smaller wineries.
Book a tour. Hiring a driver covers half of the problem, but if you choose one who also provides guide services, you get the benefit of his or her expertise. We work with a few companies that offer family-friendly wine tours and are extremely knowledgeable about Italy’s wine production, history and slow food movement.
A good wine tour guide will be in touch with you in advance to discuss your day. You can customize your tour based on the types of wine that you are interested in and the experience you would like. Not only will your guide handle the driving, but he or she will also pre-book all your appointments and facilitate introductions at the wineries, ensuring that your day is smooth and enjoyable.
A family-friendly wine tour typically includes one visit to a winery, an arranged lunch (possibly at a family-run agriturismo with farm animals) and a stop in a medieval village or city for some time to explore and pop into a tasting room.
Don’t overdo it. Resist the desire to pack too much into your schedule. In Italy, you will want to give yourselves at least one to two hours per stop to get an unrushed tour and tasting. This is not like commercial tasting rooms in the U.S. where you sip and go; instead, it is an opportunity to learn about the wine of the region and each winemaker’s unique approach.
Keep in mind that it will be hard for kids to sit through more than one tour and tasting, so make sure the wineries you choose are family-friendly. These should include space to run around, a comfortable tasting space and, ideally, a few farm animals or resident dogs and cats. Even if you are only visiting one winery, you can still sample vintages throughout the day in different settings such as lunch and in-town tasting rooms.
Include a farm visit. When taking a wine tour with kids, one of the best ways to keep kids entertained is with a farm visit. There are many options available, such as stopping for lunch at an agriturismo, where you can enjoy the bounty of the farm and a glass of wine while the kids run and play (and perhaps visit the animals). Another option would be to visit a goat farm and take a cheese-making workshop.
Taking a wine tour is a fabulous way to spend a day in Italy — I have had many clients tell me that the wine tour that we arranged was their favorite part of the trip. Contact us and we can arrange one for you with a preferred kid-friendly guide. Before you book, there are a few things to keep in mind:
Location. The wine you taste will depend somewhat on where you are staying. If your home base is Florence, the Chianti region will be most convenient for you to visit. However, if you are staying closer to Siena, you can enjoy a wine tour down to Montepulciano or up by San Gimignano. A wine tour from Rome is going to be a long day; it’s best to visit areas in Umbria, such as Orvieto.
Type of wine. The places you visit will affect the types of wine available to taste. If you really love white wines or red wines, let your guide know so that they can help you find wineries that suit your palate. If you’re visiting Chianti, you will mostly taste, well, Chianti. Tuscan wines are generally based on the red Sangiovese grapes. Montepulciano is home to Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, while Montalcino is where you will find Brunello di Montalcino.
Start time. It’s ideal to taste early, when your palate is fresh. While you may have some hangups about drinking in the morning, it really is best to start the day with a visit to the winery. You can then follow that with lunch and more tasting, but savor your primary experience first.
Family-friendly activities. As mentioned, you’ll want to work with a tour company that knows how to put together family-friendly wine tours. They should know which nearby wineries are family-friendly and be able to suggest other activities to fill out your day.
Editor’s Note: Photos by Tamara Gruber.