A multi-country family journey in Europe
After our youngest child turned five years old, my husband and I decided it was TIME. Time to shift our focus from the resorts with kids clubs and pirate ship pools to distant lands beyond those walled-in resorts. We dreamt of destinations where our children would be all-but-forced to order something to eat besides chicken tenders or mac & cheese; places where a local hike would teach them more about local ecology than a resort map!
To launch our revamped family vacation dreams, we set our sights on Europe. After careful planning, we settled on a trip through France, Switzerland, and Italy. It had been several years since my husband and I had been to Europe, and we wanted the kids to experience it all: big city glitz, snow-capped mountains, rolling Tuscan hills, and Mediterranean beaches all in one trip! When we discussed our vacation plans with friends, we were met with excitement, but also, several mentions of how “brave” we were to be trekking across three countries with two young children.
Our first stop was Paris. The beauty of Paris is that even without the ‘must-do’s’, the city has so much to offer families with children. We purchased the multiple day hop-on/hop-off boat tour, which served as our main mode of transport throughout our stay. Not only did the kids love all the boat rides, but it allowed us the ability to see the entire city right from the heart of its lifeline: the River Seine.
We knew we wanted to forgo the Louvre, and save that for when the kids are a bit older and have studied more about its collection, but we still very much wanted them to have a museum experience in Paris. We took them to the L’Atelier des Lumieres, an incredible immersive light museum, where paintings are projected on every surface: walls, floors, ceilings, and the art is choreographed to musical masterpieces. The kids were able to run around, touch any of the art, and truly feel like they were part of the exhibit. The Eiffel Tower was, of course, another must-see with the kids, and rather than observe the light show from afar, we went right to the heart of Trocadero, where the kids not only got to enjoy Nutella crepes and ride the carousel, they also got to watch the sun set over Paris, and the Eiffel tower dazzle with its light show. We also had the chance to jaunt through the Tuileries Garden, where the summer carnival filled the kids’ hearts. We may not have dined in Michelin-starred restaurants or seen the Mona Lisa, but Paris could not have been more magical for our family.
From Paris, we took a series of trains to arrive to Wengen, Switzerland, a quaint car-free village nestled in the Bernese Oberland. I had never been to Switzerland before this particular trip and wasn’t exactly sure how we would entertain the kids (other than the indoor swimming pool at our hotel). It turned out that we hardly even needed the swimming pool. Entertainment in Switzerland came at every turn. Trains, cable cars, and hikes were our mode of transport between villages, and for them, each ride was more exciting than the last. We hiked miles through mountains and valleys, and as we hiked, we encountered grazing cows who beckoned with their cowbells, creameries where we stopped for fresh yogurt, and restaurants where we could enjoy fabulous comfort meals while enjoying the most spectacular views. Switzerland took my breath away, and even though there were no pre-scripted children’s activities, the kids had the time of their lives.
From Switzerland, we trained to Italy where we rented a car and drove to Tuscany. We stayed at an incredible agriturismo (a farm stay) near Pienza. The particular one we stayed at was completely self-sufficient. They milled their own flour to make their own pasta. They produced their own cheese from the milk of their very own cows. They picked olives from their olive trees and pressed their own olive oil. Each and every meal we ate came from their own land, and everything was made by hand. It was the essence of farm-to-table dining. The kids were able to immerse themselves in farm life by picking their own vegetables for dinner, feeding the animals, running freely around the farm at sunset while my husband and I sipped prosecco and nibbled on hors d’oeuvres. Dinners were al fresco and family style, around a large farm tables, where the adults got to know one another, and the children frolicked together.
Tuscan life suited our family as beautifully as Swiss and Parisian life did. Each location could not have been more different, but through the journey, we came to understand that, as cliché as this may sound, the journey is the destination. You don’t need a resort map to find your way, or a set kids menu, or a pirate ship pool. On that summer vacation in Europe, we stayed in a big city, a mountain village, and on an Italian farm, and each segment of the trip opened our worlds up that much more.
We have since take other multi-country family vacations, and it completely fills our hearts to witness our childrens’ worlds expanding. It’s easy to get caught up in the isolated bubble of family resorts that cater to small children, but there’s a big world out there, and by pushing our horizons beyond kids clubs and into new ways of living, we are able to breathe new life into our family.
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