A grandfather's advice on multi-generational house and villa rentals comes in handy when he plans a family reunion in the Italian countryside, within a short drive of the great sites.
Twelve people in an old stone farmhouse may not sound much like your idea of a great holiday – but when three generations came to Tuscany, Italy from three different countries — by car, bus, train and plane — it was proclaimed "The Best Family Reunion" ever.
Italy can be a Great Family Reunion Destination
High above the busy town of Bagni di Lucca, with a panoramic view of the Apuan Mountains, the superbly restored farmhouse we found dates back to the 15th century. As promised in the brochure, it offered five bedrooms, five bathrooms, spacious living areas and a traditional farmer's kitchen, with modern equipment and appliances to assure every creature comfort. The wide terrace for al fresco dining, bordered by sweet smelling herbs, flowers and olive trees, gave way to a huge swimming pool — the perfect setting for complete R&R.
A short hike through the woods and vineyards took us to the tiny village of Benabbio, source of the mellow sound of distant church bells. Down in the valley, Bagni di Lucca provided the necessities of life – the bakery, fresh vegetables, Old World shops along a narrow cobblestone street and, discreetly tucked away on the river bank, a modern, well-stocked supermarket. Local restaurants offered food of a quality to die for and most good local (Tuscan) wines were very affordable.
Central Tuscany Location: Lots of Activity for All Ages
From a central location such as Bagni di Lucca, the ancient Roman walled city of Lucca is a 30-minute drive away; another 30 to the Leaning Tower of Pisa or to Viareggio, on the coast just south of better-known Forte di Marme. Each day, one of our three rental cars was on its way somewhere.
In the opposite direction, 55 minutes on the autostrada put us in Florence. Day trips took us south to San Gimignano and Sienna, or to Carrara (marble) and Portofino to the north. But there is so much to see and do in the valleys and hill towns all around, there's really no need to drive far to savor the delights of Tuscany, at its best in early summer.
Tips for Planning a Successful Villa or House Rental Reunion
1. Plan well ahead, not losing sight of the fact that the middle generation has least flexibility because of fixed school holidays and companies' vacation schedules. Remember those days?
2. Give everyone the chance to participate in the planning, or decide on the arrangements yourself, with proper consideration of individual needs and preferences.
3. Pick a destination which can offer a wide variety of attractions, suitable for all ages involved, with seasonal and climatic considerations. Beach (or a swimming pool ) is a sure bet for the youngest. Local markets, museums, off-beat restaurants, handicrafts and folkloric entertainment all appeal. Be sure there's something for everyone.
4. Immerse the whole family in guidebooks, maps, brochures (from the local visitor's bureau or the Internet) to prepare youngsters and adults alike for what they are to experience.
5. Get in the mood. If you are going abroad, try hard to learn some basic foreign language. Listen to traditional music. *Read the wonderful "Under the Tuscan Sun" by Frances Mayes. Preparation is fun and rewarding, as well as useful.
6. Plan the food arrangements ahead of time if you are to be in a self-catering situation, even if it consists of trying to determine who will be responsible for what and when. In a foreign country, you may be surprised at how enterprising even determined "non-cooks" become.
7. Transportation is important. No one should be in the position of dependence on others for their own mobility and daily activities.
8. Emphasize that everyone will be free to do exactly as they please, with no requirement to do things as a group or on anyone's timetable. It takes all the pressure off the parent/child relationships and everyone has a much better time.
9. Keep a diary or scrapbook. It is always a fun project and makes a wonderful keepsake, even heirloom, along with a photo album containing the best of each family member's pictures.
10. When you get back, thank everyone for coming. Arranging to spend time together is one of the most important things an elder can do for a multi-generational family. It's a habit that grows on you with every new experience.
Reunion Planning Details for a Tuscan Villa Vacation
Having planned smaller gatherings with fewer family members before, I had thought a lot about what it takes to make a family reunion in a villa successful.
We provided the lodging, so cost was not a big factor for everyone else, except in terms of their transportation to Italy. At about Euros 2700 per week in the high season (less at our June visit, by quite a bit), we thought this farmhouse/villa named Mura di Sopra, in Bennabio, near Bagni di Lucca, was well-priced for the space and comfort it afforded a large family.
The le Mura di Sopra owners' website contains everything anyone could possibly want to know about it. Keep in mind that this compound now sleeps 10, its classic barn having been restored, so it rents with and without that charming addition.
In any case, our 6½-year-old grandson just loved the pool, the village market on Wednesdays, the ice cream shop and a visit to Parco di Pinocchio in nearby Collodi. His approval was only one measure of this successful family vacation, but an important one!
Our photo album demonstrates the delight of a dozen other relatives.
For more information on house rentals, visit Tuscany Villas & Apartments or one of the many other villa rental websites.
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