This summer, I’m upping the “auntie”. Sorry, couldn’t resist that pun. I am zia to two children aged 4.5 and 8 who live in Milan with their parents. But thanks to Covid-induced remote work, they’re spending the second summer in a row here in Florence, giving my husband and I the opportunity to truly bond with them. They’re at a great age where they are fun to be with, actually play together, are able to eloquently communicate their needs and generally don’t throw tantrums. To lend a hand to their working parents, I’ve set out to be the fun zia who organizes activities for kids in and around Florence. I’ve learned that the corks from our many bottles of wine make for great crafts and that my yoga mat and exercise bands are the source of hours of play, but this article is about things I’ve done to keep them busy and out of the house.

kids activity in Florence alpaca walk
A family alpaca walk

Activities for kids: Swing from the trees

The first activity we zii did with the kids when they arrived this summer is a tried and true one designed to exhaust them. There are various “tree adventure” type parks around Florence and Tuscany, but we went to the one closest to our home so that we could easily bring the kids back to their parents in case of emergency. Parco Avventura Vincigliata is located on via Vincigliata in Fiesole, in the Ponte a Mensola area, and you do need a car to get there with kids. Here you’ll find routes through the trees, requiring balance and physical strength. Instructors give a brief demonstration of how to correctly use the harness and clips and then adults and kids are on their way, though staff can provide help from below.

The boys doing the tree experience all harnessed up

Tommaso, my husband, accompanied 8-year-old Leonardo through the trees. Leo is really good at this, while Tommaso came out rather bruised and exhausted. Some of the parts are made for smaller people so it’s hard if you’re a full-sized person! Meanwhile, I got to go free with 4-year-old Greta on the “Net Experience,” a new feature this year that is like a gigantic hammock with high walls, suspended 4 meters in the air and it is so much fun. You get to spend an hour inside this net area, where there is not a whole lot to do except play with some gigantic exercise balls or bounce around. I found it relaxing and Greta had fun. At the end, we had gelato from the bar overlooking the city, and the kids asked if we could go back again the next day. A good sign, but at about €50 a pop not something you can do daily!

via GIPHY

Greta in the “Net Experience”

 

Alpacas are the cutest animals in the world

If you ever have the chance to meet an alpaca, you’ll want one. I guarantee you, these are the cutest, most docile animals in the world. So docile that four-year-old Greta can easily walk her own alpaca, which is just what we did at Colli di Marliano, a farm in nearby Lastra a Signa.

Check out these funny faces!

Silvia, a young woman turning her family’s farm into a hopping agritourism business, brought the alpacas to graze here ten years ago because she needed an efficient but non-destructive way to mow the lawn between their solar panels.

Greta and zio Tommaso with their new pets

There are a few farms in Tuscany that offer Alpaca experiences, but Colli di Marliano is the closest to Florence and the only one that has the option to walk the animals. Weekend evenings, when it’s not too hot, you can book an “aperi-alpaca” – a short or longer walk circuit with the animals (€15 a head) followed by an aperitivo with their own organic wine and a lovely selection of local cheese and meat (also €15 per person). We did the 1km (longer!) walk which was fine for the kids, while Silvia kept up a lively chatter about her animals and farm.

A cooking class for kids

Last year I found out that Leo enjoys cooking together if the ingredients – and results – suit him (sugary pancakes for example). However, attempts to get him to help peel potatoes have failed. So I turned to the experts at Chefactory, who offer cooking classes for children and their families, in English or Italian, at their convenient location on via Cavour, near piazza della Libertà. Pizza, pasta and gelato are on the menu, so what could go wrong?

Mixing ingredients to make Buontalenti gelato

We attended their family cooking class as a group of four (Leo, mom, grandma and I), and were joined by a family from Wales with two teenagers. Our assigned chef, Stefano, managed the group in both languages. When we arrived, the ingredients were already measured out so we could work in two groups at two large workstations in their light-filled professional kitchen.

Leo turns the pasta crank while my mother in law and I feed the pasta through the mill

After putting the gelato to chill in the professional gelato maker, we received bowls to each make 100 grams of fresh egg pasta; here, we risked losing Leo, who doesn’t like to get his hands dirty (odd boy!) but thankfully the next step, putting the pasta through the hand-crank machine, was a process he totally loved. He has asked to make pasta like this again at home. He also really enjoyed making pizza, which was with pre-leavened little patties, so really just the assembly and cooking in the pizza oven part. We sat down to eat in a large internal room and Leo wanted seconds (and thirds) of everything. Definitely a child-friendly menu, I’d recommend the course for kids Leo’s age and up (he’s a mature 8). The cost of the class is €53 per adult and €32 per child.

Historic garden treasure hunt and other kid-centric tours in Florence

Licensed guide Elena Fulceri (aka Florence with Flair) is a mom, an expert on both Florence’s art and its botany, and one of the most positive and lovely people I know. I’ve joined her for her walks in the hills outside Florence and am amazed how she knows the name of every plant and every bit of history even in these less traveled areas. Last year, Elena and I went to the Galileo science museum on a tour specially designed for Leo, who was 7 at the time, and she explained how all the historic machines work with clarity and enthusiasm.

Elena Fulceri’s Botanical treasure hunt

Elena has designed some safe, outdoor summer activities for adults or children and one that I haven’t tried yet, but totally trust her to make it great, is a botanical treasure hunt in the Boboli Gardens or at Villa Solaria. This activity is an opportunity to get kids out in nature and familiarize them with the names of flora and fauna that they might encounter. Another option is Elena’s treasure hunt around Florence, designed for adults or children, which you can book at any time and that takes place on whatsapp. Not all of these activities are listed on her website, but you can check out Elena’s private Florence for families tour, and contact her or see her Instagram for more information.

A farm at the door to Florence

fattoria di maiano
Checking out the animals near the picnic area at Fattoria di Maiano

We live in the Coverciano area on the edge of Florence, not far from the stadium. Heading up hill, even at walking distance, is the hamlet of Maiano, starting point for some excellent hiking trails, and home to the Fattoria di Maiano, a farm, agriturismo, restaurant and park that Leo and Greta really love visiting. The restaurant provides food to take out which you can choose to eat on nearby picnic tables or walk down to the olive grove and eat in the shade of these trees. There’s a play area and animals to visit – I believe the park normally has an entrance ticket, but this part is free with lunch. For a longer day out, you can visit the whole botanical garden with or without their tour guides.

All aboard! Historic trains

Most kids love trains, right? Tuscany offers a few historical train rides which are way more fun than the Freccia Rossa. In the fall, you can take a train up to eat chestnuts at Marradi; from Siena to Chiusi in spring and fall there’s the “Treno Natura”.

The Porrettana Express above Pistoia

In the summertime and early fall, there’s the Porrettana Express, a newly revived itinerary that departs from Pistoia and heads up into the cool hills. Different thematic itineraries are available and they last all day – the train takes you to different destinations, an experience unto itself, with activities at each stop. An illustrated book narrated by the engineer that built this challenging line is available for €15 and can be used with kids as you take the train, but specific kids’ activity trains are planned for certain dates – see their website for details.

Porrettana Express illustrated childrens’ book

And so much more!

I’ve found a TON of things to do with kids around Florence, though many are seasonal or on specific dates. In this article, I’ve wanted to focus on activities you’ll find year-round or next summer too. That said, I’m really hoping to squeeze in the photography workshop offered by Muse for children aged 7-12 at Forte Belvedere or hit up the family open-air movie nights at Villa Bardini (free, Thursday nights in July and August, see their website) before Summer 2021 ends.

The best thing about doing all these things together with Leo and Greta is that we’re creating lasting memories that become part of our bond. I’m amazed at how detailed their memories are and they’re already asking about things we did last year.

Of course, you can’t always plan pricey activities – these kids need to be kept stimulated day in and day out, often at home and out of the heat. So if all else fails, google “crafts with corks,” it’s a goldmine. Who knows what next summer will bring?

 

Find some more tips on The Florentine:

Sign up here to receive future blog posts in your inbox