Nowadays, there are as many ways to tour Italy as there are cities to visit and sights to see. You can travel with a companion, charting your own course and booking everything
yourself, or you can sign up for a large-group tour that takes you by the hand and attends to every detail. And then there are the countless small-group options dedicated to exploring the country’s many facets and out-of-the-way places.
When my wife and I decided to celebrate our 35th anniversary in Italy, we invited my family along for the ride. From that tiny seed a truly magical adventure grew.
Our party of two blossomed into a small tribe that included my daughter and son-in-law, my two sisters and their husbands, and a niece.
I had set my sights on Emilia-Romagna based on a recent article in Fra Noi about the region, and I turned to veteran travel agent and longtime family friend Mario Constantini to help us hammer out the details.
We chose Bologna as our base of operations, targeting Parma, Modena, Ravenna, Florence and the Bolognese countryside for day trips. We told Mario we wanted a balance of history and nature, structured activity and free time, with plenty of opportunity to sample the area’s world-renowned cuisine. What he came up with exceeded my wildest expectations.
He booked most of our planned activities through Modenaturs, and they came through in spades. Although our group was small, they were able to rustle up a bus and driver as well as private guides at key points along the way.
During a day in Modena devoted to “slow food and fast cars” as Mario put it, we visited a gleaming Parmigiano Reggiano factory and a brooding 14th-century cathedral, followed by a five-course lunch. Afterward, we gawked at multi-million-dollar sports cars at the Ferrari museum and sampled balsamic vinegar produced on a tiny family-run farm.
On another particularly memorable day, we wandered Bologna separately in the morning, traveling as a group in the afternoon to a 13th-century abbey perched atop a hill outside the city. We ended the day at an eco-friendly winery where we ate, drank and laughed our way into the night.
On the ride home, our guide, Katia, regaled us with stories about our grandparents’ hometown, and our driver, Davide, transformed his bus into a party on wheels, complete with flashing lights and disco music. Our clan grew by two that evening, and Katia still keeps in touch via Facebook.
I returned home with aged balsamic vinegar and a stylish Ferrari mug in my suitcase, and a heart filled with cherished memories. Some of my fondest are of meals spent with my family around long tables topped with platters of prosciutto and mozzarella and plates of tagliatelle alla Bolognese.
I’m told there’s a risk in traveling with kin: There’s no knowing what issues might bubble to the surface when you’re in such close quarters for so long. But by balancing time together with time apart we managed to avoid the potential pitfalls and bonded in ways that day-to-day life simply doesn’t permit.
However many times you travel to Italy, I recommend going at least once with your extended family in tow. You’ll view both in an entirely different way if you do.
The above appears in the January 2020 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.