For parents by parents
Over the years we’ve rented quite a number of properties in Italy for family holidays and have found, to our frustration, that you sometimes don’t get information that’s crucial from the perspective of parents of young children until it’s too late. One memorable instance was a house whose garden was bounded by a sheer, unfenced precipice which had us nervously fielding our then toddler and vetoing ball-games in case her elder brother followed the ball off the edge. We have tried to think of the things parents would want to know before coming here with young children but do feel free to contact us if there’s something you’d like clarified. The kids give their own perspective on the place in the By kids for kids page.
[Safety and security; Kiddy paraphernalia; Keeping kids entertained; Baby-sitting and going out with kids]
Safety and security at Casa dell’Ortolano (the Garden House)
The fixtures and fittings (CH, wiring etc) have all been newly installed and safety-inspected.
Some glasses and crockery are kept on open shelves and may prove tempting to toddlers bent on emptying cupboards. However, if this is an issue you can easily swap the breakables onto the higher shelving in the larder (normally used for storing groceries) and put the tins and packets on the lower shelves where your toddler can rearrange them for you.
The house is approx 50m from a single-track local road which has very little traffic (we have been happy to let our kids walk and cycle along it unsupervised once they had got to grips with basic road sense). The last stretch up to the house is a gravel drive which is rarely used by any cars other than your own.
The pool is raised out of the ground, with decking around the pool at water level: access to this decking is fenced and secured against young children.
Direct access to the lake from the terrace where Casa dell’Ortolano is situated is also fenced and gated to prevent young children wandering up there unsupervised. We have not, however, put a fence around all sides of the lake. One of the pleasures of Casa Nova is the ability to wander the land without obstruction. Moreover, a fence would prevent the wildlife, for whom the lake is an important source of water, from being able to access it. (Walk around it and you’ll see the tracks of wild boar and deer around the edges.) We took the view that young children are very unlikely to wander so far from the house unaccompanied, as to discover the long way round to the lake. The lake has sloping banks and it is improbable that anyone of an age to be allowed to wander the land unsupervised would fall in accidentally. At the time of writing the lake has a fallen tree in it and is rather weedy: we don’t currently recommend swimming in it (although remedying this state of affairs is on our to-do list).
We suggest that you do not allow toddlers or very young children onto the verandah without supervision, as the railing around it is formed of horizontal tensioned wires and a toddler of the sort who is hell-bent on self-destruction could in theory squeeze through, if left to their own devices out there for long enough. We doubt that any toddler could ever open the door to the verandah by themselves, so all you need do is keep it closed unless you are out there with them. We just thought you’d prefer to know. Also: a stair-gate is available should you wish to use it to cordon off a young child’s room from the stairs (but it will need to be fitted across the door to the room, rather than on the stairs themselves).
We have allowed our own children to walk unsupervised around the land since the youngest was a rather sensible 5 and his older siblings 13 and 10, taking the view they were old enough to be trusted not to get into anything more than ordinary childhood scrapes (and taking the view that the freedom to do so is precious). You’ll know your own children and have your own limits.
We often get questions about the black scorpions that are common in this area. In 10 years we have not managed to get ourselves stung by one, even having stepped on them by mistake, and our approach is simply to trap them under a glass and put them at the bottom of the garden. We are told that being stung by one of them is equivalent to a bee sting, so unless someone has an allergic reaction, anti-histamine should deal with it if you or one of your party are unlucky enough to be stung. You may from time to time see hornets. These by all accounts do administer a nasty sting and you may just want to preempt any risk by reaching for a bug spray, if they are proving troublesome.
More of a concern are vipers, which are indigenous to Italy. We have only very rarely glimpsed one in all the time we have been here. Generally if you see a snake it is much more likely to be a grass snake. However, even though it is unlikely, being bitten by a viper is something to take seriously. Avoid wading through long grass where you cannot see where you are putting your feet, especially in May when they are getting active again, and keep an eye out when walking over rocky ground where they may be basking. If you think someone may have been bitten by a viper, take them as quickly as possible to pronto soccorso (accident and emergency department) at Umbertide, which is closest, or Citta di Castello, where they will be able to administer anti-venom. Keep the bitten limb below the level of the heart. Do not apply a tourniquet or attempt to suck out the venom.
Safety and security at Il Casale (the Farm House)
Il Casale is rather less well-suited to under-fives. It has three staircases which cannot practicably be cordoned off and more entrances and exits than any parent can keep an eye on. A number of rooms have mezzanine platforms accessed by step ladders. We do not recommend that these be used by under-fives. You can remove and stow the ladder on its hook on the wall to prevent adventurous toddlers getting onto the platform. In the main kitchen, quite a lot of serving dishes, glasses and other crockery is stored on open shelves and in open cupboards. The quantities involved make toddler-proofing the room less straightforward than at Casa dell’Ortolano. The pool area is fenced and you can slide the bolt on the gates to close them. Access to the single track road is also fenced. Again all fixtures and fittings (CH, wiring etc) have all been newly installed and safety-inspected. Other general comments under the previous heading apply.
[Back to top; Kiddy paraphernalia; Keeping kids entertained; Baby-sitting and going out with kids]
We have a cot, travel cot, car seat, booster, microwave steriliser, rucksack for carrying 6-months-plus on walks, high chair, stair-gates (to fix over a bedroom door), potty, step up, and baby monitor. This list of equipment is available on a first come first served basis to those renting either house (and most of it is normally stored at Casa dell’Ortolano). Please indicate at the time of booking the ages of any children you will be travelling with and whether you need a cot or high chair, to help us ensure that you find everything you need ready for you. Our library of videos and DVDs includes a wide range of films and cartoons for younger children. These can be useful for imposing a bit of quiet time. We also have a generous variety of books and toys available for young children.
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Keeping kids entertained
It’s a truism that the key to good holidays for parents is that the kids are having a good time entertaining themselves. Here that entertainment largely comes from the sorts of things kids get up to when allowed the freedom to wander and let their imagination lead them: building dens in the woods, putting on a play at the outdoor theatre, watching the newts in the lake, trying to catch lizards, photographing wildflowers or weird mushrooms for a holiday scrapbook. If you have any of those little walkie-talkies, arming the kids with them so they can engage in lots of “Roger, over and out” from different points on the hillside is always a hit.
On a terrace above Casa dell’Ortolano there’s a climbing frame for younger children, with a den, swings and a slide.
At the right times of year it is possible to gather fruit and vegetables on the land (cherries, plums, strawberries, figs, pears, apples, tomatoes and an array of vegetables), and we often have livestock (chickens, ducks, and sometimes rabbits, guinea pigs, budgerigars) that can be visited. A short walk away (details of the route are at the house) there’s an Alpaca farm that can be visited: children can say hello to the Alpacas and Mohair goats while the adults buy hand-made sweaters and blankets made from their wool.
Activities available locally include horse-riding, golf, and water-sports at Trasimeno. See our About Umbria pages for more details.
Once our children were older they tended to disappear on long walks and cycle-rides. We keep details of suggested routes at the house. One of the most popular involves the children cycling down into the next valley for icecream at Cose Dolci in Trestina and then being collected by their support vehicle. (There are bikes here in a range of different sizes, plus trailer and trailerbike and a 3 bike cycle rack you are welcome to borrow.) Our youngest is fond of excursions up and down the Tiber valley on the local railway line, which has a dinky little one-carriage train. This train line was also handy for allowing our teens (armed with a mobile phone in case of need) to make unaccompanied trips to Cittą di Castello, a few stops up the track, to replenish stocks of model-making materials from Emporio 45 (see Local Markets page in About Umbria). If you have the sort of older teen who needs to be allowed to spread their wings a bit, and has the energy to peddle along the valley to catch the train at Niccone, they can explore quite a bit of the Upper Tiber valley by train.
On Trasimeno, you can take a ferry over to the Isola Maggiore and explore, or hire watersports equipment. The Cittą della Domenica (tel: 075-5054941) near Perugia offers several hectares of hillside dotted with all sorts of animals and attractions such as Pinocchio’s house, with a little train to take you round it. Indoors there are miniature dodgems, a soft play area and video games. It has a slightly faded 1950s feel but our lot nevertheless enjoyed it. Parco del Sole is a safari-style park in the countryside South-East of Perugia.
We find our kids can generally be persuaded to indulge their parents in a bit of sight-seeing, or a gallery or museum, with the promise of ice-cream or pizza to follow.
The range of books, videos and DVDs available in both houses covers a broad spread of ages. There are also some board games (Scrabble, Monopoly, Cluedo etc) and packs of cards. Both houses have broadband internet access (networked throughout) and satellite tv (card not included).
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Baby-sitting and going out with kids
It is sometimes possible to organise evening babysitting so that you can go out without your kids. Ask us about this at the time of booking and we’ll do our best to organise it for you during your stay. Equally, one of the joys of Italy is how welcome children are wherever one goes. Children are not just tolerated but welcomed in restaurants and most children love Italian food so eating out together is not the trauma it can sometimes be in England. On our Where to Eat page, in About Umbria, we’ve listed a number of restaurants offering great food and lots of outdoor space for kids to play (such as La Chiusa).
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