Tuscany for all the family – Part 1: Planning

Many months ago a plan was hatched for a family reunion in Tuscany.

A gathering of 4 generations aged from 5 – 80 hit on the idea of all meeting up in a remote village high in the Tuscan Mountains. While some opted for the ‘easy’ option of flying to Pisa, hiring a car and arriving relatively stress free, we, the grandparents chose to drive with our adult offspring and 2 grandchildren.

Sally Dowling joins a family reunion of 4 generations in Tuscany This was primarily to save money but in time became known as our ‘Great Adventure’.

We did the sums and for 6 adults and 2 children it was less expensive than flying and hiring 2 cars. But costs do add up and considerations such as motorway tolls, Swiss car tax, overnight stops in each direction, refreshments en route and additional insurance, breatherlyzer kits, hi viz jackets all add up.

Plus rather worryingly, whenever I discussed our plans with anyone who had done a similar trip I was met with disbelief that we were contemplating just one stop each way and such a tedious journey with small children. As a doting Granny I packed some I-Spy books, (available on Amazon}, and a CD of children’s songs, both of which were popular but couldn’t compete with Mum’s i-pad!

So it was with some trepidation that we set off early one Friday morning, via the Channel Tunnel and our first stop in Pontarlier,  Eastern France, a distance of about 550 miles.

We took 2 cars and had a complex rota for driving and resting which soon got discarded when it became apparent that the men in our group wanted to drive as much as possible on the fast and empty motorways, while the girls watched the changing scenery fly by.

My fears that traffic would be bad, as it was May half term, were quickly dispelled and once we left the tunnel traffic behind we sailed along.

Lake Geneva Comfort breaks at French service stations were a delight as we enjoyed good coffee and delightful pastries. Had the weather been better we had planned to picnic in one of the many ‘Aires’ that are dotted along the motorways. These are small pull ins with tables and toilet facilities and some grass for children to run around and let off steam. As it was we had to stick to indoor dining due to cold and wet conditions.

We reached Pontarlier at 5.30 pm and stayed at an IBIS which was friendly and comfortable and had a reasonable restaurant where we all enjoyed an evening meal.

Next morning we set off at 6.30am. Our aim was to drive through Switzerland and go through the St Bernard Tunnel into Northern Italy. We had pondered long and hard over which route to take, the most popular is via the Mont Blanc Tunnel but I had heard reports of long traffic queues, especially at holiday time, so opted for the St Bernard. This meant driving through Switzerland, which pushed the price up, as you need to buy a Swiss Tax disc or ‘vignette’, before you travel costing £29 from the Swiss Tourist Board in London.  You can buy it in Euros from gas stations in Switzerland but it is much easier to buy in advance and is valid for 1 year. There is then an additional charge for the St Bernard Tunnel of
€ 48 return.

Genova The weather continued to disappoint as we drove around Lake Geneva, which would have been a stunning drive had the sky been clear.  Then climbing up the mountains, through picture postcard Alpine villages as the weather closed in and sleet turned to snow. We encountered very little traffic, sailing through the tunnel with no problem. Grey skies continued through Northern Italy as mountains gave way to vast plains covered in paddy fields of presumably risotto rice. We had our first glimpse of a rather grey Mediterranean Sea whilst skirting around the port of Genova, driving on along the western coast before cutting inland to  Lucca. We made good time and arrived at our beautiful accommodation in the tiny hamlet of Celle dei Puccini, high in the hills. We had made it and the children had been marvels. No complaints or problems, thank you i-Pad!

For more advice and information on all things Italian –  visit www.italia.it/en/home.html

•  Read Part 2

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