Our family trip to Europe had been on the books for nearly an entire year before we left—which gave me a lot of time to think about it. As excited as I was, I was also initially anxious about traveling so far with a four-year-old and staying in a villa with 19 (!) people, many of whom I didn't know well before this trip. A lot of things were outside my comfort zone, but I can safely say that outside of our honeymoon, which will always hold a special place in my heart, this was one of the best trips I've ever taken. See below for some of my favorite memories (and you can also watch the extensive Highlights from our trip on my Instagram):
Amsterdam was largely a happy accident, and came about because there were no direct flights to Florence, but it ended up being the perfect way to not only break up the trip, but explore a city I'd always been meaning to travel to. One of the things that helped us most with our jet lag (it was a nine hour difference) was that we hit the ground running. I'd questioned bringing along Sloan's travel stroller but it ended up being one of the best decisions we could have made. We used it for everything from getting through the airport, to walking along the canals in search of breakfast, and accommodating her nap times without derailing our explorations.
Outside of a canal tour, we spent all day, every day walking. The people were so friendly, and the canals were even more gorgeous than I could have imagined, though I didn't find it to be an incredibly child-friendly city. It was the home of a trip highlight for me though, which was being able to see the Anne Frank House. It was a sobering experience, to say the least, and one that hit especially close to home considering my grandmother was an Auschwitz survivor. I'm incredibly grateful for the time we spent there and around the city.
After two days in Amsterdam, we left for Florence and the two-hour flight felt very manageable after our eleven-hour journey to Europe. Once we landed, we hopped into a ten-passenger van at the airport and drove to the villa we rented, right outside of Pienza (while I won't be sharing the link to the exact villa we stayed in—we may go again next summer!—there are countless options in and around the area).
One of the best parts about the villa (which I've heard is typical of many villas in Tuscany) is that it came with a fantastic chef, who set out breakfast and dinner for us every day. Each morning started with fresh fruit, yogurt, eggs, and croissants. We were on our own for lunch, and would either pick up pizza in town or make a big pasta, then were served a four-course dinner every single night (part of why G and I have been aggressive about meal planning and getting back on track with healthy eating). It was some of the best food I've ever eaten, from light-as-air eggplant parmesan to a beautiful Bolognese, and tiramisu I'll never be able to recreate. It was all overwhelmingly incredible.
I received a ton of questions about planning the trip, and the truth is that one of the couples we went with spearheaded the entire thing. Each family took care of their own flights, and at the end of the trip, we tallied car rentals, food, and lodging and split it all evenly. Because each family had similar accommodations (every couple and their kids got their own room and bathroom, which made it so that we weren't all on top of each other), it worked out perfectly. I'd also questioned whether I could spend seven full days with so many people and I have to say: It couldn't have been more fun. Key to that is that everyone operated under the guideline of, "Do what you want." We didn't have to operate as one group—if you wanted to take a nap while everyone else took a pasta-making lesson, you could do that!
G and I also split off for a day in Siena with Sloan, which was a nice break away, despite it being something of a comedy of errors (including a dramatic fall down a staircase and missed lunch opportunity).
Because there were seven kids total, we hired babysitters who lived nearby for a few hours on separate occasions so the adults could have some moments of quiet time. We never left the property without the kids, but it was incredibly helpful to have moments when the kids were entertained while the parents had cocktails.
From our villa, we drove back to Florence for two-and-a-half days, making a pit stop at the outlets, which are worth the trip alone. We did some major damage at the Gucci and Prada/Miu Miu stores, which offer significant discounts on merchandise that was in stores only a few months ago. Let me put it this way: My friend and I both had to buy an extra bag to accommodate our purchases.
As a final treat, we booked the Four Seasons in Florence using points, and it was the most special hotel experience I've ever had. It somehow felt fancy and sophisticated, but was also the most kid-friendly place. When we arrived to our room, there was a mini robe in the bathroom, a kid's toothpaste and toothbrush, and a coloring book and crayons waiting for Sloan. She was thrilled by the extra touches, and I was floored by the attention to detail and lengths they went to ensure she felt welcome.
Because it was in the triple digits in Florence, we were strategic about how we went about exploring. We'd venture out early morning and late evening, then use the hottest hours to relax a bit and fully enjoy the last days of our trip.
I'm still in shock over how fantastic the trip was, and how seamless traveling with Sloan went. I think we did it at the right time for her and our family, and I'm already excited about planning our next getaway!
P.S., I received countless recommendations about this jet lag tip, which I can confirm really worked! Thank you to everyone who shared it! x
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