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Sep 16, 2009 11:04 AM

Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna - We love food but have a 7 month old!

We will be traveling to Italy (2 week trip) in October for our first real travel after our son's arrival. We have long been adventurous/intrepid travelers and devoted chowhounds. I have been fortunate enough to have been to Italy several times, but this will be my husband's first trip.

Nevertheless, we're going off the beaten path wherever possible. We will spend 3 days in Florence so my husband can do all the must-see cutural stuff. Then we are wide open- Bologna, Ravenna, and some smaller towns in Tuscany or E-R. We normally move around a lot on trips like this, taking trains or renting a car for part of the time, but with baby gear its going to be a lot harder, and eating a 4-hour lunch just isnt going to be feasible (sob).

Anyone have suggestions for a good home base either in Tuscany or E-R or thereabouts from which we could make forays to (relatively) untouristy spots with great authentic food and Italian culture experiences?

Also, any particular restaurants/food experiences that would be acceptable to bring a baby? He's fairly mellow but he gets antsy after a while of sitting still. Markets/shops/pizza stands/cafeterias etc are all fair game.

Lastly, any particular destinations that would be great for food-related photography in the fall there?

Thank you!

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  1. Maya -- didn't I read this question in the NY Times?? I think there were some suggestions there.

    The only advice I can offer (and it is lame at best) is that a 7-month old baby is not going to really enjoy a trip like this, and your memories of it will be tinged by the things you missed out on. Can a loving grandparent care for the little darling while you and your husband enjoy a "second honeymoon" alone? You can always take your son along with you when he is a little older, and able to enjoy the sights and cusine that Italy has to offer.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Cheflambo

      I dont know about the NY Times article - would you mind posting the link if you can still find it? thank you!

    2. Italians love children, but it is rare to see infants taken to adult restaurants. Families eat at home .Restuarants are for the big kids. Though they are more accomodating for dogs and will even bring out plates of food. Maybe you can arrange for a lovely nona or other convenient Italian relative of your hotel owners to babysit while you dine.

      1 Reply
      1. re: glbtrtr

        I'm surprised by this comment that it is "rare to see infants taken to adult restaurants." Are we talking about Italy? I see infants all the time in restaurants being passed around tables otherwise filled with nothing but adults.

        The very fanciest, multi-starred restaurants with famous chefs are the exception, but you can eat extremely well in your destination regions without going to those places (maybe even better!) You don't even have to give up on lingering over lunch with such a small child if you have some toys. Just learn how to say at the door "Is our baby OK?" and the proprietor will be honest.

        I think you will eat better in Emilia-Romagna than you will in Tuscany, but in either place, it is an asset to have a car when you have a baby (rather than lugging stuff around train stations). I'm sorry I can't give you a specific location for a base with a car. Were it me, I would put up a separate post addressed specfically to Vincezo, who lives near Ravenna/Bologna and cares deeply about good food and good hospitality.

      2. when my kids were little (they are all college grads now) we stayed at Castello di Gargonza in Tuscany, a tiny,beautiful and centrally localed, castle village where we rented a small house in the village (they have apts and rooms too). The Gargonza staff arranged a babysitter for us for several days during our stay, which enabled us to tour freely in the daytime and return in the eve. and have a nice dinner either home cooked or at their restaurant, which has both outdoor and indoor seating areas. I know, 7 months might cry for a while with a new sitter, but you may want to look into this type of arrangement. All I can say is it was a magnificent balance, we had our leisurely lunches and museum and church visits - I can tell you that when our 18 mo old and 4 yr old were with us it was not so good.

        The other alternative is to find more casual eating places where you can eat outside or have a quicker meal. Italians are family friendly, very, but nobody can deal with a crying or fussing baby for long, and you will want to bolt. Alternatively, if you are lucky enoug that your child goes to sleep then you probably want to be eating in a rather peaceful rather than a noisy place.I thnk that some of the places around the San Lorenzo market in Florence, for example would work for you, either the stalls or say Trattoria Mario which is very casual. Italians like to people watch so as long as its somewhat warm there will be outside tables, sometimes with heaters, and thats where i would head in your place.

        5 Replies
        1. re: jen kalb

          Thank you for all the advice! We have no illusions that this will be an entirely different kind of trip from what we are used to. Our little one is very flexible and mellow most of the time but we know we'll be eating more quickly than we used to. The San Lorenzo market area sounds perfect for our purposes. We're more than happy to eat quickly, eat at market stalls, or buy great foodstuffs and picnic on some steps or in our hotel room - we were hoping for some tips to maximize that kind of experience.

          Also, any additional tips like Castello di Gargonza would be very appreciated! (A central location to take excursions from).

          Thank you again!

          1. re: Maya

            I dont recall that we rearranged the babysitting at Gargonza (this was many moons ago in the days of teletype reservations) but I may be wrong - it was highly fortuitous, since it turned out that (at the time) there were no rear seatbelts in Italian rental cars and if they did not give you a car with a permanently instlaled car seat you were out of luck immobilizing your child . I remember my 18 mo old enjoyed standing up on the seat as we drove and it was not much fun for me with her back there . ! Im sure there are whole books and websites on this aspect of travel now.

            If you are in Emilia-Romagna, the little town of Busseto is sweet and has some simple cafes where you can eat plates of the local culatello in an informal atmoshphere - Im sure you can eat in this manner, and especially at outdoortables, in all the major towns.. Pizzerias are another option, since they cook so quickly.

            1. re: jen kalb

              I am really amazed that people believe that parents with infants have to eat cold cuts and on the run in Italy. Infants are welcome in almost all eateries, at all times. Of course a crying baby should be walked around outdoors, or indulged with favorite eats and toys at the table. But infants are seen inside Italian restaurants all the time.

              1. re: summerUWS2008

                I dont believe I said that at all. Italy is not England. Its not a question of the warmth of the welcome, its a question of whether the parents can enjoy the normal extended meal or whether a different format might be more comfortable. When an large family group is present at the table, its a different situation when its just a couple travelling with a child and one of a couple is outside calming the baby and the other is sitting alone inside. There is nothing wrong with eating at an outside table or trying to strategize for more realistically short meals in this situation if it will make it more pleasant for you and others..

                1. re: jen kalb

                  Sorry if we're miscommunicating, but I do think the picture being painted here has been misleading. Young Italian couples with babies are frequently seen inside Italian eateries. The establishments are much more welcoming than in other countries, and so are other patrons. I disagree that one needs to invest much thinking about a different strategy. Sit where you are most comfortable.

                  The only place I wouldn't take an infant in Italy is a multi-starred, crystal-laden high-end gastronomy place -- and there, my biggest concern would be that the baby sets the wrong tone for all the married men taking out their mistresses!

                  But seriously, having a baby with you it Italy isn't a serious impediment to restaurant eating in Italy, in my experience.

        2. Maya, read this thread, which you will find very reassuring.

          3 Replies
          1. re: summerUWS2008

            You sound like a person with the only thing you need to have a great time -- a sense of adventure and common sense. Italians are LOVELY with children and they will welcome you and your WHOLE family with open arms to almost every place. You sound like you have plenty of common sense ... you aren't going to try to take a young child to a restaurant with a star that serves dinner over several hours and several courses. BUT ... as you probably know, lots of good food is found at the less formal places, and lots of great interaction. If you have your big meal of the day at 1pm, your sweet baby may well be in the midst of their nap anyway ... take the carseat as your "high chair" because they won't likely have one, and plenty of things to entertain the little prince -- rattles, toys, cheerios, pacifier, etc., and you will be totally fine. Take LOTS of photos ... we waited till my late 30s to have our boys and if we waited until they were 12 to take them anywhere exciting, we would not have vacationed at all. So go ... explore, take your baby & camera and have a great time!! Report back in ... you will have some memories to share that you would never have had if you had gone without your child because you will have explored a whole bunch of different trattorias and maybe at a more relaxed pace !! Ciao!! Peggy

            1. re: PeggyD

              Peggy - thanks for the boost of confidence. We are in Florence now and I have never seen so much love for the bambini. Ate at Quattro Leoni, Sostanza-Troia, and Coquinarius and at all three the accomodation (including high chairs at most of them) and genuine affection for our little one, staff and customers alike.

              Of course, we keep him quiet and occupied because we are very sensitive to the situation, but everyone waves our concerns away and keeps happily holding, cooing, and cuddling our baby, taking him to the kitchen, giving him cantucci, etc. He's actually better behaved than some of the Italian babies I've seen, so that's a relief (for us and hopefully also for Glbtrtr) and everyone seem to love them as well. Perhaps they can pick up some parenting tips from us :) Its a pleasure and an experience of Italy you wouldnt get otherwise!

              I will write up a thorough post upon our return but I just wanted to say thanks for your reassuring and accurate post.

              1. re: Maya

                Hi Maya,
                I hope you see this! We are planning a trip to northern Italy--including around Bologna--and would love to hear more about your experience!