VENICE with kids

Think Italy’s most ro­man­tic of cities is all art gal­leries, cul­ture and canals for grown-ups only? Think again, says Julie Cook

Friday - - Leisure -

Stand­ing in the mid­dle of the Pi­azza San Marco, I gazed up at the tow­er­ing cam­panile as its bells marked the hour. Awestruck, I turned to take in the breath­tak­ing, mo­saic-cov­ered basil­ica. As pi­geons darted to and fro around my feet, love songs from the world-fa­mous Caffè Flo­rian filled the balmy evening air and I felt as if I were stand­ing in a film set.

Venice. Surely the most ro­man­tic city on Earth? But then I felt a lit­tle hand tug­ging at my skirt. “Mummy... can we go now?” asked my three­year-old son, Alex.

My hus­band Cor­nel, son Alex and I live in Venice. Be­fore our son’s ar­rival, the ro­man­tic, nar­row maze of streets had been ours to ex­plore as we wished – stop­ping ev­ery now and then for a cof­fee or cool drink.

I fell in love in­stantly with the city – with the turquoise, glis­ten­ing sea in sum­mer and the white, mys­te­ri­ous mist that hov­ered ethe­re­ally over the canals in win­ter. It was, sim­ply, a ro­man­tic’s par­adise. But now, with a young son to con­sider, the ro­man­tic side of Venice had to be put on hold. What tod­dler wants to gaze at Re­nais­sance trea­sures or wan­der around art gal­leries?

And so at first we did what Venice lets you do best – we got lost. Walk­ing off the beaten track, away from Pi­azza San Marco and Rialto, we dis­cov­ered Venice is not just a city of stone palazzi and churches or high-fash­ion bou­tiques and sou­venir shops. If you look hard enough, there are ac­tu­ally plenty of fun things to do for chil­dren. You sim­ply have to ven­ture a lit­tle fur­ther into the maze that is Venice.

Giar­dini, or Gar­dens, is just a cou­ple of boat stops away from Saint Mark’s Square. Sur­rounded by trees and bushes cas­cad­ing with jas­mine, a walk through here can feel as if you’re not in Venice at all but a ru­ral idyll. Here, Alex pinged him­self out of his buggy straps and ran off to en­joy the two parks for chil­dren. There are swings, slides, climb­ing frames and a see-saw – all be­neath a canopy of trees: a rare sight in built-up Venice.

A few steps on­wards and over a bridge, we me­an­dered on to the is­land of St Elena, an­other haven for those miss­ing green­ery. Here, Alex scam­pered off to an­other play park, be­fore join­ing in with some lo­cal Vene­tian chil­dren on the football pitch while we sat in a nearby café and en­joyed two cap­puc­cini and cream-filled crois­sants.

When Alex tired of th­ese play ar­eas, we set off on the wa­ter­bus

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