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
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