So, you’re heading to the eurozone with sterling at a historic low; to Italy, where inflation is at a 12-year high; and to the country’s priciest region. Are you in for a cashflow nightmare? Not necessarily.
Booking value summer accommodation for families can be tricky, so don’t turn your noses up at youth hostels. The impressive Ostello San Frediano (www.ostellolucca.it), for example, offers the best value inside Lucca’s walls. Just €95 for a spotless, split-level, ensuite family room off Via Fillungo is a serious deal.
Camping needn’t mean 7am queues at the shower block: rent a mobile home. Campsites with family facilities include Barco Reale (www.barcoreale.com) in the hills near Vinci and Parco Delle Piscine (www.parcodellepiscine.it) in Sarteano, above the Valdichiana. And Campeggio Michelangelo (www.ecvacanze.it/ing/michelangelo_home.asp) is still the best budget family bet in Florence, if you can find a space.
When it comes to eating in famiglia, a few pointers will save you money. Eat your sit-down meal at lunch: a rustic menù del giorno with 2 courses plus wine, water and coffee should be €11–15. Swapping the panoramic terrace for a seat inside could save €2 a head in cover charges. The house red is always drinkable, always local, and better value than a bottle from the list. If you’re picking your restaurant blind, walk 2 streets back from the piazza for better prices, and better food.
Remember “cheap” and “value” aren’t always synonyms. Eateries offering classic regional cooking for your extra euro include Antica Osteria dei Poeti (tel. 0588 86029) in Volterra, Zaira (www.zaira.it) in Chiusi and Coccorone (www.coccorone.com) in the backstreets of Montefalco.
Umbrians like self-service canteens: if you don’t mind standing in line and helping yourself, La Stalla (www.fontemaggio.it/ristorante.htm) outside Assisi and the Osteria del Turreno (tel. 075 5721976) opposite Perugia’s cathedral cook fresh produce for pocket-change.
Even Florence has a bargain eatery, Da Rocco inside the Mercato Sant’Ambrogio.
When you’re planning a day out, don’t neglect the local tourist office, for free maps and advice on walks suited to your kids’ ages. Mine enjoy the woods of Monte Subasio, above Assisi, and the gentle emerald slopes of the Val d’Orcia – for free.
If you’re considering a classic hill-town, the tourist offices at Volterra (www.volterratur.it) and San Gimignano (www.sangimignano.com) both rent audioguides for €5, a big saving on guided tours. Your kids will enjoy Volterra’s AD1398 festival and Montepulciano’s Bravio delle Botti, that embellish August with a dollop of faux-medieval fun.
Better still, get away from summer crowds and tourist prices to Pitigliano (www.comune.pitigliano.gr.it), perched on top of a tufa crag in Tuscany’s deep south. The town was once nicknamed “Little Jerusalem”, and preserves its Jewish ghetto carved from solid volcanic rock. Pitigliano is also surrounded by a network of Etruscan subterranean walkways, known as vie cave. Yours to explore for free. The best for kids is Via Cava di San Giuseppe.
Tuscany has fine, free beaches, away from the over-developed Etruscan Coast: try the Golfo di Baratti or, near Orbetello, the Tombolo della Feniglia, where Caravaggio dropped dead from fever in 1610.
The best frescoes in Umbria are nearly all free: Giotto, Martini and Lorenzetti in Assisi’s Lower Basilica, Filippo Lippi’s Life of the Virgin in Spoleto cathedral, Pinturicchio’s Cappella Baglioni in Spello, and 15th century Umbrian School painter Ottaviano Nelli’s Life of St Augustine covering the apse of Sant’Agostino in Gubbio.
Even occasional museums are gratis: from grisly mosnrosities at Siena’s Natural History Museum (www.accademmiafisiocritici.it) to the Museo Piaggio (www.museopiaggio.it), in Pontedera, home of the Vespa.
Oh, and swap your regular guidebook for one written just for families. But then I would say that.
Donald Strachan is lead author of Frommer’s Tuscany and Umbria With Your Family available for £12.99 at www.amazon.co.uk and leading book stores. For further information on free events in Tuscany and Umbria, visit www.whatsonwhen.com.
First published in The Times.