The first thing I learned about family travel to Europe is that matching the sensibilities of the destination with the specific configuration of your family unit matters deeply. Of course I didn’t realize this at the time, but choosing to travel in Italy with a newborn was a stroke of genius. Everywhere we went, as soon as we walked into a room, everyone dropped everything, started shouting “Bambino! Bambino!,” as if it was the first time they had ever seen a child, and immediately escorted us to the best table, the most privileged perch at the bar, or upgraded us to the best room in the hotel. I’m not convinced that I would have received the same enthusiastic welcome had I shown up at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris or a five-star hotel in Berlin.
The second thing I learned is that experiencing a foreign place through the eyes (and other perceptive faculties) of your children is a powerful way to reconnect the adult intellect with the childlike innocence and joy of pure sensation. Watching my daughter lose herself in a field of sunflowers, heads solemnly bowed to the heavens, made me remember what freedom tastes like, and seeing her cram spaghetti into her mouth as if it were her last meal on earth, stirred my palate with long forgotten memories of first encounters. From an impromptu game of soccer against the local village kids to a carefully-staged re-enactment of a medieval jousting match, from making pizza in an open-air Neapolitan oven to a scavenger hunt through the ancient streets of Siena, I found myself having more fun with my kids than I could have ever imagined.
The third thing I learned about family travel in Europe is that travelling in B&R style is the way to go. We stayed in the Tuscan countryside at a lovely hilltop property called Casa Bianca, a perfect blend of rustic authenticity and creature comforts, and everyday we would head out on our bikes, pulling our daughter Grace behind us in a Burly trailer. At about 11 a.m. every morning, the van would pull up beside us like clockwork, our dedicated nanny would hand over our three-month-old Max, and my wife would proceed to breastfeed him on the side of some remote Tuscan hill. When the feeding was done, Max would be handed back to our nanny, the van would speed off, and we would merrily continue on our way until we met up with the rest of the group for lunch at some charming trattoria or in the kitchen of a local farmhouse to hand-make pasta with the resident nonna.
So, despite having discovered the charms of European family travel late in life, I have embraced the concept with the enthusiastic fervour of the newly converted, and try to return at every opportunity. Now that my kids are turning into teenagers, that Michelin-stared restaurant in Paris and that five-star hotel in Berlin may finally be ready for us…