My kids were eating twirly pasta the other night (I do like to be adventurous with their food) when Stanley piped up with one of his classic mealtime observations. "You've been to fusilli, haven't you Mum?" he asked. I had to admit I hadn't - but he was nearly right - because I have been to the nearest sounding place, Friuli, and I've raved about it ever since. This was one of the rare holidays I've taken on my own, and all I did, from the moment I arrived, was wish I'd brought the kids with me. Because, once you're there, it's hard to ignore the fact that Friuli-Venezia Giulia is one of the finest places in bella Italia to take your little bambini.
In case you don't know where it is (for some reason, it represents a bit of a blind spot for Brits), Friuli is the region near Slovenia in the north - or "the lumpy bit at the top of the boot", as Stan so poetically puts it. The lumps shouldn't put you off, though; this muffin-top is a mere disguise for a hidden gem that is, as yet, largely undiscovered by major tour operators.
Let's start with the beaches. My first stop, the coastal town of Grado, recently won the Regina delle Spiagge (best beach in Italy award), and with good reason: it has miles of fine golden sand and shallow warm waters, so it's just crying out for tiny toes to explore it. Shady boulevards and gardens give the place a lovely laid-back tranquillity, making it a perfect place to laze away the hours.
The winding streets of the old town and the little harbour, too, add to the idyllic atmosphere, and you can even take a boat trip to Venice from here if you're in need of some hustle and bustle. But if you want some real action, take the kids to the Thermal Water Park, just set back from the beach, with its hydromassage waterfall jets and water slides.
As far as accommodation goes, pretty much everything is child-friendly: check out the selection at Grado Hotels (00 39 04 318 2929 gradohotels.net).
The larger seaside resort of Lignano is also worth exploring, with its myriad gelateria and mini theme parks. I stayed in the Hotel Arizona (00 39 04 3295 7403; hotel-arizona.it) perfect for families and a few hundred yards from the lovely wide sandy beach. Bliss.
But the beaches aren't the only reason to take the kids to Friuli; budding archaeologists will be intrigued by the treasures of the region, which include the best preserved Roman mosaics in Europe. Spend a few fascinating hours in the Roman town of Aquielia. The museum (museo archeo-aquileia. it) is a must, and on no account leave without visiting the little cake shop just by the basilica, which serves the best strawberry cakes ever. Friuli's School of Mosaic (scuolamosaicis tifriuli.it/en) is a good place to pry, with its beautiful displays. Students come from across the world to learn the Roman and Byzantine mosaic techniques here.
My final stop was up in the hills: the village of San Daniele (infosandaniele. com), famed for being beautiful as well as for producing the world-acclaimed ham. Which brings me to yet another reason to visit this region: even the kids will love the food here. A meal in the courtyard at Alle Vecchie Carceri (00 39 04 3295 7403; allevecchiecar ceri.it) will melt the tastebuds of even the fussiest eater. What better way to prove to the kids that there's more to Italian repertoire than twirly pasta?Reuse content