Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Tuscany on a Shoestring

If you're looking for an inexpensive holiday somewhere sunny, Italy might not be the first place that springs to mind. And Tuscany in particular can be easily discounted as an unaffordable option, particularly for families. Whoever coined the phrase 'Chiantishire' helped to create a long-standing myth that Tuscany is the sole preserve of wealthy, middle-class ex-pats and beyond the pocket of most ordinary folk.

The reality is that while there certainly are corners of Tuscany that attract a select crowd of Chianti swigging, yacht-owning sorts this isn't the only side of the region.

I spent all my childhood summers on the Tuscan coast, where you'll find a host of unpretentious, family-friendly resorts that deliver great beaches, good value places to enjoy the best of Tuscan cuisine and access to some of the region's most lovely villages and towns. Tuscany also has something for everyone, from mountain scenery in the Appenines to idyllic islands studded with some of the prettiest beaches in the Med. There's history and culture everywhere you look here too, not least in the region's triumvirate of most famous cities - Florence, Siena and Pisa - and you're never far from an amazing plate of pasta or a glass of something delicious. 

If this sounds like your kind of holiday but you're on a limited budget, I'd recommend seeking out a campsite option in Italy. A couple of years ago we stayed at Camping Valle Gaia - bookable through both Eurocamp and Canvas - which makes a great base if you're looking for a budget-friendly option in the heart of the Tuscan countryside. There's a beach nearby too (not the prettiest - the Tuscan coast isn't as scenic as other coastal areas in Italy - but spacious, sandy, safe and ideal for children) and the site is just over 60 km from Pisa airport. 

The innate sense of style that Italians apply to every aspect of life is usually evident in its campsites and Valle Gaia is no exception. It's a given that when in Italy you're never far from a decent restaurant, a good cappuccino or a fresh loaf of bread, and campsites in the country tend to adhere to this principle, meaning you'll often find fantastic restaurants on even the most unassuming of campsites, as well as on-site bakeries where you can pick up a ciabatta or bag of croissants fresh from the oven. You certainly don't rough it when camping in Italy. 

Valle Gaia is a small site and ideal for families with young children, and includes all the obvious attractions: two spacious swimming pools (including one just for little ones), children's play area, tennis courts, bar and two restaurants; one for informal, kid-friendly pizza and ice cream and and a smarter option for more sophisticated dining. We loved the latter, which was reasonably priced and served some absolutely outstanding food including regional specialities such as wild boar and pasta with truffle. It being Italy, even the poshest restaurants are happy to accommodate children and we didn't feel uncomfortable eating here with our (sometimes) energetic children. 

Excursions beyond the campsite are varied. We took a day trip to Pisa for the customary pic propping up the tower and a visit to the stunning cathedral. Be warned that children under 8 can't go up the leaning tower but it's a must-do for older kids and adults. Buy a slice of pizza from a nearby cafe and enjoy it in the shade of the basilica before taking a wander across the Campo Dei Miracoli and delving into the interesting surrounding side streets. 

Other nearby must-sees include Volterra, an attractive hill-top town about 30km away and San Gimignano, an atmospheric walled town steeped in history and dominated by its world-famous medieval towers. 

If you don't mind making a longer trip, Siena is well worth the effort. Its historic centre is a UNESCO world heritage site and boasts one of the world's most famous and distinctive squares, the beautiful, honey-coloured Piazza del Campo. Winding, atmospheric streets lead you to the equally stunning cathedral, and there are lots of other interesting sights and glimpses of Siena's illustrious past around every street corner.

I spent a month here as a language student and would regularly pop into Nannini, a charmingly old fashioned cafe, for a post-lecture pick-me up. It serves the most amazing coffee and pastries and is a good place to soak up a bit of Italian cafe culture and rest weary legs. 

If that's not enough culture for you the Renaissance splendours of Florence are a train-ride away (don't take the car - driving through the city and finding somewhere to park are feats not worth undertaking) but if you're visiting during the summer it will be steaming hot and heaving with tourists...possibly best avoided if you have children in tow. It's a stunning place but its gorgeousness might be lost on you if you visit in peak season.

Fancy sampling Tuscany's world-famous wines? Then head over to Bolgheri, just a short drive from the campsite, where you'll find lots of cantinas where you can drop in and try out a Chianti or Sassicaia. The drive to Bolgheri also takes in some quintessential Tuscan landscape, dotted with stone farmhouses and cypress trees. 

If you're looking for something a bit more beachy, Eurocamp also has campsites on Elba, a tiny island off the coast of Tuscany and home to some lovely, unspoilt beaches and pretty towns and resorts. 

To read more about Camping Valle Gaia and other budget-friendly options in Tuscany, take a look at the Eurocamp website here.



  1. I would luuurrve to go there! It's one part of Italy that I haven't been to. I'd also like to try out a Eurocamp holiday, they look fantastic and great value for money. Thanks for sharing your experience of the area with #ThriftyThursday :-)

  2. I've done Tuscany, but not on a budget (I went when I was without children - a loooonnng time ago!). I'd love to go again. I hear good things about EuroCamp too. Thanks for sharing. #thriftythursday

  3. Lovely part of the Italy. Used to go as a child. Hoping to take my children one day. Hadn't thought of Eurocamp. #ThriftyThursday

  4. In my opinion Tuscany is one of the most beautiful regions of Italy and it offers everything for a lovely vacation.


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