Amore Lucca! An Aussie family’s 3-month immersion in Tuscany

by Monday, March 5, 2018

Our Guest Traveller this week is Naomi Capomolla, co-founder of Little Finders, which is all about “discovering great experiences for kids of all ages with ‘hundreds & thousands’ of savings for the whole family”. Naomi grew up on Melbourne’s Mornington Peninsula and always knew she had to travel, be it to the city, around Australia, or to the big, wide world. Her style of travelling is one where all creature comforts are provided for so she can immerse herself in the local culture. Last year, Naomi took her partner and her three-year-old twins to Lucca in Tuscany, Italy, for a three-month immersion in the local culture and we’re excited to share her very personal and amazingly comprehensive story of her trip. It’s like a how-to for anyone wishing to put their children into school in Italy. Enjoy Naomi’s journey…

Our favourite place to run and chase bubbles – in one of the piazzas in Lucca.

Tastes of Italy.

Living in Lucca for three months had our family eating, drinking and sharing wonderful memories together on a daily basis. Our tastebuds were treated to the true tastes of fruit, where it gets you right in the back of the throat. Picking apricots, plums and apples from the trees on our property gave the kids a great excuse to get a bucket and collect their colours of choice for their daily fruit intake. The colour palette of all this fruit had our Little Finders Insta page going crazy with comments. It was an awful tease to those shivering back home.

Picking apricots, plums and apples from the trees at our villa.

 

Let me tell you, that’s only the start of the day. Pizza, Pasta, Gelato, more Pizza, Pasta, Gelato. We had it all. And all of us have never been healthier. There is definitely something to say about the Mediterranean way of eating. Made with love, with time, with laughter and all shared together with more laughter.

Our Villa. End of school day calls for running through sprinklers. Or going for a swim. Or going for a drive in the Villa’s Fiat 500.

We seriously can learn a lot from these guys. Eating under the Tuscan sun accompanied with an Aperol Spritz makes me sit back, reflect, slow down, smile and just be so grateful that we as a family can enjoy these simple pleasures. Trust me, it really is simple.

Pizza, Pasta, Gelato, more Pizza, Pasta, Gelato. Repeat!

Sounds Of Italy – Listening & Speaking.
It was important for us to immerse ourselves into Italian culture and their every day way of life. How did we do this? We all took ourselves off to school. If only we could find a wonderful Italian school as an activity for Little Finders back home.

My three-year-old twins went to the local preschool five days a week, for eight weeks.

We enrolled our three-year-old twins into the local Preschool whereby no English is spoken and all learning is through listening, creative play and music. Five days a week for eight weeks the twins were at the school. They made new friends, all with such fabulous and romantic names, and this enabled our children to learn the language in its purest form. My daughter quickly adopted the language as she wanted to make sure she could ask for her second bowl of pasta at lunchtime. Whilst they were at school, it was time for me to learn. I spent eight weeks at Lucca Italian Language School and loved every bit of it. Brain is back working, stimulated with a language that I’m learning and having to speak every day. This is by far the best thing I did.

On the last day of school the twins were given gifts.

When I picked the kids up fromm school, we all tried to speak to each other and just laughed at our attempts. Listening to the radio became fun and now we are across all the latest, fun, Italian songs and we can sing them in Italian. Do yourself a favour and listen to this wonderful pop tune, “L’esercito del selfie”, by Takagi. This sums up our Sounds of Italy.

The villa came with a Fiat 500 for our use.

Eyes of Italy – Sightseeing.
We romanced the idea of us driving through the Tuscan hills and exploring its region far and near. And that we did.

Who knew Pisa had beaches?

Having Florence only an hour away, and wonderful beaches only half an hour away, the biggest surprise find was Pisa. Who knew Pisa had beaches? And a long strip with fabulous beach clubs and chilled tunes. Only 30 minutes away, this became our regular; great for food, swimming, and of course many Aperol Spritz. Whilst we did visit the Leaning Tower, we certainly took preference towards our favourite beach clubs on those 30-plus-degree days. It’s quite a surprise and delight. Pisa is certainly not to be missed.

Ciao, Italy! We will be back for another three months. See you in the Summer.

My Little Finders have memories that are forever lasting and a wealth of experience that we wish to continue to invest in. Their little eyes are going to teach me so much more when we return this year.

Naomi’s Top Five Tips for Taking an Immersive Holiday in Italy With Children:
1. Finding the right school: Research, Research and ask lots of questions. If I took the first recommendation, we would have ended up in an International School located in Lucca with kids all having a diverse group of backgrounds, learning English. NO. NO. Not what I wanted. I had to explain numerous times and trust me, Google Translate was my best friend for months prior to our travels, however, it was unusual for them (Italians) to understand that us (Australians) wanted to come over and live there and not learn English, but their own Italian language. We all forget how dominant the English language is today. Sad really. Fortunately, the owner of the Villa that we rented for 3 months was ever so helpful and was able to lead us in the right direction of schooling. Her local connections made for our enrolments that much easier. We had 2 schools booked as a placeholder and when we first arrived, we visited the both of them and made our decision instantly. What we wanted was for our kids to go to school (a normal Italian school) whereby only Italian is spoken. Teachers and kids all speak Italian only. Bellissimo. Perfecto. Finding my school was easy – I researched and found the best rated with raving reviews, Italian Language School. Easy to enrol, flexible with learning approaches and offering daily or weekly classes. You enrol, you learn and you make wonderful friends. And this is how the teacher asks you about classes next week; I can read this, say this and understand it: Buongiorno, Possiamo fare lezione martedi 1 agosto e giovedì 3 agosto dalle 9 alle 11? Aspetto conferma, Eva.
2. Villa accommodation: We were fortunate enough to learn about Lucca and the wonderful Villa “Il Colletto” through our Italian friends. Any great referral is good enough for me. The biggest decision for us was – what region do we base ourselves in. My husband’s heritage is from the South, we had interests in living in Positano, but decided to keep that as a holiday getaway. Riccione just next to Rimini was also a consideration, but it was Lucca that sold us. The property Villa “Il Colletto” is a beautifully restored, 16th Century villa in the surroundings of Lucca. This 40- year-old villa sits atop the remains of an earlier 12th Century monastery, parts of which are still visible. This beautifully restored apartment (about 220 square metres) occupies the whole ground floor of the property and has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, with a fully equipped kitchen. It can easily and comfortably accommodate five people (four beds plus a sofa bed). Our family lived a true Italian way here. We occupied the ground floor, the lovely owners reside in the middle and the third floor has a similar footprint to the other levels. We met some lovely families coming and going during our time as the pool seemed to be the meeting place however, we had such privacy for most of the duration. To be honest, we very much became like family with the owners of the villa. Friendships made for life. Searching for the right place, the right accommodation, is the hardest part. Do a lot of research. The most useful websites for finding accommodation in Italy are Airbnb, HomeAway.com and Booking.com.
 
3. Side trips from Lucca and the Tuscan region. Lucca is a small city, the whole province counts roughly 300,000 people, but it is a fantastic place to spend vacations and access other places. And that’s why we love Lucca as it is just in the middle of Italy and in three hours you can reach the most famous and interesting Italian cities. Best Italian attractions from Lucca are the following:
  • Pisa (famous for the unique leaning tower): 25km (40 minutes by car, 30 minutes by train) or bus. The main airport in Tuscany is here “Galileo Galilei” IATA: PSA;
  • Florence (one of the most beautiful cities in Italy): 70km (1 hour by car, 1 hour and a half by train or bus). Second airport in Tuscany “Peretola” IATA: FLR;
  • Siena (famous for the monuments and Palio on 2/07 and 15/08): 150km (less than 2 hours by car or bus);
  • Versilia and Forte dei Marmi beaches: The Italian version of the French Rivieria – Glitz and Glam – 35km (40 minutes by car, 30 minutes by train or bus);
  • Cinque Terre (beautiful place, you cannot miss it while you are in Italy): 70km (1 hour by car);
  • Bologna: 150km (one hour and a half by car or train);
  • Rome: 330km (3 hours by car and by train);
  • Milan: 280km (2.5 hours by car and by train);
  • Venice: 320km (3 hours by car and by train);
  • Rimini, The great eastern side of Italy with long stretches of beaches: 275km (2.5 hours by car, more difficult by train).

4. Cultural differences to be aware of:

  • Family is the centre of the social structure.
  • Appearance matters – First impressions are lasting impressions. ‘Bella figura’ or good image is critical. But it’s more than dressing well, it extends to the aura you project, your demeanour, your confidence, your style.
  • Clothes are important to Italians. I had to really consider my outfit for school drop offs. Shorts, t-shirts and thongs – best left for Australia. I loved having an excuse to up the ante a little bit and find reasons to go shopping for outfits.
  • Keep your leisure wear for exercise only – not suitable for walking the streets.
  • Air kissing on both cheeks starting with the left – once a relationship develops.
  • If invited to their house – bring wine, chocolates, pastries (dulce) gift wrapped – it’s all in the presentation of the wrapping.
  • Wine, it’s about quality, not quantity.
  • Food, it’s about the gathering, there is always plentiful.
  • Aperitif – they really do just enjoy one or two glasses and that’s enough.

5. Must-do’s and Must-see’s in Lucca: Whether you are interested in Nature and countryside or art and culture, it is the very soul of the city of Lucca that will capture your imagination. One of the many charms of this quintessential Italian city is that it has not been spoiled by mass tourism, and therefore, still has plenty of opportunities for a visitor who wants to capture the “real” Italy. Moreover, studying the Italian spoken in Tuscany, and especially in Lucca, you will learn one of the varieties of Italian language that is more similar to standard Italian. Lucca is a hidden jewel; a treasure to be revealed; and whoever discovers it cannot fail to remain enthralled. With roughly 90,000 inhabitants within the walls, Lucca is big enough to satisfy cultural and shopping needs, but small enough to retain the authentic spirit of life in Italy. With pre-Roman origins, there are traces of the city’s age throughout Lucca. The main feature of Lucca and what makes it unique, are its walls. The old town is surrounded by four miles of walls – giving a stunning vantage point for cyclists, runners and walkers alike. A walk on the wall is an experience that alone is worth the trip, but many other wonders await visitors, including small traditional shops of the past which are still thriving today, great restaurants with local delicacies, local wine, museums and regular musical events, (Lucca is the birth town of the great maestro Giacomo Puccini). The Lucca Summer festival is one not to be missed. Adele is playing this coming summer and I’m going. I have to say though, its all about the Food.

Top 5 places to eat at:

  1. Pizzeria Da Felice – the BEST pizza in Lucca;
  2. La Bottega Del Gelato – the BEST gelati in Lucca;
  3. Bar Pasticceria Elisa – the BEST pastries in Lucca;
  4. Franklin 33 – the BEST cocktails in Lucca; and
  5. Pieve di Brancoli – up in the hills 30 minutes from Lucca – best views, best pizza, you can’t beat the food.

How we managed three months away.

It takes a little planning, some courage, a supportive husband, a great network of friends available to Skype 24/7 to keep connected, and a wonderful business partner – Sal. Sal and I set up Little Finders a year ago and our utmost shared value was to work around our family, rather than having to live to work. Whilst I was away, we built our website, put all the nuts and bolts in place, wrote some content, crafted many proposals, and Sal spent a solid three months onboarding many business partners who help to create an incredible platform of wonderful offers, BIG savings and tonnes of discounts for our members. Our Little Finders App went live in January and we really are tapping into a market looking for ideas and fun things to do, with hundreds and thousands of savings for families. What’s more exciting is that we are going National into all other states in March and by the time I head back to Italy in May for another three months, we hope to launch our travel segment, ready for the European summer. We will be looking at all destinations from little eyes and discovering great experiences for kids all ages. And Cruises is what we know best. All around the world. Such a growing trend for families. Hope to have all the hot tips for Little Finders wishing to travel. Jump on board to Little Finders. $49.95 Annual Membership. It’s for everything FUN! For more information about Little Finders, visit www.littlefinders.com.au or see Instagram @littlefinders, Facebook littlefinders or email Naomi on naomi@littlefinders.com.au