A Christmas trip to Tuscany would be wonderful for any family wanting to take advantage of the time off work or out of school or just has a bit of “wanderlust” over this Christmas season. This is the second Christmas season my family will spend at our home in Tuscany, having moved here in January of 2017 from the USA. People often ask us if we will be “going home” for Christmas, and I know what they mean… Will we be packing up our kids for the long flight back to visit our extended families homes in Minnesota, where my husband and I both grew up? There are many reasons — none of them being a lack of desire to be with family over the holidays — why we won’t be making the trip and are choosing to spend the holiday season here in Italy. Even though we get to enjoy this season in Italy without too much traveling, that doesn’t mean that YOU shouldn’t come spend the holidays in Tuscany! Read on to find out why we think traveling to Tuscany during the low tourist period of Christmas is actually the prime time to come here.
Just as one imagines a modern Italian couple, dressed up nicely from head to toe, so are the towns around here during Christmas. Lights are strung above the narrow streets in centro (historic city centers) and colored lights, wreaths, bows or other displays are common all around town. Shop windows have displays that entertain both my kids and me as we stroll from one to the other. In addition to these shops, many cities have small markets, called mercatini, that are similar to craft or antique fairs, but some have larger Mercati di Natale, Christmas Markets, complete with wooden structures, mulled wine, and even German goodies. These Christmas Markets are more common in northern Italy as you get closer to Germany, but you can find a large market in the piazza of Santa Croce in Florence, and one in the main square of Arezzo too. If you already have your itinerary set, a quick google search on this will bring a lot of information about markets in each city and when they are open. Facebook events is another great place to look for local events, and some markets are even open a few days past Christmas too.
One of the reasons we love living in Italy so much is that it’s so family friendly, just not in the obvious ways. Sure the streets can be old and difficult for strollers at times and there are no awards being won for bathroom changing stations or restaurant crayon packets, but the overall welcoming attitude and inclusion of children is what makes this place so special for a traveling family. That feeling is even more magical during the Christmas season, when there are less tourists around and more Italians out walking the city to be with family or do their holiday shopping.
Our family went to Lucca this past weekend to see the city decorated and do some window shopping and I think everybody else in Lucca decided to do the same! I’ve been to Lucca countless times and have seen the streets crowded wall to wall in the summer with tourists, but this wasn’t the same. This was local families, grandparents and grandchildren, couples, and teens out with their friends. I felt like I was in the real Italy, authentically soaking up the feeling of what it’s like to live here. Not just trying to squeeze past a tour group with headphones on, following their leader holding up a colored paddle. These crowds gave me energy and added to the Christmas feeling, when usually crowds just make me feel anxious and hot. There was something really magical about it.
Last year, our first Christmas in Italy, we enjoyed Christmas Eve day by going to Piazza Vittorio Emanuele in Pisa and took our girls ice skating at a temporary rink set up for the season, followed by a ride on the carousel, and then out for lunch. The streets were lively and friendly then as well, but we had no trouble doing the things we wanted to do.
Lucca and Florence, as well as many other cities, also have skating rinks and carousels or small carnival games for kids set up in their piazzas. The weather here in December is mild, well, at least for two former Minnesotans, and it doesn’t freeze. If the sun is out and the wind is calm, it can be down right spring-like at times. The grass isn’t dead, the olive trees are the evergreens of Italy, and the vineyards have turned a beautiful golden brown.
December in Italy is as picturesque as May or June, but in its own unique way. For the rainy days, or days when it’s just a bit colder, head inside a museum to enjoy the art without the summertime crowds and don’t forget to follow it with an Italian hot cocoa, which is like a cross between hot cocoa and chocolate pudding. I could go on and on about Italian holiday desserts too, like panettone (a spongy Christmas cake) and panforte (a nutty, fruity dense dessert), but it’s best tried for yourself.
From the decorated historic towns, holiday food, and Christmas cheer, spending your holidays in Tuscany is sure to leave a lasting impression on your family. Now you know some of the reasons why we aren’t too sad to not be “going home” for Christmas after all.