Exploring Florence with kids in tow is a great opportunity to discover things we wouldn’t have noticed in an adults-only traveling party.

Palazzo Vechhio

Palazzo Vechhio

The Palazzo Vecchio Family Museum offers a number of attractions for children of all ages.

One such tour is Life at Court: An itinerary through the rooms – and through centuries – to discover the history of the Palazzo’s many masterpieces.

Today Palazzo Vecchio is a museum but during the sixteenth century it was the residence of Duke Cosimo I de Medici, his wife Eleonora de Toledo and their eleven sons.

At the end of the guided visit you can wear a cape or an overcoat, shoes and hats of the sixteenth century and even enjoy playing with some of the princes’ toys.

Children’s tour at Palazzo Vecchio – Florence by Jane Black

Whilst staying at La Novellina in Chianti with our young children aged 4 and 7, we were highly impressed with the number of fantastic children’s activities available to us in the surrounding area.

One of the highlights was our trip to Palazzo Vecchio in the center of Florence, where the

children were able to dress up in traditional Renaissance costumes.  My daughter loved the dresses and shoes of a true Renaissance lady, whilst my son could not choose which sword he liked best as a knight.


The first room we entered was full of costumes and the kids could pick and choose which ones they liked best. There were also some original and very old costumes (antiques) that they could look at and ask about, but not touch! The children were able to spend plenty of time trying on several different costumes, which was such fun.

After we had finished dressing up, the friendly English-speaking guide then organized a tour around the palazzo for the children, which was very interesting and interactive. They explained what used to happen in each room to the kids and how the people used to behave. They also showed the kids where the wives used to spy on their husbands through little holes in the walls and also where they used to eaves drop on conversations so they thought they had an idea of what was going on around them.

The children learned a lot about history and to this day (12 months later) still talk about the experience. It was not expensive and a wonderful way to spend a few hours in Florence with children. We highly recommend this to families staying around Tuscany.

-Jane Black, Italian Villa Vacations


The Palazzo tour was created for adults and families with children from 6 to 10 years of age. 
It’s available in English, French, Spanish and Italian.

Maximum number of participants: 25

Duration: 75 minutes

Where: Palazzo Vecchio, Piazza della Signoria, Florence

Price: (2014):

€12,00 (25-65 years)

€10,00 (18-25 and >65 years)

€2,00 (<18 years)

Duration: 70 min.

Schedules: Everyday at 3.00pm; on Saturdays and Sundays at 11.30am and 3.00pm

For private individuals
 Tel. +39 055 2768224 – +39 055 2768558

Monday to Saturday 9:30am – 1pm and 2:30pm – 5pm.

Sundays and Bank Holidays 9:30am – 12:30am


Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved

Mantova skyline night

Mantova skyline at dusk

Eileen Ogintz is considered a leading USA travel expert for family travels and syndicated columnist of the weekly column Taking the Kids. Eileen is often quoted in major publications such as USA TodayThe Wall Street JournalThe New York Times and numerous parenting and women’s magazines on family travel. She has appeared on such television programs as 48 Hours, The Today Show, Good Morning America and Oprah, as well as dozens of local radio and television news programs.


Mantova, Italy (Day Five) — I feel like royalty.
After all, I’m staying in Palazzo Castiglioni that dates back centuries, right across the Piazza Sordello from the Palazzo Ducale in the city of Mantova between Milan and Venice and a short drive to Verona.

During the early middle ages, I learn, this city was enclosed by walls and was a very famous renaissance city. “One of the best cities in Italy,” declares Roberto Tebaldio, a local tourism official. The city is famous for its renaissance buildings, its salamis (Levoni has been in business for more than 100 years), its Sbrisolona (traditional crunchy tart), authentic food like pumpkin ravioli, its palace with over 500 rooms and the fantastic Palazzo Te, a 16th century palace with its amazing frescoes.

Mantova Piazza Sordello Palazzo Ducale

Mantova Piazza Sordello, Palazzo Ducale

“We’re like Venice without all the tourists,” local Claudio Bini told me at a cocktail party given by Luisa Castiglioni, who founded the villa rental company Este Villas and whose family owns Palazzo-Castiglioni-Mantova that dates back to 1280, the oldest palace in the city. Am I really staying here?

“Mantova is off the beaten track, which is hard to find in Italy these days,” says Kit Burns, whose company Doorways Villa Vacations specializes in arranging Italian villa vacations for Americans. “It is a place so charming, so interesting and so not over-run by tourists, that it is a pleasure to explore…Shakespeare wrote about it.”

In fact, Mantova is the city where Romeo went to buy the poison to take back to Verona.

At one time, Mantova—called Mantua in English — rivaled Florence for its beautiful art, Mantova guide Giuliana Varini told us. Sadly, the Austrians and then Napoleon stole much of the art.

“Because of this, it is not known to the world in the way Florence is,” observed Burns, who said she has a hard time convincing Americans to include Mantova in their itinerary. “But what remains? Architecture. Frescoes! Unbelievably wonderful frescoes.”

We are able to visit the fantastic “Camera Picta” painted room currently closed to the public in the Ducal Palace with huge wall paintings by Andrea Mantegna.

Castiglioni tells us her ancestor is in one of the paintings—whispering in the ear of the Marquis Ludovico Il Gonzaga.

The Palazzo Castiglione may date from the 12th century but our room has all of the modern conveniences—WiFi, AC, walk-in shower, but overlooks the ancient plaza and ducal palace. Our cousins have opted for the “Tower Room” with a fresco dating back to 1200. We saunter down to the piazza to enjoy our morning café and croissant that is included with our room, sitting among cyclists and elderly men and women out doing their shopping—not another tourist anywhere.
All I can say is wow! I’m so glad my sister in law speaks Italian.

Mantova Palazzo Castiglioni in Piazza Sordello

Mantova Palazzo Castiglioni in Piazza Sordello

There is a fantastic Bibiena Theater — Mozart played here as a young teen just after the theater opened in January 1770 — that is home to the Mantua Chamber Orchestra (tickets start at under $20!) and a Music Festival the end of June where musicians play short pieces in some of those 500 rooms in the palace – as many as 60 just in one day, the musicians speaking to their audience in between.
Still, this town is “a little sleepy,” another local tells me. It is decidedly off the tourist track, especially for Americans.

Locals hope that will change. “Mantova is a city for cultivated tourists with fantastic food and the chance to sleep in a palace,”says Riccardo Braglia who seems to know everyone in town and is an expert on the Gonzaga family who ruled here during the 15th and 16th centuries when the palace was really a private city of some 10,000 people.

“This is a beautiful Italian city with an ancient historical center that will give you a chance to immerse yourself in what was and what is,” said Burns. “Then there is the unjaded hospitality and arguably some of the best food in Italy.”

We experienced that first-hand, trying tiny restaurants on impossibly small streets like La Porta Accanto, the more casual version of the elegant Aquila Nigra, and others that spilled out onto the open piazzas like Il Grifone Bianco or the oh-so-pretty IL CIGNO – TRATTORIA DEI MARTINI, with plenty of options for gelato and pastry and pizza everywhere we turned. Don’t miss the amazing pasta and pastry shop Panificio PAVESI –a good place to try the region’s typical Sbrisolona cookie-like pastry. Yum!

There is so much history here—dating back to Virgil’s time. He was born near here and Mantua has always been known as Virgil’s town.

But we experienced a decidedly 21st century Mantua at the Thursday morning market sprawled across the ancient cobblestoned square, crowded with sellers hawking everything from socks and underwear to all varieties of cheeses, ham, salami, rotisserie chicken and fish and locals looking for a bargain—and their groceries.

Castiglioni’s father, Baldesar Castiglioni, 88, still has an apartment here and is the descendant of Baldassare Castiglione, the famous author and nobleman of the Renaissance whose book about court etiquette was widely read all over Europe—the bestselling author of his time.

His portrait was painted by Raphael and hangs in the Louvre near the Mona Lisa; a copy of the portrait hangs in her father’s apartment. I’m mesmerized by the very old Murano glass chandeliers—all of the colors! ALL of the shape of the glass!

Baldesar Castiglione portrait by Raphael

Baldesar Castiglione portrait by Raphael

“Here you have the experience and a relationship with the local people,” says Luisa Castiglioni, who is working to create a community of villa owners around Italy who can offer a similar standard of service—from luxury staffed villas to simple country cottages to Renaissance palazzos like this one where we incredibly meet the family who owns it—and has owned it for centuries. She and her brother Guido, who oversees the property, worry what will happen in the future as none of their children, in their 20s and 30s, seem interested. I hope that changes.

This has got to be one of the most unique places I’ve ever stayed, with an arched sleeping alcove and views of the ancient ducal palace and the square from the big windows. Restaurants spill outside; we amble from one square to another, walking everywhere. I really feel like royalty because we are parked inside the gates and need a special clicker to open them.

Palazzo Castiglioni suite Torre

Palazzo Castiglioni suite Torre

She says in recent years, guests have become more demanding—most of her business is Americans “but there is no perfect villa nor is there a perfect guest!”

“We have to find the right villa for the right people–whether you want a cooking class for the kids or someone to come and cook for you. The concept is being able to connect with the customs and the people of the country,” she says.

You might shop at the local market or weekly street market for groceries and take day trips out into the country side like we did today with local Riccardo Braglia, an art historian and consultant, who took us to the small town of Borghetto on the Mincio River for a long outside lunch at Lo Stappo overlooking the water. We feasted on bruschetta and risotto with pumpkin along with other locals.

We go to Parco Sigurta Giardino that won “Italy’s Most Beautiful Park” award last year and it’s easy to see why — miles of stone paths, 30,000 roses, and a million tulips. Let’s not forget the amazing views.

Braglia insists we not leave the area without stopping at the town of Sabbioneta, a World Heritage Site, which was built as a “model town” by Vespasiano Gonzaga in the second half of the 16th century, planned according to the vision of the Renaissance. We visit the Teatro all’Antica, the first theater of the modern age and still used today and the synagogue—the Jewish community thrived here. Sadly, after Gonzaga died, residents moved outside the walls which may be why the town is so well preserved.

It’s really nice to be off the tourist track—or at least one not followed by many Americans.
© 2014, Eileen Ogintz, 5 Viking Green Westport CT 06880. All rights reserved.


Where: Mantova (Mantua) Lombardy, Italy Mantova tourist office
Location: Palazzo Castiglioni Piazza Sordello 12 Mantova
How to get there:
-by train: from Milano 1 hr; Venice 1 hr; Bologna 40 min
-closest airport: Verona (30 min shuttle)
-by car: motorway A22 Brennero Modena
Riccardo Braglia journalist and art critic
Giuliana Varini english speaking guide
Sonia Vaccaro Post production Coordinator


Once upon a time a lovely young woman and a brilliant young man fell in love. They wanted to create a life together and decided to celebrate with an unforgettable Italian wedding in enchanting Lake Como.

It was a ceremony right from their dreams, in an intimate and magical villa with the blessing of their families and friends. The weeklong festivities were full of romance and memories of laughter and love with their dear ones. It was an unforgettable way to say, “I do.”

The perfect setting for their day was found in Laglio, Lake Como. They found two villas clustered together with a pool, private landing pier, a panoramic terrace and bedrooms with views overlooking the lake. Everyone was so excited to travel to Italy and live together for the wedding preparations. And what a location, in the same village as George Clooney’s own Lake Como villa!

Evening Party by the Lake -Estevillas

Evening Party by the lake



The morning of her wedding, the bride donned her dress with her two bridesmaids in her suite overlooking the deep blue lake. In his tailored black tuxedo, the groom welcomed guests by the pool. The bridal party arrived in style at the villa’s launch by private boat. The bride appeared on her father’s arm and was guided to the ceremony on the open terrace.

Wedding by the Lake -Estevillas

Wedding by the Lake Estevillas


After the wedding ceremony, guests enjoyed a cocktail hour strolling in the garden with the glittering lake at sunset in the background. The idyllic evening continued with an authentic and perfectly prepared Italian meal under fairy lights strung through the branches and trees. The elegantly dressed tables were draped with fine tablecloths and strewn with roses, grapes and lofty candlesticks. The night came to end with dancing to good music by the light of the reflection of the moon on the water. What a fantastic and memorable day.

Wedding Dinner by the Lake Estevillas Holiday Rentals

Wedding Dinner by the Lake – Estevillas

Location: villa Regina and villa Traversi, Lake Como Italy

Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved

THE PLACE: Milan, Italy

THE ITINERARY: Porta Nuova to Corso Garibaldi, discovering the trendiest places to eat, drink and shop.


Excited to inspect each single inch of the Versace, Armani and Gucci glam boutiques? There is so much more than designer fashion to see in Milan.

The brand new Porta Nuona neighborhood in the center of the city is home to the hippest spots to dine, sip a cocktail or go on a shopping spree.


Porta Nuova is Milan’s main business center, featuring the futuristic Cesar Pelli complex: three glass towers dominating the impressive Piazza Gae Aulenti with fountains, sculptures and elevated arcades that radically change the Milan skyline.

 Just a few steps from the complex is Corso Como, the fashion and design street dedicated to shopping and night life. Take your time, as there is a lot to discover. 

The gem of the street is 10 Corso Como concept store, not only a fashion and design store but also an art gallery, bookshop, café, restaurant with a roof garden, and fantastic place for an aperitivo or romantic dinner.

For more than 20 years, the three-story location, designed by Kris Ruhs, has been synonymous with the lifestyle of Milan: a philosophy of seeing and shopping that is meant to entice visitors and customers to leave their hurried mood behind and take the time to enjoy finding small treasures.


Promenade through art, design and fashion in a single space. Stroll through the courtyard and then on to the gallery to see an art exhibition, stop for a drink at the café, shop at the store or visit the bookshop and sit to read. The bookshop is one of the city’s best sources for fashion and design related literature. 10 Corso Como is a multifunctional space, a meeting place. It is culture and commerce in one.

Carla Sozzani—journalist, fashion expert, gallery owner (and sister of Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani)—founded 10 Corso Como in 1990. She personally selects all the items, looking for those that are part of the zeitgeist but haven’t yet become popular.

Sozzani’s store is cool but can be quite an expensive experience. If you are looking for some more affordable trendy items, your destination is a little bit farther in a hidden courtyard off XXV Aprile Square: The High Tech Store.

You can find almost anything in this 2000 square meters full of unique and fun house wares, gift ideas, stationery and furnishings. It is a must see, fascinating place.

If your energy is zapped and you start to dream of a place to sit down and something delicious to taste, you are definitely in the perfect place.



Turn left and you are at Eataly, the temple of gourmet Italian food. Housed in the former Smeraldo Theater, the store is dedicated to music in honor of its history and iconic performances.

Eataly consists of 5000 square meters of Italian delicacies on three floors: breads, pastries, fruit and vegetable markets on the ground floor; fish shop, delicatessen, and a butcher on the first floor; a wine area and many restaurants on the second floor, from fried to pizza to seafood, including the Michelin-star restaurant of chef Alice Viviana Varese.

Not quite exhausted yet? Go farther in your adventure. Continue your walk on Corso Garibaldi to number 79 and enter Lipstick Vintage for haute couture clothing and accessories, bags, sunglasses, belts and jewelry. You can buy rare clothing and accessories or search for inspiration in the historic section. In Lipstick Vintage you can find Antonio and Roy, who will provide you with their best advice and expertise.


WHERE : Milano, Porta Nuova


By Subway :

Line 2(Green) Garibadi Station

Line 5 (Blue) Garibaldi Station

line 2 ( Green) Moscova station

by Train :

There are many trains connecting Milano Porta Garibaldi railroad station with Lake Maggiore, Florence or Rome



Piazza Gae Aulenti to Piazza XXV Aprile = 500 meters

Piazza XXV Aprile to Corso Garibaldi 79 = 700 meters




Corso Como 10

Store: everyday 10:30 am – 7:30 pm

Restaurant and café: 11 am – 1 am



Piazza XXV Aprile, 12, 20124 Milano Italy

Phone: 02 624 1101

Open: 10:30 am – 7:30 pm




Piazza XXV Aprile, 10, 20124 Milano Italy




Corso Garibaldi, 79, 20121 Milano Italy
Opening times
Mon – Fri | 10:00 am – 12:30 pm | 2:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Sat | 9:30 am – 12:00 am | During winter, Saturday morning only by appointment


Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved

White Truffle

“No olive harvest this year. No oil.”

Fans of organic extra virgin olive oil be warned: 2014 has been the ‘Annus Horribilis.

Blame the weather for a mild winter that didn’t kill pests, followed by a hot and humid summer that caused the proliferation of the olive fly.

While 2015 will hopefully provide a better harvest, we suggest olive oil enthusiasts be very careful and pay attention to labels. Make sure not to buy cheaper imported oils sold as “fine extra virgin, organic Italian olive oil.”

However, every cloud has a silver lining.

It’s been a great year for truffles, and we have to thank the weather for heavy summer rains and a warm autumn that created the perfect conditions for truffle growth and produced a crop 30% larger than usual.

For once, the so-called “food of the Gods” is more affordable. The price this year is 300 euros/100 grams (3,50oz). This means that for every 8 grams of shaved truffles over your risotto, you will pay around 24 euros.

The flavor is unique and unforgettable. Shave the truffle raw over fresh home made tagliatelle, Carne Cruda all’Albese (a sort of Carpaccio), or fried eggs.

The first week of December this year saw the discovery of the world’s largest white truffle by Sabatino Truffles in the Umbrian region of Italy. The mammoth delicacy weighed in at 4.16 pounds or 1.89 kilos.

The truffle was purchased by a buyer from Taiwan for $61,250 (£39,313) at Sotheby’s auction in New York on Saturday, the 6th of December. The auction house said the Balestra family plans to donate proceeds from the auction to a number of charitable organizations.

Read more: world’s largest truffle, Sotheby auction white truffle

Botanical name: Tuber magnatum pico “white truffle”

When: October to December

Where: you can buy white truffles in gourmet food shops (for example: EATALY fresh truffles) or spoil yourself with a delicious meal in a good restaurant

Truffle fairs and hunting areas:

Piemonte region: Alba, in Langhe and Monferrato areas Fiera del Tartufo

Tuscany: San Miniato (between Pisa and Florence, close to Empoli) truffle in Tuscany

Emilia Romagna: Brisighella, the ancient medieval town close to Faenza will host “His Majesty the Truffle.” During the feast, chefs from local restaurants will prepare several delicacies perfumed with white and black truffles

Umbria: “Gubbio National,” the National Fair of White Truffles

Written by Luisa Castiglioni

Edited by Amay Smith

All Rights Reserved