Sunday 22 October 2017

Tuscany: It’s paradise - and parents can come too

Eco campsite Paradu, located in the Livorno region of Tuscany in Northern Italy, is far more glamping than it is hemp sandals and lentils
Eco campsite Paradu, located in the Livorno region of Tuscany in Northern Italy, is far more glamping than it is hemp sandals and lentils
Sophie enjoys a meal at Paradu eco resort

Sophie White

The Italian eco resort of Paradu is a woodland gem nestled by the sea, just an hour south of Pisa airport and a stone’s throw from beautiful sandy beaches.

As we parents all know, proximity is everything.

Before, we might’ve felt compelled to rough it somewhat on our holidays to earn (through mild discomfort) the endless eating, drinking and merriment. There may even have been pressure to take an intensive interest in local culture to dodge the prospect of being those people — you know, the ones who go to a resort in Egypt and don’t even bother with the pyramids because the chartered tour bus had no air-conditioning and left pre-9am. Lazy people basically.

Post-kids, we are those people and I’m too tired to even care any more. We are the unapologetic pleasure-seekers who opted out of an Airbnb option because there was too much ‘thinking’ involved and instead found ourselves on a very-manageable-with-infants two-hour flight to Pisa in late May. See, there’s that proximity thing again. I have basically drawn a line in the sand regarding air travel: no destination beyond a two-hour flight will be on the menu until at least 2030, by which time my children will be adolescents and by virtue of that will hate me and not want to sit anywhere near me. I can’t wait. 

In the meantime, there’s always the Paradu resort. The transfer from Pisa airport brings us through beautiful countryside strewn with terracotta farmhouses and olive trees all bathed in a golden morning light. It’s all very Stealing Beauty (Bernardo Bertolucci’s sensuous 1990s coming-of-age drama) apart from the periodic screaming emitting from our three mini humans.

In the spirit of safety in numbers we had opted to invite another family on holiday with us and were pretty confident that this ratio of parents to children (4:3) would make for the maximum relaxation of the entire party. Our friends were newbies with their 10-month-old in tow. I basically sold them the holiday with the promise that the campsite would essentially be a factory for families — this was grossly underselling what turned out to be a completely unique and gorgeous resort tucked away in a pine forest.

Sophie enjoys a meal at Paradu eco resort
Sophie enjoys a meal at Paradu eco resort

After check in — which by the way took place at a reception not more than 10 paces from a playground, which is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of how kid-friendly Paradu is — and to further compound the three-year-old’s delight, we were whisked to our woodland hideaway by a little ‘train’ that circles the resort continuously from morn ’til night. Obviously it goes without saying, we spent a lot of the holiday on the mini train.

The perfectly appointed wooden cabins have a small kitchen, bathroom, bedrooms and shaded decks to escape the peak-of-the day’s heat. Every detail is considered, right down to the fact that each cabin is slightly angled to give privacy from the neighbouring cabins. Everything is within walking distance: pool, beach, shops, restaurants, bouncy castle park (yes you read that right). There are even trailers to borrow from reception to cart children and their attendant detritus around.

As with all holidays, a pattern emerged on day one and we largely adhered to the self-imposed schedule of eating, swimming, eating, relaxing and eating some more for the duration of the holiday, with just a couple of day trips out of the resort ostensibly to broaden our knowledge of the region but mainly to escape the children.

Mornings kicked off with a buffet breakfast in Paradu’s main restaurant. It has to be said that often the word ‘buffet’ gives me a bit of a no-feeling but Paradu’s buffet was on another level. The usual cooked breakfast was delicious while cold meats and cheese (always a bit of a novelty for the Irish abroad) were also on offer, as well as a gorgeous spread of breads, fruit, yoghurt, granola, pastries and a very particular favourite among our group: mini-doughnuts.

I felt the presence of the doughnuts elevated the Paradu buffet practically to hipster-levels and this was before I’d even spotted the barista-in-residence. It being Italy, the idea that the coffee would be less than perfect would not be countenanced, thankfully.

After breakfast, we made our way to the pool — often via the hammock garden (yes really) for a little lie down under the trees to recover from the mini-doughnut-gorging. Then it was a strict regime of playing in the pool, lounging and breaking up fights among our spawn until lunchtime when we would repair to our private shaded deck to hide from the midday sun and embark on yet more eating.

The afternoons followed a similar pattern only with gin and tonics involved, and we invariably finished the day with a dip in the sea at sunset, marvelling at the extraordinary colours as the ocean waters reflected the pink sky, and the distant mountains and islands turned a deep navy.

Each day in Paradu there is endless entertainment for the more energetic vacationers. The kids club is run by beautiful young Italian women who my three-year-old was most taken with, and so, during a couple of child-free hours we sampled some of the water sports on offer. I opted for stand-up paddle boarding which gives the impression of exertion but is in fact very relaxing and almost meditative. Anyone who actually does want to break a sweat can go for wind-surfing or the daily dance classes and volleyball tournaments on the beach run by Paradu’s unfailingly good natured party crew.

With the days passing in a pleasant haze of pasta, wine, cheese and poolside lounging, it was only the promise of good wine and child-free hours that tempted me from the sylvan idyll to which I’d become accustomed. The mothers informed the dads of the group that we were going on a field excursion for research purposes and that we would see them in three to nine hours.

A 15-minute drive north took us to the family-run Tenuta di Vaira winery, purveyors of the highly regarded Bolgheri Superiore (a DOC wine requiring adherence to incredibly strict rules to produce), as well as other tipples — rule-breaking renegades that came under the Super Tuscan catch-all made popular a few years ago — and delicious olive oil and brandy.

Three generations of the family have run this vineyard, and their touch extends to every aspect of the experience from pictures on the shop wall of Sara the daughter of the family who is an acclaimed dancer, to the homemade preserves and honey served in the garden under the apricot trees where we sampled the delicious fruity reds and dry, almost fizzy, white. We were even joined during the tasting by the family cat, Miele (meaning honey) who was either after the robust Bolgheri Superiore or the cured meats — with a winery cat, who can tell?

A short hop south brought our embarrassingly untrepid explorers to the small but perfectly formed city of Piombino. The historic centre boasts medieval and Renaissance influences and DaVinci himself had a hand in the intriguing alleyways and gateways that lead to a vast expanse of sea and stunning views of the islands. A particularly beautiful viewpoint lies behind the town hall. The terrace of the Piazza Bovio is a wide balcony built on a sea cliff that juts into the ocean and looks out towards the island of Elba. A short climb up a road overlooking the water leads to the Castle Museum where a medieval castle and a fortress, added later by the Medici family during the Renaissance, have been restored — the complex was used in the 19th century for what must be the most picturesque prison of all time.

Dabbling in the local culture gave us an unwarranted sense that we had somehow earned points and could do even less for the remainder of the holiday.

After our jaunts beyond the campsite we eagerly resumed our heavenly regime of eating and lounging and brazenly allowing the cheerful Paradu Ents team to mind the spawn where possible.

Take Two: Top attractions

Pop out to Pisa

Nearby is the beautiful city of Pisa and its infamous tower that tips in a rather rakish fashion - though actually, it’s sinking (about 1mm a year), rather than leaning.

Head for the hills

The ancient hilltop village of Sassetta with its narrow streets and terracotta buildings, is a lovely day trip. The views of the valley are gorgeous and there are plenty of spots for an all-important ice cream.

Get there

Sophie travelled to Tuscany with Topflight, Ireland's Italian Specialist. She stayed at the 40-star Paradu Tuscany Ecoresort. This is a new resort for Topflight for 2017 and is proving very popular. Topflight offers holidays to Tuscany all summer with flights from Dublin. Flights operate through the summer season until September.

Prices for the Paradu Tuscany Ecoresort start from €656 per person sharing (based on travelling in September 2017) and include return flights from Dublin, car hire, accommodation for seven nights on a self-catering basis, 20kg baggage allowance and taxes.

Topflight offers a wide selection of Tuscan holiday options from self-catering to 5* luxury hotels. For more details and to discuss Tuscany holiday options, call 01 240-1700 or visit topflight.ie.

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