Friday, 27 November 2015

Go to Gozo!

If you want guaranteed sunshine, beautiful scenery and exceptional value for money, then look no further than Malta's little sister, Gozo.  A three and a half hour flight from the UK, Gozo is like stepping back in time to an era when life was easy and chilled.

Flights into Malta's Luqa airport are plentiful and next Easter sees flights at only £72 return from London Luton.  With self-catering accommodation for a family of four being in the region of £300 for a week's rental, an Easter break could cost as little as £600.  Even with spending money, the cost of this family break comes in at less than £1000.

The islands of Malta and Gozo are surprisingly easy to navigate by bus and, with public transport being so cheap, there is absolutely no need to hire a car.  A circuitous bus journey takes tourists from the airport to the ferry terminal at Ċirkewwa in an hour, allowing little ones to watch out of the window as the bus weaves around the island. The half-hour ferry ride is part of the fun for the kids and you'll find that plenty of accommodation in Gozo is easily accessible, by foot, from the ferry port.  Għajnsielem, meaning "Peaceful Spring", is a village just above the bustling port with a supermarket, a vibrant village square and stunning views over to Comino, the third island in this archipelago.

Gozo is idyllic.  With only 30,000 residents, there is an air of calm surrounding the island and the rural scenery is stunning.  The Capital city of Victoria is bang slap in the middle of Gozo, a mere 6 kilometres from the ferry dock.  The city formerly known as Rabat, (it was renamed after Queen Victoria in 1897), boasts 15th century walls which incorporate a couple of informative museums and an old prison.  The views from the battlements are amazing and, to see the whole island of Gozo stretched out beneath you, is beautiful.

As mentioned earlier, the bus system is excellent on Gozo and daily bus passes for the family will only set you back 5 euros.  We spent a couple of days exploring the island and stopping off at inviting beaches and coves.  One of the highlights of our many bus trips was to Dwejra on the west coast of the island,  Here, the Blue Hole and Azure Window are breathtaking geological features which make for a great afternoon's entertainment as you leap over the cratered limestone and peer into the rockpools.  Xlendi, just down the road and along the same bus route, makes for a wonderful al fresco meal as the sun sets in the cove.  Ramla Bay with its red sand is also worth a stop, although it can get pretty rammed in the height of summer.

Eating out in Gozo is amazingly cheap and, believe me, you'll eat more than you want (or need) once you see the prices!  Very quickly, we found a favourite restaurant and ate there regularly, realising that to eat out is an easy option on this island.  The centre of Għajnsielem is a great place to sit and watch the world go by!  A round of drinks for mum and dad and two ice-creams for the kids never set us back more than 3 euros in our favourite bar and, as the sun set, the village's children would appear with a football and off our two would run, bridging the language gap with sport.

Beautiful squares, looked down upon by magnificent churches, are dotted around Gozo and it's worth asking locals whether the local villages have any community events planned.  We were lucky enough to coincide with a feast day in Qala and saw another side to this sleepy island; the locals definitely know how to party!

No trip to Malta and Gozo would be complete without a stay in Valetta and, here, you can splurge as there are always good hotel deals.  Just outside the city gates, we stayed at a 5* hotel for a treat and it was worth every euro.  The children swam in the luxurious pool and we made the most of the buffet breakfast the following morning, taking enough goodies to keep us going all day!  Valetta is a wonderfully elegant city with a Unesco World Heritage Site status.  The National War Museum is fascinating for the boys in the family and the water fountains at Misraħ San Ġorġ are fabulous for the kids to cool down in.  For children, a day's worth of exploration will be enough in Valetta and a stopover on the way to the airport would be the perfect way to end the holiday.

Gozo really is the place to go.  It's laidback, it's cheap and it's geographically stunning.  The self-catering accommodation is amazing value for money; old characterful buildings have been renovated and most have pools - what more could a family want on a value-rich holiday?  A lot of holiday-makers head to Malta for their guaranteed sunshine in the spring months but Gozo, in my opinion, is a better alternative. 

Go to Gozo - I promise you won't regret it.

Friday, 20 November 2015

A February half-tern Danish delight for £25

Copenhagen rocks! This city is a beautifully fresh introduction to the wonders of Scandinavia and, with 'The Bridge' back on BBC4, Denmark is a fashionable destination. Next February half-term, there are flights to the capital city for just £25 return from London Luton.

Now, my Midlands friends, don't be put off by a London airport because Luton is accessible for all.  It's immediately off the M1 and just over an hour and a half's drive from Birmingham. Additionally, many low-cost airlines fly from this Bedfordshire hub: Easyjet, Ryanair and Wizz Air are always sure guarantees of cheap flights to European treasures.

So, Copenhagen. Just an hour's flight from the UK, it's a perfect destination for a family. Child-friendly and easily walkable, there's lots to do for free!

The first thing that hits you about Copenhagen is the bikes.  Everyone cycles everywhere and the city is geared up for the two-wheeled commuter.  The cycle lanes are mammoth and cyclists are definitely the kings of the road as you approach the centre of this city.  As you would expect for a city with such a green vision, the public transport networks are excellent and allow a family visitor plenty of scope for exploring the region.

Copenhagen itself is a city perfect for the feet and children will love walking through the districts.  Our favourite part of the city is Nyhavn.  There's plenty of people-watching to be had whilst you sit outside a bar, drinking a pint of Carlsberg or Tuborg, imagining the carousing and cajoling of sailors from yesteryear's Danish history.  Or, perhaps, the more literary types among you would rather sit and remark upon Denmark's favourite son, Hans Christian Andersen who lived here for most of his life and is responsible for Copenhagen's famous bronze daughter, The Little Mermaid.

A ten minute walk from Nyhavn is Slotsholmen, the home of the national government.  Connected to the rest of the city by a series of bridges over the canal, the palace courtyard is open to the general public.  If you were an avid viewer of the BBC4 drama "Borgen", you'll identify some of the locations featured in the political drama.  Also within the parliamentary complex is the Christiansborg Palace Tower, a 106 metre tower with panoramic views of Copenhagen.  It's free to take the elevator to the top and it's worth the trip to get a sense of how the city unfolds below you.

The Nationalmuseet at Frederiksholms Canal is another sight not to be missed.  It is filled with Danish history and, what you don't know about Vikings after you've spent a few hours in this amazing museum isn't worth knowing!  Viking weaponry, Iron Age collections and Bronze Age relics are all there for the viewing and, as the museum is free, it's a cheap afternoon's entertainment and education for the family.

If you're wanting to escape the city and see a bit more of Danish life, then the excellent option  of a 'Round the Sound' trip is for you. This travel pass makes the most of Scandinavia's public transport system and involves travelling by train  up the coast of Denmark towards Helsingør where you can visit the eponymous castle, home of Shakespeare's Hamlet.  The trip then continues across the water on a twenty minute ferry crossing to Helsingborg in Sweden.  The intrepid traveller then travels south to Malmo by train before crossing the famous Øresund Bridge which connects the two countries.  The ticket is valid for two days and you can jump on and off transport as you wish, staying overnight in Malmo if you fancy exploring Sweden's third largest city.  Reasonably-priced at £60 for a family of four, it enables you to have a taste of Scandinavia without having to hire a car. 

Practically, accommodation will be your main expense in Copenhagen but avoiding hotels will reduce the costs dramatically. Self-catering properties are of a particularly high standard in his city and, if you're a fan of minimalist Ikea-type furnishings, then you'll love the trendy rental possibilities found on Trip Advisor and  Even with accommodation thrown into the financial mix, a few days in this city shouldn't cost more than £500 for a family of four, even with all the activities mentioned in this blog.

So, if you're a fan of BBC4 Scandi dramas or if you just want a citybreak with fresh air, Viking history and fairytales, then you're in for a treat with 'wonderful wonderful' Copenhagen.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

An Easter week in Italy for £150 each!

With next Easter's school holiday throwing up an array of dates (depending on your local authority), now is the time to get the bargain breaks.  Holiday companies and airlines can't seem to catch up with the fact that some schools are breaking up late-March whereas others aren't holidaying until mid-April.  When there are discrepancies in dates, there are bargains to be had!

Browsing through possible flights next Easter, I've found return fares from as little as £35 return from London and Manchester to Italy in early April 2016.  Milan, Bologna, Parma, Pisa and Genoa are all priced below £50.

But where exactly to go to have a sumptuous taste of la dolce vita?  Well, as a family, we love the Lombardy region and the many possibilities it throws up in terms of cultural sightseeing, good food and easy transport options.

There are currently flights with Ryanair for Easter for under £50 from regional UK airports to Bergamo and these are offers not to be missed. 

The wonderful thing about the town of Bergamo is that it is a tourist destination in its own right yet it benefits from being on the doorstep of the bustling cities of Milan and Verona, which are both easy train journeys away.

Having Easyjet and Ryanair serve the airport of Orio Al Serio means that flight prices are competitive and frequent and, as is usual with the economy airlines, the sooner the book, the less you pay. 

Once you've arrived at Bergamo, there is no need to hire a car as public transport is all laid on for the family traveller.  A short 4km bus ride into the city takes no time at all and, seamlessly, the holiday begins minutes after touchdown. 

Bergamo is beautiful and its medieval walls encapuslate thousands of years of history.  High up above città bassa (lower town), città alta (upper town) presides over the region and, if the walk proves too much for tired little legs, the modern funicular provides a fun alternative to an uphill hike.  Bergamo is one of those fabulous Italian towns where you can spend all day getting lost in the labyrinthine streets and waste  countless hours dipping into churches to view the stunning frescoes and beautiful altars.
Bergamo has many reasonably-priced self-catering places in which to stay, allowing you to sit on your own balcony and watch the world go by.  This town comes alive in the evenings and a pre-dinner drink on Piazza Vecchia is a perfect aperitif to a slab of pizza.  Sit drinking chilled prosecco as the sun sets and watch the children as they run amok in the square, splashing in the fountain and chasing each another over the cobbles.

Another day, another city and, just 45 minutes away by train, is the cosmopolitan metropolis of Milan.  Shiny Milano glimmers in the searing sunshine and the marbled Duomo di Milano glows smugly from the centre of the square.  Whilst the cathedral offers a trove of treasures, the real highlight is the roof of the building.  Tourists can either take the effortless option of the elevator up to the towering terrace with its gargoyles and flying butresses or, like we did, clamber up the 165 steps to the top.  The price is reduced if you embark on the challenge of walking up and, with children under six years old going free, this is a memorable adventure.  To see the children charging along the crest of a 14th century cathedral alongside the 135 spires and 3200 statues, and peering over the edge down towards the tiny specks of people below is a hair-raising experience.

For the mums (and fashion-conscious dads), the window-shopping in Milan is incomparable.  The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is an epic centre of sartorial excellence, with its 19th century glass and iron architecture and its magnificent atruim.  Brands represented in this heaven for shoppers include Mario Prada's first ever shop (opened in 1913) and Gucci's flagship store. 

Further afield, but still under two hours by train from Bergamo, is Verona - perfect for children who are studying Shakespeare at school.  Romeo and Juliet fell in love here and you can join the throng of tourists desperate to view the famous balcony at Casa di Giulietta where she fictitiously uttered the immortal words, "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?"  The souvenir shops are tacky and overpriced but your eight year old will yearn for that pencil-sharpener keepsake of Shakespearean love! At Capulet's house, the thing that appealed to my kids the most was the statue of Juliet and her boobs!  It's considered lucky to touch her much-worn bronze breasts and so we joined the queue of tourists waiting to get their hands on this icon of romance!  Explaining that photo to Grandma and Grandad took some doing, let me tell you!

However, the most spectacular aspect of Verona is the amphitheatre, built in AD 30.  This vast attraction gives a wonderful sense of Roman culture and, located on Piazza Bra, it offers plenty of opportunities for childish giggles at the street signs.  At night, there is nothing that beats a meal al fresco on the piazza whilst listening to the operatic offerings from one of the largest ampitheatres in the world floating through the still evening air.  Definitely an Italian feast for the senses.

So, Milan, Bergamo and Verona.  A three-centre holiday which offers up so much of Italy and her delights.  With self-catering accommodation costing in the region of £50 a night and reliance upon cheap public transport, a week-long holiday next Easter should cost under £600 for a family of four.  A bargain not to be missed, surely?

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Tesco-tastic holiday savings

Who'd have thought that Tesco could be your best friend when it comes to booking holidays?

A really easy method of saving cash on holidays abroad is to use Tesco Clubcard vouchers. Not many people realise that these coupons can be put towards a European holiday, either by using them to book cross-channel ferry crossings or purchasing entrance tickets to theme parks and attractions. We spent a fun-filled week in northern France, predominantly paid for by our clubcard points, purely earned on our weekly shop.

So, how did we make the most of our Clubcard points?

Well, my son (and husband) both grew up with Asterix comics and, after countless nights of reading aloud bedtime stories about the Gauls, I felt I knew the characters intimately.  Indeed, I considered Mrs Geriatrix a close friend! So, when I discovered that there was an amusement park devoted to the tales of René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo, I was sold on the idea of a family trip to France.  Parc Asterix is only 45 kilometres from the centre of Paris. A perfect combination: plastic for the children and a bit of culture pour les parents.

Obviously, we had a choice of transportation.  We could either fly direct to Paris or we could drive, meandering down through the UK and having a few days exploring northern France on 'the other side'.  Not being rushed for time, we decided to take the long route.  However, have you seen the price of ferries?  No wonder Ryanair and Easyjet have a monopoly on European travel.  Having only travelled by cross-channel ferry on the odd 'booze cruise' in the 1990s, I hadn't anticipated just how expensive it is to take a car (and a family) to Calais.  This is where Tesco came to the rescue as I discovered that I could pay for my ferry crossing with points I'd built up through the year.  £10 worth of Clubcard points become £30 when you redeem them with DFDS Seaways.  So, effectively, our ferry cost zilch.

In a bid to make the most of our journey, we spent the night before our crossing in Dover at a Premier Inn right on the seafront, complete with the noisiest seagulls I've ever heard. Arriving at the windswept coast at lunchtime meant that we were able to see Dover's eponymous Castle - the most amazing place I've ever visited. We spent hours exploring the secret tunnels of World War II, comprehending the danger of the Dunkirk evacuation and noisily charging around the battlements. Built atop the white cliffs, this castle's history features many larger-than-life characters and the children were captivated to see history so up close. As if our day at Dover Castle hadn't been fantastic enough, it was even better knowing that our entry had been free, courtesy of Tesco. Using our Clubcard points, we'd purchased English Heritage annual membership at the beginning of the summer and had already made the most of free entry to amazing places such as Kenilworth Castle and Kenwood House. Had we paid the entry fee for Dover Castle, it would have set us back £50 for a family entry. However, we'd managed to secure a whole year's entry into castles, palaces and stately homes for just £30 worth of Tesco Clubcard points. That evening, we continued the Tesco theme that evening by eating in nearby Canterbury, using Prezzo vouchers we'd earned through our Clubcard points. We were definitely reaping the benefits of spending countless pounds on groceries the previous year!

Once we'd crossed the channel the following day, our French sojourn stretched before us and we listened to dodgy Europop all the way to what was to be our home for the next few days.  One hundred and fifty miles from the bustling port of Calais, we'd found a great holiday rental in the town of Chantilly, a place famous for its lace and cream.  Staying in an annex of an elderly French couple's house meant that we had use of their garden, complete with table-tennis table for the kids and much-appreciated sun loungers for mum and dad!  A supermarket in the nearby town, a local boulangerie and a pizza delivery firm down the road meant that we were never far from food!
Perhaps the best aspect of our holiday home, though, was its proximity to the beautiful Domaine de Chantilly, a perfect stately pile in which to while away an afternoon. Originally built for the Montmorency family in 1560, its majestic interior is opulent, yet the formal gardens are a wonderful playground for young and old alike. As the children ran wild through the 383 acres of lawns and forest paths, we sat back and admired the architectural splendour and the bygone days of French aristocracy against the backdrop of stunning natural charm. With a wallaby zoo, a maze and the enticing cream pastries in the cafés, Chantilly is a well-kept secret in this region of France.  Just opposite the grand house are the largest horse stables in Europe, complete with equestrian shows within the grandeur of the 18th century architecture. 

Also not far from our rental home in the Picardy region of France was Chateau de Pierrefonds, the setting for films such as the 1998 version of "The Man in the Iron Mask" starring Leonardo DiCaprio and John Malkovich.  The BBC's "Merlin" was also filmed here, using the castle as a representation of Camelot.  We had great fun burning off some energy at this beautiful castle.  With under-18s going free, it made for a cheap and educational daytrip.

Once we'd fully explored the locale of Chantilly, we ventured into the bright lights of Paris.  As the local train hurtled through the suburban environs of this captivating city, we kept the children entertained with a 'spot the Eiffel Tower' competition. Their faces when they eventually spotted the 324m high monolithic pylon were a joy to witness; their eyes lit up to see such an iconic landmark.

Once we'd arrived at Gare du Nord, we didn't stop. We walked for hours, taking in all the sights.  Sacre Coeur, the Eiffel Tower, Le Louvre and Arc de Triomphe were all ticked off our list. Every corner of this city was visited on foot and, by the time, we found ourselves eye to eye with Mona Lisa, we were exhausted and more than ready to return to the calm of Chantilly.

The next day, Parc Asterix, only 15 miles from our accommodation, was everything we'd hoped it would be. From the larger-than-life characters wandering the park to the stomach-churning rollercoasters, all was an excellent day's worth of fun. A cool alternative to the worldwide monopoly of Disney just down the road, Parc Asterix has the feel of a bygone age of amusement park and it seems earthier and more honest than other theme parks we've visited.  Entrance prices to Parc Asterix are as you would expect.  At fifty euros for adult tickets and 40 euros for children, this could be an expensive day out.  However, by converting our Tesco Clubcard points before leaving the UK, we managed to enjoy our day with Asterix and Obelix for free.  For just £15 worth of Clubcard points, we were able to get a day's entry ticket posted to us and ready to be exchanged at the ticket office.

Leaving our holiday rental on the last day of our holiday didn't mean that our French adventure was over.  With a late ferry crossing booked, we had the whole day to stop and explore.  With a history-mad eight year old in tow, we decided to stop at Vimy Ridge, the site of the World War I battle of Easter 1917 when 3,600 Canadians were killed and over 10,000 wounded.  The monument commemorates this key event of the Battle of Arras and it is considered a Natural Historic Site of Canada.   Finished in 1936, this majestic memorial took eleven years to construct and the tranquility surrounding the monument is both thought-provoking and poignant.  Due to this site being on the Western Front, visitors can also experience the trench lines of  a battlefield in a relatively realistic state.  Now concreted and maintained, the trenchlines enable the modern-day historian to stand below the surface and imagine the horror and destruction of a hundred years ago; a visit which will stay with the children.

So, a week of memories and all for a minimal cost.  Thanks to Tesco, we managed to save a fortune on our trip across the channel.  A free ferry crossing, entry to an incredible UK castle, tickets to a theme park and a family meal out were all benefits of having shopped at Tesco for the year.  Once I'd totted up our savings and realised that our Tesco points had saved us in the region of £450, I allowed myself a smug smile as I flicked through the photographic reminders of an amazing week.

Yes, we could cash in our Clubcard points instore, but I'd much rather know that my regular grocery deliveries were building up to a week of fantastic French fun!  In fact, once home, and as we began to unpack our suitcases, the doorbell rang.  Our Tesco delivery had arrived to restock our fridge and to help us on our way to the next Tesco-funded holiday.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Family-friendly Venice on a budget

Venice.  The hopelessly romantic city where the mist caresses the Grand Canal in winter and where the sun reflects ferociously from the Basilica in the searing mid-summer heat of August.  At any time of year, Venice is one of those once-in-a-lifetime destinations.  It is a multi-faceted city of many disguises.  Having been lucky enough to visit Venice a few times,  I know from experience that this city offers up different jewels depending on who you're holidaying with and which time of year you choose to travel.  It is, though,  the perfect destination for a family. Its picture postcard views will stay in the mind of your child forever and the splendour of the architecture will captivate all ages.

Venice may not seem like a particularly family-friendly destination but I'm here to persuade you to take a Venetian visit.  Obviously, the first barrier in place is the cost.  Yes, Venice is an expensive city but there are easy ways around the prohibitive costs of the 5-star palazzo stays.  With a canny mind and a sense of adventure, a family of four can easily holiday in this spectacular city for the price of a UK-based city break.

So, how to do it...

Firstly, its is important to note that there are two airports which serve Venice.  Treviso is furher away from the action but, for the budget-minded family, flights to this provincial airport should not be ignored.  An important fact to know is that Treviso is utterly beautiful; a holiday destination in its own right.  It is filled with the grandest of buildings and countless piazze, serving early morning cappuccino and afternoon gelato.  Indeed, when we travelled to Venice with the children, it was in Treviso we stayed.  We rented an apartment in Palazzo Rossi, a building built in 1480, for only £40 a night.  The fully-equipped two-bedroomed accommodation was a perfect base from which to explore the local area.  A balcony from the kitchen looked down onto one of the many town squares and the bedrooms were deliciously ornate with original features galore.  Our host, Graziella, also lived in the building and, despite the language barrier, we all got on famously.  She spoilt my children with little gifts and always had an affectionate pinch of the cheek ready for their cute little English neighbours. 

Another benefit of staying in Treviso is that day trips to other cities are easier. We spent a wonderful day in splendid Padua. Only 35 miles away from Treviso, we caught the local bus to this amazing city and enjoyed the fun of watching the Italian way of life unfold as we turned each suburban corner.  Once there, we had an exhilirating day of exploration in this Renaissance masterpiece of a town.  It was great to sit as a couple and watch, from a nearby cafe, our children as they ran amok through the open square, unknowingly soaking up the culture of yesteryear.

Treviso really does have everything you'd need for a family break.  Wonderful restaurants (which charge a lot less than the tourist traps of central Venice), a laidback feel and a direct train to Venice S.Lucia station (costing only £5 return for an adult).  Within half an hour, you and the family are transported from the simple beauty of Treviso to the majesty of Venice.  Along the way, the children (and the adults) will be mesmerised as they watch the splendour of the Venetian buildings appear, like an oasis, upon the horizon.  A note of warning though: do get your tickets validated before embarking the train.  On our first train journey into Venice, it took everything I  had to get us off a fine when the train guard found that we hadn't quite followed protocol.  Seemingly, my eyelash fluttering is quite good, and thankfully, we were let off the hefty fine.

Once in Venice, you step out of the station to a vision of utter beauty aand grandeur.  The Grand Canal stretches out before your eyes and the crowds seem to part as you feel yourself drawn to the water.  This is a city of action; the water is alive with everyday living.  Commuters bundling onto the water buses, tourists canoodling on bridges  and stripy t-shirted gondoliers touting their (overpriced) trips.  A city that is very much alive.

Once you've worked out your bearings, you have a choice of how to reach the most-visited part of the city.  The magnet of St Mark's Square is about a two-mile walk from the train station and it is a mind-blowing stroll through twisting and turning cobbled alleyways and marbled paths of historical significance.   Along the route, you also pass local stores with plenty of provisions for an impromptu picnic at one of the squares passed on the way to the tourist hub.  Everyday life is on display here and, away from the tourists, you can taste a real flavour of residential Venice.  Streets lined with traders, smart-suited businessmen and beautiful women with unfeasibly glossy hair, managing to look sleek and chic in the midday sun. 

As an alternative to a walk, there are water taxis directly near the steps of the train station which will take you down canal.  There is also a (cheaper) option of a vaporetto (water bus)  which transports expectant tourists down the canal towards the main part of the city.  We barely spoke as we traversed towards the beauty of the Campanile, as every bend in the canal presented another view worthy of Canaletto. When we turned one corner and had the Rialto Bridge in front of us, my daughter's face was a picture of awe.  The number 1 vaporetto transports tourists up and down the Grand Canal for the price of a bus ticket and is well worth it.  It's a self-guided tour of perfect views.  Armed with a good guidebook, parents can bore young ears sensless with the history of the water-bound enigma that is Venice.

Obviously, you cannot come to Venice and not ride on a gondola.  With a family, however, there is no way you'll be able to justify the cost.  A little-known (cheat's way) of bagging this experience for very little is to take the traghetto instead.  The traghetto is a local's secret.  It is the means of getting across the Grand Canal when there is no nearby bridge. These short hops across the canal cost about one euro each and, more often than not, you have the traghetto to yourself.  These rides come complete with a gondolier-type so there's plenty of authenticity about it.  It's hilarious watching the children (and your husband) trying to find their centre of gravity as the waves from the ferries slap up against the wood of the tiny boat, catapulting bodies from side to side.

Once you've found your bearings in this labyrinth of a city, an absolute must of a visit is to the Campanile.  Rebuilt in 1902, following its sudden collapse, this bell tower rises up
from Piazza San Marco some 99 metres and looks down upon the beauty of the Basilica di San Marco.  A lift taks you to the top of the tower where the entry fee is justified by views across the lagoon.  A top tip is to conicide your visit  to the Campanile on the hour, when the bells are chiming.  The resounding clang of metal is deafening but so cool for a child to feel the vibration down their spine as the midday bells signals that it's lunch-time and time for pizza!

A wonderful aspect of Venice is the fact that there is a sight around every corner.  Yes, you could stand in the snaking queue for Basilica di San Marco but you'd be much better off finding a church off the beaten track.  Yes, you could pay for a family visit into Palazzo Ducale but to stand and view the architectural splendour of The Bridge of Sighs as its limestone frame crosses the Rio di Palazzo is free.   The Ponte dei Sospiri is so-named because, as legend has it, the resigned sighs of the 17th century prisoners could be heard as they crossed the bridge from the interrogation rooms of the palace to the prison. 

Across the Grand Canal from St Mark's Square is the Guggenheim Museum, housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, an 18th-century palace.  Works by Picasso, Klee and Kandinsky all juxtapose artistically with the centuries-old vistas and panoramas of Venice.  Tickets to the Peggy Guggenheim are reasonably-priced and children are free.  The sculpture garden, in particular, makes for a kid-friendly interactive experience with modern art. 

Return flights next Easter are only £60 to Treviso.  We travelled to Venice over Easter and the weather was glorious.  In actual fact, we had a wardrobe crisis, as we'd packed for Adriatic spring and arrived in weather that the UK couldn't match, even in the height of midsummer.

Venice. There really is so much to do and see. An adventure awaits you and your family around every cobbled corner.