Monday, April 12, 2010

Holiday in Umbria at the Villa Pia, Lippiano 2010

We spent two weeks at the fantastic Villa Pia in Umbria - the perfect relaxing retreat with Bombi.

We spent our days pottering around beautiful Tuscan and Umbrian medieval villages, lazing in the courtyard whilst Bombi played with her new-found chums and dipping our toes in the pool at the Villa.

Children have many things to keep them busy at the villa - an indoor playroom, a piano room, an indoor softplay room, a huge outdoor play area in the courtyard (the gates exiting these can be kept locked so your little ones are caged in whilst you relax in the deckchairs without having to be too vigilant), the swimming pool, ping-pong table, plenty of board games, swings and tunnels.

We were stuffed to the gills daily with delicious home-cooked Italian food. I binged like a Roman emperor, although I resisted the urge to regurgitate and replenish, despite temptation. The region is famed for it's truffles - I truly have the taste for them now! I have some truffle salsa in my suitcase - I must crack that open. Mixed with cream and linguine makes an easy lunch or dinner!

Dinnertimes were a bit tricky as a lot of socialising and repartee was required. Usually at dinnertime back in Blighty, by the time I finish work in the late evening, I am practically comatose with my head in my fish pie, so conversation is the last thing on my mind. As it happens, I've only got about 4 interesting nuggets to share with unknowns, so once I've exhausted these, I'm left scrabbling around in the dark to try and fill in the holes in the conversation. However, the best strategy is to chum up with some like-minded bods (more of this below) and sit next to them every night, thus enabling you to freely talk shi*te and not have to do the "what's your name, where do you live, what do you do, how old is your child, why the heck did you call her Bombi" conversation nightly.
My favourite part of the trip was the amazing cookery course. We learnt how to make foccacia, lasagne, gnocchi with truffle salsa and zucchini & fennel fritti. I have also conquered my fear of deep-fat frying, although I'm not rushing to try it out at home. Mostly as I am still trying to get accustomed to my arse which is now several sizes bigger since I got back from the Villa!

On the one day we ate out, we feasted on the thinnest of thin Italian pizza in the gorgeous city of Siena. Next time we come (and there WILL be a next time) I'd like to make the journey to Florence which is slightly further afield. The villa is ideally situated for several large cities - Bologna, Pisa, Florence etc.
We met some lovely families on the holiday. I was a bit apprehensive that there would be loads of poncy Dulwich/Islington Guardian-reading, civil servant, office-bore types but luckily there was an even mix of the oddballs - amongst the po-faced, paper-pushing dullards - to balance things out. Guess who we chummed up with?! Looking forward to catching up with Karen & Dave, and Paul & Anna in Scotland sometime in the near future. Not that I'm implying that you are oddballs, merely that you are kindred spirits. OK, fellow oddballs.... It can't be any surprise that all the Scots were the friendliest! The guests were also from all over the globe - Dubai, Rome via Australia, Rome via Essex, The Hague, Dublin... and of course another couple from just down t'road in Dulwich (although now living in Suffolk). Ah, home from home!

And of course I can't fail to mention Italian hospitality and how much Italians LOVE children. I'm always amazed when I travel outside of the UK how much people adore babies. The staff at the Villa were hugely helpful, they didn't mind Bombi making little trips into the kitchen, although she had cottoned on that if she went into the kitchen and flashed a winning smile, she always manage to score a tasty treat from the cooks! One of the cooks also lent us a raincoat for Bombi to wear when it was unexpectedly showery one weekend.

I really cannot recommend this place highly enough to anyone who'll listen to me - truly the easiest, most stress-free way to spend a week or two with young or not so young children. Prices are quite reasonable if you travel at the beginning or end of the season, although I'd avoid the summer months for costliness and also the raging heat.

Book direct with Morag at the Villa, or through the Baby-Friendly Boltholes web site. A room for 2 adults plus 1 infant in April for 10 days cost about £1100, excluding flights and car hire. See the web site for last-minute late booking offers. We flew with BA from Gatwick to Bologna. We took a carseat as you have to hire a car, but there's really no need to bring pushchairs, travel cots etc. as the Villa has EVERYTHING you could need for your baby: blender for pureeing, bottles, bibs, sippy cups, baby monitors, highchairs, booster seats, pushchairs, cots etc. As well as 3 meals a day, afternoon tea and cakes, bowls of fruit, a fridge full of yoghurts and as much wine, beer and spirits as you can manage! Rooms are cosy and cleaned daily, not hugely spacious and the bathroom is pretty small with a midget-sized bathtub, but we hardly spent any time in our room as it was such gorgeous weather outside.

Some reviews of The Villa: