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Ticino: Ascona – Locarno – Valle Verzasca

A perfect Ticino Holiday: Ascona – Locarno – Valle Verzasca

We love the Ticino region in the south of Switzerland! We had already been to the area of Lugano, and this time we decided to discover the area of Ascona, Locarno and Valle Verzasca! We are so happy we did! Picturesque towns, impressive nature, good food and the Dolce Vita atmosphere are the ingredients of a Ticino holiday! We also discovered the most beautiful valleys with countless waterfalls, and cute, remote towns with traditional houses and without electricity that make you feel you have travelled back in time. Those valleys and villages showed us another aspect of Switzerland, in architecture, in lifestyle, and in taste!  Read all about why you should definitely go on a Ticino holiday!

Ascona

Ascona is a small town on the Lago Maggiore. Ascona’s colorful houses, boutique shops, narrow alleys and lake side with view on the Brissago Islands will leave every visitor at awe. The small town has plenty of good restaurants, from typical Grottos, to Pizzerias and Gelaterias for dessert. Ascona also has a Museum of Modern Art.

Locarno

Locarno is equally beautiful, almost attached to Ascona and on the same lake, Lago Maggiore. We liked walking around the main Piazza, and we loved visiting Madonna del Sasso. Madonna del Sasso is a sanctuary built on the hill above the city, offering you an incredible view on the lake. Just next to Madonna del Sasso is a good Grotto restaurant, Restaurant Funicolare Orselina, serving local specialties on a terrace with a panoramic view. Madonna del Sasso can easily be reached from central Locarno by taking the cute funicular up the hill.

Valle Verzasca, the Verzasca Valley

The Verzasca Valley is so gorgeous, and was one of the main reasons for our trip. Kids will definitely like hiking and climbing on the rocks of the adventurous trails in this valley. Traditional village after village, waterfall after waterfall, there is a ‘wow-factor’ around every corner. Driving up from Locarno, you will first pass by the big Verzasca Dam which is famous for a scene in the Golden Eye James Bond movie, where 007 jumps off the dam.

Restaurant tip! Shortly after passing the Verzasca Dam, on the right hand side, you will see Osteria Paradiso, which is a very good restaurant with a cool terrace. Highly recommended! Their website: http://www.rustici-verzasca.ch/en/osteria/

Corippo

Then, driving up in the valley, your first stop should be the tiny village of Corippo. Corippo is the smallest town of Switzerland, with only 13 permanent inhabitants. Corippo is on a list of protected traditional villages in Switzerland. The alleys are not even paved, and exploring the village between the small stone houses already feels like an adventure. If you go to Corippo by foot from the Postbus stop, just note that the road going up is quite steep.

Lavertezzo

The most famous village of the valley, due to the Ponte dei Salti, a bridge people jump of off in summer to swim in the river. You can cross the bridge and climb on the stones. Of course, wear good shoes and always be careful, but the site is so beautiful! The waterfall at the entrance of the town is also worth to check out.

The parking lots at Lavertezzo are not very big and we did wonder how this would be in summer or during a heat wave. We think the Postbus would really be the best option to head to Lavertezzo. We were there in Autumn, a bit at the end of the season, so we could just park close to the bridge.

Sonogno

Sonogno is a really good stop, for 2 reasons. First of all there is the interesting Museum of Valle Verzasca in the town center, explaining life in the valley through times and seasons. They have a new addition in an adjacent building which is a bit interactive and shows you a map with the touristic sites of the region, but also where people live according to the season.

Secondly, you can leave the village center for a 25 minutes walk and enjoy the views of a very big waterfall from close by, the Froda waterfall. This really is an impressive waterfall and a must-do in the region if you ask us!

Just before reaching the waterfall, there is a cute Grotto restaurant with a beautiful terrace called Grotto Efra.

Website of the Grotto: https://grottoefra.ch/

Transport in the Verzasca Valley, and how to explore

If you go by car, you should know that you need to buy a parking card for the day. They are on sale at local infopoints, restaurants, kiosks, camping grounds and hotels. With this card you can park in the green parking zones. Without the card, you risk a fine. Another way of transport in the Verzasca Valley is the Swiss Postauto bus system which really never fails you. It also allows you to walk from one village to another, and continue, or go back, with a Postbus.

More information on the Postauto in Valle Verzasca: https://www.postauto.ch/en/excursion-tips/verzasca-valley

Monte Tamaro and fun thermal baths

Monte Tamaro is a mountain filled with fun! You can take the cable car up to go for a cool mountain sledge run, an adventure park, or just walk and enjoy the view. There is also a real cool warm water pool with great slides for some thrills with the kids! At Splash e Spa, children of ages 6 and up can enjoy the cool slides. One slide is for 6 and up, the others as of 8 years old or 1m40 in height. The slides are called ‘the washing machine’, the ‘horror tube’, or ‘black night’, which pretty much says it all. The Mania slide for the youngest is also really cool! For smaller kids there is a water playground pool, there are warm water baths inside and out, and you can order a unicorn milkshake and other drinks at a pool bar while staying in the warm water. You can’t go wrong here!

Centovalli Express Panoramic Trains

Switzerland has plenty of panoramic train routes, and the Centovalli line is one of them, connecting Locarno to Domodossola in Italy. The Centovalli Express is 52 kilometers long, and gently takes you over 83 bridges and through 34 tunnels the Centovalli region in Switzerland and the Val Vigezzo region in Italy while you enjoy the view on countless waterfalls from your train window. There are stops to choose from on both ways. If you would like to take this panoramic train, then check out our blog post on this train trip through the valley between Locarno in Switzerland, and Domodossola in Italy.

Bavona Valley and the waterfall of Foroglio

This was the most beautiful valley with fairytale like villages! When you drive to the Bavona Valley from the direction of Ponte Brolla towards the village of Foroglio, you will probably pull over your car at several spots. We loved the village called Sabbione, which was almost surreal with the small houses built under or around enormous rocks! People who live in the Bavona Valley still practice ‘Transhumance’ which means that they move according to the season. In most towns people only live in the summer season. As in many villages there is no electricity, but only solar power, the amount of daylight in winter is not enough.

Foroglio is another cute village with the typical stone houses who are traditional in the Ticino region. The village has a very impressive waterfall dropping with all its force down from the mountain. The point where the water hits the cliff is quite spectacular! You can wander through the village and visit the only store of the small town which sells handmade items. There is one restaurant in Foroglio, which has a view on the waterfall and serves delicious traditional dishes.

Website of Restaurant ‘La Froda’ in Foroglio:  http://www.lafroda.ch/

Brissago, Osteria Borei

We were told that the restaurant Osteria Borei would have the best view over Lago Maggiore, and so we decided to check it out. The winding and narrow road up was a bit of an adventure! At several spots the road was too narrow for two cars to pass, and so we had to back up in quite some difficult locations. That said, I would definitely go again tomorrow if I had the chance, because Osteria Borei really is in a breathtaking location!

Website of Osteria Borei: https://www.osteriaborei.ch/

Where to stay?

Accomodation in the Verzasca Valley

This holiday home is located in Lavertezzo in the heart of the Verzasca Valley in a charming traditional style house.

 

 

Hotel in Ascona

Since Ascona is one of the most picturesque towns on the Lago Maggiore, it also makes for a perfect base to stay. This hotel is particilarly child friendly and with lots of activities, and possibilities for parents to relax!

From the Ticino region, you can easily make a day trip to Milan in Italy! Check out our post on a day trip to Milan with kids here:

And if you would like to explore the region of Lugano, then this article could be of interest to you:

Our article has some affiliate links, which help us to run this blog.

If you would like to stay updated on our family travels as we go, then make sure to check out our Instagram or Facebook page.

 

Centovalli Express – panoramic train

Centovalli Express – a Panoramic Train connecting Locarno in Switzerland and Domodossola in Italy!

The Centovalli Express connects the towns of Locarno on the Lago Maggiore with the Italian town Domodossola in the Piedmont region. The Centovalli railway is a spectacular panoramic train ride which takes you in two hours from the lake, through forests, alongside rivers and past countless waterfalls. The railway takes you over beautiful bridges and through peaceful vineyards. In Autumn, since the Fall Foliage is spectacular in this region, the ‘Treno del Foliage’, a special Fall Foliage train with large windows, runs on the rail of the Centovalli Express during one month.

The Centovalli railway is 52 kilometers long, and gently takes you over 83 bridges and through 34 tunnels in the Centovalli region in Switzerland and the Val Vigezzo region in Italy. There are stops to choose from on both ways, and both Locarno and Domodossola are beautiful cities to visit.

Possible Stops on the Centovalli Express train

When you reserve your ticket online and choose a seat reservation, the system also lets you choose one stop in both directions. You may also choose to stay the night at one of the stops, as your ticket can be valid for two days.

Locarno

Locarno is a beautiful city on the shores of the Lago Maggiore. Take a stroll along the lake side, or take the funicular up to the spectacular Madonna del Sasso. A sanctuary built on the hill above the city, offering you an incredible view on the lake. Just next to Madonna del Sasso is a good restaurant, Restaurant Funicolare Orselina, serving local specialties on a terrace with a panoramic view. The funicular to go up to Madonna del Sasso is located very close to the Locarno train station.

Ponte Brolla

Ponte Brolla is worth a short stop to walk along the river and admire the natural beauty. There is a typical regional Grotto restaurant in Ponte Brolla called ‘Grotto America’ which has a nice terrace close to the river.

Re in Valle Vigezzo

Re in Valle Vigezzo is a very small town, but with a big cathedral, the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sangue. The cathedral is built on a place where a smaller church was, because of the bloodshed from a fresco which is said to have been observed here in 1494. The story goes that while playing, a young boy threw a stone on a fresco representing Madonna. The following morning the fresco of the Madonna started to bleed, which is said to have lasted for days. The sanctuary therefore is a place of pilgrimage.

Intragna

In Intragna you can visit a church, a bell tower, and the regional museum of Centovalli and Pedemonte.

Domodossola

Domodossola is a cute Italian town with a nice historic center with narrow alleys. We were in Domodossola around lunch time and had a delicious lunch at restaurant ‘La Torre’ where the staff was super nice and the food super good. It is a restaurant serving specialties from Sardinia, as well as pizzas.

Address of restaurant La Torre: Via Briona 18.

When you wander around the historic center of Domodossola, signs will explain you a bit of the history of the old town. Domodossola is also famous for its weekly market which is held on Saturdays, between 8:00 and 12:00.

What you should know is that if you are there around lunch time, shops are sometimes closed for quite a while. In Italy, this can be between noon and 15:00, or even 16:00.

Gelato in Domodossola

We decided to skip dessert at the restaurant and try out one of the gelato shops in the city. The Gelateria Voglia di Gelato & More shop was very nice and the kids were happy with their selection of ice-creams and single cups of gelato decorated with candy.

Address of Voglia di Gelato & More: Piazza Chiossi, Domodossola.

On the main square we also saw a Vegan restaurant, we somehow didn’t expect to find a vegan restaurant in Domodossola.

Our stop in Domodossola, including lunch, was for 3 hours and that was perfect for us. In case you visit on a market day, you may want to stay a bit longer.

More information and Centovalli Express tickets:

The Centovalli Express runs year round. The Fall Foliage train runs from mid October until mid November. On the Centovalli railway line, you can also download an audioguide with a map to follow your journey.

Their website: http://centovalli.ch/en/

 

Milan with kids

A day in Milan with kids

We decided to go to Milan with our kids for a day while on holiday in the Ticino region in Switzerland. We have been to several places in Italy, but never in Milan, so it was about time for a visit! What is easy about visiting Milan with kids, is the proximity of the main sites in the center. No need to cross the entire city by bus or tram, all is mostly at walking distance!

Milan has a lot of museums and some beautiful sites to visit. Of course, you can not do everything in one day, but here are some ideas to choose from:

The Duomo of Milan

We started at the Duomo, Milan’s cathedral and without a doubt its most famous landmark. The Duomo is really very big, and it actually is one of the biggest churches in the world! Photos of the Duomo don’t do the building justice as it really appears bigger when you are standing in front of it. You can visit the Duomo and even take the elevator to the roof top.

Tickets for the Duomo are available at the ticket office right next to the building, or, you can buy them online from the official website of the Duomo. In most big cities we recommend buying tickets online for the main sites to avoid waiting in long lines with kids.

If you would like to see the Duomo from another angle and from slightly higher up, you could visit the Museum del Novecento which is an art museum located right next to the Duomo and while you visit the art works of Italian artists, and international works of amongst others Picasso, Kandinsky or Paul Klee, the Museum will also give you another view on the Duomo through the windows.

Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The entrance to the impressive covered street, the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, is also on the Piazza del Duomo, so there you have 2 of the most famous sites of the city right next to each other. A stroll through the Galleria is a must-do and make sure to look up to the frescos and ornaments, and down to observe the mosaic floor.  The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele is Italy’s oldest shopping mall. We didn’t come for shopping though, but mainly to admire the beautiful architecture.

When you walk out of the Galleria, straight on to the other side, on the side of the Piazza della Scala, you will see the exhibition ‘The World of Leonardo’. It is a temporary exhibition, but it was really nice to visit and gave us a view of the Galleria from above through the window.

The World of Leonardo with kids

The World of Leonardo, or Leonardo3,  is a temporary museum on Leonardo da Vinci and his works. It is a really cool and interactive exhibition which lasts until 31 December 2019. The exhibition shows his main inventions, flying machines, mechanics and paintings. There is a digitalized version of the famous painting ‘The Last Supper’. Kids will love the fact that they can visit the space where Leonardo painted the Last Supper with a virtual reality mask, and try to construct things themselves, like a self-supporting bridge.

Milan Science and Technology Museum, Leonardo da Vinci

A part from the temporary exhibition above, Milan also has a Science and Technology museum, where kids can also learn quite a lot about Leonardo da Vinci’s works and where even special Leonardo themed weekends are organized, so if the World of Leonardo exhibition is over during your visit, you will still find all you need for an interactive and educational visit here. It’s a bit further from the Duomo, about 20 minutes by foot. As we already visited The World of Leonardo, we did not visit the Science Museum, but it may be on our list for a next visit to Milan.

Lunch and Gelato, a good restaurant near the Duomo in Milan

We found a very nice and not too expensive restaurant close to the Duomo called Al Cantinone. The food was delicious there, and a lot of dishes were seasonal. In a fashion and shopping city like Milan, it may not always be easy to find a good and reasonable priced restaurant. Al Cantinone is family friendly, with good food, and for a good price, so highly recommended! We tried the classical dishes like a Risotto Milanese, Ossobuco, and a steak with truffle sauce. There can be a short wait at the counter when you arrive.

Their address: Via Agnello 19. www.alcantinone.it

We did not eat our dessert in the restaurant as we heard of Milan’s favorite ice cream shop called Cioccolati Italiani. They have several locations in the city and one of them is at two steps from Al Cantinone restaurant. What is special about their ice-creams is that they build them up with add-ons, and add-ins. First, you choose your warm chocolate in the bottom of your cone (milk chocolate, or white or pink chocolate which flows from taps behind the counter), then you choose your ice-cream flavors, and then the add-ons like a biscuit, candy, or an upside-down cone. Yum!

Theatro della Scala

Again, just around the corner of the Duomo and the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele, is Milan’s famous Theatro della Scala, which can also be visited as the theatre has a museum with the most important collections of the Opera world. There are often theatre shows recommended for children, so do check out if there is one when you plan to visit. Children under 18 apparently pay a symbolic price of 1 euro.

If you have time left in Milan, the city still has plenty of other sites worth discovering, and since Milan is also the city of design, architecture lovers definitely have more things to explore here, like the Bosco Verticole buildings. Cool apartment buildings covered with plants from the outside.

One site we regret we didn’t visit, as we were in Milan on a Monday and it was closed, is the Pirelli HangarBicocca. The Hangar is located in a former industrial plant and offers free exhibitions and permanent collections of contemporary art work. Looks like we still have more reasons to come back to Milan!

You may also like some of our other articles on visiting Italy with kids, like the articles on Bologna, Verona, Turin, or Rome!

               

If you would like to stay updated on our family travels as we go, then make sure to check out our Instagram or Facebook page.

 

Haarlem, the Netherlands

Haarlem, a beautiful and family friendly city at only 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam! If you are planning to visit Amsterdam with kids, you should definitely consider to stay in Haarlem, as this beautiful walkable city has it all! Haarlem has plenty of shops, restaurants, museums and even a windmill right in the city center! Haarlem is also very close to the beach, so if you were hoping on a bike ride with kids in the Netherlands, Haarlem would be a better place to do that than in the center of Amsterdam. In about a half an hour on cycle paths, you will be at the beach, or in a beautiful National Park with dunes. Letting the kids run around at the beach in between some days of museum visits in a big city like Amsterdam is always a good idea!

Things to do in Haarlem

Haarlem is a small city with a village feel. It has quite a few good museums, beautiful historical buildings, and all the restaurants and shops you would need.

Corrie ten Boom House, the Hiding Place

The Corrie ten Boom House is a very interesting museum. It tells the history of the Ten Boom family, who lived in the center of Haarlem during World War II and who helped Jewish families and members of the Resistance to hide. The tour and entrance to the museum is free, and you just wait outside until the next tour starts. There are time slots for tours in Dutch and tours in English and a tour lasts for about one hour. Only 20 people can go in at the same time, since the house is not so big. You will be able to see the entrance to the hiding place in Corrie ten Boom’s bedroom closet. There have been several books and films about Corrie ten Boom and her family.

Address of the Corrie ten Boom House: Barteljorisstraat 19, Haarlem. Check out times and opening hours before your visit. Tours are held from 10:00 – 15:30.

Teylers Museum, Museum of Wonder

Teylers Museum in Haarlem is located on the Spaarne river in the center of town and is a very family friendly museum of art and science. They also have a good collection of fossils and often temporary exhibitions. Museum website: https://www.teylersmuseum.nl/en/

Windmill De Adriaan

A lovely windmill in the centre of Haarlem! Windmill De Adriaan is a mill built in 1778. The mill can be visited, but make sure to check the opening hours before you go: https://www.molenadriaan.nl/en/.

Frans Hals Museum

The Frans Hals Museum is one museum in two different buildings at 7 minutes walking distance from each other. There is a collection of the Dutch Golden Age painter Frans Hals who used to live in Haarlem, but there are many other art works from other artists on display as well.

Website: https://www.franshalsmuseum.nl/en/

Beer Tasting in an Old Church

Haarlem has its locally brewed beer called Jopen. Adults may appreciate to taste some beers in a beautiful former church building transformed into a brewery, the Jopen Church!

Shopping

Haarlem is known as a good city to go shopping and it has plenty of small boutique shops. Clothes, home decor shops, you will definitely find something in Haarlem.

Bike rent in Haarlem

We rented bikes at Green Bikes Rent which is located right next to Haarlem Central train station. They had all kinds of bikes, like kids bikes, and also a cargo bike to be able to put a small child in front.

Cycling to the beach or the dunes National Park

It took us about a half an hour to cycle on the cycle paths to the beach. We chose to go to Bloemendaal aan Zee as this is a beach town I like a lot, but you could also go to Zandvoort. The road towards the beach will also have you passing by the entrance of a National Dune Park called ‘Kennemerduinen’ which is also worth it to explore! You can  go through the National Park to cycle towards a beach restaurant called ‘Parnassia’ where you can have lunch, or walk through the beautiful dunes.

If you go straight on to Bloemendaal aan Zee, you will have a lot of choices in restaurants on the beach, all with different styles and menus. The beaches in the Netherlands are quite wide and kids love to run around in the wind here!

How to get from Haarlem to Amsterdam

This is very easy and that is what makes Haarlem a great place to stay for families. Haarlem is only at 15 minutes by train from Amsterdam Central Station.

Haarlem Amsterdam by train: just buy your tickets at the vending machine right outside the train station, or at the ticket counter.

Train fare Haarlem Amsterdam: about 9 euros for a round trip for an adult.

Amsterdam tips!

Since our family lives in Amsterdam, we visit Amsterdam with our kids at least twice a year. You can find all our tips on things to do in Amsterdam with kids here:

Hotel Haarlem:

There are beautiful hotels right in the center of Haarlem, which makes it easy for families to get out in the evening to one of the many restaurants in the city center.

Hotel Tip! This hotel is right in the center:

An apartment in a historic monumental building that dates from 1625!

There are some affiliate links on this article. If you book through one of those links it will not cost you anything, but it will give me a small commission which helps me to run this blog. Thank you!

If you would like to stay updated on our family travels as we go, then make sure to check out our Instagram or Facebook page.

 

 

Eze Village on the French Riviera

 

Eze is a beautiful village on top of a hill with possibly the best views over the French Riviera! Walk around on the narrow pedestrian streets and visit the art galleries and the beautiful botanical gardens. The small town is located between Nice and Monaco and is easily accessible from both cities by bus. Don’t forget your camera!

What to do in Eze:

 

Eze is a small, car-free town with very narrow, cute streets often decorated with plants and flowers. A visit to Eze is all about taking in the views! There are a few things to visit, but most people really come for the beauty of the views. Depending on your interests, you will probably spend a half a day and you can therefore combine your visit to Eze with the beach or other nearby towns.

If you come to Eze by car, you will have to park in a parking lot and shuttle busses will take you to the entrance of the town. Right where the town begins, you will see perfumeries. Parfumerie Galimard and Parfumerie Fragonard are both located at the town entrance of Eze and can be visited.  Learn all about the process and history of perfume making in their factory, and about a job they call ‘Nose’. Both factories are open for visits every day.

 

In the center of Eze, you will find small shops with local products, and many art galleries. The main site to visit in Eze for most people are the Botanical Gardens. The Botanical Gardens offer you a stunning view over the Cote d’Azur coastline!

 

Where to eat in Eze:

Eze has something for every budget. There are a few small restaurants in Eze with terraces outside, and there is a small pancake restaurant on top just before entering the center of the village. The most famous restaurant however, is a more expensive and Michelin starred one, but eating there is an experience you will not soon forget and perfect for special celebrations. La Chèvre d’Or is a famous gastronomic restaurant, and hotel, and occupies a large part of the small town, with terraces with views over the sea. We had our lunch at the Chevre d’Or in the ‘Café du Jardin’ part, and we can highly recommend it!

 

Their website: https://www.chevredor.com/restaurants-bars/le-cafe-du-jardin/

How to get to Eze:

Eze Village is in easy reach by public transport for a day trip from Nice or Monaco!

Eze – Nice: From Nice to Eze you should take bus 82 or bus 112 to Eze Village.

Eze – Monaco: From Monaco to Eze, you should take bus 112.

If you are interested in other daytrips on the French Rivièra, then this article might be of interest to you:

 

 

 

Harry Potter trip to London

Expelliarmus! A Harry Potter trip to London!

“It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” ― Albus Dumbledore

Are your kids Harry Potter fans? Did they see the Harry Potter movies or read J.K. Rowling’s books? Then they will love a Harry Potter themed trip to London! Not only can you see the real movie set with the Great Hall, the class rooms and Gringotts Wizarding Bank, but you can also fly your own broomstick and have a Butter Beer at the Warner Bros Studio Tour, or visit some Harry Potter film locations in central London.

All aboard on the Hogwarts Express!

London is a great city to take the kids to. When we decided to go on a Harry Potter themed weekend to London, it was our third trip to London with kids, so we had done most of the city’s highlights. However, it is still cool to walk around in London and cross the Tower Bridge, or eat an English Breakfast at Borough Market. We walked around London to find some of the Harry Potter film locations, and that took us to a beautiful place in London that we hadn’t visited on previous trips at all.

Leadenhall market – Diagon Alley in London

Leadenhall market in London is a beautiful Victorian covered market where some of the scenes of Diagon Alley were filmed. What a gorgeous place! You can immediately see why Diagon Alley was inspired by this location with all the colorful shops. The pub ‘the Leaky Cauldron’ can also be found here (42 Bull’s Head Passage), although apparently later on it was also filmed at Borough Market. We saw some other Potter fans in Leadenhall market and it made us feel like we were walking on the movie set.

Borough Market

We tried to find the second Leaky Cauldron in the Borough Market area, but that was not easy and not so recognizable anymore. The Borough Market is a great area to explore anyway so that did not matter. We had our English Breakfast in the known market café called Maria’s Market Café And then wandered around. The address of the Leaky Cauldron is supposed to be: Stoney Street number 7. We saw a restaurant at that location (see photo below). Apparently, this was used for the entrance to the pub in the Harry Potter film. The beautiful Pub on the angle of the street the ‘Market Porter Pub’ was also used in one of the films.

Platform 9 ¾

You will find Platform 9 ¾ at London’s Kings Cross Station where you can take your picture while you try to run through the wall to head to the Hogwarts Express. Sometimes there is a line for this photo opportunity and if you were planning to go to the Harry Potter Studio Tour anyway, please note you can also take this photo there.

“I solemnly swear I am up to no good.” ― Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter Walking Tour London

We just walked around to find the locations for ourselves, but many Harry Potter walking tours can be taken in London, so if you prefer and would not like to miss any of the locations this could be an option for you.

Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour London

This was so much fun!!!

Alohomora! Open the door to Harry Potters World and the real film sets!

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Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio is located outside of London, at about an hour by public transport. You can either take a train to Watford and then the special Harry Potter Bus, or, you can pre reserve a coach which leaves from Victoria Coach Station or Baker Street in Central London. The last option was what we did and we thought it was just perfect. During the trip a Harry Potter movie is shown on the bus to get in the mood for the world of magic. We reserved our bus at Golden Tours as that one was recommended on the Warner Bros website.

Harry Potter entrance tickets

When you have bought your Harry Potter Studio Tour entrance tickets, you will have chosen an entrance time. Allow at least 3 hours for the full visit of the studios, and prepare to spend a lot of time in the shop.

The visit starts with the Great Hall of Hogwarts and that’s also where the feeling of magic starts! As you continue to move in the studio you will get to a cool broomstick flight simulation. You will get on a broomstick and the staff shows you the moves. If you are willing to buy the video for 20 pounds, you will have a video of yourself flying though London, over the train tracks and arriving at Hogwarts.

You can also try to lift up a broomstick, learn all about Quidditch, see the classroom sets, Professor Dumbledore’s Office, and the Gryffindor boys’ dormitory. Kids can search for Golden Snitches in the Harry Potter Passport you get at the entrance, but we actually forgot we had those when we walked through the magic wizarding world.

New at the Harry Potter Studio Tour was the part with Gringotts Wizarding Bank and a cool part with special effects with the dragon.

About half way through the tour, do take your time to taste a real Butter Beer! Yum! It was actually not bad! Right after the restaurant you will get to Pivet Drive where you can see Harry’s family’s house and his room underneath the stairs.

If you continue you will get to the Howarts Express and Platform 9 ¾ with its photo opportunity.

We enjoyed this day a lot and it is really recommended for all Harry Potter fans!

Family friendly hotel in London

Since you will probably not only go to the studios in Watford, it is still best to stay in central London! We can recommend two good family friendly places. One hotel has a view on the Tower of London, which is one of our preferred places to visit in London with small kids:

And the other hotel is close to Borough Market, and at walking distance from Leadenhall Market (Diagon Alley) as well. To see this hotel recommendation, click here.

Would you like to do other things in London as well, then check out our article on visiting London with kids!

 

 

 

Bruges city break with kids!

Bruges in Belgium is the perfect European city break to enjoy with kids! Bruges, or Brugge in Flemish, is a small city and the center has some car free zones which allows families to easily explore the picturesque center by foot. A boat ride on the lovely canals of Bruges will surely be to the liking of all family members and the city is filled with beautiful architecture and historic buildings. Belgium has a lot of food specialties everyone will like: waffles, chocolate, and fries are probably the most famous ones.

What to do in Bruges?

The center of Bruges is very easy to explore by foot, and there are many incredible buildings and sites very close together. We thought the beauty of the buildings, the number of churches, and the variety in architecture was amazing! From the Markt, the main square of Bruges with the Belfort tower, which you can visit and get to the top, to the picturesque little canals and the romantic bridges. Bruges is one of the cities which is also called the ‘Venice of the North’ and therefore a short boat trip on the canals of  Bruges cannot be missed. We took the boat on the Rozenhoedkaai and the trip lasted for about a half an hour. Definitely a must-do!

There is a particularly beautiful bridge called the ‘Bonifaciusbrug’ which is a scenery for many local wedding shoots. The bridge is also known as ‘the bridge of love’.

Confirming the comparison of Bruges with Venice, we did spot the Bruges version of the Bridge of Sighs, and it may just be the more sophisticated version of it as this one is covered with golden ornaments. You can find it in the Blinde Ezelstraat.

We were generally amazed by the number of churches and cathedrals or other religious buildings. Amazing to see such rich history and architecture on so few square meters. Bruges must have had a prosperous past!

Bruges Fries Museum

Totally kids approved! Learn all about the history of the potato, and fries of course, whose origin can be disputed but according to the museum, no fries like Belgian fries. The secret seems to be found in the frying process which should be done twice. Kids will like the play area, where they can manage their own small fries stand! Also, where else would be best to taste some fries than here? At the bottom floor you can order your fries which come in the traditional triangle shaped paper bag, and we must admit: they were very good!

Chocolate Museum Bruges

Competitor of Swiss chocolate. Personally, we think taste may differ as backgrounds differ. My Swiss husband thinks Swiss chocolate tastes best, and I am from the Netherlands and the taste of Belgian chocolate is somewhat closer to home for me and the taste of it more ‘familiar’. In Bruges you can visit the chocolate museum, Choco-Story, which has real good reviews. We decided to taste Belgian chocolate in one of the many shops and take some home with us.

What to eat in Belgium?

Fries, chocolate, and waffles of course. Waffles come in all sorts! Waffles with chocolate, with strawberries, with whipped cream, and the list goes on! Our kids wanted to taste it all! Other typical Belgian dishes to order in restaurants: Mussels and fries, Beef stew (cooked in Belgian beer), ‘Waterzooi’, a soup with vegetables and chicken, and Shrimp Croquettes. In Bruges, some beer tasting for the adults at local breweries can be done. We like brewery De Halve Maan, which is also a museum and a good place to have lunch.

Where to stay in Bruges

We loved our hotel in the center of Bruges! There is no better way to enjoy Bruges with kids, than when you stay right in the center. Our hotel was located on a street behind the Belfort tower and the Markt with its many terraces. It allows you to rest a bit at the end of the afternoon, and go back out right in the center at night for dinner. The rooms were good, and the hotel is quite modern.

Brussels to Bruges

If you are coming from Brussels to Bruges, it will only take you an hour and a half by car. It is also easy to get from Brussels to Bruges by public transport by taking a train which will take about an hour and ten minutes.

Once in Bruges, do you know you are only 2 hours by car from one of the oldest amusement parks in the world? Yes, the Efteling Park in the Netherlands is in easy reach by car and makes for a great trip with kids! Read all about the Efteling here.

If you would like to stay updated on our family travels as we go, then make sure to check out our Instagram page.

 

Hikes on the French Rivièra

Hikes on the French Rivièra, near Saint-Raphael

There are many reasons why we love the Cote d’Azur. One of them is because of the hiking possibilities. Part of our family loves the mountains, and part of our family loves the sea. On the French Rivièra, and particularly near Saint-Raphael, these two are combined in a breathtaking way!

Every time we go, we do at least one hike on the Esterel mountains near Saint-Raphael, which are also called the ‘Red Rocks’. It’s a beautiful scenery with the contrast between the red color of the mountains and the deep blue sea. From high above the mountains, you will have a view on the scenic coastal road called ‘la route de la corniche d’or’. We usually head up on the Massif de l’Esterel right before reaching Agay and walk on the ‘Sentier des  Senteurs’, which is not a round loop hike but filled with lovely smells of the south and views of the coast.

There are three other hikes we recommend to do during your French Rivièra holidays: the Lakes of Villepey in Saint-Aygulf, the Sentier du Littoral along the coastline in Saint-Raphael, and the hike towards the ‘Pont des Tuves’ the Pays de Fayence countryside!

Les Etangs de Villepey

 

Just behind the beach of Saint-Aygulf is the protected nature reserve of the lakes called ‘Etangs de Villepey’. It’s like a laguna which results of the encounter of the salt water of the sea and the pure water coming from inland. It often feels as if people don’t see it’s just there when they park to go to the popular beaches of Saint-Aygulf, but the nature reserve lies just behind the beach parking lot. A beautiful wooden bridge and observatory is constructed, but you can also walk along the small paths in nature to explore the lakes further around.

Le Sentier du Littoral

The coastline walking trail, or Sentier du Littoral, is a breathtaking hike! The same color of red of the Esterel mountains continue right by the sea, and you can walk for quite a long while next to the coast. We started our hike at the beach ‘Plage du Camp Long’, also known as ‘Tiki Plage’ and headed towards the Cap Dramont. We continued along the coast and hiked up to the Dramont and then back in a round loop to the parking lot. Lots of beautiful plants and rock formations can be seen along the way! Wear good shoes!

We hiked for about 2 hours which is a shorter version of the total hike which goes from Port Santa Lucia in Saint-Raphael, all the way to Agay (total 11 km) with some points described as ‘difficult’.

Pont des Tuves hike

This is quite a steep hike, but one you will not regret! We did this hike with our 9-year-old, and it took us 2.5 hours total. The difficulty is to hike back up.

Starting point: Montauroux, on the parking lot of the Stade du Défens and the rope adventure park.

The road towards the starting point will lead you to the hilltop villages of the countryside of the Pays de Fayence region. You will pass the cute village of Montauroux, and you will be close to the town of Callian which is picturesque and worth a stop.

The hike leads you through a forest and so lots of shade on hot days. It is very well sign-posted so you cannot miss it. The Pont des Tuves is a bridge dating from 1802, which crosses the Siagne river, from Montauroux towards the village of Saint-Cézaire. You will have a view on Saint-Cézaire during the hike at several points. People swim in the Siagne river although the water is very cold. You will see people jumping off the bridge and there is a small waterfall for an adventurous shower on the other side of the bridge. If you would like to swim but not jump, or, if you took the hike with small kids, there is a small beach area to your left, at about 50 meters from the bridge while staying on the same side of the water. After the hike, we did swim despite the cold water and it was nice and refreshing! One of the most beautiful hikes we did on the Cote d’Azur!

In case you would like to explore more hikes, the nature around and hike towards the Broken Dam of Malpasset in Fréjus is really interesting as well. The history of the site is sad, but nature blooms around it. To see this hike, check out our article on the Broken Dam of Malpasset:

For our top 5 of Best Beaches around Saint-Raphael, check out this article:

 

Camargue Holidays With Kids

Camargue, the Wild West of the South of France.

The Camargue is a great place to spend your holidays. It feels less explored and lies between the Cote d’Azur and the Languedoc-Roussillon regions. The Camargue is a very interesting region to visit with kids, as there is a lot to learn. On nature, on the pink Flamingo birds that have their home here, to spot wild horses and bulls and to see the remarkable pink colored salt ponds or green rice fields. But there is more. You can combine your visit to the Camargue with fun at the beach, and by visiting the town of Arles, with its art scene and incredible remains of Roman times.

Les Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer

Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is the capital of the Camargue region and easiest to choose as a base to explore the surroundings. Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer is also the town which hosts the pilgrimage of gypsies once a year on May 24th, when gypsies come to celebrate their culture and honor their patron Saint Sara. In summer, when tourists come to the small seaside town, you will still find a lot of the typical Flamenco guitar music of gypsies in the restaurants to animate summer dinners.

You can climb on top of the Cathedral of Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, and enjoy the panoramic view over the town and the Camargue region.

Restaurant recommandations in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer:

We have been to two very good restaurants Les-Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, which we would highly recommend:

  • La Maison de Jeanne, this restaurant is on the small square right in front of the Cathedral. Good regional cuisine using fresh products. Make sure you reserve before as we have seen they had to turn people away.
  • Le Chante Clair, a bit more expensive, but very very good!
  • Bistrot Fanneu – simple, but good and a relax and fun atmosphere. For drinks or a light lunch.

Aigues-Mortes

Aigues-Mortes is a medieval walled town which is very beautiful to visit. It is car-free, so there are big parking lots outside of the town. Since it was warm and crowded, we decided to go in the evening, which is very nice. You can also decide to go early and on market day. The market, which is held around the walls, is on Sundays and Wednesdays. Near Aigues-Mortes you can visit the salt ponds, but we decided to go to the ponds in Salin-de-Giraud.

Restaurant tip in Aigues-Mortes: Restaurant Piou, reserve in advance!

Camargue Salt Ponds, Salin-de-Giraud

The town itself didn’t appeal so much to us, but we stopped at the viewpoint of the pink salt ponds and were amazed by that view which seems to change into different shades of pink with the light. Our children liked walking around and looking at the salt crystals that form on the side of the water. Interesting to learn is that the water turns pink because of a micro algae bacterium which is then eaten by shrimps, and the shrimps eaten by the Flamingo birds. In the end, this is what gives the Flamingo its pink color! We never knew this! You can request for a guided tour, or visit the salt ponds by bike.

Camargue Natural Regional Park and the Camargue Flamingo bird

The Bird Park Pont de Grau is a beautiful place to observe Flamingos and other animals from close by! You can walk for as long as you want, unless you forgot your mosquito repellent, then you will be out sooner than you may have wished for 😊. The Camargue Natural Regional Park consists of protected wetlands which allows you to observe so many birds here. It is also why there are mosquitoes. Signs are there to explain why they do not treat against mosquitoes, and again, we were fine. The Flamingos, who always come back here, are totally free. A sign says that a Flamingo who leaves the Camargue at 15h00, could be spotted on the Italian island Sardinia the next day at 10h00. Our hotel advised us to go just before 19h00, in order to see the Flamingos come back. We did that but didn’t see any bird flying. They were already there. 19h00 is the last entrance time to the park, but you are free to exit whenever you would like.

Camargue Wild Horses

The White Camargue Horse are wild horses because they live in freedom. All the horses apparently do have owners though, but you will see them walking around freely in the swamps of the Camargue. At a lot of places you can book a horseback riding trip through nature or on the beach. We did not do this activity, so no particular recommendation on where to go.

Visiting Arles

We loved Arles! It is a cultural city where important times of history come together. Arles has some of the most important Roman ruins and they are very well preserved. There’s the Arena, the Roman Amphitheatre, the baths, and the crypto portico, an underground forum.

Arles through the eyes of Van Gogh

Apart from Roman sites, we also very much liked all the references to places where the famous Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh went and created his work. Van Gogh lived in Arles in 1888 for a year and created numerous paintings here. We first visited the Van Gogh Bridge, also known as Pont de Langlois, just outside of Arles. The surrounding area was less beautiful and rural than in Van Gogh’s time, but still nice to go to the approximate place where he sat to paint.

The bridge on the river is not the actual bridge, which was unfortunately destroyed but an old bridge of the same type was placed here.

In the center of Arles, we also went to the Café Van Gogh, which was the decor of Van Gogh’s painting ‘Terrace of a Café by Night’. Really cool to talk with our children about art and culture at exactly those spots where the painter has been. It makes the history come to live for them.

The Van Gogh Foundation in Arles is also worth a visit, but not to see many of Van Gogh’s paintings. There are only 5 of them to be seen here. However, the Foundation has exhibitions of contemporary artists that they compare to Van Gogh.

Center of Arles

Arles is a typical Provencal town with its beautiful color of houses with the window shutters. Near the Roman Arena there are narrow streets and we love to wander around on those. We saw a lot of posters stuck to the walls of the old town, most of them for photo exhibitions. We personally like to see the posters, or sometimes streetart, which gives you a good feeling of what’s happening in a city.

We loved Arles!!

Camargue Beaches

To get to beautiful, or even lonely beaches, you would have to get a bit away from Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer. We recommend the following beaches, depending on what you like.

  1. Farniente Plage, a beach club near Saintes-Maries, where you could rent beds and eat on site.
  2. Plage de Piémanson, continue the road after the salt ponds of Salin-en-Giraud you will drive on a beautiful road in the middle of nature, with water on both sides of the road. You will end up at a big parking lot, with only a first aid spot and then a very, very large beach… Walk a bit towards the right to make sure you get a bit away from crowds.
  3. Plage de Beauduc, if you walk even further you will get to this kitesurfing beach. No facilities, so make sure you bring all you need.

Where to stay in the Camargue:

Our hotel was a little slice of heaven! Nice family rooms, a big swimming pool, kind staff, and a jacuzzi. It was an easy stroll to the center and the restaurants.

 

If you prefer camping or glamping in the Camargue, we saw this campsite which was cool and had lunch there. The staff was really nice there as well!

 

 

 

 

Antibes with kids

Antibes is located between Cannes and Nice on the French Riviera. While the best beaches can be found in the area of Juan les Pins, the streets of the old town of Antibes are nice to stroll around in. When visiting Antibes with kids, make sure to take them to the Picasso museum, located by the sea in the Grimaldi castle.

Picasso Museum

The art work of Picasso and other artists represented is a type of art children can often relate to. It is colorful and some art works have the same animals or creatures coming back in several paintings which they will be able to recognize. The museum is free for children and you can download an app which will guide you through the museum and gives you the explanations.

Before arriving at the museum, we had seen a small house by the sea on top of the wall around Antibes, where Nicolas de Stael had lived. A lot of his art works are also represented in the Picasso museum.

Walking on the walls around Antibes

We liked walking on the walls around Antibes, from the Picasso Museum towards its big port ‘Port Vauban’, where you can see all the big boats, the ferris wheel, the square fort, and on the other side the sea and some small beaches, and art works. The big art work by the sea is made by artist Jaume Plensa and is called ‘Nomade’.

Old Town and Marché Provencal

Our kids like going to the market! We always do that while on holiday and they like to choose olives, tapenades, cheese, sausages and soap. The Marché Provencal in Antibes is a really nice one. We only saw small producers there, no big stalls selling everything which made us feel it was really local products. You will also see people cleaning fish on the spot to sell it. The covered market is on a street with restaurants and terraces which makes that a good spot to sit and watch the markets lively scene.

Address of the Marché Provencal in Antibes: Cours Masséna. Open daily from 6:00 – 13:00.

The Old Town streets of Antibes have a pedestrian only zone with little boutique shops with local products. There was one shop we couldn’t resist entering, La Belle Iloise. A shop filled with small and colorful canned tin boxes of sardines and other small fish in different mixtures; with olives, tomato, whole fish or in spreadable form. The nice lady in the shop explained it has been a family business for over 80 years. We chose our own colorful canned fish and were very happy with the discovery of this cute shop!

Address of La Belle Iloise in Antibes: 28 Rue de la République

When you are done discovering the town of Antibes, your kids will probably be happy to head to the beach! There is a small beach behind the wall, but you can also head towards Juan les Pins!

Other articles that may interest you if you are heading to the French Riviera: