Amy Odaro spent 9 months in Marche, an eastern Italian region, in 2016 with her husband and young son. Here she talks to MumAbroad Life about their positive experience and shares her favourite family-friendly services, restaurants and places to visit. Since writing this blog post Amy is also the proud mum to twin girls.
As someone who has lived in the UK my entire life, the prospect of an adventure abroad was incredibly exciting. In January 2016, my husband Otas was asked by his company to join a project in Italy with a family status package attached to the contract. A million thoughts went through my head; we had only been living in the house we had saved and searched so long for, for around a year, the same amount of time I had been working in my current role. Our 2-year-old son, Junior, was also settled with his childminder and the thought of disrupting his routine and security was nerve-racking. We thought it over for days and finally decided now was as good a time than any to take the plunge and go for it; after all, we didn’t need to worry about schools and it would be 100 times easier to make a huge move like this before having any more children!
Otas was moved almost immediately and began settling into his new job in a small seaside town called Fano in Le Marche region of Italy. Le Marche is on the east-central side of Italy, on the Adriatic sea and is a lesser-known region amongst the British. Otas spent the next few months finding a place for us to live whilst adjusting to Italian life and travelling back and forth every other weekend to see us. After 3 months of wrapping things up at my work, Junior and I were finally able to join him. English is generally not widely spoken in this part of Italy so learning some basic Italian went a long way. I was pretty hopeless at the language but making an effort in shops and restaurants was really appreciated, even if I did once ask for a fish flavoured drink instead of peach!
There is an organisation in Fano called Millevoci that’s run by volunteers and assists foreigners in settling into the area. They offer free Italian language classes for foreign adults, which are held every weekday from 18:00 to 19:30; the lessons were basic but a good foundation to build on. My son attended the English Learning Centre in Fano (Via Tagliamento, 22) which doubles up as a nursery for pre-schoolers in the morning. There are English and Italian staff so both languages were spoken to the children; a great opportunity for Junior to pick up some basic Italian. Laura is the owner and she was really helpful and flexible based on our needs (+39 3478420572 for more information).
Having the Marche regional airport so nearby in Ancona really helped us feel close to home. We could very easily hop on a cheap RyanAir flight, which run daily to and from London Stansted. The Guglielmo Marconi Airport in Bologna was also not far away; just a 2-hour train ride from Fano. This is a bigger airport with access to a greater number of worldwide destinations. Trains serve the region well with the major rail line running down the coast. Ticket prices are very reasonable and generally, you don’t need to pre-book. Remember to validate your ticket before travelling by stamping it in the machine provided at the station. As in much of Italy, bicycles are the transport of choice in this region and we felt that buying bikes would be a worthy investment so we did this almost immediately after our arrival. We had a child seat for Junior so we were able to cycle together as a family. Cycling is very easy in the towns and much of the coastline has uninterrupted cycle paths. Due to having these bikes, we ultimately did not need to have a car for the duration of our stay and we absolutely loved this lifestyle; it’s still to this day one of the main things I miss about living in Italy!
My favourite part of our Italian experience was probably the cuisine. I’ve always loved Italian food, but sampling local delicacies and experiencing true authenticity was amazing. It’s difficult to come across bad restaurants in the region and the choice is plentiful. Restaurants are also always very child-friendly and usually very accommodating in preparing half portions of most options on the menu to suit your child. Trattorias are small, family-run establishments that commonly have only 2 to 3 choices on the menu. They offer good value and the food will be extremely authentic. Osterias are still small and quite rustic settings but usually have a greater food and wine choice compared to trattorias.
Ristorantes offer a more elegant dining experience with a price to match. For authentic Italian food and wine made with local produce, try La Botte in the centro storico of the hilltop town of Gradara; amazing crustini and meat and cheese platters, excellent service from an English speaking waiter and very child-friendly. The inside is beautifully rustic but there are also tables on the cobbled street at the front and there’s a garden at the rear. Taverna del Pescatore is a beautiful restaurant in Pesaro. It’s worth visiting just for the stunning sea views but there is also great child-friendly service and the fish served there is fresh and tasty. If you enjoy meat and want to venture away from Italian cuisine for a change, Bella Argentina in Fano is exquisite. It’s a gorgeous family-run restaurant in a beautiful setting with a lovely courtyard and outdoor seating in the summer. The empanadas are to die for and they have delicious barbecued meat.
One observation I made as a parent living in Italy was that public playgrounds often weren’t as well kept as they are in other countries. The ground is usually grass rather than tarmac or bark, which is annoying when it’s not been cut and the mud in the winter makes it impossible to play in, but there are a few hidden gems in the region if you are prepared to look and of course, the infinite beaches make up for it! Parco Miralfiore is a huge open space next to Pesaro train station. The grounds are well maintained and there is a great playground which is relatively shaded and suitable for children of all ages. There is also a cycle path, wildlife area and amphitheatre. In Fano, there are decent small playgrounds at the following locations: Viale XII Settembre (next to the church), Via Don Bosco and Viale Italia (in the triangle where Via Marche and Via Piemonte meet). There is also a beautiful green space in Fano called Passeggi which the Albani Canal runs through. You can access the park from many different entrances but the main gates are at Via Roma or Via 4 Novembre. It’s a great shady spot for running or cycling. There are also plenty of slides and swings dotted around and ducks to feed!
All of the main seaside towns also have plenty of playgrounds and amusements for kids along the lungomare (promenade). The beaches themselves are some of the cleanest and well kept in Europe. Beaches tend to be mostly privatised so you will need to hire sunbeds and umbrellas to be able to go on them. This costs anything between €10 and €20 depending on the beach and whether you are going to be there for a half or full-day. In return for your money, the beach is kept incredibly clean and you have great facilities at hand including showers, toilets and sometimes sports courts and small swimming pools. There are also small beach areas set aside for free use, which is useful if you prefer to just lay your towel down and only stay for an hour or so. Look for the signs saying ‘Libera’.
A particularly stunning beach which is located at the foot of Monte Conero can be found at Sirolo, just south of Ancona. The mountainous landscape surrounding the beach gives it a very different feel to other beaches in the region. You will need a car to get there and since the beach can be popular in the peak summer season, it is easier to park in Sirolo town at the top of the hill then either walk or catch the shuttle bus down to the beach. The tiny hilltop village of Fiorenzuola di Focara oozes character and Italian charm. There is a small car park just outside the village. Once you’ve walked into the centre there are a couple of small cafés and restaurants where you can enjoy a refreshment. From the village you can take a winding path down to its beautiful beach, which is well worth the walk.
During the year we spent living in Fano, we tried to explore as much of the region as possible. Gradara is a beautiful hilltop town not far from Cattolica and was one of our favourite outings. It has a historic castle with panoramic views of the region. It’s easiest to get there by car but there is also a tourist ‘trenino’ that shuttles visitors from Cattolica train station. Restaurants are plentiful and many have seating on the cobbled streets so you can soak up the town’s atmosphere while you dine. During the beginning of August, the town hosts a week-long Magic Castle Festival with various events and shows taking place for all the family. There is also a great Aquarium in Cattolica that is famous for its sharks and Junior loved it! There are usually discounts if you book online in advance. Kids under 12 months go free. The Aquarium is located at Piazzale delle Nazioni and can be accessed by car or by taking the 125 shuttle bus from bus stop 71 at Cattolica train station.
For swimming, there is a lovely public pool called Piscina Felice Ricci next to the stoney beach in Fano. It’s outdoor so only open in the summer months. Entrance is less than €5 per person and you are free to use sunbeds and umbrellas. There is a large pool for lane swimming and also a good sized kids pool, both of which are kept extremely clean. For the more adventurous swimmers, the Aquafan Water Park in Riccione is a great family day out. There are brilliant slides for all levels of adrenaline junkie as well as a wave machine pool and an area for smaller kids. Entrance is quite pricey but there are discounts to be had by booking online in advance or buying family tickets. The standard entry price also allows you to come back for a second visit free of charge. Aquafan is easy to find by car as it is signposted on the motorway and once in Riccione. You can also take bus number 58 from Riccione train station. We never got round to going to Aquafan as Junior was a bit small for many of the slides so we didn’t feel it was worth paying all that money, but we have friends who went and it was always a popular choice.
Luna Park is a large fairground in Riccione with more than 30 rides. It is only open from June to August between the hours of 20:30 and 02:00. Cost is per ride and there is plenty of choice for all ages. You can find Luna Park parallel to Viale Colombo. Another of our favourite hangouts was Sportpark, a large leisure centre found at Viale Alighieri in Fano. There is a large bowling alley, amusement arcade and soft play as well as outdoor sports courts to hire, crazy golf and trampolines. Parco Zoo Falconara is open most of the year and is home to a wide range of animals including tigers and zebras. Entrance is good value and under 3s go free. The zoo is not far from Ancona airport and is most easily reached by car.
There are many beautiful boutique shops in the towns of Le Marche. If you are willing to part with your cash, you’ll pick up some lovely one-off pieces of clothing that are incredibly well made. I’m someone who prefers a bargain and living in Italy made me really appreciate Primark when I returned to the UK! Calliope is an Italian clothes chain that offers low price fashion for men and women and you can find a branch in nearly every town; think New Look but even cheaper. If you want to see familiar brands like Zara and H&M travel to Rimini or Riccione which both have big shopping scenes, although you may find it to be more expensive than back home. Food shopping is generally quite cheap. As expected you’ll find the big out of town supermarkets like Auchan offer the best value, but not always easy if you don’t have a car. There are plenty of local convenience stores in all the towns, common brands include Crai, Coop and Eurospin. Try to shop in local greengrocers, bakeries and butchers where possible as you’ll build up a rapport with the owner and get the best prices.
After spending 9 months living in Italy, we found out I was pregnant…with twins! So we had to cut short our stay to return home to the UK and have the babies with a better support network around us. I learnt so much in the year I spent in Italy with my family and loved the experience. I hope some of the information and tips can be of use to other families who may find themselves moving to this part of the country or travelling there for pleasure.