How do you entertain your children on holiday in Sicily? Leave them to play for a week with the waiters in the nearest restaurant while you enjoy sightseeing.
No no no!! You can actually have a very interesting holiday around Sicily whilst taking your little darlings with you.
Sicilians adore children and roll out the red carpet for all of them. Waiters will rearrange half their restaurant to make space for your push chair, warm up baby formula for you, and the waiter may actually entertain your moaning toddler while you eat in peace.
Be prepared for your children to get kissed by everyone, given sweets, and told wherever they go that they are the most beautiful child in the world. Sicilian children will be excited to meet English-speaking kids, and usually rush up to practise greeting them with “Allo allo” in the hopes of playing with them. Sicilians are fussy about hygiene for babies, so when their children want to kiss your baby – which they will – they tell them to do it on the top of his head or his feet, and not to touch his face or hands.
It starts before birth, too: pregnant women in Sicily get treated like royalty. Sicilians think that if a woman has pregnancy cravings for a food and doesn’t get to eat it, it will leave a birth mark on their child’s body: the result is that walking around Sicily with a pregnant tummy means you get food shoved at you by literally everyone you lay eyes on with food in their hands.
A trip up Etna, Europe’s biggest volcano and a very definitely live one, may become one of the highlights of your kid’s childhood. It is pricey to take the funicular railway to the top (50 euros per person last time I went) but for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it is worth it. No matter how hot it is on the ground, it is always very cold at the top of Etna. You need an anorak or a coat! It is usually hailing or snowing even in August.
Please take safety seriously. They will not let you up there if the eruption is very active (it’s always erupting a bit) but there are places where the ground is hot enough to hurt your hands if you touch it. It is all covered in loose stones and, contrary to the impression of some people I have met up there, they do not erect barriers in places where you could just slide off the edge!!! You are supposed to use your brain.
Etna is one of Sicily’s 70 nature reserves and this official website (LINK BELOW) is a goldmine of information. Sicilians cannot mention Etna without talking about the delicious foods that grow in the volcanic soil, so don’t miss the section called “Local products”
THE BIOPARCO – A ZOO, PETTING FARM AND DINOSAUR GARDEN WITH A ZIPWIRE!
The BioParco of Carini, near Palermo, is a wonderland for children and a godsend for parents. It’s a dinosaur park, zoo, petting farm, multi-site picnic area and play area spanning acres, and it is truly wonderful. Plan on spending all day and take a picnic for the family.
ASSAULT COURSES IN THE TREES
The adventure park in the Madonie mountains – Parco Avventura Madonie – is a wonderful place to spend a day. Up in the fresh pine forest, adults and childen of one metre of more in height can spend the day doing assault courses up in the trees.
If I remember correctly it has approximately 1,000,000 kilometres of zip wires, including one that goes right over a swamp. There are also mini-courses in archery, seasonal cycling excursions and other activites, and a barbecue and picnic area where you can get so much like a caveman you even roast your own raw meat after swinging through the trees.
The entry price includes rental of safety equipment and this is taken extremely seriously. Children are taught how to use the safety harness and supervised by adults until they can do it properly. There is also a very low-level assault course for toddlers. All the assault courses are graded by HEIGHT not by age nor by sportiness: no matter how good your ten-year-old may be at parkour, he will not be able to do an assault course for adults if he is physically not tall enough to hold the top rope while standing on the bottom rope, and so on.
If you completely lack the sporting ability to offer your child the helpful advice and encouragement they need to complete the course, ask one of the employees for help, or even look around to other parents who have done assault courses themselves; nearly all children can do these courses if they are actually given practical tips. I have seen too many parents finding their child of about seven or eight was too scared to do the assault course, telling them off for wasting money, then pulling them off feeling a failure and crying their eyes out. Please don’t be one of those parents. My little cherub up there was terrified at first, but my sister told him exactly how to do it. Finishing the course at the age of six gave him a boost in self-esteem that lasted about three years!
Check the official website for seasonal opening times and seasonal offerings. Be warned – the website is not a pretty sight, and it is also one of those witty Italian sites (of which I’ve seen many) that have a little Union Jack but when you click on it, the while site is still in Italian. The links you need are “Info > calendario aperture” and “Info > come arrivare” (which miraculously is in English).
Parco Avventura Madonie Official Site [external link]
Sicily has a hilarious tradition of puppet shows which can get children screaming with laughter. They do them in English for tourists in some places – ask your hotel for information or do some Google searches.
THE BOTANICAL GARDENS – A WONDERLAND OF AMAZING PLANTS
You may not think of Palermo’s botanical gardens as a child’s entertainment, but evey time I have taken kids there, they loved it. Among the palm trees there is ample space to run around, a colossal clump of ficus trees they can hide inside – complete with vines to swing like Tarzan, a little hut for hiding in, a bamboo thicket, and a large pond full of turtles. Of course, it’s also beautiful and entertaining for adults and it’s amazingly cheap.
ETNALAND AQUA PARK AND THEME PARK
If you’re getting used to the beaches, try the Aquatic theme park Etnaland. I’ve had enough over-excited children telling me all about their holiday there to know it’s a big hit with everyone, including the parents. Here’s the official website.
THE SALT WORKS – WINDMILLS AND BOAT RIDES
Another surprising entertainment for children is the Infersa salt works in Marsala. This is educational but it’s actually quite exciting, too, to take a boat trip to the island of Mozia and then climb up inside a windmill. The look of the place, with windmills among sparkling white hills made of salt, is arresting enough to keep even boisterous children rather awe-struck.
How to keep your children occupied on journeys
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