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Travel guide to... Family holidays in Italy

It is not just the gelato bursting with sweet flavour. Or the al dente pasta smothered in Nonna’s tomato sauce. Or the chariot-grooved Roman streets, gladiator battlefields and other “Horrible Histories” relics. It is the graceful warmth and gentle humour showered on young visitors that makes Italy so appealing for families with bambini in tow.

Italy’s 20 regions could practically be different countries, so varied are they in landscape, culture, temperament and, of course, cuisine.

The focus for families is naturally on the coastline, which stretches for a staggering 4,582 miles. The coast extends from quaint villages of Cinque Terre, down through the theme parks of California-style Rimini, to the cluster of bijou islands bejewelling the Bay of Naples, and Puglia’s superb sand-laced shores - ideal for bucket-and-spade holidays.

On the tip of the boot’s toe, is Sicily and the tiny Aeolian Islands – seven specks of volcanic wonderment ringed with black-sand beaches. Part of a huge 200km volcanic ridge that runs between the smoking stack of Mount Etna and slumbering Mount Vesuvius near Naples, these unique volcanic islands are a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Islands & beaches

Italy’s second-largest island, Sardinia, is a long-time favourite – I challenge anyone, young or old, not to be instantly smitten by its fjord-like coves, aquamarine waters and swashbuckling sand dunes.

Fishing village Cala Gonone in the gin-clear Golfo di Orosei on the eastern coast; Stintino with its rainbow of pastel-hued cottages brightening Sardinia’s northwest tip; and Santa Teresa di Gallura in the northeast are beautiful, off-the-radar beach spots where families can kick back on white sand in relative peace.

In the Bay of Naples, Procida is a paradise island with colourful houses stacked on the seashore and sun-bleached beaches backed by lemon groves. Its proximity to Naples and the ancient ruins of Pompeii makes it ideal for families looking for a dual-centre holiday combining island beach-chic with blockbuster sightseeing.

Puglia is one long swath of gorgeous golden sand. The Greeks founded coastal settlements here in the 8th century BC and seaside villages on the Salentine Peninsula retain a Greek flavour with their rabbit warrens of dusty parched lanes. Beaches around the Baie dei Turchi near Otranto are sensational – perfect sand castle material.

Adrenalin rush

The island of Sicily sizzles with outdoor fun for all ages. Wish Sicily has a new collection of villa holidays with outdoor activities organised for over-eights, including body rafting, river trekking and canyoning across icy rock pools and black lava walls in the volcanic Alcantara Gorge, near Taormina on the Ionian Coast. Or head to the green depths of rural Tuscany, another beautiful region that begs outdoor action.

History lesson

Romulus killed Remus on Palentine Hill and Christians were fed alive to lions; the capital, Rome, beats school textbooks hands down.

When enthusiasm for ancient monuments wanes, visit the International International Sports Hall of Fame & Museum, a museum dedicated to the world’s sporting heroes, which opened this year on Piazza D’Aracoeli. Or engage young artists in a day sketching their own Rome travel journal with an artist and Sketching Rome Tours.

Water world

Plan ahead and Venice, with its weathered web of calle (lanes) and canals, can be fun for families. Get acquainted with the city with a cruise aboard a public water bus (No 1) past ancient churches, palazzi and James Bond film sets on the Grand Canal – then dabble yourself in one of the city’s oldest traditions.