You don't need statistics to prove that families traveling with children are warmly welcomed in Italy. As any parent can tell you, this is clearly a destination where bambini rule.
That said, families used to supervised children's clubs, special menus and kid-centric activities won't easily find them here. What they will find is a whole menu of attractions that families can experience together, from quirky theme parks and spooky art to colorful festivals and appealing ski mountains.
The good news for travel agents is that many of these attractions are available off-season, which means that families don't have to put away their European vacation dreams until the summer months.
Fun with no strings attached
Pinocchio Park in the Tuscan town of Collodi, for example, pays homage to the creator of the little puppet who wanted to be a real boy. Young fans will see the original interpretations of the character (rather than the Disney version) come to life in puppet shows, storytelling and exhibits.
Kids can also participate in hands-on crafts activities such as mask-making, giant chess games and rides on antique carousels.
The park also offers the Garzoni Gardens, complete with topiaries and a maze, and the Butterfly House, filled with exotic species of butterflies. Visit www.pinocchio.it.
Museum's hands-on fun
In Rome, families can take in the Explora il Museo dei Bambini di Roma, the first such museum for children in the country. Situated near the Piazza del Popolo, the facility offers hands-on fun including play areas for toddlers to crawl around in and even a TV studio for older kids. Visit www.mdbr.it.
Stone statues in Monsters Grove
Children who like eerie creatures of mythology would enjoy a few hours spent at Monsters Grove in Bomarzo in Lazio, located on the western central coast. Not for the easily frightened, the park is strewn with surreal statues of scary stone monsters set in a landscape of beautiful gardens.
The park, which has been giving children the willies since 1552, is open year-round. Visit www.bomarzo.net.
Feast Day in February
Children will be goggle-eyed at the spectacle of St. Agatha's Feast Day in Catania, Sicily, celebrated in early February every year. The whole town turns out for the multiday event, billed as the second-largest religious festival in the world. Essentially a massive street fair, the festival commemorates Catania's patron saint, who is believed by locals to have stopped a tidal wave of lava at the border of the city when Mount Etna erupted some 500 years ago.
In a dramatic procession, costumed locals carry her statue through the streets at night, carrying candles the size of baseball bats. Food, music and much merrymaking follow the event.
Families can also take advantage of Catania's proximity to Taormina to visit the Roman ruins, normally overrun with tourists in high season.
Kid-friendly ski slopes
Families who like to ski and snowboard might want to consider a visit to Pila in the Aosta Valley, where the terrain ranges from wide-open trails to winding catwalks. A children's ski and snowboard club is available on the mountain, offering a magic carpet lift, group instruction and a new Adventure Park with a ropes course and treetop slides. The mountain also offers bobsledding and sleigh rides.
Parents who want to mix winter sports with sightseeing can hop on the Pila-Aosta cable car to the town of Aosta below, which offers a Roman amphitheater and a prehistoric archaeological site at St. Martin de Corleans. They can also time their visit to coincide with the annual Sant'Orso Fair at the end of January, when the streets are alive into the night with music, food and traditional crafts. Visit www.pila.it.
For more on travel to Italy, visit www.italiantourism.com.