Thursday 30 July 2015


One of the closest towns to where we were staying at The Mill House was Varallo. We visited briefly on the first day to get maps and information from the tourist office, as well as stop and have morning tea, and later got supplies from a supermarket, but it wasn't until a few days later that we really explored it. 

After going around the mountain, literally, to find a place that had been recommended for lunch (a journey that should have taken 10 minutes but took about four hours, with stops, due to road works), we spent the afternoon at Sacro Monte. That morning the seven-year-old had asked if he could choose the day's activity so we gave him about five choices, and visiting Sacro Monte was what he wanted us all to do.

It is a basilica and group of 45 chapels on a hill in Varallo that is visible for miles. Part of the building work dates back to 1491 and the area is considered a World Heritage Site. The terrace is 600m high and overlooks the town below as well as the river Sesia. There is a cable car that runs between the mountain and town during the summer months.

It was a beautiful place to explore with the children. Each chapel had a life-sized re-enactment of a biblical story and the children were keen to view them. The grounds provided plenty of area to roam and the passageways were intriguing too. The view was quite amazing as well. Definitely a place to visit if you're in the area.

Afterwards we had dinner at La Sfinge, a great family friendly ristorante that overlooked the river from the terrace. When we visited another night we weren't able to get the same seats. Over the weekend, it appears it's best to book to get the tables with the view.

images the indigo crew

Wednesday 29 July 2015


We have been fortunate enough to explore Italy on three separate occasions before this trip. Each time we chose a different region to discover, and we have always impressed with the diversity that Italy offers from one area to another.

The first time we did the classics - Rome, Venice, Florence, with some surrounding historical towns into the mix, such as Padova, Siena and San Gimignano. The second time we went south and worked our way north - starting in Rome, again, but then taking a train down to Naples and exploring the Amalfi Coast - and getting incredible history lessons at Pompeii and Herculaneum. We moved north to work our way along the Cinque Terre and northern coastal towns such as Genoa, as well as Pisa, of course.

The last time we went to Italy was when our son was two years old. After studying the Italian language for several years we decided on a different type of experience and organised home exchange accommodation. As luck would have it, we didn't have to reciprocate any of our hosts. However, they were all incredibly generous with their homes and time. We stayed in an apartment in Rome - the home of a journalist, writer and TV producer - and he took us out for dinner with a group of his friends. We met our next host in Bologna and had a picnic with her and her daughter, who was a similar age to our son, and learnt that she had studied at a Sydney university before returning to live back in Italy. She gave us keys for her holiday apartment in the sleepy seaside town of Porto San Giorgio in the Marche region on the east coast. Our last stay was in Vigevano, an old town on the outskirts of Milan. We loved staying in less obvious places and getting a chance to experience life the way that Italians live it. It was also great practice for our Italian as many of these places weren't tourist destinations and so the locals didn't always speak English.

For our recent trip with three children in tow, we wanted to discover some new areas and the Piemonte region was unchartered territory to us. Being able to explore the mountains intrigued us, and we were interested in seeing some more lakes, such as when we had visited Lake Como and Maggiore on a previous trip. Once we found our accommodation, the beautiful Mill House, we set about exploring its neighbouring towns and places of interest. After getting our bearings in Varallo, we set our course for Lago d'Orta (Lake Orta).

We drove to the town of Pella and filled ourselves with pancakes then took a ferry across Lago d'Orta to the peninsula Orta San Giulio. It was a lovely town to wander through streets filled with old villas and cobbled stones. There was little traffic to worry about and plenty to please our eyes for the day, as well as enough to interest the children. 

The ferry ride to and from the town was definitely a highlight for the children. For us, too. Sometimes having the opportunity to do nothing but observe spectacular scenery is the best journey of all.

images the indigo crew

Tuesday 28 July 2015


For many years I have spoken to friends and family about the idyll that was my childhood holidays spent in the French countryside staying in rustic farmhouses. With some of them it's become a little bit of a running joke. But I have always wanted to return to them, and as my own family has grown so has been my desire to recreate something of those holidays for them.

Memories can hold a huge weight of expectation. And rarely can recreations live up to what has passed and been coloured with years of nostalgia. 

During our recent holiday to Europe, I feel the closest I got to creating something of that magic for our children was when we stayed at The Mill House in Valsesia - a group of valleys in the north-east of Piemonte - about an hour's drive from Milan in the mountains. One of the closest towns was Varallo.

We arrived to a beautiful house that had been lovingly and thoughtfully restored in 2010. The owner used bio-architecture materials such as cork, wood, stone, brick and lime to help keep its original character. The house is thoughtfully decorated too, and includes features such as a bathroom sink made out of a tin basin and a shelves made out of wooden beams. The surrounding garden was lush with hydrangea bushes and other flowers in bloom, as well as a variety of herbs, including giant rosemary. There was enough room for the children to run around freely but it wasn't too large that we didn't know where they were. However, because there was a waterfall nearby we placed strict rules about not walking down to the adjoining stream without an adult. 

I would return to The Mill House in an instant. Below are some more details of the place. I'm happy to answer more queries about the place if you're interested in visiting. (I have a million more photos too! Very hard to edit down to just this selection.) 

The Mill House is over four levels. The top level is an attic, which has a mattress for sleeping, and the children loved playing up here. The eldest liked to escape here and play scrabble or write in his journal. The ground level, accessible from the top entrance is the main living space with seating that converts into bedding. It has views overlooking the garden below. The middle level, a mezzanine of sorts, has a bathroom and a daybed. The lowest level is where the dining and kitchen are located. The Mill House is on a steep block and the property inside is quite small with low ceilings, but from our perspective this added to the charm of the place.

In Sydney we live in a house with a lot of stairs so they were not an issue for the children. However, we all needed to exercise caution and common sense. 

The steepest stairs (as well as the most beautiful) went from the ground floor level (at the entrance) down to a mezzanine with a bathroom and a daybed.

The Mill House didn't have a bath, only a shower, but thanks to a large window provided a wonderful view onto the gardens and waterfall below. There were many thoughtful details throughout, including the copper shower head.

On the lowest level was a small dining and kitchen area. Both had a view over the gardens. While compact, there was enough space to prepare meals and host dinners for six guest reasonably comfortably.

On our second last day the caretaker came with a gift of cherries from his property.

We often ate at the table in the garden. The house visible in-between the trees was a neighbouring property (with a donkey who made noises that amused the children), however, we never lacked privacy. At night time we were able to see glow worms, which was quite a magical experience. 

Alongside the house there was a waterfall and stream. The water was incredibly cold - it was from the mountains, after all - but that didn't deter the children and they enjoyed exploring the area and spent a lot of time building dams.

There were some walking trails within a short distance of the house. One of them lead to another waterfall. It was a wonderful place to explore.

images the indigo crew

Monday 27 July 2015


While it is still fresh in my mind, I wanted to share some thoughts and experiences on jet lag after our recent trip to Europe with three young children. There are some strategies that seemed to work, thoughts on what I would do better next time, and info on what I've found through a little research. If you have any tips or tricks please share them!

Flying from Australia to Europe
* A friend who has travelled to Italy several times with three young children advised us to book an evening flight. We did this, and I'm so glad that we did. Because we caught a 6pm flight the children were tired not long after the plane took off. They slept most of the way from Sydney to Singapore. They were still tired in Singapore but managed to stay awake during transit but were glad to get back on the plane, and back to sleep, on the flight from Singapore to Milan.

Arriving in Italy
* Leaving Sydney late meant that our plane landed in Milan at about 8 o'clock in the morning. However, this also turned out to work well for us because by the time we organised our car hire and drove to our accommodation already half the day had passed. The children were so excited to explore their surrounds that they wore themselves out to a degree. We tried to keep everyone awake for as long as possible - as close to their regular bedtimes - and this seemed to work. Everyone had a good night sleep.

Flying from Europe to Australia
* Our return flight to Australia departed Milan at midday. This meant that for the first leg of the journey everyone was wide awake. The children were tired for the second leg of the journey and their sleep times were clashing with the local time of Australia. In future, I would try to fly in the evenings only. When we arrived in Sydney at about 5pm everyone was wide awake and we couldn't get the eldest children to go to sleep until about 2am. However, neither of us adults had slept well on the flights so we were exhausted and desperate for sleep.

* The two-year-old seemed to adjust the best to jet lag in both directions. When we arrived back in Sydney she went to bed close to her regular bed time and slept through the night. The flip side was that she was the first to wake (both locations) even though the rest of us wanted to sleep in!
* The seven-year-old struggled the most to adjust to the new time zone. He has always been late to bed (we often hear him moving around his room until 10pm), and the jet lag was hardest for him. 

* On the first day back in Sydney we tried to get everyone back on Sydney-time as soon as possible and in the afternoon, when we knew everyone would be flagging, we went to the pool. Not only did this keep everyone awake through that difficult time, but it also wore them out a little so that by the time bedtime did roll around, they were more receptive to going to sleep.
* We got an oil burner and burned lavender to help create a calm atmosphere at home. I don't know if it was psychosomatic but everyone slept well that night.
* We arrived back on Saturday night, which gave us a day to adjust before going back to school. However, next time I would consider arriving back a day earlier - to give everyone a little more time to adjust.
* We rented out our home on AirBnB while we were away, and this meant our home was spotless when we walked through the door. It made such a great experience of returning home. Even if you didn't rent your place out, just getting a cleaner to come in and tidy/clean your place before you return would be worth considering.
* We (adults) took Melatonin tablets on our return to Sydney to help adjust to the local time. In Australia you need to have a script from a doctor to get them. Melatonin is a naturally occurring hormone in our body, which can be taken in the form of a tablet or supplement, that helps your body get ready for sleep. You can read more about it here. Taking supplements is a personal choice, but we have found this one to help us many times with jet lag on overseas trips. Always consult your doctor before taking any medication.

image the indigo crew