Visit Italy's great cities – even with tiny children, Rome, Venice, Florence and Milan can be fun, provided it’s not too hot. Rome can be particularly delightful for a family break in spring. But think of finding a base outside a city, preferably with a pool for cooling off after a trip in to sightsee.
Head for the beaches, especially those of the islands of Sicily, Sardinia or even Elba. As well as fabulous stretches of sand, these offer delicious food and great exploring – you can climb volcanoes, try your hand at a little archaeology or visit some fascinating castles.
Explore Naples and its region, Campania. The splendid Amalfi Coast stretching from Sorrento to Paestum is home to the famous resort towns of Amalfi, Positano and Ravello. But come out of season, as it gets packed out with Italian holidaymakers in summer. Make sure to take older children to Pompeii in the Bay of Naples, an extraordinary place where history comes alive. Ghoulish-minded kids tend to be fascinated by seeing how people were struck down in the middle of their daily lives.
For something a little more off the beaten track, try Puglia, tucked into the heel of Italy, with Neolithic tombs, full-blown Gothic cathedrals, intriguing trulli houses and gorgeous beaches and forests in the Gargano Peninsula and on the unspoilt Tremeti Islands.
Get a triple whammy of culture, peace and beauty in Tuscany. Hire a villa with a pool and sit out in the evenings with the kids, enjoying a meal under the stars with a large glass of local wine. By day make excursions to hill-towns, Pisa or lovely Florence, and fall in love with Italy for ever.
If you want avoid the tourists but desire beaches and pretty countryside, try Umbria on the west coast and the Marche on the east. In Umbria, Assisi has a beautiful basilica and lovely views, Gubbio is a medieval hill town set against the wooded slopes of the Apennines and close to Lake Trasimeno, and Perugia is the sweet capital of Italy, amongst other things. In the Marche, wander the steep streets of the ultimate Renaissance town of Urbino, sit in Piazza del Popolo in Ascoli Piceno and watch the passiegata while the kids treat the travertine square as a playground, and discover the white cliffs of the Monte Conero peninsula, exploring the public footpaths on the Monte and admiring the Napoleonic fort and Romanesque church at Portonovo. If you visit the Marche's southern Adriatic resorts of San Benedetto del Tronto and Grottamare outside high season, you'll have the beach to yourself. Don't miss the lighthouse at nearby Pedaso, or the family hiking trails in the Sybillini National Park.
Check out Abruzzo, another less-visited region of Italy, but one with spectacular mountainous landscapes full of wildlife (deer, chamois, wild boar, wolves and even a small number of bears) and several National Parks in which to spot it, as well as easy access to the Adriatic Coast beaches further north, in the Marche and Emilia Romagna. Within Abruzzo's gorges, cliffsides hide ancient hermitages hewn from the rock, which make for great exploring. There are also wonderful walks through meadows of wildflowers, with picnicking by sparkling streams. L’Aquila the regional capital has a great castle to visit and a spooky connection with the number 99: there is a fountain with 99 spouts (or almost), there used to be 99 churches and 99 piazzas, and the town-hall bell still chimes 99 times each evening. The smaller but very pretty medieval town of Sulmona is crowded with shops selling colourful displays of floral arrangements made entirely from confetti (sugared almonds). In winter, Abruzzo is cloaked in snow and has a number of ski resorts popular with locals.
Venture into Emilia Romagna for its Riviera Romagnaola, a stretch of sunny beaches with stylish facilities, but also for its capital Bologna, which is full of historical interest, especially if the kids are studying the Etruscans, and is a good base that doesn’t get as crowded as, say, Rome or Florence. Those who love cars will want to make a beeline for 'Motor Valley', home to several famous racetracks and luxury car manufacturers, as well as car museums – the best being the Enzo Ferrari Museum in Modena.
Head for the freshwater alternative to the seaside – the gorgeous Italian Lakes in Lombardy in the north. Lake Garda is especially good for family holidays, with 120 beaches, watersports, a massive choice of places to stay and its own themepark, Gardaland.
Discover north-eastern Italy, where the Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol region is home to the Italian Dolomites, an awesomely beautiful region declared a natural heritage site by UNESCO, with one national park and several regional parks within its confines. With older kids, you might come here to climb the vie ferrate – protected paths created in World War I, or walk the long-distance ‘high paths' (alte vie), which take about a week to cross, with stopovers in rifugi (huts). Other summer, spring and autumn activities include climbing, base-jumping, paragliding and hang-gliding. In winter, the Dolomites are famous for skiing, with Canazei a particularly family-friendly resort, offering good, high beginner slopes but also linking on to the spectacular Sella Ronda circuit around the red-rock crags of the Dolomites, a favourite with competent children.
Alternatively, head for the family-friendly Italian ski resorts of Courmayeur or Breuil–Cervinia in the Aosta Valley. Cervinia has Italy's best snow record and access to its highest lifts. From here you can ski to Swiss resorts including Zermatt.
For more on skiing in Italy with kids, see our Family Ski Holidays in Europe page.