Italy, it’s the birthplace of Julius Caesar, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci and Carlo Lorenzini. I’m sure even if you aren’t familiar with the name of Carlo Lorenzini or his nom de plume, Carlo Collodi, chances are you know his creation. Collodi wrote the children’s story “The Adventures of Pinocchio.”
Pinocchio is a favorite at our house, and it appears we’re not alone. According to the Collodi Foundation literature, this book is second only in popularity to the Bible. In Tuscany at least, you can believe it. Pinocchio is everywhere. In every city, in every shop, you’ll encounter the little wooden boy. I planned a day in Collodi not realizing the immense popularity of the marionette in Italy. I was merely searching for a family friendly outing. My children were two and three years old at the time, and I was looking for the holy grail of tourist attractions – something to entertain toddlers and adults. I found it in Collodi.
Collodi Italy is a small Tuscan town in the province of Lucca, north of Pisa. The medieval section of the town spills down the hillside, ending at the villa Garzoni. We happily spent the day in the valley below, touring all of the town’s landmarks; Pinocchio Park, The Butterfly House and the Garzoni Gardens.
Our first stop was of course Parco di Pinocchio – Pinocchio Park. Because we’d read “The Adventures of Pinocchio” together, the kids were excited to visit a park dedicated to their favorite little mischief-maker. If you haven’t read the book, I would recommend it before you visit. The park follows the story of the original book which is substantially different from the popular Disney film.
The largest Pinocchio in the world stood in cheerful greeting, directing us toward the park. If you are looking for a Disney World type theme park, Pinocchio Park will disappoint you. This is a park dedicated to a beloved children’s story, allowing you to immerse yourself in the story. I loved the quaint, charming feel of the park, from the old-fashioned carousels to the low-tech displays in the caravans, it was entertainment that forced you to exercise your imagination. Construction on the park began in 1951, and it maintains this retro feel today.
The first thing the children wanted to do was ride the carousels. The park hosts three, which are beautifully restored, and cost a Euro per ride. We rode Gondolas around a water filled lagoon, drove miniature autos, and let Pinocchio himself take us for a spin around in a carriage. When we’d finally had our fill of the round-a-bouts, we wandered over the trails to the Teatro dei Burattini (Burattini’s Theater), and the Carrozzone della Fata (The Fairy’s Caravan) where we admired the static displays depicting various scenes of the story.
Walking through the Piazetta dei mosaici, the Mosaic Square we entered the Paese del Balbocchi, the Land of Toys. We followed the forested path along the Land of Toys, where we discovered a new statue around each bend. We explored pirate boats, climbed through the mouth of Il grande Pescecane – the giant dogfish, clambered in and out of a giant frying pan and found the blue fairy. The only thing we didn’t explore was the labyrinth at the end of the path.
There is a restaurant associated with the park, the Osteria del Gambero Rosso, but we opted to grab a panini from a small shop in the town. After lunch, we set off to explore the Butterfly House and the Garzoni Garden. The small butterfly house is well maintained and has a nice collection of butterflies, but it didn’t take us too long to get through it. Our last stop of the day was the beautiful Baroque style Garzoni Garden.
It was in the garden that we had our most memorable encounter of the day. As we first entered the garden, my two-year-old became entranced by a pair of swans gracefully circling in the large fountains. She leaned in closer, her round baby fingers inching closer to the swan as he approached the edge of the fountain. Before the warning was out of my mouth, the swan’s elegant neck launched forward, his beak nipping her fingers. Her shrieks of terror and surprise echoed through the park as she fell with a thud to the ground, her little face redder by the moment. She was not harmed by the encounter, and, so far as I know, she has not developed a fear of large birds. It took us a while to regain our composure after the swan incident, but once we did my daughter was anxious to put as much distance between her and the garden’s attack swan as she could.
The garden was not the largest I’d ever visited, but it had enough trails and tucked away corners to explore to keep the children entertained and motivated to reach the summit. It was a steep ramble to the top of the gardens, and we spent the afternoon enjoying a slow walk up past fountains, statues and lemon trees. Standing just beneath the villa near last of the fountains in the garden, we turned to survey the beautiful Tuscan landscape before us. From this vista, we could just see the giant Pinocchio waving to us in the distance.
During the high season, the entrance fee to Pinocchio Park is 12 Euro, and the entrance to the Gardens and the Butterfly House is 13 Euros. We purchased a combination ticket at Pinocchio Park which covered the cost of all three. Our youngest was free, and the oldest received a reduced price. At 21 Euro for a full price combination ticket, a day in Collodi for a family of four is a pricey outing, but with young children it wasn’t too bad, and most likely, the younger children will enjoy the park more than a teen would. While it hadn’t received very good reviews on travel websites, we spent a lovely day engrossed in the story of Pinocchio in the birthplace of his creator.
For us, Collodi provided a break from our usual frantic vacation itinerary and allowed us time to slow down and enjoy a simple day together. If you’re in the area and looking for a family outing, we really enjoyed our day here. Just keep an eye on the swan.