Family Holiday in Italy: Review of campsite Norcenni Girasole

Two things we didn’t consider when we booked our holiday this year:

1. Italy can be very hot in July (subsequent raised eyebrows and “Italy in July? With small kids? Really?” comments did hammer this home)

2. Our campsite, Norcenni Girasole, is inland – way inland – sitting prettily in the hills of Tuscany but nowhere near even a sniff of a sea-breeze

A week before we were due to leave, I checked the weather forecast; the promise of 37’C and non-stop sunshine did not fill me with joy. Concerns about flying with three kids were quickly replaced by panic over two weeks living in an oven. I scrambled to buy P20 and UV protective swimsuits, and contacted the holiday company to see if we’d have air con – we would. Panic eased, and with a sense of we are where we are, we set off for Italy.

We needn’t have worried. The campsite more than makes up for lack of beach, and with its two huge pool complexes, the cooling down is covered too. So what’s the verdict on Norcenni Girasole?

Pool - Office Mum

The Food

Italy is famous for a more languid pace of life than we’re used to here – perfect for holidays, but not so perfect when you’re still waiting for main courses an hour after arriving in the restaurant. There are only so many games of hangman and noughts and crosses that can keep three kids entertained. We soon learned the three tricks to eating in the campsite restaurants: Make a reservation, go early before the rush, and don’t arrive starving. Once we figured that out, everything ran very smoothly.

restaurant games - office mum
Epic hangman game – she’s a shark

 

There are three restaurants and a takeaway in Norcenni Girasole, plus two café-bar-gelaterias so there’s plenty to choose from. The food is good and not expensive – typically pizzas are €7 to €9. Our favourite of the three restaurants, Norcenni, had a really good, buzzy atmosphere – the kind of noise level that perfectly dilutes your own kids’ shouts and squeals. And the house Chianti is very nice too.

Eating out in Greve
Eating out in Greve – Chianti in Chianti country

On a side note, something we were really looking forward to on this trip was the food – we’ve been to Italy before, without kids, and the food was always a highlight. There was one particular bowl of pasta consumed in Florence in 2002 – it cost around a fiver, in a small, local trattoria, and is still talked about in glowing terms in our house today. But finding the fabled bowls of pasta in the off-the-beaten-track local restaurants isn’t as easy with three kids in 37 degree heat. So more often than not, we stopped at the first restaurant we found – usually the most touristy spots, serving up good but not memorable food. My best meal was in Osteria I Santi in Pisa – a small, unfussy restaurant about a five minute walk from the Leaning Tower. Steak on rocket with parmesan; simple and perfect. It might just be up there with the fabled bowl of pasta.

Osteria I Santi
Osteria I Santi in Pisa, with a coffee thief

The Pools

“Are we there yet?” was the refrain from the kids during the relatively short drive from Pisa airport to Norcenni (1.5 hours) and similarly, “Can we go yet?” was what was going through my head during the first few trips to the pool. Which possibly makes me a bad person, but bear with me.

Lower Pool, at night
Lower Pool, at night

The pools in Norcenni are fantastic and many in number, spread over two separate complexes, however for the first week at least, they were extremely busy, and took getting used to. Minding three kids in pools full of campers, locals, and inflatable dolphins is no mean feat, especially when one child has no sense and wanders off at will.

Pool - Office Mum
Upper pool, at night

Over time, I got used to the pools, and they also became less busy – I read a sign in Italian that possibly said pools would be open to “campsite residents only” after July 12th, suggesting no more day-trippers, though I may be wrong about that.

d in pool

And anyway, that’s just me – the kids LOVED the pools. They would happily have spent eight hours a day jumping in to the big pools, lying down in the small pools, and sliding into the many slide pools. And there’s a cafe at each pool complex, which is very handy for grown-ups who need an occasional time out.

pool - office mum

The Kids’ Club

Our kids haven’t been too interested in kids’ clubs to date, and that reluctance continued during week 1 of this year’s trip, but week 2 was a game changer. In the French campsites (at least the ones we’ve been to), there were small, separate kids’ clubs run by each provider. So by definition, there’s an economies of scale issue – many small clubs, run by many busy holiday reps, in relatively small rooms, with limited scope for activities.

In Norcenni Girasole, there’s one club for the whole campsite, and it’s absolutely wonderful. There’s a set schedule of activities, running throughout the morning and again in the afternoon, and all kids on the site are eligible to join in any or all of them. They can pick and choose from activities like football, tennis, t-shirt painting, hip hop, magic lessons, mini-olympics, music lab, science lab and splash time in the pool. The reps who run the mini-club are the same people we saw on stage every night at the campsite amphitheatre, and they’re around throughout the day, high-fiving the kids and stopping for chats.

coffee - office mum

My reluctant kid clubbers LOVED the mini club in Norcenni and their little brother (who’s too young for kids’ club) enjoyed some playground time while the girls were off painting t-shirts. And the grown-ups very much enjoyed coffee at the café beside the playground. Win win win.

The night-life

We’ve never had night-life on a family holiday, but this was the year it all changed. Not too radically, but enough to give us a taste of what’s ahead as the kids get older. There’s a central area in Norcenni that’s almost like a village at night – restaurants, bars, a café serving ice-creams and cocktails, live music, a live stage show, and a playground in the middle of it all.

wine playground

 

By week 2 (which is clearly when we figured everything out) we realised that the girls could watch the stage show while the small boy played just meters away in the playground, and we could sit watching all three of them, glass of wine in hand.

The amenities

Overall, the campsite was very, very good. As well as all the food options and entertainment, there was an outdoor activity area with trampolines and zip line (at a cost), and there was a “Luna Park” night once a  week with bowling, karaoke, face-painting and billiards for kids (no cost). Two good food shops, a wine shop, a “bazaar” shop with a great selection of swim-wear, shorts, flip-flops, toys, and critically, English editions of Grazia and Marie Claire for when you run out of all your books.

Siena - office mum
Day-tripping in Siena

There are tour buses that you can take to Florence, Siena and Pisa (we drove to Siena and Pisa, but took a bus to Florence having heard that parking is a pain.) There’s a free shuttle train on site that runs throughout the day from the “lower pools” to the “upper pools” because the whole campsite is built into the Tuscan hills. Walking is good, but in 35 degrees, a train is great.

The verdict

Love. We loved Norcenni Girasole. If you’re going to be in Italy, miles and miles from the sea in scorching hot weather, this is the place to be. This was our first holiday inland, and I did miss being near water, but the campsite and the day trips to Florence, Siena, Pisa and Greve made up for it.

The kids loved every bit of it – the heat was tough at times, but the pools kept things cool, as did the air con in the mobile. Throw in an ice-cream or two a day, and everyone’s a winner.

last night
Sad saying goodbye on our last night

We booked with KelAir for the third year in a row – an Irish travel company with mobile homes in France, Spain and Italy, and yet again this year we were delighted with the service.

And 5 things I couldn’t live without this year:

5 things

1. Mosquito spray: if the mozzies like you, you’ll need your spray in central Italy

2. Stain remover: pizza, pasta and chocolate ice-cream every day, meant spills every day, and this stuff got a LOT of use. Next year, I’m only packing black clothes for the kids

3. Coffee: we couldn’t figure out the coffee machine in the mobile home, so stocked up on caffeine at every opportunity – unsurprisingly, the Italians know how to make a good cappuccino

4. Books: reading on the deck at night in 25 degree heat was our sacred end-of-day ritual – I read The Girl on the Train, Second Life, and the one that had me utterly consumed – The Goldfinch

5. Wine: well, we were in Chianti country

So if you’re researching holidays and thinking of Italy, I’d highly recommend Norcenni, and if you have any questions about the site, feel free to post them in the comments below. Happy hunting!

pool - office mum
Happy camper

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To see the Facebook version of my holiday, and then the real, warts-and-all version of the story behind the photos, see The Facebook Version for HerFamily.ie

Her Family article - Andrea Mara

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30 thoughts on “Family Holiday in Italy: Review of campsite Norcenni Girasole”

    1. That’s it exactly – it’s a big tradeoff but if you’re going to try an inland holiday, this does its very best to make up for lack of sea.
      We were asking the rep about Easter out of curiosity, and she said that it can be late teens or can be mid twenties -depending on when Easter falls too.

  1. The camp sounds the business. My fella continues to make noises about going somewhere similar while I try to pretend I can’t hear him. I’m wondering whether it’s good value when you take in to consideration return flights etc. Any thoughts on that would be enlightening to someone in four minds about going. Ta.

    1. So, compared to taking the ferry to France, it was similar price-wise for travel and accommodation, but what we didn’t factor in when we booked was that car hire would be a fairly hefty extra expense on top.
      You don’t have to hire a car – you can do the day trips by getting really good air-con’d buses from the campsite, but it’s handy all the same so that you’re not tied to anyone else’s schedule.
      Booking flights really early is good – we booked last October. The same flights were double the price a few months ago. We flew with Ryanair. If you’re not tied to going away during summer, you could get a good deal by travelling off-peak. This campsite is open from Easter to October.
      I am biased – we’ve done campsites for four years now – but I think it’s a brilliant way to holiday with kids. Hope that helps!

  2. Thanks for that. Can’t beat the judgement of a seasoned camper who can compare. Wouldn’t thought of the car hire and handy to know about flights etc. Definitely not a last minute job then by the sounds of it. Grand job *tips hat*

    1. Oh and one more thing – I think you mentioned before that you go camping? If so, camping is really good value so worth checking out. We have always stayed in mobile homes but so many people stay in tents, and the facilities in NG for campers were really, really good. I nearly considered it myself…

    1. Lovely to hear from you Maria!
      Yes it was fab and lovely to have finally braved flying. We did kind of miss the ferry too though – I can definitely imagine switching back to ferry at times in the coming years!

  3. That’s a great post and some lovely pictures! We’re just thinking about next year’s holidays and going to a camping site was one of the ideas 🙂 This sounds like a great place with all the activities for the kids! Another option we’re thinking about is Cascais near Lisbon… Decisions decisions!
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    1. That sounds very interesting – we were in Lisbon for our tenth wedding anniversary last year (just the two of us, for two nights) and I’d love to go back with the kids sometime. Happy researching!

  4. Ah, bringing back memories of last summer for me. You weren’t too far from Cortona, where we were. I too had a lovely meal in Pisa – I got the impression that not a lot of people stay overnight there, so once the tourbuses had gone home the restaurants were actually quite happy to have us. (That was on another trip a long time ago, though.) We had the most delicious Chianti I’ve ever tasted that night.
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  5. We, too, went to Tuscany for the first time in July – and it was very hot. We, too, were told we must be mad to do so with our children – five of them aged between four and 14. That was 26 years ago, since when we’ve returned many times, as have our children with their own children. Indeed, my wife and I have just returned from a great few days at Norcenni Girasole where we joined our eldest daughter with her hisband and two sons.

    1. Oh what a lovely comment to read this morning! I’d love to think of our kids going back time and again after the lovely trip we had this year.
      Last year, we went to St Jean de Monts in France, where I went 25 years ago as a child with my parents, so I love the idea of generations following in footsteps. Thank you for commenting!

  6. Thanks for your review! We will be arriving at Norcenni Girasole Club on 15th August and your review has been very helpful! I wondered if you had any advice about visiting Florence with kids? Our children are 6 and 22 months.

    1. Hi Clare,
      My best advice is take the bus from Norcenni that goes on a Monday as it’s for a half day trip to Florence – all other bus trips are for a full day, which we felt would be too much in the heat, with small kids. Check with the information office, but when we were there, it was Monday at 1.30pm, getting you to Florence at 2ish, then we got back on the bus just before 7 if I remember (but do check!)
      It was 36 degrees when we were there, so we went from ice-cream shop to ice-cream shop making the most of the air con! We did get to see the city centre – we walked from the Santa Maria Novella train station (where the bus dropped us) over to the Duomo then through Via Roma to Ponte Vecchio, then back, stopping for food and drinks as often as we needed to. It would definitely be easier in cooler temperatures but as long as you jump into the air con every once in a while, you’ll be fine!
      Enjoy your trip!

  7. Hi, love your review about Norcinne – I was just wondering about the Kellair accommodation, at present they only have a 2 bed Mercure available for dates required? Or a 3 bed a bit earlier in season (might opt for this?) – which did you stay in? Are they new models? Clean?
    Thank you very much!!! Looks like a great campsite 😉
    Ruth

    1. Hi Ruth,
      We stayed in a three bed Mercure in Norcenni – purely because I figured putting the three kids in one bedroom would make bedtime a nightmare and it wouldn’t be a holiday. That said, this year we’ve booked another site in Italy, and they only had two-bed mobiles, and we went ahead with it…
      The mobile home quality was good – we had stayed in a Kelair mobile in Clarys Plage in France the previous year, and it was a newer mobile, the nicest we’ve ever stayed in. So we were a bit spoiled, and the one in Norcenni wasn’t as new or as nice, but it was perfect – it’s only through comparing it to the previous year that it fell short, if that makes sense. So overall – definitely a safe bet to book with Kelair, and I guess the bedroom question probably depends on whether or not you think your kids will handle a two bed. I really hope mine do 🙂
      Happy holidays!
      Andrea

  8. Hi Andrea,
    I’m pleased to read your review about the campsite that I’m just looking at.

    I’m wondering if it would be OK to rent a logetent that doesn’t have AC in June/July? The price is very attractive – half the cost of the mobiles with AC. I’m strapped for cash but want to bring the kids somewhere memorable that I know they will adore…

    Thanks,
    Emma

    1. Hi Emma,
      When we were in Norcenni it was 37 degrees most of the time and I know we would not have coped without air con – especially the kids. June might be cooler though – it was particularly hot when we were there! We also stayed in Marina di Venezia near Venice last July and it was not as hot – we didn’t have the air conditioning on all the time and lots of people stayed in tents. It’s a tough one to call – would there be a fan in the tent? Even that would make a big difference!

  9. I just wanted to 2nd this recommendation. I took my 3 kids 11, 7 and 5 here alone last year and the cabins, pools and staff were amazing. The restaurants were sympathetic to problems of a single mum and I felt gave us extra attention. And one time, when kids were playing me up, a free drink!
    The excellent entertainment meant I felt like I had a bit of an evening too and bedtime just involved carrying the littlest home.

    1. Joanne, that’s so lovely to hear – I love the free drink story! I have to say, the staff in Norcenni were amazing – it’s not everywhere you feel welcome with small children in restaurants, but eating out there was a really lovely experience. So glad you enjoyed your trip and thanks for the lovely comment.

  10. Great review! We were there last year. Went with our teenagers and everyone had a ball. My crew would go beck in the morning!

    1. Good to know teens enjoy it too – I’d love to go back at some stage and so would the kids – they were talking about it randomly tonight at dinner again!

  11. Great info on this page which came up when I googled “Norcenni Girasole reivews” so glad I found it! We are going first two weeks of July but know it will be hot as we got married quite close to it in Greve 11 years ago and boy was it hot then! Thanks for all the info – I have just followed your FB page!

    1. HI Eileen,
      Thanks for getting in touch and I’m very envious of your upcoming trip to Norcenni – we were only chatting about here in our house this weekend and getting all nostalgic, I’d love to go back at some stage!
      And thanks for the FB follow – much appreciated!
      Andrea

  12. I love your review and it makes me all the more excited to be going there now in June! Just booking it at mo.
    Can i be a pain and ask about the locations of the mobiles. We are torn between a gustocamp one which seems to be over to the left of the site on the map and across a little bridge over the river? Wondering are they nearly too isolated! Or we can go for one of their own mobiles on site which always seem to be in good locations but it can be in any of 4 areas and 2 of the areas are quiet and 2 not! The kids are 11, 9, 7 and 5!!
    We’ve been to MArina di Venezia last two years and hired bikes both yrs for getting around! Will this site be too hilly for bikes? Its june we are going so i’m hoping we won’t have to worry that it will be too Hot!

    1. I’m trying to remember a river but I can’t – I do remember trying to make sense of the map of the site once and being very confused. If you are looking at the entrance, with the “village centre” straight ahead, we were up the hill to the right. So if you are looking at mobiles to the left, that’s the side we never went to at all so I’m not sure what it was like. But I doubt anywhere was too far from the centre. We were half way up the hill between the lower pools and the upper pools, and it was very easy to get to both. There’s a little train for going up and down the hill if needed – maybe there’s a similar train over on the other side? Either way, I’d say you’re fine – it’s a big site but nowhere seemed to be really, really far away.
      We hired bikes in Marine di Venezia too but not in Norcenni – where we were would have been too hilly, but also because we didn’t need them – we were only a few minutes from the pool. I’m feeling so nostalgic for it now reading this!!

      1. Aw thanks! Yea I’m so excited now it’s booked! Well once I decide on which mobile to go for.
        Yea the kids loved the bikes and having their own little bit of freedom. And having the baskets on the bikes was so handy for lugging the towels to the pool and all! But I suppose we will judge that once we get there ! I hope we don’t miss the beach but I don’t think we will! We are more pool people! And it won’t be scorching I’d say !

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