Bologna, Italy: One of our favorite family trips was heading down to Emilia Romagna for a weekend and lazing at a winery. We stayed at Corte d'Aibo, about 10 minutes outside Bologna. This winery offered kids cooking classes, wine making tours, a quaint restaurant and some of the best Pignoletto I've ever tasted. Bologna is a foodie's dream with daily markets offering bread, olives, cheese, fresh produce and at least 200 types of salami. There's Roman ruins, quaint villages and stunning views to be had throughout Emelia Romagna. We spent an entire day swimming in the lake and eating freshly picked cherries after grape-stomping at Corte d'Aibo. Our daughter, 4 at the time, learned to make fresh pasta and gnocchi.
Lake Bled: At one time, this was an exclusive vacation spot for European Royalty. Today, it's a lesser known hot spot for tourists who love to hike and enjoy water sports. We stayed at Mulej, a farmhouse with horseback riding, complete with a cozy restaurant offering local cuisine and bikes available for rent. Located close to the water, we also rented a kayak and kayaked to a dinner across the lake one night. Just 30 minutes down the road, Ljubljana is a bustling city with sites worth visiting including a market, canals and stunning churches. Our daughter's top site to visit: Skocjanske Park, a series of underground caves carved out by a river. Nearby is Predjama Castle, carved into the cliffs of Central Slovenia.
Alsace, France: Colmar, Riquewihr and Bergheim are must-see cities in this charming destination in Northeastern France. Formerly German controlled, you can easily speak German or French with locals--however, they have their own dialect so be prepared to learn new words! We stayed in Bergheim at the Cour de la Bailli. The Bailli has a basement pool and spa located in the old cellar, it's affordable and the restaurant boasts a 4-star 3-course menu. The Bailli also has a winery, 300 meters away. Colmar, called the Venice of France, contains lovely markets and canals while Riquewihr boasts charming shops and a vast history. Just outside Riquewihr, near the circle, there's a bike rental shop with double bikes for kids and parents. Come hungry, this destination boasts unique menus of snails, beef tartare and marinated meats.
Leiden, Netherlands: Often called "little amsterdam", this city has everything you want to see in the Netherlands, windmills, canals, and museums without the hassle of traffic (also situated on the 214 bus line out of the Hague). Leiden was one of our favorite cities in Europe, with charming cafes on the canals, cheese-making tours, clog makers and lots of interesting history. Delft is just 20 minutes down the road, the capitol of Delftware, where tours are free. Be sure to try Poffertjes, mini dutch pancakes, at a street vendor. We purchased a pan at the local department store and now make them Sunday mornings.
Lausanne/Gruyere, Switzerland: Since Switzerland uses the Franc, we avoided Geneva, Zurich and Interlochen trying to keep it less expensive. Lesser known is Lausanne and Gruyere. Just outside of Lausanne is the Hotel Le Funi a Cossonay with stunning mountain views and much less expensive than anything located in the city. A quick stop at Carrefour for lunch (sandwich stuff, fruit, chips) saved us having to purchase lunch as we toured/hiked. This hotel is ideally located for a solid day of hiking. Be sure to stop in Martigny for photos and Montreaux for coffee! Hitting the Gruyere factory was the highlight for our daughter, it's her favorite cheese. We wandered the area after the tour and had some of the best fondue, ever. Try the Rosti with eggs, ham and Gruyere in the factory.