|Subject: Re: Italy and Spain for an extended family.|
My experience (having traveled with a similar-sized group--4 kids, 2 adults) last summer: in many ways we preferred Spain to Italy. People in Spain much friendlier, prices much (much) better. We traveled from Spain to Rome in 2 days (overnight train to Nice, one day in Nice on the beach, overnight night train to Rome) which I would *not* recommend. But you have more time than we did (2 weeks) and I would encourage you to keep both countries on the itinerary.
One thing to keep in mind with such a large group: we traveled everywhere via train and public transportation. Whenever we went to a small town (ie anywhere that didn't have great public transportaition), I made sure to book a hotel somewhere near the train station--because taxis couldn't accommodate our group of six, and we didn't feel comfortable separating.
We only went to a few places in Spain, but after hearing quite a bit about Girona, we put that on the list. It's about an hour up the coast from Barcelona, not very touristy, with a great old town that's worth exploring. The language is Catalan so my Spanish student son couldn't help us out, but the people were so friendly that it didn't matter. My kids (similar ages to yours, plus another) loved Rome--even though it was 95 degrees and miserably hot when we were there--and also Venice. Tuscany *is* beautiful, but my kids were unimpressed. If we'd had time, I wish we could have gone to Lake Country, which would have been a nice antidote to Rome and Venice--the towns around Lake Como sound beautiful, peaceful, and scenic. That area seems to be growing in popularity among travelers, as does the Cinque Terre, which we also didn't visit. (But after we arrived home, seemed as though every summer street fair we attended had art--paintings or photographs--of those hillside towns.) I don't know if the beaches are any good, but the towns sit at the edge of the water.
My kids were also unhappy that we didn't stop in Monaco--just because they loved the way it looked from the train. I've been there a few times, and found it magical, but didn't think it would appeal to my kids so I didn't include it in our (overcrowded) travel plans. Next time, maybe.
JoAnne, in sunny Silicon Valley, CA