KRIS' FAMILY HOLIDAY TO LAKE GARDA, ITALY

Who: Kris, and Karen with their nearly 3 year old Amy

Where: Lake Garda. We wanted to see as much of the region as possible, and also to mix the Parks up a bit so there was something for everyone. After strong recommendations, we settled on 1 week at Eden, which was a great location from which to explore (perfect for Karen and I), followed by 3 days on Bella Italia and 4 days on Del Garda Village and Camping, with these Parks more geared towards children.

When: 9th – 23rd May 2016

Travelling: We flew from Manchester to Verona with Monarch – great flight times on the Monday 9th arriving in the early evening, and back late in the evening on the 23rd. We had booked a hire car to be picked up from Verona airport and took a booster seat with us, in the hold at no extra cost.

DAY 1 - ARRIVAL

We’ve travelled a few times with Amy and fortunately she’s a great traveller – the excitement of an aeroplane far outweighs any sore ears. The flight couldn’t have been any smoother.
 
We arrived into Verona around 6pm local time. 30 mins later it was apparent our child seat hadn’t left Manchester, but the car hire company were extremely accommodating and gave us one free of charge. At the airport they took our addresses and said they would call me as soon as our seat arrived.
 
We got to the Park at around 8pm. We had a welcome letter waiting for us at the main reception and a second note at the Al Fresco reception to tell us our mobile home was open and ready. We quickly found the Bellini 1, chucked our cases in, opened the fridge to find 2 cans of local beer, a bottle of water, and a couple of ice pops – after a long day travelling these were greatly appreciated!
 
It was only then as we went back onto the decking to relax that we noticed it. One of the best views we’ve ever experienced from our front door. Positioned in the steep hillside, our mobile was located just above the Al Fresco reception. This gave an unimpeded view over the Lake with a mountainous backdrop of the most amazing blue hues. It was truly stunning. The holiday couldn’t have started any better.

DAY 2 - BOAT TO SALO

 
One of the reasons we chose Eden was the location of Portese. We wanted to see as much of Garda as possible, but didn’t want to be driving and Portese had a regular boat service and was only 5 minutes’ walk from the site. Today we visited Salo, a largish town on the West bank of the Lake. We booked a 1 way ticket (€10 for all 3 of us) as we didn’t want to tie ourselves to a return. It took around 20 minutes for the crossing via a stop at Gardone Riviera.
 
Salo is just lovely. It’s as typical a lakeside Italian town as you could imagine. Lots of lakeside cafes, some great looking restaurants set back in the winding streets which are full of boutiques and ice cream parlours. TIP – a lot of the boutiques are closed in the afternoon so get there early or stay late!
 
One thing you don’t see in Garda which are prevalent in many other holiday destinations – cats looking for snippets of food from generous holiday makers. No, in Garda, there are begging ducks instead! It all just adds to the charm. 
 
Rather than get the boat back, we found a supermarket to visit on the way home. You can pretty much walk lakeside all the way around the cove with a 3km promenade stretching from Salo to the cemetery just before you reach San Felice del Benaco – a lovely walk I’d recommend, even loaded up with shopping and carrying Amy it was worth it.

DAY 3 - RAINY DAY SHOPPING

We went shopping to an outlet to pass some time and get lunch, and on the way back stopped off at a vineyard to pick up some local wine. The Strada dei Vini hosts a huge number of vineyard outlets, all welcoming a visit and often offering wine tastings and small snacks. As you’re buying direct from the supplier, you really can get some great deals and the more you buy, the cheaper you’ll pay per bottle.

DAY 4 - GARDONE RIVIERA

Arriving at the port, Gardone looks identical to Salo, to the point that as we disembarked, the first thing Amy said was “Why is that statue now a tree?” – Salo shall now forever be known as the statue place, Gardone the tree place. But we came for something very different, recommended to us by Katie from the office, a warship in the hills.
 
Vittoriale Degli Italiani to be exact, the last house built by, and ultimately the resting place of the poet, (and later the fascist) Gabriele d’Annunzio. Amongst the wandering gardens you’ll find a beautiful waterfall, an open air theatre (you may find scheduled performances of his works in July/August), his sarcophagus which is at the highest point of the grounds and must be visited to join his dogs and share their view over the lake, his impressive cars and boat, and yes the bow of the warship Puglia. Why is this half way up a mountain? Who knows, and frankly who cares. It just is, and that’s impressive enough.

DAY 5 - MARKET

There was an Al Fresco folder in our mobile home which had a list of where the markets were each day. Friday’s was in a town called Manerba del Garda, just south of San Felice. To be honest it wasn’t that easy to find but we were well rewarded for perseverance when we did. Basically went to town on meat, cheese and wine. €15 for a half size Prosciutto ham, same again for the biggest block of Parmigiano-Reggiano you’ve ever seen. Hand-made pasta, great fruit and veg (the largest white asparagus ever and some very oddly shaped tomatoes!).
 
TIP – if you buy a Prosciutto – ask at your Al Fresco reception for a knife sharpener to help you get those extra thin cuts of ham

DAY 6 - BRESCIA

My selfish day. I was keen to catch a football match whilst in Italy and whilst there were a few choices I opted for Brescia vs Bari – a game of two fallen giants (at least in the 90’s they were). I’ll keep this indulgence short – bus from San Felice to Brescia via Salo was painless, make sure you get the Metro to the ground (around 6km north of the Bus station). The ground is old, concrete, falling apart. The supporters are excitable to say the least. Do take photo ID for buying a ticket and getting into the ground. Don’t ask for a ticket to the Curva Nord – they just don’t like any outsiders. Be careful what colours you wear. 2-3, great game, last minute winner for Bari. To be clear, I never felt unsafe at any point, but it’s certainly raw and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. The Serie B season starts up again in September.
 
TIP 1 – Be careful with your timings. The whole day had cost me around €40. I got the train back to Desenzano and missed the last bus to San Felice by 10 minutes. My only option then was a taxi, which exactly doubled the cost of my day.

TIP 2 – When looking at kick off times from the UK, remember there is a 1+ hour time difference, or you may turn up an hour early and wonder where the crowds are.

TIP 3 – When you are then at least an hour later getting back than you said you would be, take advantage of the great wine selections available in the little store to the left of the bar at Eden’s restaurant. Karen approved.

DAY 7 - OLD FRIENDS IN SALO

We met an old Italian friend and had a lovely long lunch in Salo.
TIP – try and make a reservation if you want to eat in the nicer restaurants, particularly on a Sunday when it seemed every restaurant was full of large Italian families.

DAY 8 - TRANSFER TO BELLA ITALIA AND A CHANGE OF PACE

All in all, after cleaning the mobile, it took us about 2 hours to transfer to Bella Italia, get checked in, and be sat on our nicely shaded decking. The rest of the day was about exploring the facilities, another great barbecue (gas this time), and letting Amy of the leash at Mini Disco!
 
TIP - If you let your child eat blue ice cream (if only as a one off ‘treat’) – give them a wide berth for the next 2 hours, or, take them to mini club!

DAY 9 - PARK DAY

This was why we came to Bella Italia. Two large adult pools, 2 children’s pools, a choice of water slides, a mini man made ‘beach’, local animator team organising kids activities through the day and evening, an inflatable play park, mini disco, ice cream parlour… Amy was in heaven. She’d been so good over the first week, this was her chance to run free. She also learned her first German and Dutch words as she made friends with other children on site!

DAY 10 - PESCHIERA BEACH AND SPA

Peschiera was really very pretty. We started with a brunch overlooking one of the squares and then had a leisurely walk around the town, along the canals, over the town walls, through the back streets, the Roman ruins, more ice cream.. In the afternoon it was Karen’s turn to indulge – this is her view of the spa she chose to enjoy in Sirmione:
 
I chose the Aquaria spa at the Terme de Sirmione for the stunning location & great range of treatments they have on offer. It’s easy to find with just a short wander though the streets & past the amazing Gelaterias in Sirmione old town. You pay to access the spa for 5 hours, approx €40 & treatments are extra. As with most Italian pools be prepared to wear the lovely swim caps they insist upon. I didn’t book ahead but still managed to book a 25 minute massage when I arrived, this was booked for later the in afternoon so I had a few hours to relax & experience the variety of thermal pools on offer. The view from the outdoor pools is stunning & as it was quiet I managed to bag myself a sun lounger right on the lakeside to relax & read with the occasional dip into one of the warm thermal pools and multi-sensory pools and showers – basically lovely warm shower followed by a freezing plunge pool! 
 
The set up at the spa is great, when you’ve checked in they give you a robe, swim cap & your own bracelet which gives you access to a secure area to store all your belongings & is also used to charge any purchases from the bar/restaurant area so you can relax & enjoy a lovely juice, coffee or Prosecco & light lunch without worrying about carrying any cash with you. The massage was a perfect way to experience the treatments at the spa & the 5 hours just flew by, I was gutted when it was time to leave until I remembered I had promised myself a gelato on the walk back to the car!
 
TIP 1 - Head to the spa on a weekday as it’s cheaper than a weekend & if you want anything more than a 25 minute treatment it’s best to book ahead. The staff on reception speak Italian, English, Dutch, German ….. so it’s easy to call ahead & book.

TIP 2 – Parking in Sirmione is pretty expensive so be prepared to pay at least €2 per hour or try & get the bus or boat in.
Meanwhile, Amy fell asleep on me by the pool. Bliss.

DAY 11 - TRANSFER TO DEL GARDA

We arrived at Del Garda Village and Camping just after lunch, but unfortunately the day was quite stormy and we passed it by drawing and playing games. We ate at the on-site restaurant in the evening though and were very glad that we did. The food was excellent, the wine was just as good and the staff were all brilliant. I’ve got to mention the Maître-d, who runs front of house and prowls his territory like an extra from a spaghetti western. I guess he’s a great example setter for the attention to detail you find throughout the park.
 
TIP – Make sure you try the Mascarpone Cream dessert. Recommended to Karen by the waiter, we went back to both eat it again a couple of nights later.

We also missed the Mille Miglia which was a shame. Explained to us as Italy’s own annual version of the Gumball Rally, if we hadn’t had Amy with us we’d have braved the weather but it wouldn’t have been fair to her. One to come back for.

DAY 12 - SIRMIONE AND POOL DAY

Woke up early and it was like a street party outside. The sun was shining and everyone just spilled out of their mobiles into the outdoors and had their own little celebration of the glorious weather!
 
After Karen’s trip to the spa she insisted we had to go and see Sirmione, not that there was any resistance! The photos should tell their own story. A 13th century ‘Rocca Scaligera’ castle but in the old town on the Lake’s edge, lots of winding streets, more ice cream than I’ve ever seen before. Just another stunning day, with the only disappointment being for Amy, that Rapunzel, unfortunately, wasn’t in once we had got to the top of the tower.
 
We also found a great place to eat in the old town, ‘Ristorante re Desiderio’. I had a popular local delicacy of Lake caught sardines with pasta (‘Spaghetti con Sardine di Largo’), and Karen had one of the largest chunks of steak she’d ever seen, beautifully cooked if you like your beef rare. Meal of the week (excluding my barbecues, of course).

DAY 13 - POOL DAY

Out of the three sites, this was the perfect site for Amy. Whilst Bella had many more facilities, it does cater for more school age children from 5 to teenage years. Del Garda was ideal for a 3 year old. The water slides were just the right size, needing Amy to be brave to climb up it, but (with a bit of persuasion the first time) happy to throw herself down it. Again. And again. Perhaps it was the time of year, but all the other children on site were of a similar age so she found it much easier to make friends too. The fact that there were no cars outside of the mobile homes really worked perfectly for her too.
 
Karen and I? It was lovely to just sit back, relax, and watch Amy exploring the world.
 
TIP – If you buy an inflatable for the pool, ask the kind lady at the shop and she has a machine to blow it up for you

DAY 14 - MONTE BALDO

Simply stunning. Stazione “Monte Baldo” is 1760m above sea level and is reached via 2 cable cars, the second of which rotates giving you stunning 360 degree views of both the ascent and descent. At the top you’ll find a couple of coffee bars, and if you’re lucky, some snow just about clinging on to the peaks! We walked probably just over a kilometre to the north to be rewarded with the most amazing view of the north shores of the Lake.
 
I don’t have the words to do some of the views justice – look at the photos, and if you ever go to Garda, make sure you do this.
 
TIP – Be early, the car parks fill up fast and there can be lengthy queues for the cable cars, particularly in high season.

DAY 15 - TIME FOR HOME

Genuinely one of the best holidays we’ve ever had. Perfectly bridged the gap between the independent travelling myself and Karen had enjoyed in the past, and the family holidays which are very much a part of our future. Amy learned and grew up that little bit more in front of us. I wouldn’t have changed a thing about, bar a couple of days of weather. As near to perfect as we could have hoped and one of the few places we can’t wait to go back to as there’s still so much we haven’t done.