Lower your Gard in Italy’s lakes

From her base in a relaxing campsite on the shores of Italy’s beautiful Lake Garda, Caroline Davison found plenty to explore and, importantly, to enjoy

Saturday, 20th April 2013, 8:00 am
A Generic Photo of sailboats on the lakeside in Lake Garda, Italy. See PA Feature TRAVEL Eurocamp Italy. Picture credit should read: PA Photo/thinkstockphotos. WARNING: This picture must only be used to accompany PA Feature TRAVEL Eurocamp Italy.

Sitting on the stone steps of the open-air Verona Arena watching Aida declare her love for Radames, I was on the verge of tears.

Until my partner’s son leaned over and asked: “Are they dead yet?” Sobbing subdued, I whispered: “Not yet.” Well at least he was trying to follow the story.

It had taken just 30 minutes to travel to the fair city from our campsite in Peschiera del Garda on the south-east shore of Lake Garda.

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The opera experience had been top of my to-do list during our 10-day visit but, at four hours long with four intervals and ending after 1am, I fretted whether Joe, 13, and his dad Dave would be bored before the final scenes.

However, despite the distraction of the occasional squeak as we moved around on the £1.60 blow-up plastic cushions that were saving our derrieres, we were mesmerised by the emotional performances of the singers.

We opted to read the synopsis before the show, but others were following a printed translation with mini torches as they swigged wine decanted into plastic bottles and ate picnics.

In the afternoon we had explored the city’s winding streets and beautiful churches, and eaten in a cheap and cheerful restaurant because we didn’t want to cart food and drink around. Instead, we made a mad dash outside the arena for snacks and drinks during the intervals as the prices out there were half those inside.

Eurocamp’s Bella Italia campsite was the base for our holiday and the company celebrates its 40th birthday in 2013.

The self-catering holiday specialist offers the widest selection of outdoor family holidays in parcs throughout Europe, each with a range of activities and kids’ clubs.

Don’t let the ‘camp’ reference put you off - there’s a range of accommodation on offer, including stylish mobile homes, lodges, modern chalets and bungalows. Plus, fully equipped ‘Classic’ and ‘Safari’ tents for those that like their camping more traditional.

Our attractive campsite featured plenty of activities and facilities to keep the whole family happy, plus superb views across Lake Garda.

Increasing numbers of campsite holidaymakers fly to Italy, but we had taken the decision to drive across mainland Europe and found that it was worth the effort.

Ferry boats run frequently around the lake but planning is essential to avoid getting stranded, while the £45 day return for the three of us to the nearby town of Sermione – a 10-minute drive away – made me count my blessings that we’d brought the car.

Sermione is a beautiful small town with endless ice cream shops serving delicious offerings to keep you going as you explore the battlemented walls and 13th-century fairytale castle with steps up to a tower.

Past the central winding streets is a road leading up to a Roman villa on the peninsula. It’s a good 15-minute walk uphill but worth it to see the view across the lake - and below lies the area’s only mineral spring.

In the heat of the day we needed a lakeside spot for a quiet dip - and we found a perfect one about half a mile out of town that we revisited again and again.

Almost deserted and grassy with a steep bank and much-needed shade, we wiled away a good few hours with a picnic and took it in turns on a lilo bobbing around on the shallow water.

The pebble beach on the campsite was also a decent, bustling spot but it offered little shade from the intense 100F heat - although the inviting water helped us to cool off.

Once the temperature had subsided slightly in the afternoons we took off on adventures around the lake. One memorable jaunt was to Malcesine, an unremarkable town overlooked by Mount Baldo, which is a hive of activity from skiing in winter to trekking or mountain biking in summer.

After exploring all the cultural highlights, it was time to appeal to our inner children and head for Caneva Aquapark, a 15-minute drive out of Peschiera, which costs around £20 each.

On the 300ft high Stukas Boom Dave and Joe stood in enclosed, transparent compartments before a trap door was released and they screamed like two girls at a Justin Bieber concert.

It was like the opera all over again – only this time everyone got out alive.