Family is the cornerstone of Italian life – the central axis around which all other things revolve.
Or, as 19th-century politician and writer Giuseppe Mazzini put it, “La Famiglia è la Patria del cure” – the family is the homeland of the heart.
With that in mind, Italy is obviously an ideal destination for a family holiday.
Nevertheless, we all know that it can be tricky keeping everyone happy when booking a break.
With our two growing daughters, Isla, 11 and Evelyn, seven, wanting more than sitting by a pool or lake and chomping on pizza and gelato, we headed to Italy’s largest lake in search of family holiday equilibrium.
Our hotel for the week was the luxurious Hotel Caesius Thermae & Spa Resort, set within lush landscaped gardens on the border of Bardolino and Cisano.
Within its gated garden complex, there were five swimming pools for the kids to explore, while inside the main building, more mature guests can immerse themselves in the renowned spa centre’s thermal and Turkish baths and saunas.
Food-wise, the buffet breakfasts were spectacular, with a massive array of fresh fruit juices, cereals, hot and cold dishes and that all-important cup of famously strong Italian coffee to get the day off to a rejuvenating start. Next to the main swimming pool, we enjoyed light lunches, drinks and snacks in the shade at the Gazebo Bar.
One evening, we also ate in the hotel’s main Benacus Restaurant, which served up some of the best and most imaginative food I’ve tasted across Italy.
My wife Rachel and I had the antipasti, followed by the risotto and a veal cutlet with sage and potatoes, while the kids had Parma ham with melon and smoked whitefish with noodle pasta and crunchy vegetables.
A few yards from Caesius is the promenade linking the beautiful resorts dotted around Lake Garda, and with its world-famous wine and high-class shopping, Bardolino centre was a scenic 20-minute stroll away.
There are countless restaurants and pizzerias to try out in the popular Piazza Matteotti, many with sumptuous views of the serene lake.
We ate at Taverna Da Memo on Piazza Statuto, which I’d heard, served the best steak in Bardolino. Thankfully, the rumours were correct – my tender sirloin was bursting with flavour.
Back home, Isla’s passion is her swimming training. A few days into our break, she was understandably having withdrawal symptoms, so we drove her up to the Poiano Resort in the hills above Garda so she could make use of their Olympic-sized pool. The day after, we visited pools of a different kind. At Caneva Aquapark in Lazise, there are relaxing lagunas, a lazy river, and slides and flumes at Pirates Lagoon for younger children like Evelyn.
However, daredevil Isla was eager for thrills and spills and joined me on a leap into the unknown on the intrepid Water Jump before climbing up and sliding down the terrifying Twin Peaks.
Next door to Caneva is Movieland. The Hollywood-inspired theme park has more than 20 rides and shows, the best being the 600-horsepower Kitt Super Jet boat, and Pangea, a new self-driven expedition back in time into the world of dinosaurs.
However, Italy’s biggest and best theme park remains Gardaland in Castelnuovo del Garda. As a treat for the girls (and mum and dad), we had a holiday within a holiday, and spent a night at the resort’s Adventure Hotel. We had a choice of rooms, all with a different exploration theme. But as the girls love anything snow-related, we agreed on the Arctic Explorer suite, complete with props of snowshoes, skis, Arctic crates and life-size pictures of polar bears and sea eagles.
After checking in, we caught the shuttle bus to Gardaland itself. During summer, the park is open until 11pm every evening and, as was becoming the norm, Isla twisted my arm and got me to join her on high-octane rides Blue Thunder and Shaman.
However, we also got to see plenty of attractions as a family, with the new Peppa Pig Land and the Jungle Rapids the most memorable.
After a hot day at the park, we settled down for dinner at the Ancient Egypt-themed Tutankhamon Restaurant, where there was a nightly visit from a mummy and his desert explorer friend.
Food-wise, we had tasty prosciutto and cheeses followed by wood-fired pizzas and ice cream before heading back to the Arctic room to chill out for the night.
The next morning, we used our two-park ticket and made our way over to Gardaland SEA LIFE Aquarium where we took a peek into the underwater depths and marveled at its new arrival, the unusual Napoleon Fish.
The best part of our previous Lake Garda trips has always been the long days spent by the lake itself, and this summer was no exception.
We boarded one of Navigazione Laghi’s ferries from the Bardolino jetty and headed south past Simione to the historic town of Desenzano, where we hired a pedalo for a couple of hours.
After making our way out into the lake, we stopped about 100 metres from the shore and floated on the tranquil blue waters with just the odd duck or swan for company.
- TUI Lakes & Mountains (http://www.tui.co.uk; 020 8610 3139) offers a week’s half board at the four-star Hotel Caesius Thermae & Spa in Bardolino on Lake Garda from £1,020 per person, including direct flights from all major UK airports to Verona and transfers.
- Gardaland Adventure Hotel offers a summer package, starting from €314 for a family, including a themed room for one night, a combined ticket for Gardaland Park and SEA LIFE Aquarium, and breakfast at Tutankhamon Restaurant. See http://www.gardalandholidays.it
- For Navigazione Laghi ferry times and prices, go to the http://www.navigazionelaghi.it website.