Every January I create a vision board and it is placed in my office at eye level behind my laptop. I spend a couple of nights snipping and cutting photos from numerous magazines and newspapers, to keep me focused throughout the year. I always stick places I want to travel to that I have not been yet, one such place was Lake Garda, Venice and Verona.
Nine months later, I am booked with my twins, to go to stay in Sirmione in Lake Garda. Not a clue what to expect but in my head during the Summer, I had Santorini and Lake Garda as possible holiday destinations. I picked Lake Garda at the end of September as it’s cheaper and quieter.
As we boarded our flight to Milan Bergamo, we were all so excited as it was our first holiday on our own abroad. There were no delays to and from the airports, very impressed by Ryanair. As soon as I hit Dublin airport, I switch into holiday mode and after the security checks, I head straight to the bright lights and bustle of the duty free. I always purchase a new designer lipstick and perfume – a treat to myself after a busy summer.
I prebooked airport transfers as I had read on travel pages, they could be scandalous prices which they were but I managed to get a reasonable price from GoOpti. When you step off that plane, the last thing you want to be looking for is a taximan that can speak English and negotiate a taxi fare. Prebook a taxi is my first bit of advice.
The shared taxi (which I think is safer when traveling alone with young children) took an hour to reach our accommodation which was a holiday park called The Garda Village. I found out later it is a much smaller version of the popular Bella Italia holiday park. The smaller version suited me perfectly. I booked a self-catering bungalow, although I would opt for a mobile home the next time (for extra room space) All bed linen, towels and WIFI are an additional cost and there is also a city tax you have to pay on arrival.
We arrived very late so it was straight to bed and up at sunrise as we were excited to see where we were. We walked around the complex and found three spotless swimming pools, a shop for all your essentials, restaurants, kids’ area and a lovely beach/pier area for swimming in the lake. The pool was open at 10 as it was off peak summer hours, we were in the pool by 10 05 and stayed for the day. All you need for children is a good pool, this place had three.
Later that evening we went out with friends I had met during the summer in Dublin, to experience authentic Italian cuisine in a quaint village amid the winery region of Sirmione. I was completely educated on Italian food, deserts and wine – a fantastic first night.
We slept so well that night and the rest of the week. The weather at the end of September was between 27 -29 degrees. The village was busy the weekend we arrived as there were many Italians holidaying because of the fantastic weather. When the weekend was over, the complex was quiet with a handful of tourists. For me, I was happy with the tranquillity and we enjoyed it all. No running to put towels on chairs in the morning, no queues for the pool café, no boisterous tourists – pure bliss.
We later ventured into the nearby resort town of Sirmione on the southern bank of Lake Garda. It is roughly 10 -15 minutes on a local bus. Right in the middle is a medieval castle (Scaliger Castle) which is the entrance to the old town, when you walk over the moat, it feels like you have entered a dream. The lake water is aqua green and there are boat trips continuously arriving in and going out full of tourists and visitors, taking it all in. Of course we had to do a yacht trip, which took us around the picturesque peninsula, showcasing the Archaeological Site of Grotte di Catullo which encompasses a Roman villa, a museum and olive trees.
Just below the ruins is the rocky Jamaica Beach where you can swim and relax for the day. If you are child free, you could also visit the Aquaria thermal baths. The famous opera singer Maria Callas’s home (you can’t miss it as it is bright yellow) can also be seen from the yacht trip around the peninsula.
I also prebooked Gardaland as I wanted my twins to experience a big fun park like Disneyland. We set off the next day on a local bus with directions on where to get off to get a free shuttle bus to Gardaland which is in the next big town called Peschiera del Garda. We were so excited and managed to find our way around to the King Fu Panda section, the Jumanji 3D experience, rollercoasters (not the big ones), we found a fantastic underground pirate experience, the monorail showed us more rides we missed including the Colorado boat and jungle rapids. We fell out of the place at closing time and straight into a taxi, exhausted. We did over 22,000 steps that day and had an amazing day out and not too expensive for food there either.
The next day we stayed at the pool to relax and later watched a gorgeous sunset from the lake just outside the back of the complex. The children jumped off the pier into the lake and loved every minute of it while I soaked up the sunset rays, sipping an Aperol spritz.
I had wanted to visit Venice while there but I thought it would be a very long day for us all to get there (only an hour and a half by train from Pescheira train station) but you really had to know and plan the bus and train timetable. We went to Verona instead, an hour and a half from Sirmione by bus, dropped right in the city centre. We explored the sights and found the infamous Casa di Giulietta (the Romeo and Juliet balcony at her house) where it was jam packed with tourists. It is a truly beautiful city but very busy even in the first week of October (I can imagine how busy it is in the Summer) We bought some presents in the market square which had an array of Italian leather bags, clothes, beautiful handmade jewellery etc. I haggled, as you do and purchased some lovely Italian gifts. We went to find our bus back which again was busy. We were exhausted and stopped in Sirmione for pizza on the way back and fell into our beds.
Our last day was at the pool, all to ourselves, eating homemade stone baked pizza at the café and lapping it all up before we packed to go home. We said our Ciaos to the very accomodating owner of the pool café, Michela and I left a copy of my book there for the many tourists that pass through. You just never know who could pick up your book (always bring one on hols)
Our return airport transfer was precisely on time and also our flight leaving Bergamo. No dramas, no hiccups, nothing left behind only the best memories of a wonderful Italian experience.