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Take a trip down to Swan Lake

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From glorious Garda to fair Verona, Richard Jones reveals what Italy has to offer families

After paddling our way out from the pebbly beach, Isla and Evelyn took it in turns flying down the slide on the back of the pedalo into the deliciously cool and refreshing water.

For a brief moment, it felt like we were out at sea, with the waves of the turquoise water lapping our small vessel – until, that is, a large white swan, followed by a family of mallards, merrily swam past.

We were on the shores of Peschiera del Garda, just one of a string of postcard-perfect towns that ring the shimmering shores of Italy’s largest lake.

Most of these settlements date to Roman times when they were fishing and trading posts, but more recently they have grown into hospitality and tourist destinations as Lago di Garda gained prominence as a playground for the rich and privileged.

After a short two-hour flight from the UK to the city of Verona, we arrived at our hotel for the week, the Parc Hotel Paradiso, about 2km from the shores of the lake.

Paradiso’s extensive grounds, which also include apartment complexes, a golf course, half a dozen full-sized football pitches and swimming pools, are amazing for sports enthusiasts – former Sunderland football manager Paolo di Canio took his squad there for pre-season training a few summers ago.

The hotel is also all-inclusive if you book with Crystal Summer or Thomson Lakes & Mountains, meaning families visiting the area can take advantage of the limitless food and drink, and make their visit to the notoriously expensive Italy considerably kinder on the pocket.

During the daytime, we used the hotel’s free shuttle bus as a starting point to explore Peschiera, the fourth largest town on Lake Garda.

The 16th-century fortress walls that once repelled attackers now offer a warm welcome to visitors, although Isla and Evelyn were initially puzzled by the cannonballs that are still embedded in the walls of some of the ancient buildings.

Peschiera’s cobbled lanes bustle with shoppers, while the elegant promenade is dotted with holidaymakers, young and old, taking a stroll.

The best place to eat in the town is without doubt Vecchio Mulino Beach, a unique restaurant on the shore of the lake that combines casual and fine dining, with waiters tastefully attired in flat caps, white shirts and black ties.

The restaurant’s owner, Fabio Gambini, a freelance photographer and food lover, opened the fabulous waterside eatery and bar five years ago with his girlfriend, Pamela.

Now the place has a reputation as one of the best restaurants on the entire lake, serving a selection of pasta, fish and meat dishes, along with signature American-inspired cocktails and typical Italian desserts with a twist.

But despite the pull of Vecchio Mulino Beach and the other wonderful places to eat and drink in the town, nothing can detract from the lake itself.

Like us, you can rent a pedal, boat, canoe, or just take a dip. However, the most comfortable, hassle-free, and scenic way of seeing the ports around the majestic stretch of fresh water is by hopping on and off one of Navigazione Laghi’s fantastic fleet of ferries from the jetty in Peschiera.

We took the ferry on a couple of days to the nearby picturesque resorts of Bardolino and Garda, but the likes of Limone, Riva, and Malcesine in the north are also just an hour or two’s trip away on the hydrofoil or catamaran.


There are many other excursions either by road or train, which can be begin at the hotel or in Peschiera’s town centre.

Verona – the scene of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers – is less than 20 minutes by rail, while the unique city of Venice, the fashion paradise of Milan, and the dramatic Dolomites mountain range is also just an hour or so away by coach.

Nevertheless, no family holiday is complete without a trip to a theme park, so we duly set off for Gardaland, which was named one of the world’s top five amusement resorts a few years ago.

The Merlin-owned park is located in Castelnuovo del Garda on the south eastern shore of Garda, again very close to Peschiera, and has recently celebrated its 40th anniversary.

It is built upon themed areas, with realms of history, geography, space and fantasy, and features rollercoasters Blue Tornado, Raptor, Mammut, Sequoia Adventure and Oblivion.

Eight-year-old Isla is a bit of a daredevil, and she certainly found the rides and slides here a fair bit more exhilarating than the relaxing pools at Paradisos and the slide on the back on the pedalo.

Meanwhile, Gardaland’s SeaLife Aquarium takes visitors on a continuous quest to discover the most beautiful creatures populating the planet’s waters.

Isla and Evelyn loved journeying through a succession of themed settings – starting from River Sarca, moving on to the Lake of Garda, going through the Red Sea and all the way to the Indian Ocean.

There were over 5,000 specimens in 37 tanks, but disappointingly for four-year-old Evelyn, who was still smitten by her new feathered friends on the lake a few days earlier, no swans or ducks.


Richard Jones and his family were guests of Thomson Lakes & Mountains, who offer a week’s full board in the four star Parc Hotel Paradiso and Golf Resort in Peschiera on Lake Garda, for £774 pp, including flights from Glasgow and transfers. Visit, or call 020 8939 0740.

More more information on Gardaland, see

For Navigazione Laghi ferry times and prices, go to