Italy: Venice is not just for lovers
Can you take a toddler to the Venetian Riviera? Absolutely says Liadan Hynes - here's how she did it.
Since our daughter, Sarah, was born nearly three years ago, holidays abroad have all consisted of trips to a family apartment in Spain.
Apart from the enjoyment of visiting this beachside abode, a mixture of fear and laziness has stopped us from venturing further afield.
Fear of travelling into any sort of unknown with a baby - will we be able to black out the windows?, how baby-proofed will our accommodation be? - and laziness at the prospect of holidaying without some member of our extended family with whom to share the child-minding.
Suffice it to say we had become somewhat institutionalised in our approach to sun holidays. I had gone so far as to build the idea of holidaying anywhere else into a feat of terrifying proportions.
When it came to booking our trip, I approached the prospect of holidaying in Italy with the apprehension of one about to venture into the deepest of unknown territories. "What can I absolutely not forget? Not live without?" I implored of a friend in a sort of wild-eyed manner. "You do know you're holidaying in the First World, right?" was her understandably pragmatic response.
Himself and herself meanwhile, took a much more cosmopolitan view of the upcoming holiday, and there was much talk about just how much pizza and ice-cream they would eat.
The idea of staying in a family-specific resort had never particularly appealed. Possibly it was a last vestige of that pre-parenting delusion so many of us fool ourselves with - the child will just have to fit right into my life, I'm not changing a thing. Not for us the family-themed holiday park.
As with most things parenting, who were we kidding?
In fact, the more you give in to what works best for the children, the easier everything is. In our case, this was to be a campsite on the Venetian Riviera, near the town of Caorle, a fishing village which, while now a popular tourist spot, has retained its air of authenticity. Giving in has never looked so appealing.
As people who are used to the easy trip from Dublin to Malaga, the trip from Dublin to Venice, roughly two and a half hours, measured up well.
Obviously getting set up in a rental car and installing a car seat is the stuff upon which marriages founder, but after having failed to install the seat in the first car, changed car, had a meltdown (parents), tantrum (toddler), then reinstalled said car seat in the new car, and we were on our way.
Navigating the directions to the main road and on towards our site was relatively straightforward, even with an overtired and increasingly fractious toddler refusing to nap in the car. The journey to our campsite, Pra' delle Torri, took about an hour. All in all, as travelling with toddlers goes, it was very manageable.
The site itself is a large one, with almost 1,500 plots. Accommodation includes a hotel, self-catering houses, mobile homes and tents.
Pra' delle Torri borders on a large sandy beach, and includes several swimming pools, a shallow children's pool with a large pirate ship, and a large outdoor swimming complex, which includes waterslides and paddling pools.
As large as the site is, the mobile homes are laid out in short laneways leading off multiple roundabouts, creating a sense of cosy neighbourhoods.
We visited in late September, the last week of the season, when schools had already started back, so our fellow guests were all also parents of toddlers. Our little cul-de-sac was playing host to a number of other families with young children, so herself could go out on our little street and play with other kids while we sat on the deck watching.
The deck area also had a rail guard which meant you could enclose the area if you had smaller children.
The mobile homes themselves were well appointed. Ours had three bedrooms, one double, one twin, one single, a spacious bathroom and a separate toilet, plus a well-kitted out kitchen and large dining room.
One of the chief pleasures of this sort of resort is the eating out. It's not that the food was anything spectacular, although it must be said, Italian cuisine, all pizzas and pasta, makes for particularly toddler-friendly fare.
As every parent knows, the pleasure of going out for dinner can go out the window when children are among your party. Much of the stress however is taken out of it in this sort of environment. Someone else's child is always making a scene, throwing stuff, or just generally crying and making noise. So if yours kicks off, no one notices, and there isn't that sense of stress that you're ruining other diners' night out.
There were several restaurants on site, including a pizzeria, a takeaway, bars and an ice cream parlour. Some were in the central plaza around which the resort was based, others were beachside - the perfect lunch spot if we felt too lazy to move far from the beach. There was a large Spar, more supermarket than newsagent, on site, a pharmacy, and a handful of shops selling beach toys, crocs, and various other touristy paraphernalia. A bigger supermarket was a five minute drive away.
Caorle, also just five minutes away, includes a small port and lots of narrow, winding streets and small squares that are populated with cafes and restaurants.
The weather was mixed during our trip, and on the duller days we spent many hours wandering around this pretty town, stopping at various cafes for coffee and ice-cream.
Just off the main town are the Caorle lagoons which are considered the best preserved in the area. They feature some traditional fishermen's dwellings made from reeds.
Boats leave from the town for a trip through the area that inspired Hemingway's novel Across The River And Into The Trees.
Our days quickly fell into an easy routine of breakfast on the deck, then a stroll to the pool or the beach, lunch by the sea and then some more waterside time, before dinner in the main square.
In terms of holidaying with a toddler, the piece de resistance of the resort was a large, outdoor park area, open from 7am-10pm.
Covered in artificial grass to protect any falling wobblers, it was the size of a football pitch, and contained innumerable bouncy castles, Wendy houses, and children's kitchens.
I find the evening shift on holidays with a child can be stressful; they're tired and unsteady, in a non-baby proofed environment, and are lacking the toys that entertain them at home.
Within the confines of this toddler theme park, small children roamed safely everywhere, exhausted parents trailing in their wake, sitting restfully on a park bench while their little ones exhausted themselves making various imaginary dinners, playing out little territorial battles over who was currently in charge of this particular plastic set of vegetables, before taking yet another turn on the bouncy castle.
In order to avoid complete institutionalisation, we decided to take a day trip. It would be impossible to visit the Venetian Riviera without visiting Venice.
The trip involved driving to the ferry, and then a ferry journey to Venice itself. A two-year-old is possibly not the ideal companion for a visit to Venice. All those dead-end lanes ending in water, and all those bridges over which to carry a pram. In another city these things could get in the way of enjoyment, but the spectacle and beauty of Venice overcomes any logistical challenges.
I would recommend looking up walking routes and maybe investigating one of the longer, buggy-friendly walking routes with fewer bridges to traverse.
We stopped at the first square we hit for a lunch - pizza and bolognese, of course, and relaxed in the shade while herself ran around the square chasing pigeons.
As with every restaurant we ate at throughout our trip, Italian waiters seemed as delighted to see our daughter as if she was one of their own.
I'm not sure just how much of this first, proper family holiday herself will remember, but even now, four months later, playing going on holiday to Italy to stay in her caravan is one of her favourite games.
Now there's a sign of a successful trip if ever one was needed.
Liadan travelled with Al Fresco Holidays.
Depart on September 10, 2017, for seven nights in a Vivaldi Lounge three-bedroom mobile at Pra’ delle Torri holiday park, from €799 per mobile.
Price does not include flights. There is currently limited availability on this holiday park. Contact Al Fresco Holidays to explore this and other parks on the Venetian Riviera.
Al Fresco Holidays offer fun, freedom and flexibility. A chance for parents to relax while kids discover, make new friends and have great new experiences. Choose from more than 69 parks in France, Italy, Spain, Holland or Croatia. Some parks even include Free Kids Clubs to entertain all ages.
Contact Al Fresco Holidays on 01 433-1027, call into at 18-19 Duke Street, Dublin 2 or visit alfresco-holidays.ie.
Fuss-free and healthy food
Italian food makes for particularly fuss-free meals out with toddlers. Is there any small child who doesn’t like pizza and pasta? And if they’re going to exist largely on restaurant food for the guts of a week, then it’s a fairly healthy way to go.
Unmissable gondola trip
Hiring a gondola seems steep — €80, for a roughly 40-minute trip — but it is magical and not to be missed. This was definitely a highlight of our trip. Our gondolier filled us in on his family’s history as well as titbits about the areas we passed, while herself had a ball waving at people on bridges.
Read more:Italian Insider: Six ways to do Venice like a Venetian Venice: Here's the real secret to skipping the tourist crowds
Sunday Indo Living