Lake Garda has long been a major draw for tourists from Ireland and around Europe, and on arrival to the region you can certainly see why. It's got the spectacular scenery, the good weather, an array of outdoor activities, as well as and lots of restaurants and bars at your door.
A trip to Lake Garda is what I would call an 'easy' holiday. No great travel time involved, plenty to do to keep all ages occupied and no problems with language as nearly everyone speaks perfect English. All these have combined to make it one of Italy's tourism meccas.
And yet, with the number of small towns spread out along both sides of the narrow stretch of water, it never seems all that crowded.
We were staying in Riva del Garda, one of the main towns at the northern most point of the lake. Just over an hour from the airport in Verona, our first stop off was at the four-star Astoria Park Hotel in the centre of Riva. A modern and refined hotel, the Astoria offers all the comforts you'd expect from a four-star, such as a spa, gym and a spacious bar.
Despite our late arrival, the staff were also good enough to provide us with some delicious cold plates of meats and salads to our room, where the balcony gave us a wonderful view stretching out into the Dolomites. What really sets the hotel apart however, is the spacious grounds which open out at the back, leading to a large swimming pool.
Our two boys could spend the day burning off loads of energy running around the gardens while dipping in and out of the pool. In the evenings, the hotel is just a 10-minute stroll from Piazza 3 Novembre, the heart of Riva's old town. This area is buzzing at night with plenty of restaurants to choose from. As with many places on the continent, eating by the harbour waterfront comes with a premium, but there are plenty of charming side streets with equally good food on offer without the extra cost.
In August each year, Riva hosts a Fairytale Night, with the performance of a different fairytale every year, combined with dancing, games and music. If you've a young family and are looking for a bit more flexibility in your accommodation, there are plenty of self-catering options available, too.
Our next stop was the charming Villa Dalila, in the modern heart of Riva. The two-bed apartment was the recently refurbished ground floor of a large villa owned by the proprietor of the nearly Savoy Palace Hotel. Guests at Villa Dalila have full use of the four-star hotel's large pool and facilities, making this a good option for small families. Bikes are provided free from the hotel and the short daily cycle to the pool down a dedicated track, past vineyards and the local church, became one of our holiday highlights. Whether it's by foot, pedal or water, there's more than enough to keep the active tourist happy. There are wonderful walks in the Dolomites, climbing in Arco and the myriad of activities on the lake itself. With its constant winds, Lake Garda is perfect for sailing and wind-surfing fans. But even if the only water you touch is that of your hotel pool, your holiday will be no less fun.
For any families travelling to the region, a trip to the sprawling theme park Gardaland is an absolute must. Situated south of the lake, it can be a bit of a trek, especially if you don't have a car.
There are plenty of buses which drop you off right at the park, but be sure to check timetables before you go.
Gardaland itself is a mind-boggling array of monster rollercoasters, waterslides and live shows, which cater for everyone from the youngest (and generally bravest) to the oldest.
My six-year-old persuaded me to try my first ever rollercoaster, and despite picking what looked like the most gentle one around, he still gets a thrill from telling anyone who'll listen that his dad "screamed like a girl".
A family will easily spend a full day here (the log river rapids is good to try as a family) and with queues of no longer than 10-15 minutes, we could see no real need to stump up for priority access. One word of warning, if you've been to Sealife in Bray, Co Wicklow, then there's really not much need to trek all the way over to the far side of Gardaland to take in their recently opened version. But all in all, the trip to Gardaland is one not to be missed. FACTFILE