The half term holiday around the Spring Bank Holiday is by definition in and around the last Monday in May and from a work point of view traditionally the quietest of the School holidays. The Premier League season has finished, the summer tournaments have not yet started and so is the perfect opportunity to carry on the tradition, started last year, of going abroad with the children. That is what we thought when we booked this holiday last December, however that was before our Channels department (which I am the Head of) expanded to incorporate a new channel and a pop up service both to start in the middle of this period on the 1st June! Therefore the weeks leading up to the holiday I was working hard trying to ensure that everything that could be in place was in place and let everyone know that I was out of the office, without access to emails (a deliberate decision) but would be contactable by the 1990’s mobile communication methods – phonecall or text message.
As mentioned we booked this holiday at the end of last year and initially we were going to go down the same route as last year and opt for the easy solution of ‘all-inclusive’. However, being a family of five this becomes expensive. Not many ‘all-inclusive’ resorts caters for 3 children and thus you are forced down the route of renting two rooms, nominally with one of the children in the second room on their own – in practise that would mean all five of your fitting into a too small space with the luggage in a room of its own. In addition to not being practical this boosted the price significantly and even with generous in shop discounts. The fact that we were trying to be good and book during school holiday time and not the week before or the week after also added to make the complete package far beyond our budget. Therefore we looked for an alternative.
Eurocamp, founded in 1973 (a good year), have accommodation in over 180 different parks across Europe, and seemed like a good alternative. Some of the sites looked as good, if not better, than many of the ‘all-inclusive’ resorts that we had looked at, all for a fraction of the price. Obviously, one has to pay for flights and food separately but after doing our sums it seemed that we would make significant savings. Indeed it was cheaper to take a holiday in Italy (with flights) than just the accommodation on a caravan site in the UK. We decided that we would like to take the children to Italy for it is probably Lucinda’s and my favourite European country. Éowyn had visited once before in 2010 for the wedding of friends of mine Simon and Stefania, and I suppose, technically Amélie had too, since she was a foetus at the time. Lucinda did the homework and found a fantastically looking site in the form of Pra’Delle Torri in the Veneto region of Italy. North of Venice itself, Pra”Delle Torri lies just outside the seaside town of Caorle on the Adriatic coast.
Obviously, the websites can only show you so much. The reviews all seemed favourable with the only downside being a common complaint regarding Eurocamp accommodation in that the caravans themselves feel a little tired, but an overall review of 8.6 out of 10 seemed to swing it. Pra’Delle Tori is one of the larger campsites on the Eurocamp books and had an impressive array of facilities including its own beach and a fantastic pool complex, more of which later. So with the accommodation in mind we then had to get there. My idea of driving across Europe wasn’t accepted so we looked for cheap flights. Of the usual suspects Ryanair flew to Treviso airport and so, with a little trepidation,we decided to book flights on the budget airline. Ryanair offer free hold luggage for children and so, for once, having three children came in handy as we could fit all five of our holiday needs into three lots of 20kg hold suitcases. That saved a little money but we paid extra to book priority tickets – well worth the money in hindsight! Nevertheless the accommodation plus the flights still worked out to be favourable compared to hiring an equivalent caravan for the same period in the U.K., such is the premium that parents with children in full-time education have to pay – but I have had that rant before!
The third part required to complete the holiday travel was a hire car in Italy. With three children and three suitcases in needed to a practical car rather than anything fancy. Hence when we found a Ford Focus Estate for £12/day there was no choice to make. Large enough for all three children to sit across the back (thankfully Éowyn is 136cm tall and thus does not need a booster seat) and a boot big enough for all our luggage it fitted perfectly.
Thus, riding on the back of the aforementioned incredibly busy period at work my mind wasn’t really focused on the holiday in the lead up and I only packed after finishing work late on the Thursday (Lucinda had packed for herself and the kids – I only had to sort myself out!). We had decided to leave on the Friday (taking the kids out of school) and return on the Monday (again taking them out of school) for two major reasons. The first was that last year a week seemed too short a holiday. A fortnight would have probably felt too long, but a week was too short so with the extra day added to either end of the school break we could have a ten-day holiday and see how we felt about that time frame. The second reason was that the flights were considerably cheaper on the Friday and Monday respectively compared to the Saturday and Sunday, one seventh of the price in fact. When you multiply that up by 10 flights (return flights for the five of us) that was a considerable amount of money saved, even though it meant higher bills for the accommodation and car hire.
Therefore Friday morning the car was packed and we headed around the M25 towards Stansted at the tail end of the rush hour (another advantage of sorting everything out yourself is the fact that you can choose your departure time rather that the usual ohmygod it is early o’clock that is the usual alarm call for chartered planes departing for all-inclusive resorts). We had also booked a valet parking service (taking advantage of a fantastic offer on Groupon) so we simply turned up, unloaded, handed our keys to a man and walked the short distance to the terminal building. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. The boarding procedure was smooth, no Ryanair horror stories that you sometimes hear of, although we were glad we paid for priority boarding and before you knew it we had landed at Treviso airport.
Our first car journey was the only slight fly in the ointment. Trying not to use data roaming I had brought my 8 year old sat nav with 8 year old European maps as a means of navigation. Also, trying to be skinflints we decided to try to make it to Pra’Delle Torri without going on toll roads. The sat nav struggled and more than once we found ourselves more than a little lost, a gravel track with precarious drops to either side was probably the hairiest moment before I decided to burn the data and fire up Waze (by far my favourite app!). It wasn’t long before signs to Pra’Delle Torri appeared and we arrived about an hour later than we thought we would.
First impressions were favourable, even if the caravan that we were to call home for the next ten days was a little tired. However, as we reflected it was dry, it had beds and a very good shower; there were cooking facilities and even a gas barbecue and the plan was that hopefully we wouldn’t be spending much time indoors – we were on holiday after all! By the time we had made the beds and unpacked it was late so there was not much time for exploration, we found the nearest restaurant and had our first pizza of the holiday. After dinner, we checked out the entertainment arena and it doing so discovered one of our favourite parts of the holiday, the crepe and waffle stall. Nutella Crepes all round!
We woke on Saturday morning to a glorious day, not a cloud in the sky. However what did we decide to do? Head to the nearest supermarket to stock up the cupboards. Before we went on holiday we had told the Baguettes that they could have €20 each to spend on whatever they wanted. That money must have been burning a hole in the their pockets because they all bought a beanie baby (don’t ask) on that first day; Éowyn bought a rabbit, Amélie an Owl and Ezra a dragon. We arrived back at the site, put the shopping away and got ready to go to the pool.
This is where the campsite excelled. There are 4 main pools: An Olympic sized (50 metres by 21 metres) swimming pool for those that wanted to swim; a half sized Olympic sized swimming pool for those that wanted to swim but can’t swim as well as the ones that were using the Olympic sized swimming pool; a toddler pool replete with a pirate ship in the middle and a lagoon styled pool that coved at least the area of the other three combined. This became our favourite pool for it was no deep than a metre at the deepest, meaning the Baguettes were never out of their depth, it had six slides, a jacuzzi and a waterfall. The only downside was that it was not heated and as it was not the height of summer it was a tad on the cold side first thing in a morning.
That first afternoon, though we spent by the pirate pool. The water was only around 60 centimetres (2 foot in old money) deep although great fun with the slides and the water cannons. Ezra, however, was not impressed and as the girls frolicked like the mermaids that adorned the prow of the pirate ship, Ezra steadfastly refused to even dip his toes into the water. Indeed screamed his head off as I carried him around the perimeter of the pool, fearing that I would put him down. So we sat and played while the girls enjoyed themselves in the water.
The evening began what would become a regular pattern, an earlyish dinner, especially in relation to Italian and Continental habits in general, then head off to the outdoor theatre for the evening entertainment, until Ezra felt tired and either Lucinda or I would take him back to allow the girls enjoy the entertainment a little longer before dragging them back to bed.
That pattern did not establish itself immediately however. The next day we spent exclusively by the pool – it was a Sunday after all, a day of rest! But we decided that we would leave the site for our evening meal and headed to the nearby town of Caorle. Caorle is a small city that attracts tourist from all over the world. It was founded by the Romans in the first century B.C. and used to be classed as one of the most important cities of the Republic of Venice. Its old town centre still retains this Venetian feel with its brightly coloured houses separated by alleys and surrounding squares. Its skyline is dominated by the Bell Tower of the Cathedral of St. Stephen. It is 48 metres high, cylindrical, topped with a cone-shaped cusp which makes it unique, not only, in Italy but throughout Christendom. On the promontory by the sea lies another locally famous religious building, the Church of the Blessed Virgin of the Angel. Overlooking the sea it has had its nave destroyed many times in the past. Unfortunately, we were not there for the Feast of the Incoronation where there is the ‘fire of the bell tower‘ when, among the celebrations there are fireworks. Will have to look that one up. After dinner, we explored the town and found a gelateria and had our first Italian ice cream of the holiday before heading back to Pra’Delle Torri and bed.
Buoyed on by the beauty of Caorle we decided that we would look to explore the area on Monday. Looking in the guide-book supplied by the site we saw that there was a market on in the nearby city of San Donà di Piave. So despite the ominous dark clouds on the horizon we drove across Veneto, stopped briefly by a local police checkpoint just outside of Brian (yes, the town of Brian – insert your own Monty Python joke here) before arriving at the city just before noon. I am not sure what we were expecting, probably a pretty little medieval market town but that is not what San Donà di Piave is. It is much more industrial than many of the other towns in the area and didn’t have that ye olde world charm we were expecting. This is probably partly due to the fact that it was completely rebuilt in the 1920’s after most of it was destroyed during World War I and partly due to it being a transport hub of the surrounding district. It also didn’t help that the market was like any market in the U.K. (we were expecting lots of local produce and artisan goods, not selfie sticks and Angry Birds T-shirts) and by the time we had arrived (about noon) the market was winding down and many of the stalls were packing up. Nevertheless it saved us some money and instead we decided to look for somewhere to eat before heading back to Pra’Delle Torri.
So after our disappointment of San Donà di Piave (and apologies to anyone that loves the city, I am sure it is very nice, it just wasn’t what we were expecting!) we spent Tuesday on the campsite. Before heading to the pool (where we stayed all day) we popped into the pharmacy. Firstly we were running out of factor 50 sun block (we are all pale skinned and so burn easily even if it isn’t that hot) and I had been bitten by mosquitos sometime over the weekend and they were still quite inflamed and quite itchy. The pharmacist was extremely helpful and spoke perfect English. She explained that the whole of the Veneto region is basically a swamp and is home to 120 different species of mosquito and so it is not surprising that a) I’d been bitten and b) that I was mildly allergic to its bite. As I bought my antihistamine cream, mosquito repellent and waterproof factor 50 she explained that my reaction was quite mild compared to a lady that had been in earlier. Where as my bites were about 2.5cm across, hers were over 25cm across. That must not have been pleasant!
Next door to the pharmacy was the information office where we had booked a trip to Venice for the next day. When we had booked it we were warned that unless there were sufficient numbers the trip would not go ahead and to inquire on Tuesday for further information and/or a refund. Unfortunately it was the latter. The campsite was quiet, I can only assume that although it was half term in the UK, other European countries were not on holiday and so there was not the interest and our money was returned. We would have to make our own way there if we wanted to go.
You will have to wait for part ii for the answer to that question. In the meantime please enjoy a selection of photos from the holiday below. If these are not enough for you head to the Flickr page where there are over 500!
Peace and Love