BRIDGE the gap between the romance and culture of Venice and a fun-packed resort for all the family
IF YOU thought summer holidays with children ruled out the prospect of pursuing any cultural activities, think again. No longer must you choose between viewing a Canaletto or visiting the kids club, or between a gondola or a pedalo. The splendidly situated Camping Marina di Venezia, an easy hour’s drive from Venice’s Marco Polo airport, allows you to do both.
We have booked a Canvas Holidays Comfort Plus two-bedroom mobile home, with air-conditioning and decking, in a quiet corner of the vast campsite – vast enough to incorporate a small underpass linking the accommodation areas to the pool complex and an array of shops, bars and restaurants. The bedrooms are a bit of a squeeze, but the two bathrooms are a bonus, the living area is comfortable and the kitchen well-equipped – with a very welcome bottle of wine waiting for us when we arrive. Besides, with so much to do on the campsite and nearby, and sunny weather virtually guaranteed, we don’t intend to spend a great deal of time indoors.
On day one we head to the pool complex, which incorporates a whopping nine aquatic outlets, including children’s pool, fun fountains, Jacuzzis, wave machine pool and three waterslides, and is surrounded by a spacious sun terrace (two loungers and a parasol can be hired for 10 euros a day). It’s absolutely mobbed with a mix of Dutch, French, German and Italian holidaymakers (mercifully few Brits), but with plenty of lifeguards and attendants on hand, and staff checking wristbands at the entrances, we’re happy to let our two boys, aged 13 and 11, and our eight-year-old daughter have the freedom to splash about as and where they please.
Unusually, the site has a daily siesta from 1pm to 3pm, when the pools close, no car driving is permitted and noise is kept to a minimum. Most people welcome the chance to get a bit of shade and a bite of lunch back at their mobile home, or visit the site’s open air restaurants which sell delicious pizzas and pasta for about ¤5 upwards. We, however, are determined to carry on swimming and soaking up rays, so we stroll a couple of minutes to the beautiful sandy Adriatic beaches to which the site has direct access. The water is warm and calm – just right for our inflatable lobster and penguins, as it turns out. We also hire a pedalo with a slide attached for plunging into the sea. Cold beers and slush puppies are on hand from a beach vending cart.
Later that night, we join hundreds of other holidaymakers at the beach and dunes to see a musical fountain display, reminiscent of the legendary Waltzing Waters of Newtonmore. Only the next morning do I discover that hungry mosquitoes were also in attendance, at ankle height. Ouch.
The next day we stock up with provisions such as finest San Daniele prosciutto, fresh buffalo mozzarella and ciabatta from the large and well-supplied on-site supermarket, where I am thrilled to discover you can fill up your own litre bottles – or indeed five-litre plastic drums – with delicious local prosecco, red, white or rosé wine for a mere 2 euros a litre. This helps keep the self-catering costs down, though results in additional expense on Andrews Liver Salts. That night there is a party in the pools and it’s great fun for everyone to splash about in the balmy night air, while colourful lights illuminate the water and add to the atmosphere.
Although we could have happily spent the entire holiday without leaving the site – activities include tennis, aqua aerobics, trampolining, archery and football, plus kids clubs to keep youngsters of all ages occupied, and the main plaza or beach has entertainment every night – the lure of Venice is too strong.
Camping Marina di Venezia is about a mile from Punta Sabbioni harbour, from where we take a 40-minute water bus ride (15 euros return) across the Venetian Lagoon before arriving at Venice itself. It’s rammed with tourists, but once we leave St Mark’s Square behind and cross the Rialto bridge, the alleyways become quieter and it’s possible to amble about the San Paolo and Dorsoduro areas unhindered, soaking up the history and mystery of this magical place.
The last time I was in Venice, I proposed to my wife (old romantic that I am) while we travelled in a gondola, and the gondolier captured the moment in a grainy photograph. Fifteen years later we are back in another gondola (80 euros for 40 minutes) and manage to find the original location for a re-enactment – albeit this time with three kids in tow.
The rest of the day is spent pottering about markets, souvenir shopping and sightseeing (Canaletto fans should head for the Ca’ Rezzonico museum, which features two early works). We dine at Trattoria Antica Torre in San Paolo where the bill for five pizzas, four cokes and a beer comes to 65 euros – not that bad bearing in mind the location.
Culture is the order of the next day too and we drive 30 miles to Padua in 36C heat to view the awe-inspiring 14th-century frescos by Giotto in the Scrovegni Chapel, before continuing another 60 miles to Verona. We take in the Casa di Giulietta museum, “home” of Shakespeare’s Juliet, peering down from the first-floor balcony of the elegant 13th century townhouse into a courtyard packed with selfie-snapping visitors. A short meander away is the beautiful Piazza della Erbe, with its baroque and medieval palazzos. Feeling the heat we stop for bite and some shade at Bar Ristorante Alla Torre, where five cokes and two pizzas come to 52 euros. Not cheap, and not helped by the unavoidable 10 euros of coperto (cover charge).
Nearby is the city’s stunning Roman amphitheatre, where tonight, somewhat incongruously, Spandau Ballet are playing. True! After a two-hour drive, we’re back at the site for a fireworks display choreographed to a heady mix of Carmina Burana and Queen.
The rest of our days at Camping Marina di Venezia drift by lazily but enjoyably, swimming and sunbathing. Too soon it’s time to leave, but it’s been a most memorable holiday – and hopefully it won’t be another 15 years before we’re back in a gondola once again.
• Seven nights accommodation with Canvas Holidays (0345 268 0827; www.canvasholidays.co.uk) at Camping Marina di Venezia costs from £357 per party, arriving on-site from 7 May 2016 and staying in a Comfort Plus with a/c and decking (sleeps up to two adults and four children).
We flew from Edinburgh to Venice via Brussels on Brussels Airlines and booked into The Loft, the airline’s flagship lounge, which offers travellers use of Microsoft Surface tablets, giant touchscreen panels for children to play games, as well as refreshing showers and a help-yourself buffet and bar (25 euros per adult). Four hours in an airport has never passed so quickly.
Brussels Airlines flies from Edinburgh to Venice, via Brussels, 12 times a week costing from £175 per person for a round trip (www.brusselsairlines.com)