Dave Mark discovers the joys – and midges – of a luxury camping trip in Italy.
We’re sitting in the best seats imaginable at Verona’s magical amphitheatre: front and centre for a lavish performance of Verdi’s classic Nabucco.
My partner and the kids are dressed to the nines and goose-pimpled with excitement. We’ve dined out in one of Verona’s finest restaurants and, later on, we’re heading back to an apartment so attractive I want to lick the walls.
I’ve got the lot. My soul should be soaring up towards the blue velvet night sky.
But no. I’m grinding my teeth. I’m corrugating my brow. And I’m using every ounce of willpower I possess to keep my hands in my pockets. Why? The midges got me. They found me a week ago, on day one of my Italian adventure. Word spread that I was tasty. I now feel like a buffet.
So as much as I’m in the process of ticking something off my bucket list, what I really want to do is pull down my socks and give my ankles a good going over with a spoon.
There’s the first note to self. If you’re planning this kind of twin-break holiday, be aware that no amount of luxury during the five-star long weekend can eclipse the ‘hardships’ you are likely to endure during the camping element.
Still, I’m a grumbler by nature. And as my family keep telling me, the bites weren’t that bad really. In all honesty, my two weeks in the Adriatic gave us precious little to grumble about.
Even the journey from our home in Lincolnshire was less gruelling than we anticipated. Kia loaned us a 4x4 Sorento and it truly ate up the miles. The teenager and the six-year-old in the back actually had room to move for a change, and the sound system meant that everybody had more to listen to than me saying “God, this is so boring” for 1,000 miles.
We took a night ferry from Dover to Calais, getting a couple of hours’ sleep among the curious collection of fellow midnight travellers, before ploughing on through Luxembourg, Belgium, France, Germany and Switzerland (it may not have been in that order - I just followed the sat-nav) to reach Ca’ Savio around mid-afternoon.
Tired? Yes, but the locals were kind enough to help us to our feet when we toppled out of the car in a seated position with our knees locked.
Camping Ca’Savio is a large, bustling park with superb pools, a relaxed atmosphere and great beach, all set in a nice stretch of woodland. It’s got everything a child could want. And it has midges, too. Hungry ones.
The food on site is extraordinary and seriously good value, whether it be the basic pizza and canteen-style diner, or the more upmarket restaurant. But venture off-site and you’ll find even more impressive fare. The restaurants on the main drag are all of great quality and the seafood is to die for.
The kids were over the moon with the swish pools and play areas. But it was the kids’ clubs that were a Godsend. My youngest turned seven on the first night of the holidays and three superbly energetic and helpful girls from the Funstation came to say hello - bearing chocolate cake.
Now friends for life, Elora spent her mornings and afternoons taking part in all manner of activities with her new pals, while her older brother had a ball with the club for older kids.
The family highlight was most definitely the visit of the pirate ship to the beach. It chugged into the bay like something from a Johnny Depp film and hauled aboard families from the shallows before heading out to sea for a battle with a rival. There was much face-painting, swash-buckling and chucking of water, and my daughter loved every minute of it.
Our first few days were very much campsite-based, spent lounging on the golden sands, paddling in the clear blue seas, and generally enjoying our comfortable, woodland-based mobile home. Then we felt ready for some proper luxury.
We had arranged to spend some time in the two major tourist cities easily accessible from Ca’Savio.
First was Verona, where we spent the night in the stunning, highly recommended city centre apartment Residence Il Vicolo, and dined at the superb Antico Caffe Dante, where we all made appreciative noises and sighed when we finished.
Then it was Nabucco at the amphitheatre, which despite the bites, was all I could have wished for.
But our dreams really came to life when we headed on to Venice. Our base was the superbly opulent Ca’Sagredo Hotel, which offers some of the best views of this wonderful city imaginable. We took in a moonlit gondola ride, kissed under every bridge in the city and dined in style.
Despite our best efforts, we even picked up some local knowledge, thanks to a very thorough and informative walk with an excellent local guide arranged by Liaisons Abroad, who greased the wheels of our trip magnificently.
There was more culture to be digested as well, during a visit to Musica a Palazzo, where we were delighted by the performance of love duets in an extraordinary candle-lit palace.
But our absolute highlight was thanks to the queen of the Il Ballo del Doge, Antonia Sautter. The designer responsible for the masked carnival that represents Venice’s hottest ticket invited us to her studios where, despite our protestations, we soon found ourselves coerced into playing dress-up.
You know those out-of-body experiences? I had one while standing by a canal, having my photo taken by tourists, dressed as Louis XVI. My partner was Marie Antoinette. And the kids were a masked prince and princess. I have never had so much fun while wearing tights.
I also fell in love with the islands that dot Venice. Murano, Burano and Torcello are soothing, picturesque and beautiful, and to follow in Hemingway’s footsteps and dine at Locanda Cipriani on the tiny Torcello was an unparalleled joy.
After what was genuinely the time of our lives, we took the ferry back to Punto Sabbioni, and then a 10-minute bus ride back to the campsite for another few days of sunbathing, swimming and ice cream.
The kids laughed, my good lady drank the plentiful wine, and I read books and scratched my ankles.
Key facts - Venetian Coast
:: Best for: A relaxing family break enlivened with moments of culture and sophistication.
:: Time to go: Early summer, but the weather is lovely for much of the year.
:: Don’t miss: A trip to Antonia Sautter’s workshop and a night at the amphitheatre.
:: Need to know: There are quite a lot of toll roads in the area, so keep plenty of change in your pocket if you’re out driving.
:: Don’t forget: Your midge repellent!
David Mark was a guest of Keycamp which offers self-catering holidays at 99 parcs across 10 European countries, including Sardinia, Austria and Croatia, plus the USA.
Seven nights’ self-catering in early May in a three-bedroom mobile home with decking for two adults and up to four children at Ca’Savio parc starts at £238, accommodation only. Ferry crossings and fly-drive packages can be arranged though Keycamp at a supplement.
Keycamp reservations: 0844 406 0319/ www.keycamp.co.uk
Italian specialists Citalia offers three nights’ B&B from Aug 28 at five-star Ca’Sagredo Hotel, overlooking Venice’s Grand Canal, from £573 including return flights ex-Gatwick. Free night for stays of three nights or more between July 1 and 13 and July 16 and Aug 31.
Citalia reservations: 0844 415 1956/ www.citalia.com
In Verona, Residence Il Vicolo (www.residenceilvicolo.com) offers one and two-bedroom self-catering apartments, sleeping up to six, from e60 to e180 per night, including aircon/heating and bath towels/linen, kitchen equipment.
Liaisons Abroad offers opera tickets and bespoke arrangements in Verona and Venice and other European cities, including personalised guided walking tours and restaurant bookings.
Liaisons Abroad: 0207 808 7330 or www.liaisonsabroad.com