by Richard Jones

FAMILY is the cornerstone of Italian life. Or, as 19th-century politician and writer Giuseppe Mazzini put it, “La Famiglia è la Patria del cure” - the family is the homeland of the heart.

With that in mind, Italy is an ideal destination for a family holiday. After visiting the south-eastern shores of Lake Garda a couple of times, my wife Rachel and I know about the area’s beauty.

However, with our two daughters, Isla, 11 and Evelyn, seven, wanting more than sitting by the water, we headed back to Italy’s largest lake in search of family holiday equilibrium.

Our hotel was the luxurious four-star Hotel Caesius Thermae & Spa Resort, within lush landscaped gated gardens on the border of Bardolino and Cisano. There were five swimming pools, and inside the main building, the renowned spa centre’s thermal and Turkish baths and saunas.

Food-wise, buffet breakfasts were spectacular, with fresh fruit juices, cereals, hot and cold dishes and famously strong Italian coffee. We enjoyed light lunches, drinks and snacks in the shade at the Gazebo Bar. We also ate in the hotel’s main Benacus Restaurant, serving some of the best and most imaginative food I’ve tasted across Italy. Rachel and I had the antipasti, followed by risotto and a veal cutlet with sage and potatoes, while the kids had Parma ham with melon and smoked whitefish with noodle pasta and vegetables.

A few yards from Caesius is the promenade linking the beautiful resorts around Lake Garda. With its world-famous wine and high-class shopping, Bardolino centre was a scenic 20-minute stroll away. We ate at Taverna Da Memo on Piazza Statuto, which serves the best steak in Bardolino.

We drove Isla up to the Poiano Resort in the hills above Garda so she could make use of their Olympic-sized pool. Next day we visited pools of a different kind. At Caneva Aquapark in Lazise, there are relaxing lagunas, a lazy river, and slides and flumes at Pirates Lagoon for younger children. Daredevil Isla joined me on the intrepid Water Jump before sliding down the terrifying Twin Peaks.

Next door to Caneva is Movieland, a Hollywood-inspired theme park with more than 20 rides and shows, the best being the 600-horsepower Kitt Super Jet boat, and Pangea, a new self-driven expedition back in time into the world of dinosaurs.

However, Italy’s biggest and best theme park remains Gardaland in Castelnuovo del Garda. As a treat for the girls (and mum and dad), we had a holiday within a holiday, and spent a night at the resort’s Adventure Hotel. We stayed in the Arctic Explorer suite, with props of snowshoes, skis, Arctic crates and life-size pictures of polar bears and sea eagles.

We caught the shuttle bus to Gardaland which during summer is open until 11pm every evening. New attractions include Peppa Pig Land. The resort is preparing its third themed area of accommodation - the Gardaland Magic Hotel - due to open in 2019.

Next morning, we used our two-park ticket at Gardaland SEA LIFE Aquarium where we peeked into underwater depths and marvelled at new arrival, the unusual Napoleon Fish. Later, boarding one of Navigazione Laghi’s ferries from the Bardolino jetty, we headed south past Simione to the historic town of Desenzano, and hired a pedalo. The tranquil bliss didn’t last, as the kids soon wanted to hurl themselves into the lake from the boat slide. As they say in Yorkshire, every child loves ‘laking out’ – and this amazing part of Italy remains the Jones family’s ‘numero uno’ place to do that.

Richard Jones

* TUI Lakes & Mountains (; 020 8610 3139) offers a week’s half board at the four-star Hotel Caesius Thermae & Spa in Bardolino on Lake Garda from £1,020 including flights to Verona and transfers. Gardaland Adventure Hotel offers a summer package from €314 for a family including a themed room for one night, a combined ticket for Gardaland Park and SEA LIFE Aquarium, and breakfast at Tutankhamon Restaurant. See or