If you’re parents tasked with finding family-friendly getaways, then it’s likely that you’ll have come across Bella Italia, one of Europe’s biggest and most popular camping resorts, situated on the southern shores of Lake Garda in Northern Italy.
We first holidayed in Bella Italia in 2013 with an almost three-year-old and an eight-month-old. Hindsight, in its infinite wisdom, would suggest that a lot of what this bustling site has to offer was lost on us, but at the time we thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Mornings were spent in the shaded playgrounds and afternoons in the quieter of the pool complexes. Lunches were enjoyed with a snoozing baby under a buggy shade. We took evening strolls along the lakeside to nearby Peschiera for dinner – when we weren’t dining in one of the restaurants on site – and we managed to catch the beginning of the nightly entertainment once or twice. Despite the busyness of the site, our pace was slow.
When friends suggested returning last summer we jumped at the chance, knowing that with slightly older kids, it would probably be an entirely different experience. This time we were two couples with five kids between us, ranging from almost seven to almost two. Our holiday would feature less lounging and strolling and more chasing and entertaining. And that was fine too. We enjoyed the mini-disco nightly as well as the bouncy castle park and small funfair rides on site. The kids partook in some of the kids’ club activities during the day and we spent a LOT more time poolside. We hired a car and visited some stunning lakeside towns and we spent an afternoon on a speed boat on the lake – one of the highlights of our trip.
ACCOMMODATION ON SITE
On both occasions, we opted for mobile homes, though the site offers bungalows, apartments and tents too. Accommodation can be booked directly with the campsite or via an independent tour operator. Tour operators on site include Albatross, Al Fresco Holidays, Canvas Holidays, Human Travel, Eurocamp, Gustocamp, Happy Camp, Rent-a-Tent, Roan Camping, Go4Camp, Selectcamp, Suncamp and Vacansoleil. Irish agents TUI, Sunway, Topflight and Click & Go offer holiday packages to Bella Italia.
In 2013 we stayed in a well-situated, two-bed Sunlodge with Suncamp. It had ample space and we loved the decking area, which, as parents of two sleeping tots, became the basis for our own nightly entertainment – enjoying balmy relaxation, drinking local wine and swatting away mosquitoes. More about those later.
BELLA ITALIA ONSITE FACILITIES
- The site has a large supermarket, which is reasonably priced and stocks everything from fresh bakery items to swim nappies. A word to the wise: arrive early for the pastries and baked goods. They sell like, eh, hot cakes. There are a number of supermarkets nearby, including a Lidl – handy if you’ve rented a car.
- On site you’ll also find a fruit and veg shop, a pizzeria, four restaurants, bars, a gelateria, a shop selling beachwear, inflatables and knick-knacks, bike hire and a hair salon. There’s even a doctor.
- There are five pool complexes including a small toddler pool. Three of the bigger pools have splash parks and an array of slides including two large flume rides.
- There was no shortage of daytime activities on offer, from fitness classes and water sports for adults to archery and crafts for kids. There’s also tennis, basketball, soccer, table tennis, a games’ room and a number of playgrounds and play areas.
- Further activities were available at an extra cost such as parasailing and Banana Boating at the Waterski centre on the lake or trampolining, funfair rides and bouncy castles in Bel Park, Sun Park and the trampoline park.
- The animation team – who seemed to speak a mix of Italian, English and German – delivered nightly entertainment as well as kids’ club and pool activities daily.
- Once a week the resort hosts a craft market.
HANDY TO KNOW…
- The site is BUSY. We travelled in June. By all accounts it’s even busier in July and August. The pools can be quite full and it’s hard to get a sun lounger at times, unless you reserve one with a towel early in the morning. Sadly the rule against doing this isn’t enforced by Bella Italia staff.
- The site is BIG and its size can be a little overwhelming. That being said, it’s easy enough to navigate.
- The WIFI, or lack thereof, is frustrating. There are internet zones where it’s available at an additional cost but who doesn’t love a digital detox, right?
- Bear the noise of the night time entertainment in mind if you have young kids. Nightly entertainment goes on until 11pm and can be heard from the accommodation nearest the entertainment tent.
- There’s a no-noise policy after 11pm, which is strictly enforced by site security. We loved this, but it did mean that we had to whisper on the decking when it got late.
- If you’re usually mosquito fodder, then arm yourself with ALL of the sprays and lotions. They’re there in abundance, the feckers.
- While the lake is REALLY beautiful to look at and a lovely temperature for swimming, there isn’t a sandy beach but rather pebbles and shingle. Plenty still sunbathe along the shore and the scenery really is spectacular, but you won’t be building any sandcastles.
- Like most campsites, you’ll have to wear a brightly-coloured wristband for the duration of your stay. It’s fine though. Style aesthetic is generally not of concern on a campsite holiday. People without a band aren’t permitted on to the premises and there’s security on all entrances. We always felt safe.
- While most of the site is beautifully landscaped and well maintained, some areas around mobile homes are a little overgrown and stony.
- Cars are allowed on site. They travel slowly but it’s something to be aware of if you’re traveling with very young kids and have a bolter.
- The main gate closes at 11pm, after which time cars will have to remain in the reception car park – something to consider if you’re arriving late with lots of luggage.
- Animals aren’t allowed in Bella Italia.
- Be prepared for longer-than-usual queues at check-in on Saturdays – the busiest day for arrivals and departures.
- The food on site is good and there are lots of options. Obviously it’s all Italian fayre. The pizzeria and gelateria were big hits with our gang.
- There’s a tourist train on site that brings guests the 2km to Peschiera – a handy service and our kids loved it. There’s a charge though.
- You don’t necessarily need a car. Peschiera is walkable, with lots of cafes and bars along the way and other towns are reachable by both ferry and bus. That being said, if you travel early in the season there’s always a chance of rain and there’s very little to do in bad weather so a car might come in handy. We had one day of rain in early June 2013 and lots of thunder storms last year in mid June, but they were all at night and so had no impact on our holiday at all. Phew.
- The campsite has its own song. Nope. Not kidding. The song is called Bella Italia and the entertainers sing it a LOT. You will too. And you’ll still be singing well into November. It’s hard to shake.
BELLA ITALIA INSIDER TIPS
- Nail your loungers early. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. What else can you do?
- Check out the smaller pool complex that’s through the courtyard of the Corte Riga restaurant. It doesn’t have any slides but it’s much quieter and less overwhelming than the bigger ones in the centre of the park. We had some of our most enjoyable pool days there.
- If you fancy a peaceful aperol spritz in the afternoon, grab a table near the entrance of the Corte Riga (our favourite of the on-site restaurants) directly opposite one of the playgrounds, sit back, sip and watch them play. This tactic also works at the first beach bar on the right when you exit on to the lake, where there’s trampolining available. Winning.
- Enjoy gorgeous views of the lake from Le Terrazze restaurant on site.
- Kids ate free in the Vecchio Mullino Beach restaurant, a really gorgeous hidden gem situated a five-ten minute walk from the campsite. (Take a left when you exit the site onto the lake.)
- Ask in reception for a list of market days in the neighbouring towns, to help plan your day trips.
- If you haven’t brought your own, rent bikes. The pathway along the lake is perfect for cycling. Check out the bike rental place across the road from the main gates. It could work out a little cheaper than renting bikes on site.
THINGS TO DO NEARBY
- Swim and snorkle in the warm waters of the lake, enjoy jumping off the many jetties or rent pedalos and take in the breathtaking scenery.
- Walk directly on to the shore of Lake Garda and take a ten minute stroll along a buggy-friendly pathway to reach the picturesque town of Perchiera. Rent a speedboat and spend the afternoon on the lake (we LOVED this) or take a water taxi to the town of your choice.
- We rented a car last year and visited some stunning medieval towns around the shores of the lake including Sirmione and Bardolino. Our friends visited Malcesine where you can take a cable car up into the Italian Alps to the top of Monte Baldo.
- Enjoy day trips to Verona, Milan and Venice by bus from the site.
- Visit Gardaland theme park and and sea life aquarium
- Visit Canevaworld Movieland theme park and waterpark.
- Spend an afternoon at the Parco Natura Viva – a natural zoological garden that’s home to 250 wild species.
- Enjoy a natural spa experience at Via dei Cedri thermal park.
If you love the sound of a European campsite holiday, check out these 16 TOP EUROPEAN CAMPSITES, as reviewed by some of your favourite parenting bloggers or read our review of CAMPING CA’SAVIO near Venice. You might also find my TIPS FOR BOOKING A EUROPEAN CAMPSITE HOLIDAY helpful. And if you’re still not sure if a campsite holiday is for you, take my quiz and the truth will out!
Have you visited Bella Italia? What did you think? Would you return? Do you have a favourite campsite? Drop the details in the comments! I’m always on the look out for campsites to add to my wishlist!
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