We spent last week in Italy, Lago di Garda to be exact. We joined daughter No. 1, her husband and twin boys for a camping holiday. It was all we hoped for: time simply to enjoy being together; breakfast, lunch and dinner all eaten outside; the easy transitory friendships of campsite life; splashing in the pool with the boys; rowing or swimming – rather badly – in the lake; and the pleasures of small-town Italy – people-watching as we sat at some street side bar or restaurant with an ice cream, beer, or plate of pasta, and exploring charming back streets or ancient churches.
Malcolm and I had it best though. Not for us the tedious wait in crowded airport departure lounges for the journeys there and back. We drove through France and Northern Italy, and had a taste of regions we didn’t know, but plan to know better. Here’s a slide show of some of the places we saw: the Alpes de Haute Provence, little known gems such as Cremona, where Stradivarius came from, the Mercantour and Luberon National Parks. Best of all was a day spent in Mantova (Mantua). Unlike Florence or Rome, it’s on few tourist itineraries, so it’s unspoilt, uncluttered.
It’s a town whose prosperous Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque mercantile past is told in every street in the city centre, as piazzas, churches and fortified buildings crowd together demanding attention. The old city is surrounded by waterways which once were swampy rivers, were then extended and widened for defence, and are now pleasant open spaces for pleasure boats, wildlife, fishermen, and people who like us, simply wanted a cool walk at the water’s edge. Go there if you ever have the chance.
Just in case you think we had a totally idyllic week, you might like to know that on the way home, Saturday night in our particular bit of northern Italy proved to be a hotel-free zone. The nearest we came to finding a bed was when I went to check out a faintly unpromising looking albergo in some very untouristy town. I scuttled away when I realised it was certainly the local brothel. We slept in the car.