“So where are you off to?” my child’s teacher asked, as we chatted about holidays.
“To a mobile home in a campsite in Italy,” I said.
“Oh, is it Bella Italia? I went there when I was ten,” the teacher replied, and that was when I realised for the first time that Bella Italia had been around for a while.
Indeed, when we arrived, there was something a little faded about the campsite – maybe only noticeable because of the conversation with the teacher, or perhaps I was comparing to glossier sites like Norcenni Girasole and Marina di Venezia. It’s pretty, and well laid out and pathways are lined with flowers, but yes, there’s something of the faded beauty about the site.
As always, it took about 24 hours to settle in, get our bearings, and decide we liked the campsite. At first, the mobile seemed very small (which was always the risk after dipping into Cambrils last year) and the area we were in felt a little scrub-like with dried grass and stony ground. But we soon realised we had an incredible location on the site – ten steps from the small Corte Riga pool on one side, and a minute or so from Lake Garda on the other. From the deck of the mobile home, we could see both. And in a sense, that sums of the campsite – like our mobile – it was a perfectly situated base for exploring a stunning location.
So what was good, and what was not so good?
Bella Italia campsite is on Lake Garda – there are four exits from the site that are right on the lake. And in a way, the lake was everything. We walked by the lake to get to Peschiera, the local town.
We rented pedalos and a motor boat to explore the lake.
We paddled and swam in the lake. The kids jumped off the jetty into the lake, I had coffee by the lake, we all had dinner overlooking the lake.
We watched the sun set over the water, and I took hundreds of photos of the lake – it’s that kind of place, a view that takes your breath away every single time, in every kind of light.
But back to the campsite – the base for all these lake activities – what’s it like?
There are bungalows and apartments, mobile homes and tents, from all the usual providers – Roan, Human Travel, Canvas, Vacansoleil. We were in a Eurocamp Esprit, the most basic mobile home they offer. It was fine – nothing special, but not awful. We’d stayed in an Esprit in Marina di Venezia so knew what to expect. It’s very basic, and there were things that were broken – I gave the rep a chair to take away because I was worried it would collapse, the blind in the bathroom was ripped, the shelf for toothbrushes was loose. But if you’re used to basic mobile homes and not looking for luxury, this is all minor stuff that doesn’t tend to dent the holiday in any way. The beauty of holidaying in Italy is that you can be reasonably sure you’ll be spending all your waking hours outdoors – on the deck of the mobile home, at the pool, around the campsite, or beyond. As my kids say, the mobile is just the place you sleep.
(Edited to add: Later in the holiday we stayed in a gorgeous brand new Eurocamp Azure mobile and I’ve changed my mind completely about accommodation – it matters!)
I have mixed feelings about the pools, so here it is from both sides:
What’s not good about the pools
The pools are quite crowded – it feels as though the campsite needs an extra pool complex for the overflow. There are not enough sun loungers, and if you like to spend all day at the pool and want to be guaranteed a lounger, you may find (depending time of year) that you need to queue at 8.30 am/ 8.45 am before the pool opens at nine.
We are very lazy on holidays and never make it to the pool before about eleven, so we didn’t try the queuing. I did go down a little after nine one morning when I was up earlier than usual, and there wasn’t a single lounger left – towels on every one of them just twenty minutes after the gates opened.
The pools were also a little on the cold side for me – I like warm pools and am much more likely to spend time in there with the kids if I’m not grimacing at the temperature. (I suspect this is not a problem for everyone though.)
But on the upside…
The kids loved the swimming pools in Bella Italia – there was a good selection of slides and splashy things that pour water on your head. I really liked that the two main pools were under a meter deep, so my youngest could play while we watched from the side – in deeper pools, one of us needs to be in with him all the time.
And despite the lack of loungers, we never failed to get one or two no matter what time of day we went down – it’s so big, there are always people coming or going.
The main pool complex (“Water Park”) was a four or five-minute walk from our mobile, but the smaller, quieter Corte Riga pool was a stone’s throw from us, so we often headed there for a quick dip and sunbathe when we didn’t feel like facing the busier areas.
And then of course there was the lake – little by little, the kids realised that jumping off the jetty was more fun than jumping into the pool, and swimming in the lake was a real novelty. There isn’t a sandy beach by the lake – it’s stony – but they were too busy swimming to notice or care.
Towards the end of the holiday, the kids started asking to go to Corte Riga and the lake to swim more and more – I think, like their parents, they craved the relative calm.
Because there’s so much to do around Lake Garda, we didn’t ever go to the pool for more than an hour or two, and we didn’t go every day. But if you are a pool-all-day person, you may need to set your alarm and prepare for busy-ness!
One of the best things about holidaying in Italy is the food – it’s hard to find bad food there, and you really can’t go wrong with pasta or pizza. There are a few restaurants on site – La Corte Riga near where our mobile was, La Terrazza in the centre of the campsite, Diego’s Bar and takeaway, and a number of pool snack bars. You can order excellent takeaway pizza from any of the restaurants if you want to relax on your own deck instead of eating out.
But what’s really, really special about Bella Italia is the choice of food beyond the campsite gates. This was the first time on any campsite that we had external restaurant options within walking distance, and it really made the holiday.
Just outside the campsite, if you turn left when you come out onto the lake, there’s Vecchio Mulino Beach, a restaurant with a stunning lakeside setting. Go there for coffee, ice cream, lunch, dinner, or cold drinks after a day on the water – we did all of the above. The food is great, and the overall atmosphere and setting is even better.
You can also walk to Peschiera from the campsite – it takes about 15 to 30 minutes depending on how fast your children walk and how often you stop to take photos. It’s a beautiful walk along the tree-lined lake and it took my breath away every time we did it.
Down in Peschiera there’s a huge choice of eating options – our favourite was L’Osteria (thanks Mary for recommending!) where we had some of the best food of the holiday.
We also ate in Al Canal, overlooking the water, where the Ricotta and Pistachio cake was so good, we had to go back a second time.
Apart from the all-important pools and restaurants, there’s lots on offer in Bella Italia – a good supermarket, a fruit and veg shop in which you can also buy mosquito spray, sewing kids, colouring books, or nicer wine glasses than the ones in your mobile home. There’s a souvenir and swimwear shop where you can buy inflatables for the pool, and there’s a night market once a week where your kids can spend that holiday money that’s burning a hole in their pockets.
There’s a mini-club for kids at 10 am each morning (mine didn’t want to try it but friends’ kids did and it seemed good) and there’s a kids’ disco followed by entertainment at night. If you’ve been to Norcenni Girasole, Marina di Venezia, Cambrils or Union Lido, the night-time shows in Bella Italia will seem less wow-factor-ish but I think they’re simple in a good way – they’re on in the same place (beside the main pool complex) at the same time every night, so you don’t need to think about it or consult an app to see what’s on where.
The campsite layout is lovely – there are lake views at every turn, it’s easy to navigate, and there’s a really good atmosphere. There are lots and lots of Irish people in Bella Italia, which arguably makes it easier for kids to chat and make friends.
There’s loads to see around Lake Garda, and we only managed a fraction of it. We took two day trips – one to Lazise and one to Sirmione. Both were by ferry from Peschiera (I took a photo of the timetable on the first day and we used it then to plan trips).
The ferry to Lazise takes about 30 minutes and cost €40 for the five of us (return). Timetables may change of course, but we got the ferry at 11.20 am and came home at 4.25 pm. Four hours there was plenty of time for shopping, lunch, more shopping, a paddle in the waterfront, then ice-cream.
If your kids are very small and not thrilled about shops, you might go for shorter time. We ate in a restaurant called All’Ancora which had a lovely garden out back with tables shaded by a ceiling of leaves.
The ferry to Sirmione takes a little over half an hour and cost us €52 for the five of us. It’s a really beautiful town with a castle and old town walls looking out over the lake, and it’s very easy to walk around. We had a really good dinner in a place called Pizza San Lorenzo but I suspect you could walk into any restaurant and be well looked after.
They’re just two of many towns dotted around the lake – we will have to go back to visit Limone, Bardolino, Melchesino,
Do you need a car?
No. A car is handy to have if it suits to hire one as an airport transfer, but you definitely don’t need it. You can do all the day trips by ferry, the supermarket campsite is great, Lidl is a 15 minute walk away, and walking along the lakeside to Peschiera was a highlight of the holiday.
We flew with Ryanair to Milan Bergamo and booked a transfer with Sun Transfers – it wasn’t cheap (€150) but as we were doing a two centre trip but didn’t want to have a car for the whole time, this seemed the easiest way to do it. You can be braver than us and get buses and trains too.
So what’s the verdict?
While the campsite has some flaws, they are far outweighed by the elements that work well, and Bella Italia’s location is the best we’ve ever experienced anywhere. I would say it’s a good campsite, with a great atmosphere, and is a fantastic base from which to explore Lake Garda. To be able to walk down to Peschiera for lunch or dinner or shopping is really wonderful, and the lake is breathtaking.
I was chatting to our neighbour from the mobile across the way towards the end of the holiday – we both agreed that Bella Italia is not as glossy and swish as some of the other Italian sites. “More rustic” we agreed. And indeed that’s how I felt about it by the end – what had looked faded at the start seemed to suit the personality of the site by the end. A place that’s been around a long time, a base for generations of holidaymakers, nestling at the side of a beautiful lake. Rustic. Beautiful. Bella.
In the run up to our holiday, I referred often to this great blog post on Bella Italia by Irish blogger Shinners and the Brood – take a look for some great, practical info.
Lots of people ask how all of these compare to Cambrils too – this is my review of Cambrils.