When those dark days of winter seem to seep into my bones, I retreat to my newly found happy place.
I simply close my eyes and am transported back to our best family holiday.
I am lying, or should that be simmering, in a shallow pool, head cradled by the neoprene pool base, rocked gently by waves generated by frollocking children, while the sun beats down from the azure blue Italian sky.
When you book your summer holiday it is with the expectation that there will be blue skies, clean accommodation and a great pool.
As I found out, however, if those things are a given, then it is the little touches that can actually make a good family holiday an unforgettable one.
The Altomincio Family Park on the outskirts of Lake Garda in northern Italy has put the heart back into family holidays.
Despite its size, its attention to the little details makes it an extra special location.
Every day a leaflet is dropped to your mobile home advising you of local markets on that day, giving you updates on park activities and pictures of people both young and old who happen to celebrate their birthday while on holidays.
Balloons and gift vouchers for the on-site shop were just some of the little surprises left by camp employees for those celebrating a birthday.
It also had an office close to the pool area where you could book excursions to the various theme parks in the area with an added discount, print off holiday documents or pick up free packs of chalk for the kids to ‘decorate’ the paths outside their mobile homes.
This actually proved a great ice-breaker for our children in meeting the neighbours in our little conclave.
With a large contingent of Irish and Northern Irish, our paths were soon declaring Mayo for Sam, or predicting Tyronne or Rebel victory in the up-coming All-Ireland clashes.
There were near mid-night raids to wash off the rival slogans and friendships were forged in the planning of sneak attacks.
The park itself is quite big and the Eurocamp accommodation is spread over a number of areas.
We were just a three-minute walk to the large pool areas.
However, one of the Eurocamp sites was at the top of hill and about a 10-minute walk to the main pool areas.
There is an Olympic-sized pool, which even on the busiest of days, alway seemed to have room for one more inflatable armchair or lilo.
They best pool for us however, was the centre-piece pool which at its deepest was knee deep - perfect for small children.
The pool has a neoprene base which makes it much harder to slip on even as the children dash up and down the two large water slides and the smaller slide in this section.
At the centre of the pool is a large whale-shaped mound which became the fort for many water gun attacks. There is also a smaller, toddler pool with hammocks for the kids to rest in the shade.
Around one side of the pools runs a crazy golf course and children can also take part in the near daily kids’ club, children’s discos at night time and the park even offers the chance for small people to get their first taste of a foam party.
Cleverly the kids’ club puts on a movie most days during the hottest part of the day - from 2pm to 4pm - so they are out of the sun and entertained - giving you the ideal time to catch up on that book or top up your tan.
There are also well -used soccer pitches, table tennis tables and volleyball nets.
The shop on site is very well stocked and quite reasonably priced. Queues for its bakery formed from early morning but the shop would also deliver pre-ordered baked goods to your mobile home.
Again, just one of those little touches.
The bike rental on-site was also quite reasonable, working out at about €35 for two weeks.
The park is sandwiched between the River Mincio and vineyards and it has fairly flat cycle lanes running alongside the river bank making it an ideal way to take in the amazing views or even top up your grocery shopping at the nearby supermarket.
There is a large family-friendly restaurant on site with plenty of gluten-free options and it has a takeaway pizza shop for those evening you don’t feel like using the outside BBQ provided.
Perhaps best of all was the well stocked, many flavoured ice cream shop on site where the Gelatos were simply delicious. Be prepared to be hooked.
Things to Do
If a pool holiday is just what you are after, you could quite happily stay in the park, but there is a world of things to do in this part of Italy.
The scenery is just breathtaking. Cyprus-clad hills provide a stunning backdrop to the shimmering blue lake. There are places dotted around the lake to pull in and park up.
All of the beaches are stoney so make sure you have crocs or something similar to protect your feet.
As we swam in the film set-style beauty, the only ripples in the water were created by passing speed boats. The word idyllic was created for just such moments.
Another day we rented a pedalo and it was the best €15 (€8 an hour) we spent on the holiday.
The pedalo had its own slide so as soon as you peddled out into the lake you could slide into its chilling embrace.
Our two older girls are very good swimmers and months later they still say it was the highlight of the holiday, but to be fair, it was hard to pick any one single standout moment as there were so many.
If the pedalo was the children’s favourite moment, then mine was discovering the walled town of Lazise.
Driving around the lake there are many towns that, to be frank, don’t look like much.
But it’s when you go inside their walls you discover the reason why so many people rave about Lake Garda.
There are many walled towns dotted around the lake, such as Pescheria and Sirmione - both quite close to the the Altomincio resort - but it was Lazise that was the sparkling jewel in that crown of towns for me.
It swapped its Medieval defences for trade many years ago and as you step through its ancient gates you get a sense of what it must have been like to live within the protection of its walls.
Shops and traders line the cobbled pavements, which eventually lead you to its lake front promenade.
You can watch the sun set on its harbour from one of the many restaurants and enjoy a gelato strolling around its tangle of winding streets.
We went to a local town most evenings, but it was Lazise that won my heart.
You can also take a day trip to the setting of Romeo and Juliet, Verona, or to Venice, but be prepared for an expensive day in Venice with gondella rides starting from €80.
Lake Garda also boasts a number of theme parks and an aquarium for those rare rainy days, or for a chance to take a break from the sun. We tried two parks - Gardaland and the aquapark Caneva.
There is also Movieland and a Medieval Times restaurant and show and another waterpark. Gardaland is a rollercoaster and amusement park which has been ranked fifth in the top ten amusement parks in the world.
A day ticket with discounts from Altomincio worked out at about €38. We opted for the evening ticket (from 6pm to 11pm) of less than €20 a head so that we would not have to face long queues in the baking-hot sun.
There was plenty of things to do for the fearless or the faint-hearted and there is a height requirement on most rides.
The park is divided into themed sections such as the Wild West, Pirate Cove, Kids’ Country, and Castle Merlin and we raced around to see as many as we could.
And we certainly could have gone again another night.
We spent a day at Caneva, and again many of its rides have height restrictions. There is also an artificial beach with a wave machine, a lazy river and plenty of places to grab a bite to eat.
It we could go back to Lake Garda in the morning we would. I could not recommend the Altomincio Family Park highly enough. It was a perfect family holiday with plenty to do and see, with great food.
The weather, the scenery, the history and the little touches provided by the park made this the best holiday ever. We’ve already booked for this year.
Flights from Cork to Milan Bergamo with Ryanair start from €65 in early June or €82.99 from Dublin.
It’s about an hour by car to Altomincio.
You can get a bus from the airport to Pescheria or hire a car. While it might be cheaper to get the bus on the way to your resort (around €20 for four people), most of the Ryanair flights leave before the buses start.
An early morning taxi to the airport will set you back around €120.
A 14-night stay with Eurocamp on Altominico Family Park, Lake Garda in early June prices start at €1100, early July prices from €1948.00 and early August prices start at €3041.00.
The above prices are based on a three-bedroom Esprit mobile with air con and decking. Extras such as flights, ferry, car hire, transfers, linen hire are all available to be booked at an extra supplement.
For the most up to date prices and availability visit www.eurocamp.ie or call its sales team on 021-4252300.
Lake Garda is a stunning part of the world.
You can hire boats and travel from each harbour town to the next or take a river taxi to see the sights. www.visitgarda.com.
Verona is about an hour’s drive away and you can also take in the sights of Milan and Venice on day trips.