A little while back we were chosen as winners in Tots100’s Al Fresco Holidays competition. I could hardly believe it. First things first I had a little cry, and a panic about flying, then I went begging my children’s head teachers to let them have a week off. As Jen is at Infants and D is at a Grammar school this meant two lots of grovelling, of course officially they aren’t allowed to authorise time off anymore but I asked anyway and got the secret nod of approval.
It was all rather a rush, from getting a tweet from Sally to travelling to the airport was just a few days. I wasn’t sure what to pack, and what we would need to take so I might have asked Sally some rather daft questions on the telephone. (Sorry again for that!)
We flew from Gatwick, with easyJet at stupid O’clock in the morning, 5:30AM so we had to be up at 3AM. Amazingly we did get to the airport on time, in fact a bit early. This was the first time I had ever been in Gatwick and I wasn’t hugely impressed, half an hour to get coffee? I am not a morning person, but I can assure you waiting that long for a cuppa at that time and remaining polite was quite a challenge.
We boarded the flight and Jen was feeling unwell in the airport, nervousness I thought. Well I’m sure you can guess what happened, sick bags and bin bags were involved, plus Mummy wanting to disappear from the embarrassment of it. But the EasyJet crew were really kind to Jen, until a proper medical emergency arose behind us and the plane had to emergency land in France with ambulance and police crews on the French tarmac waiting. This meant a rather sudden change of altitude and poor Jen was rocking back and forth screaming about his ears hurting, mine were too but I understood the reasons. After about half an hour we were taking off again and D was the one causing a fuss. He has a “thing” about numbers and schedules, so once we had passed our proper scheduled landing time for Verona airport he was stressing, ranting and voicing his opinions loudly. Again the staff were lovely and not rude. We were asked 5 times in the hour if we were all ok.
Once safely on the ground in Italy we got off the plane and the heat hit us. I had got the boys to dress in summer clothes despite leaving the hotel at Gatwick in the pitch black. Now they appreciated the summery clothing – Brownie points for Mummy. We got a Taxi from outside the airport on Sally’s advice and the boys took it in turns to sleep as we drove to AltoMincio Family Park. The scenery was all so different and new to us, none of us have been to Italy. It looked a bit like Cornwall in places, but older. I loved driving past the half collapsed old farm buildings, and old cottages with ancient looking wooden window shutters.
On arrival at AltoMincio it was a bit strange, we were ready for lunch, and check-in wasn’t open yet. We spoke to the main reception and we left our suitcases there and took a walk down towards the pools. Sadly as I was running on very little sleep I hadn’t taken our swimming clothes out of the suitcases – Mummy Brownie points lost. The boys took off their tops and paddled about, we had ice cream and I might have fallen asleep on a sun lounger next to the pool and woken with rather bold strap lines.
When we went to be checked in properly we were met by Matt from Al Fresco – he was English as were the rest of Al Fresco’s team. Very reassuring as my sons have West Country accents, and so far English speaking Italians had struggled to make sense of the accent. Matt gave us the keys to our apartment and let the boys borrow a board game. I realised we hadn’t packed a thing to do, no colouring in, or reading books, no games, just a couple of teddies. Al Fresco having a “toy library” for the guests to borrow from is a brilliant idea.
AltoMincio has 3 pools, one Olympic pool for swimming in, one baby pool about 10cm deep which my boys nicknamed the puddle, and the fun pool. It had slides, big fast fun slides. The whole pool was rather shallow but just deep enough to float in an inflatable ring. Although I like being able to swim we spent pretty much the whole week in this pool – it was lovely to just let the boys play and not worry about the water being too deep.
Another place we spent a lot of time in on resort was the Gelateria. It was cheap, but amazing. We had no idea what most of the flavours were but we tried them anyway. The best flavour was Puffo (not a clue what that means) and it was blue with brightly coloured sweets in.
The weather was mostly dry, but when it rained my word did it rain. Such fantastic thunder storms, the whole sky was like fireworks. To me and the boys it was magical, but as most of the other guests were Dutch and German this European weather was old to them. One evening D and I just lay back on sun loungers in a storm and photographed the sky.
The best bit of AltoMincio was “Your Friends” entertainment team. Between them they spoke around 15 languages. These ladies and gents are pretty darn cool, they did day time discos for children in the pools, mini golf tournaments, superhero and world cup themed parties for the children, film night and even a foam party by the pool. Jen had a favourite, Simone, he was a young Italian man with purple hair and a cheeky personality. My boys taught “your Friends” some very British things, Jen loves playing “boooo” but at first they thought Jen was shouting it like “boo, get off stage” but I explained the game and for the rest of the week Simone would sneak up and scream “BOOOO” behind Jen to make him jump, then little Jen would laugh his head off.
Dee was more drawn to Lars, a DJ by trade I think, from the Netherlands. Dee said he was a cool dude, and both my boys would High-Five with him. Dee made it a bit more teenage and taught Lars to fist bump and mumble “safe” like he does with his peers at school. Apparently High-Five isn’t cool at Grammar school? My opinion is that all of the “Your Friends” team have the patience of saints; my boys are not the easiest to deal with at times.
One thing I will say is you need to rent a car, the on-site shop is alright but it is not really Italian enough. We wanted meatballs; can you believe they did not sell them? There are towns with a short car journey, but too far by foot. Towards the end of our week I was insistent we had to see the real Italy not just the park, so I packed a bag full of bottled drinks, sun cream and off we went. We walked about 2 hours, along twisty roads through vineyards and fruit farms.
It sounds so quiet off the park, you can hear insects and birds but not much else, then the sound of the river. The river was the same river that runs behind the park, and at the point we found the river was a lovely café and we could see a castle in front of us on a hill. The boys and I decided that the hill looked way too steep and that the castle was probably prettiest from this distance. We went back to the café and cooled off with lollies whilst watching geckos sunbathing underneath our chairs. We followed the river back home, and this way only took us twenty minutes – we had definitely come the long way but it was worth it. Most of the fruit was unknown to my boys, I can’t get them to try anything exotic looking, and they were fascinated to see hazelnut trees, kiwi fruit bushes, grape vines and citrus trees. We slept well that night!
Another day we rented bicycles and went to a local fortress town. The town was like a walled island in the river, with ancient gatehouses and bridges. It was truly beautiful. We discovered a playground at the very top of a hill, and it had amazing views. It was market day, and D asked for a wooden travel games set and Jen chose a teddy beaver. We sat dangling our feet towards the river over the edge of the wall eating ice cream again. I reminded Jen that the water was very deep and had a current so be careful and hold the railings. Within minutes his brand new beaver was in the river, and moving fast. I ran a few feet down river, and leaned over the edge. I had a foot hooked in the railings, and one hand holding onto a boats mooring rope. When I started my rescue mission no one was looking, when I came back up around twenty people were looking at me then clapping. I entertained the locals, even the waiter from the nearest on-street restaurant was looking at me with disbelief. But for the rest of that day I was super Mum. All it took was “Oh No, Mr Beaver” in a tearful voice and I was head first over the edge like a mad woman. I received more local laughter when I washed Mr Beaver under the nearby drinking water tap, but my sons were impressed. D said “Dad would never have been that cool, was better than watching telly!”
On the last day Jen became ill, not nerves this time sadly and he vomited a few times. A lovely family from Manchester had chatted with us during the week and they came to my rescue by giving us Calpol. Why didn’t I pack that? I contacted Al Fresco and a lady called Annie came round. I explained I have sleep issues at the best of times but with watching a sick guy all night we might oversleep and miss the plane home. It wasn’t her problem at all, and she didn’t need to help us but she came round at around 6AM to make sure Jen was doing alright, and that I was awake. She refused to accept our tip, the very last of our Euro’s, and told they boys to buy breakfast at the airport with it instead. In my opinion she went way past what is expected and made Jen feel calmer just by being there at midnight for us, speaking real English, and promising to wake us all up.
None of us wanted to leave, and at the airport Jen was actually crying about missing the last party night with “Your Friends” as it meant he hadn’t got to hug Simone goodbye. How sweet.
Thank you Tots100 and Al Fresco – you have given us such wonderful memories.
Disclosure : I won this holiday with this entry to a competition.