Back today from the most incredible fortnight in Italy. Just in time for the new series of Bake Off too.
Last summer we went on a really fun campervan holiday through France, which I blogged about here. When we returned, we asked our middle child what her favourite part of the trip was. Her answer was the tiny slide in a little swimming pool on a campsite in the middle of nowhere, that we stayed at for one night. Based on this, my wife Sarah and I decided for this summer’s holiday, we’d start with the water slides and work back from there.
Sarah and I have been away with Eurocamp quite a few times – as kids with our respective families, when we first started going out (our camping trip in Sarlat was the inspiration for my goat’s cheese, honey and walnut pinwheel from my book, pictured above), and a couple of years ago when we took the kids to the south of France (see here).
Back in October I got in touch with Eurocamp to ask for their recommendations of the best sites for water slides and they kindly offered us a week away with them in one of their new Aspect cabins in return for my thoughts on the experience. Family travel blogging has become a really fun and unexpected outcome from the Bake Off and it’s great to hear from people when what I’ve written has inspired others to take similar holidays. Having looked through the options on the Eurocamp website, Sarah and I chose Marina di Venezia in Italy (pictured above). We paid for the second week and for the flights, and took the kids off a fortnight ago.
Before this holiday, the only other time I’d been to Italy was a weekend in Rome with Sarah 14 years ago. Sarah’s Grandfather Joe is Italian and she used to go to Italian School every week as a child, so she’s been really keen to take our kids there. There’s a bus that goes directly from Marco Polo airport to the campsite, but on our way out, we decided to take the water bus from the airport so we and the kids could see the wonder of Venice on the way. This was a bit more expensive but I’d really recommend it to soak up the atmosphere (if you do, take either Linea Blu or Linea Rossa from the Airport to Venice Lido, then Linea 14 to Punta Sabbioni, then a quick hop on the bus to Marina di Venezia – this is what happens when you marry a transport planner!) We’d also been reading the kids a series of books set in Venice in the lead-up to going away to get them in the mood for the holiday.
One of the first things we noticed about Marina di Venezia is that everyone we met on the way there was visiting for the second, third or fourth time. I’ve never been one for returning to the same place on holiday but having just returned, we can’t wait to plan our next trip back to this campsite again in a couple of years with my extended family. I’ve camped all over Europe and I’ve never stayed anywhere quite like this – eight swimming pools, loads of water slides, five minute walk to the beautiful beach, great evening entertainments, so clean, safe and well-organised, and really good food. We didn’t even cover half of the available activities while we were there so it’s no surprise so many people return.
The site is huge – a village in itself – so most people hire bicycles from the campsite while they’re there, though we were happy to stroll around. The Eurocamp cabins are on the far edge of the campsite, and while that meant a ten minute walk into the centre, it also means it’s much quieter and really picturesque on the edge of the forest. We’d only ever stayed in Eurocamp tents and the Vista chalets before so the Aspect cabin (pictured above) was a real treat, mainly due to the size of the outside deck. Our friends Heidi and Pip (plus Heidi’s daughter Emma and her friend Tash) joined us in the middle of the holiday and there was plenty of room to feed nine of us at dinner on our deck, with both our barbecues on the go.
We took two day trips out of the site in the two weeks we were there. The first to Venice, which the kids and we absolutely loved. Everything I had heard about Venice in August (smelly, expensive food, too crowded) was wrong. We had a fantastic pizza lunch by one of the canals in a quieter part of the island, followed by a trip in a gondola, which was a once-in-a-lifetime treat and at 80 Euros, wasn’t as extortionate as I was expecting. The gondolier also let both our elder daughters have a go punting the gondola (above), an experience they’ll never forget.
My top tip if you’re travelling with a toddler (as we were) is to forget about bringing a buggy into Venice and take a baby backpack instead. With EasyJet we were able to bring both the backpack and a folding buggy free of charge. We had gelato in Piazza San Marco (above) and wandered around the incredible Doge’s Palace. We also stumbled into the most amazing mask maker’s shop, where the girls spent their pocket money from their Grandma on a beautiful mask each. Venice really was one of those places that overwhelmed your eyes with every turn. Breathtakingly stunning – I couldn’t stop taking photos (as anyone following my Instagram story that day would have seen).
Our second day trip was to the Venetian islands of Burano and Murano. I’d heard of Murano before, famous for its glass, but not Burano (famous for its lace by the way). Burano, or Burr Island as we’re now calling it, was one of the prettiest places I’d ever seen, with its multi-coloured buildings (above) and incredible pasticcerie (including the one pictured below). I’d recommend it ten times over visiting Murano, which was also attractive but a bit of an anti-climax after Burano. I also bumped into quite a few American tourists and fans of the Great British Baking Show, who thought meeting me outside a pasticceria was quite entertaining!
I’m buzzing with baking ideas after this trip. The taste of the rum truffles (pictured in the top of the picture above) took me right back to the patisserie I worked in as a teenager. The recipe will definitely follow on a blog post soon and I’ll be experimenting with more Italian delicacies too. But it was the Italian pizzas that blew me away – better than anything I’ve tasted at home, I’m sure down to the quality of the fresh ingredients (and the 30 degree heat and cold Birra Morettis too). In a piece of good fortune, while I was away I’ve been contacted by The Firepod who are delivering me one of their pizza ovens to try out next week, so it’ll be pizza for breakfast, lunch and dinner for the foreseeable future.
Italian food is definitely my children’s favourite to eat. Our eldest daughter is my food companion wherever we go and she and I worked our way through lobster, mussels (above), fresh clams (that Pip and I foraged for on the beach) and squid. I’ve promised her I’ll try and replicate these dishes so we’re going to hit our local fishmongers and work our way through one of my favourite recipe books – The Silver Spoon.
I’m so sad to have come home today – but also quite relieved. Not because I’m sick of Italy (I’m absolutely not), but because even though it’s 30 years later and I’ve got a bit more cynical as I’ve got older, I was still blown away by larking about in the sea and chucking myself down water slides, playing card games and frisbee with the kids, or just curling up on a beach towel and getting stuck into a good book. Since I was a kid, technology has advanced so much, but a lot of the simple pleasures have stayed the same, and in enjoying them, I am reminded how fun the simple things can be. My kids didn’t look at a screen for two weeks (there was a TV in our cabin but I’m pleased to say it didn’t get turned on once!) They spent every day outside – running around, swimming, jumping waves, exploring, and they made a fantastic bunch of holiday mates too. Last night was spent on the beach watching the longest (as in space along the beach, not in time) fireworks display in the world and we left so grateful to Eurocamp for the opportunity to visit.
While being home is a bit of a come-down I’ve missed my lovely dog like crazy so looking forward to some long walks with her this week. I’m also excited about the new series of the Great British Bake Off starting on Tuesday night on Channel 4. It’s had excellent reviews already and I’m looking forward to seeing Noel Fielding on it particularly. It’s been great to ‘meet’ some of the new bakers on Twitter and I hope to catch-up with them at events over the next few months too – they’re in for an exciting year!
If you’d have told me three years ago what doors Bake Off would end up opening I’d have never believed it. I don’t take it for granted for one minute and I fully appreciate how lucky I am. Some amazing friends of ours are not having such a lucky time at the moment. Martin and Natalie have two beautiful little boys (pictured above), both being treated for different cancers at Great Ormond Street Hospital at the moment. You can read their story here and donate to the fund to support them here. I’ll be running the London Marathon next year for them and for Great Ormond Street but if everyone who read their story could spare a tenner, it would make such an enormous difference to the stress they’re under and the journey they have ahead.
Until next week, enjoy the new GBBO and Buona Cottura al Forno (Happy Baking)!