We prefer independent, self-catering, self-drive holidays and do lots of research before we plan our trips. We enjoy walking, scenery, wildlife and our own company. We live by the sea and we are drawn to islands and coastlines. An escape from teeming humanity is an important factor in our choice of destination.
So we must have had an aberrational moment because we spontaneously booked a week’s half-board package to Lake Garda with escorted coach tours. Newmarket Holidays offer attractive deals from our regional airport. It would make a nice change to be looked after, we thought.
The 3* Hotel Rely in Brenzone was a real gem. The scenery was spectacular and the sky was blue. The temperature rose into the thirties. We were impressed. Our Italian hosts were gracious and attentive. The place was spotless, with its own jetty and a lovely swimming pool, set in an olive grove. Our room was functional but spacious with a view of the lake. A great introduction to Italy.
We faced our first cultural challenge in the dining room where a well-established consumer management system was enforced with smiling but regimental efficiency. On arrival, as we descended from the coach, we were politely instructed that dinner was being served and we should make this our priority. Luggage was obediently abandoned in reception and we were swiftly directed to our seats. There was no choice of table. We were seated in the English speaking quarter of the room where we were paired with another couple from our flight. Redolent of fifties fortnights at Butlin’s, it was polite, genteel and faintly old-fashioned but we embraced the experience. The food was wholesome Italian fare, with lots of salad and pasta, as one would expect.
Our dining companions for the week had found love in their sixties and described their passion for each other with uninhibited candour. They went on all the coach trips and walked no more than 100 yards all week. A swim for them was an indolent wade across the pool to enjoy the spa jets and a wade back again. We went on one trip to Venice, where we paid €80 to be taken round the block by a gondolier who chatted on his mobile phone throughout.
We declined the remaining coach tours and went off on our own adventures. We got the hang of the local buses and the ferries. On one memorable day, we took the bus to Malcesine with the intention of taking the cable car to the peak of Montebaldo to explore the national park on the summit. The mountain was 1,760 metres high and the cable car ride, in two stages, was spectacular.
There were several hiking trails at the summit but we were attracted to the one which predicted a two hour walk down to the intermediate cable car station. There was a restaurant there, where we could have lunch before taking the cable car back down to the village. We had walking boots, hats and water and felt that we were suitably equipped. A two hour walk is routine to us and we set off, expecting the track to follow a zig-zag route down the steep mountainside. However, it plummeted downwards at an alarming gradient. By the time we had fully appreciated the implications for our leg muscles, it was too late to turn back. The path, initially paved, changed to limestone rubble; like the bed of a dried up stream. Every footstep had to be carefully placed. A rhythmical walking pace was impossible. The sunshine was unrelenting. We laboured downwards; our legs increasingly tortured. The enchanting surroundings were our only comfort. Two hours passed, three hours, four hours and we had run out of water. The cable cars whirred serenely and mockingly above our heads. Resting just compounded the pain from protesting muscles. The fifth hour was pure agony. My legs turned to jelly and I clung to the fence. I felt weak, stupid and frightened. I resembled a frail, post-operative patient struggling to walk again. Dehydration was affecting my ability to think clearly. We had not eaten for eight hours. I began to fear that I would collapse and suffer the indignity of an emergency airlift to Verona. But the wheelhouse of the intermediate cable car station was finally within reach. We crawled up the short incline to shelter in the shade, replenish our water supply and count our blessings.
We are in our sixties, I reflected later. We should not be doing things like this anymore. But it was a great story to share with our less energetic dining companions, whose eyes grew larger as we recounted our tale. For two days following this we could barely manage the stairs, but we loved Italy, the hotel and the resort and will return. We remain determined not to become ‘coach potatoes’.
For lake & mountain holidays, Silver Travel Advisor recommends Inghams.