For a destination more commonly associated with the decidedly adult delights of wine and scenery, the sheer range of kid-friendly experiences available in the Italian Lakes may surprise you. From large-scale theme parks to picturesque lakeside beaches, options for family days out are ten a penny. It goes without saying that the lake-dotted alpine landscape lends itself well to outdoorsy family adventures such as walking and cycling, as well as water sports like kitesurfing and stand-up paddle boarding. But there are also museums aimed at young minds, leafy garden parks, all-action attractions and world-class city shopping to get stuck into, so there really is something for every brood.
1. See the best of Lake Como with Hiking Como Lake
Why go: Born and bred in Lake Como, the guides behind Hiking Como Lake know the area like the back of their hand. They’re also passionate about all things outdoorsy and can’t wait to show off the natural beauty of their homeland to visitors. Set out on a hike with this lot and you’ll find yourself surrounded by pretty pastures, idyllic streams and rocky mountain valleys. There is not much the team can’t tell you about this corner of the world, so expect your walk to be peppered with tidbits about local traditions, history and culture. The big reward for your hike? You’ll head for vantage points with knockout panoramic views over Lugano Lake.
2. Go on safari at Parco Natura Viva
Why go: Few things entertain youngsters better than a trip to the zoo, and in Parco Natura Viva you’ve got one of Italy’s finest. Spread over 40 hectares of land and leading the way in animal conservation and breeding, the zoo is a huge sprawl of spacious animal enclosures around which 1,500 wild residents roam. One-half of the zoo features a driveable safari tour, where you can steer your car just feet away from zebras, giraffes, antelopes and cheetahs, while the other half houses animals from five continents. Money raised by visitor numbers support the park’s conservation efforts to protect endangered animals, from bats to bears, all over Europe.
3. Become a big-screen star at Movieland
Why go: Film fans can step right into the scenes of a Hollywood action movie at Movieland Park Studios. A giant theme park dedicated to all things film and cinema, this place – which is modelled on Florida’s Universal Studios – is packed with adrenaline-fuelled rides, live shows and movie set re-enactments. Audience members are frequently roped in to become part of the action as real-life actors and stuntmen play out scenes from blockbusters such as Tomb Raider, Terminator and Rambo. There is plenty of action-packed attractions to entertain youngsters all day long, but if your little ones have still got energy to burn, Movieland also has an impressive waterpark with around 20 major water rides, including vertical drops, multi-lane racers, rapids and a lazy river.
4. Captain your own boat with Turati Centro Nautico Lario
Why go: Lake Como is easy on the eye from any angle, but none more so than from the water itself. Go one step further than the standard group cruise and hire a private boat from Turati Centro Nautico Lario. This highly rated hire company offers rentals by the hour, allowing you to fit a trip neatly into your schedule. Their boats are easy to sail, even for first timers. And once they have shown you the ropes, you’re free to take one out onto the water. Sail past lakeside towns and villages, celebrity villas and houses right on the water’s edge. Set aside a few hours and make time to drop anchor for a swim, or pull in at the pretty towns along the edge of the lake for a coffee, waterside lunch or just a mooch around before moving on.
5. Learn to windsurf with the Shaka Surf Center
Why go: Thrill-seeking youngsters will love getting to grips with windsurfing on the beautiful crystal-clear blue waters of Lake Garda. This windsurfing school has classes for every level of ability, and its instructors are a friendly, multi-lingual bunch who live and breathe the sport. With a prime spot in the little bay of Conca d’Oro, the school’s location has conditions that are spot-on for surfing. The wind is so reliable, in fact, that the team time their lessons by it, with beginners enjoying the gentle breezes of the mornings and experienced surfers tackling the bigger winds in the afternoon. First-timers start off on a simulator and, after mastering a few moves, head out onto the water. And when you need to refuel, there is a relaxing lake-view beach bar serving freshly made snacks and coffees.
6. Scramble through the treetops at Jungle Raider Park, Civenna
Why go: When the kids need to burn off some energy, round them up for a day at Jungle Raider Park. There is a whole bunch of activities for lively youngsters to sink their teeth into here, including a mass of aerial adventure rope courses catering for tots as young as three and right up to teens. They can also try a few rounds of softair – which is a little like paintballing only with teeny plastic balls instead of paint – while fans of The Hunger Games can channel their inner Katniss Everdeen by trying their hand at archery. There are activities for the whole family to do together too. Don a wetsuit and hiking boots to go canyoning, or sign up for an excursion into the nearby caves, grottos and chasms, where you’ll drop into tunnels that lead to stalactites and underground lakes.
7. Ride the one-of-a-kind Funivia Malcesine Monte Baldo
Why go: Launching from the town of Malcesine and rising 1,800 metres above sea level, this one-of-a-kind cable car offers spectacular panoramic views of snow-capped mountains, deep valleys and glacial lakes. It’s the only cable car in the world with rotating cabins and it shows off the natural beauty of the surroundings in all their glory.
Impressive as the journey is, it is really only half the fun. Mount Baldo is a dream spot for outdoorsy families and once you’re up on the slopes, there are trekking routes and Nordic walking trails with panoramas of the lake and valley below, as well as bike trails leading through pretty woodland and perfumed meadows.
If these Italian adventures sound right up your family’s street, you can start piecing together your holiday now by checking out our full travel guide to the Italian Lakes and choosing your accommodation from our luxury collection of family villas in the region.