Take a cycling break in Italy - with lots of food and wine!

by Carol Muskoron
Lake Garda Activity Breaks cycling holiday - Short breaks and holidays - Country & travel - allaboutyou.com

Bored of beaches, I've been doing city break holidays recently, but it's hard to pack everything you want (and like) into a short break and quite often I've come back with a slight feeling of dissatisfaction. What I wanted was a more purposeful weekend away, in which I got to see a new city and feel a new landscape. I think I've found a wonderful solution to my travel conundrum with the travel website www.activitybreaks.com.

Through this companyI booked a three-night package in a three-star hotel on the shores of Lake Garda, with a trip to Verona and a day of cycling around Lake Garda on an organised bike tour. The price was impressively low: £207 per person - because with Activity Breaks you book your own flight, which helps keep the cost down and leaves you free to arrange your own arrival and departure time. I love this because I hate being forced to get up early for a package deal. And my budget activity break turned out to be one of the best weekends away I've had in a long while: a great mixture of organisation and relaxation. Perfect.

I flew into Verona and after a 30-minute arranged transfer arrived to discover that my hotel - La Quiete Park Hotel - was situated in a charming spot in Minerba on Lake Garda. The bar area was lively and fun, and I had a drink before heading up to my room: comfy, clean and spacious. That night I had a typical Italian meal in the hotel dining room. The staff were kind and attentive; in the short time I was there I felt that they honestly cared about my wellbeing.

The next morning I was up early for the guided bike tour - there were five others on my tour, but you can arrange individual guided tours, or just get bike hire and take to the roads with just yourself and a map. On my tour, bikes and bike helmets were provided and we had a very friendly guide. I do cycle in London, where I live, but I don't cycle a lot - for me the level of the ride was just right. It was mostly flat and we ambled through beautiful countryside, past castles and through tiny towns, stopping whenever any of us fancied. We had wonderful ice cream and great coffee in an unassuming café in one town, and also found a Tardis-like church which was tiny on the outside and had the most ornate and beautiful dome inside. There were a few hills - I moaned to the guide and told him I was old and he told me to stop pedalling and pushed me up the hills. What luxury!

Lunch was at a country-style restaurant where the food was better than any Italian I have had in England - wonderful cold meats, superbly tasty pasta and delicious local wine.

From there it was, thankfully, a short ride back to the hotel where, feeling thoroughly bonded with my new environment, I had a cup of tea in the bar and then headed back to my room, changed into a swimsuit and dashed down for a swim in Lake Garda. The fresh water was wonderful - warm and silky.

That evening I had a great dinner in the restaurant, followed by a comfortable night's sleep. And the following morning I was up and ready for my tour of Verona - where Shakespeare's 'Romeo and Juliet' was set.

The same people who were on my bike tour joined me for the Verona tour and we took a minibus there and had a guided walking tour of the city. Verona is surprisingly beautiful. There is an amazing ancient arena which is still used for concerts which we visited - I would love to see a concert there as I imagine it would be very atmospheric. The main square is bustling with stalls and restaurants and life. And the house and balcony which is said to have belonged to Juliet is fascinating. Visitors write love messages on the walls constantly - every few days it is wiped clean and every few days the romantic scrawling is back!

The Italians, of course, are not paying homage to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet but to Dante Alighieri's 'Divine Comedy' which features the two hostile families - the Montecchi and the Capuleti - and is said to have inspired Shakespeare. The Italians are adamant that Romeo and Juliet were real people who lived in Alighieri's time - having looked into it, it seems opinion on that is divided. But who cares! It's great fun to see the tradition of visiting the balcony and to witness all those messages of love on the walls!

We had lunch at the lavish four-star Leon D'Oro hotel, which served exquisite stuffed squash, great wine and a very boozy rum baba. The hotel plays host to celebrities when they are in town - they stay in its exclusive penthouse area. I asked to see a room while I was there and it was very plush. After lunch we had some free time in Verona - there are great shops and wonderful restaurants and bars serving local cocktails and spritzers and incredible gelato.

We met up at a bar near the centre and took our minibus back to the La Quiete Park Hotel in Minerba. I had another dip in Lake Garda, dried off and headed out to have a delicious pizza at one of the many lively lakeside restaurants that evening. 

The next morning it was time to go - and in the three nights that I'd been in Italy I felt I had really got to know the area. Coming back to the hotel after my excursions was like coming home - the staff was so friendly. I'd definitely revisit. 

Find out more

Activity Breaks runs multi-activity breaks all over Europe, and its website is seriously inspiring. You can book ready-packaged trips for holidays which include concerts, walking, hiking, watersports, skiing, spa holidays, cultural breaks (historical ones and ones for foodies, for example) - and if you don't see something that suits you exactly on the website you can pick up the phone or email and have them organise a tailor-made activity break (details here). Activity Breaks aim to email you with a quote that same day or next day. I also really like the fact that they try to include all costs apart from the flight so that there are no nasty surprise bills. 

I'm delighted to have found an inexpensive and exciting travel company that I trust. They have a fabulous break including a train ride through the Alps on the famous Bernina Express tour which runs from Tirano in Italy to St Moritz in Switzerland and I fancy taking the family on that for a fun two-nighter (from £151 per person). Or will I go for the Andrea Bocelli concert trip in Tuscany in August 2015? Then again I'm very tempted by their break to Milan during the Milan 2015 World's Fair  - there's a three-night offer for £249 per person. It's so hard to choose!

Photos: www.roadrailandsea.co.uk

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