In the same way as we realised we could pop in to Venice on our way home, we decided we could also say hello to Lake Garda. In line with our new campsite regimen, we even pre-selected a location; phoned ahead; booked a pitch and rolled up feeling like VIPs – instead of our normal arrival as unexpected awkward relatives seeking last-minute hospitality.
Now, you probably don’t need me to tell you that Lake Garda is A Very Large Lake Indeed. In fact, at 34 miles long and between 2 and 11 miles wide, it’s the largest body of fresh water in Italy. With a surface area of approximately 143 square miles, that makes it 25 times larger than Windermere, so it’s no wonder that everything on the other side looked Very Small Indeed.
Our pre-selected campsite, San Benedetto, was on the southernmost edge of the Lake – close to the bustling tourist town of Peschiera Del Garda, about which more later. This time we were not only allocated a numbered pitch but also a pair of natty plastic wrist-bands which were to be worn ‘at all times’ to denote our official residency of the site – so we were a little disappointed to realise there wasn’t a theme park beyond the barrier.
As we rolled to a halt on pitch number 58, we felt very much the new kids on the block, as almost all our immediate neighbours looked as though they’d been there all summer. Which is why you’ve got to be on your game when you begin to establish your domain, as it’s a little like attending an interview. Neighbours of all nationalities will normally wave or nod a greeting as they stroll past, but that’s only to disguise the fact that they’re surreptitiously judging you.
That smiling German couple sitting on the opposite pitch are actually the Chief Executives of the Main Evaluation Panel, seemingly immersed in their magazine and paperback, but in reality assessing your level of experience, competence and the degree of slickness with which you mount your vehicle on its levelling ramps; deploy your awning and roll out your multi-coloured PVC floormat. In fact, the shrewdest of them will also be calculating the orientation of your vehicle relative to the sun’s current position vis-a-vis your morning or afternoon doses of sunshine and the degree of midday shade cast by surrounding shrubs and trees.
Taking your bicycles off the rear rack? Make it look good, guys, as if you’ve done it a hundred times before. One of you to the front; one to the rear; 1-2-3 and lift. Kick those stands out as you align them side by side to the rear of your vehicle, and don’t forget to retract the bike rack and stow your chevroned warning sign safely before completing the manoeuvre, because you’re still being judged.
But, delightfully, you too can enjoy playing the game, as you only need to have established yourselves for five minutes ahead of new arrivals to look as if you too have been here all summer. And – oh my word – you surely don’t want to be parking-up facing that way! And, whoops-a-daisy, but you also don’t want to drive your vehicle onto its levelling ramps that way round. Oh, you do! Well then, that’s never going to work. See, you’ve just overshot and dropped your nearside wheels off them both. Oh dear. And your wife really doesn’t need to be standing just there while trying to direct your reversing attempts. If she windmills her arms like that, you’re: a) never going to be able to see her in either your rear view mirror or reversing camera and b) going to end up with an inaccessible LPG locker door as you’ve parked too close to the hedge and won’t be able to turn your gas on. Oh my!
Anyway. Having witnessed our well-oiled, professional deployment, we are judged to be deeply experienced, despite our youthful good looks and our passing audience lose interest but now feel compelled to make that completely unnecessary visit to the shower block, solely to preserve the camp-wide Truman Show subterfuge in which we’ve all secretly engaged.
For the supplementary benefit of the Interview Panel, we also subsequently invent (on the spur-of-the-moment) a clever method of transporting our bulky reclining chairs down to the lakeside beach by slickly strapping them to the sides of our bikes and coolly wheeling them through the camp looking, for all the world, as if this ingenious technique was just an everyday occurrence for us.
Flushed from our now successful induction, we promoted ourselves and went out for lunch. At a trendy lakeside bistro. And then a lakeside picnic the following day. And hired ourselves a pedalo for an hour just so we could boast on Facebook that we have a boat on Lake Garda. (One of us swam from it. Lots. And it wasn’t me.) And then a fantastic dinner in Pescheria Del Garda, at a waterside pavement restaurant we had to queue to get into, so we knew we’d made the grade. And when we explored further, we discovered this bustling, heavily trafficked riverside town had somehow managed to blend its historic, fortified architecture with a spanking new town square, all squirty fountains and wide-open marble-paved spaces. And it was all thoroughly agreeable, if not downright enjoyable.
And being the wholly approved, fully-vetted accomplished executive campsite rebels that we were, we wore our theme-park residential wristbands not once very much at all.