A Perfect Family holiday – Italy part 1, Villa Palazzola

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the distance to one’s flight gate is in direct inverse proportion to the amount of tempting shops in the hall. Our flight was from Gatwick, which meant oodles of shops and an insane, bag laden sprint along the escalators. Leo and David managed to far outrun me. When I got to the end of my marathon, of course I found myself at the back of the Easyjet queue. Day one of our holiday involved a lot of dreary airport concrete, hire cars and dull journeys.We arrived at the villa late at night. With its monastic stone and strange Catholic imagery it did feel slightly spooky. I’m used to such things but the others in my party are of other persuasions and they did look a bit daunted. Still, a delicious supper of tomatoes, mozzarella and cold meats together with a flagon of wine did much for our spirits. We felt a bit like Medieval travellers seeking sanctuary in a monastery on their journey.After a restful night (who knew that monastery beds were comfortable?), we regrouped for breakfast. Villa Palazzola keeps a strict timetable and breakfast is at 8am. There is even a friendly duty priest who says grace, and you can attend mass EVERYDAY much to my heathen friends’ bemusement. But no one is chastised for turning up late (although too late and you might not get fed) or not attending mass so we all found our path. After a while we realised the beauty of having the whole day ahead of us. After breakfast came the first wonderful moment. The children decided to go out into the garden. My friend Tamara, her son, Leo and I left the dark stone monastery and suddenly found ourselves out in the extraordinary Italian light of a garden throbbing with sunshine and dew. Everything sang, ‘HOLIDAY’. The children raced off to play and I felt a huge sense of well-being.  Palazzola http://www.palazzola.it sits opposite Castel Gandolfo on one of the hills of Lazio. It is an ancient Roman villa that became a monastery and then a villa again. These days it is owned by the English College, the most enlightened and intellectual of the Catholic priestly training colleges. It is used as a place of rest for their students and alumni, for retreats and as a hotel. It has the most incredible quality of light –  diamond clear. Apparently the Pope thinks it has the better view and would really like to swap.There is a series of country house style common rooms, a library and lots of leather sofas. This is Italy, so there is even a tv showing football all day long if you feel the need. Grown up girl Penny adorned the poolside, my partner David lounged in the leather sofa and read a book, whilst harried parents Chris, Tamara and I kept a vague eye on our respective offspring and were on hand for games of tennis and volleyball (did I mention there’s a tennis court and a volleyball court…?).The gardens have a kind of formal, unravelled grandeur that I loved. They are not manicured like the gardens of five star hotels, but relaxed and a little bit wild. There’s a grotto, secret passages, wild meadows and clipped hedge gardens. Roses everywhere. Wisteria. Very spoiling.The rooms are full board and set in front of you with beautiful regularity three times a day. As a mother, there can be few things more delightful than not having to think about meals. I cannot recommend it highly enough. The food was nothing to write home about, but nobody starved and frankly for 55 euros full board I am not going to complain. The wine on the other hand was very drinkable indeed and we did. Every time you finish your flagon, it is refilled.  Alcoholics should definitely not go here… There is a swimming pool with lifeguard, dramatically set at the bottom of a sheer cliff face, and at the top of a forested hill.Overlooking the lake is a terrace, where you can sip cocktails and talk.All in all a pretty idyllic family holiday. Next time I’ll tell you about our day trip to Ninfa, but for now enjoy a few snaps of Villa Palazzola’s gardens, that I was able to snatch in between all the fun.