Are you thinking of taking a coach holiday to Italy – or just curious as to what one is like? Recently I was lucky enough to head to Lake Garda on a nine day coach trip with National Holidays, so now I’m here with the lowdown all about it!
The itinerary was fantastic – especially for two people who have never visited the area before. Because it’s always nice to have a bus buddy, I took my little brother Jordan along for the ride. And we definitely fell in love with Lake Garda. It’s one of the prettiest spots I’ve ever seen! Plus, Jord is studying history (so he’s even more of a geek than me), and I loved getting his insight about the Roman Empire while we were exploring.
My trip was part of a collaboration with National Holidays. But, as always, all words and opinions are my own.
My National Holidays Review
The trip I was on was the Lake Garda & Venice Inclusive Spectacular, so this particular National Holidays review will focus on that. But I imagine there are many similarities between the different coach tours they offer, particularly in terms of service etc. With this post, I’ve tried to answer the questions I had before the trip – as well as the ones I was asked by my followers during – so if you want to, you can use the menu below to skip ahead…
Before we left on our Lake Garda coach trip with National Holidays, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. I knew that we were driving down to Lake Garda through France, and that we had a few day trips pencilled in. But I wasn’t quite sure what the actual structure of the holiday would be or how it was all going to work. So to give you an idea, here’s a full breakdown of exactly what our trip looked like…
Day One – Driving. We met the coach in Dover, took the ferry across to Calais, and proceeded to drive all the way to Metz on the border with Switzerland.
Day Two – More Driving! We drove through Switzerland and finally into Italy. Amazing Alpine scenery!
Day Three – Free day on Lake Garda. There was an optional tour available to the south of the lake, but after two days of driving I was more than happy to chill out in Riva del Garda.
Day Four – Verona. Full day trip to Verona, with a quick wine tasting stop on the way back.
Day Five – Venice. Full day trip to Venice. Paid extra for a gondola tour.
Day Six – Free Day. Borrowed bikes from our hotel and cycled along the lake. Gala Night (4 course dinner and party) in the evening!
Day Seven – Boat Tour. Boat tour from Riva del Garda to Limone and Malcesine. My brother and I also stayed on in Malcesine, to take the cable car to the top of Monte Baldo and took a public bus home later.
Day Eight – Driving. Left early to drive back to Metz. This time, we went through Austria and Germany to make the journey a little different and make the most of the amazing scenery.
Day Nine – More Driving! Drove from Metz to Calais and hopped on the ferry back to Dover.
A lot of people looked horrified when I told them we’d be taking the coach all the way to Lake Garda, with two full days of driving on either side of the trip. And I get that it’s not for everybody!
But I love spending time on buses (as long as they’re comfy) and I love lengthy overland trips! Especially because it means you can turn your journey into part of the holiday itself. I was on this trip with my little brother, who hasn’t travelled much. Because we drove different routes on the way there and back, he was able to see five European countries in one trip. Our driver kept pointing out interesting sites to us, and even when he didn’t it was an incredible experience to drive through the Alps!
It WAS a lot of driving though, so you have to be prepared for that. Just be ready, and bring plenty of books and snacks for the journey.
I genuinely think you get a really good deal with National Holidays – you get a lot included for the price. The Lake Garda and Venice Spectacular includes all your transport (from where you meet the coach), eight nights accommodation, breakfast every day, and dinner on six of the nights. You also get two full day excursions, one to Verona and one to Venice, where you’re free to explore at your leisure, and a half day boat trip. You can read more about the Lake Garda boat trip in this blog post.
And – the biggest selling point (for me at least) was the THREE HOUR free bar every night in our hotel. Bargain! We spent most nights in the bar playing cards and enjoying the house prosecco. Speaking of which…
One of the things that I really loved about this trip was the balance of free time to scheduled activities. If you’re imagining spending every day on a coach, filing in and out of tourist attractions, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. During our six days on Lake Garda, we had two full days of free time, as well as half a day after the boat tour. Some guests hopped on public busses to explore the other towns on the lake. Others lazed by the hotel pool and read. We used the time to explore Riva del Garda, cycle along the lake, and even swim in the icy water at one of the little beaches.
Even the day trips didn’t feel too rigidly structured. Unless you book one of the optional, add-on tours (which cost £20 each), you’re free to explore each destination completely at your leisure. The coach dropped us off, told us the time and place to meet, and we were off.
And while dinner is booked for the same time every night in the hotel’s restaurant, you can go wherever you fancy for lunch every day. In fact, if you really wanted you could go out somewhere different for dinner. You just need to let the hotel know so they don’t cook your meal. Evenings are completely your own, with no organised activities (aside from the “Gala Night”) so you can go out and explore the town, or relax in the hotel bar.
It was the perfect balance between free time and structure, and I think National Holidays had that side of things just right!
On the two driving sections of the trip, we stayed at the Kyriad Metz Centre Hotel. It’s a simple, 3-star hotel but it’s ideal for an overnight en route somewhere. Basic but clean and quiet, with a decent breakfast and friendly staff. All you need really.
Our hotel in Riva del Garda was much nicer. The Hotel Virgilio is a family-run affair with a really sweet atmosphere. Although the restaurant and other common spaces were a little old-fashioned looking, the rooms themselves are light and modern and I loved how spacious both the bedroom and bathroom were! Great breakfast, nice dinners, and genuinely lovely service from all the staff.
National Holidays pride themselves on their friendly service and our drivers were absolutely lovely. Tony and Paul were always chipper – even first thing in the morning, and late at night after a twelve hour drive! They were very knowlegable, super friendly, and full of “dad jokes” that made the whole bus groan and laugh in equal measure.
In Verona, we had a few hours to explore at our own leisure. A few people booked onto the walking tour offered through National Holidays, but Jordan and I were content to wander around at our own pace. In just a few hours we were able to cover a few of the best things to do in Verona! We explored the main piazza and the outskirts of the Roman ampitheatre, the Castelvecchio (a museum inside a castle), AND popped to Juliet’s Balcony (very crowded, kind of overrated to be honest). It was a lovely day and I definitely recommend the Castelvecchio to anyone interested in history.
Venice is one of the biggest highlights on this Lake Garda Coach Holiday, and we had the most amazing day there. Our National Holidays drivers took us over on the ferry to make sure everything ran smoothly, and then we were free. Jordan and I paid £20 each to do a gondola tour, organised through National Holidays. Because it’s Venice, and you have to! It was great fun, but over way too fast – you only really go around the block! We spent the rest of the day wandering around the canals, eating gelato, and hunting for the best food in Venice with the help of a few of my favourite bloggers.
The day trips are a great chance to visit different Italian cities. Like I noticed on my cruise earlier this year, it’s more like a little sampler on a tasting menu. It’s enough time to get a taste of each city and whet your appetite, whilst leaving you ready to book a return trip to explore more.
Just quickly want to address this, because a lot of people asked me on social media during the trip. Coach holidays in Europe like this one seem to have a bit of an unfair reputation as being solely for an older market.
Yes, the average age of our tour group was probably somewhere in the 60+ bracket – but that’s not to say everyone was older than us. And I don’t see why that would stop you booking it! All the destinations were places I wanted to visit, and all the activities were things I enjoy (like wine tasting!). If the itinerary appeals to you, and you’re not looking for an 18-30’s style party bus, then you’ll probably enjoy this trip. Age has nothing to do with it!
So, it’s not “just for old people” – but who is it for? Here’s who I think would enjoy a Lake Garda coach tour with National Holidays…
If you have a fear of flying – or just hate the whole experience – then a coach holiday to Italy (or anywhere else) is the perfect way to explore!
People who love the social side of cruising would probably really enjoy a coach trip with National Holidays. Lot’s of people formed friendship groups and it’s a great way to meet other travellers, if you’re so inclined.
Essentially, though, this trip is perfect if you want to explore and travel on your holiday – rather than simply lie on a beach – but you don’t fancy the hassle of organising all the logistics yourself. National Holidays have put together a brilliant itinerary, they take care of all the driving and planning and ticket-buying, but you still get the sense that you’re on a road trip. And you get to see a lot more than you would if you sat in your resort all day.
The 9-day Lake Garda & Venice Inclusive Spectacular with National Holidays starts from only 499pp. The next trip dates start from Saturday 6th April 2019.
Check the National Holidays website for more information, or give them a call on 0344 477 9990.