Late May/early June 2007 and Cardiff Daddy and I were newlyweds honeymooning in Italy. Rome was our first port of call and we both fell in love with the city, its history, culture and passion – not to mention the pizza, gelato and wine.
As we threw our coins into the Trevi Fountain, as is the custom to ensure we would someday return to Rome, we joked that we should come back for our 10th wedding anniversary… with our kids.
It might have been said in jest but that’s exactly what we’ve just done – celebrated a decade of married life in the Italian city with our first foreign holiday as a family. (You can see some snapshots from our holiday here.)
When we first discussed the idea earlier this year, we weren’t sure if our younger selves were being overly optimistic. Was the idea of flying with three children aged 7, 5 and 3, staying in a hotel room in a hot and busy capital city just asking for trouble?
But then two things happened. The first was Flybe announcing a new route from Cardiff Wales Airport to Rome Fiumicino Airport. Brilliant, we thought. No need to travel a couple of hours and navigate three kids around a huge airport terminal; instead, it’s half an hour in the car from our home town. (Massive thanks to Cardiff Wales Airport and Flybe for providing us with two return flights. You can read about it here.)
The second was discovering Camping Village Fabulous, a family-friendly campsite just outside Rome with easy access to the city in one direction and to the beaches and extensive ancient Roman remains of Ostia in the other. We’d just presumed that accommodation options in a city would be limited to hotels and apartments… so this suddenly sounded like the dream trip to us, combining the famous sites of Rome with the fun and relaxation of a family campsite. Our anniversary coincided with the May half term holiday when prices are way cheaper than the summer (Italian schools have three months off in June, July and August) and a week’s camping cost us less than £250, which included additional charges for hiring bedding, towels and beach towels.
We booked online, choosing a maxi tent from Canvas Holidays, but Eurocamp, VacanSoleil, Homair, Al Fresco Holidays among others all also operate onsite with a range of tents, mobile homes and glamping huts, or you can book directly with Elite Club Vacanze, who run the site. They have three other sites in Rome, as well as in other areas of Italy.
Camping Village Fabulous is 25km/25 minute drive from Rome Fiumincio airport and 21km/25 minutes from Rome Ciampino. We pre-booked a scheduled transfer with Camping Village Fabulous itself, costing €48 each way for the five of us, which included car seat hire. The various tour operators run their own transfers too, or you could book a private transfer company or taxi.
Our maxi tent from Canvas Holidays was a good size for the five of us. There were two bedroom areas, with zip-up curtains. One bedroom had a double camp bed for Cardiff Daddy and I, while the other comfortably fitted three camp beds for our children. The kitchen area was well-equipped with a gas stove, a counter-sized fridge-freezer and plenty of crockery, cutlery, glasses, pans, utensils, plus a sweeping brush, dustpan and brush and bucket and mop. The weather was so lovely we barely spent any time inside the tent, so we appreciated the table, chairs and loungers outside the tent, as well as the airer to dry our swimming gear.
We did get a bit of accommodation envy when the people staying opposite us (randomly they were also from Cardiff!) let us have a look around the wooden safari-style glamping pod they’d booked with VacanSoleil. The wooden interior was beautiful and their kids got to stay in one room with bunk beds and another overhead cubby hole style bed accessed via a ladder. It was amazing!
There are several washing facilities around the site, with the closest one for us a 10 second walk from our tent. The showers and toilets were always really clean, with plenty of soap and toilet roll. We never had to wait to use them either. My children loved the dedicated children’s wash area, with child-sized sinks, toilets and showers, plus wash basins for babies with showers attached. The block also has an area for washing dishes and several washing machines.
There is a supermarket around a mile away – but as we didn’t have a car we stuck to the onsite shop. It was well-stocked with all the essentials and prices were not overly-inflated either. We would have liked more fresh vegetables and fruit but there was enough to balance out all the pizza and pasta we ate while away!
We ate at the campsite’s restaurant three times and although it was always busy the food came quickly and was really tasty. In fact, the pizzas were some of the best we tasted on our holiday (and we ate a lot of pizza!). The bamboo outdoor covered seating area was really atmospheric, and prices reasonable at around €6-9 for pizzas, €8-10 for pasta, with a range of salads and sides, and a separate children’s menu of pizza, pasta and more ‘British’ choices such as chicken nuggets and chips. You can also pick up take away pizza if you prefer.
The gelato was so amazing it needs its own section! There’s a large gelateria next to the swimming pool, open from 3pm-11pm, and a smaller gelateria attached to the restaurant, both serving the most delicious and generous-sized cones at €2.50 each. We frequented this place pretty much on a daily basis!
The pool area is brilliant and a real asset to the site. There’s a large, graduated shallow pool with a maximum depth of 0.3m and a rubbery soft surface that makes it perfect for smaller children. My three absolutely loved the ‘whale’ structure with water squirting out and slides to whoosh down, as well as the slide at the other end of the pool.
There’s also a larger pool with a depth of around 1.3m, plus two hot tub style whirl pools (with cold water), with beautiful views out across Rome. There are plenty of sun loungers and umbrellas, plus a pool bar serving drinks, pizzas, burgers, chips and ice lollies. The campsite shop had loads of inflatables for sale -including this crocodile.
The pool is open from mid-April until the end of September, from 10am-6pm during low season and 9am-7pm during high season.
The entertainment team were absolutely brilliant, working non-stop from 10am until 11pm every day with so much energy and passion. There’s a children’s club with daily activities (which we didn’t use but which seemed popular), plus two hours of family entertainment every evening. We loved the nightly children’s disco with catchy party numbers with choreographed routines for the kids to learn, plus games and entertainment from the staff. It was a bit cheesy, but we had a great time!
There was plenty for adults too, including pool-side yoga, hydro bikes, five-a-side football, minigolf and beach-volleyball.
The site also has two children’s playgrounds (one near the main entrance and one near the swimming pool); various table football and pool tables, carts and buggies to hire, plus trampolines and water orbs at night.
We made good use of the free shuttle bus which leaves the campsite every half hour between 8am and 12pm and takes passengers to Casal Bernocchi Metro station. From there, it’ll take 20 minutes or so to get into the centre of Rome, with one or two changes to see the main sites. You can buy a day pass for €8 or a 100-minute ticket for €1.50 – we found the latter worked out cheaper as we only needed two or three a day for the grown-ups, with children under 10 travelling for free. We didn’t realise this on our very first journey, until a commuter kindly told us. We took a lightweight buggy for Toddler, as he would have struggled walking around Rome all day. Most of the stations were fine but we had a couple of occasions where we couldn’t find the elevators and had to collapse the buggy to get up the escalators – worth bearing in mind if you have a bigger buggy or pram. We wanted to get to the monuments as early as we could, so we often found ourselves on the Metro during morning rush hour when the trains were at their busiest and it was standing room only. We were amazed by how friendly the commuters were, always offering up their seats for the children.
Getting back from Rome to the campsite was a little more complicated but perfectly manageable, even with three kids, involving getting the Metro to EUR Fermi, and then the 709 bus, from across the road to the Metro station, to just outside the campsite. We never had to wait for a bus; there always seemed to be one there whenever we arrived. Metro tickets also work on the bus, so it didn’t cost us any more. We were really worried about missing our stop, so opened up GoogleMaps to be sure.
The campsite also runs tours to see Rome at night, to the ancient remains at Ostia Antica, and Pompeii (three hours away).
The sites we visited
The Colosseum was as incredible as I remember from 10 years ago and Little Man O, who is obsessed with the Romans, was in complete awe. We also visited the ancient remains at Ostia Antica. This is a truly remarkable place – an excavated town with impressive remains to rival Pompeii but without the hordes of visitors. We also visited the Trevi Fountain, the Pantheon, the Vatican (although we didn’t venture inside because the queues were crazy), and the Spanish Steps.
While the area of the campsite we were staying in was great in terms of being close to all the amenities, it did get loud at night with the disco and people walking past. Our kids usually go to bed at 7om but we seeing as we were on holiday, they generally stayed up until gone 10pm to enjoy the family entertainment. The teenage/adult entertainment continued until 11pm+. The kids slept through it all though, probably because they were so tired they fell straight to sleep when their heads hit the pillow.
One word of warning if you have young children is that the pool often got busier later in the day with local teenagers jumping and pushing each other around, The lifeguards didn’t seem as on the ball as we are used to here in the UK.
We had wanted to visit the beaches at Ostia, and while the journey there seemed fine, with the campsite shuttle bus and a few Metro stops, the return journey looked complicated. The lady in the information office told us it would probably take around an hour and a half to get back, so with various Metro and bus changes, three young children plus all our beach stuff, we decided it wasn’t worth the stress. Other campers who had hired a car told us they’d driven there with no problems.
Our overall verdict
Camping Village Fabulous was indeed just that – fabulous. It was a great base from which to explore the famous historical sites of Rome but the pool and family entertainment made it a fun and relaxing holiday. We really didn’t want to come home!
Camping Village Fabulous, owned by Elite Club Vacanze, Via di Malafede, 205 -00125, Roma.
We paid for our holiday at Camping Village Fabulous ourselves and they did not know we would be writing this review.