Q. We are hoping to book a last-minute family holiday in Italy with our 12-year-old son. We would like to spend some time exploring the surrounding area and some time relaxing. We also need somewhere that has activities for children or to know that there would be other children around for our son to make friends with. We are not keen on driving, so don't want anywhere too remote. We like the idea of the Lakes, which we know won't be cheap, but we'd rather pay for the right thing.
S Wells, via e-mail

A. Northern Lombardy's Lakes region may not have obvious teen appeal, but what it does have is a stunningly romantic combination of mountains, water and sunshine. And, if you choose your spot wisely, your son shouldn't be short of things to do.

The Italian Lakes region roughly extends from Lake Orta and Lake Maggiore in the west past the upside-down shaped fork of Lake Como, directly north of Milan, and east as far as Lake Garda, close to the beautiful city of Verona.

All have their merits, but I'd suggest Lake Garda, at the rugged foot of the Dolomites, as the best option for your purposes. It's close to Brescia airport, clean enough to swim in, and, being the most developed of the lakes, has the best public transport system. A regular bus service circles the shore, while all manner of ferries criss-cross the water, so your lack of car won't hold you back from exploring the region to the full.

Lake Garda's mountainous northern shore around the buzzy town of Torbole is a popular place for watersports and its steady winds attract many windsurfers. Back on dry land, hiking is a popular option with plenty of undemanding scenic routes around both the western and eastern shores, and busy family campsites are dotted along the flatter, southern end. This area is also the best place to base yourselves if you'd like your holiday to include a trip to nearby Gardaland (00 39 045 644 9777; www.gardaland.it), a large and cheerful theme park which is Italy's answer to Disneyland. It opens daily 9am-12am until 11 September and admission costs €24 (£16.50) for adults and over-10s.

As you might expect, there are plenty of opportunities for sightseers, with Roman ruins, fairy-tale castles and medieval churches to wander around. Don't miss the eccentric Il Vittoriale (00 39 0365 296 511; www.vittoriale.it), a fantasy villa on the western shore at Gardone, once home to the 20th-century fascist writer Gabriele D'Annunzio. It opens 9.30am-7pm Tuesday-Sunday. Adult tickets cost €11 (£7.60) and €8 (£5.50) for children.

As for finding playmates for your son, if you stay at a family-oriented apartment complex then he should soon make friends by the pool. The Owners Syndicate (020-7801 9809; www.ownerssyndicate.com) has high-quality, self-catering apartments with a balcony at the Palazzo Belvedere. It is a small complex with two pools (one for children), set in a lawned garden about 1km uphill from Desenzano. This is a busy Italian town at the southern end of the lake that has good public transport connections. A week's rental of a one-bedroom apartment with a sofa bed from 31 August costs £1,445 and includes a hire car.

Alternatively, head further north to make the most of the lake's sporting possibilities and book your son in for a week's windsurfing or dinghy-sailing course. Call the Torbole tourist office (00 39 0464 505 177; www.lagodigarda.it) for a comprehensive list of schools. Expect to pay around €200 (£138) for six days of morning lessons.

You could stay at the Hotel Centrale in Riva, close to the northern shore of the lake. Thomson Lakes and Mountains (0870 405 5033; www.thomsonlakesandmountains.co.uk) offers a week's B&B in a triple room at the hotel for a total of £1,716 for all three of you. The price includes return flights with Britannia Airways from Gatwick to Verona departing on 31 August and transfers.

To find accommodation with ready-made children's activities, however, you'll need to camp. Keycamp (0870 700 0740; www.keycamp.co.uk) has large, six-bed tents with electricity and well-equipped kitchens at the Bella Italia site, just east of Desenzano. Seven nights' rental of a tent costs £375 throughout September. As well as two huge pool complexes, it also provides free "Funstation" sessions for over 10s - two two-and-a-half-hour supervised sessions from Monday- Saturday, with activities ranging from tennis and football to t-shirt making, music and quizzes.

Ryanair (0871 246 0000; www.ryanair.com) flies from Stansted to Verona-Brescia; return fares departing on 31 August, back on 7 September from £85. There is a regular shuttle service from the airport to Desenzano; returns costs €15 (£10.70).

Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail crusoe@independent.co.uk

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