With next Easter's school holiday throwing up an array of dates (depending on your local authority), now is the time to get the bargain breaks. Holiday companies and airlines can't seem to catch up with the fact that some schools are breaking up late-March whereas others aren't holidaying until mid-April. When there are discrepancies in dates, there are bargains to be had!
Browsing through possible flights next Easter, I've found return fares from as little as £35 return from London and Manchester to Italy in early April 2016. Milan, Bologna, Parma, Pisa and Genoa are all priced below £50.
But where exactly to go to have a sumptuous taste of la dolce vita? Well, as a family, we love the Lombardy region and the many possibilities it throws up in terms of cultural sightseeing, good food and easy transport options.
There are currently flights with Ryanair for Easter for under £50 from regional UK airports to Bergamo and these are offers not to be missed.
The wonderful thing about the town of Bergamo is that it is a tourist destination in its own right yet it benefits from being on the doorstep of the bustling cities of Milan and Verona, which are both easy train journeys away.
Having Easyjet and Ryanair serve the airport of Orio Al Serio means that flight prices are competitive and frequent and, as is usual with the economy airlines, the sooner the book, the less you pay.
Once you've arrived at Bergamo, there is no need to hire a car as public transport is all laid on for the family traveller. A short 4km bus ride into the city takes no time at all and, seamlessly, the holiday begins minutes after touchdown.
Bergamo is beautiful and its medieval walls encapuslate thousands of years of history. High up above città bassa (lower town), città alta (upper town) presides over the region and, if the walk proves too much for tired little legs, the modern funicular provides a fun alternative to an uphill hike. Bergamo is one of those fabulous Italian towns where you can spend all day getting lost in the labyrinthine streets and waste countless hours dipping into churches to view the stunning frescoes and beautiful altars.
Bergamo has many reasonably-priced self-catering places in which to stay, allowing you to sit on your own balcony and watch the world go by. This town comes alive in the evenings and a pre-dinner drink on Piazza Vecchia is a perfect aperitif to a slab of pizza. Sit drinking chilled prosecco as the sun sets and watch the children as they run amok in the square, splashing in the fountain and chasing each another over the cobbles.
Another day, another city and, just 45 minutes away by train, is the cosmopolitan metropolis of Milan. Shiny Milano glimmers in the searing sunshine and the marbled Duomo di Milano glows smugly from the centre of the square. Whilst the cathedral offers a trove of treasures, the real highlight is the roof of the building. Tourists can either take the effortless option of the elevator up to the towering terrace with its gargoyles and flying butresses or, like we did, clamber up the 165 steps to the top. The price is reduced if you embark on the challenge of walking up and, with children under six years old going free, this is a memorable adventure. To see the children charging along the crest of a 14th century cathedral alongside the 135 spires and 3200 statues, and peering over the edge down towards the tiny specks of people below is a hair-raising experience.
For the mums (and fashion-conscious dads), the window-shopping in Milan is incomparable. The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II is an epic centre of sartorial excellence, with its 19th century glass and iron architecture and its magnificent atruim. Brands represented in this heaven for shoppers include Mario Prada's first ever shop (opened in 1913) and Gucci's flagship store.
Further afield, but still under two hours by train from Bergamo, is Verona - perfect for children who are studying Shakespeare at school. Romeo and Juliet fell in love here and you can join the throng of tourists desperate to view the famous balcony at Casa di Giulietta where she fictitiously uttered the immortal words, "Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?" The souvenir shops are tacky and overpriced but your eight year old will yearn for that pencil-sharpener keepsake of Shakespearean love! At Capulet's house, the thing that appealed to my kids the most was the statue of Juliet and her boobs! It's considered lucky to touch her much-worn bronze breasts and so we joined the queue of tourists waiting to get their hands on this icon of romance! Explaining that photo to Grandma and Grandad took some doing, let me tell you!
However, the most spectacular aspect of Verona is the amphitheatre, built in AD 30. This vast attraction gives a wonderful sense of Roman culture and, located on Piazza Bra, it offers plenty of opportunities for childish giggles at the street signs. At night, there is nothing that beats a meal al fresco on the piazza whilst listening to the operatic offerings from one of the largest ampitheatres in the world floating through the still evening air. Definitely an Italian feast for the senses.
So, Milan, Bergamo and Verona. A three-centre holiday which offers up so much of Italy and her delights. With self-catering accommodation costing in the region of £50 a night and reliance upon cheap public transport, a week-long holiday next Easter should cost under £600 for a family of four. A bargain not to be missed, surely?