In Florida there’s Disneyland. In Denmark there’s Legoland. In Italy there’s Gardaland. The most famous amusement park in Italy is located about twenty miles from Verona along Lake Garda. It’s a favourite tourist destination for millions of people and not just children. Over time, this area has well and truly become a centre of fun for all ages.
When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait for my parents to take me there. Now that I’m a father, I see that same excitement in my own daughter’s eyes. When I get to the entrance and see the reassuring shape of “Prezzemolo”, the good dragon who’s the park’s symbol and mascot, and then go through the castle door that acts as an entrance to this enchanted world, I am overwhelmed by fond childhood memories.
Although it seemed enormous to me in my day, so to speak, Gardaland was much smaller then than now. Then, the main attractions were a little train, which sped through a Wild West landscape while dodging falling boulders and Indian assaults, and a canoe that wound through a jungle setting.
When I accompanied my child to Gardaland recently and returned there, I looked in vain for these attractions. They are no more. The attractions today are much more spectacular, exciting and technological. There are roller coasters that go considerably high up only to dive down making loop the loops, curves and corkscrew turns. There are canoes that face rapids and waterfalls. There are rides that simulate the thrill of free falling.
The park’s (perfectly adapt) slogan was once: “a child’s dream is to go to Gardaland”. I remember now, as if it were yesterday, feverishly awaiting the opening of the Ramses attraction set in ancient Egypt. The park has been remade today to meet the demands of adults who want to experience the thrills of an extreme sport for a day.
That said, children are obviously still the centre of attention at Gardaland. But the attractions for children have also become much more elaborate. A whole area of the park is entirely dedicated to children and fitted out completely in a fantasy theme (presided over by Prezzemolo). It’s made even for those under a metre high who, according to the park rules, enter free still today. There’s trains, planes, water games and several rides. You’re really spoilt for choice.
In the course of time, other amusement parks have grown up near Gardaland. Among the most famous is Caneva Waterpark located a few kilometres north. It’s an amusement park with water slides and toboggans. Here too the trend is to build steeper and steeper slides so that you go down with increasing velocity, maximising the emotion.
Alongside the waterpark, Movieland has also opened and is a large cinema-themed amusement park. In addition to attractions such as the house of horrors or the U-571 submarine simulator built on a 1:1 scale, you can live out some typical scenes from action movies, like a car or motorcycle chase in the midst of shoot outs on the streets of San Francisco in the 1970s.
If I think back to my own list of childhood favourites, the only place able to rival Gardaland for me was the Pastrengo Natura Viva Park. It’s located on the road between Verona and Lake Garda in Pastrengo. In my time, it was simply a zoo safari where you could admire exotic animals such as lions, elephants and hippos roaming free in an environment very similar to their natural one. Today the Park has evolved and become one of the most important zoological parks for the protection of endangered species. Their most famous conservation projects involve the red panda, bald ibis, European bison and snow leopard. There’s great celebration in the park whenever they have young ones.