April 27, 2018
Italy was a big surprise for me, obviously in the awesome way like all the unique and extremely beautiful places I’ve seen and the food I ate (tons of pasta, pizza, seafood and so on…), but also in the level of difficulties for campers. To be honest, in most cases I am not surprised at all, but there were times when I really missed Portugal or Scandinavia, or Spain or even Germany (camper wise). I also experienced a situation, when for the very first time I wanted to leave my camper on a very narrow street while trying to pass 1000000 of cars driving from both ways, and run away. Here is why:
– Italy was not discovered by tourism yesterday and there were thousands of camper enthusiast before me. It means that parking spots (not campsites, but parking on a street) are expensive. There is a recognition between a regular car and a camper and campers pay more. Sometimes way more, like 25 euros.
– Roads in some beautiful parts of Italy (like Cinque Terre) are very narrow and there’s a limited place for cars. In high season, it’s almost impossible to park a camper over there.
– Some parts are not accessible by campers. It means that you have to leave it 20km away and get to the place somehow, but not with your camper. I totally get it. Like for example in Amalfi, it’s stunning and half of the world wants to see it. I wish I could as well, but it will be with a different way of transport.
– There’s a problem with parking on a coastline. A few times I just wanted to stop next to a beach, go for a swim with Mia and drive further. In most of the places (and I mean 99%) there were signs that campers or cars higher than 1.80m cannot park there (we could drive through but not stop). It was annoying. I am not a beach person and I get that some camper drivers were most probably camping there, but still… not cool.
– Italian drivers are unique. I used to think that Polish ones are crazy, but they have no chances with Italians. There are Italians, looooong loooong nothing and then crazy drivers from other countries.
There are also cool sides for camper owners – ot each second gas station on a highway you can get rid of the black and gray water and pump some drinking one. In Tuscany you can stay for a night in stunning spots next to wineries for free. There’s a lot of wild, not so popular spots, where you can enjoy quiet, views and lack of fellow travellers. People are super friendly, the food is more than delicious. Also, travelling with a small kid is super positive, as Italians love children. Mia got a lot of sweets from shop owners, which was pretty awesome for her and not so awesome for me, as I do not give her much of sweet things. Well, it was her adventure as well.
When you travel with a kid, you already have an advantage. Italians love kids! Mia got a new friend each 100m, she got so many free ice creams (even though I insisted on paying) and cookies that she, at some point, started to say “no, thank you” and she made a day of at least 100 older ladies.
Good to know:
– You can buy a card in Vodaphone for tourists, where you have 3gb of the internet plus no limit on social media and movies 😀 When you travel with a small kid, no restriction on cartoons may be a game changer, tra la lalalalalala.
– When travelling in the camper, I’d suggest to go to Italy outside of a season. There will be still a lot of local tourists, but it will be way easier.
I love everything I saw and experienced and in a moment I’ll show you stunning places I saw, but I also realised that whenever I’ll have an idea to drive around Italy, I’ll not take my campervan (and this is the soft version. In reality, while being there and getting stuck in a supper narrow street with 100 cars in front and behind me, I’ve decided that the next time I’ll have an idea like this one, I’ll shoot myself in a foot so I cannot drive).
We entered Italy from Switzerland, where we were supposed to stay much longer, but it started to snow really badly in September and my tires told me that we have to leave. When we entered, the first thing we did, was to go to a local bakery for a chocolate milk and all the yummy pastries. We ate a lot and then we saw a rainbow. Our journey has started the best way possible.
We stopped for a night in San Lorenzo Dorsino, over a beautiful lake and thankfully there was a nice playground for Mia as well. We talked to the ducks, chased them a little and suddenly it starts to rain. I made some good pasta from local ingredients (my nr 1 meal while in Italy as Mia demanded it almost each day) and after painting a bit, we went to bed. I woke up around 4 am because it was raining so heavily, that I was sure that there is a flood and any minute now our 2.8t camper will go with it. I open a door and thankfully there was no flood, but this is also a moment when I realised that one of the windows leaked and a whole wall is soaked with water. When you live in a camper, this is a big problem. It took me a while to dry it and when Mia woke up 3h later, I was ready to run away to a sunny area of Italy.
This is how we got to Verona. I found a nice area for campers, (11 euro for 24h, which was not so bad) and we went to do some food hunting. This is also the place when Mia realised what gelato means and that there is a gelato place like each 100m. What I learned is how to distract her when I spot another gelato place on our way. Verona was amazing -easy to park a van, close to the historical center (big, huge, enormous advantage when alone with a little one), everyone was friendly, there’s also a lot to see and eat. I liked it a lot, not only because I am a romantic kind of a girl and I know Romeo and Juliet’s story.
Venice – the last time I’ve been to Venice was when I was about 13 years old and my parents took me there on our way to Spain. I spent hours playing with pigeons. I had no idea that it’s not the best idea at the time. What you want to know, or already know is, that Venice is packed with tourists. They are everywhere and it is busy like all the time. We found a place to leave our van about 1h away, which was safe. The only thing was to get there with Mia. We took a tram, easy. But when it takes you a long time to get somewhere, you stay there for a long time as well. Packed with all needed essentials (photography equipment, diapers and water), we went for the experience. And this is how I see it: whenever you want to go to Venice by yourself with a small kid, take a hotel located on the island. In reality ~I enjoyed it a lot, but after chasing Mia with a stroller, climbing stairs up and down, I was pretty exhausted, as well as she was. She fell asleep and I should do the same, but instead I started to play in a discoverer game. I also had to carry a stroller with a sleeping kid, because almost no one felt like helping. Especially Italian men! Big hugs to all the women who helped. I left Venice with a sunset, with Mia filled with energy after a long nap and a bowl of pasta. I just wanted to go back to a camper and fell asleep. It was also the first time when I fell asleep while my kid was jumping on me. From this moment I’ve decided, that I will leave big stunning cities like Rome, Florence or Milan for the next time. I checked the weather and figured, that it’s a good moment to go back north.
Lago Di Braies – this is not a hidden gem, it’s a very popular tourist destination, but this is a stunning place and everyone should see it. There’s a parking for vans 100m away, so you can enjoy sunrise and sunsets. It was raining when I was there and it was still stunning.
Messner Mountain Museum – The museum part is mostly for parents, but Mia enjoyed climbing all the stairs and following corridors a lot. She also loved the movie. But what she truly enjoyed was the cable railway, she was laughing out loud! On the top I got a bit scared and followed her like a shadow, because it was very steep in some areas. The Messner Mountain Museum is a beautiful architectural creation and has a lot to offer inside as well. I had a friend who died in the mountains a few years ago and visiting this place made me understand his passion way more. There’s also a nice restaurant on top with delicious pizza!
Camogli is stunning, colourful buildings and black beach is a view that inspires. I’d definitely avoid this area by van in season, but out of season it was fairly easy. I had a feeling that Mia thought that she’s in a magical place. She was playing around, discovering each narrow alley and was trying to get everywhere possible. It was a pleasure to follow her.
Cinque Terre – is a difficult destination for a van. You can get to Monterosso, as vans are not permitted on other roads. The road is very narrow and I would not suggest going there by van in a season. There’s also a very limited parking place (no surprise at all, as these are tiny villages), so you may end up going all the way back. Each village is connected by a train, so it’s easy to travel between them and it’s way more comfortable than looking for a parking spot all the time.
Each village of Cinque Terre looks like a paradise to live in. If it wasn’t for thousands of tourists who walk through each day, I’d definitely consider moving there. And even though it’s quite busy, you can start super early in the morning to see beautiful places by yourself. Riomaggiore and Manarola were my favorite, but also I did not climb with Mia too much, because she felt like carrying her was the best idea to experience Cinque Terre (she wasn’t right this time).
Toscany – finally a paradise for camper enthusiasts. There are parking spots next to wineries with a stunning views, where you can park for free. You will have so much great food and wine (the second I did not taste much, unfortunately), that you will completely freak out.
Greve in Chianti was our first stop. Mia was running between grapes and sand, there was a stunning sunset and I could not believe that I am back in Tuscany. I woke up for a sunrise and it was one of these moments when I was shocked by the beauty of the world. It does happen often with me, especially as 6am when I hold coffee in my hand and stand outside of a campervan, but I also visit beautiful places, so these are a reason to drop a tear of two.
Fattoria La Vialla – we went there to check out the animals and to see how they produce pasta and sweets. We got soooooo much more! This place is a paradise (for parents and kids). It is also huge, but you can discover it piece by piece, because there’s a free parking for vans (yupi). Next to a store and restaurant there is an area, where you can see, how each product they sell is made by hands. Mia was crazy in love with watching how they make chocolates. There’s a garden with veggies, beautiful animals and delicious restaurant. Definitely, but seriously definitely check out this restaurant and I promise that the next direction will be their store. I got loads of homemade pasta and sauces for kids, Mia loved it and it helped a lot in our van life. It could also influence her growing addiction to pasta, but this is the risk you have to take, when you take your little one to Italy.
Podere Il Casale in Pienza – a man moved his family to Italy to create a farm and make cheese. There is a long story behind it and he knows how to tell it best, so make sure to visit when in Tuscany. I was amazed by this place, all the animals, guinea pigs’ house and of course cheese. There is an area for van parking and even for tents. This is one of these places you want to visit and spend a night. The views are breathtaking and it is cool to talk to goats. If you travel with kids, you can be sure to have a moment for a glass of wine, as they will be stuck next to a guinea pigs house for hours.
Arezzo – I loved it because it was super easy to enjoy it. It’s not only beautiful, but delicious and you can park your van in a parking just outside of the gates. Which means super close. The town is stunning and full of life. I’d like to stay there for longer and live in one of these busy narrow streets. To wake up to a smell of espresso and stay out long, drinking wine with friends (for this part I’d have to move back in time, before Mia, hehe).
Bagno Vignoni – it was a very pleasant stop. This small town has some hot springs in the area and you can enjoy it for free, ta dam! Mia refused, as she had “no bathing” faze, but I can tell you, that people around looked very happy. The town itself is very photogenic and delicious, but then, which town in Italy isn’t 😀
Orte – I did not plan to top there, but we were passing it on a way and, to my surprise, I saw a stunning town located on a rock. I left a highway and drove there. The town was empty, no tourists, I had it only for Mia and myself. We were wandering through small streets and I could not believe that places like this one exist.
Norcia – we drove there to support locals. The area is stunning, but the region suffered a lot after the earthquakes in 2016th. If you have a chance, go to support them in any way as well.
Campo Imperatore – This is definitely my most special place in Italy. It is impossible to tell you how beautiful it is. This is where you feel how huge the world is. The views, the space. I did not want to leave. There are horses walking freely through the mountains. It all made me feel like crying, because it was a pure beauty. I’d suggest spending in the area at least a week, there’s so much to see and experience. Definitely stop over in Calascio and take a walk to Rocca Calascio!
Conca dei Marini – here is the place which made me want to run away and abandon my campervan. I missed a sign on the way saying, that during the day you cannot drive this way with a campervan. I could not believe in it, but then a very nice police lady showed me how this sign looked. It was a huge one with 20 little signs and one of them was with a message to me. My fault, I accept it. But what happened next was, well… traumatic. There were 1000000 cars passing me with a light speed limit on a very curly road. Nice men on a scooter was screaming at me saying that American tourists are the worse (I am not American, not even close, but hey, my accent must be pretty awesome). At some point I was apologizing to my 25 year old van because I did not believe how it is possible for it to climb such a steep road. Then I was hating it and wanted to run away with Mia. The nice police lady I mentioned was very friendly, told me that it happens a lot and they should change this sign and told me how I can drive away from there. I did. I am not even sorry that I did not see this gorgeous town. I need to go back with a tiny car.
Paestum – trip to Italy would not be full without checking out some ruins. This is a perfect town to do it. It took me some time to wait for Mia to finish fixing the sidewalk. She did a good job and we went for a walk. They have some delicious restaurants and it’s worth going for a dinner. There is a parking where, for a small amount, you can park overnight. It is a touristy town and this parking is just next to all the attractions, so it’s a good deal.
Padula – Certosa Di Padula is beautiful. Italian architecture is stunning and this was a great example. Mia loved it, she was running around, visiting each corner. She also gave a couple of recitals. It is so important to show our children how beautiful the world is and the part that humans created as well. She did love it.
Sicily – oh Sicily, you are amazing! We took a ferry to get there. You need to buy a ticket for 3 days or one way more expensive for longer. This is a pity, as I wanted to stay for a week. Our first overnight stop was in Cefalu. The town is stunning and they had the best gelato we tried so far. I did not make any reservations in restaurants, but I tried to get to i Ristorante Al Porticciolo and, most probably because I got there at the opening, we did it! This was one delicious experience. I tried the most amazing salmon with a cream cheese and apple I could wish for. The food was so delicious, that I did not want it to come to our table. And pizza – it’s the must!
Next stop was San Vito Lo Capo and I’ll recommend it to anyone travelling with a campervan. Just look at this view and at our parking spot. I could not ask for more.
We got to the Scala dei Turchi White Wall next. I wanted to go down to walk around, but it was raining a bit and Mia was too active, which means that I was literally scared that she will jump into the water. We stayed up and just looked at it.
But in the evening we got to Scoglitti, to Viri Cu Ce, which is the most amazing restaurant we’ve been to in Italy. What an experience! I parked my car almost in front of it and it was a great move, as they had to roll me out of there. I ordered menu for one person and got about 20 plates of food. I was trying my best, but I could not eat it all. It was so good, that it almost made me cry. Guys, this place is magical. Go there, eat there, cry out of happiness. PS. It’s good to know,that out of the season, you need to use the big ferry for trucks, which is in a different place than the regular one.
Matera – back to the mainland, I made my way to Matera. I regret that I did not stay there longer. At that point I was a bit tired of grabbing Mia, taking a stroller, big backpack and finding a taxi to drive us to a historical center to spend 5h over there. I did it once, had a beautiful time and that was it. I must tell you, that it is a beautiful town (I know I say it a lot). Especially at night it was breathtaking. We stopped at the Park of the Rupestrian Churches of Matera for a night and we had a stunning view in the morning.
Ostuni – I did not spend enough time over there, as it was not super easy with my camper and distances. But I had a bite and now I know that I have to go back.
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