From sunflower fields to canals Burgundy is idyllic
Luckily, as we approached the automated check in at the Eurotunnel terminal, an earlier train option flashed up on the screen. Even better, it would cost us no extra! An hour later, we’d be driving off the train at Calais, ready for some French travels through Burgundy!
In these times of hand sanitising and face masks, the ease of the tunnel came into its own. The reassurance of having to stay in the campervan proved more than welcome on our first post-Covid trip abroad.
It had never felt so good to be back traveling, doing normal things again and the freedom of being on the road. The Eurotunnel was so well organised, making the whole process so much more relaxed. On top of that, it actually seemed quiet, although our departure time of 8pm may have played a part in that.
For our first night stop in France, we chose our firm favorite – the Aire at Gravelines, situated about 20 minutes away from Calais. Here, spending our first night in the company of a few other motorhomes seemed like old times.
Our journey South towards the Burgundy region took around five hours. Unusually, the toll roads were really busy or did they just seem this way after months hidden behind closed doors?
With the help of a really good book “Back Roads France”, we picked out a route, leaving the toll roads behind at Auxerre to begin our French travels through Burgundy.
Several years ago on a previous trip, we’d come across a gorgeous wine route running from Dijon to Beaune. So on this trip, we decided to just concentrate on the bits in the book that we hadn’t done before.
Any good intentions to stop the night at Auxerre suddenly didn’t seemed so appealing. As our French travels through Burgundy began, the need for somewhere quieter set in.
Firstly, it was super hot and our need for shade became to great to manage in the open sun. Then, Auxerre itself just seemed too busy and a bit big for our liking. After eventually finding the Aire taken over by a fun fair, the choice to move on was an easy one to make.
Heading off in a Southerly direction, we soon came across a charming little Aire at a tiny marina. Located in the sleepy town of Cravant, it was the perfect place to stop.
A parking spot right alongside the canal beckoned. Finally, all we had to do was sip on wine whilst watching the pleasure boats pass us by. A perfect start to our French travels through Burgundy.
This small ancient town of Cravant is surrounded by a canal network. Where the water flows, so do miles of cycle paths and walking routes, running alongside. All are really well signposted bringing the perfect opportunity to explore safely in the open air.
After deciding to stay an extra night at our canal-side setting, it was time for us to actually explore the town. The sleepy, gated old centre with no fewer than three Lavoir’s or ancient outdoor laundry’s is just lovely.
Soon, we stumbled upon a field of blooming sunflowers perched above the town, isn’t that just one of the things about France in Summertime? Everything just seems alive with nature, colour and above all life!
It didn’t take long before Nigel stripped down to his birthday suit amongst the sunflowers for a photo opportunity. Hiding his modesty behind a very large yellow head. It’s a good job these French villages are deserted in mid-afternoon!
Another evening stroll took us to an abandoned locomotive, where we had a go at taking a timed photo. Surely that can’t be too difficult, can it?
Well after several attempts at the self-timer, eventually we got it together to capture us dangling from the front like a couple of pro’s. There’s no stopping us now!
We liked Cravant so much that we stayed another night. With that it was time to get out the bikes and set off along the miles of cycle paths alongside the canal.
The beautiful route followed the waterways, which at this time of year are filled with tourist boats enjoying the leisurely pace on the canals.
Passing fields of sunflowers and pretty stone built villages, cycling the quiet countryside was a delight. Amongst the birds and the butterflies, our tyres rode. Soon arriving at the small town of Mailly-Le-Chateau.
Here, canoes moored up under the shady trees on a crystal clear, reed-filled river. Above us on the hilltop sat the main town along with it’s chateau overlooking the water.
We didn’t have any energy to peddle up the steep road, instead, choosing to return to the campervan for a late lunch. This scenic route had taken us a few hours, covering a distance of around 20 miles.
A lazy afternoon under the shade of an old tree was all that we wanted to do in the scorching heat. Just us, a hammock and a peaceful spot watching the world go by on the water.
Some days are just made for catching up on the world of chores. Today was one of them, leaving Cravant behind for the next town along at Vermenton.
Whilst Nigel filled the campervan up with fuel, I braved the supermarket, our first one in France. Masks are compulsory indoors here, but to be honest, there isn’t much else that resembles a pandemic approach.
The obligatory one metre distancing seems to be forgotten about, at the same time the supermarket didn’t have any where near the same safety measures as our British ones do.
There were no floor markings or arrows to show the spacing and direction of flow, neither bucket loads of disinfectant spray for the trolley. The only indication other than face masks, were a tub of hand sanitser and a plastic screen at the check out.
Thankfully, an outdoor laundry made the laundrette job a little easier. At least being in the open air meant less germs to breathe in!
Next up, our lunch under another shady tree. It’s been so hot, 30C most days, so the shade is so welcome.
Our picturesque parking spot alongside the Canal du Niverais also brought an opportunity for some fresh produce. It’s been a while since we did any scrumping, but Nigel found a fully laden tree where the apples looked too good to leave to nature.
As I went off exploring on foot, Nige collected a bucket of perfect apples to add to our daily fruit intake.
Later, our driving route reached the hilltop town of Vézelay. Standing high above the Burgundy countryside, it’s famous for it’s impressive church and historic architecture.
After parking on an Aire below the main centre, we managed to walk round before darkness fell. At least at this time in the evening the coolness makes it a little easier. Apparently the chutch holds relics of Mary Magdeline, although we didn’t venture inside ourselves.
It was good but strange to see people eating out in restaurants, bringing an air of normality to this virus-driven world.
Next we began meandering our way through the Morvan countryside. First though, a morning stroll through the little village of Bazoches.
The main attraction here is the Chateau de Bazoches, open to the public and usually home to Summer concerts.
As we drove through the lush countryside and remote villages, suddenly we turned the corner to be greeted by a gorgeous wooded glen beside a gentle stream.
This is the hamlet of Chalaux, soon we noticed the main attraction being the river beyond the stream. Rafting is the name of the game, bringing several inflatable boats downstream thanks to the water released further upstream from a dam.
The virus certainly hadn’t deterred the adventure seekers, who were shuttled in on mini-buses to take to the water. We were just happy enough to watch from the comfort of our deck chairs.
Before the afternoon was over, a walk beckoned. Following the usual yellow markings which are so familiar across France. The easily read directions on trees, lamp posts or the ground, directed us on a 11km route.
Soon we were passing isolated hamlets, where life seemed to stop still. Next, came Lac de Crescent, where fisherman and swimmers enjoyed the waterside setting next to a scented forest.
We decided to stop the night in our pretty little spot. After a supper of traditional French cheese, saussison and vin rouge, our itchy feet sprang into action once again.
This time, we took a riverside walk through the woods where the wildlife of the night came out to play. Firstly, thick orange slugs, followed by bats and a tooting owl. All in all making it a perfect end to a beautiful Summer day.
Well, the rain had to come soon enough and today it arrived! Not to be deterred, when a break came between showers we ventured into the little town of Saulieu.
It turned out to be a bit of a damp squid. The same going for the dull personality of the lady in the tourist office. Going in fully prepared in mask, hands sanitised and wearing a smile underneath didn’t seem to impress her much. Instead, a couple of grunts later, out I came with a map of the region ready to explore the lakes of The Morvan.
Unfortunately, in the rain everything en-route looked a little less uninviting. Add the fact that we needed the dump and typically failed to find one working!
Lac de Settons is the main attraction, which is home to water sports and a few scattered lakeside cafes along with a small village. After that it’s the smaller Lac de Saint-Angen followed by Lac de Pannciere.
After driving around all three, we gave up finding a dump or a break in the rain again. Moving swiftly on towards Autun, before finally finding a working dump at Chateau Chinon, a hilltop town in the middle of The Morvan.
Finally, the sky cleared, the loo was emptied and a full tank of fresh water on board again. This time our route took us to Roussillon-en-Morvan, where we came across some lovely gorges to save the day.
Arriving as most people were leaving, we found a forest parking spot right next to the start of the gorge walks. As soon as the walking shoes were laced, we were off exploring on foot.
Before we knew it, we’d been out two hours, walking over the rocky path through the gorges before emerging into the thick forest. Spending the night in the trees, the day turned out good in the end!
Some days, we don’t get very far at all and today was one such day. The sort where we come across a place, park up for a coffee and then decide just to stay.
Well, this is what happened at Autun, a Roman town complete with the remains of an amphitheater. First of all we parked at the Aire located beside a small lake. We really just intended to take a walk through the historic old town, however, then we came across a walking route sign for some cascades.
Feeling like we needed to see these for ourselves, no sooner had we finished walking through the ancient old town, than we found ourselves taking the marked 45 minute trail up into the hills.
First though came an ancient Pyramid of stone. Standing tall, high above the town, it’s still all a bit of a mystery as to why it was built.
What they do know is that the surrounding area was some sort of burial ground, either way it was a bit different and certainly caught our imagination.
A little further on, through a wooded glen were the rather dry cascades. I guess there should have been a torrent of water gushing over the rocky stream but all we found though was a trickle.
However, it was a lovely walk and the shade made it even better. The temperature being 32C and even worse inside the campervan at a crazy 39C.
Finally, another small town called Nolay was last but not least on our French travels through Burgandy.
This turned out to be one of those typical ancient French villages, consisting of half-timbered houses, warped into a variety of odd shapes due to the passage of time.
In the centre stood a large wooden market square and a few restaurants offering pavement dining. After a cloudy start, the sun soon made an appearance, searing down through our straw hats.
Our French travels through Burgundy were complete. After having left Nolay and reaching the colourful roofed town of Beaune where our previous travels have taken us.
So now the Alps called. Unfortunately, the roads through the remaining towns of Burgundy towards Bourg-en-Bresse took forever. Traffic jams constantly held us back, where lorries on narrows sections stood still and never-ending traffic lights made the queues more annoying.
Where had everyone come from? Has France changed overnight? Usually we’re lucky to see a few cars on the road, but now, it seems the only way to go is by toll road.
With that, we glided onto the motorway and in no time at all stopped for the night at a free aire at Izernore, a few miles from Nantua.
Next, our Summer travels see us arrive at Lac Leman en-route to the Alps, where we take an unexpected wrong turn into Switzerland!
Approaching the mountain lined skies above Lake Iseo brought an exciting air of curiosity. Our tour of Italy had perviously taken a diversion into the city of Bergamo. Then, after a day of exploration, we were back on track, ready for some new discoveries around the sleepy Lake Iseo in the Italian Lakes.
I don’t think we’re alone in admitting to having never heard of Lake Iseo! This lesser known of the Italian lakes is actually situated between Lake Como and Lake Garda, but it’s not somewhere that you generally hear people visiting.
Located in the North of Italy, the Italian lakes are naturally both beautiful and classical in appearance. Above all, they’re surrounded by some of the most breathtaking scenery in Europe. Last but not least, we couldn’t wait to see what this smaller Lake Iseo had in store for us!
Our first stop on the lake came at the historic lakeside town of Sarnico. It wasn’t long before we managed to park the campervan. Why is it always so much easier in Europe than the UK? Ok, I won’t get started on that one today, but I think you’ll know the feeling all too well!
So, this lovely old town has intricate streets and an immaculate promenade. Best of all, it was a perfect place to stretch the legs, despite the heat of the Summer sun. Soon, our restless legs were exploring the town itself, which unfortunately was just about closing for siesta time!
In this instance, when shops are shut, it’s back to doing something that doesn’t cost much money! For us, the lakeside path called, so we set off along the lake, admiring the fabulous scenery in the process.
As with so many places in Italy, a good cycle path meandered from the town along the lake. Therefore, giving excellent options for cyclists as well as those who prefer their own two feet!
After a picnic lunch under a shady tree, we were ready to step back in the campervan and continue the adventure around the lake.
Before long, a winding mountain road beckoned. This lead us away from the lakeside road and up to the dizzy heights of a place named Zone. Yes, this cute mountain village, located high above the lakeside town of Marone is home to some rather interesting and natural attractions.
First though, it was time to find somewhere to park up for the night. We soon noticed a familiar campervan Sosta parking sign, so followed the arrows to a lovely parking area on the outskirts of the village.
For a small fee of 10 Euro per night, the Sosta provided us with an ideal and peaceful place to rest our weary selves. We walked over to the local restaurant as per instructions on a notice board at the entrance and paid the fees. We wondered, how many others would actually pay, or would they sneak off early in the morning to avoid detection?
I remember the old way of doing things on French Aires. When the local Gendarmarie would call to collect the very small fee, often just a few Euro’s. However, that didn’t stop the fee-dodgers fleeing the scene at 7am, before the inevitable knock on the door came.
Anyway, back to happier thoughts! Now it was time to explore the incredible rock formations themselves. Actually situated in the hamlet of Cisiano, just a few minutes walk away from where we’d parked the campervan.
Our evening stroll along a route to see these amazing spire-like rocks, took about one and a half hours. Furthermore, these huge natural pillars, formed out of rocks eroded by time, are quite extraordinary. Each tall spire reaches into the sky, complete with an almost perfectly formed ball of rock on the top!
Known as “The fairies in the forest” the rock formations are something of a big attraction in the region. Although for us, the well formed path was actually very quiet, giving us a chance to take our time admiring the huge natural wonderland.
The following morning, we walked up to the incredibly picturesque village of Zone. This hillside mountain village consisted of the most laid back appeal. Probably due to its surroundings consisting of nothing more than meadows of grazing cattle and amazing views across the countryside.
By chance, we then came across a medieval cobbled walking trail, of course, we just had to follow it! The heat was once again searing. So, when we came across a natural fountain supplying a range of spring water, we were most grateful for the opportunity of filling our bottles. Yes, not only did they have still water, but also, sparkling! How about that for a treat?
Once we’d finished our waking trail through lovely Zone, we drove back down the mountain to re-join the lakeside road.
Continuing our route around Lake Iseo almost didn’t go quite to plan. All thanks to one stretch of very narrow road approaching a long tunnel. The signs warned of restrictions on vehicle width of 2 meters, whilst the height shouldn’t more than 3 meters.
Quickly pulling into a lay-by next to the signs, we double checked our measurements and waited to see what vehicles were coming through from the opposite direction. Soon enough, a van of similar size to ours passed us, giving the go ahead for our turn to continue into the darkness of the tunnel.
What a relief, we wouldn’t have wanted to miss this fabulous route! With gorgeous scenery along the lakeside, the rewards were well worth the effort.
Before long, the road passed through pretty villages, before arriving back at Sarnico. So, there we have it, we’d come full circle around Lake Iseo.
So this may not be the biggest or most well known of the Italian lakes, but it’s certainly well worth a visit. The good thing is that due to it’s size, it’s far easier to see everything in a relatively short amount of time.
However, don’t forget to check those vehicle dimensions if you do want to travel right round the lake! The roads are narrow, the tunnels low and narrow with it, but for us it made the route even more fascinating.
For now, it was time to explore further afield and continue our tour of Northern Italy. By the way, don’t you just love the way they ride their horses in this neck of the woods?!
Our travels through Northern Italy from the fashion capital of Milan soon led us towards the mountain landscapes of the Italian Lakes. At last we were about to tour Lake Como by Campervan, one of those all time “must do” locations of our motorhome travel list! Now we’d arrived at the town of the same name of this famous lake – Como.
Lake Como is shaped like an upside down Y. Well, that’s if you look at it in a Northerly direction! So, if you imagine Como being located at the start of the left hand prong, you’ll get an idea of where it is on the lake. Of course, that’s only if my explanations aren’t too upside down!
Finding a Sosta campervan parking on the perimeter of Como town proved simple enough. At just 50 cents an hour, it didn’t break the bank either. To be honest, there was no sign of the lake yet although we couldn’t wait to get our first glimpse of the water.
After a short ten minute stroll, through quiet streets, we soon we found ourselves amongst the busy main areas of the old town. Here, a mix of small squares, quaint alleyways and beautiful architectural facades lead us towards to waterfront.
This was a Sunday and Como was full of the joys of Italian life. Whilst families enjoyed a lazy lunch, their glamorous appearance certainly looked like they were dressed in their Sunday best.
We suddenly felt a little underdressed, but thankfully help was at hand in the form of some incredibly reasonable clothes stores. I have to admit, I’m not one for clothes shopping, but for some reason, today, I felt in the mood for something floaty!
Before I knew it, I’d tried on an arm full of Como’s latest fashion pieces. Soon my Campervan wardrobe would have an added hint of chic, all for the grand sum of 46 Euro!
Yes, I emerged back out onto the Como cobbles with my newly acquired Italian clothing. Much to Nigel’s dismay – I know….not more clothes!
That was enough shopping for one trip! Now, time to find the fabulous lake itself. It wasn’t long before the water came into view and with it the stunningly charismatic mountain scenery surrounding the lake.
A lakeside stroll followed, sharing the popular path with weekend visitors. Boat trips ferried tourists across the water, what a wonderful way to see this truly beautiful town.
By the time we got back to the Campervan, we realised we’d have to move on. Always cautious about where we stop, we didn’t feel comfortable when we saw a man peering into each Motorhome, gradually making his way from one to another.
The funny thing was, there was actually someone inside one campervan! Well, that was enough to make him quickly disappear into the bushes!
Driving swiftly on along the lake, the route took us through Cernobio, the next town along. We thought it might be an option for parking overnight, but despite good camper parking, the area looked a bit dodgy. After our previous experience, it wasn’t worth taking any chances, so onwards we drove.
Instead, we found ourselves on the old lower lakeside road all the way to the town of Menaggio, further along the lake.
Before long, the scenic route, led us through the winding villages of the lake. Then the road became full with oncoming traffic, all returning after their Sunday day-trips by motorbike, coach or flashy sports car. In the end, a never ending line of traffic was coming at us, ultimately creating a long bottleneck along the route.
It was just so narrow in places, on top of all that, more obstacles of low arches and bridges crossed above us, resulting in a halt to traffic in the extremely tight streets.
Like all things in life, it was all meant to be in the end. Because, if we’d taken the wider, main road above the lake, then we’d have missed a certain Mr Clooney’s place!
Well, you can only imagine the excitement as our Campervan suddenly passed the most pristine gated entrance on Lake Como. There was no mistaking, whatever lay behind the magnificently trimmed hedge must be spectacular.
As I stretched my neck to get a glimpse of the name of this palatial Villa at Laglio, Nigel failed to see what all the fuss was about. For a moment, I could only dream of gorgeous George, tending to his privet hedge as I admire his gardening tools from my open window…..Time to wake up Sonia!
Eventually, the narrow roads opened out slightly as we emerged into our first stop for the night at Menaggio.
We’d found a Campervan Sosta with a space left for us to spend the night. Located just outside the town, the parking a area was shared with cars but nonetheless it was fine for the night.
Best of all, it was free and only a few minutes walk into the centre of this lovely lakeside town. After a bite to eat, we took a stroll along the waterfront, passing an elegant lido area before reaching a pretty town square.
The Italian ambience was too good to miss, so that meant only one thing – settling down for a local liquor at a local bar. I’ve no idea what we chose, but it tasted strong and went straight to the head!
No wonder the Italians are always so joyous!
Well, after one very noisy night in our car park setting, we weren’t ready to stay for another. However, before leaving, we needed some information on local walks, so off we went to the tourist office to pick up some leaflets. Luckily, most areas in Italy have an English version available – thank goodness as our Italian isn’t up to much!
Leaving the Campervan in situe, before long we chose a walking route along an old Roman road above the lake. What a delightful little route, passing through intricate villages, commanding fine lakeside views.
The weather was superb. By the time we reached a beautiful little chapel at Nobiallo, high above the lake, we were glad for a rest overlooking the water.
What a lovely route and there was still more to come after returning to the Campervan. Walking in the opposite direction, it was time to take a stroll through the Loveno area of Menaggio.
This gorgeous old village above the main town is full of narrow cobbled streets, winding around ancient stone houses. Just lovely!
Back at the van, the time had come to move slightly inland. We’d heard about an old railway line route leading from the village of Grandola ed Uniti, about a 10 minute drive from Menaggio.
We found a place to park in the village, ready for an early start the next morning.
What a delightful change, as we took to the bikes along the cycle path. Heading out along the old railway line, this scenic, easy route took us passed mountain villages and the small lake of Piano.
Unfortunately, it started to rain, after taking shelter under a tree, we had no option but to continue on and get a little wet in the process.
Soon, we arrived at the lake side promenade in Porlezza, where we parked up the bikes. Here, coffee and lemon biscuits called, a rare sweet treat to give an energy boast to our depleting supplies.
Porlezza was so quiet, maybe the rain had kept everyone away, although it didn’t stop us taking a look around. The village is pretty but not as elaborate in historic architecture as other towns we’ve seen.
The lake was lovely and surrounded by scenic mountains, making the 14km, two and a half hour return cycle ride well worth the effort.
From Menaggio, our route continued North along the edge of Lake Como. Stopping for a couple of nights at Camping La Riva. This very neat lakeside campsite in a quiet area of Lake Como was actually quite lovely.
It’s not often we stop on a campsite, but there was no Sosta parking available and we needed to empty the waste and fill the fresh. Also we didn’t want to miss this area of the lake, so it seemed the best option to set out and explore by bike.
The site had large grassy pitches, and a brilliant swimming pool to practice my love of swimming, just in time before the heavens opened and a storm set in.
Some of the lakeside villages en-route looked a little worse for wear, so we hadn’t felt the need to stop until now.
As we woke the next morning to sunshine and blue skies, the bikes came out again. We then cycled along the lakeside cycle path to the town of Domaso. Campsites lined the waterfront, whilst pebble beaches and large grassy areas provided plenty of rest space.
After stocking up on some supplies in the small supermarket, our return to the Campervan made way for another swim in the pool before catching up on some laundry chores.
A pre-breakfast run followed by yet more swimming to get the most out of of the fab pool had me ready for the day ahead. Back on the road North, we were soon leaving Lake Como behind for a moment as we reached the gorgeous Lake Mezzola.
Well, what a find this was. Not only is Mezzola a super scenic location amongst the mountain scenery but it’s also home to possible one of the best free Camper Sosta’s we’ve ever found.
Right overlooking the lake, this grassy area has the most amazing views, not to mention the brilliant cycling routes on offer.
Luckily, just as we drove in, one Motorhome was leaving, providing us with a perfect place to park overlooking the lake. Time for some relaxation and a spot of lunch before setting out to explore.
Another hot day beckoned, so we took to the bikes yet again for a tour in each direction along the excellent cycle paths. Stunning scenery made the ride just perfect, surrounded by the dramatic mountains as they eclipsed the water of the lake below.
There’s so much walking to do here, let alone mountain bike trails, it’s an outdoor lovers paradise.
Unfortunately, it was the weekend and as usual in Italy, as darkness fell, the music began and the party started at the lakeside bar. That meant little sleep for us, the music was so loud, that Nige downloaded an app for decibel readings!
As the locals descended for their weekend getaways, it was time for us to move back along Lake Como. At Colico, a supermarket shop and chance to empty the waste and fill up for a few euro’s at a Sosta, proved the only chance of stopping at this popular resort.
Everywhere was full, Motorhomes filled the Sosta parking areas, whilst narrow roads and limited parking prevented any chance of getting a place to just pull over and stop.
The road was extremely narrow in places, probably not ideal for those with any larger Campervan’s. In the heat of the day, it was quite hair-raising.
Eventually we arrived at the town of Mandello, where we found a camper sosta with room to stop for lunch. It should have been 10 Euro per day, but some people in a Campervan were just leaving, so kindly handed us their ticket.
In the end, we didn’t fancy staying there all day, so drove on further along the upside down Y!
We really wanted to see Bellagio, located on the centre point of Lake Como. It seemed a long way along the narrow, winding lakeside road. First though, we took a detour, up to a Mountain viewpoint above the lake.
Fabulous views across the lake were well worth the drive. The pretty little church of Madonna del Ghisallo also took our attention before driving on to Bellagio, further back down the mountain.
Arriving in the early evening was a perfect time to visit, although parking was really a bit difficult. Motorhome’s weren’t allowed, probably because it’s so narrow here.
Our Campervan is just under 6m long so we can fit into a normal car parking space. Luckily we found a spot and slotted in at a charge of 50 cents an hour and free after 8pm.
Bellagio is a really pretty lakeside town, although it is fairly touristy. Boats take you across Lake Como to various towns on the other side of the water.
A lovely atmosphere within the tiny stone streets, proved too good to miss. So we went Italian and opted for a pizza in the town square before continuing our evening stroll under twinkling flicker of fairy lights.
It’s here that tourists and locals come for some Summer evening solitude. A classy historic town, filled with intricate stone steps, floral displays and ornate architecture. A fine end to our tour of Lake Como.
Now, we felt it easier to park the night a little inland. Instead driving onwards for about 20 minutes to the town of Annone D’Brianza to a free Camper Sosta area for some quiet downtime.
We’d come full circle, having driven right round the lake and what a route it had been.
Lake Como is everything you’d expect it to be. Not only is it surrounded by mountains and fabulous villas, but it’s also beautiful and elegant in a low-key kind of way.
The roads may be narrow and the Campervan parking not as plentiful as some areas, but that’s just fine. Lake Como by Campervan is still the most incredible way to get around this stunning part of Italy.
In typical Italian style, this classy Italian lake has romanced us and captivated our soles, leaving a lasting place in our hearts that will one day see us return for more.
Our tour of Northern Italy had taken us to the most extraordinary landscapes of the Italian Lakes. Soon, we were to arrive at not only the largest of all the Lakes, but also the busiest. This was peak season and we were about to explore the shores of Lake Garda by Campervan.
Winding our way through the countryside from the Roman town of Brescia, brought us to the Southerly end of the Lake. Here, the charming lakeside resort of Désenzano Del Garda appeared before us, bringing our first view of the water.
As with so many other parts of Italy, camper parking was relatively easy. Before we knew it, we’d pulled into a private camper Sosta area at a Pizzeria, providing views of the lake from its prime position on the periphery of town.
For 15 Euro per night, the parking area came with showers and hole in the ground loo’s. Don’t you just love a traditional toilet experience? One look was enough for me! Forever thankful for my own throne back in the camper, although I did take advantage of a powerful shower.
A disturbed nights sleep followed, thanks to rowdy neighbours talking into the small hours. In the Summer heat, the open windows not only let in a welcome breeze, but also echo’s of those sat out under the night sky. Their chatter seeming louder as the stillness of the night set in.
An early morning run gave me a first glimpse of Lake Garda. Pebble beaches and lakeside sunbathing areas intermingled with various villas and holiday accommodation.
Later on, we took off on foot to explore Désenzano itself. This is a pretty, low-key resort of traditional appearance. Best of all, it was an easy walk from the camper Sosta and even better there was a laundrette!
This meant only one thing – catching up on all that weeks’ laundry! So, returning to the van, then driving into town to get the dirty washing done became priority! There’s nothing like the aroma of freshly washed clothing drifting though the van!
Next up came one of the most popular places on Lake Garda, the historic peninsula of Sirmione.
Luckily, a large car park just outside the town also had a Sosta attached. Although the 21 Euro price tag seemed a bit steep for a marked bay in a car park, ultimately the convenience proved worthwhile.
By now, a blip in the weather, brought strong winds and overcast skies. Nonetheless, off we walked into the bustling streets of the town. Lovely it was, but so touristy with it. A medieval castle stands proudly at the entrance to the narrow streets, gracefully surrounded by blue waters in a moat-like appearance.
We took to one of the easy walking routes, leading us thought the tiny streets towards the choppy lake. There’s s a hot thermal pool within a short distance of the shore, where, despite the gusty winds, a few people lay soaking in the soothing water.
At the end of the peninsula lies the Roman Ruins of a huge villa complex. After paying the small entrance fee, we took to exploring the grounds, perched high above the lake. We’ve seen a few ruins in our time and this was certainly worth a look.
So much so, that a film crew were busy filming scenes for a movie! We were soon told to stay put at various points amongst the ruins, whilst drones flew overhead capturing the actors. We’ve no idea what they were doing but every time a tourist accidentally came into shot, they huffed and puffed and started again!
After a break back at the van, an evening stroll through the restaurant-lined streets made a welcome change. After all, it’s not every day we park alongside such a tourist hot spot. Sometimes it’s really nice to soak up the atmosphere.
However, the next morning came a knock at the camper door. There stood a British lady and her husband, asking if everything was alright. It turned out that during the night their motorhome and that of another fellow Brit had been broken into whilst they slept.
There were about 30 Motorhome’s parked that night at the Sosta. The parking was well lit with security cameras and a barrier entrance, which was attended during the day. It was not unlike hundred’s of similar areas that we’ve parked at over the years and there was nothing to suggest that this may happen.
Strangely though, it had only been British vans targeted, both had gained access through the cab doors and exited through the habitation door. The thief taking any valuables in the process without waking the occupants.
Moving swiftly on, our next stop came at one of the other big tourist hot spots at Pescheira.
Here the lakeside became awash with campsites, lined with beaches and cycle paths.
Just outside the town centre was a brilliant private Sosta, offering spacious parking amongst brightly coloured floral blooms. This was to be our home for a couple of nights. Toilets and showers were included in the price, whilst the owner brought us bunches of grapes to enjoy over lunch.
A short walk led us to the lakeside and the beautiful fortified town itself. More colourful flowers adorned the promenade whilst a bustling market spilled through the narrow streets of the town.
A canal-type waterway flowed through the town walls, meandering amongst pavement cafe’s. Here, tables filled with locals and tourists amongst a charming appeal, making a relaxing place to unwind and watch the world go by.
Taking to our bikes along the lakeside cycle path seemed a good option. After about 8km, we arrived at Lazise and what a surprise find this turned out to be.
This classy little town of narrow streets and pretty squares followed a similar theme to it’s neighbouring resorts but on a smaller scale.
The beauty of Lake Garda is not only in the wonderful shores of the lake and surrounding mountains. It’s also overflowing in charismatic charm, much of which stems from the Italian architecture and abundance of those floral displays which followed us round every corner.
The only downside so far if any, was that Lake Garda is so much more touristy than the other neighbouring Italian Lakes. Although this may appeal to some, generally, we prefer the lesser frequented areas which are equally or even more beautiful.
Moving on around the lake, this time back in the Campervan, our next stop came at Bardolino. Yet another Sosta beckoned, with just us, a hedge and a cycle path separating us and the water.
Walking besides the lakeside, we couldn’t help take a moment to soak in the views from the lawned sunbathing areas. After about 3km we reached the lovely little town of Bardolino itself. Another harbour resort with the usual narrow streets and pretty vistas.
Later that evening we took to the bikes about 1.5km in the opposite direction. Soon arriving in the town of the same name as the lake, Garda.
Arriving at Garda as darkness fell, the sight of fairy lights glowing amongst the backdrop of the limestone hills looked magical.
As people dined in lakeside restaurants, the sound of singing filled the air. In true Italian style, the opera tones seemed all the more magical in the moonlight.
It’s not particularly a large town but the mix of tourist shops, bars and yet more flowers set back off the wide prom made it seem larger than life. We were quite happy to just stroll around and soak up the atmosphere.
There’s no better way to start the morning than a swim before breakfast. Well that’s my opinion but not Nigel’s, who can’t stand the water!
For me, the lake called out and in I got. Thirty minutes later, out I came dripping wet to find Nigel in a similar state to me. Except he’d had a soaking from our garage shower attachment, which had somehow worked its way loose, spraying Nige in the process.
Giving up trying to fix it as a bad job. Instead Nige sealed off its water supply and locked it away to be looked at in more detail at a later date.
Our mission had been to see all the sights and drive right round the lake. So, with this in mind and now in dry clothes, it was time to move on to the next town along at Tori del Benaco followed by Brenzone del Garda.
Here we stopped for a couple of hours to have a walk around, always good to make sure we haven’t missed anything and even better to grab another coffee!
Once again, a similar sort of town awaited. Consisting of a pretty lakeside setting, narrow streets, plenty of outdoor dining and beautiful lake and mountain views. Not forgetting, those all important floral displays.
By the time we reached Malcesine, we felt a little towned out! Of course, not to say that this castle-dominated town wasn’t lovely. However, coach tours flooded in to take tourists on the cable car ride up Monte Baldo, so we chose to leave them to it.
Instead, driving on to the next stop at the Northern end of Lake Garda, in Torbole.
The North end of Lake Garda now came into its own. Here the mountain views became more dramatic, whilst windsurfers filled the lake. A swathe of colour moving swiftly across the water, carried by the wind.
The town of Torbole is more of a modern resort, located beside the lake it’s a magnet for sports fanatics.
An old campsite provided our stop for the night. Now turned into a Sosta, the grounds still had an amenities block but the full workings of a campsite were now resigned to motorhomes only. At 24 euro a night, it was on the steep side, nonetheless the location was ideal and sometimes you just have to pay the price.
We found a shady spot beside a tree and headed off through the rear gate and onto the lakeside. A fab cycle path led off in all directions, people cycling by in a variety of gear after spending their day on the various trails.
The following morning we too took to the bikes. Riding off towards Riva del Garda, the last resort at the North end of Lake Garda, before the route would begin to drop South along the Western shore.
As we followed the flat, marked cycle path through grassy sunbathing areas and pebble beaches, the sun shone bright. Sections of lake were marked out for swimming whilst water sport enthusiasts did their thing out in the lake.
Soon, we’d reached Riva del Garda, a classy resort, with the backdrop of the cliffs rising above it. The town was bustling from market day visitors, with stalls taking over the streets, selling anything and everything.
We needed some information on walks, so headed into the tourist office to pick up a leaflet. There was so much choice, we felt we could spend several days here. Not only that, but the cycling and mountain bike trails looked incredible too.
By early afternoon, we chose to move inland, away from the lake for a couple of days. We’d come back here later to do some walking routes but first we wanted to see the rock climbing dream valley at Arco.
So off we drove, along the valley floor leaving the lake behind us. Before long, the tall solid rock faces where climbers cling to the near vertical surfaces appeared.
A castle perched on the top of one such cliff looked rather tempting. As usual, we were able to park the camper easily enough, at a Sosta below the rock face, giving us two hours free parking.
The town of Arco is filled with outdoor shops, obviously needed in this area so full of outdoor activities. We love a good outdoor shop, so we were in our element here.
As the streets came to an end, a footpath directing us to the castle had us walking the steep path to the rocky plateau. By now, it was 7pm, the castle was just closing but it didn’t stop us taking in the views from a viewing area at the top.
The outlook across the valley back towards the Northern tip of Lake Garda was well worth the hilly walk up. Time for a welcome breather and a chance to take in the scenery never felt better.
We’d heard about some real life fossilised dinosaur footprints so there was no way we were going to miss this!
Driving to the start of a 6km walk at Dro, we packed a picnic and set off on the few hour trail. Named: The Marocche le Valli Della Luna, the landscape did resemble something from outer space.
This glacial valley, was filled with huge boulders and stone tracks. Thankfully the weather was overcast, as there was no protection from the sun out in this vast open area.
A sign marked the direction of the dinosaur prints, so the excitement set in. Turning a rock-filled corner, there they were, facing us in all their glory. These sunken blobs, hollowed out into the rock were just amazing.
The whole route was quite fascinating, probably a geologist’s dream but for us, such an interesting and different walk to do.
Back in the van and driving little further on, had us arrive at Lake Cavedine. This small lake surrounded by trees, provided an ideal spot for a bit of wild camping.
Now, it’s pretty rare nowadays to get a wild camping spot, let alone a good one! Parking up in a bit of a dip alongside a rocky cliff, gave us the chance to make use of the previous occupants camp fire!
First though, more cycle route signs were too much of a temptation, so we headed off on the bikes, around the lake. What a lovely little area, quiet, laid back and far from the tourist hot spots of Lake Garda.
By the time we arrived back at the van, we had German neighbours. As the cheese and wine flowed over the glaze of the burning embers, we had a deep and meaningful conversation with the much younger German couple, who had already lit the fire while we were still exploring on the bikes.
Talking into the small hours, it turned out to be one of those rare idyllic scenes, so often portrayed as being the norm in the vanlife dreams of instagram.
Leaving the young German’s behind as they dived into the lake for a morning swim, we headed back on the road to Riva del Garda.
The day was hot, the heat was on and we wanted to walk a well known hiking and mountain bike trail known as La Ponale.
This time, we found a town Sosta, located about 3km from the start of the walk but within the town itself. Perfect for our overnight parking spot, costing just 11 Euro.
Beginning at the far end of Riva del Garda, the La Ponale Trail follows the old, winding dirt road through the mountain.
A gradual incline took us along the dirt track, passing though a series of tunnels above the lake. Each bringing relief from the searing heat. The views across Lake Garda below us were just breathtaking.
The end of the route had us arriving in the mountain village of Pregasisna, followed by a cold coke on the terrace of a local hotel.
Now, we’d intended to just walk one way and get the bus back to the start. However, somehow we got a bit mixed up and ended up missing the turning for the bus stop!
So, with not much choice of getting back, we ended up walking all the way back instead, making a 6 hour round trip! Completely shattered but worth every minute.
Our route now took us in a Southerly direction along the Western shores of Lake Garda. Once again the heat was intense, so as soon as Limone Sul Garda came into view, we parked up the camper and headed to the lakeside.
This beautiful town is home to the remains of the old lemon houses. Resembling old roman ruins, the stone structures tower above the lake.
Narrow streets lead us to a small jetty area where we perched ourselves for a couple of hours of swimming and relaxation. The lake was warm and clear, perfect for cooling down before driving further South through the lakeside villages.
After checking out a couple of potential overnight Sosta stops along the lake, we finally chose one at the lovely lakeside town of Salo.
What we hadn’t accounted for was the Saturday night partying of the locals! Never mind, the Sosta itself was lovely, surrounded by flowers with views across the lake, it sort of made up for the madness.
Once again, the bikes came out for our cycle ride into Salo town centre. Similar in appearance to many other towns here on Lake Garda, but nonetheless beautiful in its own right.
There was the usual mix of promenade dining, historic architecture and boat rides across the lake. All bringing a certain ambience to the atmosphere of an Italian Summer.
Back on the road, our route had soon come full circle. Passing through the last few towns on the Western side of Lake Garda before reaching Désenzano del Garda again at the Southern end of the lake.
Although Lake Garda is undoubtedly beautiful, we felt it was a little too touristy and busy compared to Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and Lake Iseo.
Having said that, it’s definitely worth visiting and completely enchanting, as are all the Italian Lakes. Clean, classy and cultural all spring to mind.
Then the added bonus of being an outdoor heaven for those who love messing around on the water or equally prefer their feet on dry land, Lake Garda has something for everyone. Whichever you are, Lake Garda by Campervan is simply idyllic.
Who doesn’t love an iconic city? Europe may have some of the most well-known cities in the world but when it comes to fashion, there’s only a handful that make the grade. One of them is no other than Milan, the fashion capital of Italy and we were on our way to visiting Milan by campervan!
Our tour of Northern Italy had seen us leave incredible Lake Maggiore, before the two hour drive to Milan.
Now, when it comes to cities and motorhome parking, we’re always a bit cautious. The last thing anyone wants to find is that they’ve been broken into after leaving the van all day.
So, with this in mind and with no real recommendations to go off in the centre of Milan, we decided to stop just outside the city. Luckily, we found Camping Sport Magenta. A huge motorhome dealer and accessory store which had a really good camper Sosta attached to it.
Parking up alongside the vast store, we had a quick lunch before heading inside to explore. Wow! What a place this was. If you ever needed anything for the campervan, you’d find it here.
There was everything on sale from windows to roof vents, hobs to latches, toilets to tents. We were in our element, there were things here that you’d never find back in the UK!
Ok, we weren’t here to buy accessories, we wanted to see the fashion capital of Italy. So, later that day, we headed off on foot to check out the route to the railway station.
After all, there’s nothing like a bit of preparation to make a city tour more enjoyable. We soon found the train station about a 10 minutes walk away from the Sosta parking. All easy enough, we were now prepared for the morning train the following day.
The 10.20am train to Milan Central Station left the unremarkable platform promptly enough. Luckily we made the train, after first buying our tickets at the Tabac store next to the station.
At just 4 Euro each way plus the metro tickets, the total for both of us came to 36 Euro. The lady in the tabac store helped us choose the right tickets, before dashing for the train which we could see was approaching the platform.
The day was hot, the sun strong and the crowds out in force as we disembarked at Milan Central Station.
This beautiful, ornate building was quite magnificent, although the crowds made it all the more difficult to linger and admire the architecture for any length of time.
Poor signage made it more complicated for us to find our way towards the next phase of the journey into Milan – the metro.
Eventually, after buying a tourist map at a news stall, a sign caught our eye. Before we knew it we were aboard the metro for the 3 stops that would take us to the centre of this bustling city. Soon we would arrive at the most magnificent sight of all, The Duomo or cathedral of Milan.
Up the stairs we strode, amongst hundreds of people alighting form the metro. We weren’t really sure what to expect, where had we reached and was it the right stop?
Then daylight pierced our eyes so out came the sunglasses. The next stone step had us positioned right in front of the most incredible sight of all – the Duomo of Milan.
If anyone recently watched the wonderful Andrea Bocelli perform his lockdown solo performance outside Milan’s magnificent cathedral. Then you’ll know how magical this place really is.
Today, we were amongst the masses. Little did we know, soon the world would be in turmoil and the tourist filled streets of this city would be empty.
A large queue formed around the cathedral or Duomo building, encasing the spectacular ornate facade in a human chain. A circle of life around the glorious building, somehow seemed fitting enough for such an elaborate design.
We chose not to join the queue to the Duomo interior, but instead took our chances on the other elaborate building in this square – The Emmanuelle Shopping Arcade.
Here, the glass leaded curved roof is the centerpiece, culminating in an incredible central glazed dome. Walking through the most ornate shopping precinct imaginable, where designer stores displayed their latest seasonal creations was just a beautiful experience.
Before our eyes, a bridal party took centre stage in the middle of the decadence, whilst photographers clicking at every opportunity. Taking a step back, we admired from a distance. Were the happy couple part of a photo shoot or was this really a newly wed bride and groom?
We will never know, but it looked good and we enjoyed their smiles of happiness, whether for the camera or for real it didn’t really matter.
There’s no mistaking, Milan is one big city. Usually, we take off on foot and forget about any form of public transport. But this time, we had to combine feet with the metro. There was simply too much ground to cover for one day trip.
Our route soon lead us though the beautiful city, passing ancient architecture, brimming with a chic, classy style like no other.
This is one city that is full of life, bursting with youth, beauty and the good things in life. Before long we came upon the Piazza Castello. This fascinatingly ornate ultra pristine area leading to the 47 hectare park of Sempione.
Here, we relaxed for our picnic lunch under a shady tree, surrounded by city life emerging into the calm ambiance of the parkland.
After a bite to eat as well as a bite on the leg by a flying insect, I really wanted to dive to the nearest pharmacy for some ointment. Scratching my way out of the park, soon we came to the really beautiful Porta Sempione, gateway to Milan.
This 25m high, Roman looking structure was actually built in the 19th century, although it’s roots stem from the original Roman walls of the city.
Walking through the gate, our next stop via the nearest pharmacy was to the Leonardo di Vinci masterpiece, Cenacola Vinciano or The Last Supper.
This is one of the most fabulous murals in the world and I would have loved to see it, except we couldn’t! We couldn’t believe it when we arrived at the convent of Santa Maria Delle Grazie to find the admittance booked up for the next month!
We came out of there with our tail between our legs, feeling rather stupid for expecting to just walk in unannounced!
Why we hadn’t thought to check out the booking process I’ll never know, but either way we would never have thought to look so far in advance.
Not to be too deflated, instead we used our extra time wisely, heading off on the metro to save the legs. Our destination was the canal-side market stalls of antiquities in the Navigli district.
What a little find this turned out to be. This thriving hub of eccentric types lined the waterside, bringing culture together in a mix of cafe’s, clothes, antiques and just plain old people watching.
Models strode their stuff, whilst photographers captured their beautiful images beside the Milan architecture.
It was fun to sit in the shade and watch the world go by for a while.
Last but not least, with time ticking by we needed to dash over to the real Milan. This is the designer hub of fashion, the renowned Monte Napoleone.
Here, the ultimate fashion houses, are quite literally tall elegant houses, where the designers house their fashion styles in the shop window fronts below.
Quite frankly, it’s outrageously extravagant in a beautiful sort of way. On top of that, it’s the most expensive high street in Europe and we could easily see why.
All the major designers graced the pavements, enticing window displays were elaborate enough to take centre stage imitating an art gallery rather than a clothes shop.
But, then again this is no ordinary high street, there is only one Milan and there was no where more worthy of it’s title of fashion capital of Europe than here.
It was captivating, exciting, far from a reality that we knew, yet ever so slightly bizarre at the same time.
As the day came to an end, our feet began to ache and the body longed for rest. This city is exhausting and we’d had enough for one day.
We know people who’ve been to Milan and thought it rather dull. I’m not sure why, as we loved it. One thing’s for sure, it’s bigger than you think and it’s very widespread, although we didn’t feel that we needed any longer there.
With that in mind, we took the nearest metro back to Central station and the 6pm train back to Magenta and our Campervan.
In our minds Milan had been fabulous. Blowing our minds away and taking us into a different world, if only for the day but it was worth it!
Keeping up with the news is a full-time job
With so many people touring the North Island for just one week, here’s our top picks of places to see
A Route of Tunnels, Gorges, Bridges and even a Republic
Our Summer tour of Central Italy had begun a couple of months earlier near Turin. Now, our route had arrived at the very well known and iconic city of Pisa. So far on this trip we’d seen some of the most fabulous places, but how would we get on visiting Pisa in a Campervan?
Well to start with, Pisa wasn’t at all like how I’d imagined it to be. As we drove the perimeter of the city towards a Sosta parking area, it seemed all so low-key somehow.
Noticeably present along the length of our route was the large town walls. Not only were they long but also incredibly high looking. With the Sat Nav directing us to save our mobile data, we made sure our ears listened intently to the instructions.
One thing’s for sure, you don’t want to start getting lost in these cities, wherever you may be in Europe!
Soon, the route passed a rather large car park and a mass of crowds, along with dozens of coaches. Next, I happened to glance over to my right, catching sight of a whole load of souvenir stalls, all lined up in expectation of a surge of tourists.
Beyond the stalls, our camper came to a standstill at some traffic lights. Then my eyes became fixed on one of the most iconic landmark’s in the world – The Leaning Tower of Pisa! Wow!
There it was in all its glory, leaning as proudly as ever and glistening under the heat of the sun. Hopefully we’d find visiting Pisa in a Campervan the best way to see this famous city.
How exciting! I felt quite emotional at my first sighting of this extra special tower. Now I couldn’t wait to park the camper and get up close to this wonderful building.
Thankfully, we found the camper Sosta parking without too much trouble. Now as with any city, we were extra cautious about stopping at the city Sosta, however, a barrier entry in addition to a manned entrance gave some security to our minds.
Sure enough as we approached the barrier, out came a rather cheerful chap who happily welcomed us to the Sosta parking. Without further ado, he’d taken our details, given us a map of the city and told us to park anywhere on the right. By the way, this was “Parcheggio Camper Via di Pratale”, apparently there are a few others around Pisa, but this seemed good enough for us.
The parking spaces on the left hand side actually had an electric supply, so this we didn’t need for our own van. Further more, at just 12 Euro for the night it proved a perfect place to park up.
No sooner had we finished a quick cuppa, than we took to the bikes, heading off towards the large city walls. Within about 10 minutes, we’d reached the centre of Pisa, where we decided to explore the old town and the river before trying to find that leaning tower!
Remarkably, our cycle route took us alongside an ancient aqueduct before reaching one of the many gates through the city walls.
The bustling old town not only thrived with various tourists but also served as the gateway across the river. Here, we found our wheels taking us on a tour of the opposite bank, giving a more laid back approach to the city itself.
Although there wasn’t too much to see, it felt good to see the city from that different perspective. It was also nice to cross the wide River Arno, before stopping at the particular lovely little church of Santa Maria Della Spina.
Quite fascinating was the fact that it was re-built further back from the river bank to protect it from flooding.
Unfortunately, much of Pisa suffered badly from bombing raids during the Second World War. Although, thankfully the main tourist pull of the Leaning Tower remained untouched.
As our cycle ride re-entered the shopping streets of Pisa, it was time to park up the bikes and head off on foot. Rows of pavement cafe’s spilled out across the length of the Main Street, where locals and tourists mingled over the strong aroma of espresso.
Although it was good to take a look around the city itself, Pisa lends itself to its most famous landmark. Back on our bikes, we navigated the city streets, an easy enough task even in peak season.
Soon we’d reached the crowds of tourists, the souvenir stalls too and then the mighty Leaning Tower of Pisa was upon us. Standing within the grounds of the beautiful Duomo and Baptistry, brought a mesmerising feel to the backdrop.
Some people think the tower is overrated, not me though! I thought it was just delightful, so much more than just a leaning tower and quite intricate in its delicate marble detailing.
The fact that it’s sinking at rather a strange angle just makes this architectural disaster so much more intriguing. Construction began in 1173, however it didn’t get far before the sinking feeling set in!
Built on a sandy base, this engineering faux pas began to tilt even before the third floor had been finished in 1274. After numerous engineering works to try and correct a complete topple, thankfully the tower now stands at a safe enough angle to be open again to the public.
Apparently, visitors can go inside the tower but we gave it a miss. Instead, enjoying the atmosphere and soaking up the infamous tilt from the exterior.
One thing’s for sure, it certainly attracts the crowds, so we decided to leave the coach loads to it and come back after dark.
Navigating the crowds once more, our bike’s took us past the fabulous Duomo, one of the finest in Tuscany. A break back at the camper leant us in good stead for our night time discovery away from the coach trips.
As darkness fell, we set back on foot, just us and the moonlight for company. What a difference a few hours made, firstly the masses had disappeared and secondly the cooler evening air made sightseeing all a bit more comfortable.
I have to say, the marble tower glistening under the the moonlit sky was just idyllic. Spotlights shone a light upon the now silent grounds of the Duomo and Baptistry.
Somehow the romance of Pisa had suddenly come alive. After all there’s something so special about admiring the Leaning Tower of Pisa in all its glory yet within the solitude that a Summer evening has to offer.
Looking up into the starry night sky, Nigel and I paused for thought in front of this perfectly lit monument. Sometimes travel makes you feel so grateful to be there in the moment and this was definitely one of those special times.
New Zealand has the most amazing, free overnight camping areas known as Freedom Camping, although many locals loathe it, us camper owners love it and here’s why!
The Nightmare of Getting Online On The Road
Our Favourite Lesser Known Sights Of The North Island
Our Favourite Day Hikes in The North Island
The Red Crater Summit Beckoned Above The Lava
The worst of the rapids was yet to come
How is it that every time you drive off into the sunset, the freshly disinfected waste tank soon smells like rotten eggs? Well, if you’re also one of those long-suffering people, then maybe this is the read for you! Because finally we’ve found a solution to the smelly motorhome waste tank problem.
Yes, I know, how have we managed that I hear you ask! Over the years we have tried every conceivable product to clean those tanks and nothing has solved the problem. Even a change of motorhome hadn’t helped the mystery of the smelly whiff’s lingering through the van, despite having numerous vans over a couple of decades!
So, what did we used to do to clean the tanks? To start we’d buy a bottle of Milton (baby bottle sterilising fluid). Then, we’d pour this down each waste outlet. For example, in the shower tray, bathroom and kitchen sink before leaving it to soak overnight.
Next, came a thorough rinse with a full tank of fresh water. Basically, opening each tap and letting it flow into the waste tank. When the fresh tank ran out of water, we’d then open the waste to get rid of the Milton filled water in the waste tank.
Now, this is all very well and good if we are at home, without having to use the van. Also, although the tanks would be super fresh, this wouldn’t last for very long. So within a couple of weeks of travels, especially in hot weather, those stomach-churning smells would soon return with a vengeance.
Once we realised the problem would never go away, we began to take a bottle of Milton away with us. Ready and waiting for those smelly moments and a chance to give the waste a good rinse through.
Firstly, sometimes it’s difficult to buy the equivalent to Milton abroad, hence us taking our own. Secondly, if you use Aires, it’s not always easy to spend time at the dump trying to clean out the system.
You can imagine the usual queue for water and the problem of not being able to leave it to soak, due to using the van all the time.
So, in recent years we tried a few other methods! This ranged from pouring disinfectant down the sinks and shower after emptying the waste tank, then letting fresh water flow from the taps at the same time as filling and emptying. Basically, in an attempt to flush things out!
Then we’ve tried bleach, but again to no avail. Before even having poor Nigel on his hands and knees or should that be his back? Beneath the van with a hose pipe straight into the waste tank! Not a very pleasant experience if you can picture the dump drain on an Aire or similar.
Then we’ve tried bleach, but again to no avail. Before even having poor Nigel on his hands and knees or should that be his back? Beneath the van with a hose pipe straight into the waste tank! Not a very pleasant experience if you can picture the dump drain on an Aire or similar.
Well, you can’t say we didn’t try. After a few days the horrid smelly motorhome waste tank would be back, no matter what we tried to do to stop it. So, we thought we’d just resign ourselves to having to do some sort of cleansing process to help eliminate the aroma.
This continued for year’s, in each motorhome we had. Size didn’t matter or location didn’t matter. From the big A-Class Carthago, where the waste tank was fitted into the double floor to our La Strada campervan which has an external waste tank. Design or location held no barrier to the smells that kept coming back to haunt us.
Over the past few years, we’d hired campervan’s for several months between trips to Australia and New Zealand. Strangely enough, neither had a smelly waste tank but was that just chance or was there something different going on?
It wasn’t until we came to buy our own van in New Zealand that the light bulb moment hit. Fortunately for us, we’d got friendly with the most incredibly talented guy, who happened to build the campervans for the company that we’d hired from.
He’d kindly offered to help us with our own van conversion that we were about to do. Not only loaning us use of his tools, but also his yard as well as providing various kit for the build. One thing he instructed us to do on the waste tank was to make sure it had a vent.
My goodness, after all the year’s of the smelly motorhome waste tank, was this really the answer to the problem? Over in New Zealand we were able to buy our waste tank complete with a vent hole. Both our fresh and waste tanks Nigel fitted inside the van.
All Nigel had to do was to connect a vent hose. This he fitted to the pre-drilled hole in the tank, which then went up about half a meter to prevent leakage. It then dropped back down before coming out through a hole in the van floor, which Nigel had drilled.
The actual vent hose isn’t seen from outside as it is underneath the van itself. All we had to do was hope this would be the answer to our prayers!
Sure enough after several months of travels in the finished self-build campervan, I can happily report no smells! This is despite extremes of heat and continuous use.
Thank goodness, we’d finally after all these years found a solution to the smelly motorhome waste tank problem.
Now all we had to do was sort out a vent hose on our Sprinter campervan.
So, without further ado, Nigel got out his tools and slipped under the Sprinter to drill a small hole in our waste tank.
He then fitted a piece vent hose into the hole. About half a meter in length this vent hose now dispels any smells out underneath the van.
At last, we are hopefully smell-free and the only aroma sweeping through the van will be the smell of wild flowers on a hot Summer’s day!
I have a confession to make! Despite hearing that Sosta motorhome parking in Italy existed, I didn’t really know much about the system. In fact, whenever I tried to find out any information, I always came to a bit of a blank.
For one reason or another, it actually took us several years to make it in the motorhome to Italy. Strangely enough, we didn’t even know anyone who’d toured there. Which meant only one thing – we’d have to go and find out for ourselves.
So, on our first big tour of Italy a couple of years ago, our learning curve began. Crossing the Swiss border before entering Lake Maggiore gave a first glimpse into the system of Sosta motorhome parking in Italy.
Most people with a motorhome who’ve travelled across France will know about the French Aire system. If you’ve never tried one out or really aren’t sure what they are, here’s a little insight.
Basically, a motorhome Aire in France is actually called an Aire de Camping Car. It’s not to be confused with either motorway Aires or wild camping because both are simply very different.
An official Aire de Camping Car or Aire for short, will usually be provided by the local town council. Most importantly, the length of time you can stay at an Aire will usually be determined by the Mayor, for example, it’s often 72 hours but could be more or less!
Every parking location will be different, many are scenic although some are most definitely not! Then, many will be huge with fifty or more spaces but others may only have a couple of places to park.
However, they all have one thing in common – the ultimate convenience of being a dedicated place to park the night for free or at a low cost. Not forgetting, the extra super bonus of not having to plan ahead to book a space!
On top of all that, there’s the handy dump area. Especially provided for filling up the fresh, emptying the loo and dumping the waste.
It will come as no surprise, that we’ve always been huge fans of the Aire system in France. So much so, that over the past 20 years, we’ve lost count of the amount of Aires we’ve stopped at. Above all, it’s just a super easy and an ultra convenient way of touring.
So, when it came to touring Italy, just how would we get on? One thing’s for sure, the Italian’s love their motorhome’s, so hopefully this would be a good sign.
Imagine then our delight when a familiar motorhome Aire sign appeared within a few minutes of entering Italy.
Low and behold, they had them here too! The blue background with an outline of a motorhome, directing us towards our first Sosta motorhome parking in Italy – Thank goodness!
Time went on and our travels through Italy progressed from region to region. Soon, we’d covered many towns and villages as well as some of the big name cities across Northern Italy.
As we set about discovering the Sosta motorhome parking in Italy, it soon proved to be every bit as good as the French Aire system.
Not only that, but the following year we returned for a few months to tour Central Italy, as far South as Rome. Thanks to the Sosta system being so good, it had tempted us back to explore more of this incredible country.
So, the more accurate name is an Aree di Sosta Camper. Simply put, it’s a dedicated area for overnight motorhome parking, found in numerous locations across Italy.
The important thing to remember is that this isn’t camping. So, there’s no guarantee of getting out the camping chairs or BBQ.
Known as a Sosta for short, they’re really nothing more than a parking space, having said that though, they can vary enormously.
What I mean, is that some Sosta’s are simply amazing whilst others may be just functional. So whilst some locations will have incredible views and plenty of space, other’s resemble no more than a tarmac parking space.
Now, as with most things, there’s not much left in the World that’s free, certainly a Sosta is no different so expect a small fee.
We soon found out that most Sosta’s have a parking machine to pay a ticketed charge for staying overnight. In this respect Sosta motorhome parking in Italy is very similar to the Stellplatz system in Germany.
I’d say that more often than not, most Sosta’s had a parking fee, averaging around 10 Euro per night. However, there are some free one’s to be had, usually in the less popular or small village locations, similar to Aires in France.
As with anywhere, if you head for the coast, there’s not only going to be a fee for parking, but this will usually be quite a bit more expensive, possibly even double. Then again, it may be a price worth paying for that perfect waterfront place, where timing your next dip is all you have to think about.
Just like Aires in France, nearly all Sosta motohome parking in Italy come with the convenience of a dump area.
Now if it’s not in sight straight away, the chances are it won’t be far away! A grid-type drain in the ground let’s you drive across to release the waste water – simple!
The one big difference in Italy, is that the drain in the ground is sometimes the toilet emptying point too.
In France, however, there will always be a separate emptying area for the loo, which never goes into the waste water drain that you drive over! Oh how careful you have to be!
Not a pretty sight as you can imagine! One last thing, always make sure where the toilet dump is actually positioned, incase it’s not the waste water drain. If in doubt, ask someone, don’t just pour and go – Yuk!
As with everything, location is key and no more so than a Sosta motorhome parking in Italy. Whether it be a big city such as Florence or a scenic mountain village in The Dolomites. The chances are, there will be a Sosta somewhere close to park the night.
Of course, some may be noisy, others may be dirty or just plain unappealing. However, most of the time these areas are superb, leaving you extremely grateful for the provision of a law-abiding overnight stop!
If you need electric, then this could be tricky! The key is to be off-grid and totally self-contained as well as self-sufficient.
The main appeal though is the convenience they offer. For example, from heading off on that scenic walk early in the morning to exploring the most elaborate city’s in Europe.
There’s also one big advantage compared to most campsites, because they are often within walking distance of the town. It’s all about location, location, location and that’s what counts.
Well, safety comes first and there’s certainly some Sosta motorhome parking in Italy that we’ve turned our noses up at. Not that we’re fussy or anything, but safety is a different matter. Quite simply, if it doesn’t feel right we’ll move on regardless.
Most importantly with any motorhome parking no matter which country it’s in, the key is to never let your guard down.
We always look around first, check out the area, keep an eye out for any undesirables and always take precautions against robbery. Keeping alert to anything suspicious and if in doubt, finding somewhere else to stop is a priority.
Reading the comments on the Apps is helpful to see if anyone’s reported break in’s or any trouble. Usually, it’s cities that are the most vulnerable areas, so if it means finding somewhere safer outside and getting transport in, then that’s what we’ll do.
Not all Sosta parking is provided by the local authority. Sometimes a private Sosta can be an excellent option, offering facilities such as showers, toilets and electric.
They usually provide better security too, often with the owner or manager being on site or visiting regularly. With this type of set-up, more often than not, they’ll have a small reception area to check in and pay the fees.
It’s a great way to have a bit more in the way of both security and facilities, yet still have the convenience of the flexibility.
An added advantage is that, generally, they’ll be more space for parking the van. Hopefully giving a little more room between you and the neighbours.
First of all it must be said that in peak season, most areas will be really busy! So, arriving early is essential to bag that space, especially if you want a beach front place to park! Secondly, don’t forget that it’s still not supposed to be camping behaviour.
This really means keeping to a parking place rather than looking like you’re on a campsite. Having said that, if there’s room and it’s somewhere hot, most people will have those sun chairs out under the awning!
Finally, don’t overstay your welcome. If the maximum stay is for example 72 hours then stick to it! They have wardens checking so the last thing you want is a fine!
Like most things now, there’s a few app’s which give all the motorhome parkings areas in various parts of Europe.
We like to use Camper Contact or Park 4 Night. The downside is the data roaming that they use up in the process. So keep this in mind, as well as charges, all depending on your own mobile contract or provider.
Otherwise, keep an eye out for the signs, which are usually blue with an outline image of a motorhome. If you’ve seen them in France, you’ll know what they look like.
Last but not least, enjoy the fabulous system of Sosta motorhome parking in Italy!
We’ve certainly had our fair share of use out of them over the last couple of years and found them just as good as Aires in France. Wishing you fabulous motorhome travels through Italy, enjoy and have fun!
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Despite temperatures dropping to a very cool -17C it didn’t put us off!
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They rammed on the accelerator shouting “don’t think you’re getting in there Bitch”!!
Our route through Switzerland and the San Bernadino tunnel soon brought us to the shores of Italy’s magical Lake Maggiore. Then came our first mesmerising view of the lake. Ahead, the route took us towards the shore before merging onto a narrow lakeside road.
The Alpine scenery was already beautiful. Before long the mountains plunged towards the water, where reflections glistened in the early evening sunlight. Soon, the first lakeside villages appeared, our route winding along between rows of tightly packed buildings.
Up until now, the lake had still been within Switzerland. Then the border came into sight. We were now crossing and stepping into Italy for the first time ever.
To be honest, we had no idea of the set up for motorhome parking. Except we knew, there was some kind of system called a Sosta.
The shoreline seemed to have a few campsites, but we really wanted to find a place to stop similar to a French Aire. Incredibly, as if by magic, a motorhome Aire sign appeared in the lakeside town of Cannobio.
Following the narrow streets through the lovely town brought us to a proper overnight parking area for motorhome’s, just like you’d see in France. A welcome relief and perfect for our first stop in Italy.
Arriving just in time for an essential Summer alpine storm, our parking place alongside a river became a refuge from the rain.
Several other campervans were parked alongside us. Whilst a dump and fresh water area were a welcome sight. Thank goodness! This was our first Italian motorhome Sosta area, although we did have to pay several Euro’s to park, we were still super pleased.
The following morning, our low supply of rations, meant a dash to the shops before breakfast. The streets of Cannobio beckoned, cobble stones and narrow alleys brought a character charm to this gorgeous town.
A cycle path followed the river in front of us, so out came the bikes to explore a little further. Soon we found ourselves on a lakeside promenade, leading to a large lido area, complete with sun loungers and grassy areas.
This place was simply idyllic. As the cafe-lined frontage of the old town appeared, it was time to lock up the bikes and set about on foot.
Wow, it was so picturesque, but no more so than the views of the Alps surrounding the calm water of the lake. In addition, an abundance of flowers made a colourful backdrop to the old town.
Away from the water amongst charming architecture, the old town oozed character. I think we were already hooked!
After a stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets, it was time for a bite to eat back at the van. Afterwards, we were heading off again on the bikes. This time following the river cycle path inland, towards the incredible gorge and chapel of Orrido di Sant’Anna.
What an absolute gem of a place. By the time we’d reached the end of the cycle track, not only had the river become a beautiful clear swim hole, but above it hung an ancient stone bridge. Below, a narrow gorge tore though the rock, whilst the quaint little chapel, with it’s doors ajar beckoned us inside.
Elderly locals gossiped on the church bench. Greeting us with a nod before carrying on with their chatter under the shade of a large leafy tree.
What a fantastic first day it had been. Last but not least, an amazing introduction to Italy’s magical Lake Maggiore.
After doing a spot of laundry in Cannobio, it was time to move on along the lake towards Baveno. Italy’s magical Lake Maggiore, is the second largest of the Italian lake’s, so this place is big!
We were keen to move onwards but low and behold, after several slow, winding sections of road, the engine warning light lit up. Not only that, but the engine went into limp mode, meaning that we were now crawling along at a snails pace with a huge queue of traffic behind us.
Eventually, we managed to find a safe place to pull over but we just couldn’t get the light to go off. Luckily, we were still covered with Mercedes under the warranty. So, Nigel gave them a call, but thankfully just as he got through to the operator, the actual engine light went back off.
Apparently, all we needed to have done, was take the keys out of the ignition and wait a few minutes. However, no sooner had we driven off again than on came the light and there we were back in slow mo along the winding lakeside road.
So, after a snails pace drive and another phone call back to Mercedes, they suggested limping to our nearest Mercedes garage to get it looked at.
Fortunately for us, there happened to be one in the next town. So after a couple of phone calls back and forth to Mercedes, they arranged for a diagnostic check.
After a quick exchange of hand signals between us and the chirpy Italian chap at the garage, he hopped on board and took us for a spin. His conclusion was that the emission sensor on the exhaust had detected too much emissions. Possibly due to the slow, winding roads preventing the exhaust dispelling the emissions quickly enough.
Anyhow, there was nothing he could do except the usual advice in these sort of situations – wait and see how it goes! Fingers crossed it would behave, otherwise we’d be spending the next couple of months limping round Italy.
So back on the road, the mind soon left the engine issue behind. Instead focusing on our next stop at Italy’s magical Lake Maggiore, Arona.
We passed through the most gorgeous lakeside resort, Stresa but couldn’t find a place to park. It was one of those places that looked and felt really upmarket. Now going by experience. If a place looks super classy, it’s usually not somewhere they want you parked up in a campervan overnight.
So with this in mind, we decided to try and get there another way. Hopefully from our next stop, in the low-key lakeside town of Arona.
Personally, I think this was a super little find. Firstly because we found a perfect overnight Sosta right alongside the lake, not only that, but it was free! Always a super big bonus!
Then, we realised we were just a short walk away from the beautiful town centre. So, off we set on foot to see what it was all about. Quirky cobbled streets and narrow alleys greeted us, as well as a colourful display of umbrella’s hanging overhead. Don’t those just seem to be the thing nowadays?
Whilst pavement cafe’s opened out onto a beautiful lakeside square, the temptation of a couple of Latte for just 3 Euro was too good to miss. What’s more, the boat’s left from the jetty, taking regular trips to various places across the lake, including Stresa.
Well, I can honestly say, there is no better way to see Italy’s magical Lake Maggiore, than by boat! My goodness, this dreamy ride from the top deck of the boat would take some beating.
The heat was intense, the lake resembled a duck pond and the Alps surrounding us sparkled in the midday sun. To top it all, there weren’t even that many people around. As we took a row of front seats in the open air, our view looking across the water brought a sense of calm and gratitude.
Tucking into a bunch of grapes, whilst pretending to be on a luxury cruise liner, we wallowed in our 24 Euro ride. Only a couple of other people occupied the deck. One couple caught my eye, as they sipped wine from a bottle of Prosseco. Need I say more to sum up the atmosphere here.
Through the water we glided, happily taking in the surroundings. The towns and villages adorning the water’s edge seemed to cling to the backdrop of the mountains. At the same time, the picturesque architecture almost called out to us for a photo opportunity.
It was a perfect way to see a few different towns on the lake, as the boat stopped at different points. Acting as a leisurely cruise as well as a functional ferry.
Stepping off the boat at the little dock in Stresa came as a bit of a disappointment. Not that there was anything wrong with Stresa, but I just loved the boat, so much so, I could have happily sailed around all day!
Never mind, we still had the return to look forward to, in the meantime, Stresa called! Unfortunately, often when a place is super gorgeous, everyone knows about it, so the coach loads arrive! Yes, Stresa is no different as we were about to find out.
What a difference a few miles along the lake had made. Gone were the locals spending lazy days under shady trees and instead we’d arrived in tourist land! Maybe I’m being a bit mean-spirited, but Stresa was packed out with tourists, mostly American’s and plenty of English accents.
First we headed for the beautiful, flower-lined promenade. Before long the effortlessly elegant facades and manicured lawns of plush hotels were upon us. Outside on the most comfy looking sun-loungers, guests lay sipping cocktails at two in the afternoon. Now that’s my kind of hotel!
We stuck to the lakeside prom. Stopping by a fabulous statue of a life-size horse, stood in time against the most amazing views. The flowers alone along this stretch were enough to compete with the finest resorts in Europe.
Finally it was time to check out the town centre and get mingling with the masses! Those narrow cobbled streets beckoned, now all too familiar in this part of Italy.
Here we found pavement cafe’s which spilled out into a small square, Whilst the clear water of an ornate fountain flowed through the centre.
It has to be said that Italy is certainly one of the most romantic country’s on earth. Although tourist shops selling everything from local Limoncello to biscuits, wines and geleto was all a bit much. Stresa, although beautiful was certainly a bit too much of a tourist hot spot for us.
After the return boat ride back to Arona, it was time for something a little out of the ordinary. Coming in the form of biggest statue we’ve ever seen!
This copper mega structure is the giant statue of Colosso Di San Carolo Borromeo, a 16th Century Saint. At 35m tall, not only can it be seen for miles, but it also earns the title of the second largest statue in the world that you can climb inside!
So, in for a penny and all that. We pay our 6 Euro entrance fee and walk the steps up to this huge landmark of Arona.
A friendly chap at the entrance asked for us to hand over any bags or drinks bottles, as nothing should get in the way once inside. Gosh, what had we come to? I started to get a bit nervous, especially when I first caught a glimpse of the dark stone hollow, dimly lit with a spiral staircase winding through the centre.
Well, up we went inside the strange contraption, taking each careful step towards San Carlo’s 6.5 meter wide head. Low and behold, the staircase then came to an abrupt stop, instead breaking out into a tiny metal ladder. Oh my goodness!
“Heck this wouldn’t be allowed by in Blighty” I think were my words, as my now sweaty fingers clung tightly to the tiny ladder rail. One Slip of my trainers on the tiny rung or loss of grip on my now trembling hands and I’d fall to oblivion through the middle of the Saint himself!
Finally, a narrow platform came into view, so I took my chances and lunged myself across into the copper head of the Saint. Nige came up behind, both of us thankful to have made it, but now having one of those moments realising we had to go back down!
For now though came the piece de résistance. Yes, peering through the eerie eyes of San Carlo and out across the splendid views of Lake Maggiore. How bizarre, I felt as if I was spying on the world outside – could they see me, my spooky roaming eyeballs in the eyes of the Saint himself!
Thank goodness we were alone up here, but voices were echoing in the hollow stairway, meaning time for a sharp exit back down the ladder. I’m glad to report we made it back down to a viewing platform, 11.5 m up without much fuss. Stepping outside onto a wide terrace felt slightly less hair-raising. Just in time for a few pics before leaving the 85 steps to those waiting down below.
Well, for us this was enough excitement for one day! Time to leave Italy’s magical Lake Maggiore behind and head off to the fashion capital of Europe, Milan.
We’d spent 5 days exploring round the lake, but we could have spent longer. At the centre of the lake are The Borromean Islands which we never got to but are meant to be beautiful and can be accessed by boat trips from various towns.
That only means one thing for us, a return trip!
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