Italy, Land of the carbs
To do Italy any kind of justice I decided we were going to need a road trip and at least 2 weeks. We went as North as Pisa meaning we skipped Venice, we thought it would be better to save it until we are a little older with more money to spend. To the South we got as far as Amalfi. This guide will cover our journey everywhere in between.
Italy holds an aura of being one of the most romantic places on earth. Rolling Tuscan hill sides, lady and the tramp style pasta eating and all the glory of ancient Rome. After a grueling year and a half of long distance between Bianca and I, what better place to rekindle our little love spark than Italy.
A small amount of research into Italy validated Italy’s aura. Reading up on what each region of Italy had to offer would give me so much excitement and anticipation.
For me the best part of visiting Italy was finding out how terrifically diverse the country is. From Rome to Cinque Terre, Pizza to Pompeii so much beauty in one country.
For this trip we rented a Wicked Camper Van. She was a bit of a gas guzzler but with a fold out bed and 4 person tent on the roof the camper was our accommodation too. We did some massive legs in the drive but it was really nice to be able to take our own time, bast our music and enjoy the road.
The van we rented came with a bed for 2 inside and a fold out tent on the roof which sleeps 4. We stayed most nights in the camper van. Parking then becomes the issue.
- Whenever possible we would find free parking spaces online or using a guide which came in the camper.
- Often where nothing else was available we would find cheap overnight parking, depending on the park we would spend up to €10.
- Where car parks were unavailable or unaffordable (or we desperately needed a shower) we would check into camping sites. Around the bigger or more touristic cities this was regularly our only option.
On the Amalfi Coast we treated ourselves to a few nights in luxury. Bianca and I needed some alone time and Amalfi’s romance was the perfect spot for this. We stayed at Hotel Floridiana, A beautiful hotel set back up the hill in the Amalfi village. This importantly came with a parking garage for our camper van, Parking in Amalfi is hard to find and quite expensive.
Most of what you want to see is walking distance or a short bus ride, so once the Van was parked we left it.
Rome – Camping Tiber Roma 8/10
A little bit out of Rome, but at the time there was no other accommodation available so we took it. Had really nice facilities and a relaxing family atmosphere. it was a good find.
Sorrento – Villaggio Santa Fortunata. 8/10
A large campsite here which had access to a private beach/rocks on the water, pool and a nice restaurant. It was a short public bus to the city center of Sorrento.
Pompeii – Zeus Accommodation. 6/10
Was a little more expensive than other campsites around the country, but with its location 50m from the entrance to the Pompeii Ruins it was worthwhile.
Pisa – We only stayed one night, and parked on a side street which had no parking meters. A lucky find near midnight after a long drive.
Chianti – FREE PARK – Just down the road from the public swimming pools for a shower and 5min walk into Chianti Greve tourist office in a lovely square.
Cinque Terre – We parked right on the water’s edge in the Monterosso car park this was for a small fee.
The picture explains it all
Big all over italy but the best will be found in one of the many Amalfi stores. Going into one shop is a bit of a trap. Everything looks amazing!
Italians pride themselves on using the finest ingredients to make delicious pizza’s. Dont expect a pizza loaded with every topping imaginable. They are very simple and quite delicious. crispy base, fresh tomato sauce, pepperoni and parmesan cheese…. Simple and delish!
Like the pizza’s, the pastas are often very simple and focus more on quality. Fresh ingredients and fine cheese. The lasagna and the creamy carbonara were for us the biggest hits.
- Citrus drinks
Citrus trees line the streets all around Southern Italy. The giant lemons and oranges are turned into the freshest OJs imaginable. Perfect refreshing hit after a day in the sun.
With so much Citrus fruits, it’s only human nature to turn that fruit into an alcoholic beverage. So if you’re looking for something a little harder limoncello is a semi strong schnaps style drink with a refreshing zing flavour. It suits the warm climate perfectly.
Must See and Do.
- The Glory of Rome
Rome is dripping with its history, I recommend about a week to see everything because there really is so much!
- Rome is one place you must do a walking tour. Monuments and statues of huge importance are easily missed and the knowledge of the local guides is very impressive. Our tour covered the Roman Forum and Colosseum and was awesome!
- Visit the smallest Country in the world, at the Vatican City. Say hello to the Pope and spend most of your day looking at art-works in the Vatican museum.
- Pantheon is another massive highlight.
- Finally… As with most of europe, prepare yourself to see scaffolding on your favourite buildings… just the way it is. Trevi fountain for us was completely drained and covered in scaffold for cleaning and restoration works… bugger.
- Visit the five Fishing villages known as Cinque Terre
This is a popular tourist attraction and you can see why with all five villages built on the coastline, breath-taking views and picturesque buildings. It is definitely a place to put on your list. There are five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. You can visit all villages by train or you can walk along the coast (back in 2014 when we visited, the path was partly closed). Even if you don’t walk the along the coast you can walk up a little bit on the track to get a view over-looking each village – This is a great photo opportunity.
- People watch everyone pose with the leaning tower of Pisa
The main attraction in Pisa is the leaning tower of Pisa, well-known for its unintended tilt. This is a funny place to watch people take “the typical leaning tower photo” and also get amongst it yourself.
- Go to a Tuscan Vineyard and drink the night away with Chianti Classico wine
Since we were travelling Italy by camper-van we spent a few nights in a free car-park in the Chianti region. We knew this was the place to do a wine-tasting tour. We went to the local visitors centre in Greve in Chianti. We opted for a small family run Chianti Classico and olive vineyard which included a meal. We were hosted by the vineyard owners who spoke very broken English, though with Bianca’s poco Italiano, we got by. He showed us how they made the Chianti Classico wine and olive oil, on their property. Then brought out the food and sparked the barbecue for a delicious Italian dinner, I have never been so full – pasta, cheese-board and almost an entire pig on the barbecue. It was heaven! We popped a few bottles of Chianti Classico and drank the night away. Because it is a family run tour including a meal, it is only available on Wednesdays. If you’re lucky enough to be in the area on a Wednesday then I highly recommend doing this tour. It was the most authentic local experience of our trip. It is only ever run in small groups making the experience even more intimate and genuine, like having dinner with old and new friends.
- Drive along the steep cliffs to Amalfi
We were forewarned of this road. It is dangerous, they said we shouldn’t drive it. Cut into a sheer cliff face and dropping hundreds of meters to ocean below. Busses roar around hairpin turns using every inch of the entire road to make the bends. Local scooter drivers seem desensitized to the perils of the road and weave through traffic at high speeds. We drove it anyway. It’s a very beautiful coastline and is worth a trip along it. The views are incredible and the winding road has a few secret beaches along the way which can be stopped at. Just take your time driving, be safe and try pull in as close to the wall or edge as possible to let the bigger vehicles past.
If you’re a little less confident, busses depart regularly.
- Take a romantic day trip to Isle of Capri
Capri is a little expensive to ferry out to but is %100 worthwhile. There is a bus service from the port which links to all the hotspots on the island. Although for the same price as two all day bus passes we rented a scooter. The scooter gave us much more freedom to go our own way and go at our own pace. On such a small island there is plenty to see and do, I get the feeling without the scooter we would have missed lots out.
- Visit the archaeological sites of Pompeii & Herculaneum
We all know the story of the Roman city of Pompeii, buried in meters of ash when Mt Vesuvius erupted 2000 years ago. Well since then in AD 79 they have uncovered the majority of the city. Pompeii is so large and with so many stories to be told that to visit the site without some kind of guide would be criminal. We grabbed the audio guide. It amazed me how advanced of a civilization they were back then, from catseyes signaling the center of the roads to ‘beware of the dog signs’ and whore houses.
Herculaneum just down the road from Pompeii is a lesser known archeological site and an estimated 75% of it remains buried. It was a wealthy coastal city which took the brunt of the eruption. Mudflows and ash swept through the town covering everything in its track with up to 16m of muck. Clothing, advertisements and terror stricken corpses all perfectly preserved for thousands of years. The site is a lot smaller and easier to navigate. Well worth a visit.
Tips and Advice
- Prepare for a lot of carbs. Bread is served with every meal, used as an appetiser/plate cleaner.
- most people speak english so you shouldn’t have too much trouble communicating with the locals, though knowing a few phrases will go a long way.
- Similar to spanish siesta time, the Italians will close their shops in the afternoons and go home for a meal and relaxation time with their families. Loosely between 1pm-4pm although in most tourist centers owners negate this tradition and stay open all day.
- If you’re doing a road trip be weary of the petrol price. Perhaps it was our uneconomical van but our budget was blown wide open by petrol stops.
- Gelato overload.
- You won’t see everything, you just physically can’t without moving to Italy permanently so don’t be upset if you miss something. Priorities what you really want to see and do that first then slow down and soak it in. You’re in Italy… enjoy.
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don’t understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I’m sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Where is? Dov’é doh-VAY
the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah