Published: June 25th 2012June 22nd 2012
Italy is in my opinion one of the most beautiful countries in the world- with rolling hills, picturesque seaside villages, historic cities and magnificent lakes, one could spend a life time traveling this place (enjoying the food on offer) and still miss amazing places. This is my third trip to Italy (I have now spent about four weeks here all up), so if it looks like I missed important places on this trip that’s why. This week has been our hottest yet, with the usual day temperature of 35 degrees and long days in the car with no air conditioning.
We stopped off in the tiny principality of Monaco before heading into Italy. With an area of 1.98km2
Monaco is the second smallest and most densely populated Country in the world. Although famous for its Monte Carlo Casino, the residents of Monaco are not allowed to gamble or even set foot in the Casino. What Monaco lacks in size it certainly makes up for in beauty with a stunning coast line and slopping hills. The wealth of this tiny Country could be seen on every street with Michael pointing out names of what I can only assume to
be cars- California, Phantom and Veyron.
We headed for Tuscany next, but as it was such a nice day decided to spend one last night at the Mediterranean so attempted to drive out to the small fishing village of Portifino. Unfortunately as it was a beautiful Saturday afternoon every man and his dog was out and we drove all the way out to the point on tiny roads dodging scooters to not be able to park anywhere. The little towns we passed were cute, similar to the Cinque Terre villages; as their was no sand all the locals were sunbathing on the crowded rocks. We ended up camping further back up the peninsular at Rapallo. We tried to go to the beach but were going to get charged 5euro so instead went to another patch of pebbles. Europeans don’t tend to sunbathe the way we do facing the water, (instead they face the sun) so it’s a bit awkward at a crowded area when the sunbathers sitting in front of you in speedos are facing you.
The Tuscan sun was shining every way it could into the van as we approached the town of
San Gimignano. San Gimignano is a beautiful little medieval town perched on a hill with 15 towers creating a skyscraper like image as you drive towards the hill. When the town was first built back in 928 there were 72 towers, and one can only imagine how spectacular they would look. We spotted a Gelato shop with a huge cue and noticed many signs stating world Gelato champions, so we quickly decided on some flavours and thankfully it was delicious. Unbeknown to us the Ferie Delle Messi festival was happening which included medieval parades, dancing and even a spot of jousting.
Heading south to Rome we took the scenic route through Tuscany (I may or may not have gotten us lost numerous times). We hoped to see some sunflower fields but were a few weeks too early. We did manage to see some amazing scenery- with quintessential Tuscan houses on hills surrounded by cypress trees.
One of my favourite places to get out of an underground station would have to be at the Colosseo stop in Rome. Walking up the stairs and looking out onto the street to see such a famous land mark
right across the road, is something I vividly remember from last time I was in Rome and was great to experience again. Built in 72CE the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and re-enactments of famous battles. It is estimated that over the hundreds of years that the games were played, around 500,000 people and over a million wild animals (including giraffes, bears and rhinos) lost their lives. Rome is an amazing place to just wander around and take in the sights, with ruins on every corner and vespers scooting past on the streets. We visited a few of the churches which from the outside looked fairly ordinary but inside were one of the most magnificent churches you would see- in any other city the church would be its pride and joy but in Rome- the city of churches it is just another church. Of course we also went to The Vatican and visited St Peter’s Basilica.
Heading north towards Venice we finally saw fields of sunflowers in bloom which looked amazing and were so big up close. We drove up the Adriatic coastline and stopped in at yet another small country- San Marino. San Marino is
the third smallest country in Europe after the Vatican and Monaco and is the oldest remaining sovereign state in the world- dating back to 301AD. We didn’t really know what to expect driving towards what looked like a castle on a hill but as we started to ascend the hill we were rewarded with some of the most amazing views that we have seen in Europe. When we got to the top of the hill we wandered around the pretty town and saw views over the Apennine mountain range and out towards the Adriatic. We also finally saw fields of sunflowers in bloom which looked amazing and were so big up close. That night we stayed on the coast just outside of Ravenna in a huge campsite that was full of permanent residents- all with matching caravan/awning and about 8 rusty old bikes out the front. Every single time we walked to the toilets or anywhere we would get lost and struggle to find our way to the van as every corner looked the same.
In Venice we stayed at a great campsite right across the water from this famous city, our van even had a view.
We caught the ferry over to the city (was funny as there was only about 10 of us on the boat and I remember there being about 10,000 packed on last time), and explored the worlds most beautiful city. They say everyone gets lost in Venice so of course we managed to as well- its pretty much impossible not to, with winding alleys criss-crossing over canals. We went to San Marcos square and wandered around the city watching the gondolas go by, even seeing a proposal on one. We got a bit lost as we tried to make our way back to the ferry for the last boat (thankfully we made it and didn’t have to spend the night in Venice). As we were waiting for the boat we talked to a retired English couple who were also heading back to the campsite and they told us this was there 15th visit to the city and they had been there for 8 days this time around. One can only imagine what it must be like owning a campervan in Europe and just making last minute decisions to drive around what ever country you please for a few weeks. As we
arrived back at our campsite a Contiki tour beach party was in full swing- complete with a wet t-shirt competition.
We are now sitting at our flashest campsite yet (complete with 4 waterslides, its own merchandise and Grease the musical performed on Saturday nights). After a week in hot cities we are happy to be a Lake Garda just outside of Verona. The Lake is beautiful surrounded by mountain ranges. Next week will head towards Lake Como and onto Switzerland and Austria.
There are more photos below