We were warned by at least a handful of other van travellers that Italy can be really tricky to navigate in a Campervan, with its mixture of mountain roads & narrow historical city streets, zero free parking and expensive campervan services.
So we really only meant to dip into the top of Italy on our way from France to Slovenia. However our first border town park up of Riva Liguria was a dream and the people we met there the most beautiful and welcoming of our whole trip so far (see our patreon page for a more detailed write up). We were intrigued, curiosity got the better of us and within a few hours we had jumped on the road to Rome, headed south to explore more of what Italy had to offer.
I can see why the country has a love affair with scooters, there is no space in the cities! It has been the only place we’ve found that has tiny individually white lined spaces for motorbike parking; space is at such a premium. The roads are hectic and can be a bit daunting at first, but once you settle into it, you can’t help but get drawn in by the infectious buzz.
I’m not going to lie, Italian beaches were a shock at first. We were used to parking up on wild stretches of the Atlantic all winter with hardly a soul to see. Italian beaches are small strips of sand or rock, with hundreds of uniform sunbeds and parasols, that usually you have to pay a fee to access. Free parts of the beach are available but can be quite crowded due to the parasols taking up most of the beach. Once you realise this is just how the Italian coast works it’s not half as bad as it first seems, if you don’t have small children parking up and hiking to hidden coves is also possible.
After a stressful day in the heat searching to find free parking, near a free beach, within reasonable walking distance for our two small ones & failing, we nearly gave up and turned round.
But then we spoke to a local, he told us of some good beaches to try.
This was our aha! Moment with Italy…we threw out the guidebooks and the parking apps. Got back to basics, got out on foot, immersed ourselves in the atmosphere of the place and started talking more and more to the locals…who are very happy to help and share their favourite places of their native land.
Italy is a great place to spend time if you don’t mind doing it on Italy’s terms.
Expect traffic, tight car parks, crowded beaches, litter, tailgating and narrow streets. But look forward to friendly locals who adore children. (Each morning the children stepped out of the van to a chorus of ‘Ciao Bella!’ From the Italian grandmother’s!) Stunning mountain views over crystal clear warm seas, cheap espresso, historic scenery and mouth watering local food.
The North is more expensive for living costs, so travel South of Rome if you are on a tight budget. In Naples, you can order pizza in a restaurant for €4.00 and buy bags of pasta in shops from 50¢.
Conad Supermarkets and Lidl seem to be the most budget friendly out of the pick of the chain shops. Bargains can be had in the small independents and market stalls, often towards the end of the day the shopkeepers throw in a free loaf of bread with a purchase rather then leave them to go stale the next day.
Finding free parking for a campervan can be a challenge but is still possible. We even managed it in central Rome, spending two weeks there and loved it. Rome is by far our favourite city visited so far. Check out 10 of the Best Things to do in Rome with a Small Budget and Young Children.
The rolling hills and beaches in Tuscany are beautiful, in June witness hundreds of fireflies taking flight through the long grasses. Mesmirising for children and adults alike.
I would give whole of the Amalfi coast a miss if it’s high season and you are in a campervan, local byelaws have apparently just been passed to prohibit campers from even entering beach car parks. Parking attendants are relentless and happily call the police. There are much more campervan friendly places to spend your money.
Italy in a campervan definitely had it’s tough moments but it was worth every tricky moment to come away with such amazing memories, new friends and a new shared family love of snorkeling. Budget some extra cash for campervan services (and all that pizza!) and enjoy what Italy has to offer.