It's no secret, I am an absolute Italy lover. In fact, it's one of my absolute all time favourites! We last travelled around this foodie/cultural epicentre by train and plane, so we couldn't wait to head back and explore by van.
Circumnavigating Italy by van.
While the idea of circumnavigating both the east and west coasts of Italy appealed to us on paper, truth be told we found the east coast extremely dreary. (Disclaimer: We were told prior to our drive that we'd be better off sticking to the west coast as far as Naples before crossing over, but we didn't heed this advice. Sometimes you just want to see for yourself- lesson learned!) We soon realised that the coastal views we'd been hoping for, just weren't going to eventuate. Instead of taking our time in the region, we sped through from Riavenna all the way down to Castro. While this particular section of the country can be avoided on your vanlife adventure, there are plenty of gems not to be missed! Italy doesn't disappoint but some spots are best left until you are travelling sans-van.
Planning your route through Italy.
The absolute freedom of travelling by van can make planning your route a stressful task. There are just so many options.. where to start? To avoid making the same mistakes we did, here are our favourite and least favourite spots to travel in Italy by van.
7 places you must visit in Italy by van...
1.) Punta Sabbioni
The vanlife gateway to Venice. Punta Sabbioni is the best spot to park your van safely (and relatively cheaply) while you explore Venice. There are paid campgrounds close to the ferry terminal and you can buy a multi-day ferry pass to have access to all of your favourite islands. Ferries run throughout the day but visit the colourful fisherman town of Burano early, to avoid the crowds.
We spent a few epic days relaxing in the Puglia region with friends. We stayed in the town of Castro and I highly recommend a visit if you are looking for a more authentic Italian experience. Prepare to be blown away by the lovely beaches and amazing food.
The town of Matera has a dark past. During the 50's many of the residents of the sassi (a large network of cave-dwellings) were forced to relocate by the government citing poor living conditions. As you wander through the sassi, you'll see the stark contrast between cave houses still left abandoned and those that have become gentrified.
We joined the olive oil harvest in Sicily for two weeks and experienced some of the best food we've ever eaten in our lives. The fertile volcanic soil lends itself to amazing produce so a visit to the farmers market is a must! The island is home to many great spots but be careful to park in public spaces, where it is more safe. Catch the car ferry across from the mainland and allow plenty of time to explore both the south and east coasts. We love Catania and Taormina.
After spending a month in Italy, we finally made it to the famed south-west coast. The coastline of Calabria is lined with gorgeous beaches that are easily accessible. It was here that we finally achieved our vanlife fantasy of parking right alongside the beach. Visit Calabria in October so you can take advantage of free parking and avoid most of the crowds. Don't forget to include a stop in Scilla and Dino.
We were recommended to visit this medieval town by a friend. You can park for free outside the walls of Lucca, giving you access to explore its beautiful cobblestone lanes. Follow your nose and try some fresh pastries from one of the delicious bakeries.
Travelling through the Italian Lakes District, we struggled to find good spots to park for the night. Chiavenna was our favourite van-friendly town in this region. Located north of Lake Como and close to the Alps, we found Chiavenna was less pretentious than some of the other towns bordering the lake. It has an interesting history, is a good place to base yourself for canyoning and our visit happened to coincide with the Crotti Festival.
3 places to avoid visiting in Italy by van...
1.) East Coast
(Ravenna - Bari)
I'm just going to say it, this stretch of the east coast is our least favourite place in all of Italy. While on a map it would appear that you drive alongside the coast the whole way, the road is too far inland to enjoy beach views. It's a rough journey as most of the roads are in poor condition. Along the way, you are likely to encounter stretches of highway lined with sex workers and the beach towns you pass by are very built up. Our suggestion, stick to the West Coast.
2.) Amalfi Coast
While the Amalfi Coast is gorgeous, vans are considered unwelcome and security will tell you to move on. Dense traffic takes away from the picturesque experience. Do yourself a favour and visit this beautiful region by train. That way you can enjoy everything it has to offer, without the stress.
While Naples has it's high points, don't travel there by van. We paid an extortionate price to camp in a carpark with zero facilities, on the outskirts of town. After we'd enjoyed the world's best pizza and pastries, we were pick-pocketed as we made our way back to our van. Visit Naples by train, stay in the centre of town and be vigilante!