Review of Italy and Switzerland trip
25 February – 14 April 2009 (48 days)
Trip distance: 3689 miles (excluding Home to/from Dover)
Average: 34-35 mpg
Trip cost: €1636 (c. £1500) – €34 or £30 per day
|Essentials (laundry, household)
|Aires (or equiv)
|Camping Cheque Site
This tour of mainly Italy and a little Switzerland has been our best so far being a very interesting trip taking in countries we knew little about, over routes that we knew nothing about, and having to learn along the way. We had loads of tips off the Internet forums which helped no end with essentials, routes, and places to see which made things a little easier for us.
Switzerland is lovely, great landscape and very interesting views and sights along the way. Apart from Geneva where you are NOT permitted to wild camp, you can (apparently) camp anywhere overnight (15hrs max) as long as you comply with any local parking restrictions. This meant we were able to find some absurd locations such as in the Alps! All good fun though. There are many “motorhome services” – but not many marked overnight stops so just make your own. You do need to research which passes are open (or at least read the signs!) as we did end up a road with no exit to Italy. Knowing where we were going and looking at a map would have helped…. We did buy a Swiss Vignette (24€ ish) for access to their motorway network, but the route we used down to Italy was really motorway free so not really needed. The way back however was almost all motorway and a lot easier (though we were never checked if we had the Vignette or not).
In truth, we didn’t really do Switzerland justice as we stayed in Italy longer than expected and the way back was pretty much a dash through. We will return and give Switzerland a good going over one day.
The real north-westerly part of Italy where we entered was too stressful, chaotic, and dense for our tastes but Tuscany down to Rome was much better. Wild camping seems to be frowned upon though there are many official overnight spots and we never had any issues where we did wild camp. We did find many of the documented stopovers (in Boardatlas 2009 and Guida Camper) to be wrong at times – the locations either had “no overnight parking” signs; were pay & display and not “free” as per the guides; or facilities such as water weren’t actually there. That said, some were great and some random POIs from my database which weren’t in any guides worked fine.
Some parts of Italy were SUBPERB and absolutely worth seeing. Stunning places, stunning scenery, and just a great environment to tour. There were a few places that felt lower than 3rd world, and in places the lack of maintenance and investment showed. We did find Italy became visibly poorer and messier near Napels and below, and apart from some amazing sites (Pompeii, Paestum, Matera, Alberobello) the south doesn’t really give you much to like. Interestingly, our database of sites/aires has a visible line from Rome on the west across to the east, with loads of stops above the line, and not many below it. This line does seem to tally with the areas we didn’t like. As mentioned in the diary, in hindsight we’d still visit the sites in the south as they are spectacular, but just route between them as fast as possible rather than try and linger and stumble on nice areas.
Generally we try to avoid toll roads as the free roads are normally not much longer for time or distance (especially if you are just pootling along) and a lot more picturesque. Italy is different – the toll roads can, for example, be 1hr for a 80km route; whereas the free route is 2.5hrs and 120km! And though more interesting, the roads can be especially challenging. We asked TomTom to route both ways and then make a judgement call. When on the motorways the tolls seem to work out at maybe 5c-15c per km – so 50-80km may be 5€. Sometimes you get a ticket and pay on exit, and on others (e.g. Pompeii going South) you pay a fixed price as you enter and stay on as long as you like.
LPG is widely available – a lot more stations than my GPS database.
We don’t need to say much more on L’Aquila apart from we’re gutted for the city that was so kind to us. We glad we went and saw it as it was before it was devastated. Hope they recover well.
Overall though this trip was great – a few blips near the start and half way through but the rest of Italy more than made up for it. We saw everything we imagined, we did everything we wanted, and we ate out till we’re Pizza’d out. We would wholeheartedly recommend a tour of Italy – but would say out of peak season (probably April/May/early June) would be the best time.
How did the Van do?
As ever, the van did really well. When keeping to slower routes (50mph) it managed an average of 36mpg which is mightily impressive considering we weigh almost the maximum 2.8 tonnes. Normal average mpg is 33-34 ish. When driving in the Italian towns, the van actually felt very nimble and agile and to be honest we drove it like a car. Anything much bigger would have caused us issues on a fair few occasions!
We pushed the van much more on this trip than previous, wild-camping for up to 14 days at a time without facilities – and it coped perfectly. The shower and bathroom was in frequent use (unlike most vans). We never ran out of water, gas or power – the Gaslow and extra batteries worked flawlessly.
Obviously, we topped the fresh water and emptied whenever we found somewhere free and easy, but apart from that we had our freedom!
Even over the very bumpy roads (imagine a main road worst than unpaved UK roads), nothing broke, no rattles developed, no cupboard doors fell open and everything stayed in place. We know our van has solid (oak frame) furniture with thick wood elsewhere – but we were still surprised to the extent of the shaking it received and remained unscathed. Not sure how many cheaper-made vans would fair in the same conditions.
Considering how many nights we’ve been away in it of recent, and how many miles it has done – the van will receive a good clean, a bit of TLC, and we will ensure the brakes have something left in them!