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A Fast Drive Through Mainland Italy

April 6th, 2023

The ferry ride from Sicily went smoothly and we were the first off!  The windy was pretty strong and cold so we didn’t take in the views on the ride like we did heading to Sicily.

By the time we got about 50 km / 30 mi in, the sun was coming out and the sky was clearing nicely. We like!

Just to reiterate, as we have been to Italy before, we will not be visiting many of the “hot spots” that we’ve already been to on this overlanding journey.

We found the main highway up the “foot of the boot” to make our way to what is deemed the “prettiest village in Italy”: Tropea.  Between our GPS and our phone map (Organic Maps) we thought we knew the way but it was amazing how many times they differed and then we’d see a road sign that showed it a different way again!  At one point, it took us down a dirt road to a private residence and Doug had to maneuver us out quickly, as a car was coming from the house.

Fran got out and between hand gestures, some Spanish and the woman’s Italian, she understood that if we pulled over up ahead, we could follow her in the right direction.  Upon reaching the next roundabout, she stopped and pointed which exit to take.  We finally made it just before 1pm and got parked.  The lot we had been heading for was through a brick archway/bridge which we weren’t sure we’d make it under; the sign said 2.8’ height and our rig is 3.1m.

There was a small lot right before the arch that we parked in and then we saw a motorhome go through the arch.  Oh well, we were only 250 m further from town so no Biggy.

We walked into the village pretty much straight down the main drag to see the view – quite spectacular:

Now the sad thing was here at this magnificent viewpoint, there were no outside restaurants taking advantage of this view!  Incredible!  We did find a place right next to the viewpoint that was inside and get this: it only had ONE table at the window and the place was empty.  We snagged that one table and upon sitting, realized that if it was summer and the window was open, this table would be impossible to sit at as it opens inwards so we came at the right time of year.

We enjoyed a pricey but delicious seafood lunch and then went for a stroll.  We have to say the town is nice but we think Céfalu was cuter although it didn’t have the spectacular waterfront views of Tropea.  The sea was so beautiful looking, all turquoise with white waves and a sandy beach.  We went to a different view point and the view here was excellent here too:

As we had no intention of going in the water (we saw one woman swimming in a wetsuit) we opted not to take the long stairway down and instead went in search of some tartufo.

Tartufo is an Italian dessert made from gelato.  It takes the shape of a ball composed of two or more flavours, often with a dollop of melted chocolate in the middle – that is the traditional method but at times, fruit syrup or frozen fruit is used for the centre.  It is typically coated with a shell of chocolate or coated in cocoa powder although cinnamon or chopped nuts can be used. 

We found a place and got an order each to go so we could eat as we strolled back to Minou.

We opted to move out of town to a nearby beach parking area instead of staying in this roadside parking lot on a busy road that was quite sloped.  We found a spot to park for the night next to the sand just a few kilometres further.  Not too shabby at all – good move!:

From here we could see the island volcano of Stromboli in the distance:

our pic of Stromboli

Here’s a shot from Google:

This could be our last beach front spot for quite a while now and it was quite enjoyable to go to sleep to the sounds of the waves and see the turquoise water. We were not alone overnight, there were two red German camper vans with us along the beach.

Today we passed through a whopping 25 tunnels!

Friday was Good Friday which is NOT a national holiday in Italy (weird eh? For a Catholic country…) but Easter Monday is.  Anyway, we wanted to get some miles done today so we left the beach after meeting our German neighbours, Tina and Klaus and having a chat.

We returned to the Autostrada (what would  be called  a freeway in the US) and went 350 km / 216 mi to a small town this side of Salerno.

It took us about five hours with a couple of pee breaks and a stop for brekkie.  The sun was shining and it was a nice drive.  We saw fields, towns, cities and snowcapped peaks; at times we were at well over 900 m / 2952’ but the mountains themselves reached over 2000 m / 6560’.

We arrived at a public parking lot outside a Decathlon (like REI or Mountain Equipment Coop) which had a small park and free overnight parking next to its parking lot.  We walked to a nearby grocery store to pick up a few things and then had an Easter video chat with the grandkids before dinner. Get this: our not so little granddaughter, Arya, who is not quite ten, is now 5’ / 1.52m tall!!

Today we drove through SIXTY-FIVE tunnels – a new daily record for our overlanding in Europe or anywhere!   One tunnel had a town perched above it and another had a castle at the top of the hill it was on:

This is the furthest north we’ve been since returning to Europe last month and from here on, it’s pretty much northward bound.  It’s not as green up here as we’ve experienced the past few weeks; the buds on some trees have not even come out yet but the fields are green and many of the fruit trees are beginning to flower.

Sidebar:  we are STILL awaiting our insurance money and tow receipt refund from Mexico; we are in touch with them every couple of days and things are moving SO slowly. 

Saturday morning, after a bit of a bad night’s sleep due to some nearby racing cars, we left early so as to beat the long weekend traffic on the east end of the Amalfi coast.  After gassing up at the low price of €1.69 a litre, we drove around Salerno to the Amalfi Coast road.  We’d done most of this route back in 2006 from the other end as Sorrento which is the preferred direction but there was one town at this end, we’d not visited.  Ravello was about 24 km / 14 mi westward on the road.  It’s a two lane road with narrow one lane sections.  It was a bit tight a few times with all the twists and turns:

When we reached the town of Maiori, it was quite pretty with its boardwalk and the tight curves started again right after it.

Leaving the Amalfi Coast road, we headed up into the hills to the town of Ravello.  The sky was quite cloudy but rain was not expected until this afternoon.  We found the pay parking lot and for €3 an hour, we got parked and went to check the town out.  Have to say we were somewhat disappointed and maybe shouldn’t have come but at least we saw these great views:

We wanted to visit the Villa Rufalo’s terrace but it was closed and the other Villa we wanted to see was currently not open to the public; dang.  The unique auditorium was a building to at least see from the outside and we strolled over to see it.

Lastly we paused in the piazza in front of the Duomo which was also closed and then returned to Minou.  As there was a portapotty in the parking lot, we took advantage and dumped our cassette before leaving.  We took the road north out of town instead of back to the coast and began the inland drive northward.  Once we reached the “top” of the highway, we saw Vesuvius in the clouds:

At one point the road was over 700 m / 2296’ high   It was pretty brown in this area, with spring not quite sprung and although the lemon trees did have fruit on them, but were all covered up from the possible frost at night.  Here the high was going to be like 12 C/ 53 F and dropping to near freezing at night.  Not our favourite climate for sure.

We continued north passing Naples and Rome on the toll roads.  It rained on and off for the first half of that part of the drive and we even got hail at one point!

We arrived outside a small town called Celleno around 3pm.  Fran had found a free “aire” which offered power, water and dumping where we decided to spend the night.  It looked a little abandoned but everything worked and we settled in for the rest of the day.  We’d driven 356 km / 222 mi today and passed through 10 tunnels.  The toll road cost us €22.10 for nearly 290 km / 180 miles which saved some miles but more importantly, wasn’t windy, twisty and up and down.  The sun came out fully and it warmed up nicely!

After a very quiet night we awoke to sunshine and wind and we did love that it wasn’t raining!   It was definitely colder here in the mornings and since we had power, we used our electric heater.  (maybe we need to reconsider our route for the next few weeks?) After exercise, showers, and a bit of dawdling, we made our way to Civita di Bagnoregio – an ancient town on a hilltop.  We saw that just before Bagnoregio, there was motorhome parking but we wanted to see if we could get closer; while there were a couple of lots in town, they were more for cars so we turned backed and parked.  For €1 an hour, we got parked and walked the almost 3 km / 2mi to the Civita bridge where you have €5 each to cross the pedestrian bridge into the small village.

Civita di Bagnoregio was founded more than 2500 years ago by the Etruscans.  There used to be five gates to enter the city, today only one.  The only access to Civita di Bagnoregio is via a toll footbridge from the nearby town which was built in 1995.   The toll resulted in no communal taxes for its residents (of which there are less than 20 fulltime) and the town of Bagnoregio. 

Civita di Bagnoregio is famously known as the “dying city”.  The town is built on a formation of rocks of different chronologies of which the most ancient is clay from the sea which is particularly prone to erosion.  The top layers are made  of tuff and lava.  The erosion here has been fast due to streams, the atmosphere and also to deforestation. 

It took no more than 15 minutes to walk around and take photos and we walked back to Minou.  We chatted while walking back about whether we should head towards Austria; it still gets down to freezing at night there and barely reaches double digits Celsius!  We decided we’d stay in Italy a little longer and began to drive northwest instead of northeast towards the south coast of France where it looks warmer!  Nice to have options.

While attempting to get back on the toll road at Orvieto, the map took us down a route with an underpass we couldn’t fit under so we had to back up.  A woman had pulled up behind us and then another car so with no Italian Fran used hand gestures to ask her to back up.  While backing up unassisted, Minou’s passenger side back corner scraped a rock wall and put a hole over an inch in diameter in the taillight. It could have been much worse.  We’ll deal with that later as the light still works.  We know that one of our marker lights is not working either and that will need to be repaired before Minou needs her bi annual inspection this fall.

We were headed towards Genoa, a town we’d not been to before more because we’d heard of it since we were kids, but Fran saw the route passes right beside Siena so we decided if we could get into a free parking lot there on the outskirts of town, we’d stop for at least some lunch.  The parking lots (there were two opposite each other) had about 18 motorhomes in them  and a couple of cars but room for us.  We found a spot, parked and then walked the 20 minutes into the city to Il Campo – the famous main square (where we went in 2006).


Funny it was smaller than we remembered (just one of the reasons we don’t like going back to places) but as we’d seen the city before, the idea was to have lunch with a view and chill for a while, which we did.

By 4, we’d had second beers after our pizza and returned to Minou but, of course, had to get gelato on the way!   You can NEVER have too much gelato!

It rained some after we returned to Minou.

Today was a two tunnel day.

We left in the morning after tea to make our way to Genoa.  We found on our fuel app, cheap gas (1.689) in Massa, so we pulled off the toll road to fill up.  The toll workers were on strike so the toll was free!  Just before getting off we saw some lovely mountains:

Unfortunately, being a holiday today, the gas stations are unattended and the machines were not taking credit cards.  We ended up putting too much money in the machine and couldn’t get refund so we have to stay in town tonight in order to see the attendant tomorrow so that threw a wrench in our plans but hey, we have no set schedule for now and the sun is out.  We found that you can park in the nearby Carrefour shopping centre lot overnight.  As we planned to shop tomorrow anyway, we did that a day early, got in our steps and did some route planning in the afternoon.  We confirmed we want to head to Monaco and the south coast of France and then we’ll enter Switzerland.

While in the parking lot, Doug attempted to repair the marker light that hasn’t been working in a while.  In the end, it turned out the connection is loose and he has none of the little wire connector pieces so we’ll have to get a few of those at an auto parts store.

Fran reached out to Bea, a French friend we met in Mexico 9 years ago, who was at the time married to a fellow in Vancouver, and she lives on the route to Geneva from Cannes so that we could maybe meet up with her, however, she and her family have plans for vacation next week so that’s not going to work.

Ten tunnels today.

So Tuesday morning after exercising and tea time, we returned to the gas station and received our refund no questions asked (with the receipt of course) and then began the drive towards Genoa.  We sort of wanted to stop and see the city, but parking was non-existent and the type of shop Doug was looking for to find the piece he needs to fix the marker light was not in the area he expected to find it.  As the weather was not great (sky was beginning to look very dark) and there was nothing we felt was a “must see” we pushed on to the border on the roll roads.

So we said “arrivederci” to beautiful Italy, and we crossed the border into southeastern France.

We drove a total of 3,415 km / 2,121 mi in Italy including Sicily (this, of course, does not included the 148 km we drove in Malta in the rental car).

We love this country and can’t rule out coming back here one day in the future.  The food, drink, sights and atmosphere of this country is one you never tire of!

Fun Facts about Italy:

  1. Italy is one of western Europe’s youngest countries – only been a country since 1861! That’s only six years older than CANADA!
  2. The City of Rome, however, is over 2000 years old.
  3. Italy’s last king, Umberto II, only ruled for 46 days after Italy became a republic after WWII.
  4. Tourists throw over €1,000,000 worth of coins into the Trevi Fountain – which is all donated to charity.
  5. Thirteen of Shakespeare’s 38 plays are set in Italy.
  6. The story of Pinocchio was first published in an Italian newspaper.
  7. Italy has more World Heritage sites than any other country: 55!
  8. Italy is home to Europe’s only three active volcanos.
  9. The Vatican is the world’s smallest country.
  10. Italy is the fifth most visited country in the world.
  11. The first batteries were invented in Italy in 1800 by Alessandro Volta.
  12. Christopher Columbus was Italian.
  13. The first ever bank was the Bank of San Giorgio in 1149 in Genoa.
  14. Modern pizza was invented in Naples.
  15. Italy is the world’s largest wine producer putting out 54,800 hectoliters of wine per year vs Fran’s 49,00 hectoliters.
  16. Italy is home to Europe’s oldest university: the University of Bologna founded in 1088.
  17. The average Italian consumers 25 kg / 55 lb of pasta per year!
  18. Here’s a good one: Gelato contains 70% less fat than ice cream and is (usually) made with all natural ingredients so it’s much healthier for you.