327 nights : 11,590 miles travelled : countries visited: 16
“Traveling is the ruin of all happiness! There’s no looking at a building after seeing Italy” Fanny Burney
Reading road signs as we travelled during the past month was like perusing a menu in an Italian restaurant; with an amazing wine list of course! Soave and Orvieto (white wine), Chianti (red wine) Reggio Emilia (parmesan cheese) Parma (ham) Modena (balsamic vinegar) Bologna (pasta sauce). We now feel pleasantly over-full with Italy’s main speciality, beautiful historic towns and cities.
Orvieto sits almost out of sight on the top of a volcanic hill so is a wonderful surprise when you emerge from the funicular railway carriage and wander up the narrow streets.
The Gothic cathedral stands out in a land full of wonderful buildings with an immense front richly decorated with frescoes, mosaics and carvings. The exterior is striped black and white and at night the whole thing resembles a birthday cake lit with candles.
Cafes and bars in the piazza surrounding it allowed us to sit and gaze at the gothic splendour and sample the excellent local wine!
Kipper is best behaved when exploring towns but every few days we find a stop where he can let off steam and we can absorb what we have seen and learned. Castiglione del Lago is another lovely medieval town but we just flopped by Lake Trasimeno, moving only to throw Kipper’s toys back into the water.
We loved driving through Umbria. The peaks of the Appenines were still snow topped in the distance and the sun shone on the olive trees on rolling hills; so it was a gentle transition into Tuscany which looked just as we hoped. Cypress trees define the horizon and the bare vines looked like stitches tacked onto the sloping fields. The Chianti towns are a intense concentrate of Tuscany and we spent a few days tasting the region and it’s produce!
We were joined by friends Carol and Andrew for a lovely Easter weekend and had fun observing Italian families celebrate the holidays together.
We visited Tuscan coloured streets in Pietrasanta which champions contemporary art in it’s medieval old town and lovely Lucca which quickly became one of our favourite cities.
We zig-zagged north east for our breather before the next course in the Appenine Tosco-Emiliano national park. The landscape around the village of Castelnovo ne’ Monti is dominated by the limestone hulk of Pietra di Bismantova.
The anticipated camperstop in the village had been removed but then we found we could stay overnight in the car park at the foot of the final climb. Result! Annoyingly mist rolled in as soon as we arrived, obscuring the views of the mountains around us but we enjoyed the scramble to the top and the unexpected meadows when we got there.
Mantova is yet another visual feast of buildings and piazzas, surrounded by three lakes. We were lucky to visit at the weekend when the beautiful architecture was brought to life by families and friends out socialising together. We try to avoid stereotyping people but it has to be said that what Italians lack in driving skills, they make up for in warmth and vivacity!
Venice is magical and unique and it is only fair that the whole world should see it but visitors like us can mask the living city. However, it didn’t take much to wander off the beaten tourist tracks and find evidence of real life.
The city hospital is by the lagoon and the approach to the A & E department looked the same as most, just more watery!
We enjoyed just wandering the streets; it is impossible not to get lost, but turning each corner offered a new delight. We were approached by several gondoliers who said they would be happy for the dog to join us for a ride. Our Italian did not stretch to explaining that the dog loves sticks and he would have to wrestle Kipper for the oar!
We continued to gorge on Italian buildings as we progressed back west towards the Alps. Soave is a delightful walled town with distinct castellations and twenty four intact gatehouses. The camperstop managed by the Italian camper club was one of the best we visited and the wine was delicious!
I have always found it fascinating that Italians are world leaders in fashion and design when their history is so close to the surface. Verona is a prime example of this. The city’s Roman roots are prominent, and it’s reputation as a medieval city inspired Shakespeare to set two plays here. But walking around the streets was the most fun I have ever had shopping. This is not normally a favourite pasttime and we are happy to admit to being a bit scruffy (I have seen Italian women wince at my attire!) But (mostly window) shopping in Verona inspired me to think about improving my style…or at least look for a new handbag!
The 1st century amphitheatre has seating for 30,000 spectators and is still used for concerts and opera in the summer months. But most people know of Verona as the setting for Romeo and Juliet’s tragic love story. In the 1930s, city fathers grafted a balcony onto a 14th century building to create a location for this fictional tale and visitors duly flock here. We found the little love notes posted onto the walls of a passageway nearby more romantic.
Italy also does natural beauty rather well and we spent our final days near Lake Maggiore. We were happy camping by a river but a short walk to the cobbled streets of Cannobio and wandering down to the stunning lake front meant that we ended our travels in Italy on a high.
Crossing the suspension bridge was a challenge for Kipper who doesn’t like bridges at the best of times. The reward after several attempts, was a fantastic walk through Val Cannobino to Sant’Anna where there is a narrow gorge crossed by a Romanesque bridge.
After two months here, our tight clothes tell us that we have not just enjoyed the antipasti, but too much pasta, gelato and vino too! Our appetite has been more than whetted and there is still so much more to explore in Italy. But our long trail north must continue.
M & G xx
Treat of the week: No it’s not Tizer…. but Aperol Spritz, a cocktail originating in Venice but we have enjoyed it in many towns at least once a week since we arrived in Italy. It’s so delicious even Graham doesn’t mind being seen out in public with a ‘girlie drink’!!