Northern Italy highlights
We had no definitive plans for Italy other than we wanted to visited Venice and Lake Garda. Due to the driving time we wouldn’t get a chance to head any further south. My last experience of Italy was Sorrento and to be honest, I wasn’t impressed.
Don’t get me wrong the views were stunning, especially the amalfi coast and the island of Capri, but it was just so touristy. It was almost too much. So this time we were keen to have a look around different areas and see some of the real Italy.
We only stopped this time in Italy as a through way to Austria and also because Jasper did an Italian project in year 2 and was keen to see the real deal.
Having made a beautiful Aires stop in the Italian hills I was feeling optimistic. It was quiet, rustic and easy going. From here, we needed to decide on where to stop next on our way to Venice.
We could have pushed through but long driving wasn’t on the cards anymore. We wanted to break to the journey. Plus we determined that the non toll roads weren’t designed for motorhomes, and they were so much cheaper than France it was the easiest option.
This meant our journey times would also be shorter.
We decided upon an Aires on the outskirts of Verona. Normally we would avoid big cities (let’s not talk about Monaco!). But as the parking had good reviews and we’d had a recommendation to visit; we went for it and weren’t disappointed.
Keith and I both commented as we strolled through the city that it reminded us of Rome. We later found out that it was known as ‘little Rome’. Much easier to get around but with the same delightful buildings, including an ampitheatre. It was a very enjoyable afternoon.
We stayed overnight at an Aires for €10 alongside the fast flowing Canale Camuzzoni. The walk into town was only 20 minutes. It was fairly busy so I can imagine summer months would be a struggle.
After Verona, it was only a short hour and a half drive to Venice. In fact there are trains going to Venice if you just fancied a day trip!
However, we found a nice ACSI campsite just outside Venice which had easy bus links.
Having visited Venice before Keith and I knew where to go and what to expect. If you are planning a trip, rather than paying €100 for a gondala ride, you can see Venice from the water on one of the ferry services (not taxi). If you take the ferry from the bus station to San Marco it will cost a family of 4, €30. Children under 5 travel free! Its a great way to see Venice and will save your legs.
Upon reaching San Marco you can just roam. The square itself is filled with restaurants, but you’ll pay through the nose for them. Its tourist heaven! So we were quick to escape the hoards (even outside summer months it’s very busy!).
As we arrived around lunchtime we had packed a picnic in advance and were ready to stroll the narrow streets and bridges, taking in the real ambience that Venice has to offer.
In order to keep the kids engaged we gave them challenges. We would pick a destination on the map and ask them to lead the way. It didn’t matter if we got lost, we were just exploring. Plus we had a Venice map downloaded to the Maprika App so made getting around easy.
The boys loved playing follow my leader. They didn’t even notice how much walking they were doing!
The second day we decided we wanted to see more of Venice and it had been suggested we should visit Murano to see the glass being made. I thought it would be great as a world schooling lesson.
However, I was disappointed. Firstly, it cost €60 for a family of 4 to take the 40 minute ferry. Then the island itself was one big shopping mall. There were shops lined with beautiful glass pieces. However, the glass blowing itself was tucked away inside the shops.
I felt a fraud going in and asking for a demonstration when I knew full well I wasn’t going to be buying anything. Luckily, as we stepped off the boat a ‘tout’ was claiming there was a glass blowing viewing, so we went to investigate. It was just a workshop with 3 men knocking up colourful glasses in minutes.
The boys, and we, enjoyed seeing how the glasses were made. But I would have liked to have seen more elaborate work. In fact, I hoped the museum, which cost €10, would have demonstrations. But it did not appear so. Therefore, we decided not to go in as the shops were a museum all on their own.
We had another picnic lunch by the canal and wandered the streets for a little longer. The boys were not into window shopping and were actually keen to get back to Venice to do more exciting challenges! Great decision boys!!
After we left Venice, we doubled back on ourselves and headed towards lake Garda. We had decided to stay for a couple of nights and based ourselves in Peschiera del Garda with a fort, small marina and cycle routes in the area.
I had visions of another Sorrento disappointment but I was wrong!! It was a stunning area. It may have been more to do with the fact that we could get outside as a family and have an adventure.
The lake itself was spectacular, but the beaches less so. There were only small stoney beaches but not many people were swimming. There were pedalos and kayaks for hire as well as motor boats you could drive across the lake.
However, you couldn’t take away the stunning backdrop. The mountains situated around Lake Garda gave the area some grandeur.
If you plan to visit on a family holiday there were lots of posters advertising the aquarium, gardaland theme park, water park and lots more. It would certainly provide plenty of entertainment for a week’s break.
Family cycle rides
There were cycle/walking tours around the lake area where we were based. However, it didn’t stretch too far and were more of a walking path.
We completed 2 cycles in the area as we enjoyed it so much we wanted to stay another day. The first cycle was:
Staying in Peschiera del Garda next to the tourist office the route was well signed posted and followed the river inland. It passed by serene countryside and the path made for easy riding.
It was a very popular route and the boys showed how well they manage themselves on the bike by negotiating roads, people and cyclists.
We were planning to get to the Parc del Minico. However, the boys were showing signs of tiredness and we knew we still need to cycle back! We stopped for our picnic lunch at a lovely like snack stop (Chiosco dei Mulini) and grabbed a coffee and ice cream treat!
The boys smashed out a 44km cycle that day!
The second day we wanted to visit the castle at Sirmione. It was half the journey of yesterday and would mean negotiating paths and roads. Having seen the boys yesterday, we knew they would be fine.
The first part of the journey started along the cycle/walkway but it soon ran out and, as expected, we found ourselves on the road but on and off cycleways. It was all fine, but we needed a little Google maps support!
It took around an hour to cycle there and we knew we were getting close when the number of people increased. Not to mention the parking!!! It was rammed.
The town was situated inside the castle walls. It was very quaint. As we could roam around the streets we decided not to go up into the castle. Plus it was getting very hot. Instead, another picnic stop on the beach (even I’m getting sick of sandwiches) where we could cool off in the water was needed.
It was a delightful place, but not somewhere we would want to stay due to the touristy feel. I definitely prefer the more rustic and real Italian towns.
As such, on our ride back to the motorhome, I suggested to Keith whether we should ship out this afternoon instead of waiting until tomorrow. This would be dependent on whether we had paid for another overnight… it turns out we didn’t! So we got ourselves organised and by 3pm we were back on the road, heading towards the Dolomites.
We very quickly picked a free Aires in a town which looked to be off the route we were taking.
As we drove away from lake Garda the weather started to deteriorate. The temperature started to drop and the rain began to fall. We may actually get the boys to sleep without complaining being too hot!
But as we got deeper into the mountains it got more and more breathtaking… even in the rain! Soon we took our turning. Half an hour to go…that must be wrong! But then we went up, and up, and up, and up!! Oops! We didn’t plan this one very well.
Some of the corners were pretty sharp as the valley floor was getting further and further away. I have to admit being worried that we would arrive at the supposed stopover and find that we couldn’t stop the night!
However, all was not lost and we found ourselves in an empty car park, surrounded by a few houses and hillsides. The weather was starting to clear and the area was beautiful! We found a little path and agreed we should get out for a walk early next morning before we pushed on.
Something’s are just meant to be!
Our next stop will be the tail end of the dolomites as we head towards the Austrian border.
Ciao for now.