Italy was one of the places we were most looking forward to going to on our van life travels in Europe, but also one of the places we were most dubious about, as from research we had done, it didn’t seem that van life Italy was as popular as other countries.
This is probably due to the difficult roads to drive on in some areas, the fact it doesn’t seem so easy to find free places to park as it is in France, and the fact that it is illegal to refill gas bottles with LPG in Italy!! But – we’re glad we didn’t let this put us off, as we saw some real gems on our travels.
Italy is a country that should be on everyone’s bucket list with a rich history, astounding architecture, and romantic landscapes. Plus, Italy is the home of some of the world’s best cuisines, such as pasta and gelato!
If you’re wondering which the best cities are for an Italian road trip, we’ve got you covered. Spending only a day in each city, you could complete this circuit in as little as two weeks; but if you explore these resorts fully, you may find your trip extends to between three and four weeks.
Van Life Italy Quick Facts
Our Route – Tuscany – Lake Bolsena – Pompeii – Amalfi Coast – The Adriatic Coast – Lake Como – Lake Garda – Venice
Duration – 3.5 weeks
Distance – Roughly 2300KM
Currency – Euros
Language – Italian
Fuel / LPG Cost – at the time of us being in Italy which is March 2022, at the start of our trip it was around 2.20 euros, towards the end it had gone down to 1.75 euros. (the inflated price is due to the aftermath of the Covid pandemic and also the Russia and Ukraine war)
As previously mentioned, it is actually illegal to fill up gas bottles with LPG in Italy, LPG should actually only be used in Italy to power old cars that actually run on LPG as their fuel. If you go to large service stations on motorways etc, they will not allow you to fill up your gas bottles with LPG. However, if you are lucky enough to find a small back street service station like we were, they may just do it for you anyway!
Toll Roads – There are toll roads in Italy, and in some cases they can as much as halve a journey time. If you’re not in a rush, then this is not a problem. But also, in a lot of cases, it is worth taking the toll road because the back roads can be really difficult for campervans and motorhomes. It is worth doing the research to find out if toll roads are better for your journey or not.
Places to park / stay overnight – Italy has things called Sosta’s, which are the equivalent of a French Aire. There are free places to park on Park4night but in our experience, we have found that France is much easier to find nice, free places to park than Italy. The free park-ups in Italy might just be a car park or roadside parking which is fine if you don’t mind these kinds of park-ups.
Water / Electricity / Emptying – Unfortunately there are not so many freely available spots to stop and empty your toilet or your waste water in Italy as there are in France. You’ll find lots and lots of free spots in service stations etc in France, unfortunately it’s not the same for Italy. We found that we had to pay for a park up or a campsite in order to be able to access good services.
Laundry – Italy does not have the laundry machines at supermarkets which France did, so it’s just laundromats or campsite laundry services.
Supermarkets – Italy has some small independent stores to buy food from and then some supermarket chains such as Coop, Carrefour and Conad.
Our Van Life Italy Route and Destinations
Tuscany is a region in central Italy. With it’s rolling hills, the rugged Apennine Mountains and vineyards, Tuscany makes for some of the most stunning scenery in the whole of Italy. Tuscany is an amazing part of Italy for van life, maybe one of the best. Here’s how we spent our time in Tuscany.
We started off our time in Italy by travelling to Pisa. Without a doubt, Pisa is probably most known for the world famous Leaning Tower of Pisa. The leaning tower of Pisa is 60 metres tall and although it was designed to be perfectly straight, it is leaning due to the result of an unstable foundation.
The leaning tower is a sight to be seen! But is not the only beautiful building there, there is also the Pisa Cathedral, the Pisa Baptistry, the Campanile, and the Camposanto Monumentale (Monumental Cemetery). Other than those mentioned above, there isn’t lots and lots to do in Pisa but the leaning tower makes it worth a visit! We stayed in a Sosta which was around a 30 minute walk from the leaning tower.
Volterra is a charming walled town southwest of Florence, situated on a hill. The drive up to Volterra was beautiful with stunning views over the Tuscany countryside. The town has an amazing feel to it, we loved it as soon as we climbed the stairs from the car park that we parked in (quite a steep climb!).
If you were a fan of the Twilight movies then you might recognise Volterra as being the ancient Italian city where the Volturi reside. The town features in the New Moon film!
Volterra is also home to some really cool roman ruins, including a Roman Theatre, dating back to the end of the first century AC, built in a natural Ampitheatre shape. You do have to pay to go inside of the ruins, but there is a panoramic view from above where you can see them for free!
Siena is a city in Italy’s central Tuscany area. Siena is a medieval city, with a huge central square lined with lots of cafes and restaurants with a large tower that you can climb that gives panoramic views over the city. Siena has, like most Italian cities, an unbelievably beautiful cathedral, Duomo Di Siena. Siena is worth a visit if you are in the Tuscany region.
Val D’Orcia is a beautiful valley in Tuscany with some of the most stunning scenery in the whole Tuscany region, filled with rolling hills, cypress trees and quaint villages. We didn’t stop here for long, we just drove through on the way to our next stop but honestly, it is worth just driving through for some epic road trip views!
If you are a movie fan, you can find some of the filming locations from Gladiator here too!
Cascate Del Mulino – Saturnia
Cascate Del Mulino is somewhere that we didn’t even know existed until we did some online research of the best things to do in Tuscany, and it came up! and we are so happy that we found out about it, because it is honestly the most amazing thing we did in Tuscany.
Cascate Del Mulino are in Saturnia, and they are sulphuric waters rising from the ground at 37.5°C creating warm thermal pools for bathing.
They are absolutely beautiful and best of all, it is completely free to visit which is fantastic for van lifers on a budget!
We can’t recommend coming here enough if you get the chance.
We stayed at a campsite which was around a 20 minute walk from the hot springs and is the only place for motorhomes and campervans to stay in the area. It was a good, peaceful campsite with all services.
Lake Bolsena is the largest volcanic lake in the whole of Europe. It was formed roughly 370,000 years ago when the multiple volcanoes of the region spewed forth so much that the underlying rock in the area of the lake, the caldera, collapsed into a deep bowl.
There are lots of towns around the lake and we imagine in summer the lake would have a great atmosphere with lots of different water activities available to do. There are also some great hiking routes around the lake.
We had a really peaceful couple of days at a fantastic free park-up with beautiful views over the lake.
A huge travel bucket list location, we were so happy that we could tick this one off!
Pompeii is an archaeological site, near the coast of the Bay of Naples. Once a lively Roman city, Pompeii was buried after an eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The site has been preserved and you are able to freely explore what would have been the streets and houses of Pompeii, it is absolutely fascinating to see. There are also bodies of more than 100 people preserved as plaster casts, which is so sad to see and really makes you think about how tragic this natural disaster really was.
It cost 32euros for 2 tickets, and small dogs are also allowed to enter. We had read warnings online about some stray dogs that wonder around Pompeii but we only saw one. We would recommend getting to the Pompeii ruins early in the morning, as it does get very busy.
We can’t recommend visiting Pompeii enough, and also the campsite that we stayed at. It was such a fabulous campsite with the most lovely and friendly hosts, where nothing was too much trouble for them. They gave shots of Limoncello! ordered us a takeaway pizza to our van from a local pizzeria which was just delicious, and also allowed us to rent their car for a day to travel around the Amalfi coast. Truly an amazing campsite with a great location and very good, clean facilities.
The Amalfi Coast
Is it possible to drive the Amalfi Coast in a Motorhome or Campervan?
Let us first be clear that we definitely do not recommend taking a large motorhome or campervan to the Amalfi Coast. The roads are so narrow and so winding that we do not think it would make for fun driving in a large vehicle!
We rented a car from the campsite that we were staying at, and left the van behind to go and do the Amalfi coast, which we would recommend if you get the chance to do this. It’s much more realistic to do it in a small car.
The Amalfi Coast is stunning and something that it would be a shame to miss if you are in the area, and that’s how we felt, which is why we decided to spend the money on renting the car as we felt it would be worth it. The Amalfi Coast is everything you imagine it to be, turquoise crystal clear waters, beautiful multi-coloured houses in the cliffs and beautiful towns with quaint streets.
We visited Sorrento, Positano and Amalfi. Amalfi was our favourite.
Sorrento was our first stop and we didn’t stay long as there isn’t lots and lots to do there. Well, there isn’t lots to do in any of the Amalfi Coast towns and villages in our opinion. Although it was a nice sunny day when we went in March, it was still slightly chilly when the sun wasn’t shining, in the summer I can imagine we would maybe feel totally different, as we’d be more happy to just chill out and spend time at the beaches, which is all you need to do in the summer!
Sorrento’s old town is lovely with lots of quaint, narrow streets filled with shops and restaurants. Known for being the home of the famous Italian liquer, Limoncello, you will see lots and lots of shops with all things Lemon outside which makes everything look so colourful and beautiful. We managed to find parking in a multi-story car park, so Sorrento is quite easy to find parking for a car.
Positano is the picture perfect cliffside village with the colourful buildings that make it super “instagrammable”, however, it was literally impossible for us to stop anywhere near it in our car, as there was literally nowhere to park! And we went on a Monday in March which isn’t even high season, so we have no idea what it would be like in the summer.
Cars are parked either side of the windy roads all the way from the start when you enter Positano, to the end when you leave, which meant we couldn’t stop anywhere, not even to quickly take some photos as with the cars parked both sides of the road, and the traffic on the roads, it made for a pretty hectic part of the Amalfi Coast. Very disappointing.
We did stop and take photos but it was from further away outside of the village. As you drive along the Amalfi Coast you will notice there are several parts of the road where you can pull in and take photos of the absolutely beautiful scenery and unfortunately that was the only way that we could get anywhere close to Positano!
Our final stop was Amalfi, and this was the best place in our opinion. Amalfi is the town that gives its name to the whole coast. We managed to get parking at the port, again, easier to park than Sorrento. We really do recommend a trip to Amalfi.
Amalfi has a main square filled with cafes and restaurants which is overlooked by the beautiful cathedral, Duomo Di Amalfi. When we visited we were lucky enough to see a choir singing on the steps of the cathedral which was just so lovely and made the atmosphere even better.
Coming from the square there are lots of narrow alleys that lead off to shops and restaurants, it’s easy to spend a while wondering around these streets and checking out the fabulous food on offer in Amalfi.
In summary, the Amalfi Coast is beautiful, some of the best scenery in the whole world, but definitely NOT a place for motorhomes and campers!
The Adriatic Coast
Italy’s east coast runs along the Adriatic Sea, from Trieste and the Gulf of Venice in the north to the Capo d’Otranto in Puglia at the south-eastern tip.
We didn’t know too much about this side of Italy, or were there not too many places that we were really desperate to go and see. We looked on the map, did some research online, and chose a couple of places to go to, starting from further south of the Adriatic Coast, with the main attraction and goal being to get to Venice in the North.
We started with Polignano a Mare, translating in English to Polignano on the Sea. Again we had only done a small amount of online research about this town so didn’t exactly know what to expect, but we were so pleasantly surprised.
Polignano a Mare is so beautiful! We said it was the first place really that we had been to on our trip that felt like the typical seaside holiday destination. It has such beautiful streets lined with amazing restaurants, cafes and shops, all white washed and so bright, it feels as though you’re walking through a little part of paradise. It also has a beautiful white-pebble beach called Lama Monachile. It’s not a large beach at all so in summer it would probably be a squeeze to get a spot on this beach.
If you are ever looking for somewhere to go on the east coast of Italy, we would highly recommend it here.
Lake Como is undoubtedly one of the most famous lakes in the world. With the colourful cliffside houses, stunning villas surrounding the lake and the breath taking views of the mountains, it’s easy to see why Lake Como is on many people’s travel bucket lists, and the rich and famous love it here too! We felt so lucky that we could incorporate this part of Italy into our Van Life Italy adventure!
Como is the most famous city and the largest around Lake Como, and we would highly recommend a visit to Como as it is simply so beautiful. Como is at the most southern part of the lake, so this might be your start or finish point of your travels around Lake Como, depending on which direction you come from. For us, we started with Como.
We have found that around the whole of Lake Como, there is not a lot of choice for parking for motorhomes and campervans. We managed to find a spot which was around an hour walk away from Como, or about a 10/15 minute walk away from a ferry into Como.
Como has an iconic Cathedral (Duomo) which has just the most stunning colours and is beautiful to see, especially in the sunshine.
Lake Como is also surrounded by amazing villas, one being Villa Olmo, which you can walk the grounds of from Como.
It is also possible to get the ferry from Como to many other spots around Lake Como. Be aware, that if you are planning to take a dog with you, they have to be muzzled.
Como is a wonderful city to walk around, take in the sights and maybe stop at one of the lovely cafes or restaurants for some food or a drink.
We also had some bad weather, so we spent a couple of days at a campsite which was right on the lake.
The campsite was actually closed but they still allowed us to stay, at no charge, but they did have an honesty box and asked if we wanted to leave any money when we left then we could, which we thought was just so lovely and kind. We were able to use all the services such as hook up to electricity, fill up our water etc and the location was just amazing with some of the most stunning views ever over the lakes. The contrast between the lake, the town and the mountains was just mind blowing. We couldn’t stop thinking how lucky we were that we got to just park up next to views like that!
After Lake Como we headed over to Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda.
We based ourselves at a campsite which was based in the middle of Sirmione and Desenzano Del Garda on the southern shore of the lake.
Our campsite was about an hour’s walk from Sirmione. Sirmione is one of the most popular towns around Lake Garda, and it’s easy to see why, it’s a really beautiful place! With the castle ruins overlooking the lake, roman ruins, beaches and thermal hot springs, it really does have a bit of everything!
Desenzano del Garda
Desenzano del Garda is a resort town. With a lovely town centre, port, and a walk along the lake we would definitely recommend a trip here if you are planning to go to Lake Garda.
Venice was the last stop for us in Italy, and wow, did we save the best until last!
Venice was truly our favourite place of our whole trip so far. We loved everything about it. The city literally feels like a maze! There are hundreds of small alleys filled with amazing shops, cafes and restaurants, you’ll find yourself getting lost in them, we did a few times!
Venice is a unique city with no roads, only canals, which adds to the magical feel of the place, with no cars, no beeping horns and no motorcycles to avoid! Venice is different to any other place we have been to before.
We did a gondola ride which was expensive (80 euros for 30 minutes!) but was so worth it! It’s a bucket list experience to say you’ve been on a gondola in Venice, isn’t it?!
We also experienced Venice in the day and at night and we would recommend doing the both if you can, the bridges look so beautiful at night!
Venice was the very best way for us to finish our time in Italy.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this blog post! We hope that you have found this useful and hope that it has helped to inspire your own Italy van life adventures!
If you have any questions at all, or would like the link to any of the campsites that we stayed at, please do leave a message in the comments below and we’d be happy to help! 🙂
Other locations in Italy that we didn’t make it to but would have loved to visit!
Milan is located in northern Italy at the heart of the Po Basin. With an Alpine border to the north and a river flowing through the South, Milan represents the second-largest city in Italy and one of the most populated areas throughout Europe.
With beautiful buildings scattered along every street in the city, Milan offers a contemporary shopping and dining experience set against a rich historical background.
Things To Do
Start at the Duomo, Milan’s Gothic Cathedral. This impressive 14th-century building is a delight for the eyes while offering a rich history that spans more than 700 years. Make sure you walk or take the elevator to the top of the building to enjoy the best views of the city’s landscape.
Also in the heart of Milan is the church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie. Though this church also represents an outstanding feat of architecture, it is most famous for the painting held within its walls. The Last Supper may be the most recognizable painting globally, and viewing it is a must-do bucket list item during any road trip to Italy.
Return to the present day in the ‘Golden Triangle‘ the Mecca in the world of fashion. Here, three streets interconnect to provide you with access to some of the world’s top designers. Travel the city through the Navigli region of canals, where the streets are adorned with boutique cafes and restaurants, then take a soak at the QC Termemilano.
We have been to Rome on a previous holiday so we didn’t visit this time around. The ancient Romans termed this the “Eternal City” as they believed that Rome would always stand whatever happened in the rest of the world. As you traverse the city on foot, it’s not hard to see why they held this belief with grandiose monuments and colossal remains of days gone by.
Rome is the third most visited city in all of Europe, drawing visitors with a mix of archeological sites and a rich history. It is easy to imagine how grand an empire this was when you’re standing next to the remains of these ancient monuments..
Things To Do
The Colosseum is a symbol of Rome and a must-visit area for travelers to the city. With room for more than 50,000 spectators, you can still visualize gladiators fighting to the death in this grand arena. A ticket to the Colosseum also allows access to the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.
Palatine Hill is one of the seven hills of Rome, where popular myth suggests the city was founded by the twins Romulus and Remus. Here, you can visit the famous cave where the brothers were suckled and raised by wolves.
The Pantheon is another not-to-be-missed ancient object of awe. This is one of the best-preserved buildings of the day, with the Trevi fountain close by. And the Piazzo Navona lies at the center of the historical area, where you can see an array of beautiful sculptures and fountains, such as the Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi.
When you’ve tired yourself out with tourism, take a break off the beaten track at the Villa Borghese Gardens, which provide a tranquil vibe in lush surroundings.
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