This post is the first of a three-part blog documenting mine and Hannah’s roadtrip around Italy in my newly converted British Gas/guerrilla camper van. To receive email updates of our next post, enter your email address in the ‘Subscribe’ box to the right. No spam, ever!
11 months after buying a British Gas van from an auctioneer in rural Derbyshire, negotiating the cost and duration to build a custom ‘rock-and-roll’ bed from a welder in Bath and using power tools well into the night to finish off the woodwork; my converted guerrilla van was ready for the road. I’d used it for some one-night test drives but this was very much her maiden voyage. Italy. A last minute “How are we going to cook?”, solved by a donated trangia (thanks, Chris and Rachel!) and we were on the road.
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From British Gas van to guerrilla camper. Thanks to @georgepickett92 for his DIY skills, @lewisr12 for helping haggle of the infamous bed-builder “Murat” and @hlwilliams12 for decorating and making it perfect for my birthday. Onwards to #Italy! . . #vanlife #vanlifeconversions #camperconversions #vw #caddy #volkswagen #camperindisguise #guerrillacamping #incognitocamping #diy @vanagonlife @project.vanlife @vanlifecamper
Having left the Channel Tunnel and adjusted to driving on the right, we headed south to Nancy. The route looked simple and quick, just 300km on one straight road through the middle of France, which translated to The Road To England. Simple and quick, yes, but incredibly tedious. Easing ourselves through with Desert Island Discs and the My Dad Wrote A Porno podcast, we arrived just before nightfall. We had a celebratory birthday meal of poulet pizza in a small town called Ligny-del-Barrois. The last time I’d see chicken on a pizza, as Italians don’t believe in it. They don’t believe in driving etiquette either, as we’d find out soon enough. Horrific overtakes, a lack of indication and absurd tailgating would greet us in the weeks to come.
Day two was another intense day of driving. The plan was to cross the border to Switzerland, take a quick detour to the microstate of Liechtenstein to have a coffee and a stretch of the legs in Vaduz, before taking the scenic route into Italy. Country 49 for me, Liechtenstein, didn’t quite live up to the pictures. Expensive, busy and seemingly false, it wasn’t for us. Given two days, I’d have hiked up the mountains that take up two-thirds of the country, but with only two hours, we had to make do with a walk to the Princes’ castle. Back in the van, we would pull off the A-roads with an incredible journey up and over the twisting switchbacks that make up the Splugen Pass. We would later find out how iconic and famous the roads are: a happy accident for us.
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Hands down the most incredible border crossing I’ve done. #Switzerland on the left 🇨🇭 #Italy on the right 🇮🇹 #switchbacksfordays #homeiswhereyouparkit 🚐 . . . . #roadtrip #eurotour #europe #vanlife #vw @indie_campers @project.vanlife @vanagonlife #travel #mountains #alps #dolomites
With sweaty palms, smoking brake pads and having stuck to the plan, we descended into our first ‘proper’ stop: Lake Como. We parked up in Camping North Wind, a busy campsite dedicated to the windsurfing community who visit the lake each summer. This was the perfect space for us to get used to the vanlife: getting our set-up perfected, learning how to cook on a trangier as well as having a beautiful, refreshing lake to swim in only a few metres away. We explored the town of Domaso, and caught a boat around touristic Varenna, Menaggio and Balaggio, although the sea of selfie-sticks didn’t override the towns’ outstanding beauty.
Our final stop on this leg of the trip was the even bigger Lake Garda. This time we stayed in Camping Bergamini – again ridiculously close to the lake – and parked up next to some Rammstein-loving Germans and a generous Danish family. Out on the water, Hannah patiently taught me to dive (no more bellyflops!) and we paddle-boarded on the windy waters. The food here was sublime. We dined at Vecchia Beach restaurant and had homemade pasta with lakefish and shrimps in front of a setting sun. As well as watersports, we also walked to Sirmione (a thumbs down for busyness) and Peschiara Del Garda (a thumbs up for gelato and general niceness). We finished off our time here with grilled steak and burgers cooked on a barbeque that the Rammsteinners left behind before packing away our set up of chairs, washing lines and tarpaulin.
We said “Ciao!” to our friendly Danish neighbours and were on the road to the province of Venezia by sunrise. Next stop: Venice!
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