This post is the second of a three-part blog documenting mine and Hannah’s roadtrip around Italy in my newly converted British Gas/guerrilla camper van. Read the blog from our first leg here. To receive email updates of our next post, enter your email address in the ‘Subscribe’ box to the right. No spam, ever!
A tentative voice says “Ben?” as Hannah and I sit down on the Alilaguna boat that will take us from Venetian island to Venetian island. I turn around to find James Haggarty, an old school friend, who joins us with his girlfriend as we explore Murano and Burano, just off the coast of Venice proper. We explain that we ditched our van in Mestre’s Best Western Hotel carpark (€20 for 48hours), rented an Air BnB* in the quieter, student area of Venice and spent the previous day drinking and snacking our way around the less-touristy parts of the stunning Italian city.
Murano appears to have sold its glass-making soul to the souvenir shop devil (we don’t stay long), but the colourful streets of Burano wowed us enough to stay for longer than intended. The story goes that fishermen painted their houses brightly to be able to see them from afar; although now I believe they’re painted to live up to expectations. None the less, beautiful. All 4 of us fell asleep on the boat returning back to Venice proper, and when I woke up, James and Kyri had disembarked at an earlier stop. Small world.
*Our AirBnB was (wrongly) reviewed as “like Harry Potter’s cupboard under the stairs, only worse because Harry didn’t have to pay for it.” Laughing, we booked it straight away.
To Hannah’s amusement (she’d spotted an easier way around), I’ve sunk into sludgy lakeside mud at Lago di Barrea whilst following bear, wolf and deer tracks. It’s been a funny few days since leaving Venice. We’ve guerrilla camped by the coast of Ravenna; stopped for coffee and a walk around the castle ramparts in beautiful San Marino (country #50, check); checked out the incredible beaches near Ancona and avoided the ones near Vasto. The latter, we’d stayed the night at before realising it was full of grumpy Italians who didn’t want tattooed Brits ruining their annual leave. And so, we’ve just arrived at an unplanned destination, Lago di Barrea. Our van is safely parked at La Genziana with Passeta, a friendly, self-confessed “very famous” traveller who proudly shows me his published travelogue and print outs of his time on BBC Earth. We spend the day walking around ‘proper Italy’ after the previous nights disappointment at the resort town of Vasto.
Mr Passeta, our host during our time in Barrea (4ever.travel.com)
It’s a shorter drive to Amalfi now, thanks to the stop off midway at the lake. We arrive to another friendly Italian man’s campsite, Beata Solitudo. We set up our tarp and catch the bus down the hairpins to Amalfi town. It’s a sellout, awash with cruise-ship passengers, but the wider Amalfi Coast is simply gorgeous. We eat back at our smaller, quieter town in a local family pizzeria.
The following day, we hike the Path of the Gods, a 4 hour trail, gruelling in the midday heat. We left at 7am to avoid the worst of it, and arrive at our favourite beach Bagni d’Arienzo before it’s too busy. The seafood pasta in the beach club is divine. From the beach, we walk further to Positano and from there, catch a boat back to Amalfi (€8, from Positano harbour). The coast is even more beautiful viewed from this angle. A local bus takes us to Ravello, which for both of us was our favourite town in this area. We walk around the winding streets, gelato in hand, marking the town as “definitely one to return to”. 28,000 steps in a day, we turn in for the night.
1. The view of Positano from the Path of the Gods, 2. Sunset over the Amalfi Coast, 3. Looking down over the vineyards of Ravello.
Our step count after Path of the Gods was nothing compared to our time parked up on the Bay of Naples. A train and a bus (EAV, €5 in total) took us from Sorrento to Pompeii Scavi and onwards to the base of Mount Vesuvius. Having taught the story of the notorious eruption to my Year 3 class this year, I was excited for this. It is a short, fairly easy stroll up to the crater along the marked out path, and the view down into the gently smoking centre rivals that of the Bay of Naples from the other side. We walk down and arrive into the ruins of Pompeii, with the scorching sun now fully beating down on us. It’s a nice place to take random lefts and rights, our step count increasing by the second; although a guided tour is needed to get the most out of the visit, at least until more information points are added.
Sorrento itself was a bit of a disappointment, although perhaps we didn’t have the energy to do it justice (it turns out Pompeii has 3 train stations and I’d led us in on a merry dance between all 3 on our way home). Like Amalfi Town, I think it’s sold it’s soul to appease what it thinks tourists want to see, and we struggle to find any genuine, true Italian places to rest our feet. Ironically, we end up breaking our cardinal rule: no English bars. But Frankie’s Bar, run by a friendly, “England blood, Italian born” man called Frankie, is seemingly the only place that’s not trying to be something it’s not. Frankie tells us about himself while we eat comforting pizza (coupled with copious cocktails) until we feel ready to return to the van.
It was now time to turn the van north and make the slow return back to Calais, with plenty of stop offs along the way. If you enjoyed this blog post, please subscribe to receive email updates for the final stage of our roadtrip – as well as any future travelogues. Feel free to comment or share the link around on social media as well.