We visited Italy in the Fall of 2019 traveling from South to North having taken a ferry from Toulon in France to Sicily. Italy is our favorite place so far in Europe. It is a little rough around the edges and demands your attention, but rewards you in so many ways. The people are friendly, the sites are spectacular, and the food is wonderful. Italy is often described as a tale of two halves highlighting the contrast between the more prosperous North, and the poorer South. We did not find the distinction to be as clear as that. The biggest distinction for us is we had nearly uniform great weather in the south and mostly poor weather in the north.
The road system in Italy is a mixed bag. The secondary roads were narrow and rough which caused trips to be slow going. The Autostradas are generally pay in the north, and a mix of pay and free in the south. The Autostradas are mostly built to a very modern standard and pretty well maintained. While not as expensive as France they are not cheap to use, but for medium and long trips we did tend to stick to them to save stress on the driver and François. Camping is generally available anywhere but took a little more planning than in the other countries we traveled in. There are not very many Sostas run by towns. We did discover that many campgrounds close after the first weekend in November, which complicated travel a bit for us. We did not free camp in Italy, in many places it is discouraged. People do free camp but it takes planning. Our highlights are in Blue below.
Ron-Sicily. I feel like I am cheating picking a whole region as my favorite place. Sicily is where we began our Italian adventure and I cannot think of a better place to be introduced to Italy. It is gloriously scruffy, the roads are the worst we have seen in Europe so far but the scenery, the food and the people more than make up for it. You are never far from either the sea or the mountains, there are volcanoes, historical sites, and picturesque cities. We spent about a week there and probably should have spent another two weeks.
Ton-I could not pick so I have co-winners in two categories, man made and natural. The man made winners are Venice and the Vatican. What can I say about two of the most visited places in the world except that there is a reason so many people go, and they did not disappoint me. In the natural category it is the Amalfi Coast and Cinque Terre. They are similar but very different and I think incredibly beautiful and fun to visit.
Ron-Milan. I expected glitz and glamour, and found more of an industrial town that away from the very core was not too charming. In fairness to Milan the weather was atrocious, but still it was not at all what I expected.
Ton-Men peeing on the side of the roads. Italian men have no problem pulling over to the side of the road and peeing. On the Autostrada nearly every emergency pull out we passed had some guy peeing on the guard rail. Why can’t they wait until the next rest area?
Ron-La Bottega del Formaggio in Taormina. Another place that we stumbled on by accident after the two places we had on our list for lunch were both unavailable. The food was thoughtfully selected by the owners to represent Sicily. They were great hosts who wanted to share their love for Sicilian food with their customers. We had a hard time leaving and lingered having after dinner drinks to prolong the experience.
Ton-I also picked La Bottega Del Formaggio as one of my co-winners. My other winner is a drink I found in Turin called Bicerin. It is a mixture of warm milk, chocolate, and cream that is incredible. The shop that serves it has been in business since the 1700’s and has not changed a lot since then.
Ron-Sanremo. When we picked Sanremo for an overnight stay we saw it as a place to base to check out the Italian Riviera and Monaco. It ended up charming us and while we did visit Monaco, we found that when we compared the ultra wealthy Monaco with Sanremo, Monaco fell well short. We kept finding reasons to extend our stay in Sanremo which says a lot about the town.
Ton-Andre the owner of Agritourismo Al-Linchi in Lucca. Andre made me feel incredibly welcome at his place. He was warm and seemed to really care that I had a good time while we were staying in his care.