Italy

Trulli Magnificent

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A view of the trulli rooftops

After a welcome break in our nomadic lifestyle we uprooted once again and pottered down the Adriatic coast to Alberobello, Puglia. This town is famous for trulli – the round, dry walled, white washed houses that dot the landscape. Some say that they were built as an early form of tax evasion. Being made without mortar they could be dismantled every time a royal tax inspection was carried out.

We stopped in a lovely olive plantation, now an area di sosta (camperstop), in the heart of Alberobello. Little did we know that we were adjacent to the Trulli neighbourhood. In our search for groceries, we bypassed this area and looped all round the town only seeing a few Trulli as we marched ever onwards. However, we weren’t disappointed as the town is beautiful in its own right and we were lucky enough to be about during the Italian passegiata, or evening stroll. The next morning we stumbled over the Trulli neighbourhood. There are two main Trulli areas, one full of shops selling trulli tacky touritst tat, and another where people still live in these hobbity homes.


Little trulli houses converted into shops

A short hop took us to Locorotondo, a hilltop town in Puglia with a beautiful historical centre. The old town has narrow lanes that all lead to the church. Most buildings are cream or white and this colour contrasts beautifully with the red geranium-filled window boxes. After a rejuvenating gelati we continued on to Lecce, right in the heel of the Italian boot.

Beach break

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We are constantly moving, packing and organising . You would never think that we are on a permanent holiday. Our days somehow fill themselves up with these ‘admin’ tasks. We often find that after a month or so of regular, almost daily journeys we feel run down and need to stop for a few days to recharge our batteries. I find this is particularly true if we are wild camping regularly, and although I feel most at peace when we are on our own in nature, I worry that we will be asked to move on by the locals.

The time had come to put down some roots, at least for a few days, by the beach. We found a great campsite near Vieste, Puglia in the Parco Nazionale del Gargano. The site was a short walk from the sea and had a very relaxed, holiday atmosphere. A couple of other English couples were also staying for a few days and we were able to swap information. The respite from traveling allowed us to catch up on work and chill out with swimming and general holiday activities.

The Adriatic coast is stunning. Verdant forests crowd the hills which drop down to the ever changing blue ocean. Limestone rocks give the area an idyllic landscape, riddled with caves and coves. Vieste was our closest town, but unfortunately in our laziness we didn’t visit except for a hair raising journey out of town. It looks like a perfect holiday town, full of bars, restaurants and endless sandy beaches dotted with palm trees.

Saepinum

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Saepinum, a unique and deserted Roman settlement, greeted us after a short drive on some very bumpy roads in the Molise region of Italy. This Roman town was an important gateway for goods and travellers within the Roman republic. Part of the amphitheater had been used as a foundation for a number of medieval cottages. The archeologists excavating the site decided to leave these standing and they give an interesting insight into how buildings expand organically upwards over time. There is a large square with a recreated entrance gate and original carved fountains and pillars.

What makes Saepinum unique is that it is not very well known. We were virtually the only visitors to the site, and even had to shake the parking attendant to wake him from a snoring reverie.  The ruins gives you a chance to recreate the Roman town in your imagination without having to fight your way through hordes of other tourists. The site is so unvisited that I actually had difficulty locating it. The closest town is Altilia (you can park here), close to Campobasso.

Living in a motorhome is somewhat claustrophobic, but discovering just how small the houses were back then made us feel extremely grateful for the space and amenities we are so fortunate to have. Never have so many trees been chopped down to warm so few dwellings. On the other hand thick stone walls are quite soundproof, making domestic altercations and unwanted TV channels very much unheard.

We made a quick diversion on to Lucera; a supposedly interesting town in Puglia. We were keen to see the massive castle with its endless towers. Unfortunately  the castle office is clearly not interested in having visitors. Locked gates barred our entrance and, much to our dismay, the informative sign displaying the opening hours had been desecrated with a black permanent marker. We had a short walk around the perimeter and then went on our merry way.

Town Fever

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We started our regional itinerary of Abruzzo in Sulmona. The town is famous for its sugared almonds that are traditionally given to guests at weddings. The Sulmona area di sosta (camperstop) was overgrown, weeds crowding the entrance and had no services available. We parked up near this almost derelict spot and saw signs for an ‘elevator’ to take us up to the ‘centrico’. The ‘elevator’ turned out to be barricaded shut and some rather seedy stairs led us to our destination.

The town was pleasing enough, but I fear we have become desensitised as we have seen so many beautiful Italian towns. Unfortunately Sulmona did not leave us with a very favourable impression. The only saving grace was the weekly market. There we managed to purchase some delicious grapes, prickly pears and other succulent treats.

We decided to push on and found an idyllic wild camping spot in the nearby Parco Nazionale della Majella, overlooking a vast valley. The National Park is home to wolves, bears and rare species of deer but only a few local mushroom pickers made an appearance. We did get to see another pretty sunrise though; that’s twice in two days. 🙂

Death by Olive

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A seahorse fountain in the square

We are always interested in trying new foods and Ascoli Piceno had something unique on offer – olives stuffed with veal and then deep fried. A cardiologist’s worst nightmare but a delight for tourists’ tummies! This town in the Le Marche region of Italy has plenty of interesting sights, beautiful squares and pretty architecture. Its tourist appeal is readily evident with the numerous American and English voices that can be heard echoing off the Roman monuments.

A quick descent out of the mountainous region of Monti Sibillini National Park lead us to the Adriatic sea. Beautiful blue skies and abundant sunshine, combined with a powder blue sea should result in hordes of sun worshippers … or this is what we thought. The only sight that met us on the beach in Porto d’Ascoli were endless rows of sun loungers and parasols. It looked like a holiday ghost town. If only the English knew about this September paradise. I’m sure many would love a cheap holiday in the Italian ‘off’ season.  We eventually located a wild camping spot right next to the sea, and were rewarded with a pretty sunrise the following morning.

The rising sun looked like a nuclear bomb

Monti Sibillini

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After the hustle and bustle of touristy towns, we escaped to Monti Sibillini and its eerie National Park, which straddles the Le Marche and Umbrian region of Italy. We stayed in a grassy (and free) area di sosta close to the town of Castleluccio, surrounded by mountains.

Handgliders and paragliders make good use of the flat basin, perfect for easy landings. Some of the more adventurous ones could even be seen disappearing in and out of clouds that tumble down the sides of the mountains.

The area is perfect for hiking and mountain biking; we did both whilst we were there. Apparently, there are numerous wild animals and plants to be spotted, but the wildest thing we saw was a bleary eyed shepherd and five sheepdogs who thought that Odie looked like a good appetiser.

I see Assisi

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Assisi was our next stop. After staying in the ACSI campsite near to the town we caught an early shuttle bus in to visit the sights. The town has many churches, the most impressive being the Basilica. We arrived just in time to observe the somber experience of morning mass. Christine had to hire a shawl to cover her outrageously naked shoulders!

Assisi is bizarre. One the one hand it is very spiritual and focused on relinquishing personal belongings. On the other  it is packed with shops trying to sell you tacky religious paraphernalia. It’s fascinating to see Jesus salad tongs, cathedral shaped pasta and mini crossbows, all for sale under the same roof.

Italy is a land of crazy drivers and our taxi driver was no exception. You’d think it impossible to gesticulate madly at passing cars with one arm, while the other flits constantly from hooter to radio to mobile phone, all the while constantly ignoring the steering wheel, but somehow our driver made the impossible a jaw-clenching reality.

We made a quick pit stop on our way to the Valnerina, in Norcia. This town is famous for its salami (apparently the best in Italy) and truffles. Wild boar heads stare out at you from the numerous butchers on the main drag, an unsubtle reminder of what the sausages are made from. We bought both and were not disappointed. Boar and truffles squashed into cylinders is a most delicious treat!

Fantasy Chocolates and Ceramics

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Perugia, a hill top town in Umbria, Italy was our destination for the day. Much to my dismay I was unable to organise a tour of the local chocolate factory. Such factories should be open 24 hours per day by law! I had to console myself with a delicious organic lunch of freshly made pasta and wild boar sauce. We made an effort to work off our indulgent lunch by marching up and down the many Perugian staircases, some of which ultimately lead to nowhere. The town has many pretty sights and plenty of photographic opportunities.

After our feet could take no more traipsing around we made a quick detour to Deruta, also in Umbria. This little town is famous for its handmade ceramics. The main street is riddled with shops selling their wares. Many allow you to observe the artists as they create  their beautiful ceramics, but photography is strictly forbidden so the only shots Dave came away with was of tiles laid into the pavement.

Fabulous Firenze

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Firenze's cityscape is beautiful

Firenze, the beautiful heart of Tuscany. A city steeped in art, culture and beauty. And tourists. Hoards of tourists, fresh off cruise ships, even in low season.

My forward planning had been somewhat sketchy (some exhibits need to be booked weeks in advance) and with the added complication of Odie, who often barks if left alone for more than a few minutes, our gallery and museum options were limited. However, there is much to see on foot; the architecture and stunning squares with their replica sculptures are truly impressive.

The main cathedral is covered in gorgeous detail

In typical adventurous spirit David decided that the best way to avoid the throng of people was to cycle next to the river. A steep muddy path led us down the river bank, and was followed with much bumping and cursing (on my part) as we muddled our way along a narrow concrete walkway. It wasn’t long before I was rather too skeptical about our route to continue, and sent David scouting ahead to check that we might actually reach our destination without needing to swim. He returned shortly, with shoes and wheels caked in mud, to report that most of the river had flooded and in any case we didn’t have enough climbing rope to scale the massive wall at the end of the path.

A highlight for us was the hilltop view point overlooking Florence as it gave us a chance to appreciate the stunning architecture from above. The Duomo is particularly beautiful; every inch of it covered in stone inlays and carvings. What a magnificent sight.

Dolomites

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Our stay in the Dolomites started at the Dolmiti camping village. They have a camperstop option of €19.50/night if you stay for 3 nights. A bit of eyelash fluttering got us the special price for only two nights. Alternatively, there is an area di sosta just next door for about the same price. In the end, we forgo rafting (the river did not look very wild) and opted instead for a mouton bike route. It turned out to be quite a climb up some very steep Dolomite slopes, but our hard work was rewarded with a fantastic downhill stretch. Near the top is a fantastic waterfall crashing to the rocks far below. David was keen to get a picture but after climbing over the barrier fence it soon became clear that he’d have to do some rather perilous climbing among the pine trees jutting out over the sheer drop. A stern look, followed by several agitated shouts and promises of pizza forced him back to the safety of land. No photos for our trip, but an intact husband, phew.

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