Road trip Northern Italy
Italy is one of my favorite European countries. Sun, culture and good food; what more do we need on a holiday. We, therefore, decided to take a 2-week road trip through Northern Italy: Cinque Terre, Florence, Siena, and Venice and then go hiking in the Dolomites for a few days.
We drove to Italy by car from Belgium, which has its pros and cons. We could take everything we wanted, we didn’t really have to look at weight or quantity. The disadvantage was that you are also on the road longer.
Despite the not-so-positive camping experience in Iceland, we decided to give camping another chance. And what a fantastic experience it was. It is of course wonderful to camp at an average of 25 degrees Celcius where you can still enjoy a glass of wine in front of the tent in the evening. Because we have been in the low season in September, we have not made any reservations at campsites. This gave us a lot of freedom to adjust our travel plans along the way.
Day 1: Belgium – Luzern (660km – 7h)
We left early in the morning and arrived in Lucerne a little after lunchtime. We took a short walk through the center and along Lake Lucerne and enjoyed a beer and a glass of wine to recover from the long car journey.
Day 2: Luzern – Milan – Levanto (465km – 6h)
Early in the morning, we left for Italy through the famous Gothard tunnel. Due to the low season, we did not have to queue there at all. But keep this in mind in the high season.
Since Milan was more or less on the road, we stopped there to eat and soak up the atmosphere at the Duomo. We had lunch at Luna Rossa (Via Broletto, 26), a small restaurant where we were the only tourists. Recommended!
Then we drive on towards the Cinque Terre. We decided to pitch our tent in Levanto, not part of the Cinque Terre but a stone’s throw away. You can set up your tent on one of the terraces in the shade of the trees. The campsite is within walking distance of the train station where the train will take you to Monterosso in no time.
Day 3: visit Cinque Terre
The Cinque Terre National Park consists of 5 villages and the surrounding hills. These 5 villages are Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore. You can visit these villages in 2 ways: you can follow part of the path between the villages or you can take the train.
If you want to take the train between the villages but also want to do the walk, it is best to buy a Cinque Terre card at the Levanto train station. You can also only buy tickets for the train.
Our original plan was to do the blue walk (11km) between the villages. But due to heavy rain at the time, it was advised against by the person at the entrance of the trail. The path is not equally stable everywhere, so be sure to wear suitable shoes (no flip-flops). Before you start the walk, it is best to check which parts are open and which are not: https://www.cinqueterre.eu.com/en/cinque-terre-current-situation.
Tip for delicious ice cream: Alberto Gelateria in Corniglia.
Day 4: Levanto – Lucca – Pisa – Volterra (189km – 3h)
Camping in Volterra: Camping Le Balze
Our first stop of the day was Lucca. We parked our car in an underground car park (Parcheggio Mazzinia (Via dei Bacchettoni)). For 1 euro per hour, this was a real bargain AND within walking distance of the center. In addition to the still visible ramparts, this small Italian village also has a duomo, the beautiful Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, and the Guinigi Tower to admire. The view on top of the Guinigi Tower is especially beautiful, but you have to take the 230 steps for it.
Next stop: Pisa. We parked in the free parking lot at Via Paparelli. From there it is about a 20-minute walk to the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We did have lunch at Il Ristoro della Pe’. Definitely recommended: very small restaurant with an open kitchen and a limited menu.
After a short visit to the Tower of Pisa, we drove on to Volterra. Camping Le Balze is a short walk from the center of Volterra but perfect for putting the food down.
Some recommendations for food and drinks in Volterra are:
- Aperitivo: VolaTerrA
- Diner: La Carabaccia: Classic Italian cuisine with a nice terrace
- Lunch: Il Peschereccio: Fish shop with a number of tables at the back where you can enjoy fresh fish dishes. Be sure to try the pasta vongole
Day 5: explore San Gimignano and Volterra
Today a visit to San Gimignano is planned (40min drive). We parked our car at parking P1. This medieval walled town is very popular. So expect a lot of tourists, tourist shops and also tourist prices. Nice to walk around for an hour and enjoy an ice cream from at Gelateria Dondoli. This gelateria has won the prize of ‘best ice cream in the world’ for several years in a row. Especially very tasty on a hot day.
In the afternoon we explored Volterra at a very leisurely pace. Important sights are the Romanesque theatre, the market, the town hall, and the cathedral.
Day 6: drive to Siena (131km – 2,5h)
On the way to Siena we make a few stops. The first stop is brewery Vapori di Birra. Here beer is made using geothermal steam. In addition to sampling some of the beers, we also enjoyed a quick lunch here.
Then we went to Biancane Natural Park (Via dei Lagoni Boraciferi in Monterotondo maritimo). This park is known for its volcanic activity and hot springs. You can take beautiful walks through a futuristic landscape with a tree here and there. As some places you can also see plumes of steam rising. These have the typical smell of rotten eggs. A very nice stop to enjoy nature. Be sure to bring a hat and plenty of water. It can get very hot here.
At the campsite we rented a mobile home to sleep in a real bed. The bus to Siena stops right outside the door. You can buy tickets at the reception.
The restaurant on the campsite also serves delicious pizzas.
Day 7: explore Siena
The bus takes us to the heart of the city in no time. The historic center of Siena is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited places in Italy. The main attractions are:
- The duomo: You can buy tickets in front of the entrance of the cathedral (€13 adults; €2 children aged 7-11; free for children < 6 years). Allow a few hours to visit the cathedral together with the crypt, baptistery, and museum. Also, enjoy a beautiful view from above on the “panorama”. Or buy tickets in advance online.
- Piazza Del Campo: this oval square is the main square of the city. Here is also the Palazzo Pubblico with the Torre del Mangia rising on the left. You can climb the 400 stairs of the tower for a breathtaking view over Sienna (€10 for adults; €25 for a family ticket for 2 adults+children <11 years; free for children <11 years).
- The many cozy streets and squares to explore
Recommended places to eat and drink in Siena:
Day 8: explore Tuscany (179 km – 3h)
We decided to drive around a bit and enjoy the Tuscan landscapes. But we also made a few stops along the way.
Our first visit of the day was to the San Filipo Hot Springs. During weekends it can be busy here due to the many locals who also come here to enjoy these natural hot springs. Perfect for relaxing.
Then we drove to Radicofani. We came across this castle quite by accident on our route. On top of a rock of 896 meters, this castle offers a beautiful view over the surrounding Val d’Orcia. You can visit the archaeological site and the tower. Nice as a stopover.
Finally, we went to Montepulciano, best known for its wine. The town itself is especially nice to stroll around and browse the many shops. Of course we also enjoyed a glass of wine on a terrace.
Day 9: Drive to Florence(75km – 1h)
On the way to Florence, we first stop in Monteriggioni. It is one of the best-preserved fortress sites in Italy. You can visit a small museum and take a walk on part of the ramparts. Assassin’s Creed fans will definitely recognize Monteriggioni.
We then drive to Florence and go straight to the campsite. Camping in town is quite a large campsite with a nice swimming pool and restaurant. A shuttle bus leaves from the campsite to the center of Florence. We take advantage of an afternoon lazing by the pool. In the evening we eat in the restaurant at the campsite.
Day 10: explore Florence
We take the shuttle bus to the city early in the morning. The first thing on the schedule is a visit to the Accademia Gallery. We are mainly here to see Michelangelo’s David. Please note that the museum is closed on Mondays.
We also visit the Duomo and Campanile. To avoid the long waiting times, it is best to book your tickets online.
Like all Italian cities, it’s just fun to walk around the city. We tried to have a good view of the Ponte Vecchio and afterward also walked back towards the center. The Piazza della Repubblica with its carousel is also worth a visit.
For a beautiful view of the city, you have to go to Piazzale Michelangelo. It is a bit of a climb up, but it is more than worth it.
Some tips for eating and drinking in Florence:
- Coffee: Il Baretto del Rifrullo: a small coffee place outside the city
- Lunch: I’ Girone de ‘Ghiotti: delicious sandwiches
- Ice cream: Perche No
- Tiramisu: Gilli: on the slightly more expensive side but we only had the tiramisu
Day 11: drive to Venice (263km – 2h45)
At the last minute, we decided to go to Venice instead of Bologna. We drove on to Venice in one piece, so after checking in at the campsite we still had enough time to explore the city. The bus to the center stops in front of the campsite and you can buy tickets at the reception.
That day we visit the famous San Marco square and climb the Campanile (€8). The Bridge of Sighs and Rialto Bridge are also planned.
Some tips for eating and drinking in Venice:
- Breakfast/pastries: Marchini time
- Lunch (delicious pasta vongole): Trattoria d’amici
- Lunch: Ai Cugnai
- Aperitivo (tasty Aperol Spritz): Enoiteca al prosecco
- Diner: Trattoria Al Ponte del Megio: delicious dinner by the water
- Tiramisu: I Tre Mercanti: the best tiramisu of the whole trip. Here you can eat not only the traditional tiramisu but also other variations
- Ice cream: Alaska
Day 12: explore Venice + drive to the Dolomites (150km – 2h)
We pack our tent but leave our car at the campsite for a while (for a small extra charge) and take the bus back to the center.
We will visit the beautiful Basilica of San Marco and visit the Gallerie dell’Accademia. We thought we would be able to see Leonardo Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man here but unfortunately, it was not on display at the time.
After lunch, we drive towards the Dolomites, and more specifically Cortina d’Ampezzo. It is a very small-scale campsite where you can pitch your tent between the trees. A footpath leads from the campsite to the village with its restaurants and bars.
Some tips for eating and drinking in Cortina d’Ampezzo and surroundings:
Day 13: Hiking
We took a 13.5 km walk to Lago Di Sorapiss. It is a quite popular walk with some chains here and there. But these are mainly for people who can use that extra support with open rounding. There are no very narrow ridges anywhere. In the rifugio, we bought delicious apple strudel and cake.
There are many other walks in the area such as the Tre Cime di Lavaredo walk or a walk to Lago Braies.
Day 14: Hiking
In Lagazuoi we took the ski lift up to Rifugio Lagazuoi where they sell delicious apple strudel. You have a beautiful view of the valley and the surrounding peaks. You can then walk down which is very tough for the ankles and knees. You can also take the elevator back down.
Day 15: Back to Belgium
We decided to leave very early in the morning and drive back to Belgium in one piece. You could also add an extra stopover somewhere in Germany.
Variations on this road trip through Northern Italy
You can still adjust this tour through Northern Italy to your liking: stay longer in, for example, Florence or Venice. Or maybe take more walks in the Dolomites. Or maybe you want to make an extra stop in Verona or Bologna.
An overview map
This tour through Northern Italy was one of the most beautiful tours we have already made (our tour along the west coast of the USA remains on top 1). This tour through Northern Italy has it all: culture, nature, and good food and drink. We have deliberately chosen not to follow a busy schedule. This gave us enough time to enjoy a glass of wine or Aperol Spritz on a terrace.
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