Three words to describe Italy…passionate, colourful and bonkers! Italy is a travellers paradise and if there is one country to visit, Italy is one. It not only delivers on its attractions but it has the ability to surprise you with the unexpected – stumbling across a local festival, discovering a secluded bay or taking the wrong turn in to the middle of the forest only to be welcomed by a community of foresters who have never seen a tourist before. The people are extremely friendly and their passion for family and culture is inspiring.
The countryside is a painters paradise with rolling hills and endless olive trees, the perfect canopy for enjoying a glass or two of Pinot Grigio. Italy is enchanting with architectural masterpieces, ancient worlds and fabulous art. Whether you are visiting the ancient ruins of Rome, the ghost city of Pompeii, the home of Leonardo da Vinci or the leaning tower of Pisa, it will not fail to astound you.
The longer you stay in Italy the more you understand and appreciate the Dolce Vita or ‘sweet life’ best seen at sunset when hoards of Italians head to the town plaza. Young, old and anything in-between are welcomed to the daily parade where love, laughter and life are discussed over a refreshing homemade Italian ice-cream or a lush latte.
On the flip side, Italy has the ability to drive you mad with a culture that thrives on illogical decisions, random acts of chaos and a legal system with built-in loop holes. Bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy aimed to promote mental torture and of course, plenty waving arms. The ying and yang that makes you fall in love with Italy.Time of visit: Summer 2014 & 2015
Our average daily spend: €22.54
Official language: Italian
Emergency phone number: 112
Medical emergency – 118
Police – 112
Fire brigade – 115
Food & Groceries
Food is at the heart of every Italian family and so when it comes to shopping it is well prepared from the monster hypermarket right down to the local corner shop. The Italians are passionate about their heritage and the origins of their food, so it is not usual to find organic produce from a family business stemming back several generations. From fresh buffalo mozzarella to olives and tempting truffles and aromatic pesto.
The Italians have really embraced the retail culture and love shopping complexes with the supermarkets tucked on the end. The supermarkets offer everything you expect and all at reasonable prices. Auchan and Carrefour tend to house themselves in the retail complexes and with that a slightly inflated price. The others are more stand-a-lone buildings and a little cheaper – Conad, Lidl, Penny Market and Simply are the most popular in Italy. The Carrefour Market offer smaller supermarkets and local convenience stores. Parking is not a problem and height restrictions are rare.
Weekly street markets are not as popular in Italy as say Spain but then again with the butcher, the baker and the local fruit and vegetable store at the heart of the village and a coffee shop on every corner, who needs a market. However, for true Italy produce, local dishes and good banter head to one of the many local festivals for an buzzing food stalls and a street party to remember.
Most shops close for several hours during the day and the time is…flexible. Most shops open at around 9am and close at 9pm with half a day taken as and when they please. Like most Mediterranean countries the siesta is part of the culture but in Italy, it is also good practice to live well and work little. Do not take any notice of the open and closing times unless of course it is Sunday and it will definitely be closed.
Italian food is simple, quick and easy and a must to try – pizza, risotto, ravioli, prosciutto ice-cream, and all swilled down with an Italian coffee – Craig likes the kick of an expresso whilst I prefer a lazy latte.
In Italy, dedicating motorhome parking spaces are called Sostas. Italy unlike the most of Europe does not have tons of overnight sostas but they are growing in popularity. When we travelling to Italy, we found the Italians love their campsites, so you can find a huge variety of campsites all around Italy. They vary in size, shape and services but they all offer the exclusive rights to feel like a sardine. Italians love to park inches next to each other, so they can jump from one motorhome to the next, share their wonderful hospitality and their infectious zest for life. Camping sites start from around €10 and prices rise and fall with the season. Italy is a good place for using your ASCI camping card.
Wild camping is easy in Italy as long as you can find a spot. The rules to wild camping are like everything else in Italy…no one knows and no one cares. As long as you are not blocking an exit and facing the right way (if on a street) then it should be fine. If in doubt head to a sports ground, a park, forest or church but avoid the scooter street. Every town has a scooters street and in the evening it comes alive with rampant teenagers honking their horns and blasting the latest chart topper. The last thing you need when you are just about to venture in to lovely, relaxing sleep. And as for fresh water, every Italian village has a water fountain or spring with amazing cold, fresh, water.
When it comes to parking the Italians have a rule, seek forgiveness and not permission. If there is a space they will park in it whether it be a pedestrian crossings, a busy main road or on your secluded beach garden. Double parking is commonplace and triple parking is considered good practice.The only rule they obey is don’t park in the disabled spots.
Italian’s believe a bumper is installed to protect the car whilst parking. Do not park with a small space to the front or rear of your vehicle, you will be sorry. An Italian will park in the space and bump back and forth into your vehicle until he is parked. Your precious motorhome will be scared for life.
If you are travelling along the dual carriageway you will find plenty rest areas with parking options. Be careful if you are travelling along some of the country lane trucker routes, as prostitute zones are common place.
On-street parking is permitted on the right side of the road. Take note of the colours of the road markings
Parking along blue lines usually means paid parking
Parking on street with white lines means that parking is free of charge.
Yellow Areas indicates parking for disabled persons only
Free parking with a blue disc means set your time of arrival and display your driving disc in the window.
City parking is usually limited to underground parking lots with height restrictions, so be cautious when following parking signs in busy cities.
We understand that many people are nervous about driving abroad and especially in Italy. It is chaotic and it manic as they switch lanes hastily, blast their horns and stop for a chat with other drivers. Italian believe they are beyond the rules, so whether they’re whizzing along cliff-top roads or free-styling on a scooter in a traffic-clogged city, it is considered normal.
You must be 18 years old and have a valid UK driving licence, insurance and vehicle documents in order to drive in Italy. If you don’t own the vehicle you’re driving, you should get written permission from the registered owner.
When joining motorways or dual carriageways the Italian drivers generally do not move over or slow down to help merging traffic. The rule in Italy is you watch your front and everyone else watches your back, so if it is clear in front – Go. You may feel the urge to come to a full stop at the end of the entry slip road until the road is clear, this alien practice will be frustrating but eventually you will get used to it.
Your vehicle number plate must indicate the country of registration. If not, you need to purchase a country (i.e. GB) sticker and place on the rear of the motorhome.
Any form of radar detectors are illegal and if caught using one you will probably be handed a rather large fine. Always use your head lights when passing through a tunnel.
It is worth noting at Siesta time everything closes and the country goes to sleep for several hours. For most travellers the laid back life can get very frustrating but its also a good time to take advantage of this quiet time and hit the road. If you are at all nervous about driving in Italy avoid peak periods, it is bedlam but during siesta its peaceful.
You need to carry 1 x warning triangle and reflective jacket. Snow chains or winter tyres from applicable areas. Compulsory for front / rear seat occupants to wear seat belts, if fitted. Children travelling in foreign registered vehicles i.e. in a UK registered vehicle, must be secured according to UK legislation. Any vehicle with an overhanging load (e.g. carrying bicycle at rear) must display a fully reflectorised square panel 50cm x 50cm which is red and white diagonally striped.
Driving regulations: we use AA or RAC for up to date driving regulations & restrictions.
You drive on the right hand side of the road and all speed limits are shown in kilometres.
Toll motorway: 120 km/h
Dual carriageway : 110 km/h
Open road : 90 km/h
Town : 50 km/h
Please note, slightly slower speed limits for new drivers or wet weather.
There are 6 types of roads
A- motorways or Autostrada
SS – dual carriageways non toll or Strade Statale
SR – dual carriageways or Strade Regionale
SP – main/open roads or Strada Provinciale
SB – minor unpaved roads or Strada Bianche
SC – local authority roads or Comunale with varying speed limits.
Not all motorways are tolled but the pedaggio motorway or toll system charges for each journey. Normally a ticket is dispensed at the start and paid for on leaving the motorway. There is a fixed charge per kilometre depending on the type of vehicle. Tolls take cash or card or viacard which is a prepaid discount toll card purchased from banks, service stations and toll booths.
Roads in and around cities are busier than in the countryside. Small villages can be extremely narrow, very steep, one way and the odd low bridge can really cause problems. In rural villages watch out for low overhead telephone and utility cables as they drape across the street without any warning.
The toll system is not simple as the rules vary from region to region. Comparative to other EU tolls the Spanish toll system is expensive. Toll booths are located at points along the highway and you pay by cash or credit card. Some you pay per kilometre and some you pay per section. Normally you obtain a ticket on entry to the highway, present it to the booth attendant and pay the due fees. Fees vary depending on the type of vehicle and it more expensive for a motorhome.
You can buy fuel from a supermarket station or fuel station. Fuel stations on toll roads are the most expensive. There is no logic to fuel prices in Italy, it simply is a case of knowing the current price and finding the best price in town. One minute it could be the supermarket and the next the small retailer. You will even find the same fuel station on the opposite side of the road offering different prices, so be cautious.
The supermarket stations can get extremely busy especially at weekend and cash is only welcome in note form. If you give a pump attendance a handful of coins they will not be impressed. Most fuel stations offer 2 different prices – service or no service and gap can be a great as €0.10 per litre. With service, you don’t get out your vehicle, an attendance does it all for you including taking your money and returning your change. Non- service, you fill up and drive to the kiosk to pay. Auto serve stations where you insert a card or cash in to a pay machine, select the pump number and then dispense the fuel are becoming increasing popular.
Your tank must be EN1949 European Standard compliant. To fill your cylinders you will need a dish connector. LPG is available in Italy. We found LPG difficult to find outside built up areas, so we filled up when ever the opportunity arose. Alternate names GLP.
Italy has a fantastic health care system, which is ranked as 2nd best in the world. If you are citizen of the EU and travelling through Italy or on holiday, you are automatically entitled to free state health care and medical treatment. You need to apply for a European Health Insurance Card, which simplifies the procedure when receiving medical assistance. Note that this health card is not an alternative to travel insurance, so private costs are not covered by this card.