The Ultimate Italian Road Trip
I could easily spend months travelling around Italy, exploring small towns, lying on the beautiful beaches, hiking the mountains and of course, eating all of that delicious food! It’s the perfect country for a driving holiday, so here's my take on the ultimate Italian road trip:
There are endless road trip options depending on your length of stay and travelling preferences. But, if you have a two-week holiday and a hire car (or camper), the best route is from top to bottom. This trip avoids most of the big cities (driving in Italian cities is a somewhat stressful experience, even for the most expert drivers), but instead focuses on the smaller towns, countryside and beaches of the west of Italy.
Liguria (2 days)
Fly into Genoa and start your trip in the region of Liguria. Spend a day visiting the famed Cinque Terre National Park, with Instagrammable colourful houses and stunning coastline. It’s almost impossible to park in Cinque Terre, so stay in the town of La Spezia, south of the national park. From here you can easily buy a day train ticket that covers all of the five villages (Manarola was my favourite!). Drive south and enjoy the beaches of Lerici and Fiascherino and some of the region’s specialities: pesto, mussels and Ligurian honey, washed down with Bosco wine.
Emilia Romagna (2 days)
Next stop, Emilia Romagna – the king of Italian food (or one of them at least!). Here you can sample a plethora of DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) products. First stop is Parma, home of Prosciutto (di Parma). In and around the city you can visit producers of the delicious cured meat, as well as the lesser-known (but more expensive) Culatello. Move on to Reggio Emilia, but on the way stop at a Parmigiano Reggiano factory, to learn how this tasty cheese is made. Once in Reggio Emilia, make sure you try the town’s popular snack – Erbazzone – a filled savoury pastry. Continuing south you will reach Modena, a beautiful city, where you will find the world’s best restaurant – Osteria Francescana, as well as the famous balsamic vinegar of Modena DOP.
Tuscany (2 days)
Moving into Tuscany, stop in the town of San Miniato. Spend a morning searching for truffles with a local truffle hunter, and then sample your findings! Continue to the medieval town of San Gimignano, known for its many towers. Head up the bell tower for impressive views. Make sure you stop for gelato at Gelateria Dondoli in Piazza Della Cisterna, then wander up to the Rocca di Montestaffoli. This Florentine fortress offers more spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Whilst there, take a visit to the wine museum and enjoy a tasting of Vernaccia, the wine of San Gimignano. The next day, drive south through the stunning Val d’Orcia. Spot the filming locations from the movie ‘Gladiator’ and marvel at the picturesque countryside. Spend the evening in Montepulciano and enjoy a glass (or two) of the wine of the same name.
Umbria (1.5 days)
Umbria is less visited than neighbouring Tuscany, but equally as beautiful. Start in the hilltop town of Spello, full of narrow streets lined with gorgeous flowers. Drive across the Valle Umbra to Montefalco and sample some of its famous Sagrantino wine. Then go south to Spoleto and explore its Roman aqueduct and impressive castle.
Lazio (1 day)
Continue south to Tivoli. This hilltop town was a summer retreat for the ancient Romans. Visit the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Villa Adriana, built by Emperor Hadrian, and the Renaissance 16th-century Villa d'Este. While in Lazio make sure you sample some of the region’s signature dishes: Carbonara and Cacio e Pepe.
Campania (1.5 days)
It’s time to visit our only city of the trip; Napoli, the birthplace of pizza and a great place to craft your pizza-making skills. Take a course and learn the history of this popular food. Then wander the city’s lanes and streets and the Lungomare – a 1.86-miles-long seafront promenade. Leaving Napoli the following day, stop at Pompeii and spend a few hours at the archaeological site.
Basilicata (1 day)
Next stop is Basilicata's Tyrrhenian coast and the commune of Maratea. Spend the morning wandering the hillside town and its Christ statue, before heading down to the port for lunch and a gelato at Gelateria Emilio. Then spend the afternoon at one of the lovely, uncrowded beaches.
Calabria (3 days)
Drive into your final region of the trip and to the seaside town of Tropea, a popular Italian holiday destination. Marvel at the turquoise water surrounding the stunning Santa Maria dell’Isola Monastery – a medieval church perched atop a rocky cliff. From here, take a day trip to Stromboli and get a glimpse of the active volcano and the gorgeous black sands. The next day arrive in Scilla, and the quaint fishing village of Chianelea. Watch the fishermen search for swordfish in their impressively tall ships and enjoy dinner at a waterside restaurant overlooking the sea. Then make your way to Lamezia Terme International Airport for your flight home.
Top tip for driving in Italy:
Don’t be offended if people beep their car horn at you, it’s just to let you know they are there and happens often! Be careful of your speed when driving through towns and villages – even if there isn’t a sign to say so – it’s likely the speed limit is 50km/h, and they do have speed cameras!
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