Italy offers many diverse delights for campervan travellers. Everything from the food, the culture, the dramatic landscapes and climate draw van-lifers to this beautiful country. For our first time taking our campervan to Italy there were some surprises along the way, so we put together some tips for traveling Italy with a van or campervan.
Roads and driving
Unlike countries like France and Spain where you can forgo the toll roads for smaller A-type roads this is not as easy in Italy. We drove pretty much top to bottom of Italy and in our experience the smaller roads are pretty bad. We found lots of potholes, cracks and generally poor condition tarmac (when there’s even any left!). These non-toll routes take much more time, especially as the speed limits are so low (probably due to the bad condition) so expect to almost double your drive time. Slower journeys aren’t always a bad thing with the often slower pace of van life but as I’ll explain later you might have some distance between camper stops.
So unless you’re in a compact 4x4 van you’ll probably want to find the smoothest possible routes or you’ll be shaking about for hours (not to mention your kitchen cupboards!). Italy’s toll roads are in much better condition, especially in the northern areas as they are well maintained and way more direct. But you will pay for the smooth ride with some hefty toll fees. So best thing is to check it out online first using a mileage and toll calculator (we use Michelin) and see if firstly its worth the extra cost and time saving and secondly check the non toll roads for tight hair pins, small narrow streets and deviations through villages and towns not so accommodating for a larger vehicle.
Petrol pumps in Italy generally have 2 options, service and self, either someone pumps the fuel for you or you do it yourself. Pretty self-explanatory? But its not always that clear, especially if you’ve gone into a small local petrol station. You will often only be faced with a chart of numbers (prices). One side of the pumps will be more expensive (service) one side will be cheaper (self). Easy when you know. Being from the UK it is the norm to be self service so having the two options was a little weird at first, and expensive! If you inadvertently go to service it can add up to be a lot more so be aware the first time you fill up in Italy.
Winter In Italy
November – April in Italy it’s required you have winter tires or carry snow chains in your vehicle. We did not realise this until we got there and saw signs everywhere with dates and pictures of snow chains. Large parts of Italy are mountainous with snow every year, so it’s best to be prepared in these cold months. We managed to get away with planning with the weather and avoiding higher areas but we would have been screwed if a snow storm did hit, especially if we were pulled over by the poliza and potently fined.
Italy is not as camper friendly as Spain. It is illegal to wild camp in Italy, and sleep in your vehicle anywhere other than designated areas (camper stops/ aires). Having said that we did stay a few places in car parks not designated for campervans and we were fine. Best to check on parking apps like Park4Night before committing. Generally there are fewer places to actually stay for free in Italy but it does mean the free camper areas are usually well equipped and accommodating. Coastal areas it can be harder to find free places because there are usually campsites instead. If you venture inland and head to smaller towns or villages there are usually free campervan areas, many of which had free water & electricity.
We did not anticipate how cold Italy would be in December, and without our heating system installed yet we relied on free electrical hook ups and a small halogen heater to keep us warm over the coldest weeks. Free electricity or very cheap paid terminals weren’t something we came across in Spain or Portugal very often but Italy seems to be more generous with its hook ups. We hadn’t had our outlet fitted on the outside yet either so made do with a camper 3 prong adapter which a normal EU 2 prong extension lead (outside weather proof one) plugs into. We ran it through the window and taped the crack with insulation silver tape! Not the best system but it worked for us until we could get our proper battery charger outlet fitted. If you also don’t have an outside plug in system you can still get a camper 3 prong adaptor and plug any outside extension lead into it. This is great for dark cold months where your solar input is much lower so you can charge things off the mains instead of the battery.
- Do some planning. Pick the best route based on time, cost and ease. Use milage app Michelin for help.
- Be aware of using the 'self' side at petrol pumps so you don't end up paying more.
- Be winter ready. If you choose to travel in winter months do extra planning and keep an eye on weather reports so as not to be caught out. Equip your van with winter tires and carry snow chains if need be.
- Minimise wild camping. Wild camping is illegal in Italy but not always enforced. So one night in a parking lot probably wont end in a fine but if you plan to stay longer or in more built up areas best to find a safe designated camper spot (which many towns have). Use Park4Night or Campercontact to help.
- Reap the benefits of the Italian hospitality and look out for the free electricity stops all over the country. We used Park4Night to find them.
- Learn a few Italian phrases. Especially if you are traveling to the south of the country we met few people who spoke fluent English. We are really lucky to find English speaking people in most of the countries we travel to, but in Italy this was not as easy.
- Be extra vigilant in high tourist areas like Rome, Naples and Venice. Another vanlifer told us the stretch between Rome and Naples experiences higher crime.
Italy may take a little more planning than other European countries but it has so much to offer it’s certainly worth the adventure.
Places we would recommend
Camper stop Near South West coast
Strada Statale 19 delle Calabrie, 85040 Lago Sirino, Italy
30min drive from the beautiful South west coastline, surrounded by mountainous national parks this is a little gem to stay at in Italy. The village is small with a lake and many hikes in the surrounding area. The roads to get to it are not too tretrous and the camperstop is equipped with all you need: free drinking water, black and grey waste draining and electricity at €2 for 6 hours. Not free electricity unfortunately but the surrounding area makes up for it, with the stunning views of the mountains and valleys all the way to the sea.
Camper stop Corinaldo
On the east coast near Ancona this beautiful medieval town with impressive 14th-century walls with views of the surrounding countryside. This camper stop has a great view of the town and offers free electricity, drinking water and waste emptying. It has a picnic area with bbq and even has herbs growing.
Via Pecciameglio, 60013 Corinaldo AN, Italy
Camper stop close to Naples and Almafi coast
25 Via Ido Longo, 84013 Cava de’ Tirreni, Italy
Nothing special and not really an ‘official’ camperstop but near Naples and the Almafi coast there is no free designated camperstops or parking so this little car park with drinking water is a good place for a 1 night stop over after a day exploring the city or coast.
Free Hot showers between Rome and Naples
Truck Stop service area, 48 SR6, 00034 Quatro Chilometro, Italy
This is a large truck stop and service station near the main toll route to Naples. There is a large car park with the possibility to sleep over night, but keep out of the truck bays. The showers are round the back of the hotel building and there is 3 unisex showers with a very warm and well maintained bathroom. It’s a welcomed treat to have a hot shower when your camper doesn’t come equipped.
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