ROAD TRIP in Northern Italy
The Region of Lakes
LAKE MAJEUR & LAKE ORTA
Monte Mottarone, le sommet des grands lacs italiens :
Formerly called the “Mergozzolo”, Orazio Spanna, Italian mountaineer (1834 – 1892), nicknamed it “the mountain that becomes an Earthly paradise”. It is true that with this grandiose view of Lake Maggiore, Orta and Valsesia, as well as the Italian and Swiss Alps, one would almost feel in paradise. The top of the mountain rises to 1491 meters above sea level.
The first time I went there was also the first night I was in the van. Suffice to say that it was very emotional. At sunset the show is breathtaking. I loved this spot so much that I went back this summer on the road to Lake Garda. It would take me a little detour but just for the sunset view it was worth it. This is the fabulous show I attended. MA-JES-TIC.
Ideal for sleeping in a van, there are plenty of spots overlooking Lake Orta, below the top of the Mottarone. Magical!
It is located on the parking lot on the left as you go up (you can not miss it), there is ample space for many vans and camper. But there were only 3 or 4 of us the nights I slept there, and it was in the middle of August, so clearly you’re not bothered by the neighbors:) Walk a little on the path at the end of the parking lot, you can put yourself on the side, There are small trees and the view is really crazy! The advantage is that there are fountains on the side of the road coming from Stresa, you can easily fill your water cans.
For hiking, there is something to do in this area!
Right in front of the spot, you have a sumptuous ridge with the start of pretty little trails. I really advise you to go for a walk in the morning or at the end of the day, the light is magnificent, and the view of Lake Orta, with the mountains in the background, is grandiose.
Access to this spot is possible via 2 roads:
- If you arrive from Stresa, there is a charge (10 euros for 24 hours). I was lucky because I arrived late in the afternoon and there was no toll. They are there until 6:30 p.m.
- The second route is the one that comes from San Giulia de Orta, it is free:) it is the one I took to go down.
Spot GPS Point:
45.8788188, 8.4557528, VFH4+G8 Omegna, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Italy
You can also access it by cable car, it takes itself on the Place du Lico, opposite the pier of Carcaciano, neighboring town of Stresa. In 20 minutes you will be at the top of Mottarone admiring the splendid view. On the other hand this at a price, of 21 euros per person round trip.
Unfortunately, in 2021, there was a terrible accident on this cable car. One of the cable cars broke, which had disastrous consequences. Fourteen people were killed and one seriously injured. It seems to have remained inaccessible since then. Find out more.
However, access to the Mottarone by road and hiking are always accessible.
It is an archipelago of 3 small islands on Lake Maggiore. They once belonged to the Borromeo family. They built all these wonderful gardens and majestic palaces that you can explore today.
Isola Madre with its sumptuous gardens of more than 8 hectares. It was the first island to be inhabited by the Borromeo family. It was Cardinal Frederico Borromeo’s older brother, Renée I, who took possession of the islands of Lake Maggiore in 1583. He built a palace with huge gardens on the largest island that he named at the time Isola Renata. It was not until the 18th century that the island was renamed Isola Madre. In memory of the fact that this island was the first inhabited by the Borromeo family, the mother island.
A lush island where calm reigns thanks to the flamboyant exotic gardens where you can stroll in peace.
Charles III Boromeo, the youngest son of Renée I, received as a dowry Isola Inferiore, now called Isola Bella. He undertook the development of large gardens on the island but it was his son, Vitaliano IV, who finalized the project by adding a majestic palace in a grandiose baroque atmosphere, a hymn to opulence and luxury.
The name Isola Bella was given to this island in honor of his wife Isabella d’adda.
On this island you can visit the beautiful Borromeo Palace, as well as the sumptuous gardens. You will be able to see white peacocks roaming freely everywhere. (They are not albinos but have leukemia, which prevents the deposit of pigments in hair and feathers).
Isola dei Pescatori (Fishermen’s Island)
The third island, Isola dei pescatori was at that time left to the fishermen who had already occupied it for centuries. A village almost unchanged, authentic and full of charm. Ideal for eating fresh fish in the restaurants that settled down.
From Stresa, you can pick up your tickets at the ticket office of the ferry terminal. Count 15 euros per person to get to the 3 islands by boat. Take the day to have time to visit everything quietly, and enjoy the restaurants on Isola dei pescatori for breakfast.
To access the Borromeo Palace on isola Bella, count 10 euros per person.
San Giulio De Orta
On the way down from Montarrone, I advise you to stop in the charming town of San Guilio de Orta. A romantic little town on the shores of Lake Orta, one of the most picturesque in Italy yet much less touristic than its colleague the major lake.
The city is known for its medieval historical center, considered one of the most beautiful in Italy. At the top of the city you will find a historic site with many pretty chapels and a breathtaking view of the lake.
San Giulio de Orta is very pleasant to walk in this labyrinth of small cobbled streets lined with stone houses and ancient palaces. There are also many small craft shops, antique shops and picturesque bars. Piazza Motta is a popular meeting place where locals and visitors mingle.
Island of San Giulio
The highlight of this charming Italian town is the island of San Giulio, home to a 12th-century Romanesque basilica and other historic buildings. Only a few hundred meters by boat is enough to access this island full of charm.
You can go on the Island of San Giulio by boat, you will find several companies that offer crossings to the island. The boats leave from the port in the city centre. The times and prices may vary, so it is best to ask directly from the shipping companies. The journey takes only a few minutes and allows you to enjoy splendid views of Lake Orta and the mountains that overlook it.
Once on the island you can stroll through these narrow streets and admire the gardens and historic buildings including the Romanesque Basilica, renowned as a jewel of baroque architecture. That’s all it is!
A beautiful little town on the shores of Lake Como perfect for strolling on the terrace with a Spritz and a plate of Italian tapas.
You can also take a boat tour to admire the breathtaking landscapes and explore the surroundings.
Gardini di villa Melzi
Among the must-see attractions is the Gardini di villa Melzi. A sumptuous Italian garden located on the shores of Lake Como. I advise you to go there in the late afternoon when the sun starts to fall. The lights are splendid.
However this corner is not made for vans, There are few spots to land. It’s quite steep around the lake because it’s really deep in the mountains, so it’s not easy for nature spots.
That day, I found a spot on a parking lot (thank you @Park4Night) that has the advantage of being a 10-minute walk from the city centre. It empties in the evening, so we were not disturbed. There were only 3 other vans.
We agree, it is still a parking lot, but it also allows to spend the quiet evening in Bellagio without having to worry about where we will land to sleep.
GPS coordinates of the car park in question, it is also on Park4night:
45.9798, 9.2633 (lat, lng) N 45° 58′ 47″ E 9° 15′ 48″ (lat lng)
1 Via Pescallo 22021 Bellagio Italy
It is the fourth largest lake in the region with an area of 65.3 km².
It is surrounded by green hills and small picturesque villages that offer stunning views of the lake and surrounding mountains.
A nugget located between Lake Como and Lake Garda and, what is more, much less touristic than its 2 big brothers.
For hiking, you are served, there are many beautiful trails around the lake and on the island of Monte Isola. And I promise you there are breathtaking views.
From the shores of the lake you can ferry to the island of Monte Isola, the largest lake island in Europe. It offers many picturesque hiking trails with spectacular views. On this island, only bicycles, mopeds and some service vehicles can circulate. A timeless and authentic island.
To take the ferry, 2 accesses are possible to get to Monte Isola:
- Departure from Sale Marasino and arrival in Carzano (north of the island)
- Departure from Sulzano arriving at Pesheria Maraglio (south of the island)
It costs 5.20 euros to return.
Schedules vary according to the seasons. Find out well in advance.
The must-do hike:
Corna Tentapassi (it is on the shores of Lake Iseo, so it is not necessary to go on Monte Isola to do this hike)
I can’t tell you the starting point I went through because I did not take the right road and the access is very complicated in van. At one point, I really wondered what I was doing there.
Fortunately, some of the villagers took pity on me and lent me a small place on their land because there was clearly no place for parking where I was 🙈 ) and they accompanied me to show me where to pick up the hiking trail. They were so nice. Well I don’t speak Italian and they didn’t speak either French or English but we still managed to communicate as well as possible! I always get into this stuff, I swear to you, sometimes I get tired 😆, it’s a good thing I always run into lovely people to help me.
The start of the hike was great, great sport with a great view of Lake Iséo! It lengthened me by a good hour but it was really cool, it allowed me to explore new paths! Plus I ran into alpacas, so unlikely.
The REAL start of the hike:
Piazza Caduti 25050 Zone, Brescia, Italy 45.7600183, 10.1162039
Duration: About 3:30 am but plan to take some time up to admire the crazy view of Lake Iseo!
Distance: 7 km
Positive elevation gain: 570 m
Difficulty: moderate. Have good hiking shoes because the ground is rocky.
@visitlakeiseo on Instagram, daily sharing of nice spots in the area, this may inspire you.
GARDA LAKE AND ITS PEPITES
Located between Lombardy and Trentino-Alto Adige, Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy with an area of 370 km². There are many outdoor activities at Lake Garda. Kayaking, windsurfing, sailing, canyoning, hiking, mountain biking, swimming and more.
I really loved this place on the mountain side, the lake side, there are so many places to explore. I even went back the next summer before I went to Cinque Terre. The surroundings of the lake are full of nuggets and I absolutely wanted to hunt the most beautiful waterfalls in the area, I reserved a complete article!
It is a beautiful city and the medieval fortress has something to do with it. It was built in the 13th century. Walking in these small cobbled streets is really very pleasant, with on the way religious monuments full of charm. At the end of the peak you can explore the ruins of the Roman villa of Catulle.
Then you can enjoy the beach, the Jamaica beach, for a little splash. And if you want to cool off, there’s the Jamaica Beach bar on the beach. The little sunset spritz always has something extra!
Le Monte Baldo
Famous for its natural beauty and panoramic views of Lake Garda, it rises to 2218 meters above sea level. It is thus a perfect playground for hiking and mountain biking. The panoramic views of Lake Garda and the mountains are splendid at the top of Monte Baldo! It is also a favorite place to admire the stars because it offers ideal conditions for night sky observation.
As for the sleepy spots in the van, the Monte Baldo is perfect, with a panoramic view of the entrance of the Dolomites. I even went back the next day, I stopped just a little lower, there was a spot with a small corner to make fire. It’s just a few corners before the first spot on the right of the road coming from Spiazzi, the location is smaller so there’s only a van or two passing. Anyway there are so many nature spots in this area that you will easily find a nice place for the night if those were already busy. It is of course necessary to leave the places intact and to bring back with you all its waste.
Spot 1: 45.7264, 10.8557 (lat, lng) N 45° 43′ 35″ E 10° 51′ 20″ (lat lng) Strada Provinciale 3 38063 Italy
Spot 2: some turns below (so before, if you arrive from Spiazzi)
I even had a little fox visit one night 🥰
Not far from this sleepy spot, the start of superb hikes. I couldn’t resist.
Hiking From “Monte telegrafo”
Departure from the Rando: restaurant Baita Novezza
Positive elevation gain: 950 m
Distance: 10 km round trip
Arrived at the refigio of Telegrafo, the view is splendid. You can even continue a little on the ridge to prolong the pleasure!
Duration: They announce 2h10 but you can easily do it in 1h15 if you are good walkers. 2h00 or more if you decide to continue a little on the ridge and reach the top of the cable car. So count 3h00 round trip.
There are several variations for this hike, depending on where you choose to go.
There are many paths that go up to the right of the road throughout the climb.
You can for example start from lower if you come from Lake Garda. More precisely from Rifugio Novezzina and make the loop. However, it will take you longer.
Start of the hike: Rifugio Novezzina
Duration: 4:40 walk but plan more time to admire the scenery and snack.
Distance: 14.2 km
Positive elevation gain: 950 m
Malcesine Cable Car – Monte Baldo:
To climb to the top of Monte Baldo, another option is the cable car.
Departing from Malcesine on the shores of Lake Garda. It offers spectacular views of Lake Garda and the surrounding mountains and takes you to 2,000 metres in a record time of exactly 15 minutes.
Once at the top, you can enjoy a magnificent panoramic view of Lake Garda and the magnificent mountains that overlook it. You can go hiking, mountain biking or paragliding.
This makes it a busy activity. It is best to book in advance.
Cascate del Ponale
It is a superb waterfall located not far from Riva del Garda. But to access it, you will have to take a kayak because it is not accessible on foot. This makes it even more magical because it is earned. We had the inflatable kayak in the van so we stopped on a small beach by the road to get there. We inflated the kayak and it was ready for the adventure. We reached the waterfall in 15 minutes.
Departure from the small beach:
Please note that there is no kayak rental here. To rent equipment, you have to go to Riva del Garda and leave there.
From Riva del garda, it will take you 30 to 40 minutes. Plan, water, cap and sunscreen to avoid heat blows with the reverberation of the water, as there is no shade on the lake.
There are plenty of other great waterfalls to see around Lake Garda. I’ve devoted a whole article to this, which I’ll put online next week. I’ll take you to the prettiest waterfalls I’ve ever seen around this fabulous lake.
Madonna della Corona
I’m not fan of religious monuments, but this church is impressive. It is perched on a sheltered cliff 700 metres above the Adige valley. The church was built in the 12th century and enlarged over the centuries. From the village of Spiazzi, you will have to descend on a path for about ten minutes before reaching the site. The slope is steep and the return promises to be cotton.
Once there, you discover this splendor. I was amazed, it is not often that we see such a beautiful church built in the rock. This is really impressive.
I stayed there only one night but I totally fell in love with this city.
What a joy to be lost in the streets of the historic center and to discover their treasures of architecture, colors. Authenticity and romanticism is really what I felt in Verona.
The historic center of Verona is a truly fascinating area and rich in history. Due to its architectural and cultural richness it is listed as a UNESCO heritage site. You can explore beautiful monuments.
The Arenas, or Arena di Verona, the third largest Roman amphitheatre in the world. Just that! Unfortunately I couldn’t visit them because there was a concert that night. But apparently it’s really beautiful. Only from the outside they impose! To do absolutely if you go to Verona. Remember to book in advance otherwise you will find yourself like me, with your beak in the water.
The Pietra Bridge, this bridge of Roman origin was built almost 100 years ago BC. It connects the two shores of the city separated by the Adige Cove. Here you can admire the most beautiful views of the city.
Piazza delle erbe, a splendid square surrounded by historic buildings, cafés and restaurants. Juliette’s house, well frankly I did not find it crazy but you can take a look if you go through the «Via Capello», which is very likely since the historical center is not too extensive. The Basilica of San Zeno Maggiore and many others… You can explore all these magnificent monuments by strolling through the sublime streets of Verona.
Spot to sleep in a van in Verona :
The first time I went there, I found a small spot close to a river, quiet and only a 15-minute drive from the city centre. We were still 5 vans. When I returned this summer, it was impossible to find this spot. It is very likely that access to it is now forbidden, because there were people there and it somewhat hindered the passage. The best place in the city is to sleep at the campsite, Camping Castel San pietro is near the historic centre. But if, like me, you hadn’t booked and the campsite turns out to be full, you can take the street next door for the night. That’s what we did, and everything went well. We left in the morning. In the end we saved one night of camping and the view on Verona is exceptional.
As you know, the lake region is ideal for vanlifers thirsting for nature, adventure and discovery. The landscapes, lakes and mountains are breathtaking and a perfect playground for outdoor sports.
And if you do not want to stop in this good way, you can continue on the Dolomites (a little further north east) which are among the most beautiful mountains in the world, some of which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites. A dedicated article will be online very soon.