Campervan adventure – week 5 – north-west​ Italy, and a look at solo van life…

Hi, and thanks for taking the time to read this post.  I’m on a road trip through France, Switzerland, and Italy at the moment, capturing moments and sharing back through this blog and my Instagram account.IMG_3621

This post is week five and covers what’s happened since leaving behind Switzerland and driving south to Piedmont – a region in the north-west of Italy.

So far, I’ve stumbled across a truffle festival; crossed another mountain pass in the snow; sampled the delights of Italian cuisine, and eaten my first pizza since I’ve been away. 

Like most adventures, some of it has been good, and some of it has not. I’ve decided to also talk about that in this post as I wanted to share reality on what it can really be like to solo travel in a campervan.

If you wanted to catch up on the earlier weeks you can view them here: Week one, week two, week three, and week four.

Into week five…

From the region of Ticino, I crossed the border in Italy and slept the night at one of the smaller villages (Menaggioon the west side of Lake Como.

Having just come from the snowy heights of Monte Generoso (you can read about that here) I welcomed a few beers, a pizza, and a glass of wine with open (and greedy) arms.

Lake Como was a nice place to be for a few days. I caught the ferry across the water and spent time exploring Bellagio.  It was a pretty and quaint village but also very quiet. Perhaps a little too quiet for me.

From Lake Como, I decided to drive deeper into Italy. A friend had mentioned it was the end of the wine season for the region of Piedmont, and that Asti and Alba were both nice towns to visit for the food and wine.

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Asti was the first to visit. It was nice but I’ll be honest here, whilst it was pretty and full of stylish (and I mean stylish!) people, I struggled to get into it. For the first time on the road, I felt what it was like to be on my own.

I was surrounded by people in little groups drinking and eating together and the loneliness hit. Normally I just suck this up. This is solo travel. This is what it can be like but for some reason, it stuck with me.

What pulled me out of it was something I’ll hopefully not forget. As I walked a street at night I saw a lady on a bike had been hit by a car. I didn’t see what happened but the driver of the car was shouting and she stood and just looked on bewildered.

I stopped to help her and spent 1/2 an hour fixing her bike so she could at least push it wherever she needed to get to. Without being judgemental I knew she didn’t have much money. Perhaps she was almost living on the street.  Either way, she was happy for the help, and I was happy to have had the chance to have helped.

I can’t help but wonder if her situation was enhanced in some way by my own as it changed my mood for the night and the following days. There really is something in helping other people…

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Earlier this evening I stumbled across this women and her bike. I didn’t see what happened but she had been in an accident with a car. The owner of the car was freaking out / shouting whilst she stood and said nothing. What was quite surreal was the mans girlfriend suddenly appeared from nowhere, saw her boyfriend, gave him a kiss and (now both ignoring the lady with the bike) they both drove off. The lady was left bewildered at the side of the road, broken bike by her side. I tried to help fix her bike, straightening out the front wheel and getting it moving again. She was grateful she could at least push her bike home, gave me a smile, and off she went. Without being judgemental i’m guessing she didn’t have much money but the situation caught me. Behind all the photos of mountains / camper vans / wine / food / coffee so much more happening and everyone’s living their own little journey. Not trying to pull out significance, just sharing a moment which caught me by surprise and helped me think a little. I think travelling will do that. Especially when you’re on your own…plus it’s nice to help out once in a while. #solottravel #gratitude #justsharing #asti #italy #europe #roadtrip #vanlife

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From Asti, I continued to Alba – and to a Truffle festival. Strangely enough, I met more people here. First, a friendly Italian guy working behind the counter of a bar, and second a QC from London on holiday with his Italian wife.

He not only invited me to sit for a drink and lunch with him, but he also dragged me along to a truffle festival and tried to get me to come out to dinner with him and his wife that night.

Maybe he just wanted company so he didn’t have to talk to his wife or maybe he felt sorry for me as I was travelling alone. I politely declined and found a cosy bar to sit, drink wine, and people watch, but I did appreciate the offer.

Alba, as a place, was preferred over Asti.

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Hello #piedmont… Just a few moments captured from this part of #northeastItaly – the second largest region in the country and perhaps the most elegant place I’ve seen in a while… Lying flat between the #alps and the #Mediterranean, the area is famous for #slowfood, #wine, and #truffles. And it happens to be truffle season… #Truffles are known as Italy’s gastronomic gold and are similar to mushrooms that colonise certain tree roots to grow. They are hard to find and very expensive! Both #asti and #alba are nice towns to visit and close to each other. #trufflin’ #foodofthegods #roadtrip #intoitaly #foodporn #vanlife #campervan #exploremore #cultural #fierainternazionaletartufobiancad’alba #italy #italianstyle #campervanlife

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My last stop in Italy was Cuneo, less than an hour from Alba. I liked it straight away. People seemed happy, made eye contact, looked stylish but not pretentious.

The food was good. And I mean good. The city was also interesting and easy to explore. I ended up staying three nights, recharged myself and my van, and took things easy – only venturing out for a few short hikes / a drive to the mountains close by.

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The last few days have been spent in #Cuneo. Described as a condensed version of #Turin there are a few (good) reasons to stop here. The people are #stylish but not pretentious. The #MaritimeAlps are 20km away. The #food is good. Did I mention the food? How about liquid-chocolate #hotchocolate…or the #focaccia bread…or the cuneesi al rhum…or the baci di dama… There’s also an interesting #piazzagalimberti, dark and mysterious #churches, and #alpineviews (when it’s not raining 🤔). Sometimes with #travel I find you need to slow it down, and this was a place to do it. Thank you Cuneo 😎 🇮🇹. #cuneesialrhum #bacidiidama #localflavour #slowfood #culture #piedmont #hike #travel #roadtrip #vanlife #campervanlife #recharge #adventure #viaroma #ontheroad #campervanlifestyle #exploremore #northwestitaly #chocolateobsession

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The Maritime Alps form a close backdrop to the city and offer good hiking potential. As such, I’m sure I’ll come back here at some point.

Perhaps a short flight into Turin from the UK, hire a car, spend a few days in Cuneo and then a few days hiking the mountains. This time they were covered in snow. And they were only 200m higher than where I was in Cuneo! 

I believe there are refuges available to stay in the mountain, and I’ve got a feeling the area is understated, of good quality, and yet to be fully discovered. This is another area I’d recommend to explore.

So that’s week five. Here’s a quick video on a Truffle to lighten the mood. This is what happens when you spend five weeks in a campervan on your own. Thank god for social media as a way to express what’s going on!

Next stop – the south of France before deciding which way to loop back up to the UK.

A few tips…

Italy is cheaper than in Switzerland – at least for food – and the food is good!

I hadn’t realised, but I was getting tired of moving – I spent 8 nights in 8 different places without even meaning to. Spending 3 nights in one place gave me a chance to recharge.

Don’t take it personally if other drivers stay close to your tail. If you’re not flying along, this is just how it is.

Italian driving is terrible (sorry). I’ve not been in a country before where no indication means you’re coming round a roundabout and an indication means that you’re not!

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