Here's a little list of tips we've compiled for living on the road in Italy
Italy's official national language is Italian.
Italy's official currency is the Euro. Credit and debit cards are widely accepted.
Drinking water taps are fairly widespread although are much easier to find in mountain towns. Generally water that is for drinking will be unmarked, whereas water that is not for drinking will be marked "Acqua non controlata" (or a variation of) which simply means the water is untreated.
Fuel stations will often have free water taps but this is not for drinking.
"Acqua potabile" means drinking water.
Check out our map of water points here.
Although you can officially get post delivered to any post office by addressing it as Fermo Posta in Italy, it is not advised to do so particularly without letting the post office know in advance. They will ask for a tracking number and will be very confused if you have sent it using anything other than an Italian courier or via Poste Italiane (Italy's national post service) as they will be unable to track it. However if you do wish to attempt to navigate Italy's extremely rigid postal service the address format is as follows:
Ufficio Postale di Town
Street name, number
At fuel stations you will often see two fuel prices displayed: one for "self" and one for "servito". Servito means that the pump is manned, and somebody will come out to fill your tank up for you; be aware, this will add on a service charge, which can sometimes be up to 35 cents per liter (this is the most we've seen it at). If you choose self service you will need to use one of the pay machines located next to one of the pumps.
It is advisable to have cash on you at fuel stations as, if you do not wish to pay the service charge for a manned pump, you will need to use a self service machine which can be picky about which cards they accept (unless you have an Italian Bancomat card, even the machines that say they take Visa / MasterCard may reject your card). However there are rarely any issues paying these machines with cash.
Italy does have a fuel comparison website prezzibenzina.it but we've found it to be largely inaccurate in its prices and often omits supermarket fuel stations (although these are rare to find).
There does not seem to be any rule for finding cheap fuel; the prices appear to be random, with even two of the same fuel station on the same road having two completely different prices (although we have noted stations such as Q8 and Tamoil are often on the lower end of the price range). Supermarket fuel is generally only as cheap as the cheapest fuel in the area (Coop and Auchan to name a couple). The time of day can also affect fuel prices, as we have witnessed fuel stations putting their prices up in time for rush hour and then lowering them again later.
Rubbish bins are easy to find but different types of recycling bin can often be spread out (e.g. Plastic on one street, Cardboard on the next, Glass 2km down the road...).
· Built-up areas 31mph (50km/h)
· Outside built-up areas 55mph (90km/h)
· Dual carriageways 68mph (110km/h) (55mph in wet weather)
· Motorways 80mph (130km/h) (68mph in wet weather)
If you passed your test less than 3 years ago you can not exceed 55mph (90 km/h) on dual carriageways and 62 mph (100 km/h) on motorways.
Virtually all motorways in Italy are toll roads. Unlike countries such as Spain and Portugal, there is rarely a free route running parallel and journeys not made on the toll roads can take up to three times longer. Additionally, the free roads usually pass through many towns with lower speed limits the whole way, and the roads are usually in poor condition in comparison to the smooth toll roads.
Pedestrians rarely look before crossing the road, so be prepared to stop as they usually have right of way. Italian drivers also accelerate first and think later; be prepared for traffic dodging, weaving and heart-stopping overtakes that look like near-head-on collisions to us foreign drivers. The key rule is not to hesitate: just go.
Orange lights stay orange for twice as long as they do in England, not that the Italians pay any attention to orange or even red lights.
You may have heard stories about how atrocious the state of Italy's roads can be; they're all true. Most of the roads look like someone has dumped a patchwork of Tarmac on the ground and thrown cat's eyes at it. You will see warnings for mountain roads with little or no barrier protecting you from the drop below, but you will never see signs warning you of narrow roads that are unsuitable for large vans or motorhomes of which there are plenty. Landslides are also abundant; don't expect to see roadworks clearing them, just a makeshift barrier directing you around the bit of road that's missing.
Many tourists report being stopped by the Caribinieri (Italy's military police force) multiple times during their trips, seemingly for no apparent reason. They will want to check your documents so it's advisable to have driving licences or passports for every passenger to hand as well as your logbook (V5C form) to make the process quicker and easier. Smile, be polite and let them get on with it. They will maybe also want to search your vehicle.
Be aware of No Entry signs marked "Zona Traffico Limitato". Usually found in cities, these indicate a limited traffic zone open only to residents and you will be fined if caught driving through one without a permit.
Speed cameras, known as "Autovelox" come in all sorts of shapes and sizes in Italy and are often hidden from view, unmarked or lacking in posted speed limit signs. Usually the only sign you will see is as you're entering a town; a big blue sign marked "Controlla Ellectronica della Velocita" accompanied by an image of a man holding up his hand or sometimes a sort of bell shape. The four main types of speed camera are:
- Grey ones which look like traffic cameras, usually suspended from gantries and often placed strategically behind bridges or at the end of tunnels to catch you as you leave
- Orange box cameras usually facing towards you as you enter a village with no prior warning, also placed at regular intervals throughout villages to ensure you stick to the speed limit
- Grey box cameras, usually placed perpendicular or sometimes parallel to the road and more like the typical type of speed camera seen elsewhere
- "Tutor" speed cameras: these are a type of average speed check camera used on the autostrada, usually with a warning that you are entering a Tutor zone
The police also use mobile speed cameras.
Be aware: they are trying to catch you out. Most Italians have radar detectors to let them know where the speed cameras are so keep an eye on traffic around you as a good indicator.
Compulsory items to carry in your vehicle always:
· Warning triangle
· Reflective jacket
· Snow chains or winter tyres - between 15 October and 15 April
Wild camping in Italy - as in many countries - is a legal grey area. As a general rule if you are out of the way, not on private property or in densely populated tourist areas you will be okay to stay in your van overnight. Just look out for signs and restrictions. Police tend to look differently at the situation if you have chairs out and awning up etc., so just keep it discreet and move on regularly and you should be fine.
Italy was one of the countries we were most looking forward to, but unfortunately we were a little disappointed when we went. While it is a wonderfully cultural place with some of the best food in Europe, it's not the most suitable place for a campervan. Aside from the obvious narrow streets and the roads (don't even get us started on the roads), wild camping anywhere on Italy's beautiful coastline is nearly impossible as it's so built up, and aside from Tuscany there really isn't much wild space to park up inland. Saying this, we spent just a month and a half exploring the North of Italy as far down as Grosseto, so we can't say much for the South.
The summers are hot but the winters are cold and snowy, particularly anywhere North above Turin.
By far our favourite place in all of Italy is Saturnia, a natural thermal waterfall with hot blue waters, the gem of Tuscany. Cinque Terre was one of our few visits to the coast and well worth it- five colourful fishing villages beautifully perched on the steep cliff edges by the sea. It's possible to drive between them, park outside and walk in, or take a day to walk along the coastal path between them. In our opinion the best time of year to visit is winter, when it's not overcrowded with tourists.
There were a few things we didn't like about Italy however, and the main reason we ended up leaving Italy early was the Carabinieri, the military police who patrol the roads and stopped us constantly for no reason whatsoever. The constant harassment made us feel unwelcome and on edge. It may be surprising to know that Italy also has a massive litter problem, a bit of a contrast from the glamorous photos you see online. The roads are horrendous and the drivers are crazy- not even avalanches and landslides will stop them.
One of the best things about Italy though is you can get a pizza at any restaurant, no matter how big or small, for €5, and it will guaranteed be the best pizza you've ever eaten. Fresh pesto you can buy from any shop or supermarket and should be eaten daily, preferably with a drink of Limoncello. Cornetti al Cioccolato are also the perfect breakfast treat- croissants filled with Nutella and dusted with chocolate shavings.