Italy and France are synonymous with food - which is a conscience because so am I.
So when a few of our plans in Turkey fell over, we started fresh brainstorming where to go in July . If there’s one thing I maybe love more than food, it's fields of flowers, so it seemed perfect to fly to Italy, rent a van and drive through Provence for a week.
The map below shows the key locations we visited during our 7 day road trip. There are various ways of driving the route, and depending on the time you have you can decide whether you’d like to hit the highways or weave through towns. Highways are fast and easy, but sometimes it’s better to weave through the towns to enjoy the beauty.
We used Bologna as our starting and finishing location, purely due to cheap flights from our previous destination. We then travelled in loop from Bologna to the south of France, up to Provence, and back to Italy via Susa & Turin.
A few of our favourite stops…
Just outside of Bolonga in the town of Casalecchio di Reno you'll find rolling hills (filled with sunflowers in July) and some of the best pizza I'd ever had. Swing past Pizza Mickey if you're in the area!
These five picturesque towns are perched along the rugged cliffside of the Italian Riviera and are worthy of more than a brief stop over, but perfect for a swim and some local wine when you're in the area.
South of France The South of France is filled with stunning seaside resort towns, and Villefranche-sur-Mer is one of the best towns to stop in, even just for dinner along the marina.
Beautiful quintessential French town in a valley, perfect for coffee, croissant and window-shopping. It’s also down the road from an incredible lake which is a bit of a local’s secret, as most tourists head for the more popular Verdon Gorge. There was only a handful of people on the edge of the lake for our entire stay, and we were even questioned by a few local day trippers pressing “who told you about this place??”
Wanting to honour the locals-secret, shoot me a message if you want more details for the lake!
One of the most picturesque towns in the area, and if you’re visiting during July/August, take a small detour out of town to the Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénaque. Also don’t miss the look out over the Town, I’ve pinned it on the map.
A stunning & quiet little town, perfect to stop for a croissant or gelato.
This area is your best bet for sunflowers and lavenders during July and early August.
If you are on the hunt for flower fields, take a read of Where to find Sunflower and Lavender fields in Provence.
Gorges Du Verdon
Stunning turquoise water flows through this narrow gorge and out to a Lac de Sainte-Croix. The road along the gorge is pretty hairy at times, but has a great view down to the bottom.
Breakdown of costs
Your vehicle: The main cost for the trip is of course the campervan. Unlike Australia and New Zealand, campervans rentals are not overly abundant in Europe therefore the prices are not highly competitive. Indie Campers, however, are a perfect option - their vans are modern, comfortable and inconspicuous (so you don’t scream Tourist sleeping here when you pull up in a park for the night). Depending on your van choice and pick up location, vans cost around 100 per night.
A note about driving campervans in Europe: Many small town roads are not built for motorhomes or campervans. Squeezing through one-lane roads with brick walls on either side and an Alpha Romeo right on your tail can be pretty stressful. If you’re not overly confident or experienced in driving large vehicles, I’d recommend to hire a car.
Insurance: Make sure you are well covered with insurance, either your own travel insurance or the policy offered by the hire company.
Day to day: Once you’re on your way, the additional costs to consider are food, petrol/diesel, tolls and souvenirs on the road. This is all up to you and your budget - supermarket food is cheap if you wish to cook for yourself, and tolls are avoidable if you have plenty of time on your side.
A note about tolls: Unless your hire company tells you otherwise, always choose the lane with the ticket/payment option, not the automated licence plate lane. Otherwise, you’ll get to your exit and if you don’t have a ticket you’ll be charged the maximum amount possible for the toll road (upwards of 65.) If this does happen, email firstname.lastname@example.org and explain your situation, noting the time and location of your entry and exit plus your number plate, and they may help to rectify the costs.
Where to stay when travelling in a van
Motorhome parking / Aires de Service
Another option is to stay in what the French call Aires de Service, an area in town with basic services for motorhomes (parking, waste disposal etc). A lot of the time they are just parking lots and nothing special in terms of location but sometimes you just need a place to sleep!
Campgrounds are ideal if you need guaranteed services like electricity or showers, or prefer the extra security. Some campgrounds may require bookings during the high season or may be closed during low season.
Free camping makes for some of the most enjoyable experiencing. Sleeping right on the beach, beside a lake, at the top of a mountain… your wakeup views can be whatever you want them to be.
Police generally turn a blind eye to free camping as long as you’re not disturbing locals or disrespecting the area. So make sure you have a self-contained van (toilet on board) and take all your waste with you! Even better, if your vehicle doesn’t havre a gas bottle installed in the van (ie just a cooker to take outside), it is not considered a campervan or motorhome, only a van, meaning technically you can pull up and sleep anywhere.
Another option to consider if you’re planning on spending more time in France, is to join the France Passion network. There are over 2,000 winemakers, farmers and artisanal producers who open their gates to travellers and welcome you to spend a night on their property. You’ll need to purchase a France Passion membership to be eligible, and request to stay at least a day in advance.
Must download: You can find campgrounds, farms (even ones not part of France Passion) Aires de Service and free camping spots all using this amazing app: Park4Night. Curated by travellers, it provides parking options all over Europe and beyond.