Paul Burton

See other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Paul Burton
Be inspired to tour Italy, as Paul Burton recalls visits to Venice and Lake Garda – and gets more than he bargained for when staying at a vineyard!

Too expensive. Not safe. Miss it out. You’d be crazy to go there. 

These were four recurring comments we kept reading about Italy when plotting our motorhome tour around Europe. Thankfully we ignored these comments, as we spent an amazing five weeks travelling through this beautiful country. And September was ideal for our holidays in Italy, in terms of the weather slightly cooling and summer holidaymakers heading back home.

The reason for ignoring the above was quite simple: Venice. A city we’ve always wanted to visit and when we were forced from Croatia because of a terrible storm, Italy was our closest refuge.

When I say we, that’s me, Paul, my wife Emma, and our two dogs, a beagle and a labrador, touring in our CI Carioca 635. Currently escaping from the daily grind of UK life, we are experiencing our first trip abroad in a motorhome, and Italy was country number 10. And because of the restrictions associated with taking dogs on public transport in Italy we chose to stay at the closest camper area to Venice – Parcheggio del Tronchetto.

This wasn't the cheapest place at €21 for the first 12 hours and €16 for each subsequent 12-hour period, but it was certainly the most convenient – and as we were only staying two nights, it proved perfect for our short visit. Travelling with two dogs leads us to normally avoid major, touristy cities. However where we make exceptions for places like Venice, we avoid busy times to make it easier for us. And we are also aware that most tourists don’t want to share their space with dogs, no matter how cute.

There are so many things to do in Venice. From our first visit, late in the evening, the beauty and charm were evident from the very first moment. Still busy with tourists, we took a seat at a locals' bar and had a beer whilst looking at a map to see where the must-see sights were, before heading back to the 'van, alarm set for 6am.

By 6.30am we were back in the centre of Venice. With only the binmen around and with the sun rising, the beauty of this amazing city was intensified. Three hours later we had seen what we had come for (Basilica di San Marco, Bridge of Sighs) and found a café to refuel. Having expected the worst in terms of prices, we were surprised to be charged less than €6 for two coffees and two small sandwiches.

As we sat eating, watching more and more tourists arrive, we knew we'd timed it right. If nothing else, the crowds aren't fair on the dogs. So it was time to move on; the joy of motorcaravanning. From Venice our map suggested a visit to Lake Garda would be a good idea – and 90 minutes later we arrived in Peschiera at the southern end of the lake.  

We arrived at the camping area, planning on staying a day or two – and ended up staying for eight nights! It was fantastic in every respect. The site had everything we needed: decent Wi-Fi, showers, spacious pitches, a launderette, and Lidl close by, a five-minute walk into the town. And all for €15 a night. For being such a popular resort, food and drink wasn’t expensive, either.

From Peschiera you can take an expensive boat trip to other resorts such as Garda or Bardolino, or the cheaper bus to the very impressive Sirmione. We did both trips and although they were nice days out, it confirmed that for us Peschiera was the best place on the lake.

After eight weeks on the road, this was also the first place we met people for long enough to have decent conversations and hopefully keep in touch. Mal and Mary from Ireland had a 'van with everything – any drink I wanted he had, he even had ice!  Manfred and Susie from Koblenz in Germany continued the hospitality, inviting us round for spag bol German style, cooked with white wine. After breakfast together the next morning, we headed in separate directions, with us spending the next night in Ferrara. 

The highs and lows of travelling came to the fore en route to Santini Vineyard in Coriano. We broke down on the motorway and were towed off, and after paying over €200 we were informed we had run out of diesel! But just 20 minutes later we found ourselves parked at the vineyard, with the place to ourselves and amazing views in the distance to San Marino. We urgently required electricity and Wi-Fi and called the phone number as the electric needed turning on – Franco and son Sandro soon arrived and were most helpful. Following a good night's sleep and a lazy morning, we put the leads on the dogs and attempted to take them for a walk. I say attempted, as 20 metres into the walk, Sandro appeared and a discussion about wine production began.  

The discussion turned into a full blown tour of the vineyard and the house (which has two guest rooms), ending in the kitchen with a tasting of the six bottles of wine Sandro makes, and the olive oil, Alessandro producing enough meat and cheese to soak up the alcohol. Four hours later and slightly inebriated, we walked the 20 metres back to the 'van with two confused looking dogs.

We'd discovered that harvesting was due to take place in three days, weather permitting. Maybe it was the wine or maybe we were genuinely interested, but we volunteered with the grape picking and the following Monday, found ourselves standing next to the vines alongside 10 or so professional pickers. What an experience! Hand-picking grapes that will be used to make next year's wine. Our name will be associated with the 2015 wine from Santini. 

The town of Coriano is a 15-minute walk along quiet roads and whilst pretty enough, we didn’t venture here too often. Motorbike fanatics may be interested in the memorial to rider Marco Simoncelli who died at the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2011. We were actually sitting here beside the 'van and heard the roar of bikes from the 2014 San Marino Grand Prix, won, fittingly, by Valentino Rossi.

While staying at this vineyard, we took day trips to San Marino and Rimini, both worth visiting for different reasons. But how we were the only motorhome here for the seven-night stay is a mystery. Without doubt this is one of the best camper places we have visited – there's also a free washing machine which is a luxury when touring. Did I mention the swimming pool that is available for guests? We had this all to ourselves, and for a few days we felt like we actually owned this place. Oh well, one can but dream. 

Upon leaving we purchased six bottles of wine and a bottle of olive oil, and the total bill for accommodation and wine was around the same as one night in a decent hotel in the UK. Long live the motorhome! And be sure to keep up with our adventures on Twitter.

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