Europe roadtrip: Italy, Switzerland, France - pt 2
So, my last post ended in Venice, en route to the Dolomite mountain range in Italy.
I knew Italy's autonomous South Tyrol province (also called Alto Adige or Südtirol) was culturally similar to Austria: it's a mountainous - and so geographically as well as culturally distinct - area which is on the border with Austria and has only been part of Italy since 1919. And I knew most people in that region spoke German as a first language, but I wasn't prepared for such a quick and seemingly random transition between Italian and German - we'd drive through villages where all signs were in German and in the next, everything was completely Italian. I had assumed it would get gradually more German as we headed North, but that really wasn't the case: we found pockets of Italian here and there amid the more common German.
We stayed at a great campsite called Camping Alpe di Siusi/Seiser Alm, which had a much posher toilets/showers/makeup area than most hotels I've stayed in, as well as a sauna and - the cutest thing I'd seen in a while - a special dog shower for muddy pooches.
In the evening, the campsite smelled of Wiener Schnitzel (I'm not even joking) and as I walked back from the luxury toilets I noticed every camper van had a deep fat fryer set up outside. I feel more research needs to be done on this phenomenon.
The rain poured for about half an hour when we arrived but cleared up quickly and we ate bread and cheese for dinner as the campsite shop had closed early. Cooking in the van is pretty easy - we have a large two-burner camping stove that we set up outside on our table and can make anything that can be cooked on two hobs and a small grill. There's loads of storage for food where we keep pasta, rice, noodles and pulses, and our fridge is surprisingly spacious, with enough for room for the obligatory local beers as well as veggies, milk and cheese. We also have a single hob inside for emergencies (like rain or early morning coffee).
The next day we took the Seis Seiser Alm cable car to Compaccio/Compatsch and then the Puflatsch cable car further North into the mountains. This area, called Alpe di Suisi or Seiser Alm is Europe's largest high-altitude Alpine meadow.
This is what we saw:
Mountainside meadows in May are always spectacular. There's something about the way tiny Alpine wildflowers carpet the hillside that contrasts with the vast panorama of the mountain range that makes you appreciate the micro beauty of the world as well as the macro.
I'm always looking down searching for flowers and my husband is always pointing out the view.
After lunch we stopped at a mountain restaurant for glass of wine and I listened to a bunch of middle-aged American ladies on the table behind us gossiping. The kind of holidays I go on are usually popular with the over-50 crowd. As we were up in the mountains and had just come from the exclusively German-speaking campsite, I expected German to be spoken, but nope - all Italian in this restaurant in the middle of nowhere, up a mountain.
Soon enough it was time to get back on the road.
We were heading to Lago di Tovel, a lake in the Parco Naturale Adamello Brenta in the Brenta Dolomites, about two hours further west. Our Park4night app told us there was a free overnight car park for camper vans just off the lake. We arrived and sure enough, there it was.
Since their reintroduction in 1999, the area is home to brown bears. Brown bears!
When I was making dinner that night, I tripped and spilled some uncooked dried pasta on the ground. I thought nothing of it and kicked it into the bushes. My husband then started talking about how it would attract bears - I was sure it wouldn't - but he was so insistent that I got paranoid and scrambled about picking up each farfalla to dispose of in the bear-proof bins. I think he was winding me up.
We never saw any bears. But it was so bloody beautiful that I didn't mind.
The next morning we had breakfast at a beautiful lodge by the lake so we could hijack their wifi and properly plan the next stage of the trip. Unfortunately their wifi was for guests only, but I had an early-morning slice of cake, so it wasn't a wasted journey.
We walked two-thirds the way around the lake until we came across workers repairing the path who told us to turn back as we couldn't continue around the lake. I had the bright idea of running back, as we had been talking about what little exercise we'd been doing. So we got back to Van a sweaty mess. We immediately realised this was a mistake as we had a four-hour drive ahead of us.
Our over-arching plan was to go home via Switzerland and France, but we had one more stop in Italy first: Lake Como. After hiking all day and sleeping in a car park the previous night I was looking forward to a bit of Italian glamour. The only problem was the aforementioned day of hiking and the ill-advised run that morning. We pulled up at a motorway service station praying for showers, but we weren't so lucky. A sink wash would have to cut it.
Como was pleasant enough, but it didn't blow me away. And even though we were hankering for time in a city, we still managed to find a walk to do while the afternoon sun lasted. A funicular took us to a town called Brunate, from where its a short uphill walk past a few mansions to a lighthouse. You have to pay to enter, but it's worth it for the panorama of the lake and mountains at the top.
After getting attacked by pigeons for our aperitivi, we grabbed a pizza and decided what to next as we were keen to make our way towards Switzerland: a) sleep in the van on the residential road we were parked on in Como, b) drive to the outskirts and try to find a campsite still open, or c) stop at a motorway service station in the HGV car park.
For the sake of variety, we chose option c.
I'll leave the rest for the next post.