Dear Frugal Friends,
What an exciting September we’ve had! We drove down through France to Italy and saw so many fabulous things and spent lots of quality time together – I hope the children will remember it forever!
We fitted so much in, but had loads of days chilling at the pool in between so it was a great blend of both culture and relaxation, especially with the kids in tow. It amazed me how interested they were in the cultural side and learning about the history of the places that we visited. I’m really proud of the kids; we must have walked so many miles on our travels and they really took it all in their stride – they were well rewarded with gelato! 😂
We started our journey in The Alps in Aosta, which is a 9 hour drive from Calais and we travelled there in a day. The motorways in France were better than our UK ones and my husband actually enjoyed the drive down without delays and the usual English roadworks everywhere! One thing to be aware of is the tolls – it cost us about €90 to travel each way through France using the toll roads. (And the Mount Blanc tunnel was over £40 each way!!) You can avoid them but it adds hours to the journey time and makes the route more complex.
As a cheaper alternative in the future we will travel through Belgium and Germany as much as possible as they have no tolls for cars. Then onwards through Switzerland, you pay €40 a year to travel on their motorways as much as you like. We were prepared for the tolls this year though; due to coronavirus we had to drive to Italy in one stretch so we had to go via France.
Having said that, although we spent a lot on tolls and fuel during our trip, our transport costs came to less than our flights for our cancelled trip to Lanzarote for a week back in May. And, it was well worth it to be away for a few weeks and to travel around seeing all of these wonderful things. As well as that, driving our own car felt so much easier than flying – we just shoved all of our junk in the boot! By driving we also avoided car hire charges and airport parking etc.
Italy also have a toll system but to see Italy without taking the longer routes they are unavoidable. If you have a longer stretch of time for travelling it would be doable but to fit in everything we wanted to see in a few weeks the tolls were worth the outlay to make the most of our time away.
Aside from two nights in hotels in Aosta, we stayed in Eurocamps to keep the accommodation as cheap as possible. With it being September it was really cheap, and then my husband got a 40% discount through work via Perkbox so we paid around £650 in total for all of our Eurocamp accommodation.
Through Eurocamp you can also book the channel tunnel at a reduced rate of £61 each way. We had a bit of a mixed bag with our caravans and I’ll do a post on Eurocamp at some point with a bit more info on what to expect, tips and value for money. The campsites themselves are not run by Eurocamp – all three campsites we visited were clean, had great pools and facilities and lovely staff.
Our Itinerary – 21 nights
1 night: Aosta
10 nights: Lake Garda
3 nights: Rome
6 nights: Tuscany
1 night: Aosta
The Alps – Aosta
We spent a night either end of our trip in The Alps, mostly to break up the driving as it’s in the north west and so one of the first places you reach when you enter Italy from France. The area was absolutely gorgeous – we only had a short time for exploring but we are going to travel to Switzerland next year and explore the mountains properly.
We spent 10 days in Lake Garda – it was a bliss, and a great base for exploring Venice and Verona which are only a short drive away. We found parking outside Verona and walked in, but for Venice we parked drove to Mestre train station and trained the last bit of the journey.
Verona was stunning; we visited the Arena and there was a pop concert rehearsal so we got a free show from lots of Italian popstars which the kids loved! The Arena was €10 per adult, €1 for over 8s, and under 8s were free – so it’s a more affordable one to visit than the Colosseum in Rome, and it’s actually in much better condition. We had a quick peak at Juliet’s Balcony too – Lola was very confused as she thought I said Gnomeo and Juliet! 😂 No gnomes?!
The kids were really fascinated by Venice – they love boats at the best of times so a picnic by the water’s edge was perfect. They most enjoyed seeing the ambulance and police boats, as well as the gondolas. We decided not to ride a gondola due to it being €80 for 30 minutes! Travelling for so long, and on a budget, meant we had to be sensible about what we spent where. We visited St Mark’s Square and went inside the Basilica and museum which was €5 pp – under 6s went free so Lola was 6 for the day. 😉
The Eurocamp site (Camping San Vito) was absolutely perfect for the kids. The main pool was deep enough to swim in but they could stand up everywhere. The flumes and play area kept them busy for hours, and they did SO much swimming too; with Lola learning to swim without her armbands! This campsite was kid heaven and well worth a stay if you’re visiting Lake Garda.
Lake Garda itself was beautiful, and we enjoyed lots of walks and picnics on the lake. Finn and Lola sketched the lake and boats in their scrap books and one evening we walked along to a nearby town to have a meal out – the kids said their pizza was the best they’d ever had!
From Lake Garda we drove to Rome, where we stayed at (Camping Village Fabulous) a site outside of the centre. We only had two full days here (3 nights) so we had one day in Rome itself and another making the most of the pools and relaxing.
To get to the centre of Rome we parked at Vinitia train station (5 mins drive from our caravan site) and got the train in. The train / Metro was the perfect way for little legs to explore the city – €7 per adult, and kids under 10 travel for free. Given the 33 degree heat, we were VERY grateful that public transport in Rome is so cheap and easy!
In fact, Rome is actually a pretty affordable place for a day trip as the religious buildings here are all free as well – meaning you can see a lot of places without spending a penny. Some places offer additional costs for certain parts of the building, or the museum etc, but the main parts of the buildings can be viewed for free. The children really enjoyed Rome – it is such a unique and interesting place! And, with a lack of tourists, we just walked right in to everything; perfect with two kiddies in tow!
We spent the last part of our trip in Tuscany with some very interesting weather! By day glorious sunshine, by night torrential rain and HUGE thunderstorms which shook the caravan! Luckily, the days were lovely so it didn’t dampen our spirits, and we do love a good storm!
The Eurocamp site we stayed at (Valle Gaia) was very empty and at the end of the season so the kids had the pool to themselves for most of it and loved it! We had a problem with a broken oven and a bit of a manky, old caravan but the Eurocamp rep was a brilliant older gent and we were soon gifted €100 for a meal out and moved to a brand new caravan as soon as it became available. Our funded meal out was a lovely break from cooking and we went crazy on huge plates of pasta and too much pudding! 😂
From Tuscany we visited Florence and climbed the steps to the top of Piazzale Michelangelo which gave us the most stunning view over the city and was definitely a highlight of our trip. We also had a visit to The Leaning Tower of Pisa which the little ones found really interesting. We did, of course, have to get the classic ‘hold it up’ tourist photo! 😆
Keeping Costs Down
We didn’t eat out much when we were away – instead we shopped at supermarkets and I cooked most nights. I also packed the car with juices, bags of pasta, cereal etc which we brought with us from England. During the day we would get baguettes from supermarkets on site (around a euro) and have a picnic lunch every day. On our city visits we often had a Mcdonalds for dinner! Not the healthiest of options but at €19 for their family deal – 2 Happy Meals and 2 Adult Meals it was much more affordable than eating out in a restaurant if we were out too late to cook at home.
We visited a lot of places with free entry; some are very expensive and all of that adds up pretty quickly when there are 4 of you – some things we just appreciated from the outside. All in all we spent just over £2200 on the trip including spending money, excursions, food, tolls (around £400 of the costs), fuel (around £300), the channel crossing (£122), Eurocamp accommodation (£650) and hotels (£200). I think it was money well spent and amazing value considering our usual week away in May half-term would usually come to a similar amount. For such a packed 3 week trip I think it was worth every penny!
I hope this is helpful for anyone thinking of visiting Italy with the kids; we had a blast and I would definitely recommend it for sun, culture, yummy food and lots of fun! 😀