Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Roadtripping through Europe Part 3 – Italy to England

Nearly six months ago we went on a roadtrip to Tuscany. Today, I will finally finish telling you about it. As one of the best adventures we’ve ever had, I’m not sure why it’s taken me so long to tell you about it. It might be the sheer hugeness of the trip and the fact it’s taken not one, but three, blog posts to tell you all about it.

You might remember Part 1 was the drive from the UK down through France to Tuscany and all the wine and champers in between. Part 2 was our week in Tuscany, which mainly consisted of pool, sunshine, pasta, wine and more wine. And now it’s Part 3, the journey home. Except it was far more than just a journey and almost felt like a second holiday.

We left Tuscany after a week of rest and relaxation and headed to Lake Garda. A place that was on all of our lists, we’d booked in for two nights at a campsite right on the shore at the south of the lake and planned to explore a bit of it. Needless to say, this kind of view stole are hearts and pretty soon we were discussing how we could manage to stay just that little bit longer to soak up the scenery.

Lake Garda, Italy

Lake Garda, Italy

On the first evening we wandered along the shore to the harbour near Moniga del Garda, the nearby town. Without any research (unusual for us) we stumbled upon a lovely little restaurant where we wiled away a few more hours dining on gorgeous food with the lake RIGHT THERE IN FRONT OF US. Seared tuna, epic pasta, lovely seafood. More of the Italian gorgeousness that had made us want to make Italy the focal point of our destination in the first place.

Dinner at Moniga, Lake Garda

Dinner at Moniga, Lake Garda

Dinner at Moniga, Lake Garda

Dinner at Moniga, Lake Garda

The beauty of roadtrips is that the world really is your oyster. We had planned to stay at Lake Garda for two nights but a quick examination of the weather forecast and we decided it would make far more sense to stay an extra night. It was due to be a bit grey on our first day but to brighten up and by adding a night we had a whole extra day to enjoy the sunshine and see the lake in all its glory.

Lucky for us, that meant the grey day could be dedicated to a trip to Bardolino for its annual wine festival. I’m not sure any of us quite realised how big the festival actually is but we enjoyed an afternoon sampling all the different local wines, munching on all manner of street food-style offerings and joining the crowds in celebrating Bardolino wine. If you’re nearby at that time of year (end of September/early October) I can thoroughly recommend the festival as something that’s just a little bit different to your normal holiday activity.

Bardolino wine festival, Lake Garda

Bardolino wine festival, Lake Garda

Lake Garda

The following day the sun appeared, as promised, making it the perfect weather to hop on one of the ferries and go across to Sirmione. Known for its medieval castle and thermal baths, it’s one of those places all the guidebooks and info point you to. It was also easy to get to for us, so seemed a natural choice.

I’d love to say we explored the Roman villa and museum, walked up to the church and saw the whole town. Sorry to disappoint. However, I feel we did thoroughly enjoy the Sirmione experience. An Aperol Spritz in the square followed by a wander along the beach to let the dogs explore and a quick look at the thermal spa (very good for you apparently but only if you can stand the accompanying smell of egg).

And then, as you are probably familiar with by now, we decided to go for a spot of lunch. Of course, a little cafe wouldn’t quite suffice and this was the day we ended up in the epic La Speranzina – the stuff of memories – where we meandered through a many-coursed tasting menu overlooking the lake and having one of those conversations that consists mainly of wondering how you ended up being quite so lucky and feeling rather grateful for everything in life.

Sirmione, Lake Garda

We did manage a short walk round Sirmione while we were waiting for the last ferry home and it really is beautiful – somewhere I’d go back to. I hear high season is a nightmare but at this time of year it’s a great place to mooch around without too many crowds.

The next day we finally tore ourselves away from Lake Garda heading for the next stop – Switzerland. Lucky for us it involved driving right past Lake Como so we managed a quick look and an obligatory final pizza before leaving Italy.

Pizza at Lake Como

While the beauty of roadtrips is the flexibility and ability to change things at the drop of a hat, that comes with the possibility of someone else changing things without warning and it being entirely out of your control. Like closing a major road…

Despite Google Maps’ refusal to oblige and find us another route, we were determined not to be beaten and plotted our own alternative route up the most spectacular and sometimes scary mountain road that I think I’ve ever experienced. Hairpin after hairpin, we climbed into the fog, hoping we were indeed on the right track and wouldn’t have to come back, only to do the same back down the other side, doggedly continuing through rain, a bit of hail and more fog.

Roadtrip

I’m happy to say, it was all worth it and a few hours later we found ourselves parked up in another place that was planned to just be another stop off but proved to be a highlight. A pristine Swiss campsite overlooking the lake, bright, crispy sunshine, and the sense of achievement that comes with reminding yourself that you can actually cope when things go a bit awry.

We dined that night in a cosy hotel restaurant in Vitznau, leaving the world of pasta and pizza behind and swapping it for meat and game galore with a bit of offal thrown in. Liver, sweetbreads and venison transported us right to the rustic mountain world, preparing us for a trip up to the top the next day.

Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Part of this tale is a salutary lesson in being organised, leaving enough time to get places, and not buying train tickets in a rush without checking the price. At £50 a ticket, the Vitznau – Rigi Kulm cog railway isn’t one of the cheapest train trips going, but I’m quite glad we didn’t realise how much it cost. We probably would have backed out and then not enjoying the trip itself as well the great views from the top. The sight of our two dogs charging around on the top of the world is one that I’m pretty sure will stay with us for a long time to come. And just look at those views!

Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

I could share more of the final 48 hours with you but compared to some of the previous adventures you might be a bit disappointed. Having stayed an extra day in Lake Garda, the last two days were a sprint from Lucerne back up through France where we stopped for one quiet night before heading to the Eurotunnel and back home. We did manage to find a nice French restaurant for one last three-course meal, one last celebratory bottle of wine, and a good night’s sleep before the schlep back to Calais.

For anyone planning on taking your dog to Europe, I can thoroughly recommend Eurotunnel. On the way back you have to pop to ‘pet reception’ (yes, that’s a thing) and get your pet passport checked (you should have had your dog checked and wormed by a vet before you head back – all the advice is online) and then you’re free to go. Before we knew it we were back on that train and zooming our way to the UK, where of course there was a traffic jam.

Writing this now is strange, it feels like an age ago yet all the memories are still so fresh. It truly was a trip of a lifetime, packed with experiences, sights, scenery, food, drink and memories to last a lifetime. If you love adventure, this will be right up your street. We’re so used to seeking far-flung places I think perhaps we sometimes forget all the loveliness right on our doorstep in Europe. From one day to the next you can be in a different place and a different culture, complete with its different cuisine. What’s not to like?

Needless to say, we’re already planning the next one…..

We paid in full for everything on our road trip. 

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