You don’t like extensive planning and prefer being spontaneous? Then a road trip through Northern Italy is just the thing for you. Especially the spring and summer months are ideal for packing your bags and spontaneously exploring the homeland of pizza and pasta. Breathtaking nature, picturesque villages, metropolises and fantastic beaches. A trip through Northern Italy offers everything a camper heart dreams of. The best thing about it: when you follow our suggestions you won’t have to travel any route section twice.
You start the tour at our rental station in Ilmenau. After driving across Germany and parts of Austria, you will cross the Brenner pass and your first stop in Merano is just a stone’s throw away. Known as a health resort, Merano awaits you year-round with a mild and Mediterranean climate. The sight of palm trees in front of snow-capped mountain peaks is not uncommon in Merano. The town became known mainly for its spas and its Art Nouveau architecture. Today the city also invites you to stroll and enjoy. Besides, Merano is an ideal starting point for long hikes and bike tours.
Tip: if you still have some time, make a short stop in Bolzano. The city has a really pretty old town center and an ice-cream on the piazza is definitely worth the short detour.
Let’s go south. After approx. 150 km you will reach the beautiful Lake Garda. Malcesine, the “Pearl of Lake Garda” awaits you on the east bank. The place is popular with tourists, especially in summer; nevertheless, there is a pleasant atmosphere in which you really feel comfortable. A medieval town center with small squares invites you to linger. The waterfront of Malcesine runs south, passing several small bathing spots. It gets a little wilder north of town. The neighboring Riva del Garda is an Eldorado for water sports enthusiasts, especially windsurfers, and climbers love Arco, situated just a few kilometers further north.
In Malcesine you shouldn’t miss a cable car ride to the Tratto Spino (1760 m a.s.l.), a summit of Monte Baldo. From here you get a fabulous view of the lake and the mountain range that embeds it. The mountain station is an ideal starting point for long hikes and mountain bike tours.
On the opposite shore of the lake there is Limone. Olive groves and rustic lemon gardens adorn the town and the area surrounding it. Incidentally, the name Limone does not derive from the fruit; lime comes from Latin and means border. The border between Italy and Austria originally ran through Limone. The best way to get there is by boat. If you want to avoid the hustle and bustle of tourists, you should start as early as possible.
The last stop at Lake Garda is in Sirmione. At the southern tip of the lake, on a peninsula that extends over 4 kilometers into the lake, you will find many beautiful swimming spots. Since the tip of the island is surrounded by a wide ring of limestone slabs, there is almost a Caribbean flair here, because the water above these slabs shimmers in a beautiful turquoise. And in the old town of Sirmione you can explore one of the most beautiful water castles in Europe.
The next stop is Verona. From Sirmione it is only about 40 kilometers to Verona. Through the play Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, the city is known worldwide as the city of love. Accordingly, many nationalities from all over the world come together here. Don’t miss the Verona Arena, a well-preserved Roman amphitheater from 30 AD. The arena is a popular concert venue today. Due to its excellent acoustics, numerous opera performances and rock concerts take place here, especially in the summer months. If you have the opportunity to attend one of these events, you will remember this experience forever. With a little luck you can get cheap tickets for the same evening in one of the ticket shops right next to the arena.
Today we continue to Venice – a must on a tour of Northern Italy. It’s a city that impresses again and again. In Venice, apart from the main sights such as St. Mark’s Square and the Rialto Bridge in the San Marco district, you can always discover places that are spared from the tourist hustle and bustle. We definitely recommend that you spend a little more time in Venice and take a trip to the colorful island of Burano. The water taxi takes you to the former fishing village, where each house is painted in a different color, in around 45 minutes. As almost everywhere in Italy, it is worth arriving here in the early morning.
You will also find many seaside resorts around Venice. So if you need a breather, a stop in one of the seaside resorts like Bibione is more than worthwhile.
We continue to Bologna, an Italian university town. Even if you are getting tired of architecture and tradition, Bologna is definitely worth a stopover. As a college town, it offers many stylish bars, countless cafes, vintage shops and a lot of street art. The symbols of Bologna are the medieval gender towers, from which you can also enjoy the best view.
Today you have a 4-hour drive to Cinque Terre via the Appenin mountain range ahead of you. The drive there is a real highlight. The route leads along winding mountain roads past lonely villages, up to an altitude of 1261 meters. After crossing the Passo del Cerreto pass, the destination awaits you, five fishing villages in the middle of jagged rocks. Definitely you should take the opportunity and go on a hike along the blue path. The 5-hour hike takes you along the coast to Riomaggiore via Manarola, Corniglia and Vernazza to Monterosso al Mare. If it gets too strenuous, you can also switch to the train that connects all 5 locations.
Your next destination is the Imperia area, around 200 kilometers from Cinque Terre. The drive there takes you along beautiful coastline. The clocks here in the Flower Riviera run a bit slower and the best way to experience this area is to watch the farmers harvesting olives or stroll through colorful flower markets and flower fields. The historic city center of Imperia is almost as beautiful as that of Cinque Terre, but not nearly as crowded. Definitely worth seeing is the port that already had a career in Hollywood when it set the backdrop for the film Bourne Identity.
If you haven’t had enough of Italian cities yet, you can also stop in Genoa on the way to Imperia. But be careful, after your stay in the Flower Riviera, you’re already off to the next big city.
After the calm and serenity of the Flower Riviera vibrant city life is next. Don’t miss the Milan Cathedral, Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper in Santa Maria delle Grazie and the Castello Sforzesco. Also, the city is ideal for strolling and shopping. Incidentally, Milan is developing more and more into a bicycle town and the bike is an ideal companion to explore the place.
The last stop on our road trip is Lago Maggiore, Italian’s second largest lake after Lake Garda. In the south, Lake Maggiore belongs to Italy and enchants with a Mediterranean flair, while rugged mountain peaks dominate the northern part of the lake, which belongs to Switzerland. The small island of Isola Bella is ideal for a short expedition. The island, with its ship-like form has baroque buildings and colorful gardens, perfect for a short hike. The Swiss towns of Ascona and Locarno are also worth a visit. From the Cardada mountain you can enjoy a stunning view of the lake and say goodbye to the beautiful Italy before heading back to Germany via the Gotthard tunnel. The way to Ilmenau is about 700 kilometers long.