When I first signed up for Ironman Italy, almost a year before the race, I knew there would be a great opportunity to build a holiday around it. I’d never visited Italy before, so it made sense to see a bit more of the country while I was over there. I put the idea to bed for a few months and then an advert popped up in an email about a swimming event…in Italy. I checked out ‘Swim the Island’ and the date happened to be exactly two weeks after Ironman – perfect! I have always loved the idea of campervanning across Europe, and even though embarking on this adventure as a solo traveller would not be the cheapest way to do it, on this occasion I decided to listen to my heart and rent myself a Wicked Camper for the two weeks after my big race.
After parting ways with my fellow Ironman athletes at Bologna airport, I hopped on the train to Venice for a couple of nights. I had one day to do everything that Venice had to offer me, so I headed out early the next morning. I warmed to the city instantly. I’ve always loved places where there are no cars, and this place had narrow, weaving walkways and cute bridges over the canals. I could (and did!) get lost there very easily, but if you keep walking long enough you’ll arrive at some water, or a main square from where you can navigate more easily.
I walked straight to Piazza San Marco, which was already getting busy. I went up the tower of Campanile di San Marco for an awesome 360 view of the whole city. I looked at the queue for Basilica di San Marco and decided not to bother! I jumped on a boat across to Murano where I wandered around, browsing the glass shops for an hour or so. Back on the boat and over to Burano where the famously colourful houses decorate the already charming streets. It felt quite magical, like walking around a fairytale, whilst the residents just went about their daily lives.
Back on the main island I found a renowned Ice Cream shop called Suso and bought myself an amaretto ice cream which I ate while listening to buskers on a bridge. I meandered through the tiny streets, drinking an Aperol spritz (they’re so cheap here!) and sat down by the water as the sun went down. I had pasta for dinner from one of the many takeaway places and then then finally walked back to the station to head back to my hostel. I managed to cram everything I wanted into my day and absolutely loved my mini adventure. Time to get some sleep and get ready for the next big adventure!
I picked up my Wicked Camper the next day just outside Venice. I couldn’t believe it when I saw that I’d been given a van with a huge purple octopus painted on the side! Those who know me well know that I love octopuses and even have a purple octopus tattooed on my back. This camper van could not have been more perfect for me. I named her Lola, picked up some supplies from the supermarket and then I was free to go wherever I wanted.
I headed straight for Lake Garda, which was a 3ish hour scenic drive. I arrived in Torri del Benaco just before the sun went down, found a little campsite on the side of a hill and parked up for my first night.
I wandered around the little town at night, which was quite charming, and had an early night as driving was proving to be quite tiring. The next morning I was up early for a short run along the side of the lake, followed by a swim to cool down. Absolutely perfect and exactly what I was hoping for on this part of the holiday 🙂
I drove along the edge of Lake Garda to just outside Malcesine and walked (further than I expected!) into the town, which was just beautiful, and by now the sun was shining, so any excuse for an ice cream.
I drove further on to find a campsite, had something to eat and then walked back into Malcesine to take the cable car up to Monte Baldo. The view was stunning and I was lucky enough to capture it just before the clouds covered everything! It’s a popular mountain biking area and I can only imagine how much fun it would have been to descend in style! But I settled for hopping back on the cable car halfway down and walking the pretty trail down the rest of the way.
I had another early morning to visit Cascata del Varone before it got too busy. It wasn’t the most impressive waterfall I’ve ever seen, although some of the rock formations were stunning! I parked down in Riva del Garda which was a buzzing little place full of cyclists, both road and mountain bikes, out for their Saturday morning rides, stopping for coffee and ice cream. I suddenly had a pang of cycling envy and really wanted my bike back so I could ride along these beautiful roads!
After getting some lunch and a few supplies I drove all along the Western edge of Lake Garda, which was just stunning and quite different from the Eastern side.
I carried on driving all the way over to the smaller and quieter Lake Iseo. Much quieter Lake Iseo! In fact I struggled to find anywhere to stay that night as most of the campsites had already closed for the winter. Luckily one was still open for one more night and it was a cracker! Right on the lake with a perfect view of the little island Isola Loreto which I just had to swim around!
The next morning I went for a run by the lake before packing up and driving to Bellagio on Lake Como. It’s a very charming little town with steep cobbled streets to explore. There was a little Fiat 500 rally in the main square, where I bumped into a British couple and started chatting. When I told them I’d barely spoken to another human in three days, I think they took pity on me and bought me a drink! I explored on my own for the rest of the afternoon, had an ice cream, of course, and then eventually set off to find a campsite up in the hills that I’d read about – which was obviously closed. Bugger.
The scenery was beautiful and I enjoyed driving along the windy hilly roads trying to find alternative accommodation for the night. The campsite I found was no frills, but again in a perfect location right on the lake. I cooked dinner just as the sun went down, and while some other crazy fools went swimming in the lake. I knew I wasn’t the only one! I spent the evening in the surprisingly lively bar chatting with some locals and eating roasted chestnuts while listening to trance music. As you do.
In the morning I couldn’t resist going for a swim in the rather chilly lake before driving to Como to explore the city. Whilst walking along the pier, two Brits offered to take my photo and we got chatting. Everyone seems to be surprised when I tell them I’m travelling alone, even though it feels totally natural to me. They gave me their phone number so we could meet up for some lunch once I’d finished exploring. We sat in the main square drinking Aperol Spritz and chatting about our travels 🙂
Having been slightly underwhelmed by Como, I hopped in the van and drove along to Villa Carlotta, which, thankfully, had the opposite effect on me. A Victorian lakeside villa and art museum, the thing that made this place truly magical for me was the magnificent botanical garden which I was lucky enough to explore almost by myself. I was completely taken in and felt like Alice in Wonderland discovering little hidden pathways and even a grotto! I was so happy to have found this place!
I hurried back to the van and caught the ferry from Menaggio across to Varenna sneaking a wonderful view of Belaggio and the setting sun on the way over. As I went to drive off the ferry my van wouldn’t start! Aaarrgh! Surely the battery couldn’t go flat during a 20 minute ferry crossing?! I was at the front holding up everyone behind me! I tried and tried until the ferry man offered to help me push Lola off the ferry. I’m not entirely sure what had happened, but at that moment she started up and thank goodness I was able to drive off the boat! Phew!
The campsite I found for that night was surprisingly busy, fully booked in fact, so I was offered a spot in the car park for a much cheaper price. Again it was right on the lake, so I strolled down to the beach with my book until it started to get dark. I ate in the on-site pizzeria which was delicious (even though I inadvertently ordered a vegan pizza with no cheese on it) and spent the evening drinking red wine with a group of German bikers.
In the morning I went for my last swim in this beautiful lake before leaving to head south for the next part of my trip. 🙂