Europe in A Camper Van (Part 3) – Italy and Greece

 

This is part three of our route map series, where we detail the route we travelled over six months exploring Europe in our self-converted campervan. Here’s part one, where we visit France, Spain, and Portugal. And part two, where we explore Morocco…

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Italy

After our month-long stay in Morocco, we decided to head back into Europe. We drove north, through Spain, visiting friends in Madrid and Barcelona, before following the south coast of France along to Monaco, with all of it’s super-yachts, sports cars, decadent palatial villas, and luxury hotels. Then, after a few days skiing and eating home-made scones in the beautiful mountain resort of La Tania, with our friends Karolina and Pete from Hobo Adventures, we crossed into Italy through the expensive, and horribly claustrophobic, Mont Blanc tunnel.

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Mike and I were then lucky enough to spend a couple of weeks hidden away in the hilly outskirts of Torino, a small northern Italian city of kaleidoscopic elegance, which, in the middle of March, sat just on the very edge of springtime. Our time in Torino left us feeling rejuvenated, the incredible hospitality and warm gestures that we had been the recipients of, felt restorative and gentle; the effects of which lingered long after our stay in the city.

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Reluctantly, we left Torino, and headed south, via Verona, where we met up with wonderful Francesca and Ruggero of Moroccan Diaries.

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We journeyed next to Venice, where we strolled along the famous canals, together with countless other tourists, and took to the water for a brilliant peach sunset that reflected and bounced on glass and still water. We then, briefly, visited Firenze/Florence, Rome, and a permaculture project, Giardina Della Gioia, found in Gargano National Park and set in century-old gnarled olive groves, before heading to the ancient ferry port of Bari, from where we’d catch the over-night boat to Greece.

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Practical Notes:

Places of Interest: Torino, Giardino Della Gioia, Venice, Firenze

Prices: The prices in Italy seemed to reduce the further south we drove. Northern Italy and the cities were comparable to the rest of Europe – though certainly considerably less than Monaco. Again, the currency in Italy is the Euro. We were a little surprised by diesel prices in Italy, which are the third most expensive in Europe, for reasons unknown to us, after the UK and, of course, Norway. I think that if you were to park up somewhere quiet, south of Florence, and purchase your food from the same places the locals buy their food, it could be easy to spend a couple of months in Italy at little expense.

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Food: Pistachio ice cream and pear sorbet from Grom, steaming hot pear, blueberry and rose petal tea from the Cat Cafe, Torino, chickpea pancakes called ‘faranata’, porcini pasta, tender artichokes boiled in vegetable stock, salt and oil, the food of Italy is well known for being flavourful, delicious, and in some cases, indulgent. Bakeries and pastry shops are abundant, there are endless restaurants, and charming cafes, air rich with the scent of thick, dark coffee, to choose from. We shopped mostly at the Auchan, and Carrefour, supermarkets. During our stay in Italy, Asparagus and Artichokes were in season. Locality and seasonality are well-respected notions in Italy.

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Greece

We caught an overnight ferry from Bari, to Igoumenitsa. The ferry was unbelievably hot, uncomfortable, and the air was thick with cigarette smoke. Nevertheless, we found an almost-comfortable patch of floor, on which we could lay down our sleeping bags, and, after a long night, we found ourselves in Greece. It was 5am, and after a brief sleep, we began driving east, to the island of Euboea, where we’d visit the Free and Real community, and participate in the reconstruction of a geodesic dome.

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The island of Euboea was beautiful beyond words – wildflowers carpeted the rolling hills and mountains, deep red near-transparent poppies, purple and pink flowers I don’t know the names of. Baby goats bounced and played in fields of tall grasses, and the stretches of water separating islands sparkled vivid aquamarine blue under the constant greek sunshine. There is something quite magical about the greek islands, something difficult to place.

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From Euboea, we headed to Athens, which we found a little hectic. We visited the Parthenon, again with countless other tourists, climbing steps in crowds. We then circled along the Peloponnese, exploring turquoise waterfall lagoons, quiet beaches, and winding roads, before meeting up with Mike Hudson, of Vandog Traveller – who, when we visited, had been living in his van in Greece for some time.

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After meeting with Mike, we drove to the rugged, mountainous, Sithonia, the middle of three ‘finger’ islands in the south of the Halkidiki peninsula, west of the fabled Mount Athos peninsula, forbidden to women. We drove the twisting roads, which in some places, were beginning to be claimed back by the pine forests that cover the island, stopping at a number of crystal coves and fishing villages.

After a day or two exploring Sithonia, we headed North, to the Bulgarian border.

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Practical Notes:

Places of Interest: Sithonia, Free and Real, the island of Euboea, Avocado Cafe in Athens

Prices: Though the currency in Greece is still the euro, we found Greece to be considerably cheaper in terms of expenses than anywhere we’d been in Europe previously. Compared to Italy, the prices of things in Greece came out to be approximately 20% less – though, on average, people in Greece make almost half of the average Italian. Diesel could be purchased for a few cents less than in Italy.

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We found that for the prices we were paying, we were living extremely well in Greece – wild camping was easy, the tolled roads were fantastic, the food was of extremely high quality, and the scenery was immaculately stunning. One of the best ways to support Greece during difficult times is to go and visit, and contribute to the economy. Our stay in Greece hugely exceeded our expectations.

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Food: We bought the majority of our food in Greece at little convenience stores, which could be found on nearly every other street. Walnuts, spinach, slow-grown tomatoes, lemons, aubergines, courgettes, lettuces, and potatoes, all would be piled high in cardboard boxes outside of each shop we visited. As a customer, you would put together a number of paper bags, and then hand over the bags to a shop assistant, who would then weigh and price your food.

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The food was all locally sourced, fresh, and delicious. There was little fruit available, as most of the produce was seasonal. We ate salads of spring leaves, onions, celery, and tomatoes, with lemon juice olive oil dressings nearly every day. We also enjoyed the large variety of fresh breads, cakes, and sticky almond pastries. Our favourite meal in Greece was enjoyed at the bustling Avocado Cafe, in central Athens.

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Avocado Cafe is a very popular organic, vegetarian restaurant, serving a wide variety of vegan and vegetarian pizzas, mains, smoothies and desserts (a lot of which feature Avocado). Mike and I enjoyed a ‘vibrant vegan pizza’, a delicious cheese-less pizza laden with olives, marinated vegetables, and avocados, with a side of roasted pumpkin, and an avocado dream shake, made with avocado, coconut oil, almond milk, and honey. Avocado Cafe was one of my favourite eating experiences of the trip, the cafe was buzzing with happy customers, and for good reason.

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Here’s Part 1 and Part 2 of our Europe By Campervan Series
In the next blog, we’ll head into eastern Europe, into Bulgaria and Romania…

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