Italy in a campervan

Camping is a great way to see Italy, but you needn't be tied down to tent pegs to do it. RV rentals are as easy in Italy as they are here at home.

Our hippie-orange VW campervan took my family (the author, left age 12, his Uncle Marc, right age 19) everywhere in Europe. This campground is by a mountain stream high in the Italian Dolomites. (Photo by Frank Bramblett)Our hippie-orange VW campervan took my family (the author, on the left age 12, his Uncle Marc, on the right age 19) everywhere in Europe. This campground is by a mountain stream high in the Italian Dolomites. (Photo by Frank Bramblett)

Picture a small figure singing and running across a mountain field of wildflowers, surrounded by craggy, glacier-capped Italian Alps. No, it isn't a scene from a musical. It's me, age 12, indulging unashamedly in a full-bore Sound of Music moment.

Camping in Europe can do that to a fellow, even an adolescent boy who normally wouldn't be caught dead doing Julie Andrews impressions.

I loved the hippie-orange VW campervan my family owned when I lived in Rome as a child (that's it, and me, in the picture on the left). It had a temperamental sink, a hilariously dinky engine puttering along at the back that would have trouble motivating a lawn mower let alone drag my family up the side of an Alp, and a moldy canvas siding in the pop-top where I slept at night yet which my parents steadfastly refused to let me ride in whilst cruising down the Autostrada.

Seeing the continent by camper allowed us to experience a Europe most travelers on the train-and-hotels route miss. The freedom of camping meant I watched a meteor shower from the banks of the Thames, far from the bright lights of London; I battled valiantly with a recalcitrant a washing machine in Northern Italy that turned out to be a dryer (the clothes came out very warm and full of soap powder); and I swam—along with the German kids from the site next to ours—in the little river flowing past our campground deep in the Black Forest.

Why RV Italy?

RV Swaps
Already own an RV? Want to hit the road in a camper in Europe, Australia, or anywhere else without having to pay high rental fees? Find a local motorhome owner in that country who's willing to swap his for yours and you can both vacation for free (uh, plus gas):
An RV vacation combines the best parts of Italian travel—visiting the great art cities, driving the countryside, exploring villages and vineyards, and discovering hidden mountain meadows where you can indulge in show tunes—without the usual expense.

These days, double rooms in dowdy two-star Italian hotel cost about $130 per night. Add a midsize car rental ($470 per week) and you're spending a minimum of $200 per day for a couple, $280 for a family of four (assuming the kids stay in the parents' room).

A campervan, on the other hand takes care of a vehicle and lodging all at once. Rentals run around $700 per week ($910 in summer). You could park it by the side of the road at night and sleep for free, but let's assume you prefer campgrounds. That'll add $30 per night ($45 in high season). The total cost—for up to four people—is $130 per day ($175 in high season).

Camping Michelangelo, Florence
Camping Michelangelo, overlooking the Florence skyline a shot bus ride from the center.

It's not just the savings. You also get all the cultural benefits of leaving the standard tourist route and hobnobbing with others who have ditched minibars for camp stores and traded pillow mints for tent poles. It's a great way to strike up fast friendships with vacationing Italians.

In a hotel, you rarely get to know the people in the neighboring rooms, but campers in adjoining sites are quick to chat. Many nights you end up pooling the barbecue and bottles of wine with the neighbors and sharing travel stories under the stars.

How to rent a Campervan or RV in Italy

The best site to find a campervan or motorhome to rent in Italy is (TK BROKEN LINK)—though if Italy is but part of a larger European vacation for you, also look into the cheaper rates at, which offers pick-up and drop-offs in Germany (cheapest in all Europe), France, and Spain. I've never used or, but they do seem to be custom made for renting motorhomes in Italy.

A campervan—which sleeps two below, plus one or two smaller chaps up in the pop-up tent on top—rents for $95 to $145 per day in winter, up to $200 to $350 in summer. A larger, Winnebago-style RV that sleeps five to seven people will run $115 to $150 in low season,$200 to $350 in high season.

There's often a ridiculous "service fee" of $100 to $175 added to the price, and $30-per-day collision insurance (CDW) is usually required. Bedding and towels cost another $70 to $80 (bring your own). Make sure any quoted price includes VAT (tax), which can run to 19 percent.

Size matters. For those of you used to the road behemoths here in the U.S. that are twice the size of an average New York apartment, know that European RVs tend to be rather smaller and lighter.

There are several good reasons for this—and for limiting yourself to the smaller vehicles.

European roads are narrow and winding, and gas incredibly expensive—figure on getting 23 miles to the gallon at $5 per gallon—so avoid renting anything longer than six meters (about 20 feet). Sick to the common Class Cs, which handle more like a car than a big rig, and you'll be fine. European RVs are usually manual transmission.

The minimum rental period is almost always seven days. Check into any restrictions on taking it into Eastern Europe.

You may want to get an International Camping Carnet, which is required in a few countries (Denmark comes to mind), and useful in others, where it can stand in for having to hand over your passport. It costs a whopping $68 from organizations like Family Campers and RVers (

Finding a Place to Park your RV - Campgrounds in Italy

The sign says
The sign by this Sardegna beach says "No camping" but the parked RVs say "Hey, look: we're camping!"
While there are loads of European campgrounds out in the sticks for the get-back-to-nature crowd, there are also plenty of in and around the major cities. Although most city campgrounds are on the edge of town—count on a 30–45 minute bus or subway ride to the historic center—there are loads of exceptions.

You can set up camp on the beach just outside Venice(011-39-041-96-6150,, or take in a sunset panorama over Florence at Campeggio Michelangelo (011-39-055-681-1977, (TK NOT SAME SITE)

Local tourist offices list area campgrounds. There are an obscene number of camping-related Web sites in Europe; Googling the words "camping" plus the place you want to go results in a whole crop of regional directories. I also list a few dozen on the main camping page.

The Italian site (you can get an English version of the menubar; is choc-a-block with info on camping and RVing all across Europe, including hundreds of country-specific links to tons of other useful Internet resources, free sites to park your RV, and on-line camping catalogues.


Tips & links

Lodging links & resources
Useful Italian
Useful Italian phrases and terms for lodging

English (Inglese) Italian (Italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...a hotel un albergo oon al-BEAR-go
...a B&B un bed-and-breakfast oon bet hand BREK-fust
...a rental room un'affittacamera oon ah-feet-ah-CAH-mair-ra apartment for rent un appartamento oon ah-part-tah-MENT-toh
...a farm stay un agriturismo oon ah-gree-tour-EES-moh
...a hostel un ostello oon oh-STEHL-loh
How much is...? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
a single room una singola OO-nah SEEN-go-la
double room for single use [will often be offered if singles are unavailable] doppia uso singola DOPE-pee-ya OO-so SEEN-go-la
a double room with two beds una doppia con due letti OO-nah DOPE-pee-ya cone DOO-way LET-tee
a double room with one big bed una matrimoniale OO-nah mat-tree-moan-nee-YAAL-lay
triple room una tripla OO-nah TREE-plah
with private bathroom con bagno cone BAHN-yoh
without private bathroom senza bagno [they might say con bagno in comune—"with a communal bath"] SEN-zah BAHN-yoh
for one night per una notte pair OO-nah NOH-tay
for two nights per due notti pair DOO-way NOH-tee
for three nights per tre notti pair tray NOH-tee
Is breakfast included? É incluso la prima colazione? ay in-CLOO-soh lah PREE-mah coal-laht-zee-YOAN-nay
Is there WiFi? C'é WiFi? chay WHY-fy?
May I see the room? Posso vedere la camera? POH-soh veh-DAIR-eh lah CAH-mair-rah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Is there a cheaper one? C'é una più economica? chay OO-nah pew eh-ko-NO-mee-kah

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