tips for driving to Italy in an ancient camper van

Pacentro08 Image
01/05/2010 - 10:48

  Hello everyone   I have two young students planning the big adventure to Italy later this month (!) and I'm sure there are lots of you out there who could offer advice (apart from wait until spring and get a newer vehicle, please!). I haven't driven to Italy for XX years, so can't be of much help. Many thanks S


If its that old/knackered a van - stick to the flat bits - therefore, down to the med coast around Nice and along one of the Corniches into Italy.  That way you avoid the mountains [even the tunnels into Italy involve a fair amount of climbing]

Hi, Alan h info is really good advice but can be an expensive route with all  the tolls in France, especially in the south where it seems you are paying a toll every other mile. I did the trip to Lazio in an old camper a few years ago with friends and went through the alps. It was stunning and great to do but at the Gothard Tunnel I did think we were going to over heat, 13km+ in a tunnel is a test for any old vehicle. The trip through the mountains we did at roughly 60 mph and it was good apart from the tunnel. So my advice is if you do the mountains in an old camper take it easy and have good breakdown cover.   Juliano

  I think more importantly, what is meant by old? Is it an old 70s comma van, or a late 80s early 90s Fiat ? If its mechanically sound, and the radiator and water pump function is good, then really only the pace you drive at could give you problems. Certainly sticking to 60 mph rather than trying to keep pace with higher speed limits will help, as will having good 1 hour breaks every 3 odd hours to keep the vehicle from getting stressed  will help too, keeping and eye on the water temperature, and checking the oil and water levels everytime you stop will also help. Thankfully at this time of year the outside temperature being so low will aid you too. Now picking a route? I would say a mixture of m/way and A roads keeping it on a mostly direct line to where you are going in Italy. So if you decide on say  grand San Bernard then M/wat to dole [just underneath Dijon and A roads across to Pontilier and into Switzerland would suffice. If the san gottard route is favored, the M/way to Riems and then A roads  to pick up the N4? which is daulcarriegway [mostly] and the are a few differences that all lead to the Basle area or even crossing into Germany before going for the san gattard. What is most import is if the vehicle is really old, you simple take your time and give the vehicle a lot of cooling down time.  good luck

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

 Thanks everyone for these tips. I'll pass them on to the young'uns. They're planning on having two months in Italy, but haven't finalised where to go to in their camper van (sorry Giovanni, I don't know how old it is). Any further suggestions on out of the way places to visit with campsites or whatever they will need for overnighting in the van - rather them than me - would be great.   Many thanks

  Assuming it has beds? then good high tog rating Quilts, A little gas cooker single gas ring about a tenner, screw on gas Blue gas cannisters about £2.5 each and one of these will boil in excess of 20, 1ltr pans of water.[again assuming it does not have a inbuilt cooker] Carry plenty of water and top them up at service stations so a short pipe and funnel are a good idea. Cheap parking or free? well service station are free, and i don't have it on hand but there is a Website of free camper van parking places in Italy including some nice ones in the mountains. Might be worth doing a search using "campervans services in Italy" or campervans stopovers in Europe/Italy" as there are numerous sites.   I am assuming this van does not have electrical hook up? if it does great, as it means the camper is likely to be alot more self sufficient.

"I am assuming this van does not have electrical hook up"    If no hook up - pop to a caravan accessory shop - get a 'hook up plug' and fit it to a long extension lead - then they can have heat/light in the camparvan.  Well worth a look through there cataloge, 3 PIN IN TRIANGLE FORM IS THE NORM THESE DAYS, but two pins are still around so an adapter plug and one adapter plug with reverse polarity would be good.. OK this is getting carefully Another idea is a leisure battery you can change this from the cigarette lighter, whist you are travelling, as there are many things that can be run of this.IE 12v lights heater and Tv, ect ect

Assuming your students want to spend their money on booze etc rather than on French road tolls :P, I would recommend ferry to Dunkerque and travel down through Belgium and Luxembourg (cheap fuel), re-entering France at Metz. Then down the wine route to Molsheim on the way to Basel and Gotthard (avoid weekend, when there probably will be a queue), after which it's downhill all the way to Italy. Municipal campsites are very inexpensive and can be extremely good, but probably won't show on commercial websites. Local tourist office is probably the best way to find them. Terry

In reply to by SirTK

 I totally agree with Terry about the toll free route - its the one I take [except that I go from Nancy to Mulhouse rather than the Molsheim route] However, if the Campavan is 'tired', you need to remember that to use the Gotthard Tunnel, you have to climb about 2500 feet up to the tunnel from Lake Lucerne area - its a pretty long haul up, and might be a bit much for it.  [Which is why I suggested the alternative of going via the Med coast around Nice] There's also a big climb up to the Mont Blanc Tunnel if they choose that route

... then why not go on through Germany (taking in the Romantische Strasse) to Innsbruck and over through Trentino-Alto Adige - maybe down to Venice.  I did a similar trip as a student in a tiny 1.3 car - didn't go farther south than Venice as we were going over to Barcelona as well.  Other option is to do one way going and another coming back.  If they aren't in any rush then they can have a nice drive and avoid tolls - take a week or so and see some of the sights on the way.  All depends on their priorities - get to Italy quick or have a holiday en route?   Chris

  My 10 year old Berlingo van has now made 2 trouble free trips on Alan's route. I saved 19 euros tolls in France by cutting down to Reims then across Country to Nancy and on to Mulhouse.The tunnel between Nancy and Colmar costs about 4 euros but the trip over the Vosages Mountains is a steep climb so not for the fainthearted! From Mulhouse( overnight stop at Formule 1 on Mulhouse exit) you then have a very picturesque but hilly drive to the St Gottard tunnel which has no hard shoulder and with Polish lorry drivers keeping very close to your rear bumper for 16 kms if you dont go over 60 mph it could be a bit hairy! The rest of the drive to Milan is easy and so is the motorway from there on but do expect lots of traffic around Milan and lots of lorries driven by maniacs!

 I cannot find temporary (3/4 day) breakdown cover now my van is over 11 years old.I just want cover for the trip from Calais to Italy. I have cover in the Uk for £35 a year but I dont want to extend it to full time European cover as I don't go far in the van once I'm in Italy and have an excellent local garage for breakdowns.It would cost another £100 to extend whearas I bought a 3 day cover plan for £17 when the van was only 10.

Not wanting to contradict you Abruzzohome, but  surely an exaggeration you see most lorries also would find it hard to go above 50mph/80km/h on that uphill climb too, and most lorry drivers are professional drivers! they know the consequences that the Swiss police will take if indeed they drove so erratic through that specific tunnel, which is lined with camera's.!

"lorry drivers are a menace" From the sounds of it, it seems you yourself are a danger!You don't know the speed limits, don't know that you and the lorries are being watched! exaggerate, and you are so badly informed you seem to think only poles are HGV drivers.   Lets be clear here, i am a transport manager so do still drive lorries, the amount of half wits i come across driving cars, Not actually knowing what speed limits or laws apply, living in there own dreamworld is sadly amazing. And the funny thing is any idiot can drive a car, but to drive a lorry needs far more skill and training and now even more training every 5 years,including classroom work! Now if that still makes lorry drivers a menace in your opinion,when you consider their superior training better knowledge of road laws. God knows what one should use to describe your inferior roadcraft and knowledge!!!!   Like i said speed limit in that tunnel is 80 km/h, you advise 60 mph [96km/h] to keep ahead of lorries that cannot possible better 80km/h going uphill in that tunnel!   I know who i think is a menace! [hopefully i don't get the "never had a accident responce"Which only proves other road uses see the hazard infront.

Surely the tunnel itself is level or almost so for its full 17 kms once you get into it, for rather obvious reasons. The steep climb is about 5 kms up to the entrance from the north; the climb from south to north is much longer and more gentle. I use it all the time and have never had any problems with any vehicles speeding. Nor do I have any problems with lorries - I think myabruzzohome must just have been unlucky.