A crazy drive into Italy

After leaving the Swiss Alps we headed for a little campground on Lake Como for an easy one-night stopover on our way to Rome.

One night. Stopover. Easy.

That was the plan anyway.

Dozens of similar campgrounds dot the shores of the lake, but this particular one had been quick to respond to our email inquiry about wi-fi access. Yes, they had it and, yes, it was free. Good enough! So we plugged the coordinates into our GPS unit and off we went, anticipating a quick drive and an early arrival.

(Campsites in Europe are really loose and can almost always squeeze you in somewhere, but if you arrive early, you can usually pick from a couple choice spots and have room to roll out your awning and stretch out a laundry line. You know—get yourself some elbow room.)

Anyway after reaching Italy and driving toward the campground for a while, two issues soon became painfully clear.


We’d been so happy to hear from a friendly-sounding Lake Como campground with free wi-fi that we’d completely forgotten to Google map its location ahead of time. (We have a road atlas, but it doesn’t show enough detail and is generally useless.) Our assumption had gone something like this:

“We’re going to Italy, and Lake Como is in Italy, and this campground is at Lake Como, so this campground must be in the right direction!”

So we spent the first half of the day driving SOUTH out of the Alps to arrive near the SOUTH end of Lake Como on our way SOUTH to Rome. But when we reached Como, we turned NORTH and continued to follow the route on our 3.5 inch GPS screen.

For about four hours.


So after making time out of Switzerland on a fast and beautiful motorway, we ended up doubling back nearly half the distance we’d just covered on a trafficy, narrow lane that hugged the edge of the lake. Beautiful, certainly. A good idea for an RV trying to make time? Not so much.


Fortunately we ended up right behind a monster of a tour bus with Slovenian plates. It’s the type of thing you dread following in your car, but since it was larger than our rig, we found it reassuring. The road was narrow, and in sections only wide enough for one car at a time. It was a tight squeeze, but the Slovenian bus cleared the lane of those oncoming Italian cars (and their pissed-off drivers) like a big heaven-sent snowplow. That bus driver was a cyborg who defied the laws of physics. And geometry. And decency.

No matter how narrow the lane, how angled the turn or what other cars had the right of way, he forged ahead. As the monster advanced, Italian villagers lined the sidewalk shaking their heads in disbelief, crossing themselves, shaking their fists, and yelling “Slovenia!” Really.


Like the Donner Party, by the time we’d figured out that this was a navigational disaster, there was no turning back. We passed dozens of sites that would have been perfectly fine. But we kept going. It got late. It got dark. It got stupid. But we pressed on. We refused to quit. Finally, around 10:30pm we pulled into the campground (Camping Magic Lake), which fortunately wasn’t yet locked up for the night. The owner, a lovely guy in his 20s, greeted us warmly and checked us in quickly. Then he hopped on his bicycle and led us to a space.


As we followed him down a lane from the entrance in the direction of the shore, I wondered how he’d fit us in. The place looked pretty full.

We kept expecting to stop, far from the lake, but the owner kept pedaling, closer and closer to the shore. With every row of campers we passed, our spirits rose until there were no other campers left to pass. We’d arrived at the best spot in the entire campsite, right by the lakeshore.

We got out of the rig and just stood there, dumbfounded, listening to the sound of the waves lapping on the shore.

Why that spot was empty, I’ll never understand, but it was so lovely that we ended up staying for three days.

So was it all worth it?



{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 The Ippels July 26, 2011 at 3:29 pm

Of course it’s worth it – those are the stories that make your travels memorable. I remember being on roads as narrow & scary in Nice. I believe my bus driver there was the same cyborg…

Serena sends her love to Scout! She’s got 2 new kittens, Jack & Jill, who fortunately have not shown a propensity for rabbit poop & cow dung.


2 Renee July 28, 2011 at 3:59 pm

My hat’s off to European bus drivers everywhere. Congrats to Serena. Please tell her Scout can’t wait to meet the kittens!


3 Clélie July 26, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Wow. How totally beautiful. I hope you stayed there for a good long time to recharge all your batteries.


4 Renee July 28, 2011 at 3:57 pm

We meant to stay one night only but ended up staying four. It was lovely, and the people who ran it were really nice.


5 Berni July 27, 2011 at 7:40 am

Why Google Maps? Just look at your map offline and you’ll see the detour in 1 second 😉 There is a life beside of Google.

Real journey is more interesting and fun than a virtual journey, isn’t it?


6 Renee July 28, 2011 at 3:55 pm

Hi, Berni. We have a terrible road atlas that didn’t show any of the roads near the campground. Once we buy a good map of Italy, we won’t be Google dependent. And yes, real travel is always better, even when things go wrong. The whole adventure turned out to be lots of fun…


7 Kate Terhaar July 27, 2011 at 6:00 pm

Way to make lemonade out of lemons. It is BEAUTIFUL!


8 Renee July 28, 2011 at 3:53 pm

Thanks, Kate!


9 Lisa July 27, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Hilarious! I totally get that feeling of committing to an idea and then becoming obsessively attached to it, no matter how crazy the idea becomes. Nice that you have the flexibility to just stay put when you find a little slice of heaven.


10 Renee July 28, 2011 at 3:52 pm

Lol, you got it. It was sheer folly, but turned into one of our most memorable moments. In a good way.


11 elaine July 28, 2011 at 5:57 pm

love it, love it! It’s beautiful there! That was absolutely worth it to find that piece of heaven. What’s your favourite food in Italy?


12 Larry Hubbard July 31, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Silly boy,those roads are made by the motorcycle gods for us lowly cycle freaks. That’s why they are wide enough for a well equipped Moto Guzzi & hug the mountains & lake. Glad you found a nice spot to call home for a few days…..don’t know how you made the decision to leave but it must’ve been a sad one. You should STILL make plans to see the Moto Guzzi factory in Mandello de Lario,one day it will only be a memory.


13 Larry Hubbard July 31, 2011 at 2:19 pm

….err, I mean girl.


14 Renee August 2, 2011 at 2:40 pm

No worries!


15 Renee August 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Yes! I was wishing I still had my Vespa, an old P200e, butter yellow with while trim and chrome accessories. Had that been the case, the road would have been perfect.

We could have stayed at the campsite for weeks, but we only had three and half weeks to see Italy before we had to leave for Croatia. Pesky visa restrictions.


Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: