Cypresses are standing in front of the window looking like tin soldiers. They seem to be watching closely what I'm going to do with the wine list. First of all I try to hold it not upside down to not look like a total fool.
We got a voucher for a wine tasting at Brolio Castle, which we can redeem down in the valley in a noble shed with wood-panelled walls. The good news is that we like wine. The problem is: We have absoultely no clue about it. That's why we embarrass ourselves straight by ordring the crap and mixing up some varieties and flavours.
The ladies behind the bar look even more tin-soldier-like than the trees. So we pour the noble dishwater down hastily and arrive a bit jingled at our car.
But don't worry: even without alcohol, Tuscany is beautiful - and is therefore one of my five favourite nature experiences in Italy, along with a volcano, an adventurous river hiking trail, a picturesque coast and a jewel-island!
Best insider tip ever. Not. Everyone knows Tuscany. In a way. Aren't there those hills and rows of trees and stone houses? On the other hand, Tuscany is difficult to grasp, as it covers more than 5.683.423 acres. There is not one point you drive to, shoot 250 photos, and go home. So it is absolutely worthwhile to rent a car for a few days and simply drive through the landscape. Because the postcards don't lie: small estates made of brown stone with glowing tiled roofs are scattered over the green and golden hills. Sometimes dark green cypress avenues lead up the driveways, sometimes they are surrounded by vineyards. The roads are in a relatively good condition and not too narrow. Often it is possible to go as fast as 45 or 55 mph. But this seems to be too stressful for the Italians – they round it up and easily reach a comfortable speed of 75 mph. So keep your nerves and just let them pass. Wave and smile.
Real parking lots are rare on the way, but most of the time the marginal strips of the roads are not limited by guard railings and you can always stop and enjoy the view.
One thing works particularly well in Tuscany: throwing money down the drain. Having a wine here, and an overnight stay in a remote holiday home there. And then
there is the gas, which is unbeatably cheap –
just 30 to 40 cents more expensive than in Germany [September 2018]. But if you don't tie yourself strictly to one place and extend your search for accommodation to several larger cities, such
as Livorno, Siena, Arezzo or Grosseto, you'll always find something affordable. It is also possible to cross Tuscany without paying tolls once. Away from some toll
motorways, such as the A12 between Grosseto and Livorno or the A1 between Florence and Arezzo, there are alternatively many toll-free country roads. The additional advantage: You see
more of the landscape. The catch is, it takes longer.
With the route planner of ADAC you can easily calculate how much toll you will have to pay on your personal route (usually it will be about $6 on the sections within Tuscany) and decide whether you are on holiday or on the run.
Finally, in addition to the general charm of Tuscany, I would like to recommend three other places that have particularly impressed me. For one thing, this is the city of Siena. Its architecture is simply enormous and the huge market place, that looks like an amphitheatre, seems to just swallow you up. You can spend at least a whole day here. With amazement.
Then there is the initially mentioned Castle Brolio that is privately owned and cannot be visited from the inside – but the view from the terrace is unbelievably beautiful beside the wonderful reddish-grey facade.
And last but not least, don't miss the hot springs of Bagni San Filippo. The limestone sinter deposits pile up like white walruses in the middle of the forest. From there a white river flows in cascades into the valley, which looks like a stream of 5000 gallons of warm milk. But I missed the honey and the roasted pigeons in the air.
And if you get bored easily, you should plan a maximum of two to three days for Tuscany, because at some point even the most beautiful olive grove repeats itself. Those who want to switch off and relax are better off with five to seven days.
Dancing once on a volcano crater! How awesome is that? At first not at all, because we are sitting in a stuffed bus having a mysterious red dot sticking to our jackets. And no clue what it is about. I'm close to sticking it to my forehead. Just to cheer up the evil-looking bus driver.
You can either drive to a car park below the peak ($5,5 parking fee [Sept. 2018]). Or you can take a shuttle bus ($11 [Sept. 2018]) straightly from Ercolano Scavi Train Station to the final bus stop on the mountain. Like us.
By the way, you can get to the train station with the regional train Circumvesuviana, which also stops in Naples.
From the car park and also from the bus stop you have to hike on a dusty path up to the crater rim for about half an hour. At the beginning of the path you'll find an office where you can buy tickets for the crater (another $11 [Sept. 2018]). If you take the shuttle bus, you can buy the tickets at the bus.
After the bus driver has turned on a bunch of horrible Italian "hits" and my ears fell off, we gain height by rumbling upwards on the winding road.
After our arrival we march straightly to the trail to get to the peak. Well. Dani runs and I crawl. I pretend to take pictures so no one sees that I need an oxygen mask. Although Vesuvius is only 4.203 feet high. I don't know what's wrong with me. Or maybe Dani is just marching like crap.
From the top you have a fantastic view over Herculaneum, Naples and the sea. On the horizon, in the blue fog of the morning, there are even some islands visible. Then my gaze
plunges down into the crater. It is pretty full of rocks. Like looking into a dump. "Down there everything exploded back then?" I ask hesitantly. Of course, the dimensions of the crater are
enormous and you can walk around it almost halfway. Nevertheless, the historical catastrophe - which, among other things, caused the devastation of Pompeii and Herculaneum -
If you plan to buy postcards of Vesuvius, you should do it right on the crater. Down in the city is nothing. Tourist desert. Oh, and we never figured out what that stupid red dot was all about.
If Vesuvius is too conventional for you, you can throw yourself into icy water and slit your feet on sharp rocks.
One day we were bored of normal hiking trails and decided to go on a river hike. Cause it means that you're gonna be walking through a river. Seriously.
The Gorges of the Straits of Giaredo are more of an insider's tip than a well-known major event. Starting point is the beautiful city Pontremoli, where you can order a taxi at the train station to start off to the beginning of the trail - or you simply walk along a road for three miles so that you are already dead before you start.
From the beginning of the hiking trail you usually walk and climb through the river for about half an hour until you reach the entrance of the gorge. Yeah, this isn't a walk in the park!
By the way, "half an hour" refers to a march with outdoor sandals or waterproof trekking shoes. Of course we didn't have anything like that and walked barefoot. That cost us a whole hour and caused a lot of cornea. Still, it was a lot of fun!
But here comes the important point: From the moment the gorge begins, the water becomes so deep that you can only swim. And you shouldn't do that without a wetsuit. Because the water is just as cold as a penguin's ass.
If this all now sounds too tricky for you, there are various guided tours available. Unfortunately we didn't have any suitable clothes and had to be content with an exciting view into the entrance of the gorge. After all, we walked as far as possible with the water beyond our knees. Afterwards I was so cold that I distributed half of my wrap to the river by shaking so much. But certainly some white shark was happy about it.
On the way back I had not only increased corneal on my feet, but also sudden arthrosis. My ankles felt like a tank had hit them. In addition, I got at least 27 times into a gap between two medium sized stones with my middle toe, which led to mediocre pain and enormous curses. But it was worth it!
"You're stuck!" yells the friendly young Italian through our car window.
I get a heart attack and Dani becomes pale like a white cloud. Somehow we managed it to "park" the under-floor of the rental car
on an almost vertical driveway. Because these fucking streets are so narrow, that you always have to turn out somewhere and wait for somebody. An older Italian guy shouts some Italian crap on the other side of our car. Then both Italians yell something at each other that sounds like a fanatical soccer commentator. In my mind I already see the slit tank leaking and me shouting at an Italian insurance company.
Finally the guys decide to not kill each other, but to push us so we can get free. So much for our arrival at the Amalfi Coast.
So it's up to you if you will dare to rent a car for an area like this. I would not recommend it, because not only the roads but also the villages are tiny and there are hardly any parking lots. If you don't just want to wear out the under-floor of your car, but also your nerves - then go for it!
At the end we decide to put the darn car into a dark corner next to our holiday home and instead take the cheap ferry along the coast.
From the sea you have a fantastic view over the cliffs, the colourful cities, harbours and residences in the rocks. We rave on that barge to the city of Amalfi
and are thrilled by the wonderful architecture. The alleys with their colourful facades look a little bit like Cinque Terre. After we have climbed some snow-white steps, a fabulous view of the city and the sea spreads out in front of us. We wait about an hour until we
can shoot a nice selfie of ourselves, because from the strenuous ascent our heads look as if we had thrown tomatoes at them.
Along the Amalfi Coast there are many beaches besides the towns. But beware if you think of fine sandy beaches! The small bays between the rock walls offer only stones and crumbs.
If you think you have to check into a very expensive hotel, I can recommend the really cool accommodation Ruderi. The affordable holiday home (from $73 per night - not per person!) is a converted transformer house, which reminds a bit of a tiny house. A staircase leads from the lower floor to the cosy bedroom under the roof. And the view from the terrace can hardly be topped by some 5-star shed!
Sure - at least here comes the most posh part of our road trip across Italy!
We decide to spend our last day on the island of Capri to escape the morbid charm of Naples. The round trip with a passenger ferry (there are also car ferries) from Naples is about $57. In the cabin we sit between 300 seniors with golden watches and flowered clothes. And we definitely lower the average age from 105 to 63. The sea is a bit rough and I have to think about my trip to Helgoland, where I visited the rest rooms several times to check what exactly I had for breakfast.
Fortunately, we arrive without any major inside-out accidents. It is incredibly crowded and we take a small bus that takes us up to the small pedestrian zone of Capri. By the way, there are two villages on Capri. Capri and Anacapri. I first read "Anticapri" and I'm confused. Does the mob of the high society live there and secretly play tennis instead of golf? Of course not.
The city center is decorated with expensive shops and I can almost hear my credit card falling into the sewers when I see a wristwatch for $35.000.
We decide that we know what time it is - even without this great investment. Then we walk through much quieter and picturesque streets to the cute Giardini di Augusto (Gardens of Augustus). The entrance fee for the small park is only $1,10 (they would have flown away if I had marched in there with the watch). It is not particularly spectacular. However, from here you have a fantastic view to the completely crazy serpentine road Via Krupp and the Faraglioni - several rock formarions in the sea.
We walk up to the rocks and enjoy the deep blue sea and the small sailing boats, which swing on it like paper boats. Capri is definitely a place where you can lose yourself and forget yourself. No room for worries. Everything is like a beautiful postcard and also a bit unreal and posed. But that doesn't matter, because at the same time the huge pink flowering hedges, snow-white terraces of expensive restaurants and endless cliffs are simply something that can't feel bad at all.
If you are more interested in cities than in nature of Italy, take a look at my ironic comparison between Florence and Naples. More beautiful landscapes in Southern Europe can be found in my article about 5 Stunning Natural Wonders of Andalusia.
And if you have any other landscape tips, just give me a shout.