The Road Less Traveled Northern Italy

The original plan was a road trip of retracing, in a small way, the Grand Tour which was undertaken in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries by British aristocrats. We were inspired by a journey around Italy by Francesco da Mosto we saw on TV, and another series by Brian Sewell who is the Evening Standard art critic - both of whom are seriously knowledgeable. Well, I listened to my own advice here on the Helpline, as well as advice from others here too, and pulled in my horns a mite. I still overdid it - no matter how often we say not to do single overnights, Nigel still planned 4 single night stays in order to get in the drive north and south without needing another week of holiday - I really didn't want to be away more than a fortnight - and my wife and I have decided that that really was a wrong choice. We retraced a number of favourite places on this trip and stayed in 2 new ones... Details to follow ...

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

I called this The Road Less Traveled Northern Italy because after many trips to Italy we wanted see things we've never seen, and perhaps go places fewer tourists go - especially holders of the blue book. The route was: Eurotunnel Trier via Wallonie and Luxembourg Fuessen via A6 and Schwaebish Hall Seefeld in Tirol via Garmisch Partenkirchen A week in Vicenza 2 nights in Varenna Bad Bellengen just a few km north of Basel via Lugano and Berner Oberland via Susten Pass or Grimsel Pass Lille
Eurotunnel and home. Stay tuned for what actually happened - needless to say the plan wasn't perfect - and see what wonderful villages and discoveries we made, including a small museum which we absolutely fell in love with, miles from anywhere else, and at which we spent hour after hour.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

England to Trier Well, the heavens opened and the nice sunny summer road trip became a bit of an adventure in driving through all sorts of accidents and traffic, heavy spray and and heavy rain all the way to Italy. This was the time that Germany, Czech Republic and Austria wound up having states of Emergency. I left home early enough to get to the Eurotunnel check-in 75 minutes early but a combination of several incidents and accidents both ways around the M25 meant that I checked in 10 minutes late. Despite the Eurotunnel trains being well out of sorts and me being there well before my actual train ran very late they made us wait over 3 hours before putting us on a train - with no customer service and no ongoing information. I never did find out why the trains were so disrupted and I have a letter going to the Managing Director asking for an explanation. That all put us very late into Trier and we didn't have the chance to have our planned little stroll in Luxembourg. grrrr. When we stay in Trier we always stay at the Hotel Petrisberg in the woods and vineyards at the top of the hill over Trier. As usual we had a lovely room with a small balcony overlooking the whole town and the surrounding hills and listening to all the birds in the trees. We love it there, and we love the fabulous breakfast buffet, including the lovely egg dishes and the homemade breakfast meat and broth soup made by the owner's brother every morning. Don't knock it until you have tried. Nevertheless our late arrival, Herr Paderborn was at the door opening it for us and welcoming us in out of the rain. I love that place. Next - autobahns, pirouetting tandem tanker trucks, rain, rain, rain and the fabulous discovery of Schwäbisch Hall.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

Trier to Fuessen via Schwäbisch Hall Autobahns, pirouetting tandem tanker trucks, rain, rain, rain and the fabulous discovery of Schwäbisch Hall. The next morning, after a comfortable sleep and fabulous breakfast we said our goodbye's and trundled out into the downpour. I love loading the car in poring rain - not! Prior to the trip I was worried about the often difficult A8 autobahn which I could have used from Stuttgart to Bavaria, and I got great help here on the Helpline. Thanks to that advice we chose to use the A6, the northern route, and were able to include a requested stop in Schwäbisch Hall. The autobahn is even more exciting in pouring rain, so exciting that I came across a pirouetting tandem fuel tanker truck who lost it on a hill aquaplaning. He was a good driver - hit nothing and nobody, bent the trailers and cab some but no visible leaking, and kept it on the road with just enough room for the traffic to get around in one lane. Even with that - watch this, Tom, in all the German driving this trip (A6, A61, A6, A7, A5, A61, A6, A1) we encountered zero staus. I don't know how. Plenty of road works, especially the Baden bit of A5 and the A6 pretty much everywhere, but just rolled down to 80 or 60 and kept on going, balanced with fair stretches of 150 to 165. Does anybody know what the gantry structures are across the autobahns which have all sorts of cameras and other electronics on them? I couldn't see that they were speed cameras because they were in derestricted areas as well as restricted ones. I always slowed for them anyway but I wonder. Maybe license recognition cameras for anti-terrorism? Schwäbisch Hall.
Fabulous. The number of steps up to the front entrance of the cathedral was daunting, the preserved town is beautiful, in beautiful scenery and with a wall. Not a Christmas shop in sight.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

Trier to Fuessen via Schwäbisch Hall - part the Second Autobahns, pirouetting tandem tanker trucks, rain, rain, rain and the fabulous discovery of Schwäbisch Hall. I understand that Rothenberg ob der Tauber has its following, and is scenic, and has the Meistertrank parties, but if you want scenic, genuine, small town beautiful with a medieval road plan, and very few tourists you might not go so far out of your way and enjoy a really nice place like Schwäbisch Hall, and Gengenbach which we went to on the way home. Still in the pouring rain - do you get the impression that we saw some rain on this trip? - we got into Fuessen around dinner time and enjoyed another stay at Zum Hechten which now has a decent restaurant which replaced its salad bar place which we saw many years ago. Breakfast was nothing to write home about. As we were driving out the next morning the back way towards Oberammergau and GaP we saw a van stopped on the side of road in a small layby with a tripod set up. As a keen amateur photographer I said that where there is a tripod there is a good shot, and I was right. After he left we used the same spot for a nice shot up at the Neuschwanstein scene. Next - more rain, Oberammergau and Ettel, Seefeld in Tirol, the price of fuel, and Innsbruck

Posted by Gerard
Temora, NSW, Australia
172 posts

Nigel, Without seeing them, perhaps the "cameras" are related to heavy vehicle monitoring, eg average speed between two or more points, number of hours driving per day. These have been used in Australia, hundreds of km apart for a number of years. regards.
ps enjoy your posts

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

Does anybody know what the gantry structures are across the autobahns which have all sorts of cameras and other electronics on them? I was reading an excellent online article the other day about the Autobahn. There are so many posts on these boards about Germany and a couple members of my family will be visiting there later this summer, so my curiosity has been piqued to learn more. Germany is on my list of places to visit someday, but there are many other places ahead of it and available time is limited. Anyway, when I saw you ask about the mounted electronics on overhead gantries, I went back to find what I had recently read. Not sure if it's what you mean, but sounds right. See the 'Dynamic signs' section of this page: http://www.gettingaroundgermany.info/autobahn.shtml

Posted by Tom
Hüttenfeld, Hessen, Germany
9133 posts

Nigel, you are correct, those are not speed cameras. Their use it to monitor traffic conditions and they help generate traffic reports. They also have something to do with monitoring the average volume of road use. However, there are some " Geschwindigkeitsüberwachungen" (I think the Germans should adopt a version of the much simpler Dutch term " flitspaal") on the Autobahn network, both for temporary stings and permanent fixtures. The one I'm most familiar with is on A3 going towards Frankfurt from Köln right before Limburg an der Lahn. Unlike the usual practice of posting the speed limit on a sign at the side of the road, here they use huge signs that overhang the road, and right below the sign are the cameras. There's a similar setup on A5 headed north to Göttingen. For the temporary cameras, if you're watching the road very carefully, you can sometimes see the tell-tale yellow or red flash catching cars ahead of you, indicating that you'd better slow down...

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3209 posts

Enjoyed reading this Nigel, looking forward to more!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

Oberammergau to Seefeld part the first The road from Fuessen to Oberamergau is truly scenic, even in the rain, I love driving with the roof open, between the showers, though the forest roads and through the small villages. Sometimes when I focus on Italy I forget just lovely southern Germany is. We were really disappointed by Wieskirche. Several years ago on our last trip to the area we had been able to just stop in a small carpark and go into the beautiful Baroque (or is it Rococo - I don't remember) interior practically by ourselves. Now it seems to have become a a tourist and tourbus extravaganza. When we pulled up and saw the very high price to park for a short time in the huge car and coach park which was already pretty full, and the masses of people wandering up and down the lane between the church and carpark we abandoned the idea. Another place to cross out on my list of special places. Oh well... We were already on a high after being directed to Schwaebish Hall and when we got to Oberammergau I found plenty to do for a couple of hours. I had been Oberammergau briefy several decades ago and had forgotten how beautiful the paintings on the buildings are and mst of the carvings in the windows of the carver shops. Some of the carvings are truly world class, and parking in the village can be free in some places. I was also pleasantly impressed that it wasn't over-run by tourists. Sure, there were a fair few, us included, but it cwertainly didn't spoil the atmosphere at all. So, I figure this:- Weiskirche on the main tourist trail, Oberammergau on the Road Less Traveled, like Schwaebish Hall. What a relief ...

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

Oberammergau to Seefeld part the Second more rain, Oberammergau and Ettel, Seefeld in Tirol, the price of fuel, and Innsbruck On the way out of Oberammergau we came across the small village of Ettel which is dominated by the monastery there. The whole complex is run by the monks who have returned after several years away a couple of centuries ago. The complex is massive forming a huge hollow square with the church at the top of the square. Baroque, the interior is beautiful and yet in some ways quite simple while still maintaining its Baroqueness, if that makes any sense. I was quite moved. There is still a school there and one of the industries of the Monk community is making brandy or another strong spirit. They also run a guesthouse and brewery, and Inn. Just off the road it is very impressive approaching from Oberammergau. <place marker for second monestary church on the way to Seefeld> We arrived in Garmisch Partenkirchen. Is it just me or is it a confusing town to get around? It may not have helped that the skies opened again and most of it was seen through a very wet windscreen. Anyway, I wasn't impressed. I was very surprised by the huge difference in apparent living standards depending on which side of the tracks the house was on. More difference than I have seen before in Germany and Bayern.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

Oberammergau to Seefeld - part the Third more rain, Oberammergau and Ettel, Seefeld in Tirol, the price of fuel, and Innsbruck The price of fuel is worth mentioning to people who drive a car between various countries. I drive a diesel car so I haven't been watching unleaded petrol. My car does about 600 miles on a tank so I make sure to fill up where the prices are cheapest. I make sure to get to France from England on fumes because the price in France is so very much cheaper. France and Belgium are about the same but Luxembourg is - by a huge margin - the cheapest fuel in western and central Europe. So I get just enough French fuel to get me to Luxembourg. Brim off the tank (I'd put it in my pockets if I had any fuel proof ones) and hope I get to Austria without refueling. Well that was the case until this trip - Austria which has consistently had the cheapest fuel after Luxembourg and Germany some of the more expensive, traded places this year. I paid more for fuel in Innsbruck than I had seen in Garmisch. I don't know when the Austrian fuel went up but it was a surprise. Then brim again just before Italy which has similar prices to England. Most fuel in Italy is quite expensive but some much less expensive automated self serve is available if you know where to look. The flooding which you may have read about was beginning now and driving through Innsbruck became dangerous. I've seen rain but rarely this much. The autobahn only had one lane open and it was very difficult. I've never been impressed by Innsbruck and it didn't improve in the rain. So, we pulled up at our favourite hotel in Seefeld, the Eden. They do a wonderful 5 course half-board dinner and this one didn't disappoint. They do a great breakfast too. Next: Into Italy after yet more accidents and arrival at Vicenza

Posted by Sarah
Chicago (formerly St. Louis), IL, USA
1311 posts

I'm really enjoying these reports, Nigel. Can't wait for Italy! The Wieskirchen in Oberammergau and Fuessen are both Rococo. Nobody does Rococo like the French (except the Germans and Austrians). I personally can't stand Rococo - it's nothing but fluff, silliness, and amped-up feminine details. The Baroque period has some serious weight to it - this style is about movement, drama, and dynamism, in art as well as architecture. The interior and exterior walls of some Baroque churches such as San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane in Rome appear to undulate.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3209 posts

Reading this is like reading a really good book and being eager to turn the page and read more... thanks Nigel. The more detail in someone's trip report, the more I enjoy it...

Posted by Rik
Vicenza, Italy
702 posts

Just saw this...you never got to Vicenza!

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

Seefeld in Tirol to Vicenza We left Seefeld in the absolutely pouring rain - my wife wondered if we would find our car in the car park. I did, and retreated to the covered bridge to get it filled with our few bags. The pool the night before had sounded like a good idea and the inside part was fine. As we swam out through the gate to the outdoors it was like being in a cold shower and warm bath at the same time. I must say, I think it was the first time that I had been swimming in a downpour. It was pretty much fun, in a strange sort of way, but backstroke was out. My goodness, the Eden Hotel does a good dinner. Yum. Even if the country ladies at the next table looked and sounded like it was the first time they had been let off the leash in 50 years!! Had them at breakfast the next morning, too, and they were still cackleing. I though it was the free flow of booze but I think they just were having a good time together. It wound up that they had a coach and were all on a jolly. Same coach that blocked the way out of the hotel so they could load their bags under cover. It was just as well that we were blocked in. Heading down the Brenner Pass a few km after the border all the traffic stopped for 120 minutes after somebody managed to flip a caravan going down the hill and there were bits of car and caravan strewn all over. We were only half a mile behind so we could have easily been caught up in it. It was handy I had my phone (German speakers - see what I did there?) Then it was an uneventful, and eventually sunny run down into Vicenza. I'd never been to Vicenza and we were immediately bowled over. It is now one of our favourites. We stayed, very happily, at Bob and Jenny's B&B for about a week and explored from there.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

Vicenza If you dig around on Bob and Jenny's website you will find a slide show with better photos than I have of the area, I was so busy being mesmerized that I only too about 200 ohotos in the whole trip. I haven't uploaded even those yet so I refer you to the really good ones on their site. I'm sure they won't mind if you have a look. We didn't know what to expect as we'd never visited Vicenza before, but had seen some photoes and travel shows, as well as history shows. We've been all over the major cities of north (except Torino), central, and the northern part of the south of Italy but had never seen a city with such vibrant city life, all day and into the night. There are several really nice piazzas, the main street is really cool, very nice for virtually its entire length, a super little corner coffee and tea place with the best coffee, just all of it was wonderful. We wandered and were amazed at the archietecture, and the Palladio trail. And the people!! It is like the passiagato goes on all day and all night. There are always people strolling, live music coming out of open windows - good music, too - especially into the evening, excellent gelato - a really calm lovely, car free time. In the next few days I will elaborate on the things that we say around Vicenza, and about Vicenza itself. Although we were there a week, we barely scratched the surface. There is so much to share ...

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

North of Vicenza While we were based in Vicenza we had our car and made a number of forays into the nearby countryside, and to neighboring towns. I won't attempt to put these into chronological order but will gather them geographically. The whole area around Vicenza was very appealing. Rolling hills, walled towns, vineyards, little villages - very very scenic. There isn't much there - that I found - but I believe that there is Paladian Villa nearby - but I love the name of the little town called San Pietro in Gu. Pretty much due north of Vicenza is the walled town of Marostica. I'm "borrowing" a photo from Bob and Jenny's B&B of the top half of the wall, see http://www.bed-breakfast-italy.com/marostica-castle.htm We were bowled over by the place. We, here on the help line, make such a deal of Rothenburg o d T in Germany because it is a scenic walled town. People who like that - but who would rather wander without the hint of a tourist - should have a look at Marostica. The wall - magnificently high with castellation all along it - is complete and several miles long. There is a lower castle, and an upper castle incorporated into the walls. The town is alive and thriving, yet virtually no tourists. Parking was easy, either just outside the walls or just inside. Tasty food in the town, and they were selling fresh cherries all over when we went. The square just inside the lower castle has a huge chessboard in the paving, with each space not square but rectangular - twice as wide as high - so that 2 people can fit in each space to make up the chess pieces. As you walk through the town there is even an office with a sign outside which indicates that this is the headquarters. Lovely churches at different levels. We really like this town.

Posted by Rik
Vicenza, Italy
702 posts

I'm enjoying your recap Nigel, it's like reading about my life. I've often recommended Marostica and nearby Bassano dal Grappa as perfect for a day trip from Vicenza. Marostica is famous for its live chess game, a huge spectacle performed every other year (even years) on the Piazza complete with actors in authentic costumes, etc. Hopefully you made it to nearby Bassano del Grappa as well. I'll withold further comment for now in case it's included in the next recap. San Pietro in Gu has a pay-to-fish trout pond that I take my two boys fishing at, it's a nice little town with not much there. I do love the name though. As far as Paladian Villas, they are all over the place here. Palladio's first villa actually resides in my little town, Caldogno (also the hometown of Roberto Baggio), just down the street from where I live. The next town over from us has two of the most beautiful villas and is appropriately named "Dueville". I highly recommend at least a drive by next time you're in the area.

Posted by Grier
Carmel, IN
1058 posts

Thanks for your excellent report, Nigel. I especially enjoyed your comments about Vicenza.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

Onto the small roads much less traveled by tourists... Well September has come and gone and now that the new TV season has begun I will release the next season of this trip report. Thanks to those giving appreciation, and especially to Rik for his most welcome comments. Yes, as you will see, we were impressed by Bassano del Grappa. So, on with the show... The walled towns and other villages near Vicenza are well worth the journey. We had a car and getting around was very easy. On the larger main roads there is a lot of trucking but sighting is easy and the driving isn't hard. In the days we had on this trip to Vicenza we saw these villages and towns of note: To the west: Soave Verona Mantova To the south: the villages and views of Monti Berici Montagnana Noventa Vicentina Arqua Petrarca Este Monselice Abano Terme To the north and east: Marostica Bassano del Grappa Possagno Asolo
Castelfranco Veneto Cittadella If what you are looking for is walled towns with huge original fortifications and walls, with towers, castles, and castellation you could do a lot worse than this part of the country. Many of the towns such as Soave - famous for its wine - , Montagnana, Marostica - famous for its life size chess matches -, and Bassano del Grappa - famous for its covered bridge - have huge walls too.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

More of what we fell in love with... Our big discovery of the holiday was the Gypsotheca Museo Canoviano (and the pantheon like church at the top of the hill) in Possagno, about 30 miles northeast of Vicenza. It is the most incredible museum, with plaster casts of virtually all of the artist Canova's works, and reproductions of drawings and paintings amid some originals. This is in the studio he actually worked in. He is buried in the village. I thought we might be there 45 minutes. We were there nearly 3 hours. The displays are very well presented and you go away with a real feel for the artist as a man and artist. The house is around a courtyard with a rose garden in the centre that is very relaxing and refreshing. I was there as a thunderstorm blew through. Very atmospheric. Possagno is a small village very focussed on Canova. Not only is there the museum there is a huge walking path, newly repaved, up to a very large pantheon like church where he is buried. Food in the village is limited to one quite large bar; the pastries there are famous in the area - and I can attest to the tastiness. A coffee, a pastry, looking out at the surrounding trees, listening to the birds, from the terrace, overlooking what passes for the piazza (war memorial, police parking space, gardens, museum) is exceedingly pleasant.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

and a little more ... Marostica, due north of Vicenza, is all walled, with the walls going up the hill. There is a castle at the bottom of the hill, a castle at the top, and several churches as you walk up the quite steep hill. Just inside the lower castle is a life sized chess board where people act out the game upon instruction. Each square is actually a rectangle about 8 feet wide by 4 feet high. I really hope to see one of the matches one day. The square, like many others in the area is fully galleried so it is possible to avoid both sun and rain. A real gem. An even more impressive fortification is the large walled town of Montagnana on the route between the lower Venetian Lagoon and Mantova. The town is flat, quite large, and the walls are huge, three fortifications wide. The gates, I explored 3 of the 4, are as medieval as you can imagine. The town also has an impressive market and at least one impressive church. The drive along the mountain ridges of Monti Berici is very scenic, and comes down at Basilica di Monte Berico and the outlook at Piazzale della Vittoria. Don't try to park there on Sunday mornings - you'll have no chance. From there there is a covered walkway all the way down the hill into the city of Vicenza. This gives the pilgrims - and there are many - a chance to get up the hill out of the sun. Northeast of Vicenza is also Bassano del Grappa. It has loads of piazzas, plenty of bars, lots of restaurants, lovely trees, a wall, and the crowning attraction, an ancient covered bridge. The town is larger than it looks, and is quite hilly. It is well worth a few hours.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

a couple which didn't wow us ... I don't know if anybody here has had a better experiance at Arqua Petrarca than I did. We had to go quite a long way out of the way up extrememly steep and narrow winding roads, found difficult expensive parking and then found that it was still some distance to Petrach's villa. We weren't impressed, although I can see that for somebody staying there it might be very nice. Another place that didn't do much for us was Mantova. We went for Palazzo Te which we had built up as a major attraction. It was nice enough but we didn't feel, for us who are pretty well traveled and quite culturally aware, it was worth the trip. The stuccos were nice enough but I expected exceptional and although magnificent we didn't think hugely different. If we'd had more time there we might have visited Palazzo Ducale and we might have felt differently. Mantova is at the tip of a peninsula and the lakes looked nice enough but the approach is through a very run down heavy industry area.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

Summary In a full week we barely scratched the surface of the area in and around Vicenza. I can definitely see return trips. In two decades of going to Italy I can truthfully say we see and experience something new each time. The western Veneto from Padova (which we missed this time) to Verona (so much has been written by others so although we had a very enjoyable time there this trip I have left Verona to others) is a very special place. So often as we walked around these places the signs of Venice and its regional power were very evident, especially in Vicenza and Verona, and all the walled towns - sometimes against Venice, sometimes for and by Venice, but mostly against local towns - were a complete revelation. As I said in my introduction, we were led to this part of the world by TV programs which allowed me to project what the reality would be but, in all cases, the reality of these places (except Palazzo Te) was dramatically and overwhelmingly much more than I had expected. I was (as was my wife) astonished by the vastness of the fortifications at Montagnana, and Este, yet their total uselessness in the face of overwhelming odds. Therefore the fortifications survive where many others, France, Britain, and Germany for example, were slighted or destroyed. Our new love for Vicenza and the small towns on the road less traveled don't diminish our continuing love for so many other places in Italy - Rome, Venice, Sorrento, Toscana, for example, and we have always really liked the eastern Veneto, but we really have a new love. We shall return many times.

Posted by Nigel
East Midlands, England
8760 posts

The End There were also many of our old favourites on the trip south, and on the way home, as you have seen. The longish annual driving trips will I hope continue. 2014 will probably see us restrict Italy to a few days in Venice as we expect to visit the places JS Bach lived in Germany. Thanks for tuning in.

Posted by Diane
Westford, MA, USA
233 posts

Thanks for this wonderful report that was off the touristy path. In trying to understand the geography, some of this trip can be done by train and the rest by car? I have driven in Italy and France but never in Germany and I haven't driven through any large mountains either. As a solo traveler what tips would you have for me regards using public transportation versus a car where possible? Would it cost less or more to use both modes?