Cruising the steep southern shores it appears that Lake Como is the preserve of the Clooneys, Bonds and Bransons of this world. Head north of Menaggio, however, and the millionaire quotient drops to nearly nil, the opulent villas and five star hotels metamorphosize into campsites, B&Bs and agriturismi, and the price of a holiday tumbles accordingly. At the tip of the lake (the area known as Alto Lario) the panorama opens up and here the serious Alps begin. The best bases in the area are Domaso, Gravedona and Colico, although the surrounding hill villages do offer accommodation options too. It is a region beloved of outdoorsy types from all over northern Europe, especially windsurfers, kite surfers, mountain bikers and hikers. Pick a road leading uphill from the lake and meander up it to discover ancient churches, alpine meadows, stone hamlets, superb food and incredible views of forest, lake and mountain. Such a beautiful area and yet still very reasonable. And not a movie star in sight.
The local station is Colico, buses and ferries run all around the lake. Better still to travel by car: 1.5 hours from Milan airports.
Google map: bit.ly/13kYoSI
Back in the olden days (60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s), budget travellers - students in particular - could thumb their way around the continent, usually with a dog-eared copy of the Hitchhikers Guide to Europe stuffed in their backpack. Road junctions in/out of major cities would be full of queues of hopeful travellers, thumbs in the air, winning smiles on their faces and a slightly optimistic felt-tip-pen-scrawled destination board (saying something like "Sicily - ONO!" or more nebulously "South? please!" being brandished at each passing vehicle.
In these days of budget air travel, advance-booking websites and widespread increased 'fear of strangers'(mostly media fuelled - it's really not any more dangerous than it ever was - ie, not very dangerous at all with a bit of common sense), such scenes are sadly rare these days.
My tip is that in Italy, such budget travel is still a viable option for those on a shoestring budget. I last summer hitched from Genoa (having started in France, so coming from Nice) to Venice, via Milan, Verona and Padua, spending a couple of days in each interesting stop off. Italians seem more generous and open-minded to (ie less scared of) picking up and conversing with strangers, and if you show a bit of willingness to be friendly (a smattering of school-level Italian, or even an ATTEMPT at some basic words, really helps) you'll meet some really interesting, often very helpful people.
More than one driver offered me a meal or even a bed for the night (I stress I wasn't looking for this, but it was really nice when it happened), and nearly all had great local tips and advice, and at the very least a bit of local colour and insight.
Travel with a tent if you're doing this. Italians seem more ok with pitching up by the side of a road or in a public park for the night, than their northern European counterparts. I'm not sure if this is a legal thing, just saying they seem much more tolerant and even friendly about it.
When you get somewhere prohibitively expensive, such as Venice, you are still able (oldskool-style) to crash in the train station. Be prepared to be abruptly woken and moved on as the station starts to fill up, say from about 6.30am, so it's not perfect - but it's a place to lay your head for a few hours and see a truly beautiful city for just the cost of your food etc, rather than the literally hundreds of euros it would cost if you had to pay for accommodation/travel.
Doing this, I spent a few days each in Genoa, Milan, Verona and Venice (with the odd stop-off in between, depending on where my driver was going), and hitched back again, and the whole trip was just over a fortnight. I met some fantastic people, had lovely experiences, saw places that I could never in my wildest dreams afford if done through conventional travel means, and the whole thing cost approx 20 euros a day, give or take. And that included everything, even a couple of (supermarket-bought) beers in the evenings. There is no other transport/accommodation alternative that would have come close. Basically, without plucking up the courage to hitch/camp (which turned out to be a lovely way to do it anyway), I'd never have seen Venice and probably never would.
Obviously nice hotels, car-hires and train travel are plusher, but this really does mean that budget travellers can experience this richly fascinating country without spending the next 10 years paying off a credit card debt, and you might just meet some really interesting, often quite idiosyncratic locals along the way.
(Obviously, it suits a flexible itinerary rather than a fixed one! - but this can be an unexpected boon in itself...)
And you'll be reviving the dying art of hitching along the way, and also - perhaps - making people a little bit less unnecessarily afraid of strangers. As it should be ...
Obviously, take sensible precautions. Be clean (you're more likely to get picked up). Be friendly (you're less likely to get chucked out). Don't get in a car with someone who's clearly drunk or appears dodgy. Have an exit strategy, just in case (saying you feel car-sick and need to pull over usually works). Girls travelling alone should of course be particularly circumspect, but even then, with a bit of common sense the risks are far lower than you'd imagine. I know dozens of people who still do this, and there have been only a couple of dodgy incidents out of hundreds of rides, and even they weren't THAT serious. (For example, I've had more threatening experiences on the tube in London to be honest).
Oh, and if the local police do hassle you for camping in a lay-by or sleeping in a train station, just remember to be polite, smile and say you didn't realise - they're nearly always surprisingly helpful and understanding.
So if you're on a budget, go back to the 70s - pack a tent and stick your thumb out! It could open whole new worlds of otherwise unaffordable luxury destinations, and of all the places in Europe I've tried it, Italy is one of the most consistently friendly, safe and open to this of any I've ever been to, even today.
And all that money you save in flights/car-hire/trains/hotels, you can put towards an absurdly priced can of Coke in St Mark's Square. And it'll taste all the sweeter for knowing you hitched there for just pennies. See you there!
Everywhere! (though my Nice - Genoa - Milan - Verona - Venice - and return - trip is not a bad suggested starting route...)
For the design conscious traveler on a budget Campeggio Fusina, designed in 1959 by the modernist Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa, offers stylish, inexpensive camping with a stunning view across the lagoon to Venice (prices range from €8,50 for a tent to €92 for a four-berth static caravan).
The deep water channel just offshore treats you to a close-up of passing ships en route to Porto Maghera, Venice’s industrial secret. There’s a regular Vaparetto service from Fusina to Zattere that takes just 20 minutes, and there’s no better way to arrive in this city than to watch its majestic decaying architecture gradually loom out from the surrounding turquoise lagoon.
Once you’re there, be sure to visit the 55th International Art Biennale, on till 24 November at the Giardini and Arsenale. The Arsenale buildings housed the rope works and are worth seeing for the architecture alone. But be warned, the centre of Venice is not a cheap place, so to save money take lunch with you and enjoy it, and the visual feast that Venice offers, all’aperta!
Self catering with a difference in beautiful, unspoilt Abruzzo. Bring your own tent, rent one of the gorgeous resident canvas bell tents, sleep in Rosemary the retired WV camper van, or select one of the in-house self catering options: the choice is yours. Climb, walk, bike, swim or chill amidst the spectacular foothills of the Apennines, with the Adriatic's undiscovered beaches less than 40 minutes away. Two hours from Rome and easily accessible by rail www.bootandbike.co.uk/2013/05/by-train-to-kokopelli/ Ideal for solos, couples, groups and families; all from 16 euros per night.
Just 6km north of the beautiful, sleepy fishing harbour of Gytheio on the Mani peninsular is a stunning shipwreck standing defiantly on a perfect beach. It was an incredible sunrise. With the help of a rental car, out of peak-season camping is so easy on beaches of the Peloponnese - remote and tranquil.
Hotels, tavernas and cafes are also available in Gytheio, and to the south are more unspoilt beaches, extending down the rugged but accessible 'Mani'.
Valtaki, Lakonia, Peloponnese
Google map: bit.ly/18718Yj
South Pelion has everything to offer at all seasons. Walk on ancient stone paths under plane and olive trees with glorious views of the Pagasitikos gulf or the Aegean. Swim at deserted pebbled coves or beaches with swathes of fine sand. Select from a range of reasonably priced places to stay and enjoy food in fish restaurants, small tavernas that offer regional cuisine, or more international eateries such as Casablanca in Horton. Visit traditional hill top villages with quiet, plane tree shaded cobbled squares, little fishing harbours, historical sites, tiny fresoed churches or the market in Argalasti for local produce including home brewed local spirit tsipouro. In addition you can take a trip to nearby Skiathos on board the Africana from Platania for a day or two of partying. You will certainly be glad to return to the peace and beauty of South Pelion.
Campsites include Louisa at Platanias (www.camplouisa.gr/en/draseis.html), hotels include Kima and Des Roses in Platanias and accommodation includes Katerina in Pelion and Valtoudi in Milina.
My wife and I spent part of our honeymoon staying in one of the branas. So romantic, so welcoming, so beautiful. Great little restaurant onsite. Wonderful walks and only a short drive to the coast if you want to combine this with the mountains.
Valle de Lago s/n Somiedo Asturias 33840 España
+34 985 763 776
Google map: bit.ly/10PkNUQ
We pack our tent in the car and go on self-guided trips around Spain’s wine and cider regions. A cheap ferry crossing from Dover and avoiding toll roads cuts costs. Susie Barrie’s wine book gives tips on the best bodegas to visit and most tours/tastings are free but we buy at least one bottle as a thank you. The following towns have campsites so you can eat out or do tastings on foot: Haro in Rioja, Penafiel in Ribera del Duero, Olite, in Navarra and Arriondas in the cider region. Budget but beautiful wines are sold at Inurrieta in Navarra and Albet i Noya in Penedes. The Priorat region is usually pricy but at Celler Cecilio they fill up plastic bottles with a great table wine straight from the tank.
For a cheap but very comfortable stay in a relatively unknown part of France, pitch a tent, book a B&B room or rent the fantastic apartment as a group at Forest View Campsite and B&B, in the beautiful Le Parc Naturel Régional du Perche. The campsite has mini-golf, a splash pool and beautiful views over the stunning countryside; Le Perche is home to picturesque medieval towns, bucolic countryside and delicious local cider. A stay in this region, part of Normandy, offers full immersion in rural French life and plentiful, impossible to resist, camembert. Heaven.
“Pour les curieux, les amoureux, les randonneurs, les baigneurs…”- an irresistible three miles by one mile island of sweeping sandy beaches, a port, a restaurant and two cafés. Perfect for a five day break. Drive over – Portsmouth to Caen?- with tent and bikes, leave the car in Quiberon and take the boat. Cycle to the tip of Houat and camp wild like the French. Not a lot to do, just the beauty of nature, but that’s why you’re here isn’t it? A holiday you won’t forget.
Camping de la Filature is a small, tranquil campsite set in an orchard beside the gentle River Sioule.This is outdoor life at it's most peaceful but with plenty of opportunities for activities such as walking, cycling, fishing and wild swimming. The Auvergne is a beautiful, yet relatively undiscovered region of France and campsite fees are much lower than more touristy destinations. Once you've pitched your tent or parked your caravan you can soak up the magical beauty of the place and relax.
On the edge of the French Pyrenees stand four well equipped tipis sleeping four to six people in peaceful surroundings with breathtaking views of the Cirque de Garvarnie. There are many reasons why this might be your best holiday ever; spectacular walks at your fingertips, singsongs round the campfire while pet goats freely roam around you and you really don't have to dig too deep in your pockets for it all.
The best way to enjoy a budget holiday in France is to camp in municipal campsites, which exist in most towns or substantial villages. Good value, clean, with hot showers, these can be very cheap in out of the way places, such as the picturesque town of Estaing at the eastern end of the Lot valley. For an enjoyably easy-going holiday, just decide on the region you are going to and a rough route. Then choose somewhere to stop - look for small towns on rivers and you can't go wrong. Then check out municipal campsites on Archiescampings App on your smartphone or i-pad.You only need book in busy tourist areas.
Archiescampings App costs £2
This is a great campsite for families, couples and friends on a budget. On the confluence of the Dordogne and the Vézère, it's wonderful for swimming, relaxing and you might even catch a fish if you're really lucky! As far as I remember, you're allowed to BBQ, but there is also a great restrant on site. If you're willing to walk a VERY short ou can always distance across the bridges then you'll find a wide variety of excellent traditional French restaurants and a few bars. My parents made sure it was always one stop on our road trips through France and I hope I can do the same with my children.
F-24480 Alles/Dordogne, France
+33 (0)553 632 976
Google map: bit.ly/15k1BWL
France offers the very best and cheapest camping facilities in all of Europe. We know, we have been camping in Germany, Switzerland, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium and Italy, to name a few. Use two guides: the Michelin Camping Guide and Le guide officiel camping caravaning. The Michelin gives good advice for facilities, shade, quiet, etc., and the Guide Officiel gives all 8,565 campsites in France. Between the two you can find what you want whereever you find yourself in rural or urban France. Now even the initial outlay for tent, cooker, sleeping bags, etc. is a lot cheaper than it used to be. If you want very good gear get it second hand on eBay. Happy Camping in France!
Le guide officiel camping caravaning: www.campingfrance.com/UK/Guidebooks/Guidebooks/The-guide-of-all-the-camp-sites-in-France
Stay for a few nights in a camping cabin at the Old Oaks Touring Park, stocking up on very local farm produce, home-baked cakes and cider at the friendly site shop. Check the weather forecast using your free WIFI, and then get up in the early hours of the morning ready for an adventure... Walk past Gog and Magog (two thousand-year-old oaks) up the tiny tree-shrouded lane from the site that climbs towards Glastonbury Tor, and then follow the spiralling path worn by countless millions of feet through the ages up the famous hill. The Somerset Levels are laid out before you as the sun climbs over the horizon, wreathed in spring mist and the fire of a new day. This is how I asked my fiancé to marry me, and it is a sunrise that should be on everyone's bucket list for the UK!
The camp was situated at one of the most scenic locations, just at the banks of cauvery. Although booze is not allowed in the forest region, we did have some good mocktails and snacks with the campfire. The early morning trek to tower was great and the experience was top notch.
+91 968 602 0000
Google map: bit.ly/14TqJSL
Strewn out for miles along the southern Atlantic coast of Spain is the stunning El Palmar beach. You won't find yourself short of things to do at the village end - with a mix of restaurants, bars and surf shacks; but walk (or drive and park for free) along to the far eastern edge of the beach and you'll find yourself completely alone with just the wide expanse of sand and sound of waves for company.
You can surf, swim, body board or simply throw out your towel and sit and watch the waves hit the beach and relax. It is perfect at any time of day - for a morning swim, a lunch-time picnic, romantic stroll or to watch the sun go down over the water.
Also at this end is a wonderful little restaurant with a beautiful garden, just right for lounging back on a wicker chair with an Estrella.
You can camp in El Palmar but we stayed in the town of Vejer de la Frontera, 12km away - probably my favourite town in Spain.
11159 El Palmar, Cadiz province, Andalusia, Spain
Google map: bit.ly/13VpdPV
I've just returned from a trip of a lifetime walking in the desert with an excellent guide, a docile dromedary carrying everything for a night's camping and the dromedary minder who led me on spectacular rides into the sunset. Imagine, the only sound was birdsong, no other people to be seen, delicious meals and a star filled sky at night - truly a dream come true! Reach the desert by 4X4 from Marrakech.
As you drive through the tall fir trees along the winding hilly roads in search of Les Chalet du Tarn, where to your side rolls the calm, serene Tarn river, you can't help feeling as though you have escaped. Escaped the busy day-to-day hassle of life, the crowds and heat of tourists and have discovered a wonderful retreat in the heart of the French countryside in the Midi-Pyrenees.
The road curves and you cross a small, stone bridge and crawl across taking in the breathtaking views up and down the Tarn. A quaint church sits at the opposite side and as you reach this you take the lane to the left, following alongside the river again, driving carefully between it's banks and the Chateaux on your right. This is a place of heritage and original architecture.
Les Chalet du Tarn is a campsite, but there are chalets you can hire. Before you have even pitched your tent, with views that are hard to put into words, the friendly owner invites you to dine tonight - what's on the menu? "Ce soir", he says, "Moules frites". Heaven to my senses.
Each night the owners create a new menu, everything is home made and served fresh to your private, if basic, table.
Imagine: you are sat back, relaxed, with a glass of locale vin blanc/rouge/rose in your hand; the quiet hush surrounds you, a slight rustling of the trees and background run of the river; a few children play over in the park while on the other tables couples sit and converse in their mother tongue. The owner stands command over the hot coals, stirring and lifting the steaming moules in a home made garlic and white wine sauce. The smell is phenomenal. He is a master of precision, carefully watching and marinading the most incredible moules you will ever eat (and that is some claim).
As they are served, straight from the huge wok style pan, to your table the traditional skinny frites are rushed from the kitchen by his wife and staff where you are left to dive in and devour these delights.
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