Travel Itinerary and Reviews Part 4: Italy – Courmayeur, Varese, Carnate and Monza

It is very nearly 2 months since we left Ireland and our apartment for 10 months in a van, which is incredibly hard to believe. Its like we’ve simultaneously been away for ages and for no time at all. Here are weeks 7 and 8 of our travel Itinerary and accessibility reviews. The big news for this post is that we finally left France for Italy, where we headed straight to the mountains to climb up some big hills.

Highlights and lowlights

Highlights

  • We had a taste of home with the weather in the Italian mountains. Hoodies, leggings and cosy socks were aplenty
  • We climbed our highest ever peak at 2,300 meters. our previous record was Carrauntoohil in Ireland at 1,000 meters. This time we had sun and blue skies instead of cloud and snow
  • Sorry France but Italian food is simply the best. We had the joy of eating a home cooked meal prepared just for us by our Italian host – it was better than any Italian restaurant meal I have ever had.

Lowlights

  • The heatwave is here and it is real. However, I think we’re starting to acclimatise!
  • I lost an expensive pair of prescription sunglasses, which are one of my essential pieces of kit. Thankfully I have a spare and have plans to buy another
  • No air conditioning the van is a killer in this heat. Thankfully we had a B&B booked for work days and we are heading north next – towards more air conditioning!

Below, I have listed some of the extra facilities available at the campsites we’ve stayed at. Each campsite also had the basics – toilets, showers, sinks for dish washing (a god send as we don’t have running hot water), laundry facilities, bins, grey water disposal, chemical toilets and fresh water.

Mountain Camping in Courmayeur

Winding mountain roads, steep hairpin bends and incredible scenery made the drive from France to Italy both immensely picturesque and hair raising. We quite literally drove over a mountain to cross the border. You could take the Mont Blanc tunnel but it is really expensive and we would have missed this photo op!

Aoife is wearing a navy camp and pink t-shirt standing in front of a blue sign. The sign says ITALIA in white letters at the centre, which is surrounded by a circle of yellow stars. Another sign underneath says Welcome in Italian, French, German, English and Spanish. Green fields and mountains can be seen in the background
Me at the Italy French border

Campsite Camping Hobo
Cost – €30 for four nights for two people including electricity
Facilities – evening campfires, hot tub, playground, above ground pool, small market shop, bar and restaurant
Accessibility score – 3 / 5

See here for further detail on my accessibility scoring system.

This spot was so good that we booked in for 3 nights but ended up staying for 8. It was very near the base of Mont Blanc and was on the Tour de Mont Blanc trail. It was a really simple rustic site that had great food, good wine and fantastic staff. They created a wonderful laid back atmosphere while providing exceptional customer service. Unfortunately, I lost a pair of prescription sunglasses somewhere along the way during our stay here – which are really important for me on this trip. I have found a solution to getting a replacement while travelling, so check out my Instagram Highlights to see how I plan to fix this.

It is hard to review the accessibility of this campsite due to its simplicity and rustic nature. It essentially was just a big field, with no hard standing pitches, and with campers and tents set up wherever there was space. So we didn’t have a marked out pitch, it was more just a piece of grass next to our neighbours. This made it easier to navigate in some ways as the only buildings were the bar or the bathrooms but seeing as there were no dedicated paths or roads, I would think that you might need a guide if you were had a significant visual impairment or were completely blind. Due to it being a field, the ground underfoot was pretty uneven in places as well.

That said, we knew it was that type of place when we booked it, so it feels harsh to mark them down on accessibility, when they don’t make any claims to be. In addition, the staff were so nice and friendly that if you said that you had additional needs and needed to be closer to the sanitary blocks or bar, they would be more than accommodating.

A picture of the campsite in Courmayeur. There are huge grey mountains in the background, under a blue sky. The bottom of the picture shows a grassy green field with a number of tents and campervans set up
Hobo Camping in Courmayeur

Things to see and do – this place is a hikers paradise in the summer and a skiers paradise in the winter. We climbed Mont Chetif, which was the highest peak we have done so far at 2,300 meters. It was challenging due to the loose rocks underfoot and literal climbing needed to get up and down. It was so worth it as at the top, we saw these breath-taking views of Mont Blanc and the surrounding mountains.

An image of me jumping in the air with a huge snowy mountain in the background. I am wearing a pink long sleeved op, black shorts and hiking boots. Our bags are on the ground nearby
Me jumping for joy at the top of Mont Chetif

The second hike we did was the Col Sapin Loop which started at Posteggio Bertone. In the car park here, you will see yellow signs pointing towards different numbered routes. We did a combination of number 43 and 40, which ended in Courmayeur rather than back at the car park. Again, this was another exceptional hike through mountain forests and up narrow winding trails. We found the source of an alpine river along the way and filled up our water. It was the freshest, most delicious water either of us had ever had!

A narrow dirt mountain trail is surrounded by grass n the right hand side of the picture. The left hand side shows a steep hill going downwards. Mountains, pine trees, blue skies and clouds can be seen in the background
One of the views during our Col Sapin hike

These pictures do not do justice to the beauty of these places we visited. We highly, highly recommend a trip to Courmayeur if you like hiking!

Visiting Varese

CampsiteCamping La Famiglia
Cost – €25 per night for 2 people not including electricity
Facilities – a playground and very small bar at reception
Accessibility score – 3 / 5

This was a funny little stopover. The camping was on the grounds of a convent and there wasn’t much information online about it. We kind of went in a bit blind but it all worked out in the end. This was the first time that we stayed at a site with no electric hook up (by choice, there was some available) and our first one nighter. It was grand. Very basic, but did the job for one night. The lady who ran the site was really nice as well.

This was a very basic site in which the pitches weren’t marked and we could just park wherever we liked. Therefore, it is difficult to score them low for accessibility as it was designed as a very rustic site. The facilities were not well signposted outside, but indoor signage was good. Again, the staff were very nice so I would say that if you needed to be located near the facilities and required some extra help, that would not have been a problem.

Things to do – We found the lovely Luigi Zanzi park just outside Varese which had swimming access to Lake Varese. We absolutely needed a dip in 36 degrees. The park had lots of shaded spots and picnic benches so it was easy to spend a couple of hours here. There is also a tactile museum in Varese which we wanted to visit but due to the restricted opening hours, we couldn’t make it work. Irritatingly, their website is not accessible and does not work with a screen reader. I would have expected this to be up to date given the audience and ethos of the museum.

This picture is taken under the shade of tall trees. The background shows the blue waters of Lake Varese. In the mid ground, there is brown grass in the sunshine. In the foreground, there is a stone picnic bench in the shade under the trees.
Lake Varese and Luigi Zanzi Park

Catching up with Friends in Carnate

It was lovely to hear an Irish accent again! We spent two nights with our friends in Carnate, which is north east of Milan. As well as lovely chats and laughs, we got the all important air conditioning for a couple of nights. We spent one day at Lake Como, swimming and relaxing by the water and another day having some lunch and a wander around Monza.

This picture looks out over the blue waters of Lake Como. There are people sunbathing on colourful towels and under umbrellas in the foreground. In the background, the mountains can be seen under a bright blue sky
Lake Como

Managing the heat in Monza

We’ve spent much of week 8 avoiding the heat and chasing air conditioning. Seeing as we had 2 work days at the start of this week and we knew it was going to be exceptionally hot, we booked into a B&B for 3 nights in Monza, a little town north of Milan.

Pietro’s Garden is a lovely modern house with a big garden. It is run by Alessandro who is the host with the most. As well as being a really friendly, helpful and hospitable host, he is also a fantastic cook and coked us two pasta meals for dinner one night as an added bonus! Our room was big, with an ensuite, balcony, smart TV and we had access to the living room and kitchen.

Accessibility wise, as it was a private house, I didn’t have the same expectations as a public campsite. I found the stairs difficult to see due to the stain of the wood and the outdoor steps did not have a contrasted edge. However, this would not taint my opinion of our stay and I would highly recommend this place to anyone who needs a room for the night.

An image of a large double bet with white bedsheets. A large abstract picture of Marylin Monroe hands above the bed on a grey wall. A wood stained vaulted ceiling can be seen above.
Our bedroom in Pietro’s Garden, Monza

It was a very mixed two weeks with a lot of time spent out of van, which is a nice break. We’re leaving Monza tomorrow to go to buy some sunglasses and then head to our next stop which is a campsite in Cannobio, near the Swiss border before we head to spend 2 weeks in Zurich, house and cat sitting!

Thanks for reading! Aoife x

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