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DISCOVER ITALY

How to choose a camping holiday in Italy: A guide for the uninitiated

Camping can make for an enjoyable and cost effective holiday - but before you book, it's important to know what you're signing up for. Here's our guide to maximising your fun and avoiding disappointment on an Italian camping trip.

Before setting off on an Italian camping holiday, consider what you want to get out of the trip.
Before setting off on an Italian camping holiday, consider what you want to get out of the trip. Photo by Aleksandra Sapozhnikova on Unsplash.

With sites that stretch from the feet of the Dolomites to the golden shores of Sardinia, camping in Italy can be an ideal way explore the country and see its natural wonders up close.

Before you set off, though, it’s worth doing a little research to make sure you don’t end up on the Italian camping trip of your nightmares.

READ ALSO: Travel in Italy and Covid rules this summer: what to expect

The first and most important question to consider is what kind of stay you want.

Some campsites in Italy – particularly ones near famous lakes or beaches – are veritable behemoths, encompassing hundreds or even thousands of plots.

If you pull up to one of these venues with vague notions of drifting off not long after sunset to the sound of crickets chirping and the long grass rustling in the breeze, you’ll be in for a shock.

That’s not just because of the hordes of other holidaymakers surrounding you, but because despite identifying as campeggi, many of these places are less campsites than they are holiday villages, with a full programme of events that run until late at night and sometimes into the early hours of the morning.

READ ALSO: Dining outdoors and hiking: How visitors plan to holiday in Italy this summer

You’ll notice that much of the space at these sites isn’t given over to tents or camper vans at all, but is instead occupied by pre-fabricated bungalows or wooden verandas hooked up to long-stationary caravans.

You might find your Italian campsite is less of a peaceful haven than expected.
You might find your Italian campsite is less of a peaceful haven than expected. Photo by Anders Nielsen on Unsplash.

These more permanent structures can be rented out, but many of them are owned outright by families who return every summer and stay for weeks at a time.

Facilities will typically include a swimming pool and a restaurant and bar, and you can expect any of karaoke, sports competitions, dance or gymnastics classes, and both daily and nightly entertainment provided by animatori (children’s entertainers).

If you like the idea of organised activities and partying late into the night, or are considering camping because it’s a cheaper alternative to hotels and holiday rentals but you don’t actually enjoy the more rustic aspects of the experience, these campsites could provide the ideal set up for you.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

If, however, you’re the kind of person who’s more liable to ask yourself where you went wrong than ask to join in when you find yourself lying awake at midnight listening to your neighbours belt out an Eros Ramazzotti ballad for the third time on their DIY karaoke kit, you’ll want to look a little further afield.

Luckily for the latter kind of holidaymaker, there are plenty of smaller and quieter venues that more closely resemble the traditional idea of a campsite – you just need to know how to find them. 

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

The smallest and most wild types of Italian campsites are often referred to as agricampeggi. They typically have just a few plots, and no permanent shelters. Facilities are likely to be basic, with only toilets and showers, though they may in some cases also include a small pool and/or restaurant.

Agricampeggi campsites can provide a more relaxing experience.
Agricampeggi campsites can provide a more relaxing experience. Photo by Reuben Kim on Unsplash.

If you’re looking for something in the middle of the spectrum, with more services than an agricampeggio but less chaos than a camping village, base your campeggio search on the total number of plots available.

Campeggi with no more than a couple of hundred plots tend to be relatively laid back, but are also more likely to have restaurants, pools, and laundry rooms if you’re seeking some comfort. If you’re considering one of these, it’s always worth checking online reviews to see if they also put on high-volume nighttime entertainment (as some smaller campeggi do).

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

What about wild camping? 

Unfortunately for more intrepid campers, wild camping tends to be highly restricted in Italy – and setting up camp on beaches or in built-up areas in towns and cities is out of the question.

That said, if you’re determined to stake your tent far away from any signs of civilisation, there are some options. You can read our guide to wild camping in Italy here.

READ ALSO: What are the rules on wild camping in Italy?

If you know what you’re signing up for, camping in Italy can be the perfect way to experience the country’s natural beauty for a fraction of the cost of a hotel stay.

Just take some ear plugs or brush up on your Italian ’90s hits (depending on which side of the canvas flap you sit) … and remember that even after the worst of nights, you can always drive off and leave it all in the dust the next morning.

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DISCOVER ITALY

Why some of Italy’s food festivals are ‘fake’ – and how to pick the best ones

Italy's countless sagre, or food fairs, are an autumn highlight. But how do you find the best events - and avoid the more commercial ones? Reporter Silvia Marchetti explains.

Why some of Italy’s food festivals are 'fake' - and how to pick the best ones

Italy’s renowned food fairs are one of the most exciting events during autumn and winter, particularly the coldest months when we’re looking for culinary weekend distractions. 

For the uninitiated, sagre are key gourmand exhibitions mixing local food, premium products, cheeses and olive oil – all the ‘excellences’ of the area – but lately I find some are just, well, fake. 

READ ALSO: The best Italian food festivals to visit in October

Instead of selling traditional indigenous delicacies, vendors sell a little bit of everything which they think appeals to foreigners and city people desperate for a rural break. 

Last weekend I went to the sagra at Osteria Nuova, near Passo Corese in Lazio, and found mozzarella from Naples and limoncello from Amalfi: now what do those have to do with the Rieti countryside?

It was sad and disappointing. Even though it takes place in an area which is famous at this time of the year for exquisite porcini mushrooms and chestnuts there was not even one single vendor selling these. Instead, there was codfish from Venice and porchetta from the Castelli Romani.

Up until a few years ago the Osteria Nuova food fair was very genuine and appealing: it was actually a real farmers’ market where animals were sold: not just rabbits and hens but cows, horses and donkeys. It was a vibrant event. 

Now the cages that once kept the animals are empty. And people just go there to stuff themselves with huge sandwiches and hotdogs. It’s always hell finding a parking spot because the fair is very close to Rome, luring day trippers on a ‘scampagnata’.

Photo by Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

My advice is to avoid visiting food fairs which are too close to big cities and towns, but pick offbeat villages or unknown rural spots where the sagre are small and with local producers selling authentic, ‘indigenous’ products. Choosing the remote hillsides, where traditions tend to survive, is of course better than the touristy areas. 

READ ALSO: Seven reasons autumn is the best time to visit Italy

Also, it’s best if the food fair is not too heavily sponsored or advertised in national newspapers. The best thing to do is search online for all food fairs in the area you plan to visit during the weekend or even during the week, and ask friends and locals as word of mouth can often be more reliable. 

Among the authentic sagre I would recommend the porcini mushroom food fair in San Martino al Cimino in the pristine hills of the Tuscia countryside in Lazio, where the woods are dotted with porcini. 

At the fair not only bags of huge porcini are sold but you can also buy a lunch ticket and taste various mushroom dishes sitting down at wooden tables. Last time I was served a delicious potato and porcini soup which inspired me to replicate (successfully) the recipe at home. 

However, the best thing is to search for the weird and unknown – food fairs with funny names and showcasing products that sound and look really bizarre. So forget about the usual truffles, mozzarella, limoncello, ham and pasta-filled events. I suggest opting for quirky food festivals in never-heard-of-before villages where the culinary adventure comes with a cultural jolt. 

Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

When I hear about something amazingly off-the-wall and tasty, with a particular story or legend behind it, my curiosity and taste buds tingle.

Last weekend I was surfing the web and came across the Ciammellocco festival in the tiny hamlet of Cretone, Lazio, which immediately aroused my curiosity. 

READ ALSO: 14 reasons why Lazio should be your next Italian holiday destination

As I had never heard of it before, I jumped in the car the following day and ventured out to an isolated woody area with a few small dwellings, where one single bakery makes this huge, funny-sounding, highly-nutritious sweet-salty doughnut with fennel seeds which has been around since at least the middle ages. Housewives used to make it for their husbands as a substitute for lunch when they went off working in the fields. 

Even though I have tasted similar ciambelle in my life none come close to ciammellocco, crunchy and tender at the same time, made with eggs but light.

Next I heard about the Sagra della Papera in Carassai, Marche region, offering succulent duck meat dishes with pappardelle pasta and roasted duck breasts, and given duck isn’t something you’d normally find in Italian restaurants, it makes the cut for authentic food events. 

Vegetarians can’t miss the Festival degli Orapi in the village of Picinisco north of Naples where guests are treated to platefuls of a unique, delicious spinach variety which is made exquisite by the fact that it grows beneath goat poo, a natural fertilizer. Locals actually roam the countryside with a knife to scrape away the poo and extract the orapi.

In Pedagaggi, Sicily, local housewives organize the Sagra della mostarda di fichi d’india, with gourmet dishes made from exotic-looking prickly pear mustards. 

READ ALSO: ‘La scampagnata’: What it is and how to do it the Italian way

Other curious sagre include the Festa del Gorgonzola set in the town of Gorgonzola in Lombardy which is the real birthplace of Italy’s iconic blue cheese. Huge pentoloni of steaming pots of gorgonzola in the middle of the piazza lure pungent cheese addicts. 

Also Diamante’s festival del peperoncino in Calabria is a must stop for lovers of strong, authentic hot dishes spiced up with chili peppers (there’s even a peperoncini eating marathon).

Real sagre tend to showcase one premium native product rather than a myriad with overlapping origins.

The more ‘local’ you dive into the deepest, remote corners of Italy full of tradition and folklore, the more genuine the sagra and the more satisfying the gastronomical experience.

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