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Hill roads in Italy

Old Jul 2nd, 2008, 01:06 AM
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Hill roads in Italy

We like to drive Europe on non-motorway roads so as to see the countryside and pass through the villages. In planning our next trip I've been using ViaMichelin's "sightseeing" driving directions. (To those more familiar with the old ViaMichelin website, this was the "discovery" option).

In some regions, however, there may be a downside to backroads touring. My OH was browsing some websites the other night and came across references to "rural roads in Italy being quite terrifying in some areas - hilly, narrow, high up on cliff-edges, with little or no road-edge safety barriers."

I'm a person who can stand on the 2nd step of a ladder but who cannot make it to the third step. I'm fine with high roads if they have substantial outside-edge barriers or if thickly treed to the road edge, but if there is nothing between me and a sheer drop I freeze. To those of you who know Italy: would the roads cause me a problem?

The routes we have planned are:
1. Ligurian coast from Nice to the Cinque Terre. (We'd be on the outer edge, & the last section from Genoa onwards is reputedly cliffs rather than beaches);
2. SS61 etc from Cinque Terre to Venice via Parma, Mantova & Monselice;
3. Some driving in the hills above Venice, e.g. Feltre, Bassano del Grappa & Asolo;
4. Around Lake Garda (but we have the choice of doing that in an anti-clockwise direction which would put us on the side of the road away from the cliff edge);
5. Desenzano-Bellagio, ferry to Menaggio, drive across to Luino, down to Laveno, and another ferry to Verbania. (We'd be on outer road edge from Luino to Laveno).

That's as far as I've got with my planning so far, but the remainder will be down via Moncalvo, Asti, Alba & Cuneo, to return to Nice from the hills via Sospel.

Is there anything in all this that a vertigo-prone driver should be wary of? Thanks in advance for any advice...
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Old Jul 2nd, 2008, 02:14 AM
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On the Ligurian coast, from Nice to Cinque Terre, you need to stay on the major highway/autostrada, rather than the coast road. I would recommend you take it all the way to the Cinque Terre exit, but I'll add that the stretch of road between San Remo and Genova is mostly at sea level (but it is slow road through lots of towns). Between Nice and the Italian border, however, and from Genova to Cinque Terre, the coastal road is very, very steep and twisting, and hangs over cliffs.

In the Ligurian "entroterra" (the hills that rise up just behind the sea), roads can be as described: steep, twisting, narrow (one lane, really) and without guard rails. Given your description of yourself, you would not enjoy traveling them.

I have never driven from the autostrada exit to the Cinque Terre towns. I would expect, however, a steep, narrow switchback road.

The major highway from La Spezia to Parma goes through the mountains, but it is a very wide, well constructed, high-speed road with adequate shoulders and railings.

I've not driven in the other areas you mentioned with the exception of Piemonte, which is notably flat, although hilltowns are hilly, and Moncalvo, in my recollection, has a few narrow, steep roads, but nothing as hair-raising as Liguria. (I've not been to Cuneo.

You can probably use Google earth to get some idea of topography.

Have you considered taking the train from Nice to Cinque Terra, and then dropping off your car someplace in Piemonte -- and then taking a train back to Nice (either via Genova or Torino/Lyon)?
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Old Jul 2nd, 2008, 02:16 AM
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Sorry -- I wasn't clear with my suggestion:

Train to Cinque Terra. Rent car in La Spezia. Tour Northern Italy. Drop off car in Piemonte town that gives you train access to line that would take you back to Nice. (Or you could fly from Milano or perhaps Torino, although those flights are often pricey.)
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Old Jul 2nd, 2008, 02:18 AM
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Last self-correction: Le Cinque Terre.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2008, 09:35 AM
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I don;t now al those specific roads - but we drove from Stresa up into Switzerland and for muchof the way the road is cut into the side of a cliff, the lanes are narrow and buses/trucks coming in the opposite direction are taking part of your lane. In some places there are narrow shoulders between you and the drop off to the lake- in other places practically none. I'm glad we did it in daylight - since for much of the route all that kept you on the road were those little driveway reflectors on plastic sitcks - no wall at all.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2008, 09:57 AM
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I've driven along the west side of Lake Garda a few times and don't recall anything that should be of concern.
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Old Jul 3rd, 2008, 02:05 AM
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Thanks everyone. You've given me a lot to think about. I had expected some problem areas, but had thought they would be up in the lakes area. To find they're worse on the Ligurian coastline came as something of a surprise.

We have a French lease Renault and have booked it through to our Nice departure, so ditching it early and switching to rail isn't really an option. Anyway, we love the freedom to linger and change tack that comes with self-driving.

For the same reason, we're reluctant to use motorways/autostradas - we'd miss all of the places that might have been tempting to linger in along the way. Slow travel is a small price to pay for the sheer enjoyment of villages and the friendliness and hospitality of village people. (I guess that makes us travellers rather than holiday-makers - to us, the journey's the thing, as much as any end destination)!

I'll do some google-earthing, and if it looks to scary we can always change our itinerary. Maybe we'll get time to squeeze in Piran and Rovinj after all!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2008, 07:35 AM
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I've been dealing with agrophobic (rather than vertigo) for several years now. I could go on for way too long about what kinds of roads are the scariest to me! I didn't have the problem when we drove from the Cinque Terre to Provence, but I kind of remember the highway. I don't remember it as sheer dropoffs, and I'm pretty sure the highway portion had guardrails. I do remember that there were lots of tunnels, which is a very good thing when you're afraid of heights.

There are two routes from the main road down into Monterosso, the northernmost town in the Cinque Terre. I remember thinking they weren't as precipitous as I expected; they are narrow and switch back and forth, but it's a steep hillside with lots of vegetation, rather than a dropoff.

You'll be ok in the Piedmont. Lots of towns are on the tops of hills, or on hillsides, but again, it's steep hilsides with trees and bushes. We drove this last year, and I was fine.

We drove around several of the lakes in the Lakes Region, and as I recall, they are (again) narrow roads with lots of traffic (unlike the Cinque Terre, which will have little traffic). Mostly guardrails. But from the road down to the lake often isn't very far. And lots of places, there are trees, houses, hotels, etc. in the way. I don't think you'll have a problem here, either.

As a fellow sufferer, good luck!
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Old Jul 3rd, 2008, 07:53 AM
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The distance from Nice to Cinque Terre is not great. The autostrade goes through the hills -- not over them -- through them, meaning tunnels.

If you would like to see some small towns and seascapes but still not push your vertigo, take the highway as far as Bordighera, then get onto the coastal road.

Before you get to Genova, get back on the autostrade -- if for no other reason than you really don't want to drive through Genova. If you like, get off just past the city of Genova at Nervi, and rejoin the coastal road. However, shortly after that -- espeically between Recco and Rapallo, you will begin to experience some of the steep, twisting climbs I mentioned, with vertiginous drops. It is really only the climb up and over the Monte Portofino that might get to you, and perhaps around Zoagli. After that, the road turns dead flat (between Chaivari and Sestri Levante, and then I think you are forced back into the wooded hills for the approach to Le Cinque Terre.

Hope this video doesn't make you car sick, but it captures a typical drive on the via Aurelia, although is a section of the road (just before Recco) that is nowhere near as high up as the climb over the Monte Portofino.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=T1jjMpXHwTk

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Old Jul 3rd, 2008, 08:00 AM
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Actually, this video gives you a much better feel for the rural roads:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=_Y9qq5nAlOw&feature=related
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Old Jul 3rd, 2008, 08:19 AM
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And a video of the corniche road near Monaco

http://youtube.com/watch?v=DXUlTEReh-s

and this one takes more than three minutes to really capture the feel of driving around the French-Italian border, but the zooming Vespas are a big part of the experience:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=2dkHBOt0NDI&feature=related
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Old Jul 3rd, 2008, 08:20 AM
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We're wanderers off the beaten path,
too but w/o the fear of heights.

We've just driven through much of
the same areas you are going to and
some of them would 'challenge' you.

There's a great road that goes from
La Spezia to Riomaggiore but it does
not fit your criteria; ditto the road into Levanto. But if you can
stand the stress both roads are in
the midst of spectacular scenery and
are not heavily trafficked (is that a
word?).

The autostradas you mentioned won't
cause you any grief. But keep away
from the Garfagnana - there are mule
tracks there that would alarm the
most intrepid traveller - and I
speak from quaking experience.LOL.

We drove through Genova along the
lower road past the harbour to Nervi
- an unexpectedly charming drive on
a sunny Saturday morning; a lovely
'slice of life' that we would have
missed on the autostrada.

Would Ativan or its ilk help you
manage the rural roads?
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Old Jul 3rd, 2008, 12:38 PM
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About #2. of your original post, one of the routes heading to Parma from the Cinque Terre is S62; portions are very picturesque, no sheer cliffs. It goes up into the hills with wonderful views but nothing too daunting. (We've driven the Amalfi Coast by comparison.) There's a little spot in the road, Cassio, which was/is a stop on the old Via Francigena, the medieval pilgrim route to Roma. Also, the unusual rock formations, Salti d. Diavolo, if you're into a little nature.

The route from Parma to Mantova, is flat (S420) as well as Mantova to Monselice (S10). Just before Monselice look for Montagnana, a lovely walled town.

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Old Jul 3rd, 2008, 08:58 PM
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Do you know Alpe di Luna ?
You can cross it coming from the road Orte - Cesena and exit to San Sepolcro where there is the signal for Rimini.
Oh, my God !
You will enjoy it: gorgeous views in this magical land which touchs three regions: Tuscamy, Marche and Romagna.
Small villages, delicious street food, beautiful views and you will visit Pennabilli and then you arrive in Marecchia Valley until if you want, Rimini. Otherwise you stop before Rimini, in Pennabilli.

Vincenzo
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