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The very rocky roads of Italy

I don’t keep a complete record of such things, but I reckon we drove over 2,500 km in Italy.

We passed down the east coast from Venice to Bari, and then across the foot of the country to catch a ferry to Sicily.

After enjoying a tour round some of that beautiful island, followed by an overnight ferry back to Naples, we headed towards France, up the centre of Italy and along the north-west coast.

We have been on motorways, main roads, country lanes and mountain tracks.

And they are almost all bloody awful!

Italy, as most schoolchildren know, has a proud history of long, straight roads going back 2,000 years.

The country continued to be a road pioneer, building the first motorway in the world in the 1920s.

In fact, some of the ancient roads followed such sensible routes that they became the basis for many of Italy’s modern highways.

I certainly can’t fault the road system as a feat of engineering. We passed over more viaducts, and through more tunnels than I can remember. Italy is, after all, a mostly mountainous country.

But having a great road system is not the same as having good road surfaces.

It’s not just the single-track mountain roads that have potholes, cracks and deep depressions – the motorways and A-roads are often worse!

I’m not exaggerating when I say I’ve driven on better main roads in Malawi than on some autostrade.

To be fair, most of the motorways north of Rome weren’t too bad, but even in this richer half of the country, you’re in for a rough time as soon as you venture on to the lesser roads.

After just a couple of days of Italian driving, I began dreading getting behind the wheel.

The stress of having to concentrate to avoid the worst of the holes and cracks, coupled with the, literally, bone-shaking experience that is driving for three hours a day in Italy wore me down.

Add to that the worry of possible damage to our precious van.

And I am not alone in saying it’s a problem. Three years ago, Italy’s National Association of Road Accident Experts reported that 60% of accidents were caused by either the poor quality of the road surfaces, or of the road signs.

So why are they so bad? After all, Italy is a member of the G7, the group of the biggest and richest economies on the planet.

One reason may be the country’s lacklustre economic performance since the 2008 crash.

Its economy has not grown at all for around 10 years, so resources for road maintenance have been tight, for example the amount of tarmac used in Italy halved from 2008 to 2014.

Another reason might be…whisper it…corruption. It is said that money allocated to projects is sometimes siphoned off as backhanders, leading to cheaper materials being used and surfaces that deteriorate much more quickly than they should.

Whatever the reason, the rocky roads really soured my trip around Italy.

We saw some beautiful towns and cities, experienced some great art and architecture, and unfailingly enjoyed superb coffee and cake – even at service stations.

But it’ll be a while before I come back to drive on these damn roads again!

  • See here for the RAC’s advice on driving in Italy
  • Sicily is well worth a visit, there are plenty of campsites and stops and there is lots to see in this beautiful island, from Mount Etna to lemon groves, beautiful beaches and ancient Roman and Greek ruins. The cakes aren’t too bad either. Find out more here.

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