Magical Mountain Camping in Northeastern Italy
I am excited to share details about this beautiful spot we found in the mountains because we truly loved it so much. It is not a secret place, but our stay there made it feel secret, as we were the only ones. If you are planning a camper trip to this part of Italy, we couldn’t more highly recommend a stay here.
I now know that we were staying in the heart of Carnic Pre-Alps in the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region of Italy. This camper stop was one of a few places that we stayed in this region after falling in love with it. Here’s my full guide of our favourite places in this region, including helpful spots if you are in a motorhome/van >> Guide to Friuli-Venezia Giulia In A Campervan.
The camper spot
Like many of the places we drive to park up, we don’t go with huge expectations. We have usually chosen them the day or day before we travel. Rarely any research is done into the area, unlike when I used to plan a holiday. So we just drive, and see if we like it when we arrive.
After weeks of unbearable heat and humidity across southern France and into Italy, we knew we wanted to return to the mountains. We used our CamperStop book to look at the various aires listed within driving distance for us. The one listed at Clauzetto caught our attention, and it also had good reviews on the Park4Night app.
It was a wiggly drive up into the mountains, with lots of hair pin bends, and narrow streets in mountain villages. It felt exciting as we drove higher, catching glimpses of stunning vistas, slowly being engulfed by lush woodland. We were not disappointed when we arrived at the camper stop. There were no other motherhomes or campers, so we parked up right by the stream and couldn’t quite believe it cost nothing to stay in this magical mountain camping spot.
A few cars went up and down the dead-end road that passes the camping spot, and a few hikers, but otherwise we felt a world away from everything. The trees were that lush vibrant green, dripping with water from a recent rain shower. The ground was littered with copper coloured beech leaves, and dotted with the deep green of cyclamen leaves and the occasional purple-pink flower. There were outcrops of soft white rocks, overgrown with damp moss, lacy ferns, and wild strawberry plants.
Mountain air good for the soul
The air was cool and the lush woods seem to wrap us in a big hug. We all felt the affect this place had on our moods, almost instantly. Looking back at our time in the Pyrenees, we now recognise that there is something about the mountains that makes us all feel good. Lighter, happier, more resilient.
Our experience has been that when you have nowhere to escape the heat and humidity (which you don’t when living in a motorhome or van), it becomes overwhelming. We don’t have air conditioning, we don’t even have the big roof fans that others have installed (wishing we’d done this!). It’s just one hot box. I could almost feel the heaviness on your body, weighing you down, physically, mentally and emotionally.
But here I felt good all the time.
Playing in the stream
The mountain and her forests became a wonderful playground for all of us. Me with my camera – I love the dark light of the woods and the way the light glows through the leaves – and spotting edible plants and unfamiliar flowers. Nick and the girls paddling in the stream, collecting sticks, building bridges, and exploring the trails.
There was a pretty meadow opposite, which was full of autumn crocuses and butterflies when we visited. I think this is how both of us always imagined life on the road would be for our girls, but something we have struggled to find.
What else to do nearby
The mountain cabin restaurant
On his first walk out to get our littlest to nap, Nick discovered that we were far from being in the middle of nowhere. Just around the corner in the other car park, it was overflowing with tourists and hikers. There was a restaurant in a mountain cabin, people out canyoning, and those visiting the Grotte di Pradis. He even found a stall in the car park selling local honey! It was all a bit surreal when we felt like the only people for miles in our little nook of the forest.
The simple menu at the restaurant – il Furletto – sounded delicious. It was autumnal dishes like mushroom soup, venison stew, polenta, and apple torta. I was surprised by how much my body was craving those kinds of foods. The food is self-service and comes on paper plates, with lots of bins for recycling. Speaking to the owner, he told me that since they’d changed to self-service and paper plates, that they could focus all their energy into the food they were making. It sounded like they’d found a much more enjoyable way of running their business.
Our favourite dishes were the sausages in gravy with polenta, and the apple torta – which was a beautiful moist apple cake. I also really enjoyed the local cheeses, which came with a fruit sauce.
Grotte di Pradis
Just around the corner from the camper stop is Grotte di Pradis, a series of ancient caves to explore. It cost us about €6 (children under 6 were free) to go in, and we felt it was worthwhile for the wonderful time we had exploring.
Before you descend into the caves, there is the Grotta della Madonna, which is a huge cavernous space with a statue of the Madonna. We lit a candle and watched a few tiny bats zipping about above our heads.
There are lots of steep steps down into the gorge, a crystal clear stream that flows along the bottom, and then a series of caves to explore. One in particular was quite deep into the mountainside and involved stooping and clambering – I was quite surprised you were allowed to go in without a guide, but it was quite an experience. There’s also a lovely waterfall and some nice views down the gorge.
I imagine that anyone travelling with kids can relate to how much time is spent in playgrounds. We discovered this a few years ago when we brought our eldest daughter to Italy, and we are now always on the look out for nice playgrounds wherever we are. I have an unspoken rating system for them, covering things like if there’s a nice bench to sit on, is there anywhere for a bite to eat nearby, and bonus points if there’s a great view.
The playground we discovered at Clauzetto (a five minute drive from where we were camped) got the bonus points for having an incredible view. The playground itself is set into the mountainside and makes the most of this sloping space. Elements I particularly liked were the slide set into the slope, a rope climbing frame, and some metal chimes. There was also one of those bowl shaped swings that as an adult you can lie in – I find these very relaxing!
I asked our eldest daughter (5 years old) what her favourite bit was, and she told me it was the swing, because she could climb up the ropes and hang upside down.
Our Top Tips for Visiting
Places to Visit
We visited in September 2018.
- Playground: We enjoyed the playground at Clauzetto that’s on the main road the winds its way through the village. It has a slide, climbing frame, playhouse, large swing, and a few other small bits. There are a few benches plus a covered gazebo with a picnic table.
- Lunch or a snack: Il Furletto next to Grotte di Pradis comes highly recommended by us. When we visited the menu was hearty dishes of stews, soup and polenta, but I don’t know if this changes throughout the year. If the apple torta is on the menu it was delicious! It’s all very reasonably priced, and lots of tables both inside and outside, with beautiful views of the mountain. You take a menu, fill in how many of what dish or drink you want, then take it to the bar to pay. They give you a number, and when it’s called out you go pick up your food. There are recycling bins for all your plates, cups, and any food waste.
- Paddling: There is an easily accessible mountain stream in the second camping car park, which is perfect for kids.
- Grotte di Pradis: We felt Grotte di Pradis was well worth the small entrance to look around this interesting network of caves. During our visit it cost €3.50 per adult, and under 6’s were free. Our eldest daughter was 5 and she really enjoyed all the steps, and exploring the caves.
Check out all our blog posts on Italy here.
Grotta di Pradis Motorhome Aire
We visited in September 2018.
- Address: Via Pradis di Sotto, 33090 Clauzetto, Italy
- GPS: N 46.24545, E 12.88976
- Directions: Follow the signs to Grotte di Pradis and you’ll reach the motorhome parking just before the caves on your right. There is a second parking spot further round to the right. It’s a pretty wiggly route up the mountains, but we made it in our old motorhome.
- Cost: Free.
- Facilities: Free water, a grey water dump, and a bin. There is also a picnic area in the woods next to it, which had a fire pit that seemed to be stocked with wood for fires.
- Site: Two gravel car parks in the woods. The first is closer to the main road through, so probably a bit noisier (we didn’t stay in this one) and it also filled with cars on the weekend. The second is on a dead end road, that did have a few cars passing, but otherwise super peaceful and quiet. There are no designated spots.
- Other: We were able to get data here for our motorhome wifi, although sometimes it was slow and patchy. There was no where we could see to say how long you could stay – we saw mentioned on the Park4Night app that someone had stayed a week. We got the feeling that we could have stayed there that long without any issues. Due to the parking area being under trees and us not having enough solar panels at the time, we lost power after 2 days and had to leave to recharge our batteries, but we did return.