The Italian Journey Pt. 2: Road-tripping along the artist’s trail from Tuscany to Berlin - Friends of Friends / Freunde von Freunden (FvF)

The Italian Journey Pt. 2: Road-tripping along the artist’s trail from Tuscany to Berlin


“Nothing can be compared to the new life that the discovery of another country provides for a thoughtful person. Although I am still the same I believe to have changed to the bones.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  

Now in the heart of Tuscany, our Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo camper van could be utilized to its full capacity. With the roof raised, beds made and kitchen safely stowed, we pulled up lakeside ready to camp before the teeming town of Sulzano on the edge of Iseo. The lake’s western tip, glistening in the sun without any other visitors provided the ideal swimming jump-off before a picnic lunch of local produce. Sweet peaches bought from a roadside fruit cart were paired with warm crusty bread from the town’s bakery and sun-ripened tomatoes for a delectable post-swim lunch in the midday heat. Little did we know that a few short kilometers east people would arrive in their droves for the two-week-only spectacular of Christo’s Floating Piers.

The undulating saffron fabric topped walkways sloped into the water causing the gradation of vibrant saffron to deep tangerine. Hordes took off their shoes and experienced barefoot a piece of temporary art that will continue to be talked about and referenced for years to come. Holding our sandals, we scampered up a narrow stone stairway, climbing high above the installation. From here we watched the setting sun over these vibrant pathways while sipping the most appropriate of apéritifs—the glowing orange-hued spritz, of course.

Venturing north en route back to Germany, we ducked into Como for our last Italian lunch, mandatory gelato, and lakeside wander. The glamorous city of Como to the south of the lake’s Y-shaped waters, still retains an air of fifties glamour—pistachio apartment buildings with striped balcony awnings rise high beside rose-stoned villas and at the edge of the glistening pedestrianised square stands the ornate Gothic cathedral, a peaceful enclave from where we could barely hear the revving of Ferrari’s skirting the city.

In the altogether quieter hum of our Marco Polo, which we affectionately named Bertie, we continued over the Alps via a quick stop in the city of Zurich before entering the Black Forest. Like a Brothers Grimm fairytale we drove through the dense fir-tree forest on a quest to find the dazzling distillery of Monkey 47. Greeted at the iron gates by the resident beekeeper (gin and honey are a surprisingly good combo), we explored Alexander Stein’s plant with it’s gleaming copper stills and meticulous herb garden, where we learned of some of the 47 botanicals that make up this award-winning spirit. After a final meal of Schwarzwalder schinken and forest trumpet mushrooms, we reluctantly made our way back to Berlin. With the itinerary at its end and a camper van packed with the comforts and memories of an ambitious journey including the local, thick as cord Pici pasta, cheeses, wine and gin—the only thing left to plan was the post-road trip pasta party.

Homeward bound on the 23-hour drive north across three countries

From sleepy Tuscan villages to the buzz of a Swiss city via two majestic lakes

Villa Lena

An artist residence hidden in the Tuscan hills

Just over 68km west of Florence lies the isolated 18th-century mansion that’s home to Villa Lena. Run by Lena Evstafieva, Lionel Bensemoun, and Jerome Hadey, the artist residence, hotel and apartments are the perfect secluded option for resounding calm. The Villa Lena foundation is not-for-profit, offering residencies that encourage and welcome contemporary creatives from across the globe. Former agricultural barns house vast studio spaces and the villa and out-buildings are used for workshops, artist talks and lavish suppers prepared by chefs in residence—our timing coincided with New York’s Margot Protzel from Gramercy Tavern.

Lake Iseo

Lombardy’s lesser-known lake

Now infamous for Christo’s Floating Piers, Lake Iseo is the fourth largest lake in Lombardy. Previously the lesser known and smaller sister lake to Como and Garda, Iseo is situated just north of Bergamo and dotted with small fishing villages along its shores. In the middle of the lake lies the tiny wooded island of Monte Isola with a chapel on its mound and cobbled car-free streets beside chestnut groves. Now that it’s no longer possible to walk on the water (the piers lasted for just two weeks), ferries regularly make the crossing from Sal Marsarino or Iseo to the center of this picturesque Lombardy waterhole.


The financial hub with an emerging creative west

A night in Zurich welcomed us back to city living. 25hours Hotel Zurich in the west of the city was the chosen spot for our final evening. With bikes available, we cruised around the city before dinner at Les Halles, a low-key restaurant in a former warehouse of this now-fashionable district.

The Black Forest

More than cuckoo clocks in this fairy tale region

Driving through a forest path amidst tall fir trees, the light barely dappling through, we can see how the region got its name. Stopping by the secluded distillery of Monkey 47 we discovered just how their infamous gin is made before a traditional Black Forest feast of local hams, mushrooms and, of course, gateaux. 

Many thanks to everyone we met on the road, especially those at Villa Lena, 25hours Hotel Zurich West, and Monkey 47.

Our journey would not have been possible without our home on the road, the very generously loaned Mercedes-Benz Marco Polo Camper Van. Inspired to plan your own getaway? Flick through our travel stories or meet personalities from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, and Italy in our archive.

Text:Andie Cusick
Photography:Greta van der Star & Robert Rieger