IF I stretched as far as I could up over the barrier and then craned my neck around the corner, I could just about make out the top of a huge screen which had been erected in the large square right in the heart of the romantic Tuscan town of Lucca as back drop to the Stevie Wonder concert.

It really wasn’t worth the effort. The sound from the legendary singer was as clear as a bell where I and the rest of the family and it must be said a fair few others, were standing. We were just a short distance from where Stevie was performing to a sell out audience that completely filled the town’s piazza.

It had been threatening to rain all day. The oppressive heat and humidity was intense but the weather held off for the concert which we’d only found out about by pure chance the day before - but then that’s the beauty of a Barnes family holiday.

No two Barnes summer excursions are ever quite the same and this road trip to Italy was to be no exception.

Swayed by similar road trips featured TV, the boys arranged our very own to Tuscany and back. And in the true tradition of the TV road trips, we also had a target we had to meet.

With the final whistle and German cheers of the World Cup still ringing in our ears, we couldn’t leave for our holiday until we we’d seen the final, and after just a couple of hours kip we set off at an unearthly hour from Chepstow, complete with magnetic GB sticker, fluorescent jackets, triangle and breath test kit, for our early Channel Tunnel crossing from Dover to Calais.

The crossing is the most efficient and quickest way to get to the Continent.

Disembarked and filled up with lovely cheap French diesel, we were soon across the border and into Belgium and enjoying an exotic Belgian meatballs brunch in the historic city of Ghent.

We stopped the night in a splendid Premier Classe hotel in Liege amid Bastille Day firework celebrations.

Then it was up bright and early again the next day which saw us barrelling along the autobahn through Germany targeting Munich to meet up with our middle son, who had just spent a few weeks discovering Europe via rail.

It would appear that summer is the time local powers in Germany decide to rebuild their roads or start new ones, so in between spates of travelling at the speed of sound, we were reduced to a snail’s pace for the rest of the time.

But we got there, a bit behind schedule but all in one piece and looking forward to our evening in the city.

Although in Munich for just a day Matt had already sussed out the train system, so ditching the car we caught the tube into the centre.

Heavily bombed during the Second World War, Munich these days is an eclectic hyper chic mix of ultra modern and uber cool historic buildings. The churches and municipal structures are awesome and at the Weisse Brauhaus bier keller we enjoyed mammoth steins of frothing local ales and huge hearty plates of food. It’s exactly how we’d expected.

Totally rested and now with the full complement of family members, we set our sights for Austria and then the Italian border and our Tuscan holiday cottage.

The boys were a little disappointed that there were no border controls, although there remains evidence of former sentry buildings at each crossing.

Extremely helpful notes which came with our holiday booking stressed that those driving to the property were advised to avoid taking the mountain route but stick to the main roads.

I don’t know quite how we managed it but instead of what should have been a relatively straightforward drive to the place we’d rented we spent the best part of four hours driving in and out, up and down, round and about almost every closed-for-the-season ski resort in the area.

So it was that we arrived at our holiday destination many hours after we’d arranged to but before darkness fell, which was a blessing as, I kid you not, the place was perched on the side of a mountain amid towering pine trees, forest and bushes right in the absolute middle of nowhere and down a terrifying single track road. Perfect!

As is our wont we’d left booking a place until the last minute and so chanced upon this most beautiful, jaw dropping, three-storey palace of a place which had never before been rented out as a holiday let. It had just come on and we were the first to have it.

The admittedly-nervous first time renter Tuscan lady owner with no English but with her daughter-in-law Fabiana as interpreter who spoke absolutely perfect English greeted us at the door and showed us around the kind of place your hope for in your dreams.

The former mountain farmhouse with metre thick, solid stone walls had an enormous lounge and kitchen, then two cavernous quirkily decorated bedrooms on each of the other two floors. There was a huge bathroom and shower on the two upper floors and a balcony on the first with breath taking views.

Equipped with wifi, a pool, large nature filled garden packed to bursting with fruit trees, herbs and flowers, butterflies, wild life - a snake wrapped itself around my naked ankle as he was out exploring near the house - and sun terraces, the house, is a stunner.

The next day dawned bright and blisteringly hot but the house with large shuttered windows and tiled floors was cool and airy. We lounged around the pool, got our bearings and filled the kitchen with Italian goodies from the local shops.

With base secured, we had places to explore.

So, it was off to Pisa with its famous leaning tower and packed with al fresco restaurants and trinket shops.

A climb up the tower is expensive and you have to book but you can’t not go up. It is a little challenging for those of a vertiginous nature, the marble steps are smooth and slidy but well worth it for the views and the sense of achievement and also the looks on the fearful faces of some of the other tourists as they ascend

The next day we visited the beautiful walled city of Lucca where you can walk, cycle or even it would seem drive around on top of the encircling ancient walls. It was here we got to sneak our ‘live’ Steve Wonder experience.

After a rather drizzly day by the sea, we took the train to Florence by train.

This time I’d taken guidance from the notes provided which suggested driving to Lucca leaving the car at the station and travelling to the city on a cost effective and plentiful train.

Good call. The trains, although not very regular and not particularly cheap, are double deckers, very clean, efficient and fun.

Florence with its Duomo, Ponte Vecchio and Uffizi Gallery packed with world renowned history is just too much for a single day.

The queue for the Duomo stretched as far as the eye could see and more. I expect an organised tourist pre books their place. Queue all day to get in and miss the rest of the city or come back another time?

Decision made, we headed for a stroll around Florence mentally booking a return trip and a stay in one of the city’s gorgeous looking hotels.

The beauty of having a car on holiday is that you can get up and go whenever and wherever you choose. You don’t have to worry about paying for any real or imagined damage to a car that’s been hired. You don’t have to clear out the thing out at the end and give it a wash and are not stung by that blasted full to full fuel rip off carry on either.

Every trip out from our wonderful house was a challenge which, added to remembering and driving on the wrong side of the road, was a new thrill each time. Roads outside major towns and cities are barely lit which at times is just as well as the drops over the side are perilous. Locals appear to consider the indicator as an optional extra and motorcyclists of all persuasions, and there are hoards of them, are mad.

After a week in the lovely Tuscan farmhouse it was time to start wending our way back to the Channel.

We had planned on stopping in Turin before crossing the border, via the Mont Blanc Tunnel, but torrential rain of Biblical proportions made driving tricky to say the least. So we decided to plough on for France.

Stung by at least four hefty motorway toll charges leading up the tunnel the final 43 euros for the Mont Blanc passage left a sour taste in the mouth as we said ciao to Italy and bonjour France.

We had no hotels booked for this part of the journey so it really as a case of choosing somewhere to head to and then taking pot luck on where we could stay.

Chambery saw us booking into two rooms at an Ibis in an iffy part of the town next to a motorbike shop and across the road from a Japanese restaurant.

But the following day we stumbled across the Roman fortress city of Autan where we stayed in two-star hotel opposite the railway station and, it would seem, bang alongside the main HGV route in and out of town. The next morning after a brief look at some archaeologists digging at Roman ruins, we headed further into France for our final night.

Now, I hadn’t heard of the place before but it would appear that Alencon is the first and last stop for many a UK traveller in France. All budget hotel rooms in the place including an auberge and some dodgy places by the train station, were fully booked by the time we arrived so we had to accept the ignominy of paying a wallet busting £200 for two rooms at the Campanille.

The rooms were lovely clean quiet and spacious but as we’d arrived late and the restaurant was closed and after taking a wrong turn on the motorway our intended evening meal at the Buffalo Grill also went west as by the time we’d found the place it too was closed.

The next day we cruised through various villages and towns and oo’ed at Loire Valley chataeux before reaching a key point on our journey, a trip to the Normandy D Day beaches and the American military cemetary near Omaha Beach.

We filled up to more lovely cheap French diesel before catching the brilliantly comfortable, spacious and quite empty fast Brittany ferry from Cherburg to Portsmouth, then homeward bound to Chepstow with marvellous memories of our road trip and the masterful Stevie Wonder’s Superstition playing on in my head.