Chapter 3: Part 1 – Idling our way to the Italian Riviera via France and a litle bit of Switzerland
The sound of a very large vehicle revving madly, and a lot of shouting of ‘avanti avanti, basta basta’ (forward, forward, stop, stop), got us up from our sunbathing and rushing to the front of our motorhome. An extremely large Winnebago-type vehicle was pushing its way along the narrow road through the campsite, gushing out huge quantities of diesel fumes over the tightly packed sightseers.
The campsite owner was balanced precariously on the top of the motorhome hacking madly at the branches of the flowering, fragrant, lime trees as the van pushed past them.
The site was Campeggio Pian dei Boschi at Pietra Ligure on the Italian Riviera and packed, as only Italian sites can be packed, on a public holiday (Labour Day, May 1st). Everyone had by now turned out to watch the entertainment and were offering helpful suggestions at the tops of their voices. Mothers, fathers, bambini, grandmothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, friends. There was lots of pointing, shouting of helpful directions and hand waving . Little boys getting under foot everywhere. The owner, a stocky little man crouched in a chimp like position to avoid being swept off the top of the van, was shouting down at everyone while still valiantly chopping at everything in sight as he tried to get the driver to back in to a small camping pitch between two motorhomes.
Eventually they gave up, the large van made its slow, stately way back towards the entrance and everyone got back to their normal noisy, happy selves.
The campers were mainly large family parties spending all the time outside in the sun; endlessly cooking on outside cookers and eating at long tables covered with a large cloth. Everyday someone went in to town to get bread, salads, vegetables – whatever was available from the market. Wine was drunk with every meal (but no drinking to excess), and a lot of time spent playing with the children. The motorhomes were packed in, only a few metres apart, so that when you opened your door you were immediately in with the next door family, but who cares when you’re in Italy. That’s the way it is and it’s lovely.
This was our second long trip around Europe in our motorhome (a Swift Firebrand 590). To keep costs down we planned to use camp sites offering discounts if they were in the places we wanted to visit. However, although Camping Cheques, ACSI (a Dutch organisation with hundreds of sites all over Europe) and Freedom vouchers from the Camping and Caravanning Club (this scheme is not in existence now) were good value so were the municipal sites and aires (small stopping sites specifically designed for motorhomes) that are in most French villages and towns.
In 2007 we’d sold everything (house, cars, furniture etc.) and bought a motorhome to travel Europe. We’d gone back to the UK in February 2008 to get the van serviced, visit family etc and started out again at the beginning of April 2008 with no particular itinerary in mind except to head to Italy through, or over, Mont Blanc.
Our first stop was at ‘Les Courtilles du Lido’ campsite. This is on the edge of two villages, Veneux les Sablons and the 14th-century village of Moret-sur-Loing and is in the Seine-et-Marne department in the Ile-de-France region in north-central France. It is a small quiet area but has some shopping and restaurants. We like to park the motorhome up and settle in and then use public transport to visit interesting places so while staying there we used the local transport to visit Fontainbleau (5 kms by bus) and Paris (45 minutes by train).
As it was early April the weather was generally cold, rainy and icy but being the intrepid motorhomers that we are it didn’t matter – except to drive us further south as quickly as possible!
From Courtilles du Lido we moved on staying one night at Camping du Pasquier on the river at Dole in the Jura department of the Franche-Comté region in eastern France. This is probably a lovely little 14th Century town when it’s not pouring! We did find some good local shops and cafes to while away the time in the rain.
Our next stop was Camping Le Petit Bois at Morges, Switzerland, on the edge of Lake Geneva (Lac Leman in French). It has wonderful views across the sparkling lake towards the Alps, the most spectacular of which is Mont Blanc. Morges is a lovely holiday town with a ‘petit train’ that comes on to the site to take you in through the pretty municipal gardens and along the shores of Lake Geneva. You can even walk all the way along the lakeside to Lausanne if you’re up to it. At last it was warm in the sun, icy under foot once evening came, but no rain!
After seven days we left for our next big adventure; scaling Mont Blanc – well using the tunnel actually as the pass was not yet open. I was secretly thankful for this, not being very good with heights, but then I can also be claustrophobic so it does limit your options. The journey up to the tunnel has spectacular scenery as it winds its way through the twisty roads between the mountains, getting higher and higher and throwing amazing views at you at every turn of the road.
I hadn’t realised that the tunnel is only just over 7 miles long and so it only takes about 20 minutes to get through. This is helped along by broadcasts from their own radio station which came in to existence after the 1999 fire in the tunnel, about which I don’t want to think!
Coming out of the tunnel you are immediately in Italy, with more spectacular views as you wind your way down to the sea.
We headed down the A5/E25/A26, by-passing Alessandria, and on to the coast a few kilometres south-west of Genova (Genoa) where we turned on to the A10 motorway. This is the motorway which runs from Genova to Ventimiglia along the coast road. It is also known as “Autostrada dei Fiori” (Motorway of the Flowers), although we didn’t notice any due to the heavy traffic using the road to travel to and from Italy into France and onto Spain. The many tunnels and thundering lorries make it a scary road and I worried a bit during our stay at Pietra Ligure about getting back on to it. However it didn’t seem so bad the next time – perhaps I was getting used to Italian driving by then.
If you want to see a road like this look at the opening sequence of the film ‘Quantum of Solace’ (Daniel Craig playing James Bond) where he’s driving along a spectacular coastal mountain road. The views are amazing and, as I discovered, you do get used to the traffic.
Next: Pietra Ligure and beyond
• Read Chapter 1: Making it happen
• Read Chapter 2: Saint-Pol-de-Léon
• Read Chapter 3: Part 2 – Pietra Ligure and beyond
• Read Chapter 4: Part 1 – A Winter ‘Cruise’ along the Costas and a Christmas Rally
• Read Chapter 4: Part 2 – La Manga and beyond