Chapter 3: Part 2 – Pietra Ligure and beyond
So finally we were at Pietra Ligure in the Liguria region on the Italian Riviera and our first Italian campsite. The reception staff spoke English and told us that they had rarely had any tourists other than Italians before they took part in the Camping and Caravan Club Freedom Voucher scheme.
One of the things we like about motorhoming is visiting areas Brits don’t usually get to but by this time we’d had over three weeks on the road, and hadn’t really had a conversation with anyone apart from each other, so it was good to meet some Brits for a few days.
It’s always interesting to hear other people’s experiences, good and bad, about places to visit and campsites. Because we don’t plan far ahead we’ve often followed recommendations and had a wonderful time at locations we hadn’t heard of before (Bonnieux in Provence for example being one of the best places we’ve ever camped).
Campeggio Pian dei Boschi is on the road from the A10 in to the lovely town of Pietra Ligure. It’s a pretty, well laid out, but informal site, with large pitches among the lime trees that allow a lot of room until the public holidays when they pack them in. I would imagine at the height of the season it might be a bit overpowering but at the time we were there in May, apart from the public holidays, it was quiet. It is well-kept and has good modern and clean facilities, an Olympic size swimming pool, restaurant, pizzeria and bar.
We had a very good pizza in here with our new friends from the site but were puzzled when the waitress asked if we ‘wanted mice on the pizza’. We just couldn’t make out what she meant until John did a Mickey Mouse impersonation and she explained she was asking about corn (maize). Everyone collapsed laughing and we heard more gales of laughter coming from the kitchen when she went to tell the chef (her husband).
From the site there are some nice walks high up along the roads past beautiful houses, lovely trees and gardens, and with wonderful views out over the sparkling blue sea. Eventually you come to a small botanic garden complete with tiny turtles and from here it’s easy to get down into the town. Alternatively you can walk straight out of the campsite and down to the sea and the edge of the town; about 900 metres going down and what feels like a mile and a half back carrying your shopping!
You won’t find Pietra Ligure in many English guidebooks. The Rough Guide to Italy has a little on the region of Liguria itself but if you love Italy and the Italian way of living you will certainly like Pietra Ligure. It is just a lovely little town that makes the most of its assets to attract tourists but it is still a typical Italian town dating back at least a 1000 years. Just sitting having a coffee in the beautiful market square with its ancient church, then strolling along the promenade enjoying its sparkling beaches, followed by a lunch in one of the open air restaurants, can’t be beaten.
As I said earlier, you don’t get many Brits because no-one knows about it. We only came here because it was in the Freedom Camping book and we wanted to get down in to this part of Italy to visit Genova (Genoa) and then carry on to Pisa. Lucca, Rome and further, but it turned out to be one of the most memorable stays in all our years of motorhomeing.
The charming man in the Tourist Information Centre just loves to practice his English and couldn’t be more helpful and it was from him that we discovered that we could get buses and trains along the coast to various attractive and interesting tourist resorts like Finale Ligure (from which you can get the petit train to the medieval walled quarter of Finalborgo), the two big beach resorts of Alassio and Diano Marina and the medieval market town of Albenga. The train also takes you to bustling and busy ancient Genova, famous for Christopher Columbus, with its ancient sprawling port and which claims to be Europe’s largest medieval town.
Further on down the coast is the more famous Cinque Terre . Beautiful we’re told, but as this is extremely difficult terrain for motorhomes we decided not to venture there this time.
Just a word about the tourist and beach resorts; thankfully they are not at all like the Spanish Costas and are generally working towns which have still kept their medieval quarters and Roman forts. They cater for the mainly Italian tourists who flock there on their public holidays, two of which occurred while we were there: La Festa dei Lavoratori (no, not what you think; it’s Labour Day) on May 1st and Liberation Day (La Festa della Liberazione) on April 25th.
It’s worth checking out the dates of Italian public holidays if you’re planning to travel in Italy. They have thirteen national public holidays plus other holidays specific to the local area. You will often find that there are no shops open, no public transport and horrendous traffic jams before and after the day. The day after both the holidays we could see miles of traffic at a standstill on the coast road high above the town.
The Labour Day festivities are just an excuse for a party, parades and general merriment. Liberation Day was much more conservative as it commemorates April 25th 1945 when the Allies were finally able to liberate Italy. It also honours Italy’s fallen soldiers, particularly the Partisans of the Italian Resistance who fought the Nazis and Mussolini’s troops throughout the second world war.
We went to Pietra Lugure’s very moving ceremony in the main square. It was a very ‘homespun’ ceremony with a stage set up for the local dignitaries from which people kept coming and going during the ceremony, the Carabinieri and local Garda (police) in their very smart uniforms and highly plumed hats, and a slightly raggle-taggle bunch of children forming a choir from the local school. These were all watched by a very large crowd of all ages; from babies in prams, to teenagers and elderly people all milling about and chattering. It felt real though and not some staged pageant and I was reminded (as I often am when travelling through Europe) that the documentaries you see on television about the devastation of Europe actually happened to the people you see around you, and that some of the elderly people must still be very affected by it.
We spent three happy weeks at Pian dei Boschi partly enforced by a problem with the bed slats but also because we liked it. The slats kept falling through, giving us a very uncomfortable night’s sleep by making us cling to the edges of the bed, and we had to wait for Swift to send us a ‘fixing’ package.
When we finally left we travelled on to all the places we’d planned to see and to many more but Pietra Ligure will always stay with us as much as all these famous places.
So what happened to the huge motorhome that tried to park? A couple of hours later we found it settled very happily and safely on a bend on the biggest road running around the campsite. Why didn’t they park there at first? Who knows. Just one of the many charming things about travelling in Italy.
Next: A Winter ‘Cruise’ along the Costas and a Christmas Rally
• Read Chapter 1: Making it happen
• Read Chapter 2: Saint-Pol-de-Léon
• Read Chapter 3: Part 1 – Idling our way to the Italian Riviera via France and a litle bit of Switzerland
• Read Chapter 4: Part 1 – A Winter ‘Cruise’ along the Costas and a Christmas Rally
• Read Chapter 4: Part 2 – La Manga and beyond