Au Revoir France, Bonjourno Italy.

With the gas all working we decided to wild-camp somewhere along the Italian coast near San Remo. There is something very satisfying about being able to wild-camp. Not only is it free but to be off-grid using solar power for our electrical needs and gas for the fridge and hot water gives a fantastic sense of freedom and self sufficiency. It is limited only by the size of your water tank and toilet cassette.

The drive to San Remo took us close to the beautiful town of Eze and we were going to stop and take a look. Unfortunatley I missed the turn and it was too far to turn back so we carried on through Monaco. I can’t say I saw much of Monaco as the roads were pretty tight and steep so I mostly concentrated on keeping us alive.

It wasn’t long after Monaco that we entered Italy for the first time on this trip. Au Revoir France see you in September. Bonjourno Italy we look forward to seeing what ya got.

The plan is to hit up the Italian Riviera, cruise down to Florence, flit over to Venice then slope our way back to France via the lakes.

San Remo was to be a pitstop on the way to the Italian Riviera. Good job too as we ended up in a huge gravel car park with a load of other campers, right by the sea, but not the prettiest place to stay.

The next day we drove for a 3 hours, what a grueller. Made worse by the Italian drivers. These boys and girls think they are driving around a race track. We were chatting about what defines a nation as it didnt seem to be the geographical borders in this case. As we hopped from France to Italy we didn’t see a huge distinction. Suddenly I had to beep the horn as Mario Andretti overtook me then cut into my lane to get onto his racing line. FFS. In the 51 days we have been away I have had to beep once. 1 hour in Italy and already my first beep. This is what clearly defined the difference between the French and Italians. Their driving. Despite the manicness of the Italian drivers the road took us around and indeed through some breath-taking scenery. 6 beeps later we arrived at our destination for the next few days, Rapallo.


WB Yeats, Max Beerbohm and Ezra Pound all garnered inspiration in Rapallo and it’s not difficult to see why. With its bright-blue changing cabins, palm-fringed beach and diminutive 16th-century castle perched above the sea, the town has a poetic and nostalgic air.

Our usual trick when trying to get our bearings is to head for the water front then climb up high to get an overlook. With a little bit of research we discovered that Rapallo has a cable car called La Funivia Rapallo-Montellegro.

Funivia Rapallo-Montallegro takes you from Rapallo up to Santuario Basilica Nostra Signora di Montallegro, the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Montallegro, a basilica finished in 1559.
According to tradition, the Madonna appeared (2 July 1557) on Monte Leto, to Giovanni Chichizola, a peasant, and showed him a picture of her passing from earthly life, saying that it had been transported by angels from Greece, and that she would leave it on the mountain side as a pledge of her love. The picture was placed in the principal Church of Rapallo for veneration, but two days later it mysteriously disappeared and was again found on a rock at Montellegro.

What better way to show our appreciation for such an historic site than to film Emily “dong miming”

The panoramic views of the Golfo del Tigullio were spectacular.

We wandered into the Basilica and marvelled at it’s ornate gold leaf detail and painted ceilings.

Then heading around the back to a perfect little Italian hill top restaurant for glass or two of prossecco. After all you can’t arrive in Italy and not celebrate with a cold, crisp, fruity glass of the local tipple.

Another day, another country another epic view…

Sainte Maxime, the Patron Saint of Thunder?

We woke to an ominous sky for our last day in the St Tropez area. We decided to enjoy a lazy morning and watch Love Island. Yes we are both obsessed. We finally managed to finish the 1st series. No, we can’t even remember who won but it’s fascinating entertainment.

By the afternoon things didn’t look much better with the sky but we were getting cabin fever so we decided to brave it, pack our cagoules and cycle the 3km to Sainte Maxime. It sits across the gulf from Saint Tropez and I would hazzard a guess that a large proportion of the worlds fanciest and most expensive yachts have anchored off its shores.
Sainte Maxime seemed to be a more family orientated town and recent developments include a new cultural centre built with a cinema and activities for both children and adults. The new road from Le Muy to Sainte Maxime has made the whole area more accessible and it is increasingly attractive as a holiday destination. The largest source of revenue for Sainte Maxime is the summer tourist industry but the city is very much alive all year round with approximately 14,000 local residents. Property is being built along the coastline and restaurants and bars with music are springing up everywhere. However, the town retains its local traditions and there are several festivals throughout the year in celebration of its history.

Unfortunatley for us about 5 minutes after we arrived the heavens opened, the sky lit up and thunder rumbled so loud it shook the shop windows. We ran into a post office to send some postcards to our parents (let us know when you get them please) and then waited under a facade for the storm to fizzle out.

After about 20 mins the rain had subsided enough for us to at least wander around and find somewhere to have a warm drink. We settled upon Maison Du Chocolat as I really felt like a hot chocolate and Emily needed a cake. Yes needed.

Feeling refreshed and realising the rain was not going to stop we dragged ourselves out of the Chocolate shop and wandered the town in our very stylish get up – we really embodied the South of France chic.

Who would have thought that we would find an Artisan Boulangerie with yet more iresistable sweet stuff that we needed. We reasoned (fooled ourselves) that we must try the local speciality of tarte tropezienne.

Oh my they were good. Like little fluffy clouds made of cream. I wish I didn’t have such a sweet tooth. With our bellies full of sugar we peddled extra fast along the empty cycle path back to Harvey for some more Love Island. Losers…

The Gulf of St Tropez

14-07-18

We spent the majority of the morning trying to locate a local mechanic, gas engineer or motorhome specialist who could confirm the problem with the gas system and order us a new regulator. Knowing that we are on the road for the next four months we needed to get it sorted. This proved much more difficult than we thought and we found ourselves in many awkward phone calls with broken French and poor google translate assistance. We even tried calling some ship chandlers that specialise in sorting issues for yachts in the hope that they’d have some ideas.

We called our motorhome dealer from back home first thing and when they got back to us they were great. After a chat with their engineer we were confident that it was definitely the regulator that had gone and given that we’d only had the van for six weeks, they offered to replace it as a goodwill gesture. They had one in stock and sent it via DPD to us. We were told this would take up to four business days and we had a weekend in between. The prospect of hanging around for another week in the same place felt like a bit of a waste, so our spirits were lifted when the campsite owner in Biot agreed to hold on to our delivery until we came back. We decided to head east along the coast for a bit then pick up the new regulator when it arrived.

We plumped for a campsite called Les Mures in the heart of the gulf of St Tropez. On first impressions it was a complete contrast to our previous place. Way more contemporary, immaculate facilities and beautiful landscaped gardens. It is sat right on a sandy beach with incredible views across the bay.

Following the stress of the van issues we needed a bit of a release and we’ve had an awesome few days exploring our new surroundings. On Friday we used the cycle lane to visit Port Grimaud located 3km along the bay. It’s a charming little port village that can only be accessed by foot or boat so it feels really peaceful. It’s called the little Venice of France because of the many canals weaving their way throughout the town. All the houses are painted in terracottas, creams and dusky pinks, and some feature wrought iron balconies. There are little Venetian-style bridges crossing the waterways, linking the different ‘streets’ and boutiques and restaurants on the waterfront.

We wandered through the little streets and gawped at the amazing boats in the harbour whilst we ate lunch.

On the Saturday we got up and out earlier to visit the market at St Tropez. Based on the beautiful Place des Lices, the market is a mix of fresh produce, crafts and fashion. There is definitely a St Tropez style and this is reflected in the gorgeous sun hats, white linen dresses and straw beach bags on sale. The whole place is immaculately presented and all the people are effortlessly chic.

It feels like a place to be seen, with cafes and restaurants lining the harbour and luxury boutiques rubbing shoulders with art galleries. The small town is packed with tourists in the day, all wanting a slice of St Tropez life and admiring the huge yachts at Vieux Port. It’s a completely different world, with butlers, private chefs, helicopters on the boats and Rolls Royce transfers to exclusive beach clubs.

Behind the gloss and glam there is a lovely core to St Tropez which was a simple fishing village before the likes of Brigette Bardot arrived in the 50’s and set the scene. We wandered up to a beautiful viewpoint and looked down upon the sun drenched, terracotta town and out towards the Mediterranean. In the afternoon we cycled on to Pampelonne beach which is about 4km along the coast from the town.

The road that we turned off onto was stunning, with vineyards on one side and fields of golden corn on the other. It made for a pleasant cycle away from the hustle and bustle.

The beach is 5km long and host to a string of celebrity studded beach clubs and bars – or so we hear. We ended up in the much less exclusive public section which was equally as beautiful. We sunbathed for a couple of hours before finding a bar that was showing England’s final match against Belgium. We were the only two Brits amongst 30 Belgium fans so losing was pretty grim.

We cycled back in the late afternoon sun, savouring the wonderful scenery. The cycle lane that hugs the coast is great because the main road is super busy and hectic. That said, the French are very respectful of cyclists, much more so than in the UK.

We got back with sore bottoms and hungry bellies. We watched the Bastille day fireworks from the van before falling asleep as soon as our heads hit the pillows.

Moving on to the French Riviera

08-07-18

We enjoyed our afternoon in Castellane which was hugely enhanced by a delicious lunch and England’s victory over Sweden in the World Cup quarter final. We had to leave the Aire in Castellane by midday which gave us just enough time to tackle the hike up Le Roc which soars 180 meters above the town. It’s a big limestone mountain that dominates everything below it and overshadowed the Aire in which we’d stayed. We stopped by the boulangerie on the way up for croissant sustenance and embarked upon the ascent. Having a shower before hand was totally futile because we were sweating profusely within minutes. The sun was incredibly strong, even in the early morning but we made good progress, passing small religious markers as we went up. The view from the top was stunning and the little chapel was very sweet. We could see the bright aqua blue of the river Verdon dissect the gorge and Castellane resembled a toy-town below. We were surrounded on all sides by mountains and greenery and the air felt fresh.

We made our way back down the scrabbly path, feeling pleased with ourselves with our accomplishment. One last quick stroll around town before we packed up Harvey and got back on the road. We were finally heading south to the Cote D’Azure. Having experienced such amazing weather recently, I was looking forward to spending some time on the beach and we plumped for a camp site in Biot. It took us a good hour to weave and wind our way out of the Alpes-du-Haute Provence which remained hilly throughout. There were so many motorbikes on the road with riders enjoying the thrills of the hairpin bends and beautiful views. Some of these guys drove way too fast and with poor road discipline, often edging out of their lane or taking blind corners way too wide which would cause us to break or swerve and had my heart racing.

Other than the odd, small village this region was remote and beautifully unspoilt. Eventually the mountains gave way and the road opened out to reveal views of the sea on the horizon. As we made our final descent down the mother of all mountains, we could see the town of Grasse in front of us and Cannes beyond that.

We arrived at the campsite around 3.30pm and it felt like a place that time had forgot. Woefully dated and pretty empty but it was situated minutes from the beach, just 4km from Antibes and right opposite the train station. We had plenty of space but we were sharing it with mozzies and giant creepy crawlies. What’s more is that it’s the most expensive campsite yet, but we’ve come to expect that everything is spendy in the South of France. We were only planning to stay for 3 nights so used it as a convenient base. We dumped our stuff and headed straight to the beach for a relaxing couple of hours in the late afternoon sun. The beach was busy and there was a lovely atmosphere with families enjoying themselves. It’s a pebble beach with a steep drop off which made for an equally uncomfortable and hilarious walk into the sea. Once I’d scrambled out myself I sat watching all the other poor sods battle with the crashing waves and pebbles that gave way under their feet. The techniques varied hugely with some people opting for an all fours crawl and others adopting the bottom shuffle – all equally great to watch.

We went back to the campsite feeling pretty knackered and enjoyed a refreshing shower before making dinner in the van and getting an early night, in preparation for further adventures on the coast.

Back in France – Exploring the beautiful coast in Cote Vermeille

We packed up and left Roses in the morning and headed for the windy coastal road that would take us into France and up the Cote Vermeille. Although we only had 39 miles to drive, progress was slow on the narrow roads that turned and weaved around each bay. We were rewarded with amazing views of fishing ports below and birds of prey soaring above us and were happy enough to potter along. We pulled in every now and then to allow the stream of cars behind us to overtake.

Our first stop for the day was Banyuls Sur Mer. We lucked out with a parking spot on the main road just out of town and then strolled down along the seafront. It’s a beautiful seaside town with a promenade along the beach and avenues lined with plane trees. We stumbled across a market and shared an awesome savoury crepe (which I think is called a gallete) at one of the stalls. We got talking to the owner who was really sweet and enthusiastic about our trip, and had also done a similar route in a camper van a few years back, but taking in Slovenia and Croatia too.

We then made our way back to Harvey and headed up to our next stop, the picture postcard town of Collioures. The roads in and out of the town are so tight that we had to park in the motorhome carpark above the town. Turns out this was also an Aire with motorhome facilities so we decided to park for the night.

We left Harvey and trekked up to Fort St-Elme which is a military fort built between 1538 and 1552 by Charles V. It was a steep trek up to the summit on a dusty track, passing vineyards as far as the eye could see. The views down to Collioure were well worth the hike. We could see little boats bobbing in the port and the pebbly beach and around the craggy coast. We spotted an old windmill and I’d read that you could take a footpath down to see it. Uncertain we’d selected the right track, we started our descent down a scrabbly path covered in loose rocks, walking through almond groves and more vineyards. The Moulin de la Cortina is a 14th-century windmill and looks like something out of an Enid Blyton story.

Now we’d come this far we continued our exploration into the town of Collioure itself, which was stunning. Effortlessly beautiful town houses painted in pretty pastels lined the promenade and cutesy cafes dotted the lanes. It had a really nice artsy vibe to it, with loads of independent galleries and boutiques. Apparently it was a place of inspiration to artists such as Matisse and, later Picasso and it’s easy to see why.

The seaside castle called the Chateau Royal gave the whole town a sense of grandeur.

Having geared ourselves up for a bit of a slog in the still-strong afternoon heat, we headed back up the steep hill to the motorhome. We still get a bit nervy about leaving Harvey for prolonged periods of time in empty car parks but on our return we were pleased to see fellow motorhomers had joined for the night. This was our first stopover in an Aire and we loved it. The view was incredible and the sense of freedom we got from knowing that we were self sufficient in the van was liberating. We can drive and stop anywhere without having to factor in specific campsites which is more cost effective. We can still run the fridge and cook and have showers and we don’t need an electric hookup to power anything inside the van. We had a BBQ and sat watching the sun go down as the most incredible colours danced across the sky.

Hair Raising Roads in Cadaqués

27/06/18

We decided to head to the nearby town of Cadaqués for a day trip. Perched on Catalonia’s most easterly outcrop, Gary has been here on previous travels and described how quaint and pretty it was. After reading that Salvador Dali spent family holidays here during his youth I was sold.

Located just 11 miles east of Roses, I was envisaging a short 20min hop around the bay in Harvey. Little did I know that Cadaqués is actually on the other side of an extremely rocky and steep mountain drive over the Cap de Creus National Park. As Gary started the ascent we had the road to ourselves, smiles on our faces with our music blaring out and the sun streaming through the windows. However, it wasn’t long before the once wide road became much narrower and considerably more windy. The tunes were muted to provide extra concentration and my hands clenched the arm rest as we zig zagged our way up the mountain, negotiating cars, lorries and other motorhomes coming down.

The views across the bay were stunning and stretched as far as the eye could see. Unfortunately Gary couldn’t take his focus away from the road to enjoy them and I was scared shitless of the sheer drop just inches from our path. We did pull over a couple of times to let the traffic mounting up behind us pass through.

Gary was in his element, enthusiastically describing the thrill a road like this delivers when on a motorbike – an experience he had on this very route two years previous.

I was much more excited to see the end of the road in sight and relieved to not breathe in as we passed every other driver (as if this would magically make us slimmer!)

Whilst the journey was somewhat terrifying, Cadaqués was well worth it.

A gorgeous whitewashed seaside village with beachfront cafes, meandering lanes and an easy going atmosphere.

We make it a rule to dip our toes in the sea wherever we visit and Cadaqués beach, though pebbly, was still very handsome and the water was incredibly clear.

We had a quick coffee overlooking the sun worshippers strewn out across the beach before going for a stroll.

Cadaqués is just 20 or so miles south of the French border and its influence is clear. We overheard many conversations in French and the architecture is reminiscent of the small towns we visited in our first week. There is a gorgeous, tree-lined square flanked by traditional townhouses with wooden shutters and wrought iron flourishes.

The whole village is adorned with the most wonderful pink bougainvillea and every few steps we’d stop to admire yet another picture perfect bed of colourful plants.

We hugged the coast as we wandered around the bay, popping into art galleries and boutiques along the way. The blistering sun tingled on our skin and the scent of pine wafted through the air.

We discovered a lovely restaurant tucked away in a bay and shared tapas and sangria. The Iberico ham croquettes and langoustine tails were particularly delicious.

Cadaqués is impossibly pretty and offers a quieter and seemingly more authentic experience in comparison to Roses which is a little commercial.

I loved watching little boats coming into port, locals chatting passionately in the street and shops selling home-grown produce.

The return drive was mercifully uneventful and we got back in time to catch the Brazil vs Serbia match in the World Cup. A great day trip indeed.

The beautiful bay of Roses

We nailed leaving L’Estartit Les Medes campsite in about an hour and a half. Not bad considering that includes Emily’s morning teas, showering, breakfast and packing up your whole home and taking it on the road. The plan for this day was to end up in a campsite called Salata near Roses. En-route we had wanted to get to the top of the impressive Montgri castle but upon closer inspection it would have taken us about 1.5 hours to go up and back down. Emily had read that there was an equally impressive view from Montgo Castle about half way along our route. Another time Montgri.

Image result for montgri castle

It only took us about 40 mins to make it to Montgo Castle. HaRVey was feeling particularily chilled out for the journey until he was asked to climb a hill so steep it was first gear only. He also didn’t much care for the decreasing width of the roads near the peak. We thanked him for his effort and rewarded him with a prime spot in the empty car park so he could see the bay unfold in the distance.

Not surprisingly we could see Montgri castle in the distance and slightly below our altitude. Boom, glad it was Harvey making the climb and not us. Montgo castle was pretty plain to be fair and the only two doors were locked so we couldn’t get to the top. We did do a little insta-posing from the steps as the back drop of the blue sky looked very cool.

After an hour of wandering around and admiring the view and watching the many speed boats and pretty sail boats pootling about we had a spot of lunch. Sharing the magnificent view with the white washed villas with bleached terracotta roofs to the azure waters below.

They looked so inviting that we decided to take a chance and see if we could find a spot by the beach. Normally we avoid entering the smaller places for fear of getting stuck in a narrow street full of parked cars. This one however had a very cheap empty car park with shade for Harvey under a lovely plane tree. Luck of the Christies strikes again.

What a great little find this was. Mainly Spanish and French families, a few classy restaurants and the bluest clearest waters we have seen in the Med so far.

We stayed for about three hours taking several dips in the pristine cool waters before once again donning our warming sunshine coats. The kicker for me is that I still have my cold urticaria. I thought it had gone as I didn’t have a problem for 6 months in SE Asia. As soon as I hit the med sea I realised that it was back with a vengeance. 20 mins in the sea and without fail a rash appears where ever I am cold. Never mind, people with the same condition have it much worse and it goes away as soon as I am warm again. Thank god for continental summers.

We were sorry to say goodbye to Cala Montgo but our next destination was calling and I wanted to get there in good time to watch the 8pm world cup match between Nigeria and Argentina. I wanted to see if Messi could ignite a lacklustre Argentine side but more importantly to see if Maradona would fall off his perch flipping the double bird. Surprisingly still alive and still entertaining. I think the bottom picture was taken when he found out his Moscow mule wasn’t gonna make it.

Diego Maradona

Anyway we arrived at our new location of Salata campsite which is about 2 miles away from the main town of Roses. The walk into town was along a beautifully clean promenade lined with a mix of typically Spanish touristy bars and more modern Mediterranean chic. Even at 6pm there were plenty of people sunbathing on the beach and the more energetic playing football and beach volleyball. We made it all the way to the Marina, touched the obligatory arbitrary point (usually a big rock) and turned around to make it back in time for the match. A pretty full on day and just the type of day we love.

Summer Solstice Madness in E’startit

24-06-18

We left Sant Feliu de Guixols and continued our drive north along the coast to our next campsite at E’startit. Positioned right on the coast, and in the shadow of the mighty Montgri castle above, E’startit made for a wonderfully scenic drive.

We pitched up at our campsite, based a mile out of town, for a couple of nights. On arrival we were told that we’d been lucky with our timing given that it was Sant Joans day, a celebration of the beginning of summer. We were told to expect festivities long into the night. The late evening light was so beautiful that we went for a stroll after dinner. We walked through fields of corn made golden by the sun.

It was so peaceful and still. As we approached the seafront we were amazed at the amount of people still enjoying the beach even at 9.30pm. There was a hive of activity with locals hosting parties in their apartments, families having picnics on the beach and holidaymakers drinking at the restaurants and bars along the promenade. There was a huge stage set up for a concert that would begin at 11.30pm – in England most concert’s curfews kick in at 11pm!

Invigorated by the atmosphere we walked along the sea front into town and stayed until dark for the incredible fireworks display and bonfire.

At about 10.30pm the town lights were turned off and the whole sky was illuminated with the most spectacular display. We felt incredibly lucky to have stumbled across this place on the right day to enjoy the party. Then in a frankly terrifying tradition, all the locals started setting off their own fireworks wherever they were. With complete disregard for any vague health and safety rules (or even common sense), people started randomly setting off huge bangers and rockets independently in the midst of the crowds. In a scene that would horrify the strict rule followers of Blighty, we saw all the major violations of firework guidelines. Kids were in charge of lighting massive pyrotechnics, dads were running back to unexploded fireworks to give them a prod and babies were handed sparklers. We couldn’t believe how relaxed the Spanish were and how no one batted an eyelid about the low firing rockets and huge explosions going off left, right and center to a deafening cacophony of bangs, whizzes and cracks. Needless to say we made a swift exit from the pure chaos, dodging swathes of colour that trailed into the night. We arrived back around midnight and could hear the fireworks and revelling well into the early hours. The Spanish do know how to fiesta.

The next day we had a lazy morning at the campsite and then wandered back into town. Of all places, we found a Dutch bar to watch the England vs Panama World Cup match which turned out to be a 6 goal thriller!

If all football matches were this exciting, I could get on-board a bit more.

We then explored the rest of E’startit town and walked around the harbour.

We discovered beautiful villas adorned with colourful Bougainvillea and stunning coastal scenes of dramatic cliff edges giving way to aqua seas.

We lay on the beach and had a dip in the sea before returning to the campsite for dinner.

We’ve got a good system in place now, where Gary is the BBQ grill king and I’m in charge of salads and sides. The local tomatoes and fruit are so ripe and incredibly tasty here and we try to cook most nights.

The next day we sorted a few admin bits out in the morning and then relaxed by the pool at the campsite. Having never been on camping or caravan holidays as a kid, I have to say that my preconceptions of dated, European campsites with long drop toilets and sad facilities are way off. These campsites are premium, with amazingly clean shower blocks, lovely pools and modern on-site bars and restaurants. So far they’ve all been great with landscaped gardens, bike rentals, saunas and plenty of activity. As we travel further along the coast here in Spain, the average age of clientele lowers as well so we aren’t the youngest by a mile anymore. Happy days!

Exploring the Costa Brava

We had one more day and night in Mataro before carrying on up the costa (Sid James would be proud). I recently learned that Costa Brava means “Wild” or “Rough Coast” and stretches from the town of Blanes to the French Border. We decided to bypass the unfortunately named Tossa de Mar and the Brits abroad destination of Lloret de Mar. Instead we headed for a midday walk around Sant Feliu de Guixols.

We used an iPad app called “Camping Card” to find motorhome parking right in the centre. There are thousands of these gems all over Europe and the kicker is that they are mostly free unless you overnight. We are getting less and less nervous about leaving Harvey in random places but he had the company of 12 other RV mates.

As with most new places it’s best to head to the tourist office to find out what there is to see and get a map. This one happened to be situated in a beautiful 10th-century monastery.

The very helpful lady guided us to the main placa through beautifully quaint tree lined streets.

We headed down the main street directly to beautiful beach and port.

On the far side of the port lay a coastal path that climbed high up into the hills. This would definitely get our steps up and make us earn our lunch. We were cooled on the way up by the pine scented breeze sharing the magnificent views with gorgeous villas and a friendly Gull.

Watching the little white sail in the distance did bring back some memories of slogging up and down this coast in unfreindly seas, so I was glad to be on land and ready for my lunch.

As luck would have it we wandered down the coastal path and right into a little food festival called Nomad.

So many amazing food choices from very creative food trucks…

F

But of course I can’t resist a Crepe so this was our choice before heading back to HaRVey and setting off to Estartit.