Dipping Our Toes in Lake Geneva

24-08-18

We woke up feeling pretty chilly in the van. It was misty outside and there was a definite bite in the air which made the early morning walk to the shower cubicles rather unpleasant. The campsite here was perfectly suitable but the owner was as frosty as the weather so we didn’t want to prolong our stay. Despite best efforts at being overly friendly we couldn’t tease a smile from her, even when we paid up.

We packed up and got back on the road, headed due west towards Lake Geneva. The lake is shared between France and Switzerland and overlooked by the alps. The scenery on the 75 mile drive was amazing with epic mountains and bright blue sky all the way.

We arrived at a campsite at a tiny town called Bouveret on the tip of the east coast of the lake. It had plenty of open space and a super friendly owner so we plumped for a couple of nights.

Once we had decamped and had lunch we went for a wander and had a very lazy afternoon by the lake shore.

The weather wasn’t as hot and beautiful as the Italian lakes, probably because of the higher altitude and huge mountains casting shadows but it was a great way to destress.

We found a swimming pool and beach area and lay and ate ice creams and listened to our podcasts. I’m afraid to say that I was so lazy that I didn’t even brave the water for a quick dip but Gary did and reported it to be ‘refreshing’, which I interpreted as cold.

We had a BBQ back at the campsite and watched a film. We’ve been making the most of WiFi when we find it and we stockpile downloads of films to watch when in more remote areas. We are at the mercy of what Netflix has to offer but we’ve had some good viewing recently and it’s prompted me to sit down to a few classics that I’ve been meaning to watch or rewatch, including Scarface, Kramer vs Kramer and American Psycho… a jolly collection!

The next day we went for a bike ride in search of Montreux, a town on the north eastern shore of the lake. There was a bike lane that took us along the eight mile route.

Firstly we crossed the Rhône and then cycled through beautiful fields of maize on our left and vineyards on our right. Occasionally the path would open out to give us glimpses of the lake and small harbours before we were back in shaded woodland or farmer’s fields. Once we reached the midway town of Villeneuve we hit the lake proper and followed it all the way round.

The lake side cycle was absolutely beautiful.

As we cycled on the silhouette of lakeside Chillon Château came into focus. Dating back to at least 1005, the Chateau was built to control the road from Burgundy to the Great Saint Bernard Pass. From the mid 12th century, the castle was summer home to the Counts of Savoy, who kept a fleet of ships on Lake Geneva.

With the backdrop of the lake and the mountains it made a picture perfect location for such a grand castle.

As we approached Montreux, the cycle lane was flanked by incredible displays of flowers.

They went on for a couple of miles and were absolutely stunning. We were so pleasantly surprised by the area as a whole.

So many people were out and about enjoying the weather and the lake. There were sculptures and modern artwork dotted around and nice places to sit and picnic which contributed to a really serene atmosphere.

The town of Montreux was very pretty with a harbour, huge marketplace and plenty of waterside cafes and restaurants.

We had some lunch overlooking the lake and watch the grand tourist boats dock and unload. Later we had a mooch around the shops. There was time for yet one more gelato before we headed back on the cycle lane to the camp site.

From first impressions Switzerland seems incredibly clean and efficient and beautiful but is expensive. We are talking six euros for a water in a restaurant and seven euros for an ice cream. It’s a good job the views are free! We have loved Switzerland so far but it was always going to be a brief visit and we are pleased we’ve dipped our toes in on this side of the alps. We think we’ve got another couple of days here before we edge back into France and leisurely make our way down to Ginestas for my brother’s wedding in a couple of weeks.

The names Balbianello, Villa Balbianello.

Any James Bond fans reading this? Remember the scene in Casino Royale where Bond is recuperating in the garden of a hospital? Vesper is there and the swiss banker arrives by boat to get the code.

That “hospital” is Villa Balbianello, overlooking lake Como and it’s an absolute stunner.

We bussed it the 15 minutes from our campsite, La Fornace to Bellagio and spent another 15 minutes deciphering the overly complicated ferry timetable. Both Garda and Como ferry services have been poorly designed and chaotic to say the least. Eventually we found the right pier and piled on a ferry to Lenno.

As luck would have it, it was market day in Lenno. I needed some new sports socks. 6 for €4, bagged. That’s how I roll.

The entrance to the Villa was all the way around the pretty harbour which was lined with small speed boats and the occasional sail boat.

If we lived somewhere like this we would defo have a little boat to pootle around the lake. Maybe go say hi to George and Amal.

Villa Balbianello stands on a steep promontory jutting out into the west side of lake Como. The villa was left by the Italian exporer, Guido Monzino, to the Italian National Trust when he died in 1988. We watched a 30 minute video about his life and exploration accomplishments that culminated in saying Balbianello was his ultimate legacy. Some legacy.

It was a 20 minute woodland walk to get up and over the hill from the ferry terminal at Lenno to the villa entrance. It had a totally private and secluded location that gave it a sense of exclusivity. We were grateful of the shade as once again the lakes had delivered a scorcher.

Entrance was €10 each for the garden or €20 for garden and guided tour of the villa. We opted to make the most of the sunshine and nail the gardens.

From the moment we entered we were blown away by the immaculate gardens and the stunning views across the lake.

The gardens are landscaped over multiple levels which added to the drama. We could see why this was used as a location for Casino Royal and Star War II: Attack of the Clones.

Exposed on three sides, the villa had beautiful terraces with sweeping views of the water. It even had its own private jetty for boat access.

There was a separate outhouse which formed a private study and library and had an incredible double balcony with ivy trained up the walls and pillars.

Everything about the property and gardens was ornately designed and immaculately presented with wonderful bursts of colour.

Being a tourist was thirsty work. We grabbed a quick drink and ice cream whilst waiting for the ferry in Lenno.

Once back in Bellagio we found a lovely little trattoria with a cool table right outside in the cobble stone street.

We finished off the day with tasty pasta dish and a few games of Uno. Emily is on a winning streak. Time to think of some different strategies me thinks 🤔.

we arrived back to the campsite to catch a pretty cool sunset sky.

Lake Garda – Riva Del Garda

10-08-18

We had some house keeping to take care of when we left Lazise, including getting a food shop and petrol and navigating our way out of the very busy weekly market that sprawled out onto the street in every direction. We opted for the lake road for a scenic 33 mile drive north to Riva Del Garda. It was wonderfully sunny and the blue sky was punctuated by fluffy white clouds and we had the music on. There was a lot of traffic on the roads which slowed us down considerably but no matter, Lake Garda is just stunning and we were rewarded with incredible views for the whole drive north.

We arrived at a pre-selected sosta just after lunch time and were relieved to find plenty of space. It was no more than a glorified car park but at €12 a night it was a bargain in comparison to the €60 a night campsites nearby. We were only staying for two nights so it would be perfect.

After lunch we walked into town along the main road which took about 30mins. We passed a couple of campsites and stuck our noses in and they were absolutely rammed. No space between pitches and on top of one another with kids everywhere. We gave each other a slightly smug look that we’d made the right choice and continued in to town.

Riva Del Garda is graced with an incredibly dramatic backdrop of mountains and in particular Monte Rocchetta which looms 1575 meters above. We wandered through the pretty streets lined with colourful buildings and boutique shops that opened out into a gorgeous piazza.

We stopped at a lakeside cafe for a an elaborate and delicious iced coffee that I suspect was 80% cream and whiled away a good hour people watching. We made our way back to Harvey along the lake footpath which took in beautifully landscaped gardens and a shingle beach full of people enjoying themselves. In stark contrast to the south of the lake, it’s incredibly windy here and the lake is a hive of sailing and windsurfing activity. Pros were absolutely hooning it along and the 2018 European melges race event was on.

The next day we cycled a couple of miles south to the neighbouring town or Torbole. The bikes have been a great investment and offered us plenty of freedom and independence. The cycle lane was flat and wide and had amazing views of the lake. We passed numerous sailing clubs and windsurfing schools and igethwr with all the mountain bike and hiking trails around, we got a very outdoorsy vibe. We passed some kids jumping off rocks into the lake. I think Gary was tempted to join them.

We had a quick look around the pretty town of Torbole before settling on the beach for the day. We’ve both been enjoying our kindles and audio books and podcasts and it was great to have a laidback afternoon.

That evening the wind got up and was rattling around the van. The sky had turned an ominous grey and we could hear thunder rumbling not too far away. Within 30 seconds the wind was going mad and we had to scrabble around to shut the windows before they got pulled off their hinges. The wind swept a load of dust and crap into the van and our eyes. We were just recovering when the torrential rain began and we were treated to the most outrageous storm I’ve ever seen. The wind was rocking the van quite violently and lightning struck all around. We thought we were nice and safe inside until Gary noticed a leak on the seal of our window letting in loads of water. We desperately tried to soak it up with towels but it was no good, gary needed to go outside to tape over the seal. Within seconds he was drenched through to his pants and he came back in like a wet dog. Thank goodness for Christie man skills. If I was on my own I’d have probably drowned! It was a very abrupt end to a wonderful couple of days in Riva Del Garda.

Lake Garda – Lazise

8-08-18

Having had a great few days in Venice we headed back west towards the Italian lakes. We were really looking forward to slowing down our pace and relaxing a bit. With temperatures hitting 40 degrees over the last week, we were particularly keen to get to some water to cool down. Venice was incredible but heavy going and the lakes seemed to offer the ultimate rest bite for our weary feet. We managed to pick up an electric fan en route which proved to be the purchase of the trip.

It only took an hour and a half to reach the east side of lake Garda. We plumped for a town called Lazise and found a nice campsite straight away. Our pitch is probably one of the best we’ve had with loads of space and privacy and a nice vibe to the campsite. It’s pretty basic in comparison to the other mega campsites along the lake that have huge swimming pools, scheduled entertainment and endless facilities but it suits us well. The lakes get super busy during August because of the school holidays and we prefer being in a quiet site with slightly older clientele than the expensive, sprawling resorts with families and rowdy kids everywhere.

It’s become increasingly clear as we travel northern Italy that this is the domain of the Germans and Dutch. We’ve not heard many English accents and the campsite is completely full of German tourists who seemingly return to their spot every year. We got back to Harvey the other night to find that the Germans had joined forces and created a street party along the campsite access road and were getting stuck into a BBQ and plenty of Barvarian beer. Next someone got the guitar out and they were crooning into the small hours. Gary quite often gets mistaken for being German but our invitation to the soirée must have been lost in the post.

We decided to stay for 6 nights, using Lazise as a base for daily adventures. It’s a charming little town with a small harbour and lovely waterfront restaurants.

It also has an awesome fish and chip shop that we just had to try – they served Norwegian stockfish which seemed a bit random but it was delicious.

We really love the vibe here. It’s lively and has a buzz with weekly markets and live music but is not oppressively busy or frenetic. The water is the focus of everyone’s stay and everything is geared towards embracing the beauty of the natural surroundings.

There is a great cycle lane that follows the waterline, passing other beautiful towns to the North. We spent a few days exploring this, stopping for regular ice cream and refreshment breaks in the stifling heat. Occasionally we’d off-road and find ourselves completely alone, racing through picturesque olive groves.

As we cycled the 5 miles to Garda we saw families and locals at every point along the water. Kids were jumping off the jetties, sun worshippers sprawled out on grassy patches and plenty of cyclists getting their daily exercise.

People holiday at Garda for the summer, not just for a week or two and we can totally understand why. The weather is incredible, the scenery is stunning and the towns are preened to perfection. The displays of colourful flowers along the promenades are beautiful and the pastel houses and pint-sized harbours in every town ooze with character.

Its great to see so many people enjoying the great outdoors and making wonderful memories. Despite the beauty and elegance of the surroundings, there is nothing pretentious or twee about the place, just people having a genuinely good time.

Garda and Bardolino were two of our favourite little towns that we visited by bike. They both have gorgeous alleyways and narrow cobbled streets filled with cutesy shops and cafes. We liked to stop at the waterfront bars for an aperol spritz (which incidentally is always served with a few nibbles) and a game of uno.

On our way back we would pick a spot to stop for a dip, the water being the perfect refreshment after a sweaty cycle.

On one of the days we got the ferry South to Sirmione.

It’s a beautiful (but packed) town set on an impossibly thin peninsula with an impressive castle and moat.

We wandered through the gorgeous little lanes, marvelling at the incredible bougainvillea adorning the colourful houses and we had a picnic overlooking the lake.

We found Jamaica beach which was teeming with locals and tourists who were wading out in the shallow water to cool down. The water was a gorgeous colour and the pier made for the perfect place to sunbathe and people watch.

We opted for the last ferry back which delivered wonderful views in the late afternoon sun that bathed everything in golden hues.

We don’t think that this area of Lake Garda can be beaten but it’s time to find out. Today we head 40 miles north to Riva Del Garda for a different perspective of this beaut. Watch this space…

Venice

Although we have both been to Venice before we were still excited to see it together. Our campsite was situated on the mainland just off the only bridge to “Venice island.” We hooked Harvey up with ‘leccy’ and hightailed it the 5 minutes to the tram stop. The deal is you have to buy your tickets for tram/bus/vaporetto beforehand and validate them on each journey. If one was daring or skint it looked like you could cadge a free ride as we didn’t encounter anyone checking up….until days later.

Venice is not actually an island. It is a group of 118 small islands interlinked by 400 bridges. Some might describe Venice as a ‘sinking ship’; not only is it literally sinking at a rate of 2 millimetres per year, but it’s population has halved in the last 50 years, from 120,000 to 60,000. Such de-population is due to the extortionate cost of maintaining a home in Venice, as well as its slow descent into the sea.

Yet, Venice is more than just a ‘sinking ship’: it is home to Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, the first public Casino, and an eerie masquerade tradition. It boasts 450 palaces, 350 gondolas, 170 bell towers and 177 canals, as well as the birthplace of the explorer Marco Polo, the composer Antoni Vivaldi and the playwright Giacomo Casanova.

As we exited the tram, walked down our first narrow alleyway, over a pretty bridge and spied our first gondola, we looked at each other knowingly. Venice was not going to let us down. It was as beautiful and atmospheric as we both remebered.

The only way to navigate was by following brown signs with faded golden gilt lettering to San Marco. We passed an asortment of shops selling weird masks that reminded us of the film ‘Eyes wide shut’. Looked on longingly at cool tiny bars with people swigging cold beer or sipping aperol spritz and eating tasty chicetti. Finally we emerged by the famous Rialto bridge and luckily grabbed the last table right by the water for a romatic meal for two. Perfect.

After a delicious seafood lasagne and a creamy carbonara we headed to the stunning piazza San Marco.

It was late and still about 30 degrees so we reluctantly headed back to Harvey knowing we had three more days to explore.

What’s that line from Richard the Third? “A horse, a horse my kingdom for a horse.” Change that for a fan and I completely get ya kingy. I thought we were in an episode of ‘The bake Off’ but we were in the oven. I fell asleep at dawn when the temperature dropped to about 28 degrees. It wasnt helped by the dog next door yapping every hour.

The next day our faithful yapping friend “peggy sue” ensured we didnt sleep in. I was annoyed at first but that quickly subsided when I realised her owners had disappeared for the day and left peggy sue tied up under their camper. One half filled bowl of water. How do these people live with themselves. We filled up her bowl and left for Venice hoping the owner would be back soon.

This time we bought a 48hr unlimited tram/bus/vaporetto pass for maximum freedom. A single vaporetto journey cost €7.50 but the pass was a bargain at €30. No brainer. Jumping off the tram and onto the vaporetto (public water taxi) to tour the grand canal was a great call. Some of the best views can only be seen via the water ways.

For the rest of the day we hopped on and off the vaporetto at various locations then wandered the streets trying to discover hidden gems away from the hustle and bustle.

We headed over to San Giorgio Maggiore to look at the yachts and climb the bell tower. I love a view from up high.

Then we headed for some quiet contemplation in the park on the very outskirts and found this shiny fella.

No visit is complete without a lap of San Marco.

Nothing better than a quick dip to cool them hot feets.

We even managed to grab a cheeky shot from the captains cabin on the way back.

Surprise surprise when we got back peggy sue was still tied up, still yapping and still alone and frightened. Who are these people. It was 8pm and they clearly had not been back all day! I tried to ignore her but with each passing person she let out a scared yelp. My heart sunk each time. Enough is enough. I went around and sat with her for a bit. She was super happy and friendly so I untied her and brought over to Harvey.

I gave her some love and affection and she was a different dog. After a while I left her to curl up on my chair and we watched her settle down and take a little snooze.

At midnight the knobheads from next door still hadn’t returned but it was time for bed. I took peggy sue back and tried to tie her to their step. She resisted and it broke my heart. Poor thing. I sat with her for a while until she slept then tied her up and snook away. The knobheads eventually returned at 1am with their two infants and paid no attention to peggy sue. So annoying but what can you do…

The next day we got up early and headed over to Murano. It sits about 1.5km from Venice in the same lagoon. Famous for it’s glass making and as we found out not much else.

That installation behind us was their signature art piece and reminded me of something out of superman. The glasswork is pretty impressive if you like that sort of thing but it’s not really our thing. Murano did introduce me to one amazing new thing. Cafe Creme.

Its basically a delicious coffee icecream.

Ignore the battered melted cheese thing. Stop looking at it. It will draw you in. Move along now…

After Murano we headed back to the main section of Venice in search of a bar that Ben had recommended. On our way we found the hospital. For some reason we were surprised the A&E entrance was via the water. Hence the ambulance was a boat.

More impossibly grand architecture.

And exquisite detail.

We eventually found Ben’s bar which was unfortunatley shut. However the bar next door was cool AF.

Cheers Venice you were awesome.

Modena

The next big hitter after Florence was due to be Venice but we thought it a shame to miss out on some nearby smaller cities. Distance wise, Bologna was a perfect half way point but the lack of campsites nearby and bad reviews for Sostas put us off. It’s a real shame as I would have loved to take a tour of the Ducati factory. I ride a Triump Street Triple R back home but would jump at the chance ride a Ducati Monster or 959 Panigale. Another time hopefully.

Instead we opted to stay the night in a sosta about 4km outside of Modena with a friendly tree lined cycle path right into the heart of the city.

The car lovers out there will no doubt already know that Modena is home to many of the top Italian car makers. Ferarri, Lambourghini and Maserati the most notable. Indeed the Ferrari 360 Modena was named after the city.

We also learned that Modena has a prestigious University traditionally strong in economics, medicine and law. As luck would have it lots of students were celebrating graduating with bottles of rum taped to their hands and laurel wreaths around their head. This made for entertaining people watching.

We visited 2 Unesco world heritage sites. The Cathedral and the Piazza Grande.

Famous Modenesi include operatic tenor Luciano Pavarotti, Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari and the Queen consort of England and Scotland, Mary of Modena. Despite all these highlights the biggest draw for me was that it is home home to Osteria Francescana. A year ago I watched a netflix original called Chefs Table featuring the eccentric Massimo Bottura.

I was captivated by his story, creating a restaurant from scratch, Osteria Francescana, and building it in to the world’s best restaurant. As one can imagine not without it’s trials and tribulations. “Nothing easy is worth the ride.”

https://www.theworlds50best.com/The-List-2018/1-10/Osteria-Francescana.html

I wish I could say we managed to get a table to eat there but the waiting list is 6 months.

The next day we attempted to visit Parma for an afternoon explore. We were spooked by the total lack of campers in the dodgy looking sosta and the surrounding car park full of transits selling hooky goods.

We decided to abandon our plans (genuinely the first time we’ve had to forgo a destination due to safety concerns) and head to Verona instead. The drive was not without its tribulations, with terribly poor roads full of potholes and loose tarmac that shook and rattled the motorhome. Our satnav also took us to closed roads and sent us on bizarre diversions but this did afford us views of the incredible scenery.

We drove on another two hours to Verona only to find that sosta completly full of campers. Boom or bust it would seem. Exercising patience is not my usual forte but on this occaision it was necessary. We waited about an hour for somone to leave and gracefully ‘jumped in their grave’.

Cinque Terre

We left Rappalo in the pouring rain and travelled an hour along the coast to Levanto. This was the perfect base from which to explore the Cinque Terre as it had a campsite and a railway station. We had never really heard of the Cinque Terre before we arrived in the region but more Lonley Planet research from Emily revealed this beautiful Unesco World Heritage site.

The name literally translates to “Five Lands” but really means the five villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. These beautiful villages are perched on the side of the cliffs on one of the most sun-drenched and languid stretches of coast in all of Italy. As a result it is one of the most tourist-packed.

We originally wanted to explore the villages on the Sunday but found out the night before there was a 24hr train strike. Dam, another enforced beach day, not terrible.

The next day we arrived at the station early, along with hoards of other tourists. The train arrived 20 minutes late and was already full so it was a bit of a squeeze and reminded us of the Tube back in London. We thought we were being clever by heading to the furthest village first bit it seems everyone had the same idea.

Riomaggiore is the most southern village of the Cinque Terre. The origins of Riomaggiore date back to the 8th Century, when the inhabitants of the Vara valley, searching a milder climate to raise grapevines and olive-trees without the fear of pirate raids, moved towards the coast.

The town climbs up along the ridges overlooking the sea and it is characterized from the typical stone houses with coloured façades and slate-roofs.

After an hour exploring we headed back to the station where Emily found some colourful tiles to admire before heading to get to our next stop, Manarola.

Manarola, built on a high rock 70 metres above sea level, is one of the most charming and romantic of thevillages. The tiny harbor features a boat ramp, multicoloured houses facing the sea, a tiny piazza with seafood restaurants.

Along the main road the boats are pulled onto dry land on trolleys every time the sea is rough. Although there is no real beach here, it had some of the best deep-water swimming around these parts.

The village is all ups and downs, with steep narrow alleys leading to the sea. Another peculiarity of Manarola is a pyramid in white cement whose peak can be seen rising between the taller houses and is used as a navigational reference point for all those at sea.

We missed out Corniglia so we could spend longer in the remaining two villages of Vernazza and Monterossa.

The small fishing village Vernazza is probably the most characteristic of the Cinque Terre and is classified as one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. Vernazza was founded about 1000 A.D. and was ruled by the Republic of Genoa starting in 1276. The medieval castle, Belforte, was built in the mid-1500’s, primarily to protect the village from pirates.

The tiny port is surrounded by subtle colourful pastels and the charming piazza is lined with good restaurants and bars. The village is surrounded by very steeply-terraced olive groves which are said to produce among the finest olive oil in the country.

We enjoyed an amazing lunch right beneath the castle. Emily opted for the lasagne and I opted for a local speciality of genovese pesto gnocci.

After lunch and buoyed on by the locals, I changed into my swimmers and dove into the cooling waters for a refreshing dip. Bliss.

Last but not least came Monterosso, which is the largest of the five. The village is located on hills cultivated with vines and olives. The vegetation surrounds the built-up area like an embrace; its amazing beaches, its beautiful reefs and the sea’s crystal clear waters make this small village one of the most hospitable of the Ligurian Riviera. It is probably the only one we would consider as a fly and flop location.

The village is divided in two parts marked by the medieval tower of Aurora.

The new part of town, Fegina, is full of life with quality hotels and restaurants. It is also dominated by the famous concrete statue of the Giant, built beside the terrace of a local villa. This statue was created at the beginning of the 20th century by Levacher and Minerbi, an architect and a sculptor, and represents Neptune, the god of the sea. Now it has become the symbol of Monterosso.

We never really had the time to lounge on the beach so I think we will keep this one in the bag for a revisit someday.

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…

“So your tellin me there’s a chance”

Apologies in advance as this one is a bit of a dull technical one.

For those that have been keeping up with the blog, you will know that the reason we ventured to Saint Tropez was to make good use of time whilst waiting for a replacement gas regulator. At last it had arrived from England to our old campsite in Antibes. Even though technically not part of our 6 month warranty Webbs sent one free of charge. Merci beaucoup Danny and Portia from Webbs. All we had to do was pick it up and spend 5 minutes fitting it right?

Picking it up went without a hitch. The mad receptionist at the Antibes campsite handed over the parcel and we drove off to Lidl so Emily could do a food shop and I could use the time to fit it. We needed to know if it worked so we could plan where we needed to stay that night. If it worked we could wild-camp off-grid. If it didn’t we had to choose a campsite with electric to power the fridge.

Original broken regulator

Replacement regulator

Opening up the box we see

Problem number 1:

It’s longer than the old one.

Problem 2:

I can hear something rattling inside, like a large ball bearing.

Oh the joys of taking your home on the road. It reminds me so much of working on yachts. So many things used to go wrong on boats and in remote parts of the world where the language barrier made everything so much harder to resolve. I guess my previous experience gave me the confidence to have a go at fixing anything. Even when at the start of the fix you have no idea what you’re doing and even with something potentially as dangerous as gas.

I plumbed in the new regulator easy enough. At least the connectors were the right size and I didn’t over tighten. The extra length made for a tight fit when closing the gas compartment door.

I turned on the gas and tested for leaks by palming soapy bubbles over each connector. No leaks. Good. The sweat was dripping from my forehead and not just because of the intense midday sun. I jumped inside and switched the fridge to gas. Red Light. Dam. That means it can’t light and there is no gas flow. I tried the gas hob. Nothing. Not a whiff. WTF. Such disappointment.

Have they sent a duff one? Have I fitted it wrongly? Stay calm. Think basics. What is the easiest thing that could be wrong? The reset button. “YES! You’re a genius”. I pressed the reset button and tried again. Nothing. “You’re an idiot”. 30 minutes had passed on this 5 minute job. I was hot, frustrated and out of ideas. Only one thing for it. Read the manual. Or RTFM as it’s known in the man trade (google it). I know most of the women out there are saying “What! Why didn’t you read that first?”. Fellas, I will leave it to you to explain.

Reading the manual it mentioned something about the crash sensor should always be verticle. I had already spoken to Webbs about this as the unit was fitted horizontally on the roof of the gas box by the builders. It was a bit of a red herring but it did give me an idea. Maybe if I disconnected the regulator from the van but kept it connected to the gas bottle I could position it vertically and press reset and hear if gas comes out. That would isolate any issues upsteam of the regulator and allow to instantly verify gas flow after each test.

As I moved the regulator around from horizontal to vertical I could hear the ball bearing inside moving and couldn’t help but think it was some how responsible. With the regulator in a verticle position, the gas bottle open, sending high pressure propane to one side of the regulator and the other side open, I pressed the green reset button. A tiny whiff of gas came out of the open end and then nothing. My mind flipped to the line from dumb and dumber “So you’re telling me there’s a chance”. However small the posibility, I knew that if I mess around with positioning, speed of button press, speed of button release I had a chance to get it to work.

20 minutes later I discovered the knack. I’m not sure whether the angle of the regulator mattered but I pressed the reset button slowly over three seconds and released it over three seconds the ball bearing rattled until it didn’t and gas started to flow from the regulator outlet. At last. I turned the gas off at the bottle and plumbed it all in with the relevant checks and turned in the fridge once more. Green light. Result. Turned on the gas hob. Fire. Result. Turned on the water heater. Hot water. Job done. Easiest 1 hour “5 minute job” I have ever done.

Knock knock. “I’m home, oh great it works then, good job, as I have lots of yummy food for the fridge. Was it was it easy to fit?”

“Read the blog sweetie, I’m gassed ;-)”