Back in France – Lake Annecy

27-08-18

Having had a great couple of days by Lake Geneva, it was time to move on and head back into France. We took a road that followed the south shoreline for quite some time and passed through some cute little towns, including Evian Les Bains. Famous for its spring and bottled water, Evian seemed like a lovely town with a gorgeous promenade and lots of pretty shops. Unfortunately we couldn’t find motorhome parking so had to push through and promise ourselves it would be a place we return to if possible.

Taking time to stock up on supplies at a supermarket, we passed through the border without even noticing and arrived at our next campsite in Annecy in the afternoon. Annecy is a gorgeous, alpine town sat on a stunning lake renowned for its clear and pure water. It has a beautiful medieval old centre with cobbled lanes, canals and pastel houses.

We woke up the next morning with a whole day to explore the area. It was really chilly and grey looking and for the first time on our European trip, we had to get the jumpers out. We hopped on our bikes and took the insanely steep lanes down to the town center. It was a real hive of activity with an arts and crafts market on one side of town and an antiques market on the other. I loved browsing the stalls that were selling all sorts of random curiosities but much to Gary’s relief we couldn’t fit any new items in the van.

The town has a wonderful old charm with period properties and traditional buildings but has embraced modern art, with installations dotted all around. We spotted at least five on the trail including a great metal cut out of the lake and all its tributaries. The town is clearly well looked after, with gorgeous flowers everywhere and pretty green spaces.

Despite being in France, Annecy has a real Swiss vibe to it which is reflected in the menus of many of the restaurants. We found a great alpine style restaurant and orders tartiflette which is a potato dish covered in onions, lardons and local cheese and a slow cooked pork casserole served with creamy polenta. These dishes were a huge leap away from the Mediterranean food and salads we’ve been eating in Italy but with the cold weather it felt comforting to have something a bit more hearty.

After lunch we hopped back on the bikes and took the shoreline cycle lane out of town. The lake is 42km in its circumference and can be tackled in a day by bike but we weren’t quite up for that. We planned to cycle 5km to the next town, but once we got there we continued on, incentivised by the stunning scenery. We ended up doing about 28km in total and loved it. The cycle lane was flat and wide and delivered gorgeous views of the stunning mountain ranges and glassy lake. We passed families out for walks, rock climbers, farmers harvesting and little fishing boats bobbing on the water. We found a huge field of cows, all of whom were sporting the classic Swiss cowbells which created a racket. I also dared Gary to see if the fence was electric….it was.

Once we returned to town with cold hands and windswept hair we decided that we had earned a cup of tea and fancy cake. I had my eye on a particularly fancy patisserie and we stocked up and took our goodies to the park to enjoy. Gary had a ‘Mont Blanc’ which consisted of layered meringue and raspberry coulis and mousse. I plumped for a mocha torte with hazelnut edging. Both were delicious and devoured in minutes. The sun finally decided to make an appearance just as we cycled back up to the campsite. We had a warm shower and made the most of the short-lived signal that we were receiving on the satellite and watched some good old British TV before bed. Another great day exploring.

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…

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’.

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 Beautiful Cote D’Azur and Motorhome Woes

11-07-18

We’ve had a great couple of days exploring the French Riviera. On our first full day we put our bikes to good use, cycling to nearby Antibes. We used the main road which was pretty hectic and not particularly enjoyable but it was only for a short period of time before we dropped down into the port area.

Antibes is really beautiful spot and has enchanted the likes of Graham Greene and Picasso, who featured the town in many of his paintings. It boasts small sandy coves and a pretty town ringed by medieval walls, encasing boutiques and fancy restaurants. It also has a huge harbour with mega flash boats. There is a super yacht dock which hosts the massive, luxury boats which was fascinating to gawp at. These yachts were huge, lined up one by one in an immaculate parade. It was a hive of activity behind the security gate with deckhands polishing the brightwork, butlers whizzing back and forth and hostesses grabbing supplies.

Strolling around the dock brought back plenty of memories for Gary from his sailing days but it is nice to experience these towns under our own steam without having to work at the same time.

We walked into town, window shopping and people watching. Antibes has a really lovely vibe. It’s pretty laid back and has art installations around the sea front and cute independent food trucks like this juice bar.

We cycled around the headland to the next town called Juan Les Pins which was the home to F Scott Fitzgerald. This had a completely different feel to Antibes and not quite as classy. Dare I say more Brits abroad? There were more bars and shops and a long beach that was absolutely crammed with sunbathers. We were so hot from the cycle and the sea looked so inviting that we stopped for a quick dip in the refreshing water. On our way back we discovered a cycle lane that took us away from the noisy traffic and hugged the coastline the whole way which was much more enjoyable.

The next day we planned to go to Nice on the train. We had a fairly frustrating morning after attempting to use the campsite’s washing machine which took an hour and barely got our clothes wet. I put it in for another load and an hour later it had failed to clean the clothes or wash the powder out so we had to hand wash everything. We eventually made it to the station to find that that the next train wasn’t for an hour and then it ran 15mins late.

We got into Nice later than we’d have like but we had a great time to make up for it. We walked from the station, through the contemporary shopping area to the old town via an awesome set of fountains. They went off every 30mins to music and kids would go mad, running in and out of the fountains and getting absolutely soaked. There was also a lovely set of public gardens with gorgeous plants providing splashes of colour.

The old city is a warren of lanes and tight backstreets filled with shops and cafes. At every turn is a small square or pretty church or market. We found a cute place to eat lunch on the Cours Saleya which hosts a daily flower market in the morning. Disappointingly we missed the market but there was plenty of people watching on offer as tourists, street entertainers and locals buzzed around.

We walked off our lunch hiking up the Colline du Chateau hill for views across the bay. Nice has a huge amount to offer for a city break with good restaurants, a lovely cafe culture and a long stretch of beach just minutes from a historic and vibrant old town. They were setting up for their annual jazz festival which looked awesome.

Rather annoyingly we got back to find a problem with the gas flow on the van. We’d experienced a few niggles over the past couple of days with the gas failing on the fridge when we turned the hot water heater on or the the hob. Gary seemed to be able to fix it with a bit of jiggery pokery on the regulator or by switching our gas tanks but it was now officially dead. After testing both tanks with the BBQ we couldn’t diagnose an issue with them so could only assume that we weren’t getting any circulation because of the regulator. Whilst in a campsite this isn’t much of an issue because we are plugged into the mains and can use electricity to power the fridge, heat the water and use the facilities but it poses a problem when on the road or staying in Aires. We have no gas for cooking on the hob or heating water or powering the fridge which means we are at the mercy of expensive campsites until we can get it fixed.