Lake Maggiore – Borromean Islands and Stresa

18-08-18

It was gutting to leave the beauty of Como without having bumped into George Clooney at his villa, but we did so with our sights set on Lake Maggiore. This would complete our trio of Italian lakes.

Even though we gave ourselves five days in each location we only scratched the surface in terms of exploration. You could spend weeks just touring and enjoying the lakes and still not see everything, but this trip has definitely whet our appetites for a return holiday. It’s been great to limit our driving by slowing down and relaxing in each place.

It took about two hours to drive west along some more shockingly bad roads to our new campsite in Baveno which is situated in the west shore of the lake. Thankfully we pre-booked and took one of the last pitches available. We set up and then went for a wander into town.

Baveno is a pretty little town framed by a long promenade with gorgeous flower beds.

With just a few restaurants, a classic piazza and church and a little dock for tourist boat trips, it’s a perfect base for exploring. We found a cute street side cafe for a drink whilst we watched local kids running and jumping off the harbour walls. They were having an absolute ball and were so carefree. We both remarked on what a great childhood you’d have living here with amazing scenery, awesome weather and the tastiest food. We made a quick pitstop on the way home for yet another gelato.

We’ve had to start rationing ourselves because the ice cream here is so damn tasty with out of this world flavours.

The next day we packed a picnic for our day trip to the Borromean Islands located just a couple of km from Baveno. We caught the ferry to Isola Bella and it’s star attraction palace was our first stop. Palazzo Borromeo was built in the 17th century and occupies 75% of the island. Napoleon famously stayed at the villa with his wife in 1797 and the music room was host to diplomatic meetings with the prime ministers of France, England and Italy in 1935.

Neither of us had particularly high expectations of the Villa interior, suspecting it would resemble a stuffy and staid stately Home but we loved it. It was light and airy and sumptuously decorated.

Most rooms had full length windows offering incredible views across the lake. The graceful ballroom was a particular fave of mine with powder blue and gold accents.

On our way out to the gardens we were led through the ‘summer grottoes’ which were stunning. They are effectively underground basements adorned with shells, pebbles and statues in the most gorgeous of patterns.

The gardens absolutely blew us away. Perfectly preened flower beds bursting with vibrant colours and white peacocks roaming around the immaculate grounds.

The grass was the greenest we’ve seen and had the texture of a plush carpet and the box hedges were trimmed to perfection.

The focal point of the gardens was a ten tiered terrace at the back of the property with roses and climbers dripping down each level.

Statues adorned each level with an epic unicorn at the top….how did they know?! With the sun beating down and illuminating the grounds in amazing colour it felt perfect.

We left Isola Bella and hopped on a ferry to nearby Stresa. A larger town than Baveno, Stresa boasts stunning lakeside villas and grand Belle Epoque hotels. It has a prevailing air of elegance and bygone decadence that we found charming. We found a great spot to eat our lunch and then strolled along the shore line, gawping at the luxury hotels that got more elaborate and lavish as we went along. Some of them had exclusive swimming pools and bars and we saw a wedding party complete with personal security and butlers.

We had a quick pit stop to load up on cake and coffee (well we needed to keep our strength up), before our final stop at Isola dei Pescatori. With a permanent population of just 50, the ‘fisherman’s island’ is tiny but beautiful. We walked around it in about 10 minutes and loved it’s pretty, colourful houses and charming restaurants.

There were fishing nets put out to dry and Shabby little boats bobbing on the front. We stopped for a cold drink and a few games of uno at a little bar with amazing views across the lake. As if that weren’t perfect enough we found a gorgeous sleepy cat to fawn over.

We wearily returned to Baveno in the late afternoon on the ferry in wonderful golden light having had an incredible day.

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…

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.