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.

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.