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 Como – Bellagio

14-08-18

We left the sosta in Bergamo and headed north to lake Como which took a couple of hours. We had our sights set on a particular campsite and we were just setting off for it when I received an email telling me that they had no availability. We had been warned multiple times that August was super busy and we’d be mad to attempt to tour the lakes during this time but this was our first hiccup. Back to plan B and after a couple of phone calls to a new campsite in a different location we changed our route and got going.

Having missed our turn off (thanks satnav), we ended up driving up and over a mountain range that led down onto the lake side of Como which was a dramatic entrance. The road down was very steep with hairpin bends all the way. We stopped for a photo.

As the road opened up onto the lake we were stunned by its beauty. Huge mountains all around reflected in the water of the still, glassy lake. Lake Como is in the shape of an upside down Y, with three relatively thin bodies of water. This meant that unlike Garda, we could see the banks and towns on the other side.

We couldn’t believe our luck as we were directed to our pitch at La Fornace campsite which was directly in front of the lake, offering awesome views all around. Our nearest town Oliveto Lario was a ten minute walk and had nothing more than a post office and bakery. We were blissfully isolated with nothing but nature around us. We spent the rest of that afternoon chilling out and going for dips in the lake. The campsite had a lovely, laidback vibe and a great little bar and pizzeria with a nice outdoor area. We ended up eating here a couple of times and it was delicious. We had to keep pinching ourselves that we were lucky enough to find a campsite with space and have lakeside views.

The next day we got the bus into the nearby town of Bellagio. It was a Sunday and there were only 4 scheduled for the whole day but it turned up bang on time. Situated just a few miles north the bus only took 20 minutes which I was thankful for because the journey was pretty stressful. The road was insanely narrow, squeezing down to one track at times and the bus careered around sharp bends like it was on rails. Occasionally the driver would sound his horn as a warning to drivers coming in the opposite direction but this did very little to slow them down and just on this one journey we had about three near misses where all the passengers made concerned “ooh” and “eeek” noises.

Bellagio is absolutely stunning. With cobbled lanes that rise up the steep town hills and then tumble back to the lake front, it makes for a great place to wander. We explored all the shops and walked to the small harbour which marks the middle of the lake where the three fingers of water meet.

Bellagio has amazing flower beds all over town and the buildings are meticulously tended to. It was impossible to not be charmed by its gorgeous lanes and grand hotels.

We found a gorgeous little restaurant for lunch which was filled with locals (always a good sign). It was a traditional trattoria with a beautiful terrace overlooking the warren of lanes below us. We shared a tasty ravioli with porcini mushroom sauce to start. So simple but so delicious and absolutely caked in butter I’m sure.

I had a slow cooked pork belly for lunch and Gary plumped for saltimbocca which is pan fried veal wrapped in Parma ham and sage. Being in the van we are restricted to stove top dinners or BBQs, and whilst I think I’m relatively creative with dinners, it was great to have something roasted and oven cooked for the first time in months!

We walked off our tasty lunch with a stroll around the grounds of the neoclassical Villa Melzi which had a prime lake front location. The grass was a wonderfully lush bright green colour and cut and edged with precision. There was a small Japanese water garden with acers and coi carp.

The summer house doorways framed the lake wonderfully and we had a great time taking in the sights.

We got the last bus back to the campsite and sat outside watching the sun go down.

The next day dawned very gloomy but we’d already decided to have a quiet one based at the campsite so it didn’t particularly matter. It proceeded to bucket down all day which wasn’t ideal (I had to put my cross-lake swim off), but did enforce complete relaxation. It actually turned quite cold with a chilly wind so we hunkered down in the van, watching films and drinking hot chocolate. As Gary keeps insisting, it’s really important to have total shut off days and we certainly recharged our batteries ahead of another day exploring the lake.

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’.

Partying our way Through Spain

21/06/18

It’s been a little while since our last blog and we’ve crammed an awful lot of fun into the last week. We left Carcassonne under yet more dark clouds and headed south towards the Spanish border.

Completely surprised by the lack of formalities of leaving one country and entering another, we breezed through Spain and continued down to Barcelona.

We have been using a campsite in Mataró as our base. Its about 45 mins north of Barcelona and on a lovely stretch of coast.

We wanted to arrive here a couple of days in advance of our flight to Ibiza to ensure that we could find a suitable place to store Harvey when away. This level of concern sounds unnecessary but the van is our only home and has all our possessions in it and Barcelona is renowned for petty crime. Campsites aren’t really a parking option and airport car parks don’t tend to have the space to accommodate motorhomes. After much internet searching, we found a place specialising in caravan and motorhome storage for 15 euros a night. Being natural born worriers, we made a dummy run to check the place out and ensure that the motorhome would be safe and secure. Absolutely no one on site spoke any English but with the help of Google translate and lots of gesticulating, Gary came to an agreement and was happy that the company was legit and secure.

We could then relax, with time to spend enjoying Mataró and it’s surrounding beaches.

We walked 5km along the coastal path, admiring the wonderfully swanky sailing boats in the harbour. We indulged in long, sangria filled lunches of tasty tapas and marvelled at Gary’s ability to select restaurants that are directly in front nudist beaches. It’s a talent that he has demonstrated at least twice.

On the 14th we left the campsite and dropped off the van at the storage place before boarding our flight to Ibiza. We were celebrating our good friend Richard’s 40th Birthday at a beautiful villa.

It was absolutely stunning, complete with a huge roof terrace and massive pool. Even our bathroom gave us more living space than the whole motorhome put together and it was great to spread out in a bit of luxury.

As our first evening drew in, more villa guests arrived until we had a full house.

We spent the next 5 days relaxing by the fabulous pool with our new friends, cooking up yummy lunches in the villa and exploring Ibiza.

On the Saturday we went for a lovely celebration lunch at a restaurant called El Chiringuitos. It was right on the beach overlooking azure waters.

This place really embodied my preconceptions of Ibiza style, all whites and woods and floaty material.

The food was stunning and provided much needed sustenance before the evening’s debauchery at one of the island’s mega clubs, Amnesia. I’ve never been to Ibiza before, and this was a full initiation. We arrived at the club at 1am, partied all night and stumbled out as the sun came up at 6.30am. These clubs are simply huge and packed with dancers and entertainment.

Every hour there would be a huge performance with props and costumes and guns shooting out unfathomable quantities of tickertape. What an experience.

After some much needed sleep on Sunday we headed to a beach bar overlooking Playa D’en Bossa which was great. I managed to watch my sweepstake favourite, Germany lose their match to Mexico in the World Cup before we drank mojitos and danced on the table.

We ended our trip in Ibiza with a wholesome day lounging by the pool and a dinner at the local beach.

It’s been really great to catch up with old friends, meet plenty of new ones and hopefully Rich thoroughly enjoyed his birthday celebrations.

We left one party and headed straight into another, albeit much more low-key. I turned 33 on Wednesday and Barcelona was the perfect destination for birthday fun. We treated ourselves and stayed in a hotel bordering the Gothic and El Born areas.

This is my favourite part of Barcelona for browsing around. There are so many lanes and narrow cobbled streets dappled in sunlight that open up into wonderful squares with fountains.

The buildings are tall and grand and decorated with the most ornate ironwork and gorgeous shutters. We meandered our way along Las Ramblas before ducking into the incredible La Boqueria food market.

Crammed with stalls selling the freshest ingredients from shellfish to fruit to spices to olives, this place is an attack on the senses. We found a place selling amazing Iberico ham which tasted incredible. In order to be classed as Iberico, the pig must be fed on acorn and reared according to specific guidelines. The fat melted away and the dark meat had such delicious flavour. Being somewhat obsessed with food, markets are easily my favourite place to while away an hour and find inspiration for cooking challenges.

We then headed towards to port and Barceloneta beach for yet more food and sangria before taking a cheeky dip in the sea. We strolled back in the early evening as the sun bathed everything in a beautiful golden colour.

We ate Tapas in an incredible restaurant in the El Born neighbourhood before returning to the hotel feeling very content, full and one year older.