France/Italy Part 9: The Final Chapter

Bluebell the motorhome is safely parked up outside our house again, having done a 3094 mile journey across France and Italy in the space of 3 weeks and 1 day. She has had a pamper and is looking clean and tidy again, and is looking forward to a little rest!

We arrived back at lunchtime yesterday after a really pleasant last day in Calais stocking up on wine, beer and cider, and then a lovely evening on the aire at Wissant soaking up the sunshine!

Our return journey on the Euro Tunnel was smooth, and once again, we’ve come away massively impressed by the service- the smoothness of travelling with the pooch in tow is brilliant and we can’t praise their system enough.

I wanted to do a last post sort of thing to round off our amazing trip. On the way home we did some number crunching, and we are stunned to discover that we spent just over £1000 – which we think is brilliant for a 3 week holiday, and especially one where we saw so many places, and travelled so many places.

Fuel
Obviously the main expense was fuel- driving a diesel was much more economical on the continent than petrol (especially compared to our first trip abroad when we went in our petrol Talbot!). Diesel in France was cheaper than the UK- on average we paid €1.32 pl ish for Diesel in France topping up when we could at supermarkets rather than petrol stations on the motorways. Diesel in Italy is much dearer- on average we paid 1.60 pl ish there.

Tolls
Another large proportion of our spend was toll charges. I know you can easily travel through both countries quite easily without using the toll roads, however as we were covering a large area in a short amount of time, we made the choice to take tolls when we could. In France the tolls tended to be much more expensive than in Italy. On average we paid around €20 to travel around 100 miles in France (it did depend on the area) whereas in Italy the same distance tended to be between €5 and €10.

Eating out
Eating out in Italy was much cheaper than we thought it may be. We managed to grab lunches for under €10 a dish, the main expense was the accompanying beer, but if you drank wine by the carafe it was much much cheaper!

Accommodation
In both countries we found it was easy to find free stopovers, and in fact the first 10 nights we paid nothing for our stopovers. In France it is especially easy, as the signage to the motorhome points tends to be very good. In Italy, the areas are there, however the signs are much more sparse. We found that the paid sostas tended to be signposted more readily than the free ones. In most major towns in both Italy and France you can easily find water and emptying facilities and often this is free or included in the cost of your stop.

Our bible was the Camperstop Europe book which we relied on daily to find where to head to. What was invaluable to us was the GPS coordinates that we were able to input into our Garmin Sat Nav. They were 100% accurate everytime, and we cannot praise it enough.

Highlights
Wilding camping here- Rome De Tarn – a stones throw from a beautiful river, and completely away from it.

Staying in the alps here- La Breole and stumbling across the most beautiful Alpine lake

Lake Orta, Italy free sosta here

Venice

Florence

Pisa

Monaco/Monte Carlo – underground motorhome parking follow signs for Fontvielle €8 for 4 hrs

St Tropez aire here

We had the most amazing time, and can’t wait to get out again! Thanks for reading, and if you have any questions please get in touch!

Until next time
Lx

France/Italy Part 8: Champagne – St Valery Sur Somme – Wissant (Calais)

Bluebell the motorhome is parked up on the official aire on the outskirts of the pretty St-Valery- Sur Somme, along with 30 odd other vans from right across the continent. Amazingly, and happily, we’ve re found the sunshine here on the north coast!

We’ve both got a slight sense of dejavu being here, as this was the very first French aire that we visited over two years ago in our dear old Daisy! We decided earlier today that this would make a perfect stop off on our journey back to Calais, and we weren’t wrong! The town here is very pretty, in fact the streets here have inspired many artists over the years to paint watercolours of the town. It’s very traditionally French, with a pretty harbour, a long promenade, and lots of little bars and creperies dotted along the Main Street facing out to sea. When we last visited in 2011, it was February and very much out of season, but now it’s even prettier as most of the houses have beautiful floral displays outside their houses, and lining the streets- it’s gorgeous.

We had a easy journey here from Champagne, with a stop at Amiens to get Jazz’s pet passport sorted for our return. We got a bargain actually, the vet only charging €20 – half the price of when we came in May and went to the vet in Honfleur!

We spent an hour or so chatting to a fellow Brit at the aire, who has been over here for 5 months with his wife. They are also coming to the end of their adventure, returning to England next week. I’m so envious of anyone able to tour over here long term. I would love to, but have some convincing to do to Keefy first! It was great to swap stories and advice and nice to meet a chatty fellow Brit!

So we’re now on the last leg of our adventure, travelling north up the peage to Calais. Today’s poa is to hit Cite Europe for a maccy d’s and then a good ol shop- we are then going to the aire at Wissant for a chill ready for our train tomorrow at 9am. We’ve had a brill time, and I’m truly sad to be gong home. I know I could carry on! I think Keefy is looking forward to some home comforts though! Haha

Until next time
Lx

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France/Italy Part 7: French Riviera – Chateauneuf Du Pape – Dijon – Champagne

Bluebell the motorhome is safely parked up amongst some warehouses and caves that make up a champagne maker/distributor on a France Passion site near Epernay. We’re slowly adjusting to being back int norton areas, the weather has changed, and we’ve both had to dig out our jumpers!

We found a fantastic aire on the beach just 3 km from St Tropez, and did something which we rarely do- stayed there for more than one night! When we arrived, we were pleased to see that dogs were allowed on the beach- something that is a rarity in Europe during the heights of summer, and to have found a gorgeous little beach right in the heart of the riviera was brill. Our pitch was 50 metres away from the sea and we had an amazing view of all the luxury yachts just off the shore! It was just the sort of place we were after, and we had an amazing 2 days relaxing on the beach, swimming and sleeping!

We reluctantly packed our things up on Saturday morning to turn Bluebell round and begin the journey north. We both didn’t really want to leave, but equally, we didn’t want to have a mammoth drive back to Calais, we wanted to pad it out a little. So we set off Chateauneuf du Pape, where we’ve been before, and loved. It was supposed to be only a 2 hour journey, but unfortunately we weren’t the only ones heading north, and our journey time was doubled with traffic jams for the majority of the journey! Once we arrived all thoughts of traffic and leaving the seaside vanished- we both adore the wine, and got so excited see the vines, and find the France passion vineyard that we stayed at last time. It’s a beautiful house, surrounded by vines and mountains, and is blissfully quiet. We had a fantastic afternoon and evening, trying the wines, buying the wines, then of course drinking the wine!!

Inevitably, next morning we both awoke feeling a little worse for wear! We popped into the local supermarket to stock up on a hangover kit- annadin, coca cola, chocolate and fizzy water and set off to Dijon. Once again, we weren’t the only ones travelling and we hit huge delays, turning our 3.5 hour journey into a 7 hour beast. We later found out that this particular weekend is known as Black Saturday/Sunday as everyone is travelling back home after their hols!

We were intending on staying on a France Passion vineyard near Beaune, but we still we to feeling quite up for wine tasting, so opted for a free aire in the pretty town of Nuit St George. It was a pretty little town, and we enjoyed a short wander round, but we opted for an early night and locked ourselves away at only 7pm!

Next morning we awoke feeling much brighter, although the weather was still grim, and we set off towards the champagne region. On the route we mused about whether we had done the right thing leaving St Tropez when we did. We’ve still got a few days before we need to be at Calais, and the weather is depressing- maybe we should have stayed put in the sun for a couple of extra days and then done the long journey back in just two days. With the heavy traffic it feels like we’ve driven for long periods of time, and its seeming quite relentless. Never mind, next time we will know!

We reached our France passion mid afternoon after trying and failing to find two other France passion sites! We love France Passion and will always support it, however find the directions often impossible to follow. Why they can’t use coordinates I don’t know, or even a road name would be good! Never mind!!

We had a nap when we arrived, you know what they say- as you get older it takes longer to shift the hangovers….! After a nap and a freshen up we felt much more up for trying out the champagne that is made on the premises. It was nice, and we ended up with a bottle to save (!) maybe for Christmas. We had a chill and watched some Sopranos and hit the sack at 10pm! It was very quiet and again, we both slept like logs! We’ve made an appointment for Jazz for his return to England tablet in the vets in Amien, so we shall stop there on the way to St Valery Sur Somme, which is where we plan to spend our penultimate night in France.

Until next time

Lx

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France/Italy Part 6: Venice- Pisa – San Remo – Monaco

Bluebell the motorhome is parking overlooking the one and only Mediterranean Sea. We had a fantastic 3 days covering about 500 miles! We hadn’t really intended on travelling so many miles at this stage in so little time, but there were a few reasons why, come Monday morning, we adjusted our route to swing by the French Riveria a few days earlier than planned. The main being the heat- we had a terrible nights sleep on Sunday after our day in Venice mainly because of the heat, but also because we’d managed to pick the sosta which was about 300metres from a bar, which at 11pm at night turned from quiet bar in the middle of nowhere, to rave bar which I’m not exaggerating here, attracted probably 100+ cars traipsing in and out until 4 am. Usually we would have left, but we were trapped in the parking area by a height barrier, which allowed the cars in and out, but not us! So we had to grin and bear it, and eventually drifted off as the sun came up, but woke feeling terrible!

We made the decision to fuel with coffee and croissants and hit the road to Pisa. It was a long old journey (4hrs on the motorway) but we were sure we were doing the right thing, as neither of us had been to Pisa. We found the sosta in Pisa easily, it was very well signposted for a change! Before heading into town to see the famous tower, we grabbed 40winks which helped. It took us a little while to actually locate the tower once we’d made it into the town itself, but once we did, words can’t describe how exciting it was! I think we were both wary as we had heard that it was a dump there (especially the outskirts) from various people- I can honestly say, we didn’t find it like that at all. The piazza where the tower and cathedral are are beautiful, and the rest of the town has its own charm, along with the usual touristy shops and fashion shops. The tower itself was worth every single mile we drove to get there. Seeing it for real, not on tv, or in a book, is just so cool. We’ve read every tour book going, we’ve even watched a documentary, but seeing it for real, and how it defies gravity is just mesmerising. We stood looking at it for at least an hour, then spent another hour trying to get the right angle to take the famous pic of us pushing it up. On the way Keith said to me “I’m not sure you should do that picture, it will be embarrassing”- as soon as we arrived all you could see were tons of people doing the same thing! Haha!

We had a good relax at the sosta that night but it was so hot and muggy. It was evident we were going to get a storm. And my gosh, did we get a storm! It lasted about 3 hours, from 1-4am and was great to watch, but we were hoping to have a good nights sleep, and this just never happened!

Next morning, we were due to stay in Lucca just down the road. The storm hadn’t cleared the air at all, and it was 35 degrees at 9:30am. We both we craving a different sort of heat, it was just so humid down there, so we made the decision to leave Lucca for this time, and drive all the way up to San Remo, on the Italian Med coast. It was another long drive, but as soon as we arrived at the sosta in San Remo, we knew we’d done the right thing. Although it was still 35 degrees, there was a nice sea breeze and we had the most amazing view of the sea and palm trees from our van. We enjoyed a cycle down to the main bit of San Remo, was was traditionally Italian and the coastline was so pretty. We had a great nights sleep, which was overdue, and woke feeling fresh as daisies! Today’s plan was to follow the coast round to Monaco, and then Nice.

We managed to find the motorhome parking ok in Monaco, but it was definitely down to luck rather than signs! The motorhome parking area is underground- Monaco is obviously way too posh to have big white boxes on wheels parked up!!! We had a fab time wandering round the harbour, celeb spotting and trying to figure out who owned which huge boat. We then head across to an aire just outside of Nice. It was ok, but didn’t grab us, so we filled with water and head on- our book indicated there was an aire at nearby Cannes, and failing that there was a France passion near too. Leaving that aire was the biggest mistake we have made all holiday. We promptly got stuck in a 2 hour traffic jam on the way to Cannes, then the aire was non existent, the town grotty, amd no parking whatsoever! No problem, lets try the France passion site- oops, another 45 min traffic jam, the France passion site was nowhere to be seen. By now, it was gone 6pm! We’d left Monaco at 2pm and travelled 25 miles!!! We decided to leave that area and carried on a bit further round the coast towards St Tropez, towards an aire that was in the book. Unfortunately luck was not on our side, well it was coming up to 7:30pm- the aire was crammed full, so we’ve ended up just down the road on the sea front with 5 other vans who tried the aire unsuccessfully! We did however manage a dip in the sea, we’ve got a private beach here, and the view is pretty good!!

Until next time

Lx

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France/Italy Part 5: Lake Garda – Verona – Venice

Bluebell the motorhome is parked along with several other European vans on the outskirts of the one and only Venice! Today we crossed over the 1500 miles milestone, and we are thrilled we’ve made it this far! Amazingly, we’ve only used 4 tanks of fuel- so were averaging around just under 400 miles per tank- we’re happy with that!

Yesterday we spent a day mooching in charming Verona, which we thoroughly enjoyed, and we got another freebie on our overnight parking as when we pulled into where the sat nav told us the official sosta was, we saw 10+ vans in a huge car park next door. We pulled in and asked a French motorhoming family a) was it possible to stay here overnight and b) how much? We were pleased when they said it was ok and free, and celebrated by having a pizza lunch in the main square. Verona is a lovely place to spend the day, we enjoyed taking in the sights, including the amphitheatre and of course the famous balcony from Romeo and Juliet (however my guide book told us that this is infact not true, it was erected by Verona council in the 1920s to boost tourism!) it was still a great sight to see, and we thoroughly enjoyed it there, despite the 40 degrees heat!!

We had a chill (or rather bake) in the evening and slept well, despite the temperature in the van remaining stable at 30 degrees all night!

We set off this morning for our sosta on the outskirts of Venice! We both were very excited, I’ve been before but Keith hasn’t! We arrived at 1030 am and set off to find our water bus to the centre. It was great exploring Venice and showing Keith all the sights, but my god, its hot!!! Jazz dealt amazingly with the heat, but what he really enjoys is laying under the tables in European cities, watching the world go by! So, to treat him, and us, we treat ourselves to lunch at a trattoria near to Rialto Bridge, and we had the most amazing calzone pizza! We’ve both been impressed with the prices over here eating out. Today obviously has been more expensive as we’ve been in Venice, but yesterday we had pizza for 6 euros each in Verona overlooking the main square and arena!

It’s boiling again tonight, but it doesn’t matter, bluebell so far is doing great and we are finding plenty of free water so we can shower to our hearts content!

Tomorrow we are heading towards Pisa!! We may miss San Marino this time, as its a 160 mile detour, and we are thinking of swinging back to France for the last week to enjoy some cheaper fuel, but also have a look round the French Riviera! The joys of motorhoming mean we can change route right at the last minute! For now though, I’m looking forward to getting to Pisa, and having a couple of days in Tuscany! 🙂

Until next time

Lx

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France/Italy Part 4: Lake Orta- Lake Maggiore- Lake Garda

Bluebell the motorhome is parked up here overlooking the lovely Lake Garda! It’s been a hot day again tots, nearly 37 degrees on one pharmacy temperature sign that we passed! Yesterday, we begrudgingly left Lake Orta for Lake Maggiore, just down the road. We nipped into the supermarket on route to stock up on supplies, everything here is more expensive than France, but looks delicious! We carried on to the sosta at Cannobio, which we knew was going to be our first night of paid parking, but had been recommended to us as a place to visit. As luck would have it, we ended up not having to pay as the machine was broken! Result!! We parked up between two Italian vans, and promptly got told off in loud and fast italian! We still aren’t exactly sure what we did, it was definitely a space, however we think the gist was that they were friends and wanted the free space to be their communal area! Well, luck wasn’t on their side, as they’d inadvertently picked on the wrong Brit, my northern stubbornness wasn’t going to let them intimidate us, so I said in my best italian that we were only there for the one night and there was nowhere else to park- if id have known the Italian for “so there” i would have no doubt dropped it in- a mixture of hormonalness, and fed up ness of being bipped during our journeys made me grouchy!!

We set off to explore the town, which is pretty pastel coloured fronts, a huge promenade and lovely restaurants and bars overlooking the lake. It’s much bigger than Orta, but equally as charming. We picked up a leaflet for a cycle trail and set back to pick up the bikes. It was a great trail, took us into the mountains and back down to the town. We stopped at the beach for a cheeky dip in the lake to cool off, then set back to the sosta. I should have known, Italians are clearly a match in the stubborn department as the northern me, and they had promptly set out all their gear right outside our door. It was so spread out we couldn’t even get to the back of our van with the bikes!!! We’d noticed that a space had come up down the pretty end of the area, however I was reluctant to move, I wanted to remain stubborn!! In the end, we did, and we were rewarded with a fantastic campsite size pitch, in its own private glade, and a view of the river and mountains! We enjoyed the evening chilling with some local wine and watched the sun go down. It was wonderful.

This morning we decoded to give Como a miss, and therefore set off towards Garda. It was a very easy journey, although 3 hours, it was mainly motorway. The tolls here are so cheap compared to France! Our 120 mile journey on the motorway cost no more than €10, in France I reckon it would have been nearer €40.

We’ve pitched up on a massive sosta next to the lake on the outskirts of Sirmione. We cycled into the town this afternoon and had a wander and some famous ice cream- I had apple and Keith had raspberry, it was gorgeous! The sosta costs €18 with services, including free wifi. It’s landscaped like a campsite and as that feel to it, but we are happy enough to pay for it, we know we are safe, and we have just watched the most amazing sunset from our window. Besides, an actual campsite here would be double.

Tomorrow we are moving on to Verona to reinact Romeo and Juliet and have a wander!!

Until next time,

Lx

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France/Italy Part 3: Pont D’Arc – The Alps (La Breole) – Italy(!) Lake Orta

Bluebell the motorhome is parked up on a wonderful free Italian Sosta, overlooking the beautiful Lake Orta. The sun is shining, it’s very hot, and we are having a wonderful time!

We had a great nights sleep at our France Passion site in Vallion Pont D’Arc and awoke feeling relaxed and excited that our journey was about to take us into the Alps! It was a longish journey (4 hrs) but spectacular, driving past fields lined with Cotes de Rhone vines, through amazing gorges that make us feel like we were in the Wild West, and then up into the most fantastic Alpine countryside, that was green and spectacular and inspired us to sing songs from The Sound of Music, well nearly!

We arrived at our aire for the night, a free aire, with free services ( we actually haven’t had to pay for accommodation yet, thanks France!) and cycled the 2 km down hill to a beautiful and larger than expected lake. It was buzzing with boats, wind surfers, swimmers, and had the dramatic and spectacular backdrop of the Alps. We had a dip, tried again to encourage Jazz to swim, and then tackled the 2 km back up hill! Back on site, we enjoyed a chill and made friends with both our neighbours, a French couple and a Dutch couple. Unfortunately despite a lovely relaxed evening, we had a terrible night sleep- the aire was next to the football pitch which had youths on playing noisy football til at least 3 am!!!

We got up early the next morning feeling bleary eyed and tired, but nevertheless excited about our impending trip further into the Alps, and then into Italy! It was a spectacular journey, and Bluebell handled it amazingly- the temperature light only came on the once and then the fan soon cooled us down!

We were heading for Cherasco, just near to Bra and Asti, but once we arrived, we didn’t fancy it, and so carried on for our next stop, Lake Orta. It is stunning here, we have fallen in love with it here. We are staying on another free aire (or sosta as they are known here in Italy). Our first impressions on motorhoming in Italy are good, as long as you are organised (which we are). Our book, Camperstops Europe, has proved so far to be invaluable, and as a result we have yet to pay a penny for overnight working, and only 3 lots of 2 euro for services. Tonight is our 8th night! So it’s 6 euros for accommodation in 8 nights. The solar panel is working a treat, so we are able to use everything in the van as though we had electric, and saving all this money on accommodation costs has meant more money for enjoying ourselves! Which we did last night, by indulging in a litre of beer each overlooking the lake, a pizza each, some wine and an ice cream! Britain- wake up!!

Today we are staying at Orta San Giulo, as we can stay here 2 nights for free, which gives us a chance to completely relax, explore and enjoy! It’s a beautiful romantic town with tiny streets and lanes to explore, and we love it here. Will post pics next time- tomorrow we move an hour down the road to Lake Maggiore.

Until then, arrivaderci!

Lx

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France- May half term 2013 (2) Nr Granville – Le Mont St Michel – Cancale

Bluebell the motorhome is parked on our own private glade in a beautifully landscaped aire overlooking the bay of Michel, and Cancale, amongst about 20 other continental motorhomes. As far as we can see, we are the only Brits.

We had a fantastic evening on the France Passion site last night, and slept like logs. We didn’t wake up until after 9:30, and the sun was beating down on us already rather hot.

We made our way to Cancale, stopping at Le Mont St Michel for a couple of hours en route. We had both seen pictures of Le M ST M, however they don’t do it justice. It is truly spectacular. We were lucky to be visiting on a glorious day, the blue sky backdrop made the rock stand out even more.

We paid the €12:50 to park (ouch) almost a little bit begrudgingly, and not knowing whether we would have to pay entrance fees once we had walked the 40 mins up the causeway. We were also slightly concerned whether we could even take Jazz in, as we saw signs for kennels on our route. However, we carried on anyway, hoping for the best. Once we got to the entrance we happily discovered a) we didn’t need to pay anymore, and b) Jazz could come on with us!

The island itself is a maze of tiny streets, with bars, restaurants, shops, hotels and absolutely oozes character. It reminded us Carcassonne, and we enjoyed wandering the streets for an hour or two. It was lovely and warm, and we felt like we were a million miles away from England – despite only being 20 odd miles across the channel!

After lunch, we hit the scenic route towards Cancale. It took about 40 mins, and we passed through some lovely pretty French villages.

We easily found the aire in Cancale, and were impressed to see it was only €6 for the night, with services. We settled in, had a nap and then walked the short distance down to the town. The town itself isn’t as pretty as we had anticipated, however it is famous amongst foodies for its oysters. We had a beer in a bar overlooking the sea, and I debated whether or not to try an oyster whilst here. They are selling them everywhere, in restaurants, bars and also on market stalls fresh off the boats.
I’ve tried an oyster before in Sheringham about 13 years ago and it didn’t go well, but I decided that I would give it a go whilst here- Keefy on the other hand was not keen at all so passed!

I asked in my best French at the market stall how much one would cost to try there and then. The kind man took pity on my dodgy French and said I could have one as a gift. He prepared it and off I went. I tried to be brave, and I almost got it in my mouth 4 times, however in the end it was just too much and I ended up vomming it out! That’s me and oysters done, if I can’t do it here, in oyster country then there’s just no hope for me!

We’ve had a great evening chilling in the evening sun outside Bluebell, Jazz is completely zonked out and behaving incredibly calmly for him!

Tomorrow we are heading for Dinan, and we’ve heard the weather forcast is good again. 🙂

Until next time
Lx

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