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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“And now it’s time for the feature presentation…”- FRANCE SUMMER 2011

We set ourselves a challenge. How much of France could we see in 2 weeks. The answer: just under 2000 miles worth!

Have a look at our map- I think we did a rather good job, don’t you?!

 

 

I’m going to try and do this methodologically: Here goes…..

Day 1- Calais – Champagne Region. Stayed at a France Passion site- CHAMPAGNE COUVENT-PARENT

Fab journey down and a very exciting experience pulling up onto our first official France Passion site. We didn’t really know what to expect, we just knew we had to say hello. I set about in my best french, and managed to get us some water and a pitch. I was quite impressed with myself. We also managed to establish that they made their champagne in their back garden and we could meet “monsieur” for a tasting at 6pm. It was so exciting. At 6pm the man knocked at Daisy’s door and off we went. He spoke a little english, and I attempted some french. Between us we coped and before we knew it we had done a tour of the factory and were sat with his family in his tasting celler trying out all the champagne. MAN IT TASTED GOOD. REALLY GOOD!!! We bought a few bottles, at a bargain price of 10 euros each. Keefy reckoned it was better than the stuff he had had in Claridges back in his old life. I thought it was the bees knees. Monsieur picked us some fresh figs off his fig tree to take on our onward journey, we slept like a log and it was an absolutely perfect start to our adventure.

Day 2- Champagne region to Dijon.

We stopped at another French Passion site somewhere near Dijon. I was absolutely hanging from the champagne tasting but it didnt stop us pulling up at another vineyard. It was LASHING down with rain, so we thought the best place to hide was the tasting cellar…. hehe. Hair of the dog and all that. My goodness, the wine was to die for. We purchased a few bottles at the bargain price of 4 euros each I think. Absolutely yum tastic!! There was a massive storm that night and we watched an English family attempting to slide there way onto the field at about 10pm. They had done the journey from Dover to there in one. The looked KNACKERED poor things. They were even crazier than us!

Day 3- Down South…..

To cut a long story short. This was the BEST DAY EVER. The reason is because we missed the turn off on the motorway in the pouring rain. Yes you read that right. We may have had a light disagreement as to who#s fault it was that we missed the junction.. but this soon was forgotten when we saw, on the map, a place called CHATEAUNEUF -DU PAPE. It was only the name of our absolutely FAVOURITE red wine int he whole wide world!!! A quick Wiki later and we realised it was indeed THE place, and not only that there was a France Passion site on one of the vineyards. ABSOLUTELY WITHOUT FAIL THE BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD!!!! I cannot convey how totally awesome staying there was…..

Day 4- Day – Pape to Cap D’Adge

As soon as we turned off at Chat.. du pape.. the temperate and climate totally changed. Up until then it had been chilly and wet. Suddenly it felt like the med. It was hot and dry and there was that cricket sound you only hear when you are abroad. It was fab.

We moved onto Cap D’Adge for a few days on a site soaking up the rays and the sea. It was nice to just stop for a few days and chill. As you are probably working out from our posts, we don’t do that very often at all!!

We had some surprise visitors on the middle night.. my dad and Jenny who were also in France but further north and not having much luck with the weather rang to ask if we fancied going for a bite to eat that night. They drove an entire DAY down south for a lovely meal by the harbour, and then drove back oop north the next day. It was lovely!

Cap D’adge to Carcassonne

We had read about a French Aire in the heart of Carcassonne, and had decided to give it a go. I’m so glad we did. It was brilliant. I think it was 5 euros for the night and was 5 mins walk to the centre. What a magical place it was. We had a fabulous day exploring the streets, and chilling in the bars. Gosh, I love France.

Carcassone to Sarlat

We headed north to the Dordogne and had a great night on a Duck Pate Farm. It was on the banks of the Dordogne, had its own private beach so you could swim in the river and was fantastic. Sarlat is just wonderful- I’ve been there many times on tour and it was every bit as good as I had remembered. The weather was really hot, and it was just amazing!

 

Sarlat to La Rochelle (via La Rocque- Gageac)

We had a fab time exploring La Rocque- Gageac and were itching to get on the river canoeing, but alas we didn’t really have enough time so settled for a quick cold beer and a wander and vowed to go back someday!

La Rochelle was a lovely town. Unfortunately the weather turned at this point, but we still enjoyed wandering the town, old and new.

La Rochelle to Amboise

I had been here before, and knew that Keefy would enjoy the pretty little town, with a fairytale castle and the home of Leonardo da Vinci. We stayed on a rather random vineyard that produced great wine but was fairly new, and a bit of a walk to the town centre. Couldn’t complain though. We had more than got our moneys worth staying at France Passion sites so far on our trip!

 

Amboise to Versailles

Versailles had been on Keith’s bucket list for ages, and he was desperate to go, so we defied everyone’s advice and hit PARIS in Daisy… gulp. We made it, but surprisingly, despite France being a very motorhome friendly country, and Versailles being the most famous tourist attraction in the country, motorhomes were not allowed any where near!!

Thankfully we found a helpful soul who directed us to a campsite nearby and we pitched up within walking distance.. no thanks to the staff at Versailles..

We then queued for about 2 hours to get in! Bless Keith, he was like a kid at Christmas, couldn’t wait to get through those gates! We enjoyed a full day there exploring, my goodness it was so busy!!! Very impressive hall of mirrors and lots of very expensive painting and decor. I have to be honest. It wasn’t my cup of tea. I found it all a bit TOO MUCH! Too indulgent. Too fancy. Too chintzy. TOO BUSY! But Keith, loved it. And I was so happy to share that with him!

 

 

We had THE MOST AMAZING trip!! We fit in so much, we covered so many miles and we spent a fortune because we were driving a petrol motorhome……. but it worth every penny and I think we can both truly say we have the best memories. Chat… pape was obviously a highlight, mainly because we hadn’t planned it. Carcassonne was a treat, and so was Versaille for Keith. Swimming in the Dordogne will be a lasting memory, as will sitting out til 1am watching the clear skies and shooting stars in the Dordogne

Above all this trip highlighted the reason why we own a motorhome. We love the freedom it gives us and wouldn’t change it for the world! Can’t wait to go back! 🙂