Yes, at last we have dragged ourselves out of France and made it over the border to Italy. A great trip, mainly because we took the toll road – again. Our Sat Nav estimated from Taradeau to the border would take 6 1/2 hours avoiding tolls or 2 1/2 hours with tolls. Looking at the longer route we were going to run right along the coast through Nice and Monaco and it just didn’t appeal. Everything we read said stopping in Monaco with a motorhome was very difficult and we didn’t see the point of 4 hours driving just to be able to say we had driven through. We bit the bullet and agreed tolls, praying we wouldn’t regret this as we had no idea on tolls costs.
The first plus point for the toll roads were the views, the motorway is high enough up to give amazing vistas both over towards the Alps and down along the coast over the Cote D’Azur. The only downside was the toll booths which totally freaked me out, some gave tickets, some just wanted money, the ones that wanted money didn’t seem to want notes only coins or cards. There is of course a button to push if you want help, not that anyone is coming over to help when you do push it. I tried this at two different toll booths, nothing despite there being toll staff standing yards away. The big question then, how much? Class 2 at all 5 tolls (4 in France – 1 in Italy), the total was €25.30. We are not going to argue with that to save over 4 hours driving, we would probably have spent more than that on lunch in Monaco if we had been able to park. We wont become full toll road converts, we haven’t got a single euro built into the budget for tolls, (a slight oversight on my behalf). Therefore they will remain treats for high days and holidays and when we cannot face driving through major cities which look like causing melt-down situations between driver and navigator.
Italy rolled into view before we really realised it, just time to snap a border photo and France was behind us. We felt cheated at the border, mainly because there isn’t a real border. We were a little nostalgic about the good old days when you queued for ages, then a very stern Customs officer would talk to you in a language you didn’t understand, you held your breathe held whilst the prized stamps were added to the passports, then panic set in case you hadn’t changed enough money – in this case into zillions of Lira. Nowadays the first you know it’s a different country is when the mobile phone pings and it’s an O2 or Vodaphone welcome to Italy, not the same at all.
As is usual we were fairly unprepared for our own arrival in Italy, apprehension set in in that we had no idea what we were doing, we didn’t know a single word of Italian, no plans of where to stay etc. This was counter-balanced by a slight giddiness at actually making it into a second country at long last. The nearest good sized town over the border was Sanremo, which seemed as good a place as any to start and we were thinking a camperstop or sosta would be our best bet. As we drove along the coast road we saw a massive sign to Camper Village at Santo Stefano Al Mare, 800 metres up in the hills, even better when we got there it was really stunning with parking plots along the terraces overlooking the olive groves. Things were going really well, until we were told it was €35 for a night! As Iain got up off the floor it was reduced to a special deal of €25, we did our own version of the French shrug, turned around and left. As we did we were beginning to think we may have been hasty as Italian sites could really be lot more expensive, but no, after checking out Camper Village on their own website we found they advertise the pitches at €13 – just a bit of an attempt at a rip off then 😉
Driving along the coast road from Sanremo we ambled through colour splashed towns and villages and just past Imperia we came upon the smallish town of Diano Marina where there is a sosta for at least 100 vans and next door an ace campsite. We pulled into the site, Marino Camping, and despite it being really busy for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception they had spaces which ranged from €13 to €18 per night, added to this are the best showers we have found anywhere on a campsite, after 5 weeks of van showers and a couple of tepid attempts on French sites we are in shower heaven.
The beach is 300 metres away and the town centre just 150 metres. The beach is very typical of what we would expect of the Italian Riviera (I just wanted to type that as it sounds very cool for us to be here). On Monday when we arrived the sun was shinning and town was incredibly busy. We saw more motorhomes in an afternoon than we had seen in total during the previous 5 weeks in France. Despite it being warmer than an early summer day in Wales the Italians were well wrapped up in coats, boots and scarves, we on the other hand were in summer wear.
We are the only Brits on site, the majority here are Italian couples in their 70’s with La Momma Italias in evidence at every turn. Yesterday when I went to the washboards to do a bit of hand washing I met up with several of the Mommas, the talk is fast and flows continuously, occasionally they seem to pause for a breathe but not that often. These 4ft miniature powerhouses are like manual washing machines, in small sinks they were beating out sheets, towels and one was washing the carpets from her motorhome. Our very own little Momma next door washes her bloomers each day and then pops over to hang them on the olive tree on our pitch as she doesn’t have a tree handy, who are we to argue if the woman needs an olive tree we are happy to share. Our Italian is coming on very slowly, we know about 10 words now and tried them out in the fruit market earlier on. The pronunciation is probably terrible but we ended up with what we wanted, albeit with a fair bit of pointing. The chap serving threw in two oranges and said in perfect English “because you try to speak Italian” – that’s it now we will be trying to speak Italian in a bar and see if they throw in some red wine 🙂
We cycled back to Imperia today, a fairly good cycle path for the first few miles, then we actually rode up through the town amongst proper Italian job traffic. It wasn’t planned really we just got a bit caught up in the traffic flow and found ourselves peddling like mad up the hill to as there was no pavement or place to get off and walk. Once we found our bearings we realised there was a path of sorts through the marina and alongside the beach so we used that on the return trip stopping off for a wander around some of the super yachts, we both fancy a week on ‘Imagine’, checking on Google its €530,000 a week for 14 people, bit of a bargain then.