It’s fair to say the Italian Riviera goes on and on and on. It’s not that the distance is that great, more that the coast road is slow, twisting and ambling. Our average speed doesn’t get much over 25 mph but that isn’t such a bad thing as it gives plenty of time to look around. Since we crossed the border we have done nearly 240 km and other than the day in Diano Marina where we saw a million motorhomes, we haven’t seen a single one actually on the coast road. We guess that means those in the know use the tolls and then drive off at the exit to the part of the coast they are visiting. It makes sense as taking this route has increased our journey times from under 2 hours on the toll, to well over 8 hours so far. However, for us its been a revelation, one of the most unspoiled coastlines we have been lucky enough to visit, made possible really due to our winter transit, as if its this slow now it must be absolute hell in summer.
We moved on fairly handy from Campsite Colditz on Friday morning and feeling fresh and ready for a challenge we headed into the depths of Genoa. It was one of those moments where on the map it looked such a little place then surely we would zip through it on a reasonable road. In reality it isn’t that little, the roads are pretty rubbish for a city and no-one with more than two wheels was zipping anywhere. We coped reasonably well with the roads, the Italian cars were fine but the scooters and mopeds made it feel like driving through Quadrophenia. They come at you from all angles, overtake on both sides, they appear out of nowhere and there is no way they are giving way to any other vehicle. It isn’t a stereotypical view that Italians all ride scooters and mopeds like maniacs, they do, its not debatable, the wacky driving conventions are just innately Italian.
It took us an hour to wing our way through the city, every-time we thought we must be coming out the other side, another view of city life appeared around the corner. We didn’t actually stop in the city, to be honest nothing really jumped out and said this is a place we want to spent a few hours or leave the van unattended for any amount of time. There are some incredibly beautiful buildings but overall everything felt a bit tatty, a bit industrial and a lot way to busy – so despite wasting our morning trudging into Genoa we then trudged straight back out the other side.
Further along the coast, when we had finally escaped Genoa, we came across Chiavari, so much more the type of place we are enjoying, medium sized town with plenty of life and some interesting looking places to explore. First task is always finding somewhere to stay and Italy has been more testing than France by a mile. The sostas are either closed or extortionate prices for a bit of tarmac, and there aren’t too many of them on the coast road. The campsites are mainly shut, with those that are open seemingly making the most of any dumb Brits that are about by charging well over top dollar prices. Without much hope we followed a campsite sign in the middle of town to Campeggio Al Mare. Five minutes along the seafront we found the site, complete with owner at the gate, but it looked very empty so we were unsure if it was open. Iain popped over to check and a few minutes later was back having agreed a fairly reasonable €20, and obtaining the keys to the campsite! The owner was off home as there weren’t any other campers on site, so we were given instructions to let ourselves out when we wanted to go anywhere but to lock the 8 ft gates behind us, said owner would be back tomorrow to collect our money and his keys 😕
Chiavari is a fishing town, loaded with character, ornate apartment blocks along narrow, twisting streets and a long harbour which is currently having a new beach built right in the centre (to replace the dull looking grey sand one there at the moment) the town is famous for it’s ancient medieval arcades, known as Caruggio dritto, the best way to describe these is like the Rows in Chester, they house mainly specialty shops and super cute Italian coffee houses which open out onto the cobbled alleys. Walking through town we came across market day and obviously we had a look around for a bargain, no money changed hands as markets here sell high end expensive goods – this is not a place for pound shop type bargains. As we wandered round the streets in the market we realised that what appears at first to be ornate plaster-work on several buildings was Trompe L’Oeil which then had us questioning what was real on every street. After a few days we have learned that pretty much all the overly ornate appearances, even on historic buildings, in this part of Liguria are painted. It is so well done that it’s really hard to pick out unless you get up very close.
After nearly a week in Italy we were seriously lacking in the ‘must do’ department. We keep getting messages of things we must see and do in Italy but not a soul had mentioned our top two – pizza and gelato :). Needing to tick at least one off we headed for the Gelateria, for those that know the Werthers Original advert, the Gelateria was similar with a gold sheen running through the shop, for once the photo does do it a little justice. They tried to sell us tubs, no way we wanted cones who cared if it was winter to them, for us we needed cones to wander around town with. The verdict, absolutely nothing like an ice-cream then? more akin to very thickly whipped and chilled cream with incredible flavours, yes we will be repeating the experience very soon. Culturally it may not have been a visit to Rome or Florence, but for us it was the absolute essence of a trip to Italy.
We left the campsite Saturday (returning our keys) and decided to go 50 minutes down the road to another little site we thought might be open. When we were 15 minutes away we hit a diversion as the road followed old rail tunnels along the side of the cliffs and the signs showed 1.8 metre width restrictions. We drove up into the mountains, and up and signs appeared advising it was mandatory to have snow tyres as we were getting so high. Then came the rain, torrential rain with fog thrown in too for good measure. Eventually we saw a road that headed down back to wards the coast, we took it pronto. Down the mountainside on a one track road it was visibility pretty well nil, and as the road got narrower we squeezed the van down praying we were not going to meet anyone coming up, right at the bottom met a minibus, we let him do the reversing and found ourselves back on the coast road. Where we were faced with – another diversion sign due to tunnel widths! The diversion had the narrowest roads known to man so what on earth were the tunnels like? We spotted a young Italian lad stood in the road with a fluorescent jacket on (orange jacket means knows what is going on we think) we gestured wdith of van, he said fine go and ignore the width signs on the tunnels – I wouldn’t have, Iain did, end result we sailed through over 4 km of tunnels with room to spare and we are 2.32 metres wide, so the diversion signs stating 1.8 metres are obviously just there for some annoyance value? more of the joys of not understanding enough words in a language to work out what is going on.
The light at the end of the tunnels was Deiva Marina, a small village by the sea and not too far from the Cinque Terre, which we plan to visit after the weekend. A result in that after all the hassle of getting here the campsite is actually open and even better its only €15 all in, we did a swift handbrake- kettle manoeuvre and spent a couple of hours looking at the rain and doing some research on routes and places to stop next week.
Deiva Marina (there isn’t a marina) is split into two, the newer town is down by the sea, behind it stands the old town with the smallest alleys and medieval houses. There is a church in the centre that dates back to 1730, but sadly it was locked up. The maze of alleyways was literally just wide enough to walk through and right in the middle there was a small area with an outdoor cafe. Despite the drizzle it was perfect, we kept expecting someone to fling open a window, step onto their verandah and burst into O Sole Mio, a little slice of old Italy where we least expected it.
Today, Sunday, we have had a day of rest, housework and planning; the van is spick and span, we are emptied and filled, the washing is done and we have a route of sorts for the next few days. The rain has gone and the sun is peeking back through so we are hopeful for our train trip to the Cinque Terre tomorrow. Iain has been out in the village and found La Momma Italia who was selling homemade pizza and focaccia for breakfast from her little frontroom old fashioned shop. We had it for lunch instead, and that is our second ‘must do’ ticked, verdict was ace pizza but the focaccia was even more scrumptious 🌯 Since then he has been back for milk and then a third time for Panettone and Crostata. She is at least 102 years old, but me thinks her home baking is certainly turning Iain’s head 🙂
In the last 6 weeks we have travelled 2654 miles and spent £433 on fuel – 27.14 miles per gallon. Slightly lower than we would normally expect but we are running the heating on diesel every evening. Diesel here in Italy is on average around €1.40 per litre, whereas we were paying more like €1.17 in France, still cheaper than home. Overall the all powerful spreadsheet that controls all finances and tells us what is and isn’t possible at a glance it says “yes, you are under budget, Pass Go and continue your travels”.