Week 6 Italy – La Spezia, Liguria

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.

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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.

Genoa

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.

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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.

Gelateria Chiavari

Gelateria Chiavari

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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.

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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”.

My new car :)

My new car 🙂

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Week 6a Italy – Savona, Liguria

Having driven along a fair section of the Italian Riviera in the last few days, I can honestly say that I’m moved beyond belief by the amazing scenery to be viewed by following the coastal road from San Remo to Genoa.

We travelled the first bit on the motorway (as per Sandra’s’ previous post) and today we’ve just done a large section on the “old road” through the coastal towns/resorts from Diano Marina to Savona. Its only about 75km, which would be gone in a flash on the motorway, but by “going scenic” we took nearly 4 hours, being caught out at one point by a large detour through the mountains due to a long term road closure and missing the right diversion, took us about 20km through the mountains over some of those legendary “Italian job” type hairpin roads that you see in the movies!……. not really designed for Bella Vega coaches full of gold bullion……. nor campervans, however the views from the top were truly awesome.
Over the years, man has invested zillions and zillions into road and rail building around the world, I think most must have gone into building the links around this region! The motorway, often high up on the mountainside,  crosses countless massive viaducts hundreds of metres above the ravines and often a kilometre or more in length, only to disappear seconds later into huge tunnels through the mountains. Its unnerving driving over the viaducts with the huge drops protected only by barriers no higher than the M1 central reservation armaco, then disappearing into the semi black of a tunnel…….. again and again.
However, its only when you start to follow the old road, which in itself was a remarkable feat of engineering when built, that you begin to realise the true engineering planning and design which must have gone into the motorway, as you travel along, occasionally glimpsing the motorway 100’s of metres up the mountainside above you – also the pure hard labour that must of been expended 150 years ago, building the main railway line along the coast from La Spezia to the French border……… all truly awesome!
Tonight’s campsite, chosen, for a change, by yours truly, is not as expected for €19 a night…… and we’ll be on the move again pretty handy in the morning…… its looked sooooo nice in the acsi book too, how deceptive a couple of strategically taken photos and carefully worded text can be eh? Look up 2292, then transpose to …… grey shingle/stone beach, buildings and foundations on beach side of railway (main line) falling or fallen into the sea, site predominantly quite old permanently sited touring vans, 3m high steel fence around site, looks like a concentration camp compound! Internet available extra cost @ €8 for 5 hours, site sandwiched between motorway 300m above (I thought it was pigs that flew, not 40ft artics!!) and main rail line (about 5m away from our van) with intercity express trains every hour or so.

Tomorrow, Sandra will be choosing again ……. thank God!

Week 6 Italy – Imperia, Liguria

P1070371Yes, 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.

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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 😉

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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.

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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 🙂

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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.

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