A bridge too far ….. 27/3/15

After a small diversion as our Sat Nav pointed us to a bridge that I barely fit through, let alone Mika

20150323_no go mika diana castellowe finally made it to our first ‘Fattore Amico’ site ‘Al Roseto’, a garden centre which stocked local produce which had a nice tranquil campsite attached to it just outside Diano Marina. We didn’t have to pay for the first night as it was part of the ‘Fattore Amico’ deal, but as we ended up staying two nights the second was 15 euros including electricity.

Whilst exploring the Diano Marina we managed to find several lovely deli’s and bakery’s – purchasing some Biscotti and a couple of bottles of local wine before stopping for a more reasonably priced glass of wine (1 euro 50) in a bar on the way back home…. Italy is definitely going up in our estimations!  The following day was market day so we ventured back into town to experience our first Italian market and despite it mostly consisting of clothes, they had a good selection of local produce including pesto, meats, cheeses and fruit and veg…. however, unlike France, Portugal and Spain though they were pretty much shut by 12:30 which surprised us but at least we know for next time.

Later in the afternoon, taking advantage of a break in the weather, we walked to Cervo another village slightly further along the coast. Cervo is perched on the side of a hill and is made up of lots of tiny alleyways wiggling in between – and in some circumstances underneath – the houses as the village climbs up to the castle at the top…. Absolutely stunning in a ‘shabby chic’ kind of way.

We left Diano Marina and travelled towards Levanto, stopping overnight at an ACSI campsite (Camping La Vesima – 16 euros) on route in Arenzano. The campsite was ‘cosy’ to say the least as it was set up to cram in as many caravans/motorhomes as possible, so even in quiet times like now, we had to move the motorhome in the morning to let someone else get out as they wanted to leave before us …. A slightly odd arrangement, but the staff were more than helpful and we needed to catch up with the washing so it suited the purpose. The journey between Arenzano and Levanto was only 90km, but it twisted up and down between the mountains and the coast, rising and falling, taking in every town and village it can find, high or low. It was a shame that it was raining and the cloud was very low as I am sure that the scenery would have been stunning, but we arrived in one piece, which if you saw some of the roads we travelled on you would appreciate why I won’t ask for more than that!

Levanto is another pretty seaside town on the edge of Cinque Terres, a national park containing five coastal villages which until recently were only accessible by foot or sea. Unfortunately two years ago the torrential rain and flooding destroyed many of the paths through the area and they haven’t re-constructed them so we decided to only spend a day in the park this time, catching the train between all but the last two villages, where we were able to walk the path. It is fairly difficult to find a good place at a reasonable price to park the motorhome, but we found an Aire (another car park with services) next to the station which costs 24 euros for 36 hours – a little more expensive than normal, but they have a bit of a captive market….

The area is beautiful despite the huge number of tourists and each village has a slightly different personality

Riomaggiore, which sits between two hills with lots of tall houses all in different colours

Riomaggiore9_20150327Manerola, surrounded by vinyards layered up the sides of the hills

Manarola7_20150327Corniglia, a small village which sits 100m up on top of a hill rather than meeting the sea… although very picturesque not quite as beautiful as the others so I will save the photo 🙂

Vernazza, Stunning village situated around the harbour. Unfortunately it was heaving with people, so although it looked beautiful from afar, it wasn’t quite as tranquil whilst there ….

Venazza9_20150327Monterosso, the flattest of all the villages spreading along the seafront in two coves

Monterosso2_20150327All in all, it was a lovely day out and as it has rained a fair amount since we arrived in Italy, we were obviously pretty pleased that the sun decide to make a show today. We will definitely look to come back and see more of the area when the weather has been dryer for a longer period and more paths are open.

Having now been in Italy for nearly a week we have decided that it isn’t really designed for motorhomes. The roads are too narrow, the train lines are all built too low so, you either need to be under 2m to get to the other side, or go the very long way round and despite the fact that Italians just dump their car as close to their destination as possible no matter if it is on a roundabout or zebra crossing, there is no parking for the slightly larger vehicle … Mika is a bit sensitive about her size 😦

So far however, the scenery is stunning and the ice-creams aren’t too bad either!

Advertisements

Buongiorno Italia….. 22/3/15

SanRemo2_20150322

After a quick run in the morning and a mad rush to send numerous emails to ensure that we were as up to date as possible before losing internet connection for a few days, we finally said our goodbyes to Emma, Paul, Ozzie and Roo (the dogs) just before mid-day and fled the country……

After entering France, we passed through Fitou (if I was going to choose a French wine it would be a Fitou) – which I never knew was in this area of France (to be fair I hadn’t really thought about it much), but was surprised that the ‘village’ itself was so small.  However, we managed to make it through the area without stopping at a single vinyard … an accomplishment in itself as there were field after field of vine.

We stopped for the night on an Aire (which would have been better described as a station car park) by the beach about 6km outside Séte.  It apparently should have cost 10 euros a night, but no-one came round to collect any money, so it was free 🙂 The location was idyllic if you ignored the mosquitoes which were the size of the average household fly and the trains that ran every ten minutes or so, slowing down to possibly every half an hour over night…. the van didn’t rock each time a train passed, but it was definitely the main line going across the south of France – my mum will remember the one that kept her awake all week when we spent a school holiday in Nice when I was younger 🙂

Despite the mixed feelings about the car park, we did like the fact that there was a bicycle path on our doorstep that appeared to run for miles, so not knowing what tomorrow was going to bring, we both fought off the mosquitoes and went for a run before we moved on.

Séte is very industrial and is home to a massive port, however the town itself is built on canals and it looked like it would have been interesting to explore further.  However, with Italy in mind we kept our focus and passed through even more vinyard … although I wasn’t quite so anxious this time as it was mostly rosé until we arrived at Les Arcs sur Argens.

Once again, we had selected a free Aire (yesterday should have been free in my mind as I didn’t quite read all the details and missed the price…oops) and this one was supposedly attached to a vinyard.  The Aire was a bit grotty and neglected and it looked like a number of the French motorhomes lived there rather than were passing through, they were however all friendly.  It suited the purpose for a stop over as there was also a Hypermarket just down the road enabling us to stock up before we crossed over into the unknown land of Italy…. we also managed to get all the things that are more difficult to buy in Spain and Portugal …. i.e. good jam, barley and taramaslata ….. not forgetting fulfilling the need for a bit of brie and camembert indulgence!

We bought ‘Fattore Amico’ which is the Italian equivalent of ‘France Passion’ containing 500+ farms and restaurants that in theory we should be able to stay at and sample local produce in Italy, so as we didn’t want to cross into Italy and arrive too late on our first day we decided to stay one more night in France stopping at St Laurent du Var just outside Nice….obviously we glanced over towards the sea whilst passing through Cannes to choose an appropriate boat, but decided that they were all lacking in that er…. je ne sais quoi 🙂

The Aire in St Laurent du Var was again free and suited the purpose enabling us to get on the road at a reasonable time in the morning – ok, not really that reasonable, but when you take into consideration the run/exercise, shower, porridge, making sarnies, etc 11am is pretty good isn’t it?

After a busy 20km through to the other side of Nice we wiggled our way through the slightly more mountainous part of the French Riviera, dodging the parked cars, into Monaco and then as quickly back out again, until we crossed the Italian border….. I can’t believe that we have now crossed 7 borders and somehow each time Keith has been driving??? He seems to have it rigged despite us driving on alternate days.  The journey was a very pretty, but a high stress journey due to the route the sat nav took us, we made it in one piece though, so won’t complain.

We had planned to stay on a farm near Diano Castello but as we were passing through SanRemo got distracted by seeing an Aire (10 euros per 24 hours) by the stadium and decided to do a U Turn and stop for the night… or two.  It was very tranquil except for the waves that broke about ten meters behind us and there is a cycle path that runs for roughly 24km passing in front of the Stadium, into SanRemo and along the coast, so a nice traffic free walk into town.

The town itself is split into two, a newer modern plush part with the casino and the older walled town that is made up of rabbit warren alleyways climbing up the side of the hill – all in all an interesting place.

For research purposes (obviously), we stopped for a glass of wine and a beer and despite being given a large basket of crisps and a bowl of nuts to go with our 100ml of wine and 125ml of beer, we were a little taken a back by the 8 euro price tag.  As we can’t be sure whether it is just because we are on the Italian Riviera (although in a more local cafe), we will obviously need to continue the research as we progress through the country 🙂   We were however more pleasantly surprised when the sun finally came out on Sunday afternoon and we had our first Ice Cream of the year costing 2 euros for three flavours …. yum.  We may just have to switch wine for ice cream 🙂

Adios Espana ….. 17/3/15

We finally left Benicassim and headed north towards an Aire near a vineyard …. Sounded perfect as we needed some more wine, however when we arrived the Aire wasn’t where the GPS said it should be so, as it was only 4pm we thought we could either search around a bit further, or head on to Palamos. Palamos is where we had originally planned on going but thought 400km was a bit far to drive in one day, however faced with the dilemma we called ahead to ensure that they had space and following a positive response, decided to hit the road again.

As we drove north the skies got darker, the temperature started to drop and just as we passed Barcelona it started to hail, then sleet – dropping the temperature down to 4 degrees….. a lovely welcome to the area, we knew it would be colder, but ouch….

The sleet was sitting on the road and there was snow up in the hills….. we were both wondering why we left the sunshine in Alicante!!

However as we got closer to Palamos we did come out the other side, and although it was only 7 degrees it had at least stopped sleeting. The Aire (Empordarea – 10 euros a night inc. elec) is fairly new, has good clean facilities and is located 1km from the beach…. Not bad at all.

Sunday was Keith’s Birthday …. So it was quite nice that we didn’t have to drive anywhere. We had a mooch around town in the morning to check out the patisseries – which are of a pretty high standard for Spain – just a shame that we decided to wait until the afternoon to buy something as they were all shut by then …. I am a rubbish wife, not a birthday cake (or anything that resembled one) in sight L … we settled for a bit of Turron (Nougat) instead. We did head out to a local bar watch the Madrid game after dinner … so apparently all was not lost 🙂

Keith has also started to diversify in his skills, my brother had kindly ordered me a new laptop battery as the old one is now only lasting 2 hours so, with the help of a couple of videos on YOUTUBE he managed to take the laptop apart, replace the battery and put it together again with no screws to spare …… I think he may have hidden them somewhere. It appeared to be working yesterday… although I have just realised that it isn’t taking the charge ….. hmmmm, not going to help when we don’t have electricity – time for a new plan, looks like the battery is faulty 😦

We woke to heavy rain on Monday morning which continued until about 4:30 in the afternoon … proper wet stuff, although you would be proud, I did manage to still go for a run despite coming back looking like a soggy dog. For once, we weren’t too disappointed about spending slightly more time inside the motorhome whilst the rain continued to fall as we had so much catching up to do with finances, research and emails having spent the last few weeks out and about a bit more than normal.

Our neighbours (Emma and Paul) had invited us over for a late afternoon drink so we could catch up on some places in Italy ….. I wouldn’t mind, but we didn’t go into much detail on Italy, so not quite sure where the the time went and how it suddenly become 1:30am????

Palamos_20150317

What a lovely impromptu evening with a little too much wine, sherry and port. Nice to meet another couple who are roughly the same age and also into walking, cycling and running …. Apparently we aren’t the only mad ones out here 🙂

So, this is our farewell to Spain for now, tomorrow we plan to cross over into France in transit to Italy. Yet again we have had a great time and despite the last couple of days, we have been really lucky with the weather. We will miss the tapas, Rioja and extra-large gin and tonics …. but are ready to take on a bit of Chianti, Pizza, Pasta and antipasti 🙂

A bit more of Costa Blanca – 13/3/15

I can’t believe where the last ten days has gone and how the temperature has changed …..

To finish off our stay in Alicante, ensuring that we got a well-rounded view of the different parts of Playa San Juan we walked out to the Cabo de las huertas (the point), the wealthy part where from one side the houses look out over Alicante town, and the other onto Playa San Juan and into the mountains ….

Alicante_SanJuan2_20150305

We were a little sad to leave Alicante having spent 10 nights there and despite trying to be good and get a reasonably early night on Friday still didn´t make it back to the motorhome until gone 3am… a good night was had by all 🙂

Although we had originally planned a few stops between Alicante and Valencia we were now out of time, so headed straight to Betera, just outside Valencia where we had booked in at Valencia CamperPark (basic pitch 6 euros a night). The campsite is 500m from a metro station which took us into the center of Valencia where we met up with Steve and Sharon (Keiths’ sister and brother in law) who stayed from Sunday through to Wednesday.

Together we explored Valencia, wandering the streets of the old town, taking in the enormous market and walking the ample promenade along the beach whilst also enjoying a lot of Paella and good tapas. For those of you who didn’t know Valencia is the home of Paella and the traditional Paella is rabbit and chicken …. Yum 🙂 We found one particular restaurant on Sunday afternoon which was so good we ended going back on Tuesday for lunch … if you are ever in the area, I recommend lunch, but if it is the weekend make a reservation or be prepared to wait as we had to wait a good hour and a half for a table. Restaurant El Forca, Roteros 12, Valencia.

Valencia28_20150309

Valencia is famous for its ‘Falles’ which is a festival at this time of year where different communities construct models made out of wood and cork (and polystyrene), set off very loud fireworks at 2pm every day and then burn the models ….. a bit of an odd concept when they cost 370,000 euros each to build and look like this…..

Valencia33_20150309

We went to the main square to watch/listen/feel the fireworks and managed to find a couple of the models which were mostly constructed, although most won’t be on show until the 16th.

After a lovely few days with Steve and Sharon we also moved on on Wednesday to find some friends (Dave, Violet and Connie) we met in Saumur last year who have been spending the winter in Benicassim. Although we were a little apprehensive about staying on a large campsite full of northern Europeans, Bonterra Park (18 euros inc per night) is actually really well set up and it doesn’t feel like you are on top of each other. It feels a bit like a very sociable village where you walk down the street and know most of the people you pass and the location is ideal as it has everything including the beach, supermarket, local bars and restaurants within half a mile – I can definitely see why people like it here…. Although still wouldn’t do it ourselves.

We only planned on staying one night as we have itchy feet to get to Italy now, but after a Bar B Q and a catch up with Dave and Violet we headed to the bar to join in with their quiz team and bumped into Bill and Angela who we met in Bergerac….. it is a small world. We knew they were in the area, but with technology bouncing our emails we hadn’t managed to catch up and assumed that they would be further north by now travelling home, none the less we decided that it would be rude to head off in the morning and agreed to meet for lunch and a catch up.

The extended stay was obviously fate as Villa Real were playing Sevilla in the Europa cup last night, so Keith tagged along with Dave and another friend to watch the game and despite it ending 3-1 the wrong way it was still a good atmosphere and enjoyable. Meanwhile the girls headed out into town to sample some local vino…. A good time was had by all…. And somehow we are still here tonight having agreed to stay ONE more night 🙂

I am obviously pruning my rubber plant incorrectly …. 4/3/15

SantaPola6_20150224

Apologies for being a bit slack over the last week … apparently it has been noted 😦

Since leaving Murcia we stopped off for a couple of nights in Santa Pola before arriving in Playa San Juan where we are still parked up.

In Santa Pola we parked by the beach, just near the marina which was very tranquil, enabling Mika to sunbathe until her solar panels with full …which took until approximately 10am each day – the sun has definitely decided that Spring is here.

Santa Pola at this time of year is a quiet, normal town with a very long stretch of promenade providing good running and walking territory and if you want to venture slightly further, pretty good cycling too.  It was nice to relax for a few days before arriving in Alicante when we knew it would be pretty full on!

We have been to Alicante (and Playa San Juan) a few times before as we have friends who live here that Keith met in 1998 when he spent a couple of months in Alicante.  Some may say he was studying Spanish culture via night school (ahem), others would interpret it as watching the football (World Cup, France), drinking beer and living in a cave …. yes, he really did live in a little cave just below Alicante Castle!

Anyway, I digress – when we were in Barcelona (2008) Miguel (one of the old friends) and Elisa (the new girlfriend, now wife) came up for a few days …. the rest is history – it is home from home!

As we knew we would be staying a few nights we booked into a new Aire (Camper Aire Campello Beach 9-12 euros a night) which is two roads back from Muchavista beach near San Juan.  It only opened back in November and isn’t very big (40 spaces) but is in great location for the beach as well as having the bus and tram stops on the doorstep to get into Alicante should you want to go further afield.

We spent Wednesday through to Sunday enjoying good food, good drink and great company – we have been well looked after and on Saturday not only did Keith get a game of Squash in, we also managed to consume more meat than most carnivorous animals would eat in a week at Miguel and Lisa’s house in the form of a Bar B Q… not complaining though.

The weather has also changed in the last week, the sun is shining, the wind has died down and the shorts have been dug out of the cupboards – it reached 30 degrees in the middle of the day on Monday…. no wonder I had such a bad run in the morning!  Needless to say the temperature has now dropped back down to slightly more normal levels …. it was around 20 degrees yesterday although dropped off sharply in the afternoon and over night.

Playa San Juan is a beautiful long beach with mountains in the backdrop.  At this time of year it is perfect as it is still very quiet, although I am sure that the quantity of people will start to ramp up after Easter.  Unlike Alicante, Playa San Juan (and San Joan D’Alacant, the local town) is mostly made up of second homes for families from Madrid, so it has quite a different, more Spanish feel to it than a lot of touristy beach resorts …. we have been talking about coming back for the winter in the future and our eyes have even strayed into the odd estate agent window!

Having got over the weekend, despite planning on moving on last Monday, we have spent a few extra days here walking and relaxing. We popped into Alicante yesterday to have a look around and I am still always mesmorised by the size of the rubber trees over here …. I am obviously doing something wrong when pruning mine… although I am sure that if they ended up like these, the neighbours may complain 😦

Alicante2_20150303

I just love the way that the trunks and branches grow – it makes you feel like you are looking up at an Ent (one of the very large talking trees from the lord of the rings)

We plan to move on at the end of the week so that we can meet up with Keith’s sister and brother in Law who are flying out to meet us in Valencia … fingers crossed the weather will be as good as it has been recently.