Passing by the Lago Trasimene it looks like it is going to be a busy day here. Following the road signs for Cortona we come to a steep winding road and we can see the town at the top. Our Sat Nav once again tries her best to take us up the very narrow streets but we know what she is like and makee our way to the car park and park alongside several other vans who are already here. Cars are filing in and soon there won’t be any spaces left. The view from the car park looks out over the Tuscan landscape for miles and is truely superb. This is a new car park and just over the road there are two escalators to help those not too god on their feet, to the top. The stairs lead to a tree-shaded square from which there are even more superb views and benches to sit and enjoy the views from. The old city walls are on the opposite side of the street and a little further down is the 14th century church of San Domenico with wonderful, large paintings, statues and beautiful altar. Going into the town the streets are narrow and lined with a selection of shops, most of which are open even today. There a number of artists studios and a sculptor’s studio is displaying the very interesting sculptures such as olive trees comprising of the trunk of the tree made from people holding up their arms to hold up the foliage. We continue on our way and in the main square find a local produce market. Beside fruit and vegetables, there are cheeses, breads, parma hams, sausages and meats. On one stall everything contains truffles, one can buy truffles on their own or in sausages, pates, salsas or even in cheese and the good thing was ‘try before you buy’, which we did.
Walking on after buying a little more than we had intended, we could smell cooked fish and just had to try a plate of ‘Misto’, a variety of mixed fish, calamari and prawns all piping hot and freshly cooked it was delicious. sitting on the steps of the theatre along with a lot of other people we finished off our lunch with a huge apple, also bought in the market, before walking up the steep street opposite. The streets are narrow and cobbled as well as steep, but also they are full of charm and there is always a doorway or alleyway to peep into. Small restaurants are dotted along the way and to make more space they just put the tables and chairs outside. We get as far as the 13th century church of San Francesco before collapsing onto a nearby bench. How do people make this walk everyday, if you just had to pop out for a bottle of milk or loaf of bread and climb up and down here you would certainly stay fit. A group of people walking up burst into fits of laughter when the large paper bag they were carrying their apples in burst and they all rolled down the street with no hope of catching them, people walking up were surprised to see the apples rolling towards them.
Inside the church of San Francesco were many large paintings adorning the walls and at the high altar is a wonderfull tabernacle, and the side altar contains the remains of Friar Elias, friend of St.Francis, who designed and built this church. This church of San Francesco is the second largest church dedicated to St,Francis, the largest being the Basilica in Assisi.
Back out into the warm sunshine and little streets, we wander slowly back towards the car park enjoying a coffee along the way. At first the journey is pleasant through the beautiful Tuscan countryside, we make a small detour along the chianti wine road before re-joining the main road once again. The traffic slowly gets heavier until eventually we come to a virtual standstill as the bank holiday traffic all tries to reach Florence in one total jam. It takes a long time to reach Florence and it is now quite dark and late as we find the camperstop on the Via M.Mercati. We take our ticket and park up, just a quick drink and bed.
Florence – Pisa – La Spezia
Feeling a lot better after a good nights sleep we drive up to the Piazza Michelangelo to spend a little time enjoying the views across the city of Florence just once more before we leave to head off towards Pisa. Keeping to the side roads, the run from Florence to Pisa is a really pleasant one. The scenery of the Tuscan hills with the cypress trees and colourful houses is lovely, one can see where the artists get their inspiration from.
Passing the airport in Pisa we turn towards the city centre and follow the river where we find a good parking spot near the waters edge. Having a bite to eat before going into town, we watch the fishermen on the opposite riverbank. Taking the scooter we take the short drive into the centre and park close to the leaning tower. There are several restaurants, cafes and gift shops then the large square containing the Tower, the Baptistry and the Cathedral. Walking past a row of gift shops we come to the museum from where you buy your entrance tickets. the area in front of the three main buildings is grassed and well kept there are also signs warning people to stay off the grass. Groups of sightseers pose in front of the tower with their arms outstreched as though holding up the leaning edifice. When you get your first glimpse of the tower it does make you catch your breath as it really does look as though it is in the proccess of falling over, the difference from top to bottom must be at least 3 meters. Work has been carried out over the last few years to secure the building and make it safe, huge chains have been attached to the building under ground and it has been pulled up by about 15 inches.
The first 5 storeys were built from 1174 and then, for reasons unknown it was left for a hundred years before adding another two storeys in 1273, it then stood unfinished for a while longer before the belltower was finnally added and the tower was completed. Inside the circular building that is the Baptistry, an altar stands in the centre and a stone set of stairs can be climbed up to the gallery which gives a good view of the building from up high and there is also a photo opportunity of the Cathedral complete with Tower behind, from one of the windows. a short walk to the Cathedral the main body of which dates back to the 11th century, it was enlarged in the 12th century (you can see the difference in the brickwork outside). Inside the Cathedral you can admire the wonderfully ornate wooden ceiling and the magnificent altar with its mosaics in the dome is outstandingly beautiful. The walls contain may large paintings and I would certainly say that this Cathedral of Pisa is truely magnificent. The three buildings are all constructed of white marble and it is really nice that they are all in the same area. I did notice though that it is not only the tower that is leaning but the othe two are also leaning to a slighter degree. Outside we stand and watch the people who have climbed the steps up the tower waving from the top and then we feel the first spots of rain starting to fall from a rather thunderous looking sky, maybe it is time to head back to the motorhome. Time to get the kettle on, a fisherman on the opposite bank,catches our eye, he does not have a normal rod like the others but a large net on a hoist that he lowers down into the water and leaves for a while before hoisting it back up again, after about an hour he fastens his net back up again and heads of home with a carrier bag full with fish, a very good idea.
Making for the coast now we pass through several holiday towns most of which are still quiet as it is still quite early on in the year. Nearing La Spezia we spot a few motorhomes parked in a parking area and pull over to join them just before the heavens open and the thunderstorm begins in earnest.
La Spezia – Italian Riviera – Finale Ligure
The rain has been battering down all night and the thick clouds are hanging over the surrounding mountains. After a brief respite in the rain it starts up again and suddenly we are in the centre of a heavy thunderstorm again. Wind, hailstones and torrential rain accompany the thunder and lightening. The best idea is to stay put, rest up and wait for it to pass over. It is lunchtime before the skies start to clear and we decide to head off towards La Spezia and Genoa. Keeping well clear of the motorways we pass through several small villages and towns along the coast before heading inland and climbing up mountains again. Passing a large river we can see the dirty,thunderous torrent of water rushing along and carrying all kinds of debris, including complete trees with it as it makes its way down towards the sea. Streams head furiously down the mountainsides towards the already swollen river, all evidence of the severe storms that hit this area over the last 24 hours.Even though the clouds are still hanging low, the temperature has started to rise as the sun is trying to break through and our drive is quite a pleasant one.
The winding road continues to follow alongside the raging river and past neat houses and gardens where the landscape is brightened up with Wisteria, Irises, lilac,Magnolia and Camelias. The fruit and almond trees are in full bloom. The road climbs high giving fantastic views of the wooded landscape and near the top we come to the village of Malterana, with its colourfully painted houses overlooking the valley and the motorway far, far below. Still climbing as we leave Matterana, the skies in the distance start to look a little brighter. We are now so high up that we feel that we could reach up and touch the sky. Rounding a corner we come to an amazing view of the sea shimmering blue far below us. Below us is a heavily wooded mountainous region and beyond are the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean. The skies on this side of the mountain do seem to be a lot clearer. We stop to get out and enjoy the view, the silence is wonderful, apart from the odd car we are the only ones on the road. Below us lie small mountain villages and we can see the steeples from the churches. Once over the top we begin our descent with this beautiful view staying beside us for most of the way. Passing through Bracco we notice that many of the houses face the sea, with wrap around balconies, they are perched on a steep slpoe, no one can take their view away. What a joy it must be to open your windows in the morning to such a view as this. Small waterfalls cascade down the mountainside along the way. This has been so much more picturesque comong down the SS1 – Via Aurelia- instead of the motorway and the road has has been very good to drive along.
Along the coast we pass through Chiavari which is quite a large town and then on towards Rapallo with its marina crammed full of boats, narrow streets and pretty shops and cafes. We follow the coast to Finale Ligure where there is a very good camperstop (Sosta) right on the waters edge. It is situated at the far end of the town and holds a lot of vans. We park up at the front with the waves crashing over the top of the huge rocks that have been placed here to act as a barrier. It is a lovely night time view out of our window across the water to the twinkling lights of the town.
Morning and the sea is still pretty wild, the huge waves are perfect for the seven surfers out in the bay near the town front. The morning is spent wandering along the market in Finale Ligure. A small square contains all the food market stalls and then there is a variety of stalls spred out along the seafront. The weather is pleasant as we walk along the narrow streets of the town away from the wind at the waterfront and there is a good choice of shops to look at. Finale Ligure is a quite a large town and stretches a fair way along the coast. The centre is quite old and very traditional with its narrow streets filled with shops, pizzerias and cafes. A very pleasant way to spend the morning. After lunch we spend the rest of the afternoon doing a bit of cleaning and washing in the motorhome before relaxing in the evening. Later on the weather begins to worsen and the waves start to crash over the top of the motorhome, then a storm hits. During the night the rain was torrential and the thunder was so loud that it woke us with a start as the ground shook with the noise. Hopefully it will be better in the morning.
Finale Ligure – Nice – Port Grimaud
Starts out grey but the sea has calmed down considerably and thankfully the wind has died down too. After a trip to the supermarket we head off again along the coast. Despite the storm we have had a pleasant couple of days here, it is a lovely town and a good place to stop. At Alassio there is an island with the usual castle sitting on top, and we watch as a plane is practising scooping up water from the sea before climbing up high and releasing it again. The marina is full of boats and the sun is now breaking through the clouds, it gives the place a happy feeling and there are people out strolling along the waterfront. Lining the streets are orange trees, laden with fruit and in the gardens are lemon trees. The road winds along the coast and there are several small tunnels and an amazing variety of trees, plants and cacti. Most of the towns that lie along the Italian Riviera have marinas crammed full of boats of all sizes, the seas must be as busy as the motorways come the summer. Some of the towns here have retained their traditional Italian feeling, with the pretty painted houses and local shops, whereas others are slowly looking a little more touristy with holiday apartments and rows of gift shops all containing the same souveniers and beach acessories. We seem to be travelling along the coast at the right time of year as the roads are fairly quiet which makes for a very pleasant drive, I don’t think that it would be quite the same experience in high season, and from past experience, I do know just how busy it gets.
On reaching Imperia the traffic is a lot heavier and we crawl slowly through the town, which gives us the time to look around. At the large marina people are busy scrubbing and polishing the boats ready for the summer. There are some very, very large boats, obviously people with a large amount of money! we enjoy looking at them anyway.
At the marina is a large Sosta (Camperstop), we remember it from a few years ago and from there it is only a short walk up to the old town. Through several more coastal towns and we come to San Remo. We have caught the occasional glimpse of the motorway high above us several times, but we won’t join it just yet. The sea has changed from this mornings grey to blue again, and the sun is pleasantly warm. One thing is the same here as all over Italy, the amount of motorbikes and scooters, it is a good way to get around and parking them is certainly a lot easier, I just find that the way they dart in and out of the traffic hair-raising they don’t seem to have any fear. San Remo is a fairly large town and there is obviously a college of some discription here as it is letting out as we arive. More scooters darting about and students ambling across the road and sitting at outdoor cafes gives the town a lively atmosphere. The many palm trees and well tended parks and gardens all make it a very pleasant town. We spot the motorway high up above us on the mountainside and feel that we must soon join it. It is 2pm and we are supposed to be in Nice for 4pm. We continue towards Ventimiglia, being a border town it is a busy little place with plenty of shops, great if you have the time to stop for a while.Oh well on towards the motorway and Nice. The motorway has now dropped down to the town, saving us the climb. A large loop system of roads take us on to the motorway and we are saying ‘Arriverderci’ to Italy. We have enjoyed ourselves immensely here and hope that it won’t be too long before we are back again. Mind you we have noticed that Italy is very expensive not only on the fuel costs but also the price of the food and the motorway tolls are terrible. Saying that we have just joined the motorway and taken our ticket and are straight away at the toll booths, not even 100 yards! €3.70, oh well that’s Italy for you.
The motorway travels through a series of long dark tunnels and half way through we are in France. Past the turn offs for Menton and Monte Carlo and there is only about 20 km to go to Nice. First toll charge is €3.30 and then down a long steep descent into Nice where the second toll is €2.30. The next exit is and two minutes later we are at the airport. Plenty of parking spaces for cars but with a motorhome it is a problem. Hope he is on time.
He arrives 20 minutes early and soon we are back on the motorway and heading away from Nice, past Cannes and on towards Frejus. The sun has now disappeared behind the clouds and it has also started to rain a little. We drive along the coastal road which is very quiet, a far cry from the bumper to bumper traffic of the summer. We drive through St.Aygulf, Les Issambes and Ste.Maxime before parking at the motorhome stop just before Port Grimaud along with about 15 other vans. It has been quite a long day and we are looking forward to our dinner and catching up on the gossip from home. After dinner we get talking with another English couple parked in the Aires (Camperstop), Margaret and Bernard, and they invite us in for a drink. We spend a lovely evening in their company and exchange notes on our travels. A few drinks later and we bid them goodnight as we head off to bed.
Still a liitlle overcast but fairly warm so not to worry. We make an early start and cross over to St Tropez which has a market on Saturday mornings. When we arrive we are saddened to see that the large car park has a height restriction and does not allow motorhomes, so we have to park on the roadside along with few other vans. The parking charges are high €6 for 2 hours. The car park is so big and fairly empty at the moment, it is a shame they dont cater for the motorhomes. Summer visitors may have the place busy for a couple of months in the high season but Motorhomes are now travelling 12 months of the year and bring business to these places, maybe they should consider this, Anyway, moan over, and we park up in a space on the roadside.
We walked along the front and looked at the amazing variety of boats moared up, from little rowing boats, fishing boats to multu million pound yachts with the crew swabbing the decks. The small town is always busy and this being a Saturday and the market in full swing, the streets were packed with tourists and locals. The market, as usaul was very busy selling local produce, vegetables, olives, sausages, cooked chicken, paintings and clothes, bags and table clothes, in fact im sure there was a stand for anything you would possibly need. It was really pleasant wondering through taking it all in and sampling the ‘odd goodies’. We walked from the market and to the cafe opposite and lookily took a seat outside where we enjoyed a lovely coffee and watched the world go by infront of us. We left and took a wonder through the little streets, window shopping at the lovely quaint stores, and watched the restaurants preparing tables for the lunch time trade. We peak in to the Church and have alook but are unfortunately not allowed to take any pictures. We head on down to the main road which runs around the port before heading back to the motorhome for our lunch. Heading back to Port grimaud, we stop off at a bar called Monroes, to watch the Semi final of the FA Cup, Liverpool V Everton, and although the game is very enjoyable, nearly €6 a beer is a little steep, though still not the €10 of the bars in Milan.
Back at the aires and in the van and our new friend Margaret drops in for a chat as we are preparing our eveining meal. She and Bernard are going to take the small train ride up to Grimaud Village on the moutainside and we chat about a number of things before she leaves and we enjoy our lovely meal. Once finished and cleaned up we decide to walk into Port Grimaud and take a stroll around and taking a few early eveing pictures of the lovely little town.
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