Italy – France Sept 2009

This Autumn we decided to take a look at the Italian lakes and Haute Provence.  Our route was to take us through Switzerland and through the St Bernards Tunnel and start with Lake Maggiori.  We left UK and were a little apprehensive as this would be our first trip on the train and through the channel tunnel.  We arrived in good time only to find Eurotunnel let us go on the next available train so we arrived in Calais a good two hours before our scheduled arrival.  We made a pit stop at Auchan to stock up with essentials and fuel then headed for Warneton our first stopover.

Aire at Avize

After an early start we headed down through Luxembourg then due south hoping to stay in the Champagne region however it was grape picking time and all the Aires and campsites were full so we continued until we found a place at Avize, staying again only one night.  The following morning we set off again and made the short hop to the Alsace and stopped at Kaysersberg.

Kaysersberg

We spent a couple of nights here last year and wanted to see more of the area.  We decided to stop here for a few days, and as we had our Kymco Quad on board we spent a couple of trips getting our bearings of the area.

From here we headed into Switzerland, first stopping to buy our Carnet at the border post.  The Swiss have a special carnet for vehicles over 3500kgs that actually works out cheaper than if you had to buy the annual carnet.  The Swiss have excellent campsites but we don’t always want all the facilities, especially if  we are only stoping a day or two.  After clearing Customs we headed for the village of Weggis on the shore of Lake Luzern.

Weggis

We stayed at a farm campsite just above the lake that gave us plenty of space to let our Border Collie Chase run around.  We unloaded the Quad bike and went into town to explore the area.  In the end we stayed here for three days as there were some lovely walks by the lake and along the promenade at Weggis.

Our next task was to go through the St Bernard Tunnel and not knowing the regulations on LPG etc. nor the cost we gingerley approached the entrance only to find – nothing – we could drive straight through without cost.

 St Goddard Pass

The views driving up the St Goddard Pass were magnificent and we decided to stop in the carpark just before the tunnel.  We had lunch sitting out looking over the mountains soaking up the scenery.   The tunnel itself was straight forward and we continued down into the outskirts of Cannobio where we decided to stop at the campsite we had used many years ago with our car and caravan. In this case it turned out to be a mistake.

Cannobio Campsite

Disappointingly the pitch sizes were miniscule with the prices bordering  on the high to very high for late September.  We were charged over €40 without EHU for one night with not enough room to put out the awning.  I accept that €40 isn’t a Kings ransom for some but given the size of the pitch we were not impressed.    The following morning we moved over to the Sosta which was nearer the town centre and in a very pleasant location by the river.  The cost was €12 including toilets, showers and electric for those that wanted it.

Cannobio Market

We stayed here for 3 days, which was the limit per stay.  We had two lovely walks up the paths behind Cannobio that wandered up to the church overlooking the lake.  Fantastic views with a clear day.  The walk took us approx 4 hours as we dawdled, stopping to  look here there and every where.

 

Cannobio from the hills

Cannobio town is very pleasant and the square on the water front came alive at night with outside cafe’s restaurants and people just taking in the cool night air.    The market is a real treat with good quality fresh fruit and vegetables at very reasonable prices.   From here we wandered along the lakeside to the town of Baveno, stopping there for one night.

Baveno

The waterfront was pretty with lots of hanging baskets but not much more to entice us to stay.  We moved on this time to Lake Varese stopping at the village of Gavirate.  It was Friday when we arrived and pulled into the most automated Sosta I’ve ever seen.  All controlled by barriers and tokens purchased from a machine.  Even the waste and WC emptying points were controlled and charged for.  When we arrived there were alony a few campers however as the day wore on the place just filled up and things became very tight.  We didn’t have enough room to fully open the door our neighbours were that close.  We certainly could not have departed as we could not have gotten out.  The Italians had come for the watersports on the lake and throughout the weekend the place hummed with all sorts of activities.

 Gavirate

There is a cycle path all around the lake – some 22kms but we didn’t hav our cycles with us so had to be content and walk around a third of the way.  Come Monday morning we were the only camper left on the site and we took the opportunity to leave ourselves as we could not find any more coins to feed the hungry machine as it only took € coins, not notes or credit cards.

We were having difficulty finding Sostas in the area and any campsite that remained open after the end of September charged a premium for large camper vans so we decided to head back to the Sosta at Cannobio for another 3 days.  We were surprised to find that all the German campers that were there when we visited a few days earlier were still here – so much for the 3 day maximum.   After our second stop at the Cannobio Sosta we headed west across the border into France a few days earlier than planned and start our exploraton of Haute Provence.

Cannobio Sosta

We climbed the pass making our way towards Briancon with the intent of stopping somewhere just over the border and here we found Montgenevre, a sky resort right on the border with France and Italy.  The Aire was a hugh place with places for over 250 camper vans.  We were the only van there.  Walking into town with Chase we noticed that all the shops and bars were closed – nothing was opening before November at the earliest and so we understood why we were the only people on the site.   We did find one bar open in the end but even that was empty and so off we set to move on a few more miles to Briancon.

Briancon is a pretty place and big enough to be a busy all year round town and not relying on winter skiing.  We parked on the Aire by the sports complex and shared the place with half a dozen other camper vans.  We had a look around Briancon to stretch our legs and walk the dog the following morning before setting off for Savines le Lac – a nice little village on the side of the Lac Savines.

 Savines Le Lac

What a lovely spot, the Tourist Info office said we could stay on the Aire as long as we liked as they had finished charging for the season.  The lake was clear blue with boats for hire, pleasure cruises, even an island with a small church in the middle.  There were lots of walking paths and cycle tracks both along the lake and up in the snow covered mountians above us.  We had a very pleasant few days here.

From here we moved on to stay at St Michel L’Observatoire, pulling into the Aire at Sisteron to have a look around as we were passing through.  The castle at Sisteron looked good but they wouldn’t allow dogs so we walked up to the top and looked through the gates. There was an exhibition in the town square offering samples of the local fare – hams, pies, wines and double glazing !!!  We originally thought we might stay at Sisteron for a couple of nights however the Aire filled up and it looked as though we may get blocked in so in the end we stayed just one night and moved to St Michel L’Observatoire.

St Michel L’Observatoire

St Michel L’Observatoire was in nice grounds and much larger area than I had imagined.  The observatory was built there because of the unique geographic position with one of the clearest atmospheres in the whole of France and one of the clearest weather records.  Sadly yet again we were too late in the season to be able to take the tour round the inside of the buildings and see the radio telescopes and equipment but we did manage to walk around the perimeter and get a good understanding of what goes on there.  The village was also quite interesting with its church standing high above the town forcing all the villagers to climb up the steep hill for mass.  We got a text message from some friends of ours while at here and as they were only a short distance away we travelled over to meet them in Comps.

Comps

Comps is a small village on the banks of the Rhone and has a flood barrier built around it to protect it.  In the village is the indicator showing the various flood heights throughout the centuries.  After catching up with our friends, drinking wine over a couple of excellent BBQ’s we all decided to move over to Fontaine de Vaucluse.

We had been here the previous year so knew the ropes so to speak and enjoyed a few days continuing our wine drinking and BBQing and visiting the local shops.  We also walked up behind the town to a vantage point overlooking the area – excellent views.

Fontaine de Vaucluse

We concluded our visit with an excellent meal in one of the village restaurants.  All in all an excellent time however our friends were returning home and we still had a week to go so we headed for the coast and St Tropez to spend a few days relaxing on the beach staying on the private camping car site at Chemin de la Motte some 5kms outside St Tropez.

Quad at St Tropez

We have found the weather here to be good all year round, though too hot in the summer months for our taste.  We love walking around the headland into St T, passing all the expensive villas.  Chase just loves it as he can be off the lead and he runs back and forth all the time.  Spent next 5 days relaxing and walking around St Tropez area. We just love the coastal walks in this area and this coast ranks as one of our all time favourites.  Sunday saw the start of the local marathon and with it an influx of visitors prompting us to pack up and make our way north, staying the night at Senas.  Senas Aire has changed and been refurbished with a new service point however we were woken early by school children arriving at school.

We then decided to head for Arles as we wanted to see the Amphitheatre , first stopping for lunch at the Aire at Greasque before heading into the campsite outside Arles.

Greasque

At Greasque there is a mining museum and the Aire is situated on the top of the hill overlooking the village.  There is a skate park next to the Aire but the locals didn’t make a nuisance of themselves.

 

We moved on to the Les Rosiers camp site at Arles and walked into the city centre (turned out to be further than we thought)    The city is worth a visit as it is steeped in history and the banks of the river are very active with local boats and ferry’s

Arles

Arles has several Roman remains to keep you occupied.  The amphitheatre, Roman theatre, Cathedral and early Christian cemetery and Van Gogh Library.  It was a pity that the Coliseum was undergoing restoration work as it prevented us from getting a full picture of it without it being hidden behind scaffolding.    We had a lovely time visiting all the Roman ruins in Arles, however the weather was now starting to change and becoming cold in the evenings.  On the third morning we awoke to drizzle so we moved on to to pick up the A75 north towards Clermont Ferrand via Millau with the hope of exploring the Tarn Gorge by quad bike.  Unfortunately it was still wet and windy on our arrival and the Aire was almost full preventing us from taking up a space for our quad bike so we spent the evening watching more and more camper vans trying to park in an over full Aire.  We had a dreadful night with heavy rain and gale force winds.

We headed north in heavy rain and wild winds that carried on all day and made our way to St Pourcain-sur-Sioule, a firm favourite of ours.  Its a lovely stop by the river and thankfully the rain eased off by the evening allowing us to walk into town – small but attractive – just a square round the church.  We keep promising to return one day and do it properly.

We woke up to a lovely sunny day and after taking Chase for a walk we set off for Bonny-sur-Loire as Chase had an appointment with the vet to get his passport stamped prior to arriving at the ferry.  We spent the night at Les Bordes some 50 miles further north.  On our last day in France we got off to a poor start with a 3 hr traffic jam going into Orleans and another holdup in Rouen and not reaching Calais until early evening so we decided to take the evening ferry and spend the night in Dover.  We arrived home on the following afternoon.

Trip Statistics:

Time away:              39 days                         Distance Travelled:  3395 miles             Cost of Ferry:         £58                                Cost of fuel:               £722.95                 Cost of LPG:            £0                                 Cost of Aires             £220.36                 Cost of Tolls:           £57.36                          Vet fees                     £22.00                  Exchange Rate:  £1 = €1.10

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