We have had our Flair 8000 for just two months, we purchased it at the end of November 2007 and this was our first trip away. We hope to travel down the western coast of Italy reaching the Amalfi coast returning via the east coast and then north through Austria.
We left home and traveled down to Brentwood in Essex to visit our friends, reaching Dover in the early evening. We crossed to Calais, arriving around 10pm so decided to spend the night on the Seafrance/P&O carpark. We left Calais early on the following morning and traveled to Gurgy, arriving in the afternoon with a hard frost on the ground. We did not fill our fresh water tank before we left home and carried only around 100 ltrs.
Gurgy is a quiet village on the banks of a canal with a small marina at one end of the town, There are one or two restaurants however it remains a sleepy town. They have invested in an Aire for the sole use of camping-cars and it is well maintained with individual plots, shrubs and a shower/toilet – but cold water only. We were not too worried when we found the water turned off at Gurgy. We took our Border Collie, Chase for a walk along the canal bank and turned in for an early night. The following day we traveled down to Nantua just west of Geneve. Again the frost was hard and the water turned off.
Nantua was pretty quiet during the day and practically deserted that night with very few places open in winter. You can walk or cycle around the lake in approx one hour or 20 minutes respectively. There is a Lidl supermarket some 200 mtrs up the road from the Aire however the water is turned off in winter. We left Nantua and headed for Chamonix where we intended to stay for a few days. Chamonix is a favorite place of ours having stayed there several times over the years.
We parked in the Aguille du Midi carpark which had been cleared of loose snow however there were several inches of packed ice on the ground. It was difficult to gain access to the carpark as the ice was pretty deep at the gate. Chamonix is a great town in winter and is the centre of the skiing region. We spent the first day re-discovering the town and checking out the place.
We walked up to the ski slopes and along the valley. The snow was over 2 mtrs deep in places. That night the temperature dropped to minus 20 c and icicles formed on the outside of the camper but inside the Alde heating system worked well. Our only worry was that we were getting very short of fresh water and we couldn’t get any more locally. The Tourist Information Office advises that the nearest water service point was over 40 miles back towards Geneve.
We decided to leave Chamonix after 3 days mainly because of the lack of fresh water but also the temperature wasn’t getting above minus 10 during the day and the icicles were getting bigger. Finally last night we were disturbed by local youths in cars using the carpark as a skid pan well into the small hours so we set off and went through the Mont Blanc Tunnel. The journey through the tunnel and down the Aosta valley was quite exceptional. Once through the tunnel the temperature rise was very noticeable. We called in a camper van sales garage to try and obtain water but only managed to get 20ltrs. Still every little helps. We continued to the town of Ivrea and pulled into a great little Sosta just a few hundred mtrs from the centre.
This great little Sosta with room for around 6 campers is based on trust for payment with a little honesty box. There was plenty of free water so all was well. Ivrea is a nice town with a typical Italian culture. There is a canoeing course right by the Sosta and during our visit the locals were still celebrating Christmas.
After a couple of days in Ivrea we moved on to a small coastal village of Bonassola. We had now discovered that it was better to use the Italian motorways as they had fewer potholes than the ordinary roads and they were much cheaper than the French Autoroutes.
Bonassola gave us a few worries as when we reached the last 3kms we had to descend a very steep and twisty narrow road where I had to back up to get a better turn to get around one or two of the tight bends – it was impossible to turn around – all very scary. When we reached the bottom there was a sign half hidden by leaves stating the road was unsuitable for vehicles over 6mtrs long. Once in Bonassola the Sosta was on top of the sea wall with excellent views out to sea and the coastline beyond. The village was quite compact but had a good variety of shops, restaurants etc. We enjoyed a nice walk with Chase along the beach and sea wall.
From Bonassola we headed further south to the town of Pisa to see the famous leaning tower. We found a reasonable Sosta just outside the town that also doubled as the bus station and although busy there was plenty of space. There was also a little train to to take visitors into town and show them the sights. We walked the 700mtrs into town and started our task of finding out which places were must see’s.
The tower I can confirm does lean and would make many people wary of climbing the tower. The story says that the tower was built straight but started to lean after the first few feet so they decided to counter this to straighten it up. My own theory is that they just screwed up. Many visitors used a little bit of trick photography when taking photos as they positioned friends a few metres away holding out their hands so on film it looked as though they were propping up the tower. The remaining parts of the city were more general with the river at one end and good walks along. During the day the traders filled the area around the church and tower to the extent that it looked like a car boot sale. The church and dome are well worth a visit and the architecture is magnificent.
Marina di Castagneto was our next stopping place, actually the Sosta was some way nearer the coast than the village. The area was totally deserted for most of the day and this made us quite nervous and only when another camper van turned up did we decide to stay.
Marina di Castagneto
The area itself is a nature reserve and fishing spot but late January is not the best time to be here. After a restless nights sleep we moved on to the resort of Montalto di Castro, where again we were the only ones present. Clearly this region of Italy is very touristy and the Italians don’t consider January a holiday period.
It was odd walking down the main promenade and the street behind as there was not a single light lit in the whole town. There was even tumbleweed blowing down the street. The place felt safe enough and it was all open plan in contrast the the previous place that was surrounded closely by trees. With nothing open we again moved on this time we were visiting Rome and the Vatican.
We were fortunate in that a member of one of the motorhome forums is Italian and I had asked him where to stay when visiting Rome and he had suggested a place just outside Rome some 200mtrs from the railway station. Fabulous. The place was really secure with fences and a barriered gate with attendant operation. We arrived there and parked up eager to visit Rome centre so set off to find the Tourist Information Office to get a sense of where to go. I’m not going to attempt to describe all the places we visited as that would be pointless but I will attempt to explain our rationale. What was apparent throughout our trip to Italy was the suggestion that to be secure you needed to pay somebody but in reality it was just a few entrepreneurs trying to made a quick Euro. We never felt threatened any more than in UK or France. You just needed to be sensible.
First of all we had our dog and we discovered that dogs are allowed on trains or buses but only with a muzzle fitted. Dogs are charged the same fare as humans. In 2008 the trains and buses in to and out of Rome cost €1 for 75 minutes. That means you buy a €1 ticket and you can travel anywhere around the city for 75 minutes from the time you punch the ticket in the machine. Dogs are not allowed anywhere in the Vatican city.
There are guided tours around the city with many starting from the railway station or tourist info and you can choose your mode of transport. Open bus, horse drawn carriage, the tourist rain, taxi or on foot. Whatever time you allow I can promise you it will not be enough. We have never experienced a city with so much culture and history. We spent two full days (read over 12 hours) walking around from one place to the next just to get an idea of Rome. Then we spent a third day of 8 hrs visiting the Vatican.
Visiting the Vatican was difficult as we had to leave Chase back in the camper – the longest we had ever left him. Thankfully all was well on our return and he was given a good walk in the evening. The Vatican was a fabulous place to visit and St Pauls Basilica was just out of this world. The value of the contents today would be incalculable. We went down into the catacombs and saw the papal tombs, including the most recent Pope. Our problem was that after 3 very full and exhausting days we were “cultured up” and had seen enough for the time being. We then moved down to Pompei, having to sadly bi-pass Naples.
The problem was that in the winter of 2008 the local refuse collection service had been on strike for over 12 weeks. The whole area was unhygienic and even extended onto the motorway so we continued down to Pompei.
We stayed at the Orange grove camping some 200 mtrs from the entrance to the Pompei ruins. We could reach out of the camper window and pluck oranges from the trees. They were the nicest oranges we have ever tasted. Pompei was very interesting and we spent the whole day touring around the ruins taking dozens of pictures. With the experience of Rome and now Pompei it was amazing how clever and resourcful the Romans were and they sure could teach todays architects a few things. We decided to visit Vesuvius and Herculanium however they were closed due to a local strike that had lasted several weeks – can you imagine that – a whole mountain on strike?
That wasn’t all the bad news. We were told by the police that camper vans were not allowed around the Amalphi coast as there were road works. We later discovered that camper vans have been banned for ever. We now had to take stock of the situation and made the decision to set off back up the road to visit other areas.
Our next stop was in a Motorhome friendly car park in the town of Anguillara on lake Bracciano. Not the most ideal stop but given all the camp sites were closed it was the best of a bad job.
The lake itself was good with a small local market each morning on the quayside. We bought greens and fresh oranges. We then walked up around the peninsula giving Chase a good morning walk before heading off towards Assisi.
The drive to Assisi didn’t take long but finding somewhere to stay was a tad harder. Our Sosta book gave the co-ordinates of a place that turned out to be a Hospital carpark and there was nothing around to suggest otherwise.
There was a carpark in Assisi centre but that was full of buses all parked in the space allocated for camper vans. We asked one or two locals and eventually a woman offered to show us the way to a Sosta in the nearby village of Santa Maria degli Angeli. It was fun trying to keep up with her Alfa Romeo with our 8.5mtr tank. She eventually slowed down and pointed feverishly to the left then roared off into the distance. We trundled down the lane and came to a compound that looked a little like a prison compound. There were electric gates, 3 mtrs high barbed wire fencing, security cameras every 20yds and a big sign in Italian and English saying Camper Van parking Place.
We gingerly drove up to the gate and out came the guard/attendant who asked for €10 for 24hrs so in we went. Well we thought – we will be safe and secure tonight if nothing else. There was a bus stop outside the railway station some 200mtrs further down the road with regular buses into Assisi and Perugia. We spent a very interesting day touring round Assisi and walking up the hill for spectacular views of the whole region. The next morning there was a marvellous view of Assisi from the parking place with an atmospheric cloud base that cut through the middle of Assisi with just the tower rising above.
We took the bus into Perugia and spent another exhausting day doing the touristy bit. One more note on the compound. At 5pm sharp the warden opened the gate, jumped on his scooter and roared off into the distance leaving everything open all night. At 5.05pm a dozen Italian camper vans came around the corner, stayed the night and dissappeared 5 minutes before the warden came back to work.
We left Assisi and headed off towards another really good Sosta at Passignano on lake Trasimeno. We were fortunate here as there are over 40 camping car spaces there is a charge of €2 per hour during the day from 9am till 5pm – €16 per 24hrs however there are also 4 camping car spaces that are free all day and night. There is a service point, fresh water and good clean toilets that were cleaned every day by the local council. We managed to occupy one of the free places. Passignano was a very relaxing spot with marina, nice village centre and a park right on the water front. There were early morning ferry boats to the nearby islands and across the lake. The timetable showed an increase in schedule during the summer months and a skeleton service in winter.
After a three day break we set off towards Siena and and we parked in the coach park near the city centre.
Siena is a beautiful city with lots of history and culture, The centre square is extraordinary and there is an annual horse race around its edges each year. The remainder of the year it’s a sun trap. We found a park near by just below the indoor market area and if you want a change of scenery without leaving the city then we can recommend it. It was really relaxing to sit in the square eating lunch and people watching. Our only disappointment was the usual moan that all the nice places had scaffolding around them in winter.
From here we headed north west to the town of Lucca. Lucca is a walled town with the walls taking some 150 years to build and so the history says they built the wall to ward off attacks from their enemies. However they were never attacked and the impressive walls remain today albeit some of the buildings on and inside the wall have been left to nature and are in a sorry state.
We found a campsite just outside the town which again was fenced in with electric gates. It hadn’t been open for very long – less than 3 months and the owners were keen to please and let us have Wifi for free. The service point was a little tricky as it was behind the toilet block and a tight turn to round without hitting the wall. We cycled for miles down the nearby canal and Chase loved being free to roam. We stayed here for three days before setting off again this time back to the coast and Diano Marina.
At Diano Marina we followed the numerous signs to Oasi Park, a motorhome dedicated camp site just a few hundred mtrs back from the beach. We were surprised how busy it was for a February and we got one of the last spaces out of over 700.
Diano Marina is a bustling resort that reminded us of Cannes in France with ladies in fur coats towing poodles behind them – all very friendly though. Gorgeous beach and marina and a very pleasant place to stroll along the promenade during the day and evening. This certainly is a place that attracts Italian tourists in January.
We had decided to have a leisurely journey back home but wanted to stop off for a day or two at Antibes and a chance to visit the Nice Festival.
We arrived at the Vielle Ferme campsite at Villeneuve Loubet, settled in and then took Chase to the local park, then on to the Nice Carnival. The Carnival is a must and is held over 2 weeks. There is also a flower show that alternates with the main Carnival. Remember the Flower Show is a chargeable event whereas the others are free. It is held on the main Boulevarde des Anglais and a seating area is erected a week or so before to house the local cycling event. All in all February is a good month in Nice and people didn’t seem to care what the weather was like. After the carnival we returned to our camper to find a note stuck on the camper door.
We were surprised to learn that our friends from Cooksbridge had also booked into the same site. We spent three days catching up and BBQ’ing and shopping in Antibes. We were now cutting it fine for getting back to Calais so set off and travelled up to Avignon with our friends following in convoy.
We stayed in Camping Bardelesse for two nights, taking trips into Avignon using the free ferry across the river and landing at the famous Pont d’Avignon.
Avignon is a great place all year round with plenty to see and do, including the Popes palace, the indoor market with its wall of outdoor flowers and plants and walking around the famous walls. You can walk on to the old Pont d’Avignon and it is interesting to note that the original bridge was washed away by floods in the 12th century – nothing to do with Global Warming.
On the opposite side of the river there is the town of Villenerve les Avignon, a great little town that boasts a great castle that can be seen from the Papal Palace. The town square is very sheltered and being surrounded by walls retains heat in the evenings making it a favourite with the locals for sitting outside the cafe’s or simply taking the evening air. From the castle ramparts you get a marvellous view of Avignon and the plains beyond. We had our last BBQ with our friends and emptied a couple of bottles of wine and then sadly our time had come and we set off for home, making an overnight stop at Seurre.
A nice new site adjacent to a marina on the banks of the Saone river. We took Chase for his constitutional and there looked plenty to do but not in winter. We had returned to frosty nights, having been spared frost or bad weather the whole time since we came out of the Mont Blanc Tunnel. We were left with getting Chase to the vet for his passport to be signed and then plain sailing.
Days away: 42 days Distance Travelled: 3320 miles
Ferry Cost: £128 Cost of Fuel: £739
Cost of LPG: £53 Cost of tolls: £293
Cost of Campsites: £283 Vet Fees: £40
Exchange rate: £1 =€1.32