Van Talk 4

After many satisfactory excursions in the Citroen van [see last week’s post], we determined that it may, now need a new owner. Its defective handbrake had led to some unnerving situations, especially on steep slopes. On the hefty climb from the ferry exit up the hill into Bonifaccio, Corsica my heart leapt into my mouth as I prayed that we wouldn’t need to stop!

Whilst we’d been exploring these Meditteranean islands and negotiating the terrors of Italian traffic, in idle moments, Husband had been perusing the pages of vans for sale and so it was that on our return [literally, because we returned to Dover, one of the UK’s premier ports] we went to view a new van. It felt almost treacherous to be parking our tried and tested and by now, battered, Citroen outside next to a potential successor, but ho hum, needs must.

We met the owner, Vic, a sturdy and cheerful man who did not appear to be the fittest individual. An ex taxi driver, turns out he’d been the victim of a road accident and had embarked on a van conversion as a recovery project.

On the outside, the white Fiat Ducato looked smart and unsullied by contretemps with other vehicles, Italian or otherwise. The interior had been beautifully finished and was complete with sockets with USB chargers, a posh sound system and a few clever additions like fold- down worktops. The only snag we could see was the seating/bed arrangement, which looked too complicated to contemplate, a jigsaw of red and white cushions and boards. Vic was nonplussed, assuming that all van users prefer 2 single beds.

Had he used the van? I wanted to know. But, just as the previous sellers, Vic and his wife had spent one night only in the project van, on a trip to the races, sleeping in single beds. They hadn’t cooked, showered or spent any significant amount of time in it. And it was clear to see. The cooker and oven were pristine as purchased, everything else immaculate.

We bought it, then put our beleaguered Citroen onto Ebay, having washed, polished, scrubbed and generally tarted it up. It did scrub up well, elicited a great deal of interest and sold- but to a couple who used it to live in while they renovated a house, which seems sad. The old van had plenty of life left [although it was in serious need of a handbrake!].

Husband is partial to pottering about in the van, making improvements, which he has done. We got an excellent upholsterer to sort out the sofa/bed problem, dispensing with the red and white jigsaw of cushions and opting for a smart grey, which matched the interior. Now we’ve done a lot of miles in it, showering, cooking, exploring, relaxing. It feels as much like home as home does and is the perfect holiday vehicle.

Our horizons widened further with the aquisition of the Fiat, becoming more ambitious than even Sicily, Sardinia and Corsica. Where did we go? More next week…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishing and many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook: (1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Van Talk 3.

This post follows on from last week’s, in which I described how we swapped a small campervan for a larger vehicle and began to see the benefits…

Now that we had a larger and more comfortable van we began to contemplate more adventurous travel. In 2017, Husband hatched an audacious plan to motor down through Italy to the very south, to Calabria, to cross by ferry to Sicily, to cross Sicily and get a ferry to Sardinia, from which we could get another ferry to Corsica, then a ferry hop to the French mainland at Nice. In the beginning, Malta was included in this schedule- that is until he learned the eye-watering cost of a ferry from Italy, upon which discovery the idea was aborted.

Of course we needed to allocate plenty of time for the trip, estimating around five weeks.

The travel down through France was all good until Lyons, where navigation became complicated, even with the SATNAV helping. I’d had some bad experiences in Lyons from student days, so these difficulties did nothing to endear the city to me. [I’m sure it’s beautiful and has many elements it its favour once you get to know it].

To cross the border we used the Frejus tunnel, easy but ridiculously overpriced. We looked at Turin, staying in a car park by a subway station. It is a grand old city, beautiful even in the rain, although we were nonplussed by the subway payment system and ended up not paying at all- for which I apologise!

Italy has its north/south divide; the north being relatively well off, the south less so. The north is also relatively civilised in terms of driving. As we progressed south, however, the rules of the road began to appear less assiduously followed. I was taking my turn on the motorway past Naples, attempting to overtake a lorry when the driver took exception and cut in front as we were about to enter a tunnel, a near-death experience which totally lost me my nerve.

The scenery, however, as we grew closer to the straits of Messina was sublime.

Then there was Villa San Giovanni, the town we’d embark from to get to Sicily; the town where we’d need to get tickets. Traffic in the town was unruly. We drove down a narrow street, searching for the ticket sales office, only to be met head on at full speed by various vehicles. There seemed no way to get on to the docks, resulting in our making repeated circulations of the town, only to end up back where we were, like Alice in the garden in ‘Through the Looking Glass’.

At last we pulled into a small car park and went on foot for tickets, helped by a passer-by, eventually driving on to a ferry for the short crossing to Sicily.

The relief, however was short-lived. Once on the other side, at Messina, the roads were worse than ever, cars double or triple parked anywhere as people pulled up abruptly with not a signal or a warning to be seen. Traffic lights seemed to have no significance whatsoever. I spent a good deal of time as a passenger with hands clamped over my eyes.

On reflection, it’s probably just as well we made this trip in our older van, although we’d failed to get our dodgy handbrake sorted before departure. There were some mishaps, such as the misplaced bollard in a Syracusa car park causing a nasty dent.

We visited Palermo, Sicily’s capital, by bus and I was grateful for the bus driver, who was used to dealing with the chaotic conditions at every junction, where mostly the traffic looked to be dancing some kind of vehicular hokey-cokey with everyone leaping into the middle together.

Looking back I wonder how we got away unscathed, although Husband declares that he loved it, relishing the gung-ho, wild west nature of it all. But after two weeks we went on to Sardinia, where we stood at a pedestrian crossing and marvelled when the cars stopped to let us cross…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsendis now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishingand many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook:(1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

Van Talk 2

I’m sitting here in our current van, writing, feet up on the comfortable bench sofa- my default evening position, laptop across my legs.

This van is number three. In last week’s post I described how we came to become owners of our first van, a VW and how we modified it for our comfort and our needs.

If things had turned out differently we might still be using a VW van. I’m sure that were it not for me, Husband would certainly have stuck with VWs with their dinky, hip looks, iconic engine sound, compact size and a certain nippiness. It transpired, however that a chronic health condition I got diagnosed with in 2014 required more van comforts, such as a bathroom and toilet. For those curious enough to want to know here is a post from way back when I was terrorised by the disease: https://gracelessageing.com/2014/12/07/journey-to-the-centre-of-the-colon-a-gastric-odyssey-with-apologies-to-jules-verne/

In any case, the upshot of it all was that we branched out into unknown territory- a panel van. Again, it was an ebay purchase, a Citroen. This time Husband ventured up to Hull, in the north of England, to have a look at the vehicle. At home, I was obliged to rely on his judgement plus the ebay photos, which did portray a handsome, luxurious interior and- most importantly- a shower and toilet cubicle. Once more, this was a home-made conversion and once more, the van had barely been used since the work was done.

But there was one stunning difference. The van was perfect for us as it was; no need for expensive, corrective work or re-modelling. And besides having what was now a necessity- a shower plus loo cubicle- it had an oven below its three gas burners, two sumptuous sofas in the back and a TV! We’d never missed a TV in the VW van, but were not about to remove it. The bed, however did take a little longer than the ‘rock-n-roll’ bed in the VW, involving inserting a plank into the space between the sofas and turning the sofa cushions over. Once converted into a vast double bed it induced a supremely wonderful sleep with the added joy of waking to a view up and out of the skylight, which might reveal sky and stars, clouds or a glorious tree canopy.

The acquisition of the bigger van opened up a whole new angle on places to stay. Now we could be self-sufficient, no more reliance on campsites for showers and the rest. In Europe [although not in the UK] we’d be able to use ‘aires’. For the uninitiated, aires are places that motorhomes or campervans can park up for overnight stays for either a very modest charge or no charge at all. In France, especially, they are everywhere, towns and villages offering parking, waste disposal and water in a designated area. In most other European countries there are plenty of aires, too. We’ve stayed in the centre of beautiful Reims, where a short stroll takes you to any number of Champagne bars, beside any number of canals and rivers, overlooking rugged coastlines in Sicily- hundreds of great views and access to bars and restaurants if we want.

Of course we still use sites. We often spend long enough away to need laundry facilities and a few extra services. And we have our favourites, the ones we return to because of their position. So where did we go with our new van? Wait and see…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsendis now out and available from Amazon, Waterstones, Goodreads, W H Smith, Pegasus Publishingand many more sites. Visit my website: janedeans.com or my author page on Facebook:(1) Jane Deans, Novellist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook

The Travelling Sofa of 2020

We must not complain. It’s been my silent mantra this year. Be glad we are safe, well and adequately fed, live in a lovely home in a pleasant place. Nevertheless this has been the first year for almost thirty years we haven’t crossed the water to Europe and set off, meandering with no fixed plans and half an eye on the weather forecast.

We have, in fact holidayed during 2020. Way back in February, in what seems like a century ago we took the plunge and went off on our pre-booked, long-haul, winter sun trip to Thailand, to Koh Samui. We deliberated, yes, worried, yes, took advice, yes-and then went, carrying face masks, hand gel and all the paraphernalia we have subsequently become accustomed to. It was tricky; hot, suffocating queueing in Bankok airport wearing masks, but now I look back and am so glad we braved it. Our ten days was wonderful, with no virus on Koh Samui, everything relaxed and easy.

In the summer we were able to get away to UK destinations in our camper van, starting with a cautious outing locally, down the coast to Osmington near Weymouth. We became more confident and travelled to Suffolk for a couple of weeks, looking at a part of the UK we are unfamiliar with. Later on we stayed in Cornwall, the sites busy but safe so that the trip felt almost ‘normal’. All these trips are documented on Anecdotage in previous posts.

We have not planned any travel for 2021. Unlike many, I’m not expecting a miraculous transformation of our viral fortunes just because it’s a new year. We are consistently [and annoyingly] reminded that ‘the virus doesn’t recognise Christmas’ so why should it then recognise that the date has changed?

Instead I’ve daydreamed, ogled at and imagined all the places I’d still love to go, as yet unvisited or fond favourites we’ve returned to many times. Here then, in no particular order is my list.

New to us

* Canada. We went to Canada for a few hours, once, walking across the border at Niagara from the USA. Perhaps we’ve watched too many snowy landscaped serial killer thrillers [including the excellent ‘Cardinal’] during lockdown, but I feel myself drawn to those vast frozen expanses and opportunities to see bears and whales. A rail trip through the Rockies would make a wonderful addition to a visit, too!

*Likewise, Iceland. Without the polar bears and whales but with hot springs and a chance to see the Northern Lights, perhaps. Scandinavia has been another source of serial killer TV entertainment this year, with Iceland’s own, bleak contributions.

*Santorini. I’ve visited many of Greece’s gorgeous islands, but have still to set foot on Santorini, with its towering cliffs and nearby volcano. I believe it does suffer from heavy tourist footfall but this does not prevent me dreaming about standing and taking in those views with a stunning sunset.

*St Petersburg. I may be basing my desire to see St Petersburg on screenings of films like Dr Zivago, but portrayals of this iconic city look impossibly romantic.

*Rorke’s Drift. I’d like to visit this site, famous for a battle during the Zulu wars, for personal reasons. An uncle on my mother’s side of our family won the VC at the battle, for defending the place [which was a hospital and stores]. He is depicted in the film, ‘Zulu’. I’ve little interest in safari holidays, but this is a part of Africa that tempts me. I’d also be excited to go to the Victoria Falls, of course!

*In due course, the USA may become visitable again, now that a sensible choice of president has been made. I’d love to see southern states and also to explore more of the East Coast.

Old Favourites

*The Italian Lakes. In 2019 we made a late summer trip to Lakes Lugano, Como, Iseo, Garda and Maggiore. Every lake was sheer magic, each with its own character and features. Each lake was a wrench to leave-until we arrived at the next. The lakes are like a siren call, with their beguiling sunsets and abundance of art. Let me at them!

*Croatia. A stunning, unbeatable coastline and islands. And Dubrovnik is one of my favourite European cities. Then there is Plitvice-a world heritage lake site with astonishing waterfalls, an unforgettable experience.

*Romania. Strictly speaking it isn’t an old favourite, as we whisked through on our return from the Greek mainland, but the brief glimpses we got made me long to go back and explore properly. Transylvania next time!

*South West France. We’ve spent more holiday time here than anywhere else, so much that there is nowhere from Bordeaux to the Spanish border we havent been! But it is beautiful and feels like home each time we go.

There are countless more places-places I only visit on my travelling sofa. I can’t complain. Until we are set free again I’ll continue to sofa-travel-and maybe you, reader can achieve some sofa-trips of your own? Have a Happy New Year in whatever way you are able!

Tented Travels-1

Before we got our first van, during our first few years together Husband and I toured European countries using tents. This was in part due to the penurious nature of our lives [we’d come together in similarly, newly-single circumstances] but also knowing that travel was a shared interest. We’d also both gained plenty of experience as campers from both childhood and as adults. I’d already single-handedly hauled four children off camping in my battered Volvo, with mixed results.

One of our very first trips as a couple was to the South of France and on round to the Italian Riviera, then Tuscany; an ambitious holiday to undertake in my ancient car with my parents’ cast-off frame tent. In its heyday, the tent had already been many miles, but still had some usage in it. Nowadays of course, tent technology is much advanced and bendy hoop tents have more or less taken over the camping market.

Husband, ever the map fanatic, is a competent route planner. We travelled down the centre of France. Overnight stops are tedious when using a frame tent, so we planned our sleepovers using Formule 1 hotels. For the uninitiated, these are remarkably cheap, chain hotels dotted all over France on industrial estates. They are clean and comfortable, and usually situated next to a budget chain restaurant, too. The drawback is that the rooms do not include en-suite and employ a colour-coded system for the bathrooms, which is tricky if you need the loo during the night, since the rooms are accessed by numbered code. We used to overcome this by leaving a shoe lodged in the doorway when we dived out at night. Red-doored rooms must use the red-doored lavatories, and so on, which might mean a bit of a trek.

On our odysseys through France we still see Formule 1 hotels, flanked by Buffalo Grills or some similar restaurant, although they’ve largely been superceded by Premier Classe hotels, superior only in that they have a tiny, integrated toilet and shower cubicle in one corner.

I’ve no idea whether, in these early days of tent touring, discount camping cards existed, but if they did we had no knowledge of them, no ACSI or Camping and Caravan Club cards. We simply did a day’s travel, stopped to look for a site and pitched up.

To begin with we had lilos, inflated by foot pump, and sleeping bags which zipped together. After a couple of trips I decided I’d become too old to dive out and across fields for the loo, so Husband recycled an old toilet seat by attaching it to a bucket. This became the precursor of the porta-loo.

Our tented trips were made not only from necessity, but for preference. We’ve always enjoyed the freedom of touring this way, but there is something magical about sleeping in a tent-a magic that I still feel nostalgic about, even though we’ve swapped tents for vans. It’s something about how close you are to the air, warm and cosy with a waft of breeze and a gentle flap of canvas…magic!

2019-The Year in Travel

Featured

One way or another, this year we’ve indulged in seven trips, which seems, on first reading to be self-indulgent [a view that is certainly hinted at by some]. I don’t like to call our pieces of travel ‘holidays’, because holiday is an ambiguous term that means different things to different people. A holiday to many [myself included when I was a proper working person] is simply a break from work, lolling on a sofa in pyjamas watching movies. To others it is somewhere hot, lolling by a pool in swimwear. For us it is a foray into learning about places-their history and geography, the art and the culture.

The first 2019 trip was in January-to Scotland in our camper van, which may appear a strange choice to some, but the weather, though cold [-6 at Loch Ness] was mainly crisp and sunny, ideal for seeing the dramatic scenery of The Cairngorms or the grandiose architecture of Glasgow.

P1060617

Next, in February, we made a self-indulgent winter sun visit to Barbados, a tiny, laid-back, friendly island, where we self-catered in a modest ‘apart-hotel’ and enjoyed the company of our fellow guests, jovial Canadians, most of them.

P1060803

In the spring we trundled off along the [extremely wet] north coast of Spain, a spectacular journey following the pilgrims route to Santiago de Compostela. This rugged coast includes many cliffside towns that would rival the Amalfi Coast, if only there was sunshine and dry weather. We continued on around the corner to Portugal, which defied our experience of always being warm and sunny to be cloudy and windy. There is not much left of Portugal we haven’t seen but it remains a favourite destination.

northern spanish coast

We undertook an early summer jaunt to Brittany, to cycle some of the Nantes-Brest canal. This was a spectacularly successful trip, the well-appointed, municipal sites along the canal cheap and conveniently placed by the towpath. But the temperature soared into the 40s, making cycling tricky even in the evenings. It was, however scenic, memorable and pleasant and we are likely to cycle some more French canal paths.

Brittany cycling

Later in the summer we stayed locally in a New Forest site by a small, handy railway station and a large pub, hosting a small granddaughter who had requested to come camping with us and fell in love with it all immediately, especially riding around on her bike, being surrounded by wild ponies and cows and eating outside in the fresh air.

IMG_20190821_141311

This was followed in the autumn by a visit to the outrageously gorgeous Italian lakes, starting with Lugano and continuing on to Como, Iseo, Garda and Maggiore-all very different but all breathtakingly beautiful-and new to us as a destination. The return drive over The Alps via the Simplon Pass was spectacular and I’ve no doubt we’ll return to the lakes at some point.

P1080354

Our last outing, in October,  was to visit Norwegian friends where they live overlooking a fjord near Aalesund. We were gifted with cool, clear sunshine and our hosts’ hospitality was lavish.

norway 19

So a brilliant year of travel; but where to in 2020? Well-weather permitting we’ll be sampling the delights of the Lake District, UK in January, then heading for long-haul sun in February. After that, who knows? Will European travel even be feasible? We can only wait to find out…

Simplon or Simpleton?

It is a wrench to tear ourselves away from beautiful Lake Maggiore, but the weather is due to deteriorate and we must begin the slow haul north and west. To do this we must cross the Alps, and the nearest pass happens to be The Simplon, a route that we have not used before.

In the beginning I am confused by large signs displaying ‘Sempione’, which I’m unable to locate in the road atlas, until I realise this is the Italian for ‘Simplon Pass’, which is an example of my ineptitude with map reading…

As you might expect, though it is sad to leave the lakes, the scenery soon becomes breath-taking in an Alpine way; the villages picturesque as we wind up and through the mountains on what is an unexpectedly quiet road.

P1080372

The engineering along the pass, the road constructed through, around and over mountains is spectacular and it is not long before snow-topped peaks appear. Before long we’ve crossed into Switzerland again.

The landscape, as we continue to ascend becomes bleaker and less green, the conditions less hospitable to vegetation.

P1080387

You know you’ve reached the top of the pass, because the road widens, there is a lay-by, a restaurant and a gift shop. We make coffee and I scoot across to the shop, which is lined from floor to ceiling with all the objects you would never need, from gaily painted miniature cowbells to carved wooden whistles adorned with jaunty birds-all very ‘Alpine’.

We are not alone in the lay-by, and two of our fellow parkers are gargantuan, lorry-style motor-homes travelling in convoy.

P1080388

The German occupants hop out for a quick cigarette then rumble on again, leaving us wondering if we’ll be stuck behind them on the hairpin bends, but when we resume our journey they are long gone.

It’s down the other side of the pass and an hour or so later we are alongside Lake Geneva, passing through the Swiss border with France.

Then it’s a quick whisk through ‘Evian-les-Bains’ [where the expensive bottled water comes from] on to our destination for the next couple of days-Lake Annecy; distinctly non-Italian, cooler and decidedly popular, much to our dismay. Every lakeside site is full-and it’s getting late. We are obliged to make a night stop in a site on a hillside, which at least has a lake view. We’ll try the lakeside sites in the morning.

P1080471

And when we do we are not disappointed. Lake Annecy may not be Italian but it does have a charm of its own. We discover that the cycle path runs from the site entrance and that the historic town of Annecy itself is not so far-nor is the Carrefour supermarket. The morning dawns clear and sunny and we are set to explore.

 

Elevating Sights

P1080281

The site on the shores of Lake Maggiore seems big enough to swallow its neighbouring village, tiny Feriolo. And it is packed with Dutch and German visitors, making us almost the only British [there is one other unit I can see], unlike Garda, where almost everyone was from the UK.

Maggiore’s beach is sandy, making it a pleasant spot to spend an hour or two with a good book-or merely to stare into the distance as ferries criss-cross from Stresa, a few km along the lake, to the lake islands and back.

Mornings are becoming misty and moist now, although as the sun rises higher the weather is still blistering hot. We decide to give the cycle path that leads from the site a go, and it does appear at first as if it may take us to Verbania-a sizeable town further round the lake. We take a track down through a nature reserve and come to a dead end before finding another path over a small bridge. Following the road, it becomes tarmac and well-managed. We ride on. Then it stops.

P1080295

I am far too much of a coward to cycle along with Italian lorries so we turn back. This following paths and turning back when they peter out becomes the theme for the afternoon-but in the end we decide that all the back and forth paths probably gave us a good enough ride-if a little frustrating!

At Stresa, a short bus ride away, we can get a cable car ride up the mountain, Monte Mottarone, a compelling idea. When the bus picks us up from the stop at Feriolo it is packed with school students, most of whom are fixed on their phones. Clearly there is no custom of giving up seats for older passengers here, as Husband has to stand by the driver and I am obliged to occupy the steps by the front windscreen.

After we purchase the cable car tickets there is a short wait then we pile in to the car and it lurches away and up through the trees. Soon there are spectacular views of the lake and its islands, with darting, miniature boats against the blue waters. At the half way point we must disembark and swap on to a new car, which lurches away again. At the top the air is cool and thin but the mountain panorama is glorious.

P1080310

We get a coffee, although the restaurant’s terrace with a stunning view is reserved for those ordering meals! A clanking sound precedes the arrival of several bell-wearing donkeys, who wander down and past us to graze in the cable car area.

P1080332

I’ve suffered altitude sickness on two previous occasions and am not inclined to clamber about much at this height, so we eschew the chair-lift and the trolley switch-back and ride back down the mountain to the cable-car station, then on into Stresa.

The town has a swish waterfront promenade, landscaped with beautiful planting and with stunning views of Maggiore. There are also some seriously top-end hotels!

It’s tricky locating the bus stop for our return to Feriolo but I employ some of my ameobic [but burgeoning!] Italian and we find it, managing to get a seat, too.

The weather is set to change and it is time to be heading north and west on a slow journey home. And we are not yet finished with lakes…

 

 

 

Lake Garda by Ferry

P1080215

Despite a disparaging response from the receptionist at our site in Moniga, on Lake Garda’s southern end, we discover that the passenger ferry makes a convenient stop a few minute’s walk from the gate leading out to the beach. Hooray!

Husband, abler than myself at these tasks, scrutinises the timetable and ascertains that we can visit two different locations in one afternoon using ferries.

After some confusion we purchase tickets from the promenade café and wait on the jetty, where there is no shade from a relentless sun as the minutes tick by and our faith in the timetable begins to waver. We have, after all been subjected to the vagaries of Italian public transport timetables before…

Nevertheless, 10 minutes late-a ferry approaches and we are ushered on board, the only passengers from this stop. The boat wastes no time and swooshes away towards Guardione-our first choice of visit. En route we pass an impressive villa-turned-hotel on a lush island.

P1080223

Soon we are pulling up at Guardione and the waterfront is redolent of a fifties film set, so that I expect Audrey Hepburn to step out of the swish ‘Savoy’ hotel clutching a parasol at any minute.

P1080229

On our tight schedule, and after buying our next tickets we have little more than an hour to stroll the promenade-but this enough to catch a flavour of this town-meant for the well-heeled of we tourists [ie-not us]. On the front, a bride is posing for the photographer, a tiny, white, classic Fiat as an accessory. There is no time to see whether, adorned in her mushroom frock she is able to use little car as a conveyance, which is disappointing.

P1080238

We get a quick coffee before catching the next ferry to Sirmione, which retraces our journey and stops at our own place, Moniga, en route.

Sirmione, lying on a peninsula that protrudes into the centre of the lake, is picturesque, has an exquisite castle and is heaving with tourists.

The cobbled streets are lined with gift shops and gelati parlours heaped with pastel mounds of ice cream. How can they possibly sell the mountains of ice cream on offer? Among the hoards of visitors there are more people grasping loaded cones than not…

Resisting the siren call of ice-cream, we sit down by the quay to await our ferry back to Moniga and our site, where 2 out of every 3 pitches are occupied by British tourers. Clearly Lago di Garda is popular with our countrymen, or it may be the large swimming pool on site, the dinky beach and the blistering sunshine…

But it’s time for us to move on and we’re not finished with lakes yet because we haven’t seen Maggiore yet, so we up sticks and move on, heading for another lakeside site beside the small town of Feriolo. And this is where you will find us next post!

 

Three Lakes

It is tricky enough to park a camper van at Lake Como, let alone find a place to stay, but we do find a site, albeit at the uninteresting end of the lake. The village is hosting a ‘truck’ festival and is thronged with fans of lorries. At the end of this Sunday the trucks are heading home, bedecked with lights, tinsel and decorations and, unburdened of a trailer,  showing off with a turn of speed.

We wander back to the site, where we are the only touring unit. The surrounding mountains are white-topped and have taken on a pinkish glow from the sunset.P1080117

It is time to get along to another lake and we’ve chosen one we’ve never heard of-Lake Iseo, which has the distinction of Europe’s largest lake island [according to our ‘Rough Guide’]. To get there we drive along a long way through a verdant valley where vineyards, orchards and salad crops line the hillsides and roadsides, eventually turning to climb up into a mountain pass. Here the buildings are Alpine chalets, the industry skiing. The largest town is Aprico, bustling even in the summer season.

Lunch is a stop in a lay-by outside a monastery. An opportunistic van is selling momastic produce: cheese, wine and nibbles, from which I feel duty bound to buy a sample. Soon we are plunging into a series of tunnels and there is our next lake,  Iseo, sparkling in the afternoon sun.

Lake Iseo, we find contains the largest European lake island, Monte Isolo, a circular mound rising from the lake, 9km in circumference and inhospitable to all traffic except deliveries and bikes. We can take our bikes on to the ferry, where a cycle rack at the prow provides parking.

P1080145

The cycle path around the island is picturesque, although sometimes challenging!

A rustic bar at a [lofty] half-way point provides cold beers, which are much needed!

On our second day we cycle from our site near the town of Iseo around to the southern end of the lake-pleasant and undemanding.

P1080196

Then it’s time to pack up and head off to Lake Garda, the largest of these Italian lakes, where we find a shady spot on a site in an old olive grove and are surprised to find a large number of British tourers for the first time this trip. The site has a large pool and a beach and is dog-friendly [unlike some], which may explain its popularity with my fellow-countrymen?

By now it’s hot and the olive trees are most welcome for the shade they provide. This is our second visit to Lake Garda, the first having been made en route to Sicily a couple of years ago, when we stayed at Peschiera, a few miles further around this southern end of the lake.

It doesn’t take too long to discover that cycling here is not for the faint-hearted [such as myself]-as the roads are not cycle-friendly, nor are the gradients. We will have to find another way to explore the vast expanse of Lago di Garda…

P1080208