Starting Back

4 Revisions

After leaving Caunes Minervois in the far south of France, and an arty interlude, we set off north. And while we’ve journeyed up through France many, many times it’s still a pleasure to meander up through the country and experience the differing landscapes, the changing crops, the divers architecture. We’ve crossed the fantastic bridge at Millau on numerous occasions but it continues to inspire awe, even though this time there is work being done.

We opt for autoroutes for a good deal of the way on this occasion. We head up towards the Loire. We’re constrained, now by campsites that are still open this late in the season but there will be enough places to stay on the way home. It helps, too, if there are sites near to towns or villages where we can enjoy an evening, perhaps get a drink in a bar or a meal.

There’s a likely place across the bridge at Chateauneuf-sur-Loire. We think we’ve stayed at the site before but once we arrive and enter the long avenue that is their driveway we realise it isn’t the one we thought it was. This happens often- either we think we’ve stayed somewhere and haven’t, or we think it’s new to us and then remember we’ve been at the site before. This is a combination of memory loss and sheer number of sites visited!

We park on the long avenue/driveway and go to reception, where there is a lengthy wait while someone booking in enjoys a chat with the receptionist about where they’re from etc and the receptionist tells the someone how much she enjoys speaking in her fluent English. Once we get our turn in the small office, the young woman is determined to use her English once more, even though it is not so fluent and we’d have got on better in French. Still, we eventually book in and can choose where to go except not near the river, where it is decidedly soggy.

There is still enough sunshine to sit outside the van, although we’re accosted by an English couple from the VW van opposite who are keen to talk about their grandchildren and how they’ve had to go home and return in order not to fall foul of the 90/180 day rule. This rule is news to us, and when we check it transpires we’ve used 87 of our 90 days. Phew!

We wander across the bridge to the town, which is pleasant enough, with a tiny chateau and park. The shop windows are full of autumn displays. Nothing restaurant-related pops out, but a riverside bar has tables in the sun so it seems churlish not to take advantage for a beer in the sunshine.

Next day we’re unable to detect anything resembling a hosepipe for water filling and the waste emptying is coyly concealed. We make an exit and embark on the next hop- up to Falaise, which holds some pleasant surprises! The municipal site is beautiful, with excellent, modern services and a stunning view of the stand-out castle- William the Conqueror’s castle, no less! By the time we get up the hill to look at it there’s only about half an hour of visiting time left, so it’s not worth buying tickets, but the exterior is lovely and boasts great views of the surroundings.

It’s just as well we’re on our way home, since the van’s leisure batteries have now given up and there’s no point in hooking up as nothing seems to happen when we do. So we’re without electricity.

Then we’re off up to Caen-via a supermarket, of course, for a good stock-up. The trusty campsite at Ouistreham is open and, best of all, the lovely canal-side restaurant has a table available. Husband drops me off to rush in and do a booking. It’s all getting end-of-trip now and I’m experiencing my usual mix of regret and anticipation. What kind of state will the house be in? And the garden? We’re limping home with some van problems to sort out. There will be plenty to do!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her latest novel, The Conways at Earthsend is 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, Novelist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

The Lost Van and the Art Village

Our Ferry from Corsica arrives back to Toulon, south on the French mainland. It’s early enough to still be dark and I’m feeling stretched from lack of sleep, having spent a wakeful night on a mattress I’ve dragged from the top bunk. But we stumble out and make our way out of the cabin decks and in the general direction of the car decks. But which one? We came up from our deck in a lift, but there is more than one. I definitely recall a large, shiny space when we exited the lift- but where is it?

We begin to search all exits, trying staircases, of which there are many, descending to car decks, lorry decks, dead ends. Which deck is ours? Which side? And which end? We squeeze between gigantic lorries, searching for our van. Outside in the half-light of dawn, vehicles are streaming out and off while we continue to do a frantic search for our campervan. We’re starting to despair as we go back upstairs to try again to find our lift area- then we spot a group of foot passengers in a waiting area which is…shiny, spacious and outside some lifts. At last! We push through the foot passengers and go down to the depths. And there is our van, in almost solitary splendour except for a few vehicles trapped behind it, their drivers waiting for us to arrive and a few extremely irritated ferry crew members. We’re sheepish as we drive off and I’m mouthing ‘sorry’, although it doesn’t feel entirely our fault.

We’ve to navigate Toulon in the half-light then off up the motorways. We’re heading towards home now, although France is big [by our terms] and we’ll be making a small diversion to see a friend and ex-colleague of Husband’s. Nick was an art teacher and is now a successful painter living in a small village in the Minervois area. This entire region is almost entirely given over to wine production, with a spot of tourism thrown in- as well as art, of course.

The village where Nick lives, Caunes Minervois, has a community of artists including potters as well as painters. We arrive mid-afternoon and search for the village’s handy campsite, which, as Nick has established for us, is open. The entrance isn’t obvious, although it’s by the sport complex, which is commonplace for a municipal site. There’s nobody manning reception but we’re directed, via a notice, to find a place and see someone later. The site is tiny but lovely, with a view of the cute village. It’s beautifully maintained and has everything we need- and all for 12 Euros per night!

Husband strides off up the village to see his friend while I get an hour or so of sleep. We wander up to Nick’s cottage later in the evening, strolling through the lanes. It’s hilly, narrow streets flanked by stone, terraced cottages. There’s a stone cross and a beautiful bell tower on the church. It’s all idyllic. Opposite Nick’s house, on the sloping lane, lives a potter, Lionel- examples of his ceramics adorning his front yard.

The inside of Nick’s house is as quaint and cute as everywhere else, with small rooms leading on to a courtyard partly covered by a vine. The rooms are filled with his art works, large canvases, swirling and vigorous. Across the courtyard is his huge studio, rustic and criss-crossed with beams. It’s warm enough to sit in the courtyard to eat.

It’s late when we walk back through the village to the campsite. Nick has warned us that the streetlights will be off and indeed, it is dark, but there’s enough light to see to walk and there’s something lovely about the ancient village, silent in the dark.

In the morning Nick comes to us for coffee and we ask to buy a painting, making a quick second visit to the studio to choose. It’s tricky! Nick’s work is shown in many, prestigious exhibitions, including the Saatchi Gallery and Brazilian locations. https://www.saatchiart.com/account/profile/938067 But we reach an agreement and he wraps it carefully for us to take away.

I feel reluctant to leave but we must make progress north now that Autumn has taken firm hold so we bid Nick ‘au revoir’ and we’re off again…

You can visit Nick’s Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=nick%20rands

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is 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, Novelist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Ajaccio and Away!

Ajaccio, Corsica’s capital, is a beautiful, pastel-coloured city sweeping around a bay in the west of the island. It has a busy port with ferries coming and going, a few cruise ships stopping by and a marina full of expensive yachts.

One of our first jobs in the town is to find the ‘Orange’ shop and renew the SIM card in our mobile wifi device. This is the only way, for now, that we know how to keep internet costs down while travelling in Europe and I’m nostalgic for the pre-Brexit days when we never had to consider such things.

The city is everything you’d expect from a grand, old Mediterranean municipality- narrow streets edged with tall, terraced buildings, grand squares dotted with palms and a beachside citadel, sadly not open to the public but picturesque all the same.

One of Ajaccio’s claims to fame is being the birthplace of Napolean Bonaparte, a historical event much capitalised upon. Boney is everywhere, from pubs to barbers’ shops. We find his actual house in a tiny, cluttered street; a modest building next to a bar. Almost everything in the street is Napolean-related and there are groups of tourists eagerly snapping away.

The town’s main square is huge and houses the Hotel de Ville as well as ornate fountains. There is, of course a plethora of gift shops, bars and cafes. They are competing for cruise passengers’ cash. There’s a huge, white floating hotel in the harbour and it’s easy to spot its occupants as they wander the town dressed in their cruise outfits. They’ll be returned on board by the time we begin to look for a restaurant, so we’ll have plenty of choice.

In the late afternoon we need to look for somewhere to eat, principally because we’ll need to get in the queue for the ferry in a couple of hours. It’s tricky. Here in the Med, folks tend to eat late, with or without children, which means the restaurants don’t open until late, either. But most have a 7.00pm opening, which is just about ok for us to be in time to queue. We gravitate towards the dockside, a location that we know from experience is likely to provide a good choice of eateries. It’s fair to say that the meal we choose is fine, though not as inexpensive as most of our restaurant meals on Sardinia and Corsica have been.

Then we’re negotiating the complex maelstrom of roundabouts and slip roads which take us to the port and thrusting phone screen barcodes at various neon-vested ferry workers. A group of three lads seem to have a bantering discussion over the size of our van, despite us telling them the length but at last we’re directed into the appropriate lane and just have to wait. We’ve done all this enough now, to know the routine. There’s a long wait but once the ship arrives everything happens quickly, the inbound vehicles streaming out and disappearing into the [by now] dark and the processing of the outbound traffic. It’s like some complicated puzzle, fitting all the assorted cars, vans and motorhomes into the hold and then it’s our turn.

There’s little information or direction to the way we must access the passenger decks. This is not Brittany Ferries- where a member of staff hands you a ticket with the coded exit and stairs you need to use. We are left to work it out. We’re sandwiched tightly between huge lorries but there is a lift nearby that we can squeeze our way through to. When we get up to the passenger deck we exit into a large, shiny space with lifts either side of us. I’m weary by now and in an addled state, neglect to notice where we are. We’re intent on 1] finding our cabin and 2] finding the bar, both of which we manage to do.

I’m a little dismayed to find that our cabin has bunk beds, meaning that one of us will have to clamber up and down a ladder. This is not good. Nowadays, both Husband and I need to take nightly trips to the toilet, which is housed in a bijou en-suite in a corner. There’s a hiatus while we both ponder whether we will be the one to undertake this, then I volunteer to sleep on the floor and remove the mattress from the top. There’s just about room to put it on the floor with the end tucked under the bottom bunk.

We decamp to the bar, where we toast our departure amongst a throng of fellow passengers. Through the blurry windows Ajaccio recedes. There’s nothing else but to retire to the cramped cabin. I tuck myself into the duvet on the floor, hoping not to be trodden on by a bathroom visiting Husband.

In the event, it’s not a restful night’s sleep and I’m glad of my Kindle for whiling away the hours until we pull into Toulon. I’m unrested, stretched and brain-fogged from lack of sleep as the ship shudders up to the quayside. It’s still dark outside as we stumble up and stow our things. Now, how do we find the van? Hmmmmm……

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is 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, Novelist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Corsica- the Last Gasp

When we get back to the south of Corsica from Sardinia we head towards Propriano, slightly to the west, although en route we’ve a plan to see a startling outcrop of coastal rock called the ‘Rocher de Lion’. It’s more wiggly, mountainous terrain but worth it, as the lion rock is amazing. We’re lucky to be able to stop for photographs in a small lay-by which houses a cafe, closed when we arrive. It’s also a convenient place for us to make a coffee.

There’s an ancient, neolithic site we’d like to see, inland at Finistola. We’ve left it until now as it’s not too far out of our way. It’s on the outskirts of the village and has a roomy car park, empty when we arrive. There’s a modest charge for tickets but once we’re through the site is extensive and has a wow factor, huge, mossy boulders framing cave entrances, stepped pathways and standing stones everywhere. The Corsicans have done a good job restoring and preserving the site and there’s an excellent visitors centre, too.

There are carpets of tiny, pink cyclamen everywhere, reminders that even here, in the Mediterranean, Autumn is hovering.

Then we’re off again, making for a site around the bay from Propriano. There’s a descent down to the coast before a long strip along by the beach. Again, the site is away from town in a residential area opposite the sea. It’s wooded and very, very quiet with only a handful of vans and one or two tents.

The weather has turned truly autumnal now and begun to be wet and windy. The ground in places is waterlogged too. End of season is upon us! There’s a longish walk to the nearest bar or restaurant, not tempting in a squally gale. A walk along the road in the opposite direction takes us a short way before the footpath peters out. In addition to this, the campsite bar and restaurant seems to be closed, meaning we’ll be thrown back on our own resources once more. I’m full of admiration for those who’ve pitched tiny tents on the soggy, puddle-ridden ground. We’ve brought our half-dried laundry from the previous site, which I hang out between the trees in a dry spell in hopes it will dry.

Two nights is enough and we move on again, this time near to Ajaccio, Corsica’s present capital, to a site near Porticcio, just around the bay. The pitches are a little soggy and the services antiquated but it will do until we depart. A tabby cat takes a liking to us and makes himself at home on our groundsheet but we’re not inviting him inside!

This time we’re in walking distance of the small seaside town so we take advantage and go to look. And it’s just that- a seaside town, with beachside bars, restaurants and shops. Ajaccio can be seen across the bay. It’s tempting to book a table for the evening but the walk home is quite long to be doing late at night. There is also a small bar outside the entrance to our site but it closes in the evening.

Our ferry from Ajaccio to Toulon does not leave until late evening, leaving us a full day to explore the city. It’s not far to get round to the outskirts but finding somewhere to park for the day seems impossible. There’s a car park on the way in, although the town is miles away around the bay. We drive through the centre, which is completely jammed with every kind of traffic. All car parks are full. We drive to the other side, beyond a long strip of cemetery and find a seaside car park, again, a long way from town.

After a coffee we try again, travelling back through the snarled-up streets, parking in a space near the port for a short time, just to have some lunch then noticing the railway station car park is opposite! Hooray! We’re off to explore the town!…

At Last! Return to Corsica

We’re aware that we must pay up for our stay at the site near Santa Theresa Gallura the evening before we leave, while reception is still open, as we’ll need to be early next morning to catch the ferry to Corsica. Feeling noble, I volunteer to make the descent down to the gate and pay, negotiating all the levels then flogging back up all the slopes and steps to our pitch at the top. Getting to the door of the van, I see Husband talking on his phone and once he’s done, he shares the news that our ferry for next morning is cancelled due to inclement weather and we won’t be departing for another couple of days.

‘Your turn’ I tell him. And he makes the steep descent back down to reception to re-book for two more nights. It leaves us with the knotty problem of how to occupy two days here in relative wilderness without beach weather. But it’s true that the skies are overcast and the stiff breeze is strengthening to gale level. Later, squally rain is added to the mix. I’ll admit to disappointment that we’re not leaving for Corsica just yet. There are a few places there left to see and not a lot besides reading or internet we can do here in the middle of nowhere except beach, which is not tempting in the wind and wet. Hmm-

With a day to fill, we opt to secure the van’s interior and go for a look at Santa Theresa Gallura, where we’ll be leaving from when the coast is clear. It’s only a couple of miles down the road. The town is hilly, with narrow streets but we find a car park that will accommodate the van and walk towards the beach front area. It’s very windy though not raining and when we reach the sea, we can see the strip of limestone cliffs that is the coast of Corsica across the choppy waters.

If you cross the sand into the corner of the small, sea-front beach there are steps up to a cliffside walkway. It doesn’t go all that far but is fun to walk round, especially with choppy waves splashing up, although the only option is to return via the same route. After this, we wander the town a bit. It’s pleasant enough, with some attractive squares and plenty of gift shops. Then it’s on to have a look where we’ll be getting the ferry and to ‘Eurospin’ for groceries.

Next morning we’re up early to prepare for the crossing, arriving at the port to join a queue for the ancient ferry, which is already waiting. We get a coffee and pastry from the portside cafe then I’m told to vacate and board as a pedestrian while Husband waits. Soon I can watch while he turns the van and reverses into the mouth of the boat whilst being shouted and gesticulated at. We’re learning, by now, that this is the way of Italian ferry workers.

There’s not much sun, but I can’t help standing to watch as our vessel approaches Bonifacio, the white cliffs growing larger, the medieval buildings on their overhanging ledge. I’ve already taken far too many photos of this picturesque city! Then we’re rounding the cliffs into harbour and as Husband descends to the hold to get the van, I follow the pedestrian walkway out to meet him. There’s just the steep ramp of road up from the quay to negotiate- thankfully without obstacle or need to pause this time. We’re back on Corsica!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is 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, Novelist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Isuledda? Yes we is…

In a typical episode of senile dementia fog memory lapse, neither Husband nor I remember the Costa Smeralda site of Isuledda until we’re about half a mile away, then bells begin to ring and once we’ve turned off the road and up their driveway we pass a spot with a hosepipe where we’d washed our [previous] van prior to departure and I’m certain. Yes. We stayed here in 2016, on our way up from Sicily.

But wow, has it changed! Their reception building is familiar, but that’s about all. Last time we chose our pitch, down by the water on a terraced section. This time the waterside pitches are ‘premium’, meaning you pay more. We’re taken on a zooming golf cart ride to view available pitches away from the water, round some bends, up a hill and along some lanes. There’s been an explosion of chalet installation and the entire place has expanded, spreading over far more land. We choose a place and get returned to reception, where we check in and we’re soon installed among the German vans. This trip, as well as the last excursion to the south-west of France, has been dominated by German tourists. We’ve no problem or complaint with this. They are always friendly, chatty and pleasant. But we’d have liked a more cosmopolitan set of neighbours- for variety.

In the next aisle there’s a bus. It’s there for a group of Czech cyclists, who are camping just down the lane from us, have their own caterer and pile on to the bus each day with their packed lunches, followed by a trailer carrying their bikes. They are brave and fit to be cycling the roads here in Sardinia!

We’re on a kind of hillock, almost overlooking the sea. If it felt like end of season was approaching in one or two of the previous sites, here there’s no sign of it. The place is full to bursting. There’s a waterside cafe and a new bar area, besides the restaurant that was here before, also some kind of performance arena- not in use this late in the season, for which we can be glad.

We spend our first day walking along to the nearest town, Cannigione, to get lunch. We’ve been before but it’s a pleasant walk with lovely coastal views. There isn’t a lot to the town but we find a pleasant cafe on the front and afterwards it takes next to no time to see the rest of the place.

We can access the beach near our pitch but an attempt to spend time relaxing there next day is thwarted by a strong, cool breeze so we opt to walk instead, falling foul of the billowing drizzle that begins to fall. It all lends more ‘end of season’ to the days, especially after all the heat.

It’s time to move on to our last Sardinian destination, a couple of miles outside Santa Theresa Gallura, where we’ll be getting the ferry in two days’ time. The site is steep and terraced, the road curling up and up. We opt for a pitch at the top, near the bar and restaurant where wifi is available.

There’s beach access down a steep and rocky track but it’s worth the walk and the climb back up. The coastline here is rocky and characterful, although there’s a stiff breeze again.

Our neighbours on site are a couple from Luxembourg, very proud owners of a brand, new VW van. They are new to touring but enthusiastic. We show them our https://www.acsi.eu/en/ discount card and campsite book and they discover the savings they could have made!

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is 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, Novelist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Two Sites and a Funeral

With all avenues having been explored at the Tortoli site on the Sardinian east coast, in other words a short, hot walk along the road as far as it goes and back again- we up sticks once more and ready the van for another hop north, this time towards Siniscola. There’s a site at Santa Lucia, a small seaside village. I look at the map. The road is ominously wiggly, heralding more mountain road terrors.

You’d have thought I’d be getting used to staring dizzy drops and horrific hairpins by this time, but rather than finding it all thrilling [as, admittedly. does Husband] I continue to perspire and grimace. But I’ve perfected the art of taking long, slow breaths as we approach bends or vehicles career towards us. This time, the journey is not aided by the scores of motor bikers who roar up behind us and swerve away at breakneck speed, sometimes enhancing the thrill by zig-zagging across the road. It’s clearly a favourite for motor cycles, also the one and only road where we spot three- yes, three British vehicles- all in one day; and having not spotted a single Brit during the entire trip to this date.

On this route, though there are some short stretches of respite, semi-tunnels where the outside edge is guarded by columns, and by the time we’re dropping down towards Santa Lucia it’s all become much more sensible. A search for a suitable place to stop for lunch gets tied in with supermarket shopping then we’re good to go to the site.

While we’ve been in Sardinia, our own, home, UK news has been full of the Queen’s death- a momentous event for many in our home country. And while any death is sad for those involved and close family of course I can’t help feeling relieved not to be saturated in the details and outpourings all day every day.

We pull up at the gates to our site. The woman in reception is pleasant and welcoming. ‘But you don’t want to watch the funeral?’ she asks me. For a moment I’m not sure what she means. ‘We’re showing it in the bar’ she tells me. I thank her, but say no, thanks, we didn’t know the Queen. [We still haven’t watched any of the ceremony/pomp/footage in spite of it’s remaining on YouTube], which the woman appears to find amusing.

The site is large and wooded with beach access via a woodland path. Getting into pitches is a little tricky, the first we choose being hampered by a gargantuan, Italian motorhome protruding into the access lane. The occupant makes a sudden appearance as Husband begins to manoeuvre into the space, gesticulating and waving like a banshee on speed. As I’m the other side of our van undertaking my own, usual, time-honoured signals, I find this frantic takeover annoying, as does Husband, so we roll across to the next space, away from the hyperactive, oversized-motorhome-owning Italian and his panicky signals.

Again, the site is ideal for beach lovers. This time, we can walk along the road into Santa Lucia, although it is tiny and while it’s attractive and has a relaxing, seaside holiday feel it has nothing of particular interest.

It’s on again, then- this time only a shortish hop north and to the Costa Smeralda, Sardinia’s famous millionaire playboy playground which was developed in the 60s by the Aga Khan, who poured milions into the area. Lucky for us it still has campsites!…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is 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, Novelist, Short Fiction and Blog | Facebook.

Close Encounters of the Polizi Kind

After a few days at the site near Tharros, we decide to ditch the plan to go south to Cagliari and drive across the island of Sardinia to the east coast at Tortoli. We’ve seen nowhere on our site to empty the grey water waste from the tank under our van, so we ditch it on the dirt track that leads to the road. We need to shop for groceries. A quick sweep via SATNAV tells us there’s a ‘Eurospin’ at Cabras, ten miles down the road, so we head there, following the directions. Upon entering Cabras, a somewhat nondescript town, I spot the ‘Eurospin’ sign, its tall, blue, star-studded emblem standing in front of a bulldozed building site.

We turn around and head back towards a brand new shopping centre up a ramp, where I catch sight of ‘Conad’ [renamed ‘Gonad’ by us on a previous occasion]. As we move to the access lane I notice a vehicle pulling level with us, then see it is a polizi car and worse, the window is down and the police officer is screeching something at us. Horrors! He points to our waste outlet, now dribbling a miniscule drip on to the road. ‘Es una problema!’ he shouts at me. ‘It’s nothing’ I say, ‘it’s just water!’ He continues to shout and we turn off up the ramp. I look behind and offer thanks to some unknown deity that the polizi are not accompanying us to Gonad.

We strike out across the countryside, soon beginning an ascent on a mountain road which feels too narrow to me, the passenger sitting on the left with vehicles hurtling towards me round hairpin bends. It’s up and on up, winding high until we enter one of those villages that clings to the mountainside as if a giant has thrown armfuls of toy houses down the hill. It’s pretty as a picture but with nowhere whatsoever to park a van we’re obliged to drive through to the other side- where at least we do find somewhere to stop and photograph the views. But they do not do justice to the panoramic vista stretched out below, a snaking series of hairpin bends and, incongruously, a football pitch halfway down.

We continue on the mountain road, stopping for coffee at almost the top, by a sign warning us of stray cattle- not a worry that had preoccupied me on the white-knuckle drive. At last we’re following the road through a quarry, the entire plant occupying both sides of the road and drop down towards the sea and Tortoli. We find the site we’ve chosen, as usual a good way out of town and away from any village or community, which appears to be the norm in Sardinia.

It’s one of those swish, ‘village’ type sites with pool, loungers, beach access through a swathe of palm trees and what looks like a creditable restaurant. This is lucky, as we’re not anywhere near the town of Tortoli although we can see the port, way around the bay along the huge, breezy beach.

The site is half empty. Our neighbours are two young Italian couples and a small boy. The women wander off with the child while the young men set to pitching the tents, stringing up the fairy lights and installing hammocks between the trees. Once the hammocks [four] are in place, the larger man, who clearly enjoys his pasta, tries out a hammock, instantly stretching it to the ground where it tips him out. The fact that we’re watching with interest places no constraints on the pair’s activities. They’re delighted to have caught our attention, especially when the two light bulbs they’ve inserted work and we applaud.

In spite of being way out of town and the only place to eat, the restaurant is excellent and I select a fishy carbonara which is simply delicious.

With nothing other than beach we decide to make the next hop up the coast, working our way up northwards towards the Costa Smeralda…

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is 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.

Alghero to Tharros via the Nuraghi

We’re keen to get a close look at a Sardinian ‘nuraghi’. Sardinia is littered with the remains of these circular, stone buildings in various states of preservation. Many are simply piles of stones lying around in the countryside or in the fields. Others have been preserved. They are ancient megalithic buildings and were constructed during the nuragic era from between 1700 and 730 BC.

So, on leaving Alghero we strike out into the interior with the intention of stopping somewhere near Tharros but taking in a nuraghi en route. The landscape is rocky and barren. Nuraghi Losa seems to be on our way and in fact is only just off the main road we’re taking, providing not only a cultural, historic experience but also, with a spacious car park, an excellent lunch stop on the way. Sardinia, we’ve found is not overrun with picnic stops and rest areas.

At the site there’s a ticket counter and also a small cafe and gift shop. The two women running the enterprise seem a little disorganised, but we do obtain tickets and manage to avoid too much of a lecture, preferring to read the texts at the site for ourselves. We are almost alone as we walk up the track towards the imposing nuraghi and begin to explore. It’s impressive, the central structure surrounded by further, circular rooms and there are two ‘floors’ accessed by haphazard, stone steps. Inside the gloom of the main part it’s cooler, with small recesses like cupboards around the walls.

We ascend to the top, from where a panoramic view over the surrounding countryside can be seen. Then it’s time to press on towards the coast at Cabras, where we’ll check into another site. Relying on our ACSI campsite book, we find our preferred site, but for the first time we’re out of luck and it’s full up. We move to another one. It’s right out in the middle of nowhere, with beach access down through a field- a huge, windswept expanse of beach, the sand consisting of fine grains of quartz.

The site is basic, the showers containing nothing except the shower hose- no shelf, no rail, not so much as a hook! My ‘bag-for-life’ has never been more essential and has to go on the wet floor. The water supply, once we’ve found it, is brackish and unpalatable. There is allegedly a restaurant, although it all looks as if it’s been packed away for the end of season. There is a rudimentary bar, complete with live, dancing parrot, but internet is non-existent.

It’s around 7.00pm when some women appear and begin flourishing tablecloths, cleaning chairs and bustling about in the kitchen area behind the bar and in an astonishing metamorphosis the covered platform is converted into a thriving restaurant where people begin to gather up. Soon most of the tables are occupied so we hasten to join them. The menu is limited to half a dozen dishes, a great idea- I’d much prefer a few delicious options than dozens of mediocre offerings. The Sardinian pasta dishes are quite specialised and our food is great.

While we’re in the middle of nowhere here, the ancient site of Tharros is about 10 miles away. This would be a good cycling distance, but unlike our Swiss neighbours here on site we haven’t brought our bikes, there being few opportunities on the tricky roads and mountain passes [although keen sports cyclists are everywhere, of course].

The weather remains stiflingly hot but turns overcast and breezy- not beach weather, so we opt to take the van out to Tharros and to the tiny village of San Giovanni Battista, which has a 6th century church. Once we’re there I remember visiting the charming old church and the village before, although I don’t think we toured the archaeological site last time, which we do now. There is a mere handful of fellow visitors as we follow the path around the [mostly rebuilt] ruins. It’s a fine view, then we walk up to the tower on the hill behind and clamber up the steps- to be told we’ll need to buy a ticket to peer out of the small window at the top. Needless to say, we descend without looking. The view from outside the tower is adequate!

Back at the site, we deliberate long and hard about getting down to Cagliari. The fact is- our leisure batteries aren’t holding their charge long enough for us to use an aire and the wifi is too poor for us to find a site near Sardinia’s capital. There isn’t one in our ACSI book. Reluctantly, we give up and decide we’ll cross over to the east coast, to Tortoli.

Grace is also known as the novelist, Jane Deans. Her new novel, The Conways at Earthsend is 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.

Alghero and the Wonderful, Watery Caves of Neptune

The boat to the Grotte di Nettuno, off the quayside at Alghero, Sardinia is just about to leave when we make a spontaneous decision to buy tickets and get on board. There’s just enough room inside the boat’s seating area, although when we choose a seat a couple across the aisle shoo us away, which is a mystery, since nobody else takes the seat. It’s a forty-five minutes or so trip, the first part simply going out to sea but then it becomes much more interesting as we near huge limestone cliffs with interesting formations and caves.

The boat begins to pull into a bay, which has us wondering where on earth the caves can be, but it is merely stopping to pick up more passengers. Once they’re on we round a gigantic rock and into a rocky inlet. Along the cliff side there’s a tiny walkway with people clambering along it, up and down- another way to access the grotte.

Once we’re off the boat there’s a mass of tourists to buy tickets- because of course, the boat trip does not include entry to the caves. There are a lot of visitors, and very little in the way of orderly queuing but we get our tickets [and with a concession for old age. I ask the ticket seller how he knows we’re eligible and he tells me; ‘because you are nice’…]

Even in this outer part of the caves the sight is other-worldly. But as we climb the steps and begin to make our way around it’s clear these are no ordinary caves. They are magic! The stalactites and stalagmites, the columns, the pools and the reflections are extraordinary and breath-taking. And it’s extensive, the path winding round and round and sometimes we must duck and walk bent over as we wind around the caverns and pools.

We eventually emerge and there’s a boat to meet us, stopping as before to disgorge some of the passengers.

Back at Alghero, there’s little time to explore the town as we need to get our bus back to site. We’ll return next day.

In the event, the following day we wait at the bus stop opposite the site as before and wait…and wait. It’s hot. We’re on the point of giving up when a bus appears and pulls up. Hooray! But then the driver gives us a stern look and points at his face, which is partly covered by a mask, of course- masks being still obligatory here on public transport. We are wearing our masks. I point to mine, in case he is mistaking it for my face. He shakes his head. Apparently we are wearing the wrong sort of masks. Who knew? Certainly not yesterday’s bus driver. He pulls away without opening the door. We wait.

A kind Irishman, also waiting, gives us the ‘correct’ masks. Another bus comes, eventually. In the town we find the phone shop the lady at tourist info told us about and get a replacement memory card for my camera plus a SIM card for our mobile wifi device.

The old town of Alghero is quaint, though not extensive and we feel we’ve done it after an hour or two. The historic area is behind substantial walls by the port. We get our bus [without incident this time] and return to site. I have the tricky task of getting the damaged memory card out of my camera and downloading the photos into my laptop, which goes fine until I need to remove the card from the computer, when it leaves the broken part inside the slot. I do manage to remove it but clearly the slot is damaged.

Then again, the Italian SIM card does not work. Hmmmmmm…………