Sicily is one interesting place to take a Motorhome.

The general Sicilian driving behaviour is less ‘structured’ than the UK. Parking often resembles ‘vehicle abandonment’. The surfaces leave ‘a little to be desired’ on the majority of roads and expansion joints, of which there are many, seem to be more of a challenge than I remember in many other countries. But it is interesting and beautiful topography to have to build roads through. A lot of tunnels (with lighting that won’t overly trouble the Global Warming situation!), bridges and raised roadways.

If you’re not a very confident and assertive driver (or cyclist for that matter) then some of the villages and towns will be a challenge, especially Palermo which is just mad, but in a very endearing way.

Having said all that Sicily is a much less frustrating place to drive around than many parts of Britain, just a lot more chaotic.

 

The weather is pleasantly warm and sunny at this time of year (Apr/May) although we did have Saharan dust come visit for a day or so. The overnight rain left a much bigger mess than the occasional dump we get in the south of England.

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Saharan dust cloud over Castellammare

 

Sicilian food is generally an interesting mix of mainly fish and vegetables. Being Italian there is plenty of pizza and pasta. Kath is addicted to caponata, a classic Aubergine sweet and sour vegetable which is extremely moreish. Street food is a great way of experiencing Sicilian cuisine. We stumbled upon ‘the Spice Man’ in the Palermo street markets. Apparently, he featured in The Times and was on Rick Stein’s programme about Palermo. We had a very agreeable lunch time experience at his establishment … a few plastic tables and chairs in the middle of a very busy food market.

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Street food lunch – the post eating photo                                                                                                     … by way of contrast to the pre eating photo usually taken at fine dining restaurants!

 

Architecture, archaeology, monuments, churches and ruins are scattered everywhere you look. Sicily has had a fascinating mixture of cultural influences over the years which has left behind some great structures for us to look and ponder today. How many churches does one small island need?

 

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… bit of natural architecture

 

And then there’s Etna ….

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I’m still a learner at the Sicilian ‘vehicle abandonment’ parking style!

Ignatius

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To Sicily…and beyond!

23rd April

After the disappointment/adventure of the Amalfi coast we decided to head down to Sicily over the next couple of days, using the autostrades and finding nice campsites by beaches if possible. We have a couple of campsite guidebooks – one is the ACSI book which lists good quality campsites at which you can get a discount out of season, using the ACSI card (which we have). They’re mostly a flat rate of 17 euro a night and have decent facilities. The other book we’re using is Camperstop europe which lists aires, sostas and campsites in all countries we are planning on visiting. Some are free, some are full price but there are loads of them, and this book has become the bible for us.

Anyway on 22nd April we ended up at a lovely site with the friendliest manager, right by a beach, somewhere near Salerno. I took the opportunity to wash the sheets and dry them on a washing line made of string held up by Gertie and a fence post. It was windy and they dried in no time but I was scared we’d lose them!sheets

The next night (23rd) at a stop near Palmi way down in the south of Italy, we were once again by a beach and spent a very pleasant evening sipping beer outside a tabacchi and watching the sunset. I could get used to this life…sunset

24th April

And on to Sicily! 3 weeks to the day since taking the ferry from Poole to Cherbourg we put Gertie on another ferry from Villa San Giovanni to Messina. Somehow we found ourselves on a ferry used mainly by trucks which didn’t actually dock in Messina (imagine our horror as we chugged on past the Messina port, wondering where we were going to end up and would it even be Sicily at all?) but ended up about 10km further down the coast. No problem – it was easy to hop on the motorway from here and get to where we’d planned to spend the night (another lovely little campsite beside a beach). Here’s Gertie on the ferry, from above. She has a busy roof – 2 skylights, a solar panel and a satellite dish.ferry to sicily

We spent the evening doing a bit of planning of the next few days, then discovered the free wifi was fast enough for us to consider streaming the last episode of Broadchurch, via TunnelBear. Great to catch up on it at last!

25th April

There had been talk of an early morning swim in the sea, but it was pretty cold so I only got as far as paddling, while still wearing my PJs. It’s a hard life.paddling

We then spent a few hours driving most of one of the stages of this year’s Giro d’Italia. The route climbed through beautiful mountainous country, amongst gorgeous beech woods, and then around a corner suddenly there was the view we’d been waiting for, of Mt Etna. That wispy cloud is steam from its crater – it is almost continuously active.etna view

Many hairpin bends later, we arrived at the ski resort area of the mountain, on the south side. Obviously this is out of ski season (we’d have been tempted otherwise!) and this is where the Giro stage will finish. We’d eyed up several laybys where we could park the van for the night before, to cheer the cyclists on.

At the ski resort car park, we discovered you can (for 12 euro) park overnight. I’ve never spent a night on an active volcano before, so it had to be done. We explored the area, walked up a very steep ash and pumice-stone path to view a crater from the 2001 eruption, ate in the hotel restaurant, watched an episode of Game of Thrones and settled down to sleep at nearly 2000m. It was pretty cold.etna

26th April

Awoke to temperatures of 9 degrees in the van. The heating had to go on for a bit! Drove back down the mountain and across the interior of Sicily, all the way to Palermo. On arrival at our camperstop here the temperature was 31 degrees.  Much of motorway driving in Sicily looks something like this, as there are an awful lot of tunnels. You feel like you are driving down into mines. They don’t believe in overdoing the lighting.tunnel

Driving in Palermo is very stressful. We are at a basic camperstop (a campervan dealer’s backyard!) which is fairly central and which has toilets and a shower. We cycled this evening into the city centre – cycling in Palermo is also very stressful – and had a very pleasant meal out. Tomorrow we’ll explore the city properly  – on foot.

Kath

Sunset over the Amalfi Coast

How else can you (affordably!) bed down a 100 metres from the ancient site of Pompeii one night and the following night have the Mediterranean gently breaking 10 metres away as you dine outside your bedroom as the sunsets over the Amalfi Coast .. the joys of Motorhoming!

The Amalfi  Coast was a bit of an adventure. We were doing a recce, to figure out how much time to allow and what to do on our return, back up through Italy. We left Pompeii, travelling through Sorrento  as far as Positano. Stunning scenery, very windy roads, mad Italian scooters and some very tight passing maneuvers, especially with all the coaches.

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Amalfi Coast

… I’m sure Kath will post some more Amalfi Coast photos, I was driving and she was taking the photos!

On reaching Positano the queuing starting and we were told we couldn’t take the Motorhome through and would have to turn round and go back the way we came. Despite coaches carrying on (we are no wider and a lot shorter), but one campervan is less commercially valuable than a coach load of tourists! A very insistent local police person resulted in us having to halt our progress and turn back. We had to retrace our steps back to Pompeii and 3 hours later we were back to where we started!

Positano did not get a very favourable write up in our guide book and I’m definitely not a fan given our experience. Apparently the only way to drive the Amalfi Coast in a camper is at night !!! Be warned if you’re planning it. To get to Amalfi you need to drive from Salerno and return.

So from Pompeii we took the Autostrada to Salerno and despite all the retracing still managed to get there on schedule (shows how slow the coast is compared to Autostrada).
Got there in time to listen to (no TV coverage) the Munster European Championship Semis … but they were beaten ):

Still back to where I started this post.
Eating dinner with the Mediterranean gently breaking 10 metres away as you dine with the sun setting over the Amalfi Coast.

 

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Sunset over the Amalfi Coast

 

Ignatius

Motorway to Pompeii

After my (Kath’s) last update on 16th April we had a bit of a change of plan. It was just too frustrating to spend hours on the scenic routes, and we were both ending up tired and frazzled by the end of the day. As we do want to get to Sicily in time to see the Giro d’Italia stage up Mount Etna we decided to hop on the autostrade and make quicker progress, thus freeing up some time for sightseeing along the way. Apart from the extortionate tolls and one long traffic queue (still quicker than the endless speed bumps) this has worked well.

17th April

Half the day was spent driving down the autostrade. This section of motorway is an incredible feat of engineering – all tunnels, bridges and viaducts. We reached La Spezia where we found a conveniently sited campervan park not far from the town centre. We spent the afternoon cycling around the town and buying our train tickets for the following day’s trip to the Cinque Terre.  Saw the cruise ship Oceana – which we’d also seen a few days earlier in (I think) St Tropez. It’s clearly following us around.oceana.jpg

18th April

See previous post by Ignatius! Wonderful day exploring the Cinque Terre villages.cinque terre.jpg

19th April

Another driving day, down to Montalto di Castro. We’d picked out a campsite and planned to arrive in good time to do some washing (oh the exciting life we lead! Sadly a long trip means a lot of laundry to be done every now and again). The campsite turned out to be one that I am sure is perfect in hot weather as it’s all under trees and very shady, but the weather here in Italy has turned decidedly chilly these last few days and we found it cold. Anyway, washing was done, Gertie once more helped out, and somehow it did manage to dry overnight.

20th April

On down the motorway to Pompeii. Pretty sure I spotted Oceana again at Civitavecchia. Pompeii was absolutely top of my list of places to visit, and although we will certainly be back in the Naples area later in the trip I insisted we spend a day here now to see it. We found a reasonably priced campsite right opposite the entrance to the ruins, run by a lovely young Italian-Ghanaian lad who’d spent 3 months in Cork and who commented on Gertie’s Munster stickers. Small world and all that. We arrived in time to do a supermarket shop, and check out details for our Pompeii visit.

21st April

What can I say – Pompeii is awesome! It’s huge – at one time 20,000 people lived here. At the time of Mt Vesuvius’s eruption in 79AD there were probably only around 2000 in the city as the rest had evacuated. The ruins were first discovered in the 1700s and excavations have been almost continuous since then, but there are still huge areas to be uncovered. I was blown away by the scale, the opulence of the houses, the amount of amazing detail still to be seen in the frescoes and murals. And the casts of the victims are incredibly moving. It’s hard to do it justice with just a few words and photos in a blog post. I suspect one day I may write a novel set in Pompeii… we’ll see!

Cinque Terre

A truly memorable day in Cinque Terre today. Stunning 5 separate villages hanging precariously on rocky slopes above the Mediterranean.

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Manarola

Rode the bikes the 5km from our Aire stop in La Spezia to the train station. The train vists all 5, mostly via tunnels through the mountainous coastline.

They are extremely touristy but their inherent charm and stunning settings will win over even the most skeptical tourist trap avoider!

Walked up & down some very steep stepped pathways, meandered through narrow ‘streets’ and despite best efforts got drawn into some quaint shops. Not to mention somewhat strange cemeteries … well space is at a premium!

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Monterosso cemetery

Our lunch time view …

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Vernazza harbour

I had Tegame alla vernazzana in Vernazza. The main dish of the town, a layered, casserole-like dish of whole anchovies, potatoes, tomatoes, white wine, oil, and herbs.
I am planning on eating my way through local dishes on my Italian travels 🙂

It would be rude to leave Cinque Terre without having a beer with a view.

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Ignatius

 

French Riviera

One thing we have learned is that the French Riviera is not particularly motorhome-friendly. In the towns there is nowhere to park. Plenty of car parks but all with height restrictions so no good for Gertie. We’ve tried asking at tourist infomation centres and they send you to marinas or small parking places where there’s space for about 3 vans and all spaces are occupied by bloody cars. Speed bumps everywhere – and every speed bump even when taken very slowly means the entire contents of the van jump. God help you next time you open the fridge. Very narrow roads, even when following the ‘main’ routes through the town. Darned satnav doesn’t understand Gertie is fat, and once we had to reverse back up a narrow street. Not very relaxing driving. Ignatius is a hero – I could never do it!

But anyway, we have managed to see quite a bit of this part of the coast, although we have not been able to stop and explore all the towns we might have liked to.

Thursday 13th April

We gave up on trying to look round St Raphael owing to lack of parking, and instead drove the coast road from our last campsite near St Raphael. Some impressive scenery. We spotted a good layby just off this road which was suitable for wild-camping, and made a note of it. Headed on to near Cannes then looped back and drove an inland mountain road which was very beautiful. We parked near the top of a col and walked up through forest to the top of a small mountain. And then looped back round to the camping spot we’d already checked out, for a very peaceful night almost alone – which is difficult to manage on this very built-up coastline! This is the only section not built on, and that, I think, is only because they can’t build here.red cliffs.jpg

While in the overnight spot, a Ferrari parked beside us for a while. That’s the type of vehicle you should drive in this terrain, said Ignatius, not a 3.5 ton campervan!

Friday 14th April

Wonderful coffee stop at a beachside restaurant we’d spotted yesterday (but had been unable to find parking then). A sleek black MacClaren passed us (pipping the Ferrari). We’d intended stopping in Cannes but could not find anywhere to park, again, so pushed on to a campsite just outside Antibes, and were set up there in time for lunch. coffee.jpg

Spent the afternoon cycling around the Cap d’Antibes, and the evening relaxing at the campsite.

Saturday 15th April

We’d decided to spend 2 nights at the campsite so we could explore Antibes properly. It seems to be one of the few towns with a campsite in easy reach of the town centre. So we cycled into town, explored a fort, then the Picasso museum and cathedral, then a covered market, and then the twisty lanes of the old town. A very enjoyable day.  An E-type Jaguar passed us while we sat outside our lunchtime restaurant, pipping both Ferrari and MacClaren in my mind. OK that’s enough about the swanky cars around here. I realise I am in danger of losing our readers.

Our German neighbours in the campsite cycled into Nice today (bit far for me) but came back by train with only one bike, the other one having been stolen and the lock cut through. Bit off-putting.

A few technical issues back at the campsite – the Mifi box would only pick up 3G and was very slow, the satellite dish was struggling to pick up Astra 2 so we decided to watch a DVD then discovered the DVD player in the TV wouldn’t work. Thankfully my laptop has a DVD player so we used that and watched an episode of Game of Thrones (series 5, episode 1, so please no spoilers from episodes beyond that!)

Sunday 16th April

Happy Easter! Lovely Ignatius gave me a Green & Black’s easter egg, which somehow he’d hidden in the van for the last 2 weeks. I gave him nothing. Well, maybe a thank you kiss!

Bit of a frustrating day today. We left the lovely Antibes campsite and headed east on the coast road to Nice. Nowhere to park, so we drove the Promenade des Anglais (scene of the horrific terror attack last year) and headed on towards Monaco, hoping to find a layby to pull into for a lunch stop. Not a single layby. Drove through Monaco (mostly tunnels) and popped out the other side. Still nowhere to stop. And then there was the Italian border, and still no parking places. We began searching on Google maps for campsites, found one but it was full, then parked illegally by the beach to have a much-needed and very late lunch stop. lunch.jpg

We have ended up in a campervan aire (well they are called sosta di camper here) in Santo Stefano al Mare, which is east of San Remo. It’s right by the sea which is nice. Actually we found parking in San Remo, and stopped for a while, but too dear to stay overnight there. I guess because it is Easter there is a lot of traffic and the aire is full (we got the last space!)

So now I’m sitting looking out over the sea and watching a stream of cruise liners heading across to the French resorts. The Med looks almost as busy as the roads. In happy news, the Mifi seems to work a lot quicker here than in France, and the satellite dish for the moment has picked up Astra 2 so we should be able to see the finale of Homeland tonight…

The plan is to spend about a week or so driving down the west coast of Italy, get to Sicily, and then slow the pace right down… Looking forward to that after all the time spent driving today. The distance wasn’t great but progress was slow all day and frustrating with the lack of parking. Hoping too that once the Easter weekend is over the traffic will calm down a bit.

Cote d’Azur

I’m writing this on my phone and hopefully publishing via 4g which seems more reliable than campsite Wi-Fi. So please excuse any terrible typos which will be the result of autocorrect! Also I can’t do that thumb typing that everyone under 30 seems to do so am stabbing at letters with one finger.

Sunday

We visited Les Baux-de-Provence which is a gorgeous mediaeval village perched on a hilltop complete with castle ruins and amazing views across Provence. If we’d have had our son Fionn with us we would never have got away as there were replica trebuchets which they fire each day…lumiere

Near Les Baux are some old limestone quarries which are now used for a spectacular music and light show. I mean, truly awe-inspiring. Imagine renaissance art projected onto 50ft high walls, the floor and the ceiling, as Led Zep’s Stairway to Heaven plays… Our guide in Arles, Ann, had said we MUST go to see it and she was right.

We camped at a site in a nearby village.

Monday

First job, after a pleasant breakfast sitting outside the van in the sunshine, was to find somewhere that sold hose attachments for connecting hose to tap. When we refilled our water tank in Saumur we left the darn thing screwed to the tap. Doh. We have loads if attachments for different types of tap but this is the one we’ll most likely need the most. Found 2 campervan suppliers in the area but both sold just whole vans and not accessories. Then we called at a supermarket to stick up on food, found it had a small gardening section, and found what we needed. So we bought 2.

Long drive today, first sight of the glorious blue Mediterranean, through Marseilles via the coast road, on to the Routes des Cretes which is a spectacular drive through the coastal hills between Cassis and La Ciotat. We ‘wildcamped’ in a large layby on the route. You’re allowed to in France as long as there are no notices saying you can’t. I went for an evening walk up a hill and discovered some mysterious ruins…blue med

Tuesday

Coffee on the prom in La Ciotat and a first dip of my toes in the Med. Another long drive to Bonne Terrasse not far from St Tropez, via the world’s most wiggly road, where we camped at an aire beside a beach full of driftwood.

Wednesday

After 2 days involving lots of driving today was a sightseeing day. First off, into St Tropez where we eyed up the incredible yachts in the harbour then bought a pint of milk. Somehow felt the need to buy more white things so Ignatius bought a t-shirt and I bought a floppy sun hat. It’s really pretty hot here so I think I’ll need it!

On to Port Grimaud but we could find nowhere to park Gertie so we went inland to Grimaud instead. This is another picturesque hill town possibly even prettier than Les Baux.

Camping tonight just west of St Raphael. Laundry done!laundry.jpg

I’ll have to add photos later when I have Wi-Fi as I need to reduce them in size before uploading them to the blog.

Updated 16th April to add a few pics!