Smurfy Settimana Sette: France, Italy
August 2010, by Gini
Crossing the South of France & submerging in Italy's Lakes
With a large south coast of France ahead and limited time to cross it we pushed Smurfy to the limit of 90kph no more of course! we aren't cruel! The border into France was passed in a blink of an eye or it may have been a huge queue as school holidays come to an end. So may tolls who could say! but we made it into France and after a long day of smurfing along we took D59 on the outskirts of Montpellier and parked up for the night with a seemingly endless beach all to ourselves. We think it was around Le Petit Travers, down the road from Carnon.
Our wild camping started with a gourmet BLAT and I think we can safely say it was the best BLAT we have ever had! The bread was perfectly soft, juicy tomatoes, crisp lettuce right down to the avocado was as soft as butter and of course the bacon oh I could go on! To top off a perfect night we whipped into the water for a 8 o'clock dip while the sun was setting. We finished with an old fashioned bottled water gypsy shower. A fantastic smurf moment - la lala la la la.
We were greeted by some friendly, possibly drunk french men over our coffee the following morning which added to the charm. With nothing to pack up we hit the road before smurf knew anything was up. We had reached Nice by lunchtime and in the heat of the day so we parked Smurf in view and enjoyed the white pebbly beach and turquoise water we loved so much the first time we came here three years ago!
Later in the day we started the curvy coastal road and passed through the famous hairpins and narrow streets with luxurious classical architectural at every turn until we had passed the Monte Carlo Casino and had driven right through the second smallest country of Monaco. The drive was a very tempting one with the water below getting bluer and more emerald by the minute with the horizon melting into sky and water. Bay after astonishing bay, before we knew it we had passed through the Italian border. We really did do the south coast of France in one day - not justice at all - we will return!
Almost instantly after crossing the border the architecture changed to those natural warm colours and a slightly chaotic tiered style up the hills with a bell tower at the center of every town we have come to love. We drove along the Autostrade which had impressive bridges that cut over and through mountainous terrain with tiny towns below. We pulled off in some small town by the water and had a late lunch followed by another swim in what could only be described as a gravel beach with amazing bright turquoise cloudy waves. We followed Tomtom up a very steep hill in search of a campsite only to discover he got the wrong side of the hill (note always take tom-toms directs with a pinch of commonsense). After a very traumatic reverse hill start facing a ravine, we finally found our campsite. Two things I remember about this site was the wind and it was cold but more importantly it was our first mosquito occurrence! We didn't stand a chance, they came from nowhere. We will have to be on guard from now on.
We were a few hours from Lago di Como where my parents were planning on meeting up with us around lunchtime. They had flown into the outskirts of Milan and drove in and secured a lovely four bed villa with stunning views of the lake in Bellagio. Dad must have heard Smurfy cruising for a park and came out to greet us. Smurfy introductions were made and then we relaxed with jaw dropping lake views over a bubbly vino in a real house! After a brief catchup and a lot of baby talk later (my brother Paul & Lauren have had a baby boy called Alexander (AKA Ali) I am still coming to terms that I am no longer the baby of the family but I was for this small trip! We later wander the small Bellagio town streets and settled on a lovely fish restaurant which was recommended by the villa owner. Dad had the local specialty rice with lake perch fish displayed as a starfish. Mum opted for a whole fish, Tom had lake fish and I had seafood with gnocchi camouflaged as look a like chickpeas. We all enjoyed a bottle of Chianti red wine to wash it down with.
The next morning with a whole day ahead of us, we caught the ferry across to Varenna for a short stroll to a lovely quiet square for a pizza shared lunch. We then hopped onto the ferry to Menaggio for a gelati and espresso before a few false ferries back to Bellagio in time for dinner. All three cute towns join together in a triangular shape at the center of the Lago di Como, the wish bone lake. The temperatures were a little cooler than what we had become accustomed to over the past few months and with the Alps as a backdrop the water was a little cooler too. One could easily mistake they were driving around a Fjord in Norway as the terrain was spectacularly mountainous and crisp to the senses.
After a long day of ferrying, taking the expressos, hat purchases, stopping for free WiFi we settled on dinner in a nice idyllic spot outside just a hop and skip from the water in Bellagio with seafood or lake food specialties on the menu. With food on our minds the next morning we had booked a table at the Villa D'Este Hotel, a lovely lunch affair with stunning lake views, we didn't see George Cloony here I'm afraid, nor Mr Darcy which I was most disappointed about. But the food however was a highlight and high in price too! Tom had the veal and salad, Dad the vegetable Lasagna, Mum the Lemon Risotto and I the seared tuna, it was just marvelous with the views to top it off. I did at times feel like the Wests of Outrageous Fortunes (NZ TV show) so we had to put on a posh English accent as camouflage. As we were already in Como on the southwest tip of the lake we had a little wander around and caught a trail of priest? to be priests? and a whole lot of bell ringing as they were entering the Cathedral.
We finished our lovely 3 night stay in a real bed with a real bathroom and real doors with a tapa style light dinner with Peroni for the boys and wine for the girls while enjoying the views for the last time. The next morning we restocked smurf with fresh supplies, took the family portrait (with smurf of course!!) and put foot to gas after we said our goodbyes to my parents and then saw them speed off into the distance with smurf putting happy along at a snail pace behind.
After attempting to see Parma for the second time (we tried 3 years ago) but couldn't find a campsite, so we missed out on the cheese factory and moved on to Modena, where all the amazing Balsamic Vinegar is made instead.
We managed to stock up on some fresh market food and walked away from the market with a few bags full of fresh veggie, our second basil plant, porcine mushrooms, olives, a large chunk of Parmesan & a big blob of buffalo mozzarella cheese (the good stuff), ciabatta bread & a hand full of freshly made tortellini. Yum. With eating on the mind and lake fever in the blood we thought we should check out another lake that was a little closer to home. Lake Bolsena, the only volcanic lake of its kind in Europe with a authentic tranquil feel about it. The not so showy side of the Italian culture. It seemed the locals left there Gucci sunglasses at home?! It was a tiny town with only a castle & view to see which suited us just perfectly.
The washing was hung out to dry, we had enjoyed a tasty home cooked Italian meal in Smurf, we even managed to go on two runs along the lake shore and discovered cute private beaches amongst the bamboo forest. Swimming was fantastic in the fresh calm water with cute duckies swimming by. In fact the only waves were bought on by a boat passing by. So naturally the air bed came out and after ignoring the bold text on the box 'not for water use' Tom set sail on lake Bolsena at 0100 hours and Gini had to swim to catch the tang lilo before it disappeared into the horizon or the last stinking red gnome. I think for the future of air beds sleeping on a lake is the only way to go.
After lazing in the sun on a magical air bed in Bolsena? we stopped short of Napoli in Sperlonga and parked up at a site with what felt like an Italian neighborhood but in a campsite! They all had there camp lots which they come to every year, they leave their sun umbrella in the sand to save their spot for a week or a month and they love to walk around in their bath robes.
With morning upon us we had to rendezvous with Jam (Jess & Marcus) early afternoon and Tom had some work to upload so we hit the road in search of McD's. Free WiFi of course! when McD's didn't come through for us, Tom and his apps came through and it was just our luck some poor sole left theirs open - Problem solved. Tom managed to duck and weave through the streets of crazy driving Napoli and we spotted Jam in their hats at the train station. I love it when things work out so perfectly!
An hour or two later the boys had leveled Smurfy (he hates slopes and so does Tom!) Jam had put up the tent and we had all sat down for a cold beer or two. After a great catchup on the haps in London and a few more drinks later we retired to our temporary homes (some more temporary than others!) till morning. After a late start but some tasty bread and coffee and a spot of Gini sickness we managed to get on a bus to Sorrento. With a toot on every corner warning oncoming traffic to beware of the mighty bus and Italy's coastal roads being snake like we were glad to say the least to get off the bus an hour later. After an Ice cream and then a lucky cameo jewelry store find, followed by possibly 40 or more minutes, who could say?! and a look at a few jewelry trays, which I managed to pick the most expensive brooches on every tray but also learnt a little more about the art of the Cameo ( I had been searching since they caught my eye 3 years previous in Napoli) like they actually originated from Sorrento and there are three grades of quality. A bit of bartering later we walked out of the shop with a smile on my face and my birthday present in hand and a sigh of relief from Tom in search of Jam. The lovely Cameo man also looked up the ferry time table and we had missed the ferry for the day to Amalfi so we grabbed a quick foot dip on the small free stretch of beach, 5m by 1m surrounded by pay swim piers and we relaxed the afternoon away over fine wine, fantastic pastas and great friends at a local restaurant.
We managed a short swim at the campsites rocky beach, but after a few minutes enjoying the amazing turquoise water Tom swears he was strung by a jellyfish and no sooner had he announced it, I was paddling for the shore at lightening speed right into a swum of baby jellies and actually did manage to get strung and later that day had the mark to prove it, unlike Tom who had none.
We broke out our one euro carton of sangria, which we had been saving for the right people, even managed to put peaches & limes in for good measure, Tom came to the party with Ice - what a marvelous creation, one of which we haven't seen in La Smurf for quite a few months. It was fantastic to have old friends make the effort to meet up with along our travels it added some normality which we sometimes craved. But sadly the next day our friend injection was nearly at an end but we had one last day and we hadn't managed to see this famous Amalfi coastline. The ferry was out, so Smurfy was in. It was a windy, narrow and chaotic drive with scooters gliding past us and traffic officers stopping us for every on coming bus. The drive was stunning but I'm sure I have done it all before in 'Need for Speed' just in 2D though. Parking was non existent so stopping was hard to come by, but we did manage to pull up by a lemon/orange juice vendor which Tom and Marcus supplemented his pockets with a few purchases. I did also notice just before we reached the Amalfi town that they were digging into the cliff face for what I could only guess to be future parking! We only managed a glance at the town before the traffic took us on to the next more tranquil town of Atrani.
The sun was hot and so were we, and there was a nice pebbly spot just for us. We finished with a lovely lunch in a quiet square with a free water fountain. The visit wouldn't have been complete without tiramisu, an ice cream styled one to boot. We hit the road with four in the van and dropped Jam at the airport - service with a smile! and bid them farewell until our return to London.
We had a 3 hour drive across to Bari to make the night ferry to Dubrovnik, so I took the driving seat as Tom had done a fantastic job of maneuvering the coast and I had yet to tick off a drive in Italy. The drive was uneventful until a trucks tyre blew out and along with it the toolbox and all the tools scattering across the road in front of us. After a brief ticket pickup we joined the queue for our ferry, boarded and tucked Smurf in for the night. Picked up our separate keys for our separate single sex cabins and had a sleepless night of worry about Smurf rolling around in the hold as it was a rocky crossing.