|Dates:||27 Jun 2017 - 17 Aug 2017|
|Duration:||1 month, 3 weeks|
Follow us on our journey through Europe in "Nigel" our trusty converted transit.
Back on the road and back in the mountains.
We said Au Revoir to the gang at Aux Vignaux and got back on the road to the Pyrenees. Our phones had been playing up a bit and our gps had glitched and sent us in a direction completely different from where we were supposed to be going. Worked out quite well in the end as we have this spot pretty much all to ourselves and the view from up here is stunning.
Doing what I do best according to Harriette.
We've arrived in a lovely little corner of rural southern France. We've had a tour of the house and substantial gardens, and discovered many lovely shady spots to sit and read. Today is a religious holiday in France so we're off to the local market to see what we can find.
Cider & crepes
Leaving the lovely views and quiet countryside of the farm we stayed at last night, we got on the road down to Toulouse. A city described in the lonely planet guide as "vibrant" and "buzzing". Unfortunately being there on a Sunday in August, everything was closed. We made the most of the lovely weather, sitting in the park for a picnic lunch before milling about the old town with the other tourists. Free entry into Le Capitole was a bonus which filled our culture quota for the day, before making our way along the canal back to where we were parked.
After last nights blissful slumber on the quiet farm, we thought maybe staying at a vineyard/farm again tonight might be nice. When we arrived however we were told that they don't allow campers and asked where we got their address from. I explained using sign language that we'd got their address from our camperstop book, which was met with a puzzled look, a shrug of the shoulders and "that book is wrong". Plan B it is then, the spot we're at now isn't half as nice but it's free so that's always a plus.
Nothing like waking up to a different view each morning.
Hiking up hills on hot days.
Stayed the night at a Camperstop in the town of Florac. Funny little town that has seen better days, like many of the towns in the Cevennes national park. We don't have much of an agenda other than to gradually head in the direction of Aux Vignaux. I'm very much enjoying taking our time, taking in the scenery, doing less miles and eating more croissants.
Entering the Cevennes National Park.
We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because we seem to have ended up back in the Scottish highlands. Passing over Col De Finiels, just by Mont Lozere, the fields have turned purple with heather, the forests are all pine, it's raining, windy and only 8 degrees!
Pont du Diable
Yesterday we walked through a chestnut forest and around the rim of an ancient volcano overlooking the town of Jaujac. We stayed overnight in a town called Thueyts (not sure how you pronounce that one properly) and this morning went and checked out the Pont du Diable or "Devils bridge". From the lookout there is a view of the giants causeway, not as impressive as the one in Ireland but quite cool nonetheless. There are lots of interesting rock formations, unfortunately I'm not a geologist so i can't really go into much more detail than that. Today we'll be heading down into the Cevenne national park and staying somewhere near the town of Florac.
The typical lunch spread. French bread is the best.
We've left Saou and are making our way southwest, stopping anywhere that looks nice. We had to stay another night to get some replacement mirror glass ordered in, thanks to a French white van man.
Hiking above the clouds.
Finding more swimming holes.
Tropical Jazz @ Le Fontaine Minerale
We'll be in a little town called Saou (pronounced "soo") for a few days. Not much activity has been planned as it is still too hot, hopefully beginning to cool down from Monday.
Swimming in the lake near Le Lauzet-Ubaye.
According to the news, Europe is in the middle of a heatwave currently, with many predicting that it is in a drought cycle. Temperatures are up to 10 degrees hotter on average, places like Rome and Sicily reaching around 45 degrees. Thankfully it hasn't gotten quite that hot where we have been, but for over a week it has been consistently into the mid 30's and hardly cooling down at night. It can be hard to escape when you are traveling in a van, so our only recourse has been to seek out water for a swim to cool ourselves down. People say "but you are from Australia, you must be used to this!" This is when I must explain that I'm actually from Tasmania, which is hardly ever this hot, and I'm also half delicate pommy. So it's in my genes to complain about the weather.
Arrivederci Italy! Bonjour France 🇫🇷
Breakfast at 2751m, I love the mountains.
Sometimes the best spot is the most obvious.
Slow day today which is always good. We are now pretty close to the French border, after only a short day of driving. We've got a lovely spot right by a lake with great views of the mountains. At over 1500m of altitude it is noticeably cooler than down in the Cuneo region, hopefully this will allow us to get a proper nights sleep. Tomorrow - France.
Quite the day yesterday spent touring around the province of Cuneo in the Piemonte region. Grapes for as far as the eye can see! Tried to go and visit a couple of castles but they were both closed on Tuesdays, a bit unfortunate but not a total loss. The highlight of the day was getting an impromptu wine tasting from Elio Sandri, owner of Cascina Disa vineyard, producers of the famous Barolo wine. Despite not having booked a tour, Elio dropped what he was doing and spent an hour from his day taking us through the barrel rooms and letting us taste all the wines, including the 2011 reserve, which he described as "The Ferrari". His English was quite limited but he managed to describe the winemaking process and facts about the region pretty clearly, what stood out was his passion and love for winemaking, a real character.
We've just woken up from a rather fitful sleep in the relentless mugginess of the European summer. Today we will be making our way further west, towards the alps and the French border. It's supposed to get to 37 degrees. 🌞🔥😅💀
A big thank you to Steve & Judy for finding us a place to stay and treating us for a couple of nights.
Finding swimming holes
Long travel day today, took our time in the morning, going for a swim in the swimming hole which we had all to ourselves. We finally had to bite the bullet and take the autostrada as 3 hours on the Italian mountain roads was going to be too much to manage, for us and for the van. 11.40 in tolls later, we arrived at the spot we had picked out from our Camperstop book. A vineyard/farm near a place called Asti. From the photos it looked really nice and supposedly had toilets, showers etc. As it turned out there were no toilets or showers, just plague like amounts of flies and mosquitoes. After sticking it out for an hour or so and being eaten alive by the mozzies, we had to bail. Judy & Steve invited us to come and stay with them, so we drove a further 20 minutes down the road to a beautiful rustic biodynamic farm near Alba. It's a beautiful spot and a big upgrade from where we were going to be so we are most thankful.
Getting away from the coast
We made the decision to head back towards the mountains where we figured it will be less crowded, and hopefully a little cooler. Tonight we've ended up in a place called Farini, back in the Emilia-Romagna region. It's not particularly note worthy, but the drive here was fairly exciting. Setting the GPS to avoid tolls in Italy means driving on some of the worst roads you will find. Miles of up and down narrow, windy roads with poorly mended potholes, huge cracks with grass growing through, off camber corners and not seeing another car for what seems like hours because they're all on the motorways. There also never seems to be road works going on anywhere at anytime, which sort of explains the condition of the tarmac.
Picture is the local swimming hole we are parked near. It was only about waist deep in most parts and with a rocky bottom, but must be the only good swimming spot for miles as it was heaving when we arrived.
Decided to stay another night and check out Portovenere.
After a very restless night plagued by the heat and mosquitoes I was awake to see the sunrise over the mountains which was quite special. We had a slow start to the day before walking down the path from where we are parked into the town. The bay was full of super yachts and cruise ships, a real rich mans playground. The town itself is a complete tourist trap, pretty streets, but the only thing to do is spend money on overpriced gelato and crappy souvenirs. We didn't stay for long. Once again we had consigned ourselves to walking back up the steep hill in the hottest part of the day. Our legs felt like lead and we made very slow progress, pausing at every bit of shade to recover. You would think we might have learned from yesterday's endeavour. It was a great relief to reach the Refugio for a much needed beer and a seat under the shade of the grapevines. We had heard good things so we booked a table for dinner. The scene was chaotic as the casually dressed staff shouted at each other and the customers dogs chased the pigs around the tables. The food was pretty good, with huge helpings we are full to the point of bursting, hopefully a better nights rest lies ahead.
Our view from the back doors tonight.
Probably up there with one of the best views we've had. We are way up above Portovenere on Monte Muzzerone, parked underneath an old fort. We've now been on the road for a whole month and have driven over 2,000 miles, we've also come 4 euros under our monthly budget!
After leaving Lucca early this morning, the clouds had closed in and a look at the forecast suggested a high of only 24 and cloudy on the coast. We were a bit disappointed at first, but shouldn't have worried, as soon enough the sun had come out and the temperature had shot up well into the 30's. We had decided the night before that another swim would be nice and we liked the look of a very small and secluded beach on the Ligurian coast near a town called Montemarcello. Most of the coastline between Lucca and the Cinque Terre is taken up by awful hotels and beaches that you have to pay to go to, which as an Australian, is abhorrent to me. Luckily the beach we had picked had minimal people on it, as it is only accessible by walking the trail down the hill. It was easy enough going down, but was an absolute slog in the late afternoon heat on the way back. It turned out to be a great pick however, as the water was lovely, that classic turquoise blue of the Mediterranean.
Pictured is me, scaling the steep section onto the beach that has been the victim of a large landslide fairly recently. I'm smiling at this point but soon after the picture was taken, we were both grimacing, red in the face, sweaty and exhausted.
Today we explored the ancient walled city of Lucca.
We arrived just before lunchtime after an amazing drive on ss12, a very twisty, up and down road that takes you from the Provence of Emilia-Romagna, up into the mountains and down the other side into Toscana. Lucca itself is very pretty with lots of lovely buildings and gardens. Walking or cycling around the city atop the centuries old wall, taking in the views, is a must if you visit. Many of the amazing buildings you can go into and learn about the history, for a small charge of course. A charge we are not willing to pay, no matter how small, as our shoestring budget is better spent on craft beer, prosecco and pizza.
What a fantastic city. After the hectic parade of tourists on lake Garda, we were really after a change of pace, and Modena delivered just what the doctor ordered. Hardly a tourist in sight! We probably only saw two or three obvious tourists with cameras around the neck, and whilst we checked out the Palazzo Communale, we were the only people in there! (We are fully aware of the irony of trying to avoid tourists despite being them ourselves). It's a great city for foodies, we were inspired to visit after it was featured in one of our favourite tv shows, Master of None. Although our budget didn't allow us to go to all the top restaurants and bars in town (there are many), we were able to pack a lot of tasty delights in without breaking the bank. Highlight of the day was our tour of Acetaia Villa San Donnino, one of the oldest and original makers of Modena Balsamic vinegar. Not just the stuff you can buy on the shelf but the certified "Modena black gold" which you can only get directly from them and runs up to 200 euros for 100mls of the really good stuff. Great on ice cream would you believe.
We started our last day by the lake with a short ride into Desenzano, another tourist town by Lake Garda, although without the character of Malcesine but still with 50% of the German population on holiday. Wandered a market, took a walk up to the Castello which had some lovely views, and managed to find a good coffee spot after our first attempt was a bit of a fail. Gathered some supplies for lunch and dinner then made our way back to the beach for a swim. It seems to me that the further south you go by the lake, it gets a little more seedy and sad. Gone are the olive trees and the lovely sail boats and hydrofoils racing around. Suddenly the beaches have nightclubs on them and are overrun with cretins in powerboats parked about 4ft from the shore. At least they still have the creepy old men in budgie smugglers, who have spent so long in the sun, their skin more closely resembles the leather from the knock off Louis Vuitton bags they sell at the market.
Made our way south to Desenzano at the bottom of Lake Garda.
We arrived at our camp spot just in the nick-of-time, as fellow campers scrambled to bring in their awnings and chairs before the heavens opened. The weather so far in Italy has been very hot and humid, overnight temperatures of 22 degrees and high humidity makes sleeping in the van pretty uncomfortable. It also makes for perfect thunderstorm conditions and we were treated to an immense one last night. Lightning lit up the sky all around like bright white fireworks and booms of thunder so close they shook the van.
Walking the medieval streets of Malcesine.
Spent the night in a nice campsite underneath some olive trees. The climate around lake Garda is close to that of the Mediterranean, stinking hot! Ideal for growing olives and attracting German tourists apparently.
On the schedule for this afternoon, a refreshing dip in the lake.
Lake Garda 🌞🔥🌞
Quick stop for coffee and a snack before making our way further south to Lake Garda.
What a week in a truly special place. As I listen to the pitter patter of the rain on the roof and the distant rumblings of the thunder storm that has passed through, the struggle to get out from under the covers and get back on the road is very real. We've enjoyed some great hiking, white water rafting, fantastic food and drink and some famous Italian hospitality. A taster for what these mountains have to offer, leaving us with an appetite for more.
The week in numbers: 50.6 Km's walked (31 miles) 538 floors of elevation climbed from a minimum height of 1264m above sea level. Highest elevation 2,658m above sea level. I think even Sir Edmund would be pretty pleased with that effort.
Sunday's don't get much better than this.
Started off slowly, the usual breakfast and coffee routine. Later a short walk down the street to a lovely cafe for Sunday lunch from the grill. Home for an afternoon siesta. Then for dinner a 45 minute hike up the hill and through the forest to get to Malga Alta, a beautiful dairy farm/bar & restaurant that you can only get to by foot. At 1548m the views across the valley are absolutely stunning and the food, Bellissimo! Such great hospitality, although the language barrier was a slight challenge, we were well looked after. 10/10 experience 👌🏽
Lago Di Caprioli
Arrived to the house in the Dolomites where we'll be staying for the next week. After a frenetic couple of weeks, going through countries and cities at a blistering pace, we are really looking forward to stopping for a week and enjoying ourselves.
Stopped for lunch in Bolzano. Got some cheese from the market and had a wander around. Lovely spot.
Not a bad view to wake up to.
🇮🇹 Now we're in Italy!
We've got a great spot above the Mecca of Italian cycling - Corvara. Opening the back doors we are faced with the looming peaks of the Dolomites of the Alta Badia region. Avoiding the autostrada from Austria meant driving on some pretty windy and narrow roads, not the most fun in a 3.5 tonne van, next time I'll be sure to take the Porsche.
First we went and checked out the Bergisel Olympic ski facility, an impressive structure designed by Zaha Hadid. So we arrive and it's 2.60 just to park for an hour. It then cost me an additional 1 euro to use the toilet. A toilet which had no seat, toilet paper so thin it was molecularly closer to air than to paper, and no water or hand drying facilities. Not a great start. We walked a loop around to a panoramic viewpoint (not that special) then to the entrance of the ski slope, which costs 9.50 each for the two minute ride to the top and no option to walk the 320 steps for less. We decided to give that a miss. 1/10 for the whole experience, would not recommend it if you're ever in Innsbruck.
We then spent the rest of the morning wandering in the city stopping for some coffee and cake (pictured). Seems like a cool city that's set up to cater for enthusiasts of mountain sports. There is a great public transport system that can take you from the city centre all the way up to the highest peak in the valley, unfortunately the low clouds meant there were no spectacular views to be had so we didn't bother. Overall pretty cool but would be better visiting in the winter on a ski trip I reckon.
Made it to Austria. We are parked up in a great spot, with an awesome view and the sound of the goats bells ringing around the hills. Overlooking a town called Schwaz, 28kms from Innsbruck, where we will head tomorrow.
Watched a few of the locals at Munich's infamous inner city surf spot. Looked pretty fun, and gnarly (that means scary for those who aren't familiar with the term). Very cool city with plenty of culture and cool spots but with fewer tourists than other cities we've been to. The Bavarians have it pretty sorted, a love for football, and a healthy balanced diet; sausages, bread and beer, which is all acceptable to consume before midday. Next stop, Austria.
🇩🇪 Place to stay with a cool backdrop.
Stopping in Pilsen for coffee and to pick up some supplies (beer) before continuing towards Munich.
We got up early and drove to Prague, eventually finding our way into the city after several wrong turns on the confusing spaghetti of roadways. Camped at a campsite on an island in the river, about a 30min walk to the city centre. We spent the day hiking around the city, battling the enormous crowds to take in the beautiful architecture. By the time we got back to camp we had taken over 25,000 steps, climbed over 26 stories and walked 17.3kms. We sampled a couple of the local beers which were delicious, and very cheap but after a long day of walking in the sun and perhaps not drinking enough H2O we were both feeling rather worse for wear last night.
Long drive towards the border in some torrential downpours. We were a bit reluctant to get back on the road after a few nice days of relaxing and not having to drive anywhere. We've stopped short of actually crossing the border into the Czech Republic, as we'll be getting up early to drive to Prague.
Picture is the view from where we are parked for the night, original plan didn't pan out, which happens from time to time. So we rolled the dice, picked a spot on the map close by that looked promising, which turned out to be much better. Love it when that happens.
Today's setting for lunch
We took a short drive to Sonnenburg and had a delicious lunch at a real hidden gem of a spot called "baa-see" (pronounced "barzee"). Tucked away at the very end of a paved road in the middle of the forest, you have to be directed by someone who knows the way as there is virtually no signage. It was good having a couple of German speakers with us to translate the menu, although you couldn't go far wrong as it was mostly wild pork and selections of beer.
Went for a wee cycle along the river.
We have done about 1000 miles of driving to this point, haven't showered since we left and are very much looking forward to a few days in one place. Staying in a very peaceful little hamlet called Ortwig, gives us a chance to relax and catch up on a bit of reading. Planning on going for a cycle to Poland, which shouldn't be too much of an undertaking as you could probably throw a stone across the border from where we are.
Pictured is Hope, the friendly Australian Shepherd.
Yesterday's excursion to Sanssouci palace.
The former home of Frederick the Great, it is known as Germany's version of Versailles. The original palace isn't nearly as impressive as the summer residence pictured, situated right at the far end of the park. Built around ten years after the first palace, Frederick or "Freddy" as he was known by his mates, intended to move into the Neue Palace but decided upon completion that it was too ostentatious and instead used it as the guest house. To give you an idea of just how enormous the grounds are, there are over 70km of paths connecting all the gardens and buildings.
Tonight's camp spot, by a steam railway in a town called Gernrode.
Stopped for a quick hike in the Harz national park.
Nice to get into nature after sitting in the car for most of the day, the only sounds to be heard were that of our footsteps on the ground, the chirping of the birds, and in the distance, a high end sports bike at around 10,000 rpm. Turned out to be a pretty long day behind the wheel today, but after yesterday's white knuckle affair on the autobahn I was pretty happy to enjoy some of Germany's excellent B roads. The roads through the national park could best be described as "a motorcyclists dream". Mile after mile of super smooth wide tarmac that ribbons its way through the beautiful forest with hardly any traffic. The barriers on the bends are even painted red and white, with signs every so often to remind the riders that no this isn't actually the Nurburgring, could you please stick to the correct side of the road even though it must be very tempting to hit the apex on every sweeping S bend.
Lunch in a lovely spot overlooking the town of Hamlin. Supposedly where the story of the pied piper originates from. Looks nice from up here.
Mainly a travel day today, continuing to make our way east towards Berlin and the Polish border. Changed the setting on the GPS to avoid motorways, making for a more picturesque and relaxed journey.
Coffee & Castles When you are mostly free camping it's easy to justify spending 10 Euro on a couple of cappuccinos and a tasty German pastry.
🇩🇪 The chef going to work in the kitchen. Tonight we're staying in a place called Hamm. Not particularly noteworthy but it's nice and quiet, and on our route headed east. My first time on German motorways getting here, which was certainly eye opening. Everyone drives super close to the car in front and it seems that the speed limit of 130km/h is more of just a rough guideline. In Nigel the van, whose top speed is 110 going downhill, there was a few hair raising moments to say the least 😅 Think we'll take the scenic route tomorrow.
🇧🇪 Le Tour! Drove into Verviers in the morning to watch the pre race parade, picked up a few souvenirs that were thrown (at high velocity) in our direction. Would've had a lot more if it wasn't for a small child and his mother who were just about throwing themselves to the ground to catch a sticker or a keyring. Then a quick drive and a cycle to watch the race go by at a better vantage point. Behind a long sweeping bend we heard the cheers from around the corner and before you knew it the peloton comes past a blur of Technicolour Lycra and then they are gone. Very exciting, Harriette could hardly contain herself. Currently having a bite to eat in a nice spot by a weir before making our way into Germany this afternoon.
Had a nice day in Utrecht, admiring the parks and architecture, taste testing some local meats at the market. In the interest of time we made our way south into Belgium via the expressways. The photo is of the Blegny-mine, we are staying in the car park along with about fifteen other campers and some television crews, which are here covering The Tour de France.
Left the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam to head south. Stopping in Utrecht for some delicious coffee and a look around.
Spent the day wandering the streets of Amsterdam. Just recently voted No. 3 "Most liveable city in the world" I can see why; great public transport, everybody cycles, friendly people, a bit of something for everyone. You just have to avoid the city centre where the hordes of tourists swarm. I think the best way to explore a new city is to just walk around aimlessly, taking turns where you fancy, perhaps coming across a few hidden gems.
🇳🇱 Made it to The Netherlands, staying about 20kms out from Amsterdam. Not the best spot but it's free and we've been driving for over 2 hours so will have to do for the night.
Pink sky at night, sailors delight? I certainly hope that's the case. Staying the night in Harwich, ferry to the hook of holland in the morning.
🇬🇧 Finished adding final touches to the van in preparation for next weeks departure. Nervous excitement building.
|Dates:||27 Jun 2017 - 17 Aug 2017|
|Duration:||1 month, 3 weeks|
Follow us on our journey through Europe in "Nigel" our trusty converted transit.