A Walk and Two Doughnuts


We stayed in Marina di Camerota for two very different nights. On Friday night we were joined by a couple of Italian motorhomes in the big carpark behind the beach and had a peaceful night’s sleep. On the Saturday night the Italian motorhomes had left us alone in the carpark and we spent a couple of hours being the obstacle in a boy racer’s playground. It was only one car with a young driver and his girlfriend taking it in turns to speed up and down, do handbrake turns and screech donuts around us. Paul watched from our bedroom window, probably reliving his youth, and after a while they left us in peace. That’ll teach us to be wary of large empty carparks on Saturday nights.

Marina di Camerota

During the day we took another coastal walk to visit four beaches; the long sandy beach at Marina di Camerota that is split in two by a small rocky promentory, and the steep sided coves of Calas Pozzallo, Bianca and Infreschi. In fact we didn’t end up getting as far as Infreschi, having been captivated by the two other beaches. One day we may come back and walk in to Cala Infreschi from the other direction.

Looking across the long sandy beach at Marina di Camerota from the east

This coastline here is still part of the Cilento national park and is stunning. The cliffs are steep and wooded and the path strays inland to avoid obstacles but when it hits the coast you are rewarded with limestone cliffs, wave cut caves and brilliant blue water.

Caves in the cliffs – most of them had barriers in place

As we walked east of the carpark we encountered the first cave, a tourist attraction just behind the headland that divides the beach. This was gated and closed for the low season but we could read the boards that explained the Neaderthal and early Homo Sapiens habitation of the site. At the far end of the beach was the town’s cemetery and the path heads up through the wooded cliff beyond this, marked with red and white slashes. We had considered an alternative route closer to the cliff edge that we had seen from the far end of the beach, but didn’t realise that it would involve wading through the sea for a couple of yards, so decided to leave that for the return.

The path took us up through the woods and then onto tracks past olive groves, farm buildings and villas. We took a wrong turn at one point, keen to get off the main track we headed down a path through olive trees only to reach a dead end where a couple were clearing undergrowth from around the trees. They directed us back up to the track where we kept a closer eye out for the route markers.

Brightly coloured lizard – in the warm sunshine they were everywhere

The day was turning out to be pleasantly sunny and warm and so we stopped to enjoy some sun when we reached  the pebbly beach at Cala Pozzallo. The walk down here had taken us past a small patch of agricultural land where dogs yapped at us (not an uncommon occurrence here) and a rather nice beach bar (closed). The beach had the look of somewhere that is visited mostly by boat as one of those ‘visit a deserted beach but actually you can rent chairs and umberellas and get a cocktail once you’re there’ destinations.

Once we managed to tear ourselves away from here we took another detour inland before dropping down to Cala Bianca, this time walking out to the headland west of the beach before clambering down over the sharp limestone rocks to the beach. Again we stopped to enjoy the good weather, eating our lunch while sat on the rocks above the cove and sharing our bread with the voracious fishes that were swimming beneath us.

Looking down on the beach at Cala Bianca

It was at this point that we had to turn around in order to ensure we got back to Bertie in time to watch the rugby. The walk back was much quicker, along the way we kept an unsuccessful eye out for wild asparagus and had more success spotting many jewel toned lizards basking in the heat of the day.

This time we did get our feet wet as we walked to the end of the headland where a watchtower looks out over the bay before dropping down many steps to a tiny cove where we had to wade around the corner and back onto the sandy beach.

Wading around the rocks at the eastern end of the Marina di Camerota beach

That afternoon we watched rugby while eating scrumptiously light and sugary ciambella (doughnuts) that I had bought from the bakery that morning.     

A Mystery Solved


We had spent the night parked outside the archaeological site of Velia-Elea (Velia – the Roman name, Elea the earlier Greek name), another Magna Graecia settlement. A brief walk in the evening had led us to the notice board for the entry times. ‘It’s nine euros’ said Paul in disbelief, ‘we’re not going in if it’s that much’. I was sure that it had said it was just a couple of euros in the guide book so I was a little mystified, but we agreed that it was too much for what was reputedly a bit of an untidy and uninformative site. The following morning we went and took another look and realised that we’d been looking at the opening times, not the prices. Doh!

The entry was only €3 each so we decided we would go in and take a look around. In fact if we had known we could have bought a ticket for an additional euro at Paestum and got into both sites.

The site was overrun with the swift green growth of spring, but it gave it a certain charm. Drainage was an issue and in one place the path led into a foot deep pond; we skirted around the outside of the buildings until we could find another way through. It was a shame we couldn’t go all the way up to the more recent tower on the hill above the site, but it was closed off due to the danger of falling rocks. We meandered around the foundations of various buildings, but it was a little disappointing with the mosaics covered in tarp for their winter protection and the upper areas inaccessible.

My disappointment was assuaged by having one mystery cleared up. For two or three days we had been bemused by the sight of grown men wandering down lanes with sparse and limp bunches of grass in their hands. Wandering around the edges of the Velia-Elea site were a couple of older men who were also carrying small green bundles. Every now and again they would dive into the hedgerow with much excitement and come out with a slightly bigger bundle. When our path intersected ours they wished us a ‘buongiorno’ and I plucked up the courage to ask what they were holding in my best pidgin Italian. ‘Asparagi’ was the proud answer, and when I looked closely at the contents of their hands I could see it was indeed asparagus. As slender as a blade of meadow grass with a miniature version of the asparagus bud. Apparently it is usually a man’s job to forage for asparagus and it is pretty difficult to find. I can just imagine the false gratefulness of the housewives of Italy when they receive their tiny harvest of asparagus, but the very real gratitude that it got their husband out of the house for the day.   

A solitary stalk of asparagus

It became my mission then to find some for myself. I didn’t manage to that day, but a couple of days later I found the blue green leaves of the plant (looking like asparagus fronds but very thistly) and one upright stem of asparagus. So far that is all I have found, the flavour was very strong and I can see that a small amount would provide enough flavour for an omelette or risotto, I just wish I could find enough to cook with it.   

That afternoon we moved onto the Marina di Camerota. It is quite usual around this stretch of coast for there to be an inland town (in this case Camerota) and an associated marina or beach town. We were heading for the marina so that we could do another coastal walk.

On the way we dropped in to take a look at the abandoned medieval village of San Severino. This small settlement sits on a ridge above the more modern inhabited village. We had considered staying here but the parking spot by the village was just a patch of dirt on the inside of a hairpin bend and we couldn’t see any other good parking. We left Bertie taking up most of the parking spot, made a donation in the box at the bottom of the steps and then climbed up to take a look at the village; an atmospheric jumble of cottages in various states of disrepair. It is easy to see how the buildings were abandoned over time, with no possibility of building a road any closer to the houses. Now the local town maintains what is left as a tourist attraction with night time lighting and a small church and piazza for events.  


Bent Wheels and Buffalo Butter

07/03/18 – 08/03/18

We drove down the road to Agropoli, the same road we had driven the day before in the other direction. A parking spot close to the coast was going to be a starting point for a bike ride. Paul knew he had a job to do as the rear tyre on his bike was completely flat, but when he took the bike down off the rack the wheel was buckled so badly that it was rubbing on the fork. We racked our brains trying to work out when we would have picked up this damage, but it didn’t really matter, we weren’t going to be riding the bikes today.

A quick google search found a nearby bike shop just north of Paestum, so we drove up the fateful road again to find it. Despite the language barrier it was pretty obvious what we needed and the staff in the shop had a go at straightening out the wheel before agreeing that yes, we needed a new one. The bike was left with them till the following morning and we needed to make a decision about how to spend the rest of the day.

Along that road we were getting to know so well we had spotted a number of ‘caseificio’. These are the dairies of southern Campania, an area known for it’s herds of buffalo which produce super creamy mozzarella and other buffalo milk products. A quick internet trawl took us to Caseficio Tenuta Vannulo which promised organic mozzarella and more. We had missed the guided tour, but we could still take a look at the buffalo in their winter lodgings and mooch around the dairy buildings. In the dairy itself a small sales area was rammed with people queuing to buy products. Paul decided to wait outside as I took a ticket and got in line. People were leaving with polystyrene cool boxes full of items and I was glad there was a bit of a queue so I could peruse the list on the wall that showed the small range of possibilities. I decided that not only would i pick up some mozzerella but also I would try some buffalo butter. I felt a bit miserly placing my tiny order in light of the large quantities being bought by other people but no one batted an eyelid except at my pronunciation of ‘burro’ (I’ve never been able to roll my ‘r’s). Following the scrum of the dairy we popped next door into the ‘Yogurteria’, a café selling yohgurt, ice-cream, desserts, drinks and sandwiches. An ice cream each – pistachio and chocolate flavours because we’re predictable – for a couple of euros each and we were both relaxed and happy.

We needed to stay in the area to pick up the bike, and we needed to use some services, so decided to drop into Camping Villagio Pini; an ACSI campsite shaded by many pines which I’m sure create welcome shade in the summer, but just created annoyingly heavy water droplets in the rain that evening. The site was nearly empty, apart from some long term tenants who had nabbed the beachfront pitches, we picked an easy access pitch (some looked quite difficult to navigate into) close to the wifi and settled in for the rest of the day. Our indication of money well spent on a campsite, the showers were hot and powerful.  

The following morning we popped back up the road to pick up the bike with it’s new straight wheel. Good service and a reasonable price made us very happy. We also popped back into the Caseficio, where there was no mozzarella, but we didn’t care because we wanted more butter. At €1.50 for 250g it was cheaper than supermarket butter and amazingly creamy, tasting almost like clotted cream.

Having picked up the bike you might think we would go for the bike ride we had missed out on. But no, for whatever reason we decided that we would push a little further south and go for a walk. We proceeded through the edges of the Cilento national park down to Ogliastro Marina. We couldn’t make it to our anticipated parking spot – the car park we thought we had spotted on Google Maps was actually part of a large camping village that was closed – but we could park on the side of the road as it was the low season. 

From here we walked along the coast path westwards. Initially we thought we were going to be thwarted, having to go through a gate that proclaimed itself private property and encountering fencing where we thought the path should be. But we persevered, by going through the gates and past the fencing we managed to find a cut through to the coastpath. Other walkers and cyclists were using the path and nearby road so we didn’t think we would be in too much trouble. This walk took us along a low cliff, never more than a couple of meters above the water and interrupted frequently by streams and small shingle beaches. Behind the coast was an open pine wood with gnarly trees and lots of green spring growth. Lizards basked on trees and rocks and birds were singing. Waves provided a rhythmic backdrop of noise. It was hard to believe, but this was our first coastal walk in Italy. Our previous attempts to enjoy the coast had been thwarted by the weather, and much of the coastline had been unappealing. Now we were freshly inspired.

We decided that we would move on from our roadside parking, so headed down to the archeological site of Elea/Velia where we parked up in the spacious coach parking ready to visit the following morning. 

Greek Temples in Paestum

05/03/18 – 06/03/18

When we got to Termoli we had decided to slow down and travel through Puglia, Basilicata and Calabria (roughly in that order) before heading north again. But following a conversation with my sister we changed plans slightly. She is planning to come out and visit us just after Easter, and the most convenient airport to fly into is Bari, Puglia. So rather than starting with Italy’s heel as planned, we swapped directions and decided to start with the toe. This meant another longish drive across Italy. The theme of the journey was fennel. As we crossed the country we found ourselves frequently behind large trucks with the frothy fronds of fennel poking out. It must have been the season for the fennel harvest.

We headed for Paestum, an archaeological site not far south of Salerno. First of all we had to find somewhere to spend the night so we stopped to the south of Paestum near the beach at the Baia di Trentova, an attractive beach (although with some pretty ugly beachside concrete) where we mooched around for a little while enjoying a break in the weather. We were chased back into Bertie by a small dog that wanted to bite Paul’s ankles, I can only imagine he had the scent of something particularly interesting on his socks because the dog had no interest in me (or maybe the smell of my feet put it off).

The following morning we took a drive back to Paestum. We were going to get quite well acquainted with this road over the next could of days. At Paestum we drove past the free parking and decided that it was too empty and exposed for us to feel comfortable leaving Bertie there all day. We drove on into the main drag to see what the car parks were like. Here we would have to pay but it felt more secure, possibly unjustified, but we are more comfortable with our security when we have gone with our gut instinct. We drove into one car park with a sign saying €5, but this was last years price, it was now €8 (they had the tickets printed up to prove it) – what would it cost to stay overnight? still €8. Did they have services for motorhomes? yes, but not open at the moment. Could we be bothered to find somewhere else? No!

So we settled into a nice parking spot in the attended car park and made our way to the ruins of Paestum. This site was established as part of ‘Magna Graecia’, the name given to the Greek settlements that covered much of southern Italy between the 8th and 3rd centuries BC. Originally it was called Poseidonia, after the Greek god of the sea, but was re-named when the Romans took control. Despite the fact that it became a Roman city it still has a significantly Greek feeling, not least because of the three impressive temples whose stout pillars still stand. The Roman empire was very good at appropriating and re-using the best bits of the cultures they conquered.  

The tickets for Paestum are sold in the museum so we started by looking around the exhibits. This was an interesting and modern museum with well laid out exhibits that traced the history of human settlement in the area from prehistory to Roman times, plus a few interesting exhibits about the archaeologists who uncovered the site and the Second World War allied landing at the nearby beach (the temples were off limits to bombing from either side). Most of the exhibits were labelled in English as well as Italian and there was a lot more to see than we expected. Our favourite exhibit was the famous Tomb of the Diver, beautiful frescoes from the lining of a young man’s tomb.

The fresco of the diver

Wandering around the site itself was the same as we have experienced in many parts of Italy, much to see but very few labels to explain what you’re seeing. It is definitely worth doing some research in advance so that you know where to go.

Wandering round the site with us was a Swiss family (their motorhome was parked next to Bertie when we got back) and an British group plus some young people who seemed to be doing a photoshoot in the temple (the poor girl was wearing a beautiful but flimsy looking dress), but apart from that it was beautifully quiet. As was that night’s sleep.



Long Days Driving

02/03/18 – 04/03/18

We left Livigno pleased with ourselves for having survived the cold and happy that we’d managed to get some skiing in. During the cold nights we had discussed what we would do next and concluded that we wanted to spend more time in Italy. The plan was to drive down to the south and experience the toe, heel and instep of Italy before heading back north, taking in some of the central Apennine mountain areas we hadn’t been able to visit in Feb. Finally we would top off our mainland Europe trip with some time in the alps before returning back to the UK in late June. Perhaps we would get some more skiing in during this time, but we felt we had a few modifications to make to our set up before taking an extended skiing trip. Next year we will be trying for 4 to 6 weeks of skiing but under a tighter budget and with (hopefully) a better heating set up.

We left Livigno in a good weather window that allowed us to re-cross the Foscagno pass and headed back to Sondrio where we plugged into the free electric and made use of the laundry facilities, again. The snow started to fall in earnest as we settled in for the evening in Sondrio and the forecast was for significant snow fall over the next 24 hours. We decided we would head back towards the Adriatic coast, taking toll roads, and see how far we could get. 

Snow on the terraces near Sondrio

We made it to Rimini, slowly, but there seemed little point in stopping to sight see in this weather. The roads got gradually more and more snowy, until at one point the three lane autostrada had only one lane that was drivable. 

We wondered if we would end up having to stop at the motorway services overnight, there were many lorries in the service areas sitting out the weather and some taking shelter on the hard shoulder under the bridges. For one stretch of the autostrada vehicles over 7.5 tonnes were asked to leave the road until the snowploughs had gone through. But once they mobilised the snow ploughs and gritters it was a marvel. Anyone who says that Italians are disorganised and undisciplined should watch the spectacle as the snow clearance vehicles line up for each section of the road. Entering at one junction they move in formation down the road to the next exit where a new group has jurisdiction. Yes, we had to travel slowly behind them a couple of times, but the roads were beautifully clear once they had been through.

Snow on the motorway.

Finally we made it to Rimini where we parked up for the night, there was still snow down here on the coast, but fortunately it was warmer. Our carpark was quiet overnight but in the morning it was absolutely heaving. From our bed we could hear cars arriving and leaving, but it was a Sunday, what was going on? When we finally emerged from our Bertie bubble we realised that it was election day and the school next door was a polling station. We mulled over the practicality of holding an election on a Sunday, so much less disruption than the UK’s Thursday with the associated school closures and childcare issues. But the Italians make up for this practicality by having one of the most complex electoral systems. I’m still not entirely clear on the result – it was a hung parliament and I’m not going to get to grips with Italian politics enough to understand what alliances are being made – except that that the worrying popularity of anti immigration and isolationist policies is in evidence. Despite being unable to run for office, Silvio Berlusconi’s face is on posters everywhere, still a popular figure and backing the centre right alliance which just about won the most seats.

From Rimini we took the autostrada south, finally getting past the last of the snow as we got south of Abruzzo. We stopped for the night in Termoli, our second visit here. This time we parked along the newly renovated seafront which had a good cycle path in the same soft jade green as the sea. As it was the low season there was no charge and the long sea front had barely any visitors. The weather was a bit drizzly so we stayed in a watched the sea from the comfort of Bertie. Two long days of driving had done us in and we were ready to slow down.         

Frozen on the Inside

24/02/18 – 01/02/18

We enjoyed our time in Livigno skiing, it’s a resort that is mostly wide red runs which suits us down to the ground as we don’t like anything too challenging, age has instilled caution where previously I would have aimed to descend the steepest bumpiest slopes. The resort has had some money pumped into it and the lifts, facilities and ski-bus service are all excellent. I wont give you a blow by blow account of each day as each day was very similar. Get up, have a leisurely breakfast in Bertie, head off to the slopes (either on foot, or using the very efficient bus service), ski, lunch at a restaurant on the slopes, ski some more, aperitivo, dinner in Bertie, sleep, start again. It was odd but comforting to be in a routine.

We stayed at Camping Pemont, probably the closest campsite to the slopes. It was good value if, like us, you went for the pitches with 3amp electricity (you could pay more for 10 amps but we don’t have enough electric gadgets to need it), €21 a night, plus €1 for 4 minutes of warm shower. The bathroom was underground and well heated although it did sometimes have that musty smell that happens when a moist environment is not aired enough.

It was no surprise that the bathrooms weren’t well aired though, because for three nights on the trot we had temperatures down below minus 20 centigrade. We barely opened Bertie’s windows in this time and I don’t blame the campsite owners for letting as little cold air into the bathroom as possible.

Being in such cold temperatures was an experience. The first night was quite mild so we stuck to our usual cold weather routine of turning the van heating on in the evening and then leaving our little electric oil filled radiator on overnight. Whoever gets up first in the morning is tasked with switching the heating on again and then jumping back into bed until Bertie is up to a reasonable temperature (about 10 degrees is enough to venture out and get dressed).

The second night we could feel the warmth being leeched out of the air as the temperature plummeted. So we had to leave the heating on all night. Now our heating is powered by gas (some people are lucky enough to have heating that can be switched between electricity and gas) and the warm air is distributed by a fan. When the thermostat detects that the temperature has dropped the fan will kick in to push warm air around the van, when it’s hit the desired temperature the fan speed will drop. The following morning Paul had bags under the bags under his eyes. He described a night of heating paranoia where he had initially listened to ensure that the fan turned off, then had laid awake waiting to ensure that the fan turned back on again, then worried in case the fan didn’t turn off, and so on. The positive was that the van was toasty, the negative was that Paul was as likely to become a nervous wreck if we had another night like it. On top of that the van was too warm overnight for both of us – it’s about 16 degrees at it’s minimum setting – and we got through half a bottle of gas in one night.

The other thing about heating in winter is that we need to ensure that the water, which is held in a fresh water tank, a boiler and a waste water tank, plus all the pipes in between, doesn’t freeze. Freezing would be bad news with the possibility of pipework and boiler being buggered (technical term) by the expansion of freezing water. Keeping the water liquid is accomplished through a combination of having the boiler on at all times, plus using the blown air heating in the underfloor area where the pipes run and the water tanks live.

So we had a problem, which would take precedence? Paul’s mental health (and my ensuing happiness) or Bertie’s pipes? The answer was obvious, we had to have a solution that resolved both. One option was to leave, but we weren’t keen to schlep all the way back over the mountain with so little skiing done.

In the end we decided to drain down Bertie so that we didn’t need to keep the heating on all night. We were nearly empty anyway, so draining down the fresh water, grey water and boiler didn’t produce too much liquid (each bucketfull needed to be walked to the service area to be disposed of). That night we followed our ‘normal’ routine. Gas heating on all evening until bed time, oil fired radiator on overnight. We got into bed and waited to see whether we would freeze overnight.

As we are still here with no blackened extremities the frostbite can’t have been serious. As we lay in bed the first night we could hear Bertie creaking and groaning as the cold took hold, shrinking some materials faster than others and creating ghostly noises in the process. We had started the evening at 16 degrees and were interested to see how cold we got overnight.

In our bedroom we were toasty, once we drew the curtain our little space acted like a four-poster or box-bed. We were warm in the fug of our own body heat, under two duvets and wearing pyjamas. In fact we needed to crack open the roof vent to let the moisture laden air escape and avoid condensation. The rest of Bertie was not so warm; the water in our kettle was frozen in the morning and we had an iceberg floating in our water carrier. The toilet took some coaxing to open. We couldn’t tell what the temperature was because the cold killed the LCD display on our thermometer, but we must have been a long way below zero.

Somehow it was my job to jump out of bed in the morning to put the heating on. This warmed Bertie up and after a couple of hours we were able to venture out to don some clothing which had been warming above the oil filled radiator (this seemed to have a sphere of influence roughly a meter in diameter, enough to warm clothes but not enough to warm the van). The first night was deemed a success, we had both slept reasonably well and Bertie hadn’t fallen apart with the cold. During the sunny day Bertie warmed up sufficiently to make it pleasantly warm on our return from skiing and we jealously conserved this heat by closing the blinds before it could escape.

We continued this approach for the rest of the holiday. It may seem like hardship, but the worst part was having to get up to turn the heating on in the morning. The rest of the time we were perfectly comfortable – honestly – but in future we’ll be trying to avoid temperatures quite that low.  


Preparing for the Foscagno Pass

22/02/18 – 23/02/18

As we got closer to our chosen ski resort of Livigno we were watching the weather closely. Two reasons, firstly we needed to choose a route that was appropriate to the conditions, and secondly the ‘Beast from the East’ that was threatening the UK was also expected to deliver extremely cold weather to most of Europe.

The weather forecasts for Livigno were now showing overnight lows of -26°C, a level of cold we had never experienced in Bertie. In fact the only time I had been in such cold conditions was in Canada, and Paul had never experienced anything that cold. People on the excellent Motorhome and Ski facebook forum told us that it was not abnormally cold, and that we should be ok, but we needed to make sure we were prepared. On the way to our next stop we took on board enough winter Diesel to get us to Livigno (the tax free status of the area would provide us with very cheap fuel and we wanted to be as empty as possible to take advantage of it). We topped up our screen wash with undiluted cold weather screen wash and lastly, having been prompted by a facebook post, we checked our coolant. It was only good to -7°C, so a quick detour to a Norauto (think Halfords crossed with Kwik Fit)  got us sorted with some serious antifreeze. We thought Bertie’s engine was as well prepared as it could be for the weather, we must have done something right because we had no problems starting up again when we left Livigno after the cold weather.

Our tyres are Mud and Snow (M+S) rated, which is a bit of a compromise between snow tyres with their Three Peak Mountain Snowflake symbol and normal tyres. Better on snow than a regular tyre but without losing their braking distance effectiveness as quickly as 3PMSF tyres in warm weather, they were our considered choice for touring all year. But being a compromise we didn’t want to venture into conditions that would test their limits. We also have snow chains of course, but we were wary of conditions where snow was settling or ice was forming but not yet thick enough for chains. For this reason we were keeping a close eye on our route into Livigno.

Livigno is in Italy, but surrounded on most sides by Switzerland. It’s in a high mountain valley with a few options for access via mountain passes or tunnels. In winter the approach is limited to either the Foscagno Pass, taking you to 2291 meters, or the Munt La Schera tunnel which takes you in via Switzerland. Most people coming from the UK would probably opt for the latter option also using the Vereina Tunnel to avoid high altitudes. But we were in Northern Italy already so it was a much shorter, and cheaper, route across the Foscagno Pass, so long as the weather conditions were right. As we headed towards Sondrio – our overnight stop before the final leg of the journey – we kept an eye on the weather forecast and it promised that the current mild weather would continue until after we arrived in Livigno. The drive to Sondrio, along a low valley with snow capped mountains looming high on each side, was slightly daunting, but the webcam views of the Foscagno pass still looked good so we kept going.

Sondrio treated us with a municipal sosta that was both free and supplied electricity – happy days. We had a brief chat with the Italian couple in the other van parked with us. Like the petrol pump attendant we had talked to earlier they were very enthusiastic about Livigno. Sondrio also had a self service launderette near to the sosta, so we managed to wash our laundry before heading off. There is always something satisfying in having an empty laundry bag.

The following morning we set off to tackle the pass. A final look at the webcam (and then a few more peeks as we drove) told us that all was still fine. It is a long way uphill from Sondrio to the top of the Foscagno Pass. Despite the surrounding mountains Sondrio is still pretty low altitude at only 360m. When we reached the outskirts of Bormio we had made it to 1225m and could see the smaller ski areas that surround the town, but we still had a long way up to go.  

In the end the pass was pretty easy to navigate. Sunny and mild weather meant the road was clear of snow, slush and ice. Buses and freight vehicles regularly use the road so it is wide enough for two large vehicles to pass each other except at a couple of points through villages. As mountain roads go it is not particularly challenging, with limited numbers of hairpins and few steep drop offs. We stopped a couple of times to enjoy the views of the stark white landscape but the journey was still over far too quickly.

Of course the high altitude means the road has the potential to change character completely in less than optimal conditions. On the way back we had to wait for a good weather window as conditions had been extremely cold followed by snow. We left Livigno in good weather, but the fresh snow from the previous day was piled at the side of the roads, making it feel more narrow. At one point the snowplough coming towards us looked as though it was going to sweep us from the road, but it’s sides folded in as it went past which impressed us no end. Snow started to fall as we were on our way across the pass, but didn’t settle and we were soon across the highest section and on our way downhill to Bormio. It was still a reasonably painless journey but we wouldn’t want to be traversing the pass in a motorhome in anything worse.

Still Cant Find What We’re Looking For

20/02/18 – 21/02/18

When Aaron was at school I remember him doing a Geography project about the plains of Italy. The plains which stretch across the north of Italy, south of the Alps, are Italy’s economic powerhouse, generating the majority of Italy’s wealth. One thing they are famous for is cars; Ferrari, Lamborghini, Maserati all have their factories in the area. The other thing that comes to mind when looking at the names of the towns and cities is food – Bologna, Modena, Parma all bring to mind well known Italian staples, Bolognese sauce (ragu), Balsamic vinegar, Parma ham and Parmesan cheese.

Did we get to sample any of the food? or visit the famous car manufacturers? NO WE DID NOT. We spent all day looking for a petrol cap for Bertie and not finding one, despite the very helpful staff at the camper and auto spares shops. We continue to sport the temporary cap but wont be actively looking for a new one till we get back to the UK. 

We did spot someone test driving a cherry red Ferrari, hearing the deep roar of the engine before we saw it, and we bought a big chunk of Parmesan cheese, which I have started to eat like cheddar (it doesn’t seem to have the acrid smelly feet pungency that we associate with it in the UK). Apart from that we had a day of frustration.

The following day was not much better. We drove from our parking spot outside Bologna to Bergamo where we got caught up in another ZTL. Now that we’ve seen the signs for these in Pisa we are a bit more clued up on them. Generally they are a large white rectangular sign with a red circle on them and too much writing to read from a moving vehicle. Our strategy now is to avoid at all costs, so when we found ourselves confronted with them while trying to reach a supermarket on the outskirts of Bergamo we turned around. Then we tried another supermarket and had to retrace our steps when we found every exit from a roundabout sporting one of these signs. Highly frustrated we continued to try but had to give up and head for our parking spot. Eventually we found our way to a paid parking area in Bergamo where the promised facilities were offline (showers and toilets closed for work, wifi not working) but they still wanted €18 for the privilege. By this time we were frazzled from the number of red circles we had seen and just wanted to hide away so we didn’t argue much.

I completely understand the rationale for the ZTL areas, pollution reduction and traffic control in historically delicate areas is important. I just wish there was some kind of signage earlier, maybe at the entry points to the towns, so that you know you are entering an area where traffic limitation may apply. Some of the zones (i.e. in Pisa) are easy to avoid because they only apply to the historic centre where you wouldn’t be driving a motorhome anyway. But the ones in northern Italy cover much wider areas. If you happen to be driving in Italy this website is useful – we’ve started to look up potential restrictions with every large town or city we come to.  


Red Road Houses on the Adriatic Coast

18/02/18 – 19/02/18

The weather was still pretty dreary so we don’t feel like doing anything active. We decide to start our journey north for some skiing and pick the Adriatic Coast road SS16. Our first stop on the evening of the 17th is at Termoli, we drive through the outskirts of town looking for a recommended Sosta, we find it but it is shut up. No one is answering the phone or in the door of the neighbouring house. We give up on this and drive north through the town and eventually find another Sosta where we nose through the half open gates. It’s not clear whether they are really open, but the father and son are playing (sorry working) with a cherry picker outside and seem happy to take our money. It’s not like they have to do much although they insist on cleaning the already spotless motorhome service area before we use it. They also unlock the gate leading to the seashore so we can take a walk in a brief period of dry weather. We’re pleased to see that Italy does have some attractive coastline. The long stretch of sand here is covered with the natural debris of a stormy sea rather than plastic bottles and single flip flops.

Driftwood serpent

We don’t venture into Termoli because the weather is so miserable, so we start our journey north. The coast road is surprisingly good, with fewer potholes than we expect – we’ve learnt to be grateful for small things. Along the way we see many trabucchi – these fishing platforms can be found all over Europe, and here along the Adriatic coast they are connected to cliffs by precarious looking walkways. We don’t manage any photos because we don’t want to venture too far from Bertie but we enjoy pointing them out along the way.

Also along the way we start to notice buildings of a deep brick red, with very similar construction and always with the name of the road displayed somewhere. We wonder what they are, we’re close to the railway, but the railway buildings have a differently distinctive style. Google isn’t helping as I must be using the wrong search terms to get a hit. I post on facebook to see if anyone knows the answer and finally we’re enlightened. These buildings were constructed by A.N.A.S – the road construction company – to house the workers who were responsible for that stretch of road and also for storage for road maintenance materials. Once our eyes are opened we start to see them everywhere. Some restored and presumably now privately owned, some falling apart and some still being used for their original purpose.

The red A.N.A.S houses

That evening is spent in Marcelli, in a large free (in the low season) carpark, we spend a couple of hours on the seafront watching the stormy sea, but move back to the carpark again for a quieter night.

We set off again the following day continuing up the coast. We laugh at the satnav’s pronunciation of Adriatica each time we come to a junction. She likes to draw out the a’s ‘aaaa-dri-aaaa-ti-caaa’. In poor weather the stupidest things can become entertaining. We have also lost track of how many times we have heard No Roots by Alice Merton. We know the lyrics by heart now and it will always be our Italy song.

We consider going to San Marino, but a look at the road conditions shows quite a lot of snow, so we stay by the coast and end up in Ravenna Marina that night. Another free car par. The following morning we actually have some dry weather so we walk along one of the arms of the breakwater, it is bitterly cold but feels freeing to be outside. While we’re walking we see tugs bringing massive container boats into the shelter of the breakwater’s embrace; the two arms extend 2km into the sea creating an area of calm.

Trabucchi on the breakwater at Ravenna Marina
These concrete ‘jacks’ line the breakwater

The Marina is our last stop on the coast, from this point we are heading inland. We stop briefly in Ravenna town to look at the early Christian mosaics. First we go to see the mosaic at the Battestero degli Ariani where we get in for free as the ticket machine is not working, The mosaic is impressively detailed, with significant amounts of the soft shine of gold, but we decide that we don’t need to see any more, there is something about them that is over the top and gaudy and doesn’t inspire the same awe as Roman mosaics. We wander around the quiet of the old town instead. We discover that Ravenna has it’s own leaning tower, and a castle as well as a pleasant old town.

Mosaic of the apostles

Whatever Happened to that Petrol Cap?


It was a mystery. We were on our way to the mountains and stopped at a fuel station to fill up with Diesel only to find that we had no petrol (or should it be diesel) cap.

Paul swears that he didn’t forget to replace it when we last filled up. So has someone taken it? We have never had the key, so it would have been possible for someone to filch it, but why would they? There didn’t appear to be any fuel missing so we hadn’t been siphoned.

Anyway, to avoid any conflict I’ve given Paul the benefit of the doubt. We picked up a universal spare so that we at least have something over the hole, but a search for a proper replacement would have to wait until we get somewhere with some auto or camper spares shops.

In the mean time we made it up into the mountains, stopping at a free sosta near Civitella Alfedena (we couldn’t work out how to dispose of our toilet waste here but there was water). We had intended to investigate the ski resort nearby but the area was incredibly busy and we couldn’t find a reasonable parking spot near to the skiing. We later found out that it was the Italian Under 16s ski championships, typically we only found this out as we left the area.

Bertie looking over Lago di Barrea

The sosta here is on the shore of a lake and we decided to take a quick trip around the lake on our mountain bikes before heading off again. This was our first ever cycle over snow, a much more strenuous experience than I’d expected with the tyres skidding over the snow and ice and requiring a lot more effort and careful handling to gain any traction. Where the snow had started to melt the ground was very slushy and the mud was deep. Thankfully it was an easy route so it gave us an opportunity to practise, I had even more respect for the guys who had cycled up Vesuvius over snow.

A little hill, but still tough over the snow
The view across the lake
The village of Barrea at one end of the lake

Without the option of skiing there wasn’t much to keep us here – the walking trails were deep with snow and we don’t have snowshoes (maybe something for the future). More snow was forecast for the coming days, so we made our way back down from the mountains before we got stuck. We’ve seen how beautiful the area is and will be back again. 

Yet Another Amphitheatre


After Vesuvius we migrated north east through Caserta, a town strung along a main road lined with relatively affluent showrooms and stores. Our parking spot was towards the western end of the urbanisation; a free sosta in a large car park. We had been warned in reviews that there would be boy racers turning donuts, but really it seemed quite tame. Maybe it was the wrong day of the week, but just a handful of the ‘white car club’ turned out to park alongside each other and occasionally rev their engines.

We weren’t complaining, we were well rested by the time our alarm went off the following morning. We had only chosen this parking spot because it was free and in the right direction, but the bonus was it’s proximity to the second largest Roman amphitheatre after the Coliseum – a fact we only found out after visiting. We’ve seen a few amphitheatres now, but at €2.50 each we thought it was worth a look.

This amphitheatre has shot to number one in our favourite amphitheatres of all time. Was it better than the Coliseum? We spent some time discussing this as we wandered around and decided that yes, we thought it was. Now the Coliseum is spectacular and huge and incredibly intact, but it is thronged with tourists, sanitised and large areas are off limits unless you book a tour. In contrast we were walking through an unkempt site where grass and weeds grew with abandon in the late winter sunshine. There were large sections of stonework piled in a ring around the site awaiting archaeological inspection, and many of the decorative elements have been plundered to enhance later buildings in the area. The walls of the amphitheatre don’t stand as high as the Coliseum, but what you get is an ancient monument that is quiet and allows you to wander at will, especially in the area underneath the main arena. As you explore this virtually deserted building you feel as though you are the first person to find the many corridors and stairways. It is incredible that a country can be so full of ancient monuments that a site like this is virtually unknown and it’s restoration underfunded. For the freedom of exploration, the sense of adventure, the peace and tranquillity, the friendliness of the staff and the price it cannot be beaten.

We moved on after seeing the amphitheatre, but there is a lot more to see in the area, making it one of the places we would like to return to. In particular the Reggia de Caserta – know as the ‘Versailles of Campania’.


Almost to the Top of Vesuvius


Snow had been falling on Bertie on Valentine’s evening. Fat flakes that hadn’t settled on the road but had frosted the trees. We didn’t know what Vesuvius summit would be like but chances were that the summit cone would be closed.

On Vesuvius there are nine marked walking routes of various lengths. Route 5 is ‘Il Gran Cono’ – the walk around the summit cone – and is the most popular. A ticket is needed for this which is purchased from a ticket office just below the summit, buses run from Naples and other spots, transporting people up the mountain to the ticket office so that the summit can be approached pretty easily.

Getting ferried practically to the summit didn’t appeal to us, we wanted to spend more time ascending the mountain to get closer to the volcanic terrain. Our chosen route was La Valle dell’Inferno, this spoon shaped route joins up with the summit walk at the ticket office so we could get right to the summit as well as seeing more of the mountain. Information about the various routes can be found here.

It was Paul’s birthday, so I allowed him a lie in before we set off. I made our packed lunch while he was busy snoozing and waved at a couple of mountain bikers who were setting off up the mountain. By the time we were ready to leave they were coming back down again, giving us a brief ‘Ciao’ as they sped down hill. We set off following their tracks uphill along a steeply zig-zagging asphalt road that soon became a dirt track. At first there was little snow but as we ascended we started to encounter more patches of snow and the melt off the trees pattered down on us so that we were glad we had hoods on our jackets. We were in awe of the cyclists who had slogged up this hill through the snow.

Following bike tracks in the snow

We reached a point where another route split off, there were a couple of useful map boards here. We kept left to follow our chosen route which continued to ascend through more and more snow up to a plateau where the route became circular. At this point we made a pact that if the snow got more than ankle deep we would turn around. We had gaiters and waterproof trousers but it would be foolish to walk on an unknown path in deep snow. We could see that this was the point where the mountain bikers had given up and turned downhill.

View of the Bay of Naples with the Sorrento Peninsula in the distance

Luckily the snow stayed about ankle deep all the way and only got deeper in pockets where the strengthening wind had blown it into small drifts. From the plateau we found our route markers leading off to the left through sparse alder trees, some of which had been blackened by forest fires. Eventually we made it to a cobbled road, still mostly snow covered, which we followed to the ticket office. The views along this section were beautiful with the snow covered cone of Vesuvius rising in front of us and a ridge to our right.

We could see views of the summit cone as we walked

Between us and the ridge was the Valle dell’Inferno and our return route would take us down here, but first we had to get to the ticket office. It was closed as we had suspected. We stopped here to have our lunch on the useful picnic benches as we decided what to do. We could retrace our steps and take an alternative path to the summit, but we didn’t know whether we would be able to make it to the top or whether it would be fenced off. It was Paul’s call as it was his birthday – he decided that we should continue our route and not try to get to the top, the biting wind had put him off continuing further uphill.

Outside the ticket office

It took a bit of a search to find the snow obscured path down into the valley, but once found it was a pretty straight forward to follow between trees with the twisted formations of lava cliffs on one side, festooned with icicles. 

Lava formations in the cliffs above the Valle dell’Inferno
Shrine in remembrance of a mountaineer who fell to his death, a stark reminder of the danger of walking in winter conditions.
Volcanic rock formations with a beard of icicles

Finally we reached the plateau again and were able to follow our original route back downhill to Bertie. By now the snow on the paths was starting to melt, but we could still see our own footprints melted into enormous yeti style tracks.

We rewarded ourselves with a cuppa when we got back to Bertie before we moved on. We were now going to follow a route north along the Adriatic coast. Our next stop was on the eastern side of Vesuvius near Caserta. This time we decided to take the toll roads rather than try to navigate through the towns.


An Unsuccesful Seaside Jaunt

13/02/18 – 14/02/18

Oour plans to walk on Vesuvius were being delayed for a couple of days due to a rainy weather forecast. We couldn’t decide how to spend the wet days; Naples didn’t tempt us, we were all citied out from Rome. Eventually we decided that we would explore the coast. Even in the worst weather we still enjoy watching the sea even if it’s from the confines of Bertie.

First up we thought we’d drive to Sorrento. The ‘Amalfi Coast’ road that runs along the south of the Sorrento Peninsular between Positano and Amalfi  is not accessible to motorhomes (unless you drive between midnight and 6am), but motorhomes are allowed to drive the rest of the coast, although it’s best to treat it as you would mountain roads. A bit of investigation revealed there were no campsites open and a dearth of motorhome parking, but we thought we’d take a look. We drove towards Sorrento with the hills of the peninsular shrouded in fog, the few parking spots with views were on the edge of the road and weren’t somewhere we would envisage staying overnight. With the poor weather and frustrations of finding parking we gave up and decided we’ll come back in spring when the campsites open. 

Second option was to head down to Salerno. Well, that was a mistake, the beaches here were rubbish strewn and subject to the same sort of development we had seen in Mondragone. Maybe the area wasn’t quite as depressed, we didn’t see any beggars or ladies of the night, but it was still ugly and dirty. Having driven around and looked at a few parking spots we decided we didn’t feel comfortable ‘wild camping’ here so picked an ACSI campsite to spend the night. Thankfully the owners were friendly and helpful which did cheer us up a bit, it seemed that most people used the campsite as a cheap base for exploring Naples, Pompeii and the Amalfi coast, which is fair enough, public transport here is cheap and reliable. I cant imagine choosing it as a place to vacation without the lure of the more attractive coast to the north.

View from Salerno – if you keep your eyes on the distance then it looks quite beautiful. Closer inspection reveals the usual beach detritus of plastic bottles and footwear.

The following morning we weren’t sorry to leave and head back towards Vesuvius. We’d decided on the route we wanted to follow to the summit of the volcano and were going to try parking near the start of the walk. This put us in a layby at the end of a mountain road opposite a restaurant. What we had forgotten (we’re not very romantic) was that it was Valentine’s Day. The owner of the restaurant came out and apologised, he didn’t have any tables available that evening (not that we’d even thought about it) and if we were staying the night he would have to charge us for parking. We dithered over this, it was a public highway, why would we pay? But a little wander showed us that he had no where else for his patrons to park. He only wanted €5, so we decided to stay and pay up. We watched him directing the cars in and out of their parking spaces that evening like a game of Tetris. I think we got pretty good value.

Our journey to our parking spot had been an interesting one, and avoiding a repeat of the experience was another factor in deciding to pay up for our parking. We drove through the sprawl of interconnected towns that rings Vesuvius, the roads were busy, with many shops and shoppers. Although the streets were wide enough for two vehicles to pass, the Italian habit of forcing themselves into any parking space at any angle to get as close as possible to the shop of choice meant that we had to continually swerve out over the centre of the road to avoid bumpers and wing mirrors. Delivery lorries and trucks were parked half on the pavement and leaned precariously out into the road, on the verge of toppling over. With so many obstacles the inevitable happened – we hit a wing mirror. Now maybe an Italian driver would have just stopped there and sorted it out without any care for the traffic building up in both directions. But not us, in a bit of a dither we beckoned the lady in the car to follow us to somewhere we could park and let traffic flow past us. This took a bit longer than we expected. As we searched for somewhere to stop the poor woman followed us tooting every now and again to ensure we didn’t forget about her. Finally we found somewhere, maybe 5 minutes later but it felt like an eternity. With the rain sheeting down Paul popped out to see what the damage was. With his trusty screwdriver he popped the wing mirror back onto it’s mount, all the while listening to the lady spout in Italian. She seemed satisfied with the repair though and nodded her acceptance before driving off.

After a couple of frustrating days we were crossing our fingers hoping we would wake up to a good day for walking. 

Up, Down and All Over Pompeii

11/02/18 – 12/02/18

We spent Sunday driving down to Pompei (the town) where were due to visit Pompeii (the ancient city). Our route took us initially through pleasant agricultural landscapes, but it wasn’t long before we reached coast and from that point the scenery became less pleasing. Mondragone summed it up for us, this large town with a romantic name straggles along the coast with many campsites, cafes and car parks. The development is not high rise, but it’s still ugly and uncontrolled with a feeling of a shanty town about it’s unkempt fences and poorly maintained buildings. People were wandering around with not much to do in the off season, most places were closed. Beggars lined the streets and tried their luck at every traffic light, whores plied their trade on the outskirts of town, refuse was piled in each layby. I tried to give it the benefit of the doubt, maybe it improves in the high season. This is what I imagine the detractors of Italy are seeing, take me back to the mountains and the beautiful Italy!

We were dispirited, and we took the autoroute as soon as we could, bypassing Naples to get into Pompei. As we drove towards Naples we had the sight of Vesuvius – oddly small and unprepossessing compared to the mountains we’d seen so far – and the Sorrento peninsular to keep us buoyed up.

Our choice for a campsite in Pompei was Fortuna Village, there are a few along the strip of land across the road from the entrance to Pompei and we just chose the cheapest ACSI one. €17 euros for a campsite close to the site was good value from our perspective (but don’t forget the tourist tax). It also had awesomely hot and powerful showers, but the smallest cubicles I have ever seen. Paul’s dressing gown came into it’s own as there was no practical way of getting changed (and to think I’d told him it was unnecessary).

So…Pompeii…I have always wanted to visit, having a bit of an obsession with volcanos. We set off, not too early, walking boots on and a rucksack of hot drinks, cold drinks and snacks to see us through what we knew would be a long day (we topped up with a slice of pizza at lunch time – I may never eat pizza in the UK again as even the meanest Italian pizza goes to a whole new level).

We paid our entry fee of €13 euros each and picked up a map, our strategy was to walk around the outside first, and then spiral back into the centre of the city. We didn’t quite walk every street and enter every building, but we did our best and covered just over 15k. I loved it, and even Paul managed to maintain his enthusiasm as we walked around. Our opinion is that you need to see it as a bit of an adventure – look into nooks and crannies, don’t just go for the obvious places, don’t get frustrated when some buildings aren’t open (it’s common for about a fifth of the buildings to be closed), be prepared for a long day with a lot of walking and lots of people (and school groups in low season). Our favourite bits; the roads, their cobbles with the deep scars created by ancient wheels are really evocative. The recently restored Villa of the Mysteries, out beyond the city walls but worth the walk to see the frescos. The forum granary with it’s everyday objects. The casts of the people, animals and trees (yes, there are casts of tree roots) caught in the eruption, gruesome but fascinating. The many shop fronts with their marble counters a testament to the vibrant commerce of the city. Looking for naughty pictures/mosaics/statues as a way of keeping Paul’s interest levels up. Oh and the Pink Floyd exhibition in the amphitheatre adds a bit of a surreal touch after seeing so much ‘old stuff’. 

Our personal suggestion for improving the experience – do more to emphasise the lives of the ordinary people.

I’m really glad that we made the time to fulfil a long held ambition, now to climb Vesuvius. 


Chilling Out in Itri


While in Campodimele we decided that we would drive down to Naples before heading north again for some skiing. We weren’t sure what we would do after skiing so wanted to ensure a trip to Pompeii before leaving Italy.

On the way to Naples we stopped in Itri, a town that is nestled in the foothills of the Aurunci natural park.

We had one of those moments when we approached our parking spot, firstly we narrowly avoided driving down a one way street, earning us our first serious Italian beep (which we were grateful for). When we found the right road it seemed to narrow down to an impassable exit, which caused a slight panic, but this was just an optical illusion as the street made a small turn and opened back up again. The parking was at the bottom of the old town and was nice and quiet for a Friday and Saturday night. We had views of the hills in front of us and the castle loomed overhead.

Itri castle walls

We didn’t do much on our Saturday in Itri, we wandered around the old town’s cobbled streets and then around the shops and cafes of the newer part of town. It was one of those market towns with a positive atmosphere, pleasantly busy with lots of families out in the parks and a good selection of shops, including one very smart butchers and deli (which, due to the decor, I was convinced was a hairdressers until we went in). Our perambulations were interspersed with a bit of rugby watching (from the van, as we couldn’t find anywhere showing it). 

After the Old Stuff, Old People

07/02/18 – 08/02/18

After Rome Paul decreed that he couldn’t cope with any more ‘Old Sh*t’ and needed to detox. So it was time to find somewhere we could walk or cycle and get out into the natural environment. We headed inland to Campodimele, chosen because it gave us access to the hills of the Aurunci Natural Park. What we didn’t realise was that Campodimele is a longevity hotspot. A place where the fabled Mediterranean lifestyle allows residents to live to a ripe old age, in fact they expect the average age of death of the current residents to be 95 years, which – when you think about it – is quite astounding.

Campodimele was yet another Italian hill town and we can’t get enough of them. Even if they are not in tourist guide books there is always something to explore, in fact as we drive past any hill town we end up worrying that we’re missing out on a nugget of interest.

Campodimele from the slopes of Mount Faggeto

The name of the town literally means field of honey, but sadly I didn’t find any honey to take away with me (I like honey with my favourite breakfasts, yoghurt, porridge or sometimes ‘overnight oats’ a combination of the two – oh ok, my favourite breakfast is a bacon buttie, but I like to pretend to be healthy). It perches on a perfectly conical hill, not in the natural park itself, but surrounded by the park on all sides. It’s only a small town and still has it’s walls and towers incorporated into the buildings that lean up against them. The sosta here sits just below the town and at the start of the walk up Mount Faggeto which was our first outing. There are many trails here and the details can be picked up from tourist information, plus there was a good map board at the Sosta.

The free Sosta at Campodimele with lovely views of the surrounding hills

We left the sosta to wander up the marked path through the river valley. The markings on the path were the white and red of the Club Alpino Italiano which meant they were well maintained, unlike the locally maintained route markings in some areas which were funded by the EU and have been left to their own devices since funding dried up. The route was not too taxing as it took us on a gentle uphill through the valley criss-crossing the barely existent water. The sound of cow bells could be heard above us on the sides of the valley but the trees were too thick to see through even though most of their leaves had dropped. Along the watercourse were multiple stone dams, we wondered what they were for; they weren’t in use anymore and the pools behind them had mostly silted up. As we got higher we started to see snow on the ground and snowdrops growing around the path, a heartening first sign of spring. When we finally emerged from the woodland we were nearly at the top of the mountain, just a small climb up the slope to the summit cross, made slightly harder work than it needed to be by the thin layer of snow that slipped under our feet.

The wind was strong at the top and we could see clouds starting to roll up the far slopes towards us, we took shelter by the mouth of a cave where warm air (well warmer than outside) was being expelled and creating a tiny microclimate of frost free ferns and grass. Here we ate our lunch quickly so that we could get moving before the clouds reached us. We didn’t want to get stuck in fog.

We struck off the main path for our return route, following barely visible red marks on the rocks that led along a lovely rocky limestone ridge. The views were pretty good and would have been amazing on a clear day. As we reached the end of the ridge, marked by a post, we encountered a solitary bull guarding a small area of pasture, we edged around him carefully before descending steeply down slopes of ankle breaking shattered rock. There was no discernible path now so it was a case of taking a bearing and heading in the right direction, picking our way over rocks, down muddy banks and between mossy trees. Finally we reached the main track back down to the parking spot, as is always the case we could see the pale red path markers when we looked back.      

A long walk in beautiful surroundings with no one else for company had been the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of Rome. We liked it here so decided to stay another night, this time joined by an Austrian couple in their campervan.

The following morning we took a cycle ride to the village of Pico. We started out following the tiny road between the parking spot and the mountains. This took us past several small farms where the farm dogs enjoyed chasing us, before bounding across the fields to intercept us again later. They knew what they were doing.

We passed a restored but empty monastery before eventually left the road to join a footpath that took us up and down over the side of the hill. It was hard going on the bikes, but the views were amazing and it seemed over too soon as we finally made it to a farm track on the outskirts of Pico where we zoomed down the steep gradient to the main road.

Restored Monastery

The way back was along the main road , a long slightly uphill stretch of road, we passed Camopdimele before doubling back on ourselves. As we gazed up at the village on the hill above us we decided that we would take the longer more gentle route back, rather than tackling the steep paths back up to the sosta.     

Beautiful far-reaching views

Six Nations Rugby in Italy


While we were travelling Europe it seemed an ideal opportunity to watch England play a six nations match in Italy. Why Italy? Well firstly because it’s easy to get tickets to see England play in Italy. Try to get tickets for other games and you’re subject, literally, to the luck of the draw. And secondly we were unlikely to be in any other nation.

One of the reasons for choosing our campsite, Camping Village Flaminio, was that it was on a direct bus route to the Stadio Olympico – the number 200 bus runs directly past the campsite to the stadium. In the end we didn’t take this bus route at all, but the intention was there. We walked to the stadium from the city along the river Tiber and got the number 32 bus back which dropped us between the Carrefour supermarket and the Due Ponte railway station, just a 15 minute walk from the campsite. We saw plenty of people leaving the Stadio Olympico and getting on the wrong bus – we met at least three groups who got on the same bus as us thinking they were going back to the centre of Rome – partly the drink and partly the pure confusion. To get the bus back to the centre of Rome you need to be on the side of the road closest to the stadium. The buses on the far side are going north to the suburbs. 

Our tickets were booked through  the official website www.ticketone.it; a relatively painless process. We chose the Print@Home option, so tickets had to be printed in order to be scanned at the gates, we got printed copies before we left the UK but the campsite would have printed them if we’d lost them.

The atmosphere in Rome on the morning of the match was busy but not manic, there were plenty of people wearing England supporters kit, some in cafes supping mid-morning beers, some cramming in as much sightseeing as possible. We sampled a couple of bars, The Highlander’s Pub and the obligatory Irish pub, but to be honest the bars were dark and dingy and we wanted to be outside because the sunshine had finally arrived.

We walked along the river to the stadium, in a long line of people who were also choosing to enjoy the sunshine. It’s an easy enough route, about 40 minutes from the city. We aimed to get there about half an hour before the match, which was only just enough time to get in and seated. We didn’t have time to buy any beer outside – the queues were huge – but that was ok because there were vendors selling cans of lager inside the stadium.     

Settling in for the match

We enjoyed a spot of people watching while the match was on; in particular one young couple in front of us; he was enjoying his birthday treat and she was being harangued by a lady from another group who thought she was the world’s authority on everything and don’t stop talking all the way through the first half. The authority’s friends turned their back on her, and the young couple moved a few seats away for the second half. I think she might have got the idea that they wanted to watch the rugby and not talk about her opinions on child raising and natural foods.

Not a bad view

And England won – of course – but Italy made it a competitive match so it was a good game to watch. Well worth the experience – I’d do it again even if I wasn’t on a long term tour, maybe combined with a few days skiing in the alps, and there is still so much more of Rome to explore.

Oh, and I nearly forgot, I found out that if you had a ticket for the rugby you could get in to many museums for free on the Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning of the match. I found out too late, but next time…

Overwhelming Rome

03/02/18 – 06/02/18

Rome has won the prize for the most overwhelming location we have visited so far. I don’t think either of us had really been prepared for a visit to this city and it quickly became clear that doing Rome in a weekend was as possible as doing London in a weekend. You could wear yourself out trying to do everything, and still fail, not only that but you could quickly grow jaded with the sights awaiting you at every corner. We’d had similar overload in Egypt where the ancient buildings had merged into one, and when on safari the herds of Wildebeest and Zebra had become commonplace rather than magnificent. 

After our first day in Rome we knew that we had to take it easy. The answer in a city (for us anyway) is to choose a couple of sights for a day, and in between to have lunch, pick up an ice-cream, have a coffee (or tea for me please) and just observe what’s going on around you without forcing it. We decided that we wouldn’t do the Vatican this time, it was just one thing too many, maybe next time, because there will be a next time.

We bought the Roma pass for our visit. We only just broke even on it, so it wont always be worth it. You get a free visit to the Coliseum/Forum, including fast entry (ie not queuing at the ticket office), two other museums free and any further museums at the reduced rate, plus free public transport. Museums come at various prices so it’s cost effectiveness depends on what you want to see. You also have to visit the museums in order as you cannot chose which are your freebies, it will always be the first ones. It doesn’t apply to Vatican City sights.

Here are a few photos from our time in Rome.


All Roads Lead to Rome

01/02/18 – 02/02/18

With apologies in advance to bloggers Paul and Michele of Our Leap of Faith. Yet again we appear to be stalking you. Great minds and all that…

Oh no…another apology…we didn’t take any photos. This is the problem with bad weather, we just don’t think about taking photos and then nothing for the blog. I just hope you like reading.

We were heading for our date with the Six Nations, so it was time to leave Tuscany and make our way towards Rome.

As we drove along the rough potholed roads and over the bump-de-bump-de-bump of bridge sections we wondered if maybe we should have taken the toll roads. But if you take toll roads you miss stuff. Sometimes you miss the bad bits and sometimes the good bits so it’s a bit of a coin toss. It wasn’t a nice day, grey and rainy, but still there were views out of the windows as we skirted the Lago di Bolsena, one of a few lakes in the area that fill ancient volcanic caldera and drove through the town of Montefiasconi.

Our stop on the way to Rome was just outside Montefiasconi. This sosta was a bit of luxury, a free stop over with electricity for every pitch, we could turn the oil filled radiator on and bake the damp from our bones. The reason it was free…it was provided by the local winery who hoped that you might pop into their shop to pick up some wine or other products, this is the type of win-win that we like (ok, Paul would prefer if it was cider). Yes the wine was a little pricier than we had seen it elsewhere, but who minds paying a few cents extra when you get a free stopover.

There is a particular wine that is famous in the area; ‘Est! Est! Est!’ is a modern sounding label but has a long history originating with a twelfth century prelate who was sent to scout the route to Rome for a German bishop. His instruction was to write Est! on the doors of the inns with good wine, you can guess how many times he wrote this on the door of the inn in Montefiasconi. It’s white wine, which isn’t my favourite – I like drinks that are served a room temperature like Red Wine and Bitter and Gin and Tonic (oh no – I broke my own rule there) – but a couple of bottles didn’t hurt and it was perfectly acceptable if not mind blowing.

After our night in the drizzle in Montefiasconi the weather wasn’t looking any better, so no sight seeing today. Onto Rome it was. More travelling on lumpy roads awaited us, a brief stop for LPG before driving through Viterbo where all roads really did lead to Rome. I wish I’d take a photo, every junction in our direction were signposted to Rome in multiple direction. After Viterbo we skirted round two more of the volcanic lakes before entering the suburbs of Rome from the North.

We were staying at Flaminio Village and it was a thankfully painless journey to the campsite. We had a quick and friendly check-in, tried to squeeze into our designated pitch with no success, and then picked our own pitch from the many free ones. We had chosen this campsite from the reviews of the toilet block, so number one on the list of things to do was a long hot shower…lovely. The toilet block was heated, large and had abundant hot water with proper taps rather than that pesky button pushing. The showers each had a roomy changing area and there was a whole ‘vanity’ area in the ladies with free hair dryers, although the mirrors were placed for very short people and I could only see from my nose down. Yes, the toilet block was now starting to show a few imperfections, but it has to the best I’ve seen since leaving the UK. I wasn’t sure about the piped classical music though, fine when it was soothing but occasionally it was quite martial and made me feel I ought to be washing in double time. At €19 a night this was a great value campsite…but don’t forget the tourist tax! Another €4 per night and not included in the ACSI rate.

As the weather was so rubbish we decided to stay in the campsite that afternoon and do some chores, so my hair got dyed and lots of washing got done. I do love sleeping between freshly laundered linen.

Hot Springs Eternal


One of the things I’ve missed most while travelling in our motorhome is a long hot bath. I usually prefer a shower, but whenever I’ve been stressed, anxious or just plain tired I have relished a hot bath, a cup of tea and a good book (I find my kindle copes better with the steam and doesn’t go crinkly at the edges –  so long as I don’t drop it in the water).

We’d looked at the baths at Bagno Vignoni but they were too cool for bathing. So, after a few active days and a few sleepless nights (due to it being ‘that time of the month’) I thought it was worth looking for something a bit warmer.

The closest hot springs were at Saturnia, another Tuscan hill town with a spa, but also free public bathing in the warm waters. I’d done a bit more research this time and knew that we would get water at about 38.5 degress, which is pleasantly warm, and that the baths are used year round.

As we drove towards the area we got a view of the pools from a distance, the cascade of pools and milky blue/green water looked almost man made and there were people bathing, so it must be warm. The anticipation of a long soak put me in a good mood, in fact my temper was good enough that I didn’t mind paying to park. We had hoped to park along the short road that leads to the baths, but motorhomes were forbidden and in any case there were no available spots. At the end of that road there is a big parking area with a height barrier – small vans would probably get through but not us. So we ventured about a kilometre away to the local private sosta; at €14 with electricity, toilets and showers it was not a bad price, and you cant blame them for cashing in on the popularity of the place.

The view of the hot springs as we approached.

We walked down the road back to the baths. There were probably 20 people using them, with plenty of people coming and going while we were there. This was a nice number and allowed each group to lay claim to a pool without having to get too close for comfort with strangers. I cant imagine what it would be like in summer, I’ve seen pictures of people crammed hip to hip along the edges of the pools which would negate all pleasure in the experience.

We spent a couple of hours soaking, going prune-like in the slightly sulphurous water. The atmosphere was friendly as people moved slowly between pools trying to find their optimum wallowing experience. The pools nearer the falls were warmer or you could move further away for cooler water, some pools were effervescent and some had waterfalls that pummelled you, some chest deep and some shallow. The people watching was fun, all ages were represented from a baby with her parents to an elderly chap sat on a folding chair in the shallows just bathing his feet. Lots of people just turned up in their cars already in dressing gowns over bathing suits, others did that slow and clumsy ‘under the towel’ dance.

It was such a refreshing and different experience. I would really recommend searching out any hot springs on your travels. Don’t worry about the eggy smell – it’s worth it!