Lockdown Week 12: Places we’ve been (Part 5: Croatia, Italy (Monaco and Switzerland) and France

Waiting to get back on the road

We remain in our parking place! We have ventured out, giving Nortia a drive and getting rid of cabin fever. We had hoped to take Reg to the beach, but so had everyone else! We picked the last day of the good weather! Lockdown in England, now means we can go out for the day, but not stay out! and we can meet in socially distanced groups of no more than six.

Positively: Reg’s walks are getting longer; Ric and I are still talking; Nortia, continues to be an ideal home for lockdown, even if our location needs a bit of a view; and we’re safe and well.

Croatia

We travelled to Croatia, primarily to meet my (Sarah’s) mum, who was on holiday there. She wasn’t aware we were going there, apparently she hoped we might, until the day before – we couldn’t surprise her, in case she’d booked a day trip!

  • Ičići / Opatija – although two towns they were joined together in 2006. We stopped at Camping Opatija, overlooking the sea. We walked along the promenade to meet up in Opatija, and had a lovely lunch in a small cafe, before walking back to the campsite.
  • Pula – We stopped at Camping Stoja, on the beach and at the edge of the town. This was the first place we were aware to have a tidal wave warning system on site.

Italy

  • Belluno – despite a major road closure, we found our camping spot for the night at the Agriturismo Sponga. A stellplatz at a restaurant at a fishing pond location. The restaurant doesn’t open on Sunday evenings.
  • Mazzin – a lovely location in the Dolomite Mountains. It was a little chilly at night but the location and the town were lovely. Camping Soal.
  • Lake Garda – Agriturismo Pardiso. Located a short walk from the Lake and within an Olive grove, where you can buy the home produced olive oil.
  • Busana – Located in the Reggio Emilia district, amongst chestnut trees, it was a blessing to find. We ordered bread for the following morning and it was delivered to the door handle! Camping le Fonti.
  • Levanto (Cinque Terre) – Camping Acqua Dolce. We loved it here and would happily return. The campsite has a free shuttle bus (on demand, when we arrived) to the beach and station. It also has a great restaurant onsite, selling home-made pizza.
  • Finale Ligura – we have stopped here before and had a lovely meal in the bistro down the road. This time though, we were disappointed and have decided not to return.

Monaco

We popped into Monaco, on our way past, so we could get Nortia into the Pole Position on the Grand Prix Circuit. We had managed it before in our VW, but its a lot easier to manoeuvre a small vehicle in the small streets. Success, after a couple of trips around we stopped the traffic and took a photo!

Switzerland

Having tried to avoid Switzerland, just because we weren’t certain of the rules regarding tolls and entry, we found ourselves in Geneva and at CERN. We had to take a few photos at CERN, just because!

France

Crossing the border into France, we were searched by border control. We don’t mind too much as it is a necessary precaution against people smuggling and illegal immigration.

  • Villeneuve-Loubet – Birthplace of Auguste Escoffier. We found a lovely campsite just by chance – L’Hippodrome. It was just behind a supermarket – perfect for bread in the morning and close to the town.
  • St. Tropez – after singing, “Do you know the way to St Tropez?” all the way, we stopped at a Yelloh! site under the trees. Here, we tried to decide which way to head along the coast or north. The weather report on the radio, informed us of a RED weather warning. We bit the bullet and headed north. We later found out how difficult it had been for people who had parked up on the Mediterranean, with flooding, wind and rain.
  • Route Napoleon – Castellane (Elba to Grenoble): We followed the route from Castellane up to Gap. The route is scenic and we’d done part of it previously.
  • Digne-les-Bains – we arrived here just before the weather caught up with us. We were just sorting dinner on the barbecue, as the rain started – not too hard at first, but as we found out on the dog walk the following morning – torrential. Water drained out of my boots, Ric moved Nortia to hard ground, and after wringing out my walking clothes (I’d also packed up the external gear, as I was already wet!) we set off further north.
  • Gap – we stopped here for lunch (in the car park of the Casino Supermarket). Not our most scenic place but ideal to get away from the weather.
  • Lépin-le-Lac – What a find! Camping les Peupliers, is not the most up to date campsite, but right on the lake and with amazing views.
  • Col du Grand Colombier – Instead of going through Switzerland, we chose to go up this hill! As you’ll have already read, we went through Switzerland anyway! The Col du Grand Colombier, is the highest road pass in the Jura Mountains and a frequent hill climb in cycling. In the Tour de France it is classified HC  (Hors Catégorie) – meaning beyond classification. The views from the top are magnificent and worth the effort.
  • Gex – on the edge of Parc naturel régional du Haut-Jura (worth noting dogs are not allowed in the national park)! We stayed just outside the town at Camping les Genets. A short walk in either direction gets you to the Supermarket (and bakery) or the town centre. More fantastic views from here.
  • Chalexeule – Although we remember the campsite and the surroundings, not much more springs to mind. It is a short walk to the bakery.
  • Colmar – Just outside the town, a fantastic site. It’s a Huttopia CityKamp site and well worth a stop before walking into the town with its historic buildings and old town. This is on our list to return to.
  • Andelot – In the middle of the countryside, our only neighbours were the cows in the field behind. Arriving out of season, the facilities were mainly closed and the owners were working hard to upgrade the washrooms and toilets. This is a gem – Camping le Moulin and worth a visit.
  • Compiègne – we made a conscious effort to visit here. The Armistice Agreement of World War I was signed here ending the war.
  • Thiepval Memorial – I had visited here before and wanted to show it to Ric. It is a big memorial to the fallen of World War I. However, since I had previously visited, there is now a large visitor centre.
  • Péronne – We chose to stay here for two nights. It was ideal as a stop as there is a vet and it is within the timescale we had to cross back to England. Camping le Port de Plaisance – the town is walking distance along the river.
  • Dunkirk – Another two nighter, at the Camping de la Licorne. A cycle route takes you right into the town centre along the sea front. There is a trail around the town showing the historic sites. A word of warning – the sand hurts as it whips off the shore in the wind.
  • Marcilly-sur-Eure – Heading back south after a trip in the UK, we stopped at a little campsite just beyond Rouen. As we arrived, it looked closed, but it was open! The pitches were arranged in little circles – with a sanitary block in the middle. When we awoke in the morning, the campsite was shrouded by mist, giving it a fairytale feel. Campsite Domaine de Marcilly.
  • Saint-Georges-lès-Baillargeaux – Ideal for Poitiers and Futuroscope, we stopped at Campsite le Futuriste.
  • Oradour-sur-Glane – if you are in this part of France, this is a must! I’d always wanted to visit and had told Ric about it, but last time we were near, the weather was too hot to leave a dog in a campervan. This time, Nortia, gave Albi, the perfect base while we set off. Oradour-sur-Glane is a memorial to those who died, when the Nazis (in response to D Day) destroyed the town on 10th June 1944. The inhabitants were rounded up and shot and set on fire. The village, remains exactly as it was at that time, as ordered by President de Gaulle.
  • Exideuil-sur-Vienne – Camping de la Rivière is an absolute gem and deserves a visit!
  • Urrugne – Gateway to Spain! We got as close to the Spanish Border as we could, as there was another national strike in France this weekend. Camping Larrouleta, is a large site, at the foothills of the Pyrenees and we found sun for the first time, although the temperature did dip at night!
  • Saint-Jean-Pla-de-Corts – in the Pyrenees on our return to England. Campsite Les Casteillets, is in the Languedoc- Roussillon, just across the Spanish Border and has views of the snow capped mountains.
  • Canal du Midi – we followed the canal as best we could the whole way from it’s start at the Atlantic to it’s end at Marseillan Plage and the Etang du Thau. We travelled up to Colombiers via Agde and Beziers.
  • Colombiers – Camping les Peupliers, is situated just off the Canal and an ideal place to pick up the tow path. We cycled along the tow path to Beziers via les Neuf Écluses de Fonseranes (the nine locks) and the Basin de Beziers and around the old town, before returning to Colombiers and the Malpas Tunnel.
  • Le Lac de la Thésauque – we stayed at the campsite on the lake, having followed the canal up around Carcassonne and on towards Toulouse. Due to the amount of rain, France had in the last few months, the campsite was very wet and we had to change pitches to ensure we could leave in the morning.
  • Deyme – what a nice campsite. We stopped at Camping les Violettes, just outside Toulouse and not far from the canal towpath (it is a short walk or cycle on the busy main road first). We cycled north to Toulouse and south as far as we fancied, seeing a sunbathing (and then swimming) beaver on our route.
  • Toulouse – still following the canal and wanting to visit the Aeroscopia Museum, we stayed at Camping Le Rupé. We cycled to the Museum and on another trip into the city. The staff at the campsite were so welcoming. A short walk down the road towards the canal is a lovely bakery, too.
  • Créon – a brief overnight stop on our way up to Bordeaux, still following the canal to its source, we stopped at Camping Bel-Air. The town is about a half hour walk away, or a quick cycle!
  • Bordeaux – Just outside the city centre, in amongst the conference centre and the new Stadium of Bordeaux (currently the Matmut Atlantique) is the Village du Lac campsite. Cycle paths take you right into the city centre and beyond.
  • Arcachon – we drove out to the coast (backtracking slightly) to the town of Arcachon. The campsite was a means to and end for us. Arcachon Nature Camping et Location.
  • Dune du Pilat – the reason we came to Arcachon! We arrived (along with the rest of France!) mid morning on a Sunday, and joined the masses climbing the tallest Sand Dune in the World.
  • Île d’Oléron – We crossed the Gironde Estuary on the Royan ferry, completing our trip along the Canal du Midi. We chose to stop for the night on the Île d’Oléron, and out of season. We stopped at Camping les Gros Joncs.
  • Île de Ré – We stopped at Camping Les Grenettes, having driven around the Island. The weather changed and weather warnings were issued for flood and sea events – a little worrying as the campsite was 300 metres from the sea! We survived!
  • La Givre – we headed further north towards Brittany and stopped at Camping La Grisse in the Vendee. This campsite was another little hidden gem.
  • Nantes – stopping at Camping Nantes, it is ideal for a visit to the town. We wanted to see the Mechanical Elephant, but again the weather changed and brought rain and wind.
  • Piriac-sur-Mer – we stopped at Camping Le Véridet, right on the sea, inside a walled campsite. On our way up we had our wing mirror clipped by a passing delivery driver and managed to find all the bits – thank heavens for mirror protectors. We settled into the small campsite, just as Storm Jorge arrived!
  • Pont Scorff – more rain! We stopped off here at Ty Nenez. It has the potential of being a nice site, in the high season and good weather.
  • Ferme du Bout de Monde – We loved this campsite and the two dogs who greeted us.
  • Locquirec – We headed along the coast to the most westerly point of France and then along the coast to Locquirec. We stopped at Camping du Fond de la Baie, with lovely views of the beach and the English Channel.
  • Dinard – we stopped right on the beach, at Camping du Port Blanc, and the views in the sun were amazing. Having been into the town for lunch, the weather changed and the wind picked up. We managed to see the Statue of Alfred Hitchcock, before battling the wind back to the campsite. We had to try to move Nortia to a more sheltered position as sand was accumulating everywhere – like snow!
  • Saint-Martin-des-Besaces – https://www.sous-les-etoiles.camp/ Have you ever stopped at one of those sites you don’t want to share with the world? This is one of ours!
  • Le Treport – we headed to the campsite so we could be close to the Tunnel. The campsite however is only open until 12:00 on Saturdays, in low season. Luckily there was a nice Aire behind and about half the price.
  • Montreuil sur Mer – close enough to the tunnel, and just outside the walled city ( a quick walk to the top of the site and through the passage in the wall). The campsite, Camping la Fontaine des Clercs, is another gem.

Week 14: Croatia to…. And a surprise for someone!

Nortia at Lake Bled, Slovenia

We awoke at our campsite in Ičići  and got ready to meet up with my (Sarah’s) mum in Opatija. It has been exactly three months since we said our goodbyes over breakfast in Chichester Marina. We walked along the promenade (as much as we could) up to the hotel and there she was, sitting on the terrace waiting for us.

We popped along the road to a lovely cafe/bistro/taverna (I don’t know what they would be called in Croatia) and were shown to a table. The food was amazing and cooked so well. If you’re in Opatija I can’t recommend it enough http://www.roko-opatija.com/

After a long lunch, and a lot of catching up and story telling, we walked back to the Campsite still talking and reminiscing. We said our goodbyes and planned our journey onwards.

The next morning we set off to Pula, along the coast road and up over the hills. The campsite was fairly big but not overcrowded – We chose an ACSI camping pitch for 20 euros – you don’t get to be on the water’s edge or the beach but with so few people you can see them without paying double. The site also has a restaurant and you can sit down and eat or take away – we chose the latter. As you can probably tell, we’ve made up for the lack of going out this week! We then needed to choose whether to stay another night or move on. Looking at the weather that night (and again in the morning) we chose to move on; the forecast was for heavy rain and thunderstorms.

We set off for Slovenia and crossed the border near on the coast before heading through Koper to Ancarano. Koper is a massive freight port where (I read) that a lot of the cargo is taken to the southern Mediterranean ports. There were so many cars all waiting to be shipped. The campsite at Ancarano, is part of a hotel complex and on the beach – again you pay more if you want a sea view. However, as it was raining and we’d already had one mishap in the rain on a grass pitch we chose a hard-standing.

We left Ancarano and headed north to Bled. We followed the lovely Ditsy Daisy sat nav, until I found a road which bypassed Ljubljana and went up over the hills / mountains. All the signage indicated that it was suitable for vehicles under 7.5 tonnes, and we were following an artic – who we are sure was over 7.5 tonnes. Still there were no mishaps and the scenery was lovely.

Before we reached Bled, we stopped at the vets in Lesce, Albi needed some more medicine for an ailment he has, they were so helpful (we had been there before when we first came to Bled, for his worming treatment back to the UK – those were the days were planning was key and we knew exactly where we would be and how far we needed to travel each day)!

On arrival at Bled, everything was familiar. This was the first overseas place we had come with our Bilbo’s VW. That time we planned to the letter – two stops on the way 12 nights in Bled and 2 nights to get home. This didn’t work though, as we got bored sitting in the same place and left after 11 nights and headed to Venice! This time Bled was calling us back.

We arrived at the campsite and checked in for two nights – again using the ACSI card. We dusted off the bikes and took a little tour around the town. To our surprise the short spurt around we’d clocked 6 miles – not a massive amount but we hadn’t been on a bike for a while! We headed to the onsite Restaurant for a meal.

The next morning we wanted to do a longer cycle – we borrowed the cycle folder from Reception and found a circuit – the Reception staff copied the route for us and with the aid of Gloria Google Maps we were able to continue our little trip – taking in the villages of Bled – Breg – Zironica – Smokuc – Rodine – Hrase and Lesce before returning to Bled. This time we’d clocked up 19 miles, and it felt like it! The villages were great to see and the roads weren’t bad to cycle on – we even came across a bridge we’d driven over in the VW and were astonished how small it looked with the two bikes let alone a Transporter – we are not going to attempt to get a photo with the lovely Nortia though. The trail does have some steep hills and switchbacks. On our return to the campsite we had a well earned sit down before a lovely warm shower. Then we remembered there was a chinese in town, so back on the bikes and we picked up a takeaway. A quick cycle home – another 5 miles clocked (24 in total for the day!).

We decided to stay another day! We went off on a trail, we’d done the last time we were here and then we met possibly one or two other people, this time it was packed at the top. We’d gone to Ojstrica at only 611 metres it wasn’t the biggest we’d ever done but we haven’t climbed anything for a while. The start of the climb is incredibly steep and on loose rock. When we got to the top the view is great but the number of people, just annoying! We ate our lunch and headed back down to the campsite.

After a lovely takeaway meal from the restaurant – there was a 60th Birthday Party in full swing in the restaurant, we decided to move on the following day. We were heading to Italy.

We set Ditsy Daisy to non-motorways or tolls and set off on our travels towards Lake Garda (we knew we weren’t going there straight away, but needed to head in a direction!). We passed through Kranjska Gora and over the border to the mountains of Italy, where we travelled over the Mauria Pass – with a maximum elevation of 1300 metres above sea level and four switchbacks up and five down.

We chose a Stellplatz at a restaurant in a little town of Belluno, in the Dolomites. Unfortunately, the restaurant was closed as it was Sunday. We had a quick wonder around as there were a number of fishing lakes – full of fish in various sizes. The view wasn’t great when we arrived but was worth it the following morning….

As always, thank you for reading and apologies this week for the lateness of the post – we have been in the mountains and the mobile data and WiFi connections have been slow at best and non-existent at worst. There’ll be next week’s post soon (a bit like a London Bus!)