Weeks 6, 7 and 8 – Italy to Home

For trip index look HERE, and for all pics look HERE

Leaving the wine tasting without a sore head (surprisingly) on more crappy roads with random speed limits, our route took us under an unsigned bridge after a blind 90’ corner that looked too tight and with evidence of frequent damage.  Fortunately we were able to pull to the side and manually walked the bridge with a “torque wrench” stuck in the air – we decided we had 2-3” clearance…..  Not a comfortable test of our logic, but we made it through.  Not fun.  Many more crappy roads and ugly industrial parts reminds us Italy has some of the most fantastic sites in Europe, and some of the worst.

A quick stop in Ovada, not worth bothering, onto a thermal spa town of Acqui Terme – sounded good and spectacular but, meh, in need of renovation and whats renovated already is a bit modern.  The large outdoor swimming pool is more akin to an unkempt swap pond but it gave us home for the night.

Continuing west we headed to Cuneo as it was a bit flatter and we knew there were some cycle rides.  The journey started to improve in this part of Italy, the roads improved and the landscape improved from the industrial parts – and even the driving slowed down.  In Cuneo itself, cars actually stopped at zebra crossings – it was all rather French…..!  From the large carpark there was a free mini funicular railway to the town, and the town was really rather pleasant – vast plazas and streets of undercover shops – so more roman than medieval and a rather nice place to be.  Drinks and pizza followed a bike ride.

Not that we’re complaining, but the weather has been vv hot – 30+ every day, and even 35+ some days.  So finding shade and water is quite important!  So we continued west and crossed into France over the Alps, and the route we took was rather easy.  We’re used to quite tall and tight mountain passes, but this one must’ve been a lot lower as it remained green throughout.  Lovely mountain views and quiet nice roads and then crossing into France. 

We opted for a small municipal site in Les Auches next to the river with huge amounts of shade, made for a relaxing night. We even managed a short bike ride to some waterfalls which were very pretty and inviting.

Our plans were to head into the Verdon region which has gorges, lakes and plenty of campsites, but we ended up rather disappointed.  Previous trips must’ve been more out of season, as this time all the campsites were full and the aires were below our chosen standard, and maybe due to being the weekend it was overly full of sproglets.   

So we reluctantly moved on to a small town we knew had a large shaded parking area.  Sadly, there was a petanque competition and the carpark was full!  Argh.  Moving on a few other places just had no shade, but we ultimately found a small town with a hidey hole just for the night.

The terrain around Verdon is always impressive and rugged, but that doesn’t really allow for many campervan stops.  So we decided to find a shaded campsite and found one with 3 pools, slides and a river/beach.  €37 a night but also accepted ACSI @ €20.  Phew.  Our hopes of staying a while were dashed as the site was very large and very hilly – and impossible for Mel to get from the pitch to the pool without the ebike, so after a couple of nights a plan B was needed.

We moved north to the Ardeche area to Vallon pont d’arc to a cheap and surprisingly spacious site with a nice pool – still much needed.  A convenient kayak place nearby sorted out our usual 24km paddle down the river.  I’m sure we’ve done that stretch before but cant recall when, but a bit of fun and the landscape is stunning.  A long tiring day. 

Moving further north, only by around 20km, we moved to Pradon which had a much more popular site – indeed it was full!  But very pleasant and again much needed pools, but also access to the via Ardeche cycleway which gave easy access in both directions to some very pretty villages. But as usual we pushed it and ended up doing some offroading on some very challenging terrain – some unrideable – but really pretty nevertheness.  Balazuk was particularly pretty, albeit hilly!

After 3 days of cycling, we ended up in a municipal site in La Clayette – cheap but really nice and >100mb wifi!  Always handy!  Pretty castle and short walk, but then moved further north to Dienville a little village on the side of 3 lakes, perfect for a bit of running and cycling – first run for a while as it was a lot cooler!  There was a massive motorhome aire there, but we opted for the campsite as we wanted shade and access to a pool.  The site was cheap enough, but the shade was poor and the pool was closed “due to rain” – so bit of a waste of money.  Still, good showers after biking were needed. 

We’ve clearly crossed a line where the weather has changed, its about 10’ cooler and even rain overnight.  This is good in a sense – means we don’t need to hunt shade and pools, so we were able to park overnight in Pogny at a pretty and quiet spot next to the canal.  A 10m bike ride took us to Chalons-en-Champagne – which looked pretty on the map – and could you believe it – we were there in December on our last visit.  Clearly only so many ways north/south!  Even the local shop to get bread said “last visited December 2021”. 

Hmm – will really need to vary for our next stops but there are limited routes back to the tunnel!  First stop was Reims for a day visit where we’ve been before, but worthy of a visit, and then just cracking on with the drive north.  We knew of an Aire in Arras which we thought we used before, but on arriving we have no recollection of Arras!  Really lovely place, couple of very large town squares and lots of bars including a craft ale bar…. Be rude not to!

And finally just a random stop with easy access to the tunnel in the morning called an end to this trip.

Overall, it was an OK trip – a few good bits but won’t appear in our top list of trips.  Sadly this is probably due to the restrictions we have for exploring and doing exciting things so it could’ve been better.  But equally, could have been a lot worse!!!  A fair few nice things, and a couple of notable great things, but maybe 5 or 6/10 for fun and excitement.

The van did brilliantly – can’t stress how much its improved since its service, it was a joy to drive.  With >130 nights away now fair to say its been tested!  3,611 miles in Europe, so 4,000 door-to-door, at an average of 31.6mpg which I think is pretty good going (probably 32mpg as van under reads slightly).  Vastly better than 27.5mpg on last trip! So that’s it!  Need to plan something more exciting for next trips…..

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