Our night wild camping in the Alps was fine! It was actually quite warm and the van and gas heating held up well. A good hot curry and hot chocolate also helped. It snowed a little overnight, but the run down the mountain was okay. Turning up towards the Simplon Pass the snow started to come down – and towards the top the conditions weren’t that great. In places we were doing walking pace speeds with the ABS on constantly if the brakes were touched. Quite a challenging drive but safe in the knowledge we had snow-chains if we got stuck, and if we got really stuck we had loads of food, water and gas! All turned out well and we entered Italy – immediately noticing how crap the roads had become and how the driving standards got to below Spanish standards rather quickly – tailgating and overtaking on white lines seems normal. We liked Switzerland and look forward to covering more of the country on the way back home.
On the motorway a white car flashed us, and came past waving, pulled in front with hazards. Having read too many stories on the internet about such actions ending in robbery we just smiled, waved back and overtook him refusing to stop. We knew nothing was majorly wrong and the rear view camera showed the bikes & box were still attached! After a while he gave up and drove off so we pulled over to check and noticed our waste pipe was dangling off and has actually worn through the pipe and tap so now it leaks. Oops. Sorry Mr Italian! And thanks to Mr Gaffa Tape for a quick fix. In Italy Mel wanted to see the lakes, so we headed down to Lake Maggiore and camped in a free aire in Verbania. The weather was cloudy and heavy rain so opted just to chill and await the sun (or at least a dry spell!) before venturing out. The rain didn’t end so we just had a reading and movie day. Overnight the rain continued and the following day was just as bad.
In the morning we ventured into the town which was nothing special, and the lake did promise some excellent views once the cloud lifted. We returned soaked to the skin and freezing – so a good hot shower was in order. As the rain seems set in we have aborted our trip to Lake Como – saving that for the return leg and continued South towards the sun (!)
Driving conditions were horrendous not helped by the dire Italian driving standard. No indicators – especially on roundabouts; people pull out onto roundabouts regardless if you are there or not (Italy have both give-way to entry and give-way to cars on) – but give-way to neither. Speed limits are more “speed minimums”, “no overtaking” means “just do it quicker” – and zebra crossings are for parking on – never to give way to pedestrians! Most roads are heavily pot-holed and in the rain you can’t see road markings. Good job we fixed the demister!!
We arrived at a possible overnight camping spot in Voghera and went out to explore the town. The centre was nice enough, very pleasant and a good few shops for some essential supplies. The provided overnight camping area was little more than a lorry park so at after our tour we decided to spend the early evening heading south to Genova.
Our spate of bad luck continued – apart from hitting snow again on the way down, we entered Genova seeking a wild camping space – but little did we know this is a major and dense city with little parking and thousands of cars around. Absolutely horrendous – we got stuck for 90 mins + trying to get out with scenes reminiscent of Doctor Who where people had been stuck in a traffic jam for years! Somehow we got out unscathed (Mel was feeling sorry for TomTom!) – continuing east to a few “known” locations for somewhere to stop. Again, we didn’t have much luck – the coast road is up a mountain and its difficult to see much – and though we passed a group of vans there wasn’t anywhere to turn round. Getting tired and grumpy we set TomTom to guide us to the harbour car park at Rapallo as these are usually a good bet – and true enough a gorgeous view and location – and we tucked in stealthily in a corner for a good tea and earned beer….
In the morning we admired our surroundings and admired the town of Rapallo. It looked really bustling and quite authentic. The marina too was worth a walk around before escaping lest we got a parking ticket!
Continuing east along the coast we got to Lavagna where we parked up and went for a 6 mile run to Sestri Levante. The beach was pretty grim to be honest, but on arriving in Sestri Levante the town and surroundings were actually very impressive. We enjoyed a run around the town streets (with some bemused looks) before heading back and relocating to La Spezia where we would top up tanks and spend the night. The provided facilities were green enough but based just outside a port so fairly noisy – not really recommended. A 3 mile walk was needed to get into La Spezia. The town and marina are pretty nice to walk around but the walk there was a little of an eyesore!
We spent the evening planning the next week and actually looking at the map and the list of recommendations kindly given to us by Internet Buddies on MHF. With the sun beating down (quite a change!) we took a superb scenic route to Lucca – a lovely old walled town with superb squares and buildings. Well worth a detour – but if just visiting don’t park in the official aire. From Lucca we headed to Pisa with a plan to stay the night, but as we had time we went to Pisa Marina and found it was as flat as a pancake meaning an ideal running route for the morning! The place was heaving and due to numerous “no campervan parking” signs we opted to pay and stay in the Marina where there were 50+ other motorhomes – all Italian! The gorgeous sunshine (22’ according to the pharmacy sign!) must be bringing them out of the woodwork.
In the morning, in more sunshine, we went for a 16 mile run along the coast road to Livorno and back. Bit of a killer! After a nice shower, the marina aire was full to capacity with 90% of people with a full BBQ setup with tables and chairs with the Italian “mamas” stressing over the food! We escaped and headed to Pisa for a tourist visit to the town. With aching legs we didn’t fancy a walk up the impressive tower so settled for a picnic on the grass in front of it. Aside from tourist tat the town had a busy market and many superb buildings behind the scenes. Very impressive – and well worth a visit. Knackered, we had a nap and camped in a quiet free place and gave our legs a deserved rest.
From Pisa we headed towards San Gimignano which is a historic town with numerous towers and churches – a superb place to visit. In the central plaza they have an award winning ice-cream parlour where we expected extortionate prices – but in fact found realistic prices and absolutely superb ice cream! Fully recommended! After a tour we headed down the hill to Certaldo where there was a free serviced aire. Stopping here for the night we explored the ancient old town on top of a hill – really impressive (if quiet) and worth the walk. A well earned Pizza was called for in the local town with a good bottle of Chianti. We felt completely satisfied till the guy on next table ordered something and his plate was overflowing with a meat dish I’d failed to spot! Damn.
The next day we planned a longish drive through the good, quiet and sometimes beautiful Tuscany countryside down to Lake Bolsena where we wild camped right on the lake just outside Capodimonte. This town provided a few essentials and another old town and small castle to wander round – but more importantly a lovely view in the sun just to veg for an afternoon.
Thus ending our second week on this tour! We have to say when we entered Italy first of all we were fairly disappointed – but as we’ve gone south it has indeed become a beautiful and relaxing place to tour. The girls are especially sexy – loads of fit bottoms and slim girls – but as a word of warning – not many older women share the same looks….! Buyer beware! Mel had her share of eye-candy from all the lycra clad cyclists that are around here – literally 100’s of them!