A drive of 134 miles took us from Port Grimaud on the French Riviera into the NW coastal region of Liguria in Italy. A spectacular drive with countless tunnels and viaducts and no shortage of stunning views.
But before we start contemplating the joys of Italy some thoughts on the past few days in Port Grimaud. Last night was another visit to the camp restaurant where we enjoyed a very pleasant meal. None more so than Mr Dougal who charmed our favourite waitress, Miriam, to such a degree that he got his own special desert of vanilla ice cream.
We all like surprises but I think you can work out that he was very pleasantly moved when it arrived in front of him!
￼So a very pleasant stay near St Tropez but time to move on and our next stop is a rendezvous with our friends Loretta and Gianni Carbone. They were staying at Camping Delfino just 3 kilometres from the Liguria town of Alassio in a quite unusual site. The picture shows the layout with structures in place to enable you to control how much shade you would like to have. I have never come across this before and I am not too sure as to the effect as we are currently off season so its hard to get a perspective with so few customers. They do, however, seem to cater for large numbers of people who keep their vehicles here permanently.
The site is very typical of Italian sites, family run and so friendly and helpful. The restaurant was a big hit with us and a big benefit to us was having Gianni who just loves to keep us right on the intricacies of the Italian kitchen. A proud Italian if ever there was one!
There were, however, some downsides. Firstly, the weather took a turn for the worse and it rained all night long. Not nice. Secondly there is no internet. Or should I say there is no Internet that works!
Time to move on to our next stop. On Sunday we head off into Northern Italy to meet up with our friends, Loretta and Gianni who are currently installed near Alassio in the coastal region of Liguria.
We have had a lovely time at Port Grimaud and managed to explore the area as never before. There were some special moments too. For example, during the week I was rummaging through spreadsheets from previous trips and found my records from our first trip to this area. That was back in 2010 and we stayed then on the very same pitch we have this time. I was looking at this on last Tuesday, 16th of April and discovered that we first arrived on this pitch exactly 3 years ago to the day.
We have nice neighbours here including, to our left, a lovely Dutch couple who have a caravan. Marten says "Hello" every morning and he enjoys Dougal's expertise in sniffology. Last week while chatting to him he told me that they come every year at the same time and park on the same pitch. I told him our history and we assumed that our paths must have crossed before.
Yesterday as I was wandering up to the store to get the day's supply of croissants Marten was waving at me animatedly. He told me that he had looked through his diaries and there on the 16th April 2010 was the entry, "We got Irsih neighbours today." Isn't it a small world?
But far and away my favourite moment happened yesterday at lunch in the "happy go lucky" little restaurant that serves the campsite. As I have said before it is simple, serves good food and is reasonable. It also has a charming young waitress called Miriam (pictured) who is absolutely delightful and whose English is as good (or should that be bad?) as my French. We have fun getting our messages across and so far our collective franglais has managed to get us by.
Yesterday as we took our seats for a quick bite of lunch she ambled up and with her usual professionalism asked, "Can I get something for you to drink?"
My response will be well known to those who know me well!
"Is the Pope a Catholic?"
A bewildered look spread across her face, there was a pause and then she said;
There can't be too many people who have not heard of or read about The Côte d'Azur, often known in English as the French Riviera. It is the Mediterranean coastline of the southeast corner of France which is the home of exotic places such as Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo and, of course, St Tropez. Like so many things in France there is much more to find behind the glitz and with that thought in mind we decided to explore a little for ourselves.
There is a lot of fun just driving along country roads off the beaten track but in the world of motorhoming most campsites come with a very efficient information service and Camping de la Plage is no exception. So over the next few days we will be going to and fro to see what there is to offer. We started today and already it is a complete knock out.
Without moving any more than ten miles from the site we were told we might be interested to look at two small towns set back from the coast. They are Gassin and Ramatuelle.
Gassin is set on a hilltop overlooking the area and the pictures should give you a fair idea of the spectacular views that are available. As is, I sense, almost obligatory in rural France the towns are dominated by a church of antique proportions and in this case there was no exception. Both towns fall within the same parish, locally known as "Le Paroisses de La Croix Valmer, Gassin et Ramatuelle." As so often happens the best bits are to be found under your nose and although we have been here several times before we hadn’t actually thought to explore the features of the town of Port Grimaud itself.
It is a vast marina interwoven among little streets and very fashionable apartments. It is a veritable Venice of the Riviera as you can see from this assortment of pictures.
Every so often you strike it lucky and end up in a location where everything is just perfect. Sometimes its by accident on others its by dint of copious research. A few years ago when we started Motorhoming we met a couple in the Burgundy region who have remained good friends ever since. As is our style we always ask people we meet about their experiences as it forms the basis of our research and you learn a lot of good stuff. Well, when we met Pam and Geoff we were en route to the Riviera and we sought their advice on any good spots to settle for a few days. They mentioned one site in Port Grimaud where they had stayed and it sounded really good especially as they had pitches which had individual bathrooms. That was something we hadn’t experienced before and were excited to try it out.
Eventually we made our way to Port Grimaud and sought out the site in question. It was owned by an English man and the first thing I noticed was that it was on the opposite side of the road from the beach. We had booked and we pulled into a very narrow reception point and parked as comfortably as the restricted area allowed. I went into the reception to check in and mid way through the task the door burst open and an English man came storming in demanding to know “what **** had parked his ****ing **** outside.” It appears that I was the ****! At this point I assumed this was just a rude guy but as I was completing my registration I noticed that the young lady signing me in was clearly embarrassed Why? Simply because this was indeed the owner. I also discovered that prior to coming into the reception he had verbally abused Nancy who was sitting in the van. It only took a matter of seconds for me to decide that this idiot was unworthy of any custom, not least ours. So I cancelled and withdrew from the site.
Back out on the busy seafront we drove along trying to calm down when, relatively quickly, we came upon Camping de la Plage. We pulled in and “Yes” they had availability. We were invited to walk about, select a pitch and then sign in. We then had the most beautiful stay in a blissful setting right on the beach gazing across at St Tropez. Today we are on exactly the same pitch and life is good. The pictures were taken this morning.
The first picture is taken from the water’s edge and shows a segment of the site. The Vinny Van is the one with the satellite dish on display. Within approximately 50 paces of our pitch is a pretty beach restaurant where the food is not only very good but also very reasonable. Picture two is of us having breakfast this morning, consisting of Omelette bread, croissants and cafe au lait! All for €8.
Picture 3 is of the little supermarket on the site which has just about everything you would need. In fact it is the best on site shop we have come across anywhere.
Finally picture 4 is taken from the restaurant looking back at our pitch. The building you see is the toilet block which is always in pristine condition and the showers are powerful, hot and are not the infernal push button type.
A great site and, certainly, on of our favourites.
I have just been talking to Ji Hye Lee on Skype to hear how she is enjoying her studies in Bordeaux. She asked me if I had mentioned her in today’s blog…I said, not yet!!
We spent a total of 9 days in Sainte-Foy-La-Grande and enjoyed every one of them. The only drawback was the weather, something to do with the Gulf Stream and Morocco I am assured.
The trip south was long, 192 miles the Satnav said and the first 40 or so were across the Dordogne countryside until we connected up with the main Bordeaux-Toulouse Motorway, heading south.
I think we were all tired…It gets that way when we have to travel, up early, disturbed sleep, anyway we got on the road at about 10:30, loaded up with Petrol and headed off.
Despite the narrower country roads through Duras (pictured) and Marmande not to mention countless other villages we finally got to the motorway which made the long drive south so much easier.
We had read quite a bit about the site Camping de la Cite and were looking forward to it but sadly two things left me cold. At this point I am back onto my old rant about Wi Fi.
Because it is incredibly important to us I always ask in advance if Wi Fi is available. Thats a simple question that provokes many obtuse responses. "In the reception area", "Close to the restaurant" and "yes throughout the site". Invariably the accuracy of these answers leaves a lot to be desired. Never has it been worse than here. When will sites ever learn that inaccuracy that borders on sheer dishonesty does not pay? Here is what happened. Two days before travelling I rang to check that they were open and had availability I checked to see if they had wi fi, not just in reception but on the pitches. "Bien sur" was the affirmation so I was happy with that. I did explain that it was essential to us as we were writers on the move with families scattered all over the place. So we were happy to depart.
What in effect I found was the worst set up I have yet to come across. The system is geared to removing your money and in return providing a very poor quality service which just shuts down without warning when your time is up. It doesn't stop there it appears you must use the tickets you buy within 12 hours or they become invalid. It was dreadful. We will NOT be returning. It was not strong enough to upload a blog.
Its a shame, really, as otherwise the site was quite attractive.
Lets hear from herself.
After leaving our favourite Dordogne campsite, we promised ourselves we'd finally visit Carcassonne as we'd passed it so many times previously on the motorway. So Frank found this seemingly perfect, four-star camp, and initially all seemed destined to be a nice location. But, first the Internet became not only difficult to receive, but astonishingly expensive as well. Add to that, the television, and in particular, Sky, decided to not receive a signal, which in the normal course of events wouldn't have been that important, but the Masters was about to begin. Those of you who know Frank well will understand what a calamity this presented. So...we determined to only stay one night at the campsite near Carcassonne, opting instead to find a largish car park for the motorhome near the entrance the following day so we could see the famous walled city on our way out.
The next day dawned with heavy skies and light rain; first setback. But we soldiered on, packed up, and made our way to the car park Frank found by virtue of Google maps. First problem we discovered is medieval cities were not designed to accommodate 21 century motorhomes. The obstacles included; low bridges, narrow streets, and blissfully unaware French pedestrians of the potential death risk they faced by casually strolling in front of a 3.5 ton motorhome with an annoyed Irishman at the wheel. Needless to say the car park was either gone, or relocated since Googles oh-so-enticing photo prompted us to seek it. We did get a fleeting glimpse of Carcassonne as we crossed a bridge, Frank risked life and limb by stopping momentarily, emergency flashers on, to snap a couple of shots (French motorists horns blaring angrily.) So, we left without having actually set foot on the inside of the city...again. Oh well...maybe another time!
As we left, Frank talked about the next stop, which was a bit over an hours drive away from one of our favourite destinations; Port Grimaud. I thought about it for a few minutes, watching Frank from the corner of my eye, and decided to ask, "What do you think about pressing on, and not stopping over for the night, and just on on to Grimaud?" He was delighted, and although it was a longish drive; two-hundred-sixty miles, and over five hours - we ended up in Heaven, and were even able to revisit the same pitch we had on our first visit to the campsite. Today we're ensconced on a perfect pitch that overlooks the Med, and we have clear skies, warm weather and a forecast of a weeks worth of sunshine. The only drawback is a high percentage of oldsters here seem to prefer to wear "budgie-smugglers" a.k.a. Speedos...not a pretty sight. All that said, Frank has declared the start of his Summer by breaking out his shorts and glowingly white legs - he looks wonderful! Frank's telly is working now, and the Internet is perfect. Seriously...this is why people have motorhomes!
Finally our view from the pitch in Port Grimaud. That is St Tropez in the background.