This is a “Good news…Bad news” item. Its about choosing a site so read on.
In this blog I have previously referred to the process of selecting sites. There are many considerations and many differing tastes. By and large we tend to end up on the type of sites we like. The location is checked out as carefully as possible on Google Earth and whatever reviews are available are fully digested. As the saying goes, it works for us, usually.
It is careful research that found us gems like La Bastide in Sainte-Foy la Grande, Camping Jungfrau in Switzerland, Lincoln Farm Park in Oxfordshire and our present stopover, Camping Miramare, on the tip of the peninsula overlooking Venice. A beautiful site and facilities which are second to none, add to that a restaurant just 50 paces from the front gate where we had possibly our best meal to date and you get a very high scoring site to which we will always return if we are anywhere near. Needless to say it has its downsides but I can think of only one. It is beside the sea but has no sea views and that is it. Weigh that against, lovely staff, superb toilet facilities, the best dog facility I have ever come across, beautiful spacious pitches and a brilliant little supermarket and suddenly sea views aren't that important. By the way I didn't mention Wi Fi which is superb and costs only €5 for however long you stay, and my satellite TV works! A fabulous site if ever there was one. Click here to visit its website.
That is the good news and I want to take some time to talk about the bad news which comes in the form of a disastrous site selection at Lake Garda the day before yesterday. There is a background which I want to explain in some detail.
You will have gathered from our blog entries that we found a delightful site on the Ligurian Coast line called Camping Smeraldo. Its entry, through a tunnel was almost magical and you felt, with the majestic views, that you were in a special place. Well, all good things must come to an end and we decided that Saturday was the best day to travel as the weather changed rather dramatically and sunshine gave way to heavy rain.
Our trail was heading north west so after careful consideration we decided to head for the Lake Garda area, a drive of 181 miles but mostly on motorways.
Any cursory glance at a map of Lake Garda will tell you that there are hundreds of sites to choose from so here a research system was important. Our first point of interest was to find something towards the South end of the lake so that our onward route to Venice would be easiest. Some weeks ago I posed a question on the Motorhomefun forum (one of my favourite sources of chit chat and tips). The question asked if anyone had recommendations for sites for the area. I got a number of replies but one campsite name came up twice. Camp Butterfly. I followed this up with a phone call to check for availability and to ensure that there was wi fi available throughout the site. The answer was an emphatic "yes" to both. Let me make it clear at this point that I can well understand that people come to this site and enjoy it but for us it was our single worst experience in years.
Trying to be as balanced as I possibly can be I must say that the site is mis managed, fronted by staff who clearly cannot cope and worse, who are oblivious to the needs of the many visitors the location of their site attracts. The notion that the customers needs are important is absolutely irrelevant here. Allow me to explain.
1 When we arrived we drew up into a narrow entrance where there was a queue of people waiting to register, no problem with that. They were being attended by one staff member yet I counted 4 inside the office. The registration process was painful and I watched almost every single customer getting angry. The lady dealing with all of this was Rebecca, who within my hearing said to at least 3 different customers, "There are plenty of sites, you don't have to stay here". In time she was to say exactly the same thing to me.
2 I was standing with Gianni, who is native Italian so we could make the registration as smooth as possible. It took 10 minutes to register both of us, a process at any other camp would take less than half that. Still the extra heads in the reception area contributed nothing that we could see. At Last, we are allocated our pitches and off we go. Our first big problem. They are occupied. We selected two empty pitches close by and tried to squeeze our vehicles into them. Add to all this it had been raining heavily (not their fault) and the site was muddy and wet. Very unpleasant conditions.
3 On the plus side we were near to the toilet block which, I must say, was well maintained and very clean.
4 Close by was a restaurant which seemed to be owned by an external organisation. It was truly excellent and we drowned our sorrows in style in the only pleasantly memorable part of our stay.
5 I have saved the worst to last. Wi Fi. I have commented before on different attitudes to the Internet from site to site, some are superb and some just don't have it. What I have never come across is the abject stupidity that Camp Butterfly demonstrate. They have a sign which says that you can only buy a subscription on a Saturday between 7:00pm and 9:00pm.
I returned at 6:30pm to see if I could buy a login as I had a commitment to pursue on Skype. “No”, was the answer, “Not until 7:00pm.” I showed my Press Card and asked if they could make an exception to facilitate me. No, said the same Rebecca. I asked why they were so unbending with their rules and what she said really surprised me. "Our boss says we cannot take money for the Internet until 7:00pm because we are so busy" I asked if I could talk to the boss? "No, the rules are there. It has to be 7:00pm" I should point out that it is now 6:45pm and there is no one else in the queue and, I would have thought, it was obvious that they were headed towards a public relations disaster. Totally unmoved I got my marching orders until 7:00pm.
I asked again about the Boss and was met with blank stares. Now if you think that was an end to it, read on.
I returned at 7:00pm to find a long queue of people waiting to get login subscriptions. When it came to my turn I explained I wanted separate subscriptions, one for me, one for Nancy and one for Gianni and Loretta. "Can I see your passport please?" For the internet?? They had previously seen and copied my passport during the registration process (and all the others as well). My passport was back in the van so I showed them my Press Card, full picture ID. I pointed out that they had already everyones passport details but alas this wasn't acceptable. By this stage this was unbearably stupid. This was an INTERNET connection we were trying to buy. Nancy arrived, showed her driving licence and that was it completed. Never have I ever come across a location where you have to produce a passport to sign onto an Internet connection.
Any idiot who knows anything about the Internet will know that the more people who use it the slower it will get. If you have a local network and you "herd" the users to all buy their connection at the same time the system becomes overloaded and, as in this case, becomes unusable. Guess what? It was unusable. I was unable to work and so we all moved to the site restaurant where we had a lovely meal. The only positive I have for this site.
To the Boss, if I had a chance to meet him I would say. You are blessed in the location of your site. Sadly you take advantage of your visitors in the organisation of your reception and the skimpiness of your pitches. Your staff hide behind your "rules" which, in the case of the wi fi, causes your system to become overloaded. That sir or madam is simple stupidity. This is not just one disgruntled customer. I saw many who complained about having to stand in the rain to buy an Internet connection. Charging people €2 an hour to use the Internet which is now the vehicle for people to work and keep contact with their families is unconscionable; to organise it in such a way as to put a strain on the resource to the point that it doesn't work is, in my humble opinion, “virtually” dishonest.
The following day we left and headed for Venice. Before departure I brought my complaint to the reception. The Internet didn't work. Rebecca threw €20 on the desk, "Here is your money back" in the most ungracious gesture imaginable.
So Boss, why not write to me and tell me anything that could explain away such a dire experience.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the motorhoming lifestyle are the little eccentricities that we all indulge in. When Ji Hye was travelling with us she just loved the camaraderie displayed as motorhomers waved to each other as we sped along the various continental roads. And within that the apparent "superiority complex" of pointedly NOT waving to caravan owners etc. We are a strange lot.
Add to that the fact that you immediately bond with anyone and everyone when you eventually settle on a site and you realise you are part of a very special club. Take, for example our travelling companions on this trip, Gianni and Loretta Carbone. Our relationship is just a year old having met on the banks of the Loire in April 2012 and have been firm friends ever since. We have lots in common including an inherent curiosity to explore and try things new.
So it is that curiosity that left us open to the excitement of finding not just a new campsite but one of such unique proportions that it has crept to the very top of our all time favourites list. as described in our previous blog, We have been here now a few days and regard it as a gift that keeps on giving. Take last night, for example. Yesterday was a feast day in Italy, a national holiday and not surprisingly the site filled up with every imaginable shape and size of vehicle. Smeraldo is obviously a gem in this Ligurian coastline and the Italians have been very successful in keeping the secret. We are the only two GB vehicles on the site although there is a sprinkling of Spanish and German rigs.
So last night we returned to the little site restaurant located with its own terrace with views that defy description. It is called "Dos Olas" and is a Ristorante, Pizzeria. The facility is run by a charming Italian/Spanish couple, Yuri and Suzanne Leandri and they bring a delightful charm and a personal touch. Assisted ably by Chef Cataldo who manages the wood fired Pizza oven they produce quality food the Italian way.
Last night we felt celebratory for a whole variety of reasons and I opted for a salami Pizza while Nancy and Loretta thought they would start with a Calzone. Now my experience of Calzones is limited to the time I lived in Arizona where a Calzone was something you had as a starter to get you in the "mood" for the real stuff to come later. This was a game changer as the picture shows Nancy and Loretta quickly decided that sharing one would pass as the main course!! Fantastic.
Needless to say Gianni is in his element, proud to be an Italian and guiding us beautifully through menus with little tips along the way. As the evening drew to a close, Yuri came and joined us rounding up the evening with a bottle of Limoncello for a nightcap on the house.
On reflection, this restaurant deserves all the luck it gets. True, it is in a beautiful location but the inaccessibility of the campsite means that his customer base is likely to be confined to the camping fraternity. A worthy venture and one that deserves a lot of support.
There are times, albeit not as often as we'd like, where there comes a 'perfect storm' sort of campsite. What does perfection consist of you ask? In order of preference, such a place would have to be; scenic (magnificent views) with photo opportunities galore, temperate climate - hopefully with little or no rain, wifi...because we just need it, and if the satellite finds its homing beacon and Sky sends us a little love from the UK; our world is complete. Add to that heady mix, the company of wonderful friends (Loretta and Gianni) and you have a place that will be difficult for us to leave. So...we found such a place in Moneglia, Italy on the Italian Rivera. Breathtaking doesn't do it justice...and there is a restaurant, which makes it even more compelling to those of us who would prefer little of no cooking on a holiday.
Dougal likes it too - he's had two meals of spagetti and will doubtless have another this evening.
It has been decided as the weather is due to take a turn by Friday, that we'll move on then. No worries as who knows what other gems may await us at our next destination, which I am reliably informed is Lake Garda. More to come!
I really don't know where to begin this. It is astonishing how things pan out and in all my days, months and years of motorhoming I have never had an experience like yesterday. By the way, this picture was typical of the sights en route to our destination. Let me set the scene a little.
Those of you who have been following our adventures will know that we moved from the French Riviera at Port Grimaud into North Western Italy two days ago. We were having a rendezvous with Loretta and Gianni Carbone, two good friends who are, like ourselves, meandering across these countries in search of the unexpected. We met at Camping Delfino just a few kilometres from the beautiful town of Alassio which will feature on our Photo Gallery Page. As always happens when we get together there was good food, good wine and good craic!
There is always one question that gets asked sooner or later, depending on how much we are enjoying the site. "Where do we go to next?"
The process of selecting that location is diverse…Research, books, Google Earth, recommendation or a combination of all of those. Problem is that different people have different tastes so what appeals to me might not be your cup of tea.
This time the decision had already been made before we ever got to Delfino! Gianni, as is his wont, had been wandering about the campsite chatting to all the other campers and sharing experiences…He really is a friendly fellow. In the process he met an older couple from Switzerland and he asked where they had been and was there anywhere they would recommend. They had been past Genoa and stayed near a small town called Moneglia still in the Liguria region. The site was called Camping Smeraldo.
Now, being wary of recommendations in general, I set about researching this site and although it has its own Web site I found very little other reference to it. My old faithful technique of loading up Google Earth, zooming in to the town of Moneglia and searching for local campsites produced results for about 10 campsites in the area but no mention of Smeraldo. That was indeed surprising.
I went onto the Web site for the camp to see if I could locate the coordinates but they were not mentioned. Just a post code. I keyed the post code into Google Earth but that only took me to the centre of Moneglia. By this stage I didn't know what to think so we agreed that Gianni should call the site to make sure there was availability and to ask them for the coordinates for the satnav.
Answer one. "Yes. Plenty of availability." Answer two, "The coordinates don't work because of the tunnel, by the way how big is your van?"
By this stage it was becoming a bit of an adventure but we had the recommendations of the Swiss couple who reaffirmed that the place was "Lovely".
And so yesterday morning we set off to travel the 90 miles along the coast to find Smeraldo.
The journey was utterly breathtaking and rewarding in its own right. Viaducts a plenty, tunnels by the dozen and views that, sadly, I don't have the words for.
The descent into Moneglia was a bit challenging but that was nothing compared to the views.
The little town was delightful as we relied on Archie's Europe on the satnav to guide us to where it believed the site was. Smeraldo had now taken on the character of Shangri La!
As we left the town we were confronted by something of a mountain! With a tunnel! Bedecked with signs telling you how little room there was either in height or width we calculated we could just about get through. Let me tell you at this point that this was an old railway tunnel that bored straight through the mountain and it lasted for several kilometres. An intricate traffic light system made sure that you didn't meet anyone coming in the opposite direction. At this point I expect you think that we drove through the tunnel and out the other side to find our campsite. Well, tough you are wrong! Half way through the tunnel there was what can only be described as a hole in the wall through which we had barely enough room to turn and lo we had arrived at Smeraldo.
Everything about the place is breathtaking. There is a small intimate restaurant which is fabulous and, in all honesty, I have never had a better motorhoming experience. Neither have the others.
If you are thinking about travelling in Italy just come here. It will take your breath away, and, it has got very good wi fi!
If you are thinking you would like to zoom in on Google Earth just put the coordinates into the search bar. They are. 44.237058, 9.476463
Life is good. Even Dougal decided the view was worth a pose! Judge for yourself.
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!