Day 61-62: Buns, beer and butterflies!

Waking for our second full day in the valley and with the sun shining (see Blaise, I told you it does happen!!) we decided that a walk was needed and set our sights on the rather large hill behind the campsite.

With map in hand and packs full of water and food we set off up hill. Having looked at the route before heading off, I knew that it would be a reasonably tough walk but after the nice easy flat trail at the start, it was soon evident that ‘relentless’ would have been a better term as it just seemed to get steeper and steeper and never ending!

After a couple of hours (600m elevation gain) of solid uphill, we eventually reached the top, and some of the best alpine views so far, made even better as we had really earned them. Sitting eating our lunch of mountain shaped rolls, we drank in the scenery all around whilst resting our tired legs.

Sadly what goes up must come down so we made our way back to camp down what turned out to be a trail that was almost as steep as the one that we came up on. With thighs burning from the long descent, we made it back to base ready for showers, beer, a bit of the Tour de France, food and finally a well earned sleep!

DSC_0136

Another day and fortunately for my quest of converting Blaise to mountain life, the sun was shining again! After the tough walk yesterday we decided on one today that was less straight up and down and went to explore the other side of the valley, seeing part of the village on the way that we hadn’t seen before.

It was a really nice route which at times gave us great views of snow capped mountains, but involved a less (but not by much) of the steep stuff!

Passing meadows, old farms, kaleidoscopes of butterflies (apparently that’s the right collective noun!) and some big cows, we meandered along the valley for a few hours before the nice open path closed in on us and ran alongside a building site, with brambles doing their best to rip holes in both us and our clothes! Eventually the path opened up again and we got back into the village looking forward to coffee, a bit more Tour de France and dinner in the village.

Getting our glad rags on (as much as we can anyway!), we slowly strolled into town as our legs wouldn’t go any faster and went in search of food. Seeing that there wasn’t a massive selection of places to go – and with Blaise craving pizza – we headed toward the crazy pizzeria! Stepping through the door, it turned out to be a really nice little family run restaurant and busier than we expected. Having studied the menu and decided that we’d let Peppa Pig live for another day, we ordered and watched the pizzas being made and put in the massive pizza oven whilst sipping on a glass of red wine. This place really did confirm the old adage of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’ as the food was amazing, great value and clearly the choice of many of the local villagers.

Food done it was time to return to the van and a film before we both crashed out – next stop France!!

Advertisements

Day 59-60: Eccentric Etroubles!

Carrying on the theme of changing plans that seems to have been in place over the past couple of days, today was to be no exception! Setting off from Siena now fully topped up with coolant, we planned to stop in the town of Lucca for some lunch and a wander before stopping a couple of hours later. Unfortunately on arriving in Lucca, it turned out that parking the BFG anywhere near the centre was not an option, and with its two occupants suffering in the 35+ degree heat this plan was ditched in favour of carrying on in the hope of cooling down at our stop for the night. Back on the motorway and a couple of hours later we rolled up at our planned stop.

If it was possible to handbrake turn the BFG in a ‘Dukes of Hazzard’ style and get the hell out of there, spitting gravel from the rear wheels we would have! As it is, the BFG doesn’t do much quickly, but the sight of a very cramped campsite situated under a motorway fly-over was enough to give me (us) the will to carry on for another three and a half hours to the Aosta Valley in search of more mountains and less heat!

Stopping for a brief caffeine hit after a couple more hours, we noticed that even though the temperature was not dropping much, the skys were getting a lot darker! What followed was some of the heaviest rain that I have ever driven through and we were glad to be in a big van with new grippy tyres as we ploughed through massive puddles and loads of standing water. Slowly the rain eased (although Blaise is still convinced that it only rains in the mountains) and we entered the Aosta valley. At about 7pm and after around 360 miles we arrived at our new site, faffed with getting electricity working and crashed out for the night!

So here we are back in the mountains and they seem to be doing their best to sabotage me convincing Blaise that it can be sunny here as it is raining again!! Although it is very nice to be able to do anything without overheating, the change of temperature from 35 degrees and wall-to-wall sunshine to 18 degrees and drizzle was a bit of a shock to the system!

With the damp weather outside it was a lazy and relaxing start to the day before venturing out to see what the village had to offer and it was an interesting mix! Just over the river from the campsite was the town’s microbrewery (which looked very inviting!) and shortly after a very small tourist info office. From there we headed further in to find a very pretty medieval village with narrow streets and typical old alpine houses. What we were not expected to find was the outdoor sculpture and art installations that ran throughout the village and had been donated by internationally renowned artists!

The other surprise was a little pizzeria that had named a large portion of its menu after Hollywood films and 80’s tv shows – there was even a MacGyver pizza, but sadly there was no description of how it could fight off all the bad guys with nothing more than a metal tube and some gaffer tape! More concerning was the Peppa Pig pizza that contained actual pig – we are not sure if Peppa was hurt in the making of that pizza! The final stop on the tour of the village was the supermarket – or to give it a more accurate description, the off licence that also happens to sell food – needless to say, we won’t be short of booze in the valley, but may develop (more) of a problem if we stay too long!

Back at the van Blaise got engrossed in a book and I watched a couple of snowboard films before starting to go a little stir crazy and decided to head out for a run through the woods in the drizzle.

Day 57-58: Sightseeing in Siena, Italy

During our trip we have been trying to see places that are a little off the tourist trail, however we had heard that Siena was somewhere that we really should go to. Having found a campsite close to the town where a bus also ran from, we headed off to Tuscany. On arriving to the site and checking in we asked about the buses into town, only to discover that the last one into Siena was leaving in an hour and that there were no buses on Sundays!! With our plans now turned on their heads and mild panic as we were hoping to spend the afternoon planning our visit for Sunday, we quickly got ready and caught the bus!

By 4pm we were in the city and after finding our feet we were pleased to discover that the city is actually quite small! We made a beeline for the centre and the famous Piazza del Campo as a good starting point for exploring.

With so many different websites and guides giving their own opinions as to the best things to do (which generally seems to mean eat food, drink wine and visit cathedrals) we set off with a plan to follow our noses and see what we could stumble across.

After brief stops at the Dom and San Domenico cathedrals we came upon a small and very well hidden urban garden hiding behind a very unassuming doorway. We walked in to find that a basketball court had been taken over with big planters containing loads of different herbs and flowers, together with tables and benches made out of old pallets. All of this was overlooking a view of the San Domenico cathedral that I’m pretty sure most tourists wouldn’t see and we felt a million miles from the masses that were funneling themselves through the narrow streets closer to the centre of the city.

We slowly made our way back to our start point through a maze of narrow lanes and passages that seemed to make up the ‘real’ Siena, wondering what was behind all the small doorways that lead to houses and flats and thinking about what it must be like to live in such an ancient city that is also a tourist mecca.

Closing in on the centre, we decided it was time for ice cream and indulged in some local gelato from a little shop on a small side street before continuing to slowly make our way back in. After a spot of people watching back at Piazza del Campo, we made a plan for one last loop of an area we hadn’t been to before catching the bus back.

20160709_181807

As we walked down more pretty streets, we started seeing flags handing from the surrounding buildings and people dressed in costume. It turned out that there was some sort of festival happening that night, which looked like a competition between rival districts of the city that each had their own colours, flags and emblems.

DSC_0066

It was quite a sight as we watched a procession of (caterpillar themed!!) flag bearers and drummers march through the (now crowded with locals) narrow streets and we wished that there was another way back to the campsite, other than the last bus of the day that was due to leave in less than 40 minutes time, so we could continue to enjoy the festivities! Sadly this was the only option to us, so after grabbing a couple of massive – and very cheap slices of pizza – we jumped on the bus back to the van for an evening with a small beer!

On the journey down yesterday, the BFG decided that she need a little break and a top-up of engine coolant. Unfortunately this being rural Italy it seemed that every petrol station was now self service as it was the weekend (now Sunday) and there was nowhere to buy any coolant, so we decided to spend another day in the campsite sleeping, eating, researching and generally relaxing (with a bit of clothes washing thrown in) before heading off in the morning in search of coolant!

The original plan from Siena was to head to the famous Cinque Terre as it was supposed to be incredibly beautiful, however on further reading we came upon too many reports and pictures of narrow streets crammed with tourists shoulder to shoulder trying to see the sights, but only see the back of the person in front! As this really isn’t what we were interested in, we vowed to head back off-season to try to see the area without the crowds and made a plan to head further north tomorrow (once we’re stocked up on coolant!).

Day 55-56: Exploring Umbria

As was becoming a very welcome theme for the area, there was almost too much great scenery to explore! The plan for the day was to do a local 10km walk in the morning, before the heat got too much, and then enjoy the pool in the afternoon. Setting off at 10am, we could already feel the heat rising and on this walk, so was the trail! Passing pretty villages, isolated churches and flower filled fields we arrived at our mid-point – Bougo.

Rather than simply heading back, we ventured yet higher into a village that we could see perched on a hilltop above. Following a steep, but fortunately, shaded path up and avoiding lizards the size of baby crocodiles we found one of the prettiest and nicest feeling villages so far, Preci.

The now ubiquitous cobbled streets, small piazzas and churches were all present and correct, but this time there was a real feeling that the place had a soul to it – if you happen to be in the area it’s worth dropping by. After a brief coffee stop in a little restaurant we headed back to Castelvecchio, ready to cool down in the pool and also catch up on van life admin that we had been putting off!

As if the walk and swimming yesterday wasn’t enough we thought we should do it again, this time visiting the hamlet of Roccanolfi. Yet again the paths were steep and the weather was hot, even though we set off an hour earlier than the day before! After what felt like constant uphill for and hour and a half, we arrived at the village. I think that we must be becoming ‘pretty village snobs’ as we felt that although it was very pretty, this one just didn’t have the same feeling of still being a community as we felt yesterday and it lacked the customary coffee stop, so we headed back down the hill, stopping to rest in a field to admire the view and get some much needed fuel inside us!

As we meandered down through ancient paths and pretty meadows, we came across a flock of sheep, followed shortly after by a couple of sheep dogs and finally the shepherd who clearly though that we were mad to be walking for fun in this heat!

DSC_0151

It turned out that he may have been right to think that we were mad as we turned off the road and onto the long climb back up to the campsite. It seemed to be never ending and we were both very pleased to see the van again and know that the pool was now only a few feet away! The rest of the day was spent swimming (looking hot again in the compulsory swimming hat!), reading eating ice cream and planning our next few days.

Before long it was time for dinner and as a treat (we had walked a long way on the heat!) we had booked a table at the restaurant on site, so after getting dressed up (I even wore a clean t-shirt!) we sat down looking forward to some great food. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the restaurant was also popular with locals as well as campers and it certainly didn’t disappoint. Once again we endured lovely food and wine, together with sublime views over the Umbrian countryside before rolling into bed feeling the effects of a bottle of local red wine. I think that more countries should take a leaf out of the books of these last two campsites as it was hard to believe that we could have this kind of experience and service for less than €20 a night!

Day 54: Off the tourist trail…

Another sunny morning and fortunately not too fuzzy heads greeted us today as we prepared to leave our little paradise to head further south towards the Sibillini national park. After a morning of planning for the next couple of weeks, we blasted (it’s all relative in the BFG!) down the motorway towards Mogliano – a pretty village located in stunning scenery. The village certainly lived up to our expectations as we wandered through narrow winding streets lined by ancient houses and churches all perched on a hilltop offering endless panoramic views, what made it even better was that we found free parking for the BFG just outside the village walls!

After a little exploring we noticed that it was however eerily quiet and thought we must have missed the main centre (where obviously the locals would be feasting on antipasti, bread and local wine!!). With stomach navigation set to ‘lunch mode’ we went in search of food, but other than two bars that didn’t sell food and one cafe with rather unappealing sandwiches, there was not much on offer.

Bellies still rumbling we returned to the van to have a snack and continue on to our final destination. We had planned our route to go via a pretty lake up in the hills called Lake Fiastra. It was a beautiful drive through yet more gorgeous scenery (is it possible to see too many great views?!), initially passing field after field of bright yellow sunflowers, then giving way to steeper and steeper hills as we made our way inland towards the mountains.

DSC_0030

After about 45 minutes we arrived at the bright turquoise waters of the lake (photos just can’t capture the true colour!) and found a nice place to stop for a picnic overlooking the water as thunder started to rumble around us.

DSC_0065

Suitably fueled we started the last push toward our final destination, but not before stopping at small farm sat alone on a remote mountain plateau to buy some pecorino cheese. Having narrowed our selection down to three (smoked, spicy and herby) and after a nice chat with the son of the owners we pointed the BFG downhill to our campsite for the next couple of days.

It seemed like we were on a bit of a winning streak with great sites as this one was nestled on another beautiful hillside with more great views, a swimming pool and happened to be ranked in the top 25 in the country – we were two happy, if somewhat hot and sweaty, campers!

Day 52-53: A little slice of paradise!

Waking up to yet more glorious sunshine (life is tough!) in our stunning surroundings, we decided to tackle one of the walks that we could take from the site. Directions collected from the reception, we head off on the ‘Two Trees’ walk up to a view point on a nearby(ish) hillside. The path lead us up, up and up some more passing through old farms, along dirt tracks and quiet lanes, finally emerging on a hilltop giving great views over the valley down to our start point and beyond to the coast.

DSC_0017DSC_0018

We stopped to enjoy the seclusion and soak up the views and sunshine before heading back for a well earned lunch. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and swimming in the sites gorgeous pool before getting ready for dinner.

We had booked ourselves into the campsite’s restaurant to try the three course set menu and happily tucked into some great local food including antipasti, steak for me and cod and prawns for Blaise before finishing with a slightly odd (and very boozy!!) limoncello mousse for dessert, all washed down with some pretty good wine. Not bad for a campsite!

At the end of the meal our dutch neighbours invited us to their table for a drink and we spent a lovely few hours chatting to this adventurous couple who spend eight weeks a year touring in their beast of a van that makes the BFG look like a mini! The van that they are in was incredible and bigger than our house, which made the stories of their travels to places as far flung as Morroco, Syria and Egypt even more amazing, especially for a couple in their 70’s! After sampling more local wine, it was time to stumble back down to the van by torchlight. It was a great night with some lovely people, and with the food at €16 each, a bit of a bargain too!

The original plan for the next day was to do the second of the two suggested walks, however the BFG was in need of a little more TLC in the form of some exhaust repairs, so it was decided to try to get this sorted out whilst we were in a nice area if we had to wait for parts. After trying and failing to speak to a couple of Iveco dealers, the campsite owner suggested somewhere that may be able to help, so we broke camp and set off in search of a new exhaust! Unfortunately our first call was too busy to help us for a few days so it was back to google to find another option. On our way to our next garage, we came upon a large industrial estate and garage that looked like it may be able to help. Again unfortunately they couldn’t help, but they did know an Iveco garage a couple of minutes away, so off we headed again following our interpreter!

We arrived just before they were due to go for lunch, but found out that they could help today – we just needed to go back in 3 hours time! With time to play with, we found a supermarket and stocked up on essentials before heading back to the site. It wasn’t long before it was time for me to head back to the garage, leaving Blaise at the campsite to enjoy the pool! After what felt like a very long 3 ½ hours but with a repaired exhaust at a bargain price, I returned to find Blaise exactly where I’d left her!

Dinner of antipasti was expertly prepared by Blaise, and with an invite for more drinks with our neighbours we prepared for another enjoyable night, especially as we’d been promised a glass or two of a very good Spanish wine having let slip that we’re partial to a drop or two of good red! Sure enough we had a great evening with more great chat, wine and a deadly strong abbey beer and before we knew it, it was time to hit the hay before our heads became too sore!

20160705_191647

Day 51: The leaning tower of…Bologna!

Having thoroughly enjoyed Modena, we decided to try our luck with another of the region’s culinary towns, Bologna. For a change we managed to find parking close to the town centre in large park and were soon wandering towards the centre where we discovered a maze of covered arcades, walkways and piazzas.

As we walked on we came across a large piazza that was home to Bologna’s own leaning tower!! Stopping to take a few photos, we were surprised that we had not read anything about this on the many websites that we had been on.

DSC_1134

By now it was time to re-fuel on la grand aventure fuel of choice – espresso macchiato, so we went in search of a suitable cafe. Finding one tucked in a little side street, we enjoyed our caffeine hit and a very tasty brioche whilst using the free wifi to decide what to do in the couple of hours that we had left in the town.

With a plan made we went in search of the ‘student quarter’ and picked up a couple of focaccia rolls filled with fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and prosciutto and ate as we continued to enjoy the unique architecture of this relatively tourist free town.

Energy now restored, it was time to climb the non-leaning of the two towers in the main square. If you don’t like heights or narrow and steep wooded stairs, then this is not for you!

DSC_1148

After nearly 100 meters of up that seemed to go on forever, we emerged at the top to find stunning views of this ancient town and the amazing surrounding countryside.

Many photos later it was time to make our way back to the van for our next destination. I have to say that Bologna was a pleasant surprise, as it was a very interesting town with a lot of history. As a student town it felt like it still had a side to it other than the tourists – of which there were a fair few – however it wasn’t overrun allowing us to enjoy it at our own pace. Like Modena yesterday, another to return to!

DSC_0015

Back in the BFG it was now on to our next stop of Monteciccardo, which was initially planned as an overnight stop on our way south. Following sat nav down ever narrowing lanes, it became clear that the description of the site being ‘quiet’ was very accurate indeed! Eventually arriving we went to reception to check in and were told to find a spot and then come back for a welcome chat over a free beer – this was easily the best and friendliest service of the many sites that we had visited! We sat with one of the staff enjoying our cold beer on the sun-drenched terrace overlooking beautiful rolling hills and being told about everything that the site and local area had to offer. It was pretty idyllic, hidden away in the hills and we immediately felt at home! The rest of the day was spent relaxing, using the free wifi on the terrace and enjoying pistachio, chocolate and caramel ice creams. If campsites did paradise, this was pretty close!

Day 49-50: Dinner and drinks with the Camerons!

After the biblical rain of the night before we woke to blue skies – just our luck as it was now looking perfect for Via Ferratta, but too late to get a guide for the day. As the weather was looking so changeable for the next few days, we decided to spend the morning drinking strong coffee and planning our next few days in Italy. With our course now set for the small town of Modena, and planning to get there without using the motorway so that we could experience more pretty small towns, we packed up and headed off.

The start was promising as we headed out of Cortina and the mountains, past pretty hamlets, towns and scenery, sadly this was short lived! We joined a busy, bumpy and truck filled road and after a while decided that for the sake of a few euros on tolls, we should save our sanity (and a least an hour of driving) and take the smooth(er) and faster route to our final destination of the day.

Following the directions on sat nav, we drew up to our stop for the next couple of nights – a posh car park next to a rugby club on the outskirts of the town! As the owner didn’t speak much/any English, and our Italian is still rubbish, we checked in via the medium of mime, pointing and smiling – which seemed to work well enough to even get the bus route into the town sorted for the next day! Parking up, we discovered that we were next to David Cameron and his wife………Angela (so close to a scoop for the Daily Star there!), who had come all the way from New Zealand to tour Europe. With a plan for drinks the following evening, we made some dinner and enjoyed the amazing view (and heat!) of the hot tarmac, before heading to bed.

Today’s plan was to take the bus into the town to explore, eat and drink. Armed with the directions from the site owner, we headed off in search of the bus stop. After a quick chat with a lovely local lady to confirm that we were in the right place, the bus arrived and off we went – glad to be out of the heat and not walking the 5km in!

We were very pleased to find a busy, but not touristy town, packed with pretty narrow streets, piazzas and plenty of the now obligatory grand churches! Stop one was the food market which we had been told was a must see. There was almost too much choice and sadly we had no way of keeping all the amazing fresh food from going off in the heat before we could get back to the van, so we left with only a loaf of bread, albeit a very nice one!

After more exploring we visited the surprisingly interesting Panini (him of the sticker books) museum – we had no idea how old the idea of collecting cards and stickers was! – and then headed off to find the Ferrari museum. Arriving at the museum, which is tucked away down a slightly nondescript road, we went to the ticket office only to see that you needed to be able to afford to buy a Ferrari in order to look in the museum, even a 7 minute F1 simulator ride was €25! Deciding that our euros could be better spent elsewhere, we went in search of lunch. Making a choice of where to go was very hard with so many options, but we finally settled on a little place which looked to be the choice of locals and sat down to a great lunch of cold meats, cheese, bread and a cheeky glass of crisp white wine! This was our first real indulgence in a while and we felt a little naughty, but we couldn’t not experience lunch the way the locals do it!

Bellies full we headed towards the photography foundation to see what they were showing and found a collection of works by students from across Europe. It was a mixed bag with some very good and/or thought provoking pieces, whilst others were a bit too ‘abstract’ for our taste. By this point we were both flagging in the heat so decided to head back to the van, but not before a much needed stop to sample some amazingly rich and luxurious dark chocolate and coffee ice cream!

On our way back to the bus stop we stumbling past a wedding that was just finishing. Watching the bride and groom come out and all their friends and families cheering and clapping was a great way to end our short time in a town that is really worth a visit!

A brief bus ride back and we settled in for an evening with David Cameron and his wife of pizza, salad, more wine and travelling stories, again enjoying the wonderful car park view! It was soon time to call it a night, with a long day ahead of us, so we said our goodnights and fell into a wine induced sleep!

Day 47-48: The mountains are calling…

Having made good use of the sites swimming pool and explored the local area, bigger hills in the form of the Dolomites were calling, so we set sat nav to take us to the mountain town of Cortina. As seemed to be the theme for driving here, a mix of twisting narrow roads and not so twisting (but still bumpy) motorway lead us north. We closed in on our destination and as the mountains got bigger, the sweltering heat also dropped a little, which was a relief but also a sign of things to come!

The BFG made it safely up the valley to the town and our site for the next couple of days, nestled in meadows and just a short walk to the town centre. Once set up, it was straight into Cortina to find out more about our main reason for visiting – Via Ferrata. As usual we arrived in the town at lunch time, so an hour or so of exploring, window shopping and our now favourite nice strong espressos followed as we waited for life to re-emerge!

Having spoken with two guiding companies about the Via Ferrata options and what would be best for a non-climber – plus taking advice on the best weather window – we decided to leave it for a day meaning that I could indulge myself with another days bike hire. Hire centre chosen, we sat waiting for the bike to be prepared whilst chatting to the mechanic. Turns out he had hoped to do the same adventure race in Costa Rica as our friend Tom, but his team had problems, so they could not make it – small world hey! After what seemed like a very long time (for Blaise anyway!), we emerged with a shiny bike for me to explore the trails on and headed back to the van for dinner and ride route planning.

Morning came, along with blue skies and I set out early on ride one for the day, whilst Blaise planned to catch up on life-admin and reading – it’s not all swimming pools, ice creams and coffee when on the road you know!

About 3 hours, 21 miles and over 1000m of climbing later, I arrived back at the van looking like the cat who got the cream and already thinking about ride two of the day!

As we ate a lovely lunch, the clouds started to roll in over the jagged mountains, but it still looked okay for the afternoon ride. Just after heading out, the first raindrops fell, not too much, but enough to make me think a little about staying out. Deciding that it would at least cool me down, I carried on, whilst Blaise took cover! It wasn’t long before the thunder started echoing around the valley, and then the rain really came down! Fortunately I’d already made the call to take the short route back to camp, and arrived back safe, but very damp, with tales of an ‘interesting’ but ‘not too fast’ descent back down the mountain adding another 8 miles and 600m climbing to my tired legs!

We had hoped that the rain would stop, but the storm just seemed to get worse as the afternoon wore on – at least the bike and the BFG got a wash! Sadly the super heavy rain meant that any hope of doing the Via Ferrata the next day were dashed. Another wet ride back to the bike hire shop for me gave Blaise the time to set up restaurant ‘Casa BFG’ for the evening and I can report that three excellent courses were served, together a drop or two of lovely red wine, accompanied by the sounds of thunder, lightening and more heavy rain!

DSC_1098

Day 44-46: Quality testing in the Italian lakes…

Leaving “Magaluf”, our next country was in our sights. It was only a short trip up the motorway to Italy, but not before we headed slightly south to the little coastal town of Piran. We had heard that it was very pretty and worth a visit, so 45 minutes after setting off we arrived and attempted the task of parking! This can be a little challenging in the BFG at times and sadly this was one of those times! The park-and-ride would not allow campervans, we nearly got stuck in a small car park and the only other spaces were ‘permit only’, so slightly dejected, Italy beckoned.

Apparently the roads in Italy are not the smoothest and after only a few miles it seemed to be true! A brief stop at a tiny (and slightly scruffy) looking motorway cafe to check that we still had all four wheels attached and for what may be the strongest, but smallest, espresso to date we continued along yet more bumpy and unfortunately ugly motorway in search of the beautiful country that we hoped we would find.

Turning off the motorway although the roads didn’t improve much the scenery certainly did, with pretty fields and towns in sight and hills starting to rise towards us. Another stop for a quick bite to eat, this time at a little bar on the roadside, reminded us that our Italian language skills needed some improvement as we tried to order sandwiches and coffee. We got the coffee bit right, but what we hoped would be a nice parma ham and mozzarella ciabatta came out as a toasted ham roll……..some work to be done there then!

Further pretty, twisting and hilly roads lead us to our stop for the next few days on the shores of Lake Caldonazzo. Having settled into our stop it was time to explore! After checking out what the site had to offer and a short walk by the lakeside whilst savouring an ice cream, we arrived back to the site to see that they were showing the MotoGP race on the TV at the bar – much to my delight! A beer and very exciting race later, it was time for food and to plan our next couple of days.

Waking to our now default of blue skies, we fueled up for a walk to a little hamlet at the other end of the lake. After following the flat cycle path to start with the first climb in the heat was a bit of a shock to the system, but lead us through pretty lanes lined with fruit trees and a massive cherry tree plantation offering great views of the lake. We climbed on stumbling upon a small-holding owned by a friendly local who insisted that we pick as many cherries as we could carry as he has too many, before showing us all the other produce that he was growing, from tomatoes to beetroot and even fennel and figs!

Bags heavier with the sweetest cherries that we’ve ever tasted we eventually made it to our highest and halfway point in a tiny hamlet and sat in the welcome shade of a pretty church to eat sandwiches and……cherries!

DSC_1065

The decent back to the lakeside was through pretty woodland, with little history lessons along the way about the long history of mining in the area, complete with drawings of old miners that made them look like extras from the Hobbit! This kept us entertained for some time! Hot but pleased with our day of exploring, we returned to the site ready to replenish our energy in the form of pizza and wine – purely to check the authenticity compared to pizza back home of course!

Yet another hot morning greeted us and I decided to explore more of the local hills by mountain bike, leaving Blaise to make sure that the swimming pool was up to standard! Map in-hand, I headed off on a ride that was to take me around both Lake Caldonazzo, but also its smaller neighbour Lecco. What appeared on the map to be a nice, viewpacked and mostly off-road ride turned out to be nearly 100% on-road and not quite as viewpacked a ride as I’d hoped! Back to the BFG for lunch and a water fill-up, an afternoon route was planned whilst Blaise confirmed that the pool was of a good standard so she would spend the afternoon testing the effectiveness of factor 30 suncream!

For the second ride of the day I’d devised a route, combining part of the previous days walk, plus a few more hills – or as it turned out, a lot more steep hills!

A few hours later I returned, happy with my exploring and finding some great off-road trails, but annoyed with myself that I’d tested the limits of hire-bike grip on the last descent of the day. Fortunately the only damage was a few minor scrapes and a knock to my pride! Blaise in the meantime was happy to report that factor 30 suncream does work very well!

The remainder of the day was spent fetching a couple of beers to help my wounds heal (well that was my excuse anyway!), and planning our next move north to the mountains…