Sitting in the queue waiting for the ferry to dock at Igoumenitsa we were sad to be leaving Greece but equally excited to be moving on to pastures new. We’d decided that when we got to the other side at Ancona we would head straight across Italy making a beeline for the south of France to finish Season 2 of our European tour. Italy will have to wait for another time.
It was a wise decision to splash the cash for the tolls on the motorways. The roads in Italy really aren’t great. No, that’s being kind. The roads in Italy are diabolical. I know we have only seen a small part of Italy on our travels which isn’t really enough time to make an informed judgement but going by what we have experienced so far I think it’s a fair assessment. The road surfaces are just crap. Travelling at any reasonable speed would be pure folly. If you wear dentures then it’s probably wise to leave them in their jar for the day. It’s maybe not so bad in a car but in a motorhome it’s oh so tedious. Constantly being shaken to bits, avoiding lumps, bumps, potholes and humps is just no fun. It’s also no fun for the other motorists trailing along behind us as we crawl along at a reduced speed. Even so, it still seemed like a long drive to get to France and it took us two days.
We were, though, extremely happy to be back in France and both punched the air when going over the border despite the gloomy weather and heavy rain. We exited the motorway just over the border into France and dropped down the steep winding hill to the wonderful, beautiful, picture postcard town of Menton. Ah, what a marvellous looking place (even in the pouring rain) set at the foot of a steep hill on the French Riviera. It was such a shame, then, that we never actually got to see it.
We parked at one of the marinas giving us a view back over the town. I had a little gander at the parking metre and discovered that you were only allowed to park for a maximum of three and a half hours. Undeterred we had lunch whilst contemplating our options. It looked like there was an industrial estate outside the town where we might be able to park up for the night and then come back down to the town in the morning for a look see. The rain might have stopped by then too. There was also an Intermarché supermarket there and we needed provisions and diesel. Tim never tires of cruising the aisles of large supermarkets even though they all seem to sell the same stuff so it would keep him entertained for several hours on a wet day. Excellent. Off we went back up the hill in search of a likely place to stay overnight.
We discovered that everything is very compact in Menton, including the Intermarché which has an underground car park with height barriers. Tim was not to cruise the aisles that day. The industrial estate was also extremely compact with only on street parking with not a metre of space to be had. As we were alarmingly low on diesel we swung in to the Intermarché, went down an extremely steep ramp, grounded the tow bar on the tarmac at the bottom, looked at the layout designed for nothing bigger than a Smart car, sat blocking everyone’s way whilst deciding what to do, decided to exit the garage, at the exit changed our minds, swung in to the entrance again, went down the extremely steep ramp, grounded the tow bar on the tarmac once again (rolleyes), and took another go at it. There wasn’t enough room for us to drive in, fill up, and then follow the one way system around two tight bends to get to the pay booth so I queued up in the rain behind the cars to pay what we owed whilst Tim kept dry in the van. Obviously, being British I didn’t like to jump the queue. We then had to reverse back from the pump to get out causing more chaos.
By this time we were a tad fed up with the traffic, the rain and seemingly no options to park up for the night. We took another attack on the town to see if we could park further along the sea-front but with ‘NO MOTORHOMES’ signs everywhere we gave up, decided to get back onto the motorway, exit at the first services and decide what to do next. By the time we got to the services we really couldn’t be bothered to move again so stayed the night. It’s not something we’d normally do, in fact, I don’t think we’ve ever stayed at a motorway services overnight but it’s always nice to do something new for a change! We slept pretty well considering that lorries were coming and going all night. This is the reality of living the dream folks 🙂 Those sorts of days are few and far between though and the following morning we awoke to bright sunshine streaming through the skylights, the smell of diesel and lorry engines revving all around us. I can’t think of a better way to start the day.
On the road again by seven o’clock and having decided that Menton and the French Riviera would be better visited with a car, we headed for the Ardèche Gorge. The Ardèche is somewhere that we almost visited on a trip to France in 2014 but decided against it as we didn’t fancy spending four days of our two week holiday travelling there and back. We stopped off on the way at a lovely little free aire complete with picnic benches just outside the village of Chusclan.
This is why we love France so much as so many villages provide facilities for camper vans. We thanked the village for their hospitality by spending the evening at the local bar swapping stories with Pam and Paul who were in the van next to us and on a six week trip. We also bought some wine from the Chusclan vineyard next door to the aire. About a dozen motorhomes had stayed the night and nearly all of them had been over to the vineyard to purchase some of their produce. It’s a win-win.
The Ardèche Gorge is a summer playground for families who enjoy messing about in boats…..or kayaks and rafts to be precise. The gorge runs for thirty two kilometres from Vallon-Pont-d’Arc down to Saint-Martin-d’Ardeche. We stopped at a free aire just outside the beautiful village of Aigèze on the other side of the river from Saint-Martin and spent a couple of days walking in the area above and through the gorge. The sun was out and life was good.
Then it got cold…………really cold. Well, I have get this in perspective. It was about two or three degrees during the day which isn’t that cold but we’ve been used to balmy temperatures for so long now it was quite the shock to the system. And there was the wind chill too. Tim took it all in his stride, switched back to long trousers and layered up. I just moaned. And moaned. And moaned. I can’t say I’m proud of myself as I didn’t come out of it until the end of the week when the temperatures got back into double figures again. I was also not a happy bunny when we did the washing at one of those outdoor Intermarché self service machines and it didn’t spin it leaving it soaking wet after the program had finished. We spent twenty minutes in the supermarket carpark wringing it all out before we could put it into the drier. Ah, happy days indeed! Can you tell we’re missing Greece?!
After two days at the aire at Aigèze we drove the D290 which follows the top of the gorge as far as Vallon-Pont-d’Arc. There were plenty of places to stop and pull over to admire the magnificent views down over the gorge and we had the whole road to ourselves for over an hour.
It was a bit surreal really as not one vehicle passed us in either direction. Weird.
After twenty five kilometres we realised why when we came to a Route Barrée sign telling us the road up ahead was closed during the day. Mmm, maybe the locals were in the know but it was the first we’d seen of the closure. Fortunately we were able to do a detour around but we didn’t get to see the Pont d’Arc natural arch over the river. Ah well, maybe next time.
For the last few days we’ve been trundling along following the Ardèche river to its source in the Massif-Central area of France stopping at some of the sleepy villages along the way.
It’s time now to head further north.