28th November - 1st December
Lago di Garda to Parma
After checking out of the campsite we moved further round the Lago di Garda to a very small but elegant village called Bardolino. We spent bit of time sipping coffee in one of the many coffee shops by the harbour before heading off again towards Parma, a fair bit south. En route we stopped to visit another little town of castlemaggiore, but only for a quick pit stop. Again we passed banks of snow and were grateful that Martin had put a wood burning stove in the van for us to keep the cold at bay. It was quite a drive and with the nights well and truley drawing in it was dark before we got to Parma and again we were able to see the town during a very quiet period.
We stopped just outside the town at a little church surrounded by snow and got a fire going before bedding down in our nice and toasty home. The following morning we woke to a winter wonderland and when the sun poked his head over the snow-covered mountains the scene was complete. Again the fire came into it's own and it was a real pleasure to step out into the cold to enjoy the frosty morning and then scamper back into the warm and cosy van.
We had to get some cheese from Parma and we had passed a dairy just up the road before we came off the main drag and set up camp the night before. There we found a busy (always a good sign) shop selling the farm produce and couldn't resist a taster. It was really nice and not as overpowering as I had expected. It was aged 36 months, so was the good stuff with plenty of character, but also a slight delicacy to it which made it irresistible. Naturally I couldn't decide whether I liked it or not so after a few more tasters (and a prod from Rachel) I had to get my wallet out and buy some.
Soon we were again on the road heading south towards La Spezia, on the coast, and on the journey we were surrounded by immense, snow-capped ranges of mountains. It was a fantastic journey and we took our time so we coukd admore the scenery as it slipped by.
We were heading to a part of Italian coastline called La Cinque Terra which is five villages set into rugged coastline. We walked down the small high street of Manarola to the harbour where the rough sea was hammering the jagged coastline. The village was very pretty with vibrant, colourful houses perched precariously on the cliff edge. On the edges of the village and up sheer slopes were the olive and wine groves which make the regions exports of oil and wine, reputed to be among the best in Italy, and cultivated seemingly from the rock itself. We had a wander among the groves and the maze-like paths which the farmers use to access the pretty inhospitable land.
Later the same day we were in Genova and again we hit the town during the quiete period which meant we were able to have a nice drive round the town and stop for a wander in the main square. Dominating the Piazza Vittoria is a massive Triumphal arch similar to that found in Paris and just as impressive. There was a nice vibe to the town and we enjoyed our brief visit, but we needed a place to stay and the centre of a major port wasn't it so we headed on further down the coast to Savona where we found a lovely little pace alongside the beach for the night. Also as we were by the coast the temperature had gone from a chilly -1.5 degrees inland near Parma to a comparatively balmy +11 degrees by the sea so we had a very comfortable nights kip.
The next morning brought more sun and the views of the beach with the suns rays reflecting off the sea was near perfection. We were nearing the French border and spent the day, with another brief interlude for lunch in another sleepy seaside town, cruising the coastal road down into France. It was quite a journey and included some amazing views so it took till dark to reach the border.
Almost as soon as we entered France we encountered it's amazingly expensive motorways and so decided pretty spontaneously that it was time to take "Gerty" to the next level - and get on a formula 1 circuit. To do this we detoured into our tenth county of the trip, Monaco!
This was a bit hairy, driving round the little country as we didn't have a clue where we were going and at one point I managed to drive into a tiny cobbled street, almost getting stuck in a hotel driveway (one of the big name hotels too). Still, after two laps of the country, we managed to get her onto a part of the road they actually use for the F1 races - the bit by the harbour, which I was really overexcited about. I would have loved to get her through the tunnel but to be honest I couldn't find it, having no map at all. Nevermind, I'm sure Hamilton and co are shivering in their cold F1 cars (they don't have heaters, let along a wood burner) fearing for their livelihoods.
We zipped back onto the motorway as it was getting late and we wanted to get on, coming off at Cannes. I had been expecting a polished, glitzy romantic town but I was sorely dissapointed. It was just like any slightly tatty touristy sea-side resort (maybe we hit the wrong part of town) but regardless we found our way to the coast (better known as the Cote d'Azure) and found a lovely place right on the sea-front to curl up for the night.
On the 1st December we awoke to another beautiful view of the sun trying to break through the clouds after a rainy night. It took a while but we did end up with another gorgous day which we spent exploring the small town of Mandelieu-La Napoule, just down the coast from Cannes and walking along the Cote d'Azure sefront. On the night we made our way back to the Cannes sea-front where we had spent the previous night to fall asleep with the sound of the sea crashing onto the beach.