Friday 5th January
Not long after leaving town, we saw a police car blocking the road a little way down the mountain. Two Gendarmes carrying machine guns were stopping cars before us and also coming the other way. Not sure what the problem was, but they waved us through, thankfully. This was a very isolated part of the country, so we thought this was very strange. The border was not far away so could have something to do with it.
Another day, another set of challenges for my driver. Today we opted to head back towards the coast – a different way to yesterday. We had seen snow on some of the mountains and without snow tyres or chains, did not want to risk this. Certainly a good choice, though there were still many really tight bends and hairpin corners. The scenery again was spectacular but my driver had no time to see it.
Our first Italian town driving experience was just awful. The drivers here are crazy. They double park and stop anywhere, put on their hazard lights and take off, leaving everyone else to get around them. Pedestrians just walk or run across pedestrian crossings without stopping or looking and the skooters (millions of them) dart in and out of the traffic like maniacs. We seriously had forgotten how overpopulated this country is and are seriously wondering how long we want to be here.
Once out of the nightmare town of Ventimiglia (where there was a massive market in the middle of town), we followed the coast road which seemed a little easier, though my driver did not get a chance to see much of the scenery. The views across the Mediterranean Sea were amazing and a continuous stream of small towns fronted every spare inch of it.
Our campsite for tonight: Parcheggio Marina del Aregai, Santo Stefano al Mare
Just a beautiful campsite, exclusively for around 26 motorhomes. It is right on the sea shore with a boardwalk running in front of it.
We have magnificent views and watch the waves come crashing in. Today is one of the warmest days we have had for a while. The sun is shining and the skies are blue and we soon forget about the traffic and cars and people.
The walk along the boardwalk goes forever and can’t express how much we really enjoyed it.
At home in Oz we can have this magic, every day, and at times we forget to really appreciate what we have – Beautiful white sandy beaches, blue seas and a warm climate.
Saturday 6th January
Rained heavily during the night and woke up to a miserable morning, though the view was still spectacular. Have opted to take the easy way out and use the toll roads to get us to from A to B instead of going through the towns.
The A8 which also becomes the A10 avoids all the coastal towns but still provides magnificent views along the way of these towns and the sea. We travelled 80 kms on this tollway for just €11.60 – a real bargain – would have taken us at least three times longer and without the traffic hassle.
Still a wet drizzly day so opted for an interim campsite to stop and do some washing and forward planning.
Our campsite for tonight: Area Comunale, Celle Ligura
Just off the tollway and outside of the town of Cella Ligura, it is a mixed parking area near a sports field. Nothing much around here and was too wet to walk into town.
Did the chores and settled down for the afternoon with a good book and listened to the rain beating on the roof – quite soothing.
Sunday 7th January and Monday 8th January
With over 65 million people in this small country (statistics as at 2014), we have elected to avoid travelling along the coast roads and take the tollway which gives us the views, and so much less tension trying to avoid these crazy drivers. The skooters are not permitted to travel along the tollway so takes one problem out of the driving equation.
Xmas school holidays officially end today, so hope the traffic and the number of people on the roads decrease substantially. Also the camping fees in the motorhome parks are exorbitant compared to other countries so hopefully these will decrease now that we are in the low season.
The tollways took us through 90kms of freeway, with the most of this going through tunnels. Once outside of these, the views across to the sea and the mountains were spectacular. This country is so overpopulated, there is no break in between towns with high rise apartment blocks and homes being built on every spare inch of mountains and hillside. Very mountainous countryside.
Our campsite for tonight: Area de Camping Fornaci Al Mare, Deiva Marina
The exit off the tollway took us down a steep and windy road with again quite a few tricky bends and under one 3.5m bridge then into this seaside town. Quite an easy drive down from the tollway compared to past few days.
Another one of those really homely little places where everyone knew each other. Not much open now that the Xmas holidays are over but we took the time to walk around and find a place for dinner tonight. Stopped in at the local for a beer and, as is the custom here, enjoyed a plate of snacks complimentary to have with our drink. We found this in Spain and Portugal as well and is a fabulous idea.
The campsite is a bit disjointed with cabins, motorhomes and caravans scattered everywhere, but we have a whole area to ourselves which is just great. Mario greeted us at the gate and has been a great host. Price here yesterday was €32 but today we have it to ourselves for €15 including electricity.
Selected this place because the railway here has a regular train service that takes you directly to Cinque Terre in around 16 minutes and the security is really good with Mario and family living on site, a full security gate and a boom gate – also excellent security lighting.
Set the alarm for a really early start and did the short 5 minute walk from the campsite to the train platform where we purchased a one way ticket to the first village in the Cinque Terre National Park – Monterosso – only around 4 stops. At the information counter, we tried to buy the hiking ticket and maps to do the full national park walk to all five villages, but were told the hiking trails were closed because of a dangerous weather alert. Only option available was to visit each of the five by train and then explore the villages before catching the train to the next village.
Can’t say enough about how spectacular each one of these villages was. Each village was truly amazing and each had their own Monasteries, Fortresses, cathedrals, statues and views to die for.
We walked up and down hills, climbed a thousand steps at each one and walked through quaint fishing villages. Where in other towns you would have cars, here you see small fishing boats tied up everywhere along the main streets. Terraced houses many more than 5 storeys high were built on the hillsides and just so colourful.
Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggoire are the other four villages and if we had to choose which we loved the most (and it is a difficult decision) Manarola was our favourite with Vernazza coming a close second. We probably spent around two hours exploring each village.
The bad weather did not actually happen with just a couple of showers during the day. A little disappointed that we were not allowed do the hiking trails but wonder now if we would have been fit enough.
This was the toughest day for us physically by far and by day’s end we struggled toward the platform to catch the train back to Deiva Marina, staggered the long five minute walk home to Ziggy and collapsed – only having enough energy to open a well deserved bottle of wine and talk about this amazing day.
Got to really encourage people to stay here where it appears to be safer and so close to a train that takes you right to Cinque Terre in four stops. The town has quite a lot of restaurants and bars and is right beside the sea.