Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Piedmont to the Côte d’Azur

Italy and France, 16th – 19th October 2015


Apologies that it’s been a while since the last post as we’ve struggled to get free WiFi while in Italy. They all seem to require registration, and we’ve not been on any campsites, so as a result we have been running short with our mobile internet data allowance this month that has been used up with uploading previous entries and for essential route and stopover planning. We’ll be up to date again as soon as we can though. We’ve been busy, starting here with our last couple of days in Italy visiting Alba and Bra before heading out of the country over the Maritimes Alpes mountains into the south of France. From here we started making our way along the Côte d’Azur.



After the recommendation of the German man we met at the Grinzane Cavour sosta, we went into Alba to an unsurfaced parking area within five minutes’ walk of the centre (GPS: 44.70453, 8.03069) that he’d told us about. We picked up a town map from tourist information and followed it around the narrow cobbled streets looking at all the main sights which were pretty much all churches. With the town being a popular tourist attraction, a lot of the shops sold wine and other local produce. Alba is known for its truffles so we saw a few shops selling them including one selling white truffle at €350 per 100g! Some menu boards we noticed for restaurants featured truffle extensively in their meal descriptions.

The main town square in Alba
Our next stop was Bra, the town which we had read was home of the “Slow Food” movement which we weren’t sure what it was and it wasn’t any clearer from our visit as most of the town was closed. Apparently they close for a “slow down” twice a week so it was presumably one of those days. There didn’t seem to be a lot of interest to see here, maybe it would be better on another day when everywhere is open, so after a walk around we got on way again. We parked up next to the sports ground in Castelletto Stura (GPS: 44.44131 7.63751) for the night, which looked better than the Sosta where the service point is located, after spotting two other Italian motorhomes there.

Bra

In the morning after using the nearby service point to empty our grey water we set off to do our jobs for the day which were to stock up on Italian food and drink, mainly Spumante, Prosecco, bacon, parmesan, fresh pasta, profiteroles and gelato, and fill the LPG tanks ready for leaving the country. This ended up taking up a sizeable part of the day starting at Lidl in Cuneo then having to try three different supermarkets to get Sammontana chocolate gelato! (We’d got a tub on the way down through Italy in May and found it was very nice) We broke this up by stopping for a pizza for lunch from a KePizza restaurant adjoining the ipercoop supermarket which was only €6 for a large takeaway pizza which was quite good but we’ve never had as much mozzarella on a pizza before! After getting filled up with cheap LPG at €0.519/l (which we later found would’ve cost almost 50% more in France!), we decided to start heading into the mountains along the Col di Tenda pass towards France to an overnight spot we’d found on Campercontact close to the border. It was a Sosta without services next to the ski lift in Limonetto (GPS: 44.16572 7.55126) which is a nice quiet remote spot with a view of a waterfall. It was very cold out here at 7°C outside due to the altitude so we put the heating on low overnight for the first time this winter to save our water from dumping itself out.
Castelletto Stura
Limonetto in the morning fog

The temperature hadn’t increased by the morning and a heavy fog had appeared so the waterfall couldn’t be seen which was a shame as it would have made for a nice photo opportunity. Soon after setting off along the pass we got stopped at traffic lights for the Tende Tunnel which had a twenty minute countdown timer on! We turned the engine off and I made use of the time writing yesterday’s log, and Jo worked on our accounts spreadsheet on the laptop. Further along, the route was scenic passing through a gorge but a bit narrow for comfort in places so I had to take it steady. We crossed the border into France and again into Italy. We instantly noticed the French drivers were more courteous, tooting their horns when I pulled over to let them pass, and weren’t making silly overtakes. In France the motorhomes also became newer and often larger, and towing trailers.

After travelling the short distance along the Italian coast we got to the French border again, which this one was manned with lots of police, presumably due to the current immigration problems. I’d heard that the area next to this old border control point had become used as an impromptu Aire by motorhomes but that wasn’t the case for the time being. I kept moving slowly through the checkpoint and didn’t get stopped. The sat nav took us along a high road behind Monaco looking down on it which would’ve given great views were it not for the blanket of fog that was present here too and the dull weather.

St. Laurent du Var
Nice looked like a huge expanse of buildings as we dropped down into the edge of it past built up areas of flats. What we saw of Nice was very built up and not very appealing or suitable for visiting for us, but have heard there’s a nice old town area. The sat nav took us along a convoluted route through the streets before coming out onto the road alongside the promenade then got confused with a new road layout near the river. Due to the road we wanted to cross the river on being signposted as Péage we ended up in the airport! After making our way around the one-way system to get back out we started to look for an alternative route. It looked like it would be quite a detour so opted to chance going onto the A8 as this short section was marked as free in our map, which it luckily turned out it was. Arriving at the small Aire (7-8 vans) in St. Laurent du Var (GPS: 43.68527 7.18515) we just managed to get parked in a slot without obstructing the other campers. By this point it was 3pm so we had a late lunch and decided we’d stay here the night. After rain showers cleared we walked the couple of kilometres down to the town which was an uninspiring collection of small shops, estate agents etc, although most were closed being a Sunday.

We’d read on the World is Our Lobster that there wasn’t anywhere to park a large vehicle in Monaco so Jo wasn’t keen on going but I wanted to see it whilst we were nearby and it was another European country/republic to tick off the list. There was some traffic noise from commuters on the road we were parked next to in the morning but we got back to sleep and had a late start. Then just as we were finishing preparing the van to leave Alan from a British van that had arrived the night before came over to say hello and we got talking. We went over to Alan and Lorraine’s van to note down a couple of GPS coordinates for some recommended spots, they were a very friendly and chatty couple so we ended up talking to them for about an hour and a half. Lorraine gave us a big chunk of her homemade iced fruit cake (like Christmas cake), which after starting on it the next day we found is very nice (thank you again Lorraine for it if you’re reading). After we’d filled and emptied our water tanks at the service point it was 2pm so we parked up again to have some lunch before leaving.

Rue d'Anglais, Nice
We headed back through Nice all the way along Rue d’Anglais, the seafront road, after Alan’s helpful recommendation, which was a better route through. Coming into Monaco was busy with stop-start traffic that seemed to be due to building or road works. We spotted an information office with a motorhome parking sign next to it too late to pull in, although it looked like the single space was taken up by a car. Monaco feels quite claustrophobic with high-rise buildings and towers lining the roads. We headed towards the port, finding a fair was set up taking up any possible parking here so had to pull into a No Entry area next to the fair to turn around, due to it being the only option other than going for a turnaround in the middle of the junction as the other two roads had either a No Entry or No trucks and motorhomes signs on! We drove through Monte Carlo before turning back at a roundabout near the eastern end of Monaco. We took the tunnels back underground and after a wrong turn at a junction in them, headed out towards the upper road we’d come in on rather than trying the coast road out that was planned. Because the Aire that we stayed at last night was full when we passed we tried the next nearest option, going a bit inland to another at Saint Paul de Vence (GPS: 43.70226 7.11690) just at the side of a quiet road. Luckily there was space here with only one motorhome so we got parked up on our levelling ramps to correct some of the large slope the parking area was sited on.

Monaco
We decided to follow the logic of 'if a bus can fit, we should also fit'

There were several of these underground roundabouts in
Monaco

We anticipated using this Aire purely as a stopover place as the details we had said something about being next to a museum which we wouldn't be interested in, but were pleasantly surprised by the town the next day, more on this in the next entry.

- Matt

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