22 July: On to our eighth country this year…

Author: Mrs A

Location: Kranjska Gora, Slovenia and Ferlach, Austria

Another fine morning dawned so we decided to don the hiking shoes and explore a new dimension of Kranjska Gora, heading up into the mountains via the chair lift.

Mr A enjoys the journey up

Once up the top though, the walks were pretty much all up, and on a 30 degrees day it was hard going.

Mark finding his leg muscles wondering what’s happened
The pathway becomes very steep and largely washed out by the winter’s snowmelt
Mrs A pleased her airway is nice and wide right now – breathing well!

We walked a couple of kilometres up to a great viewing spot, and enjoyed the downhill a lot more than the up!

Looking out towards the Austrian border
These craggy peaks still a great novelty for us
Yellow Foxgloves brighten up the woodland
Shades of mauve (species unknown to us!) attract many butterflies
The downward chair lift takes the pressure off still delicate toes! You can see the mountain bike park tracks beneath us, the town of Kranjska Gora and into the valley beyond…

We wandered into the pretty town of Kranjska Gora to find somewhere for lunch. Unlike many ski resort towns we have visited during summertime, this is busy and bustling, full of e-bikes for hire, busy cafes and interesting shops.

A very pretty town with cobbled streets
A brief moment with no cyclists on the pathway

It’s great to see a town being successful all year round – no doubt the cycleway passing through is a big drawcard, with many tourers stopping for the night in hotels and B&Bs here.

Our evening’s sosta with a view

Full of pizza, we returned to Truffy to move on to our next destination, out of Slovenia, and into Austria our eighth country this year (the others being New Zealand, Australia, UK, France, Italy, Croatia and Slovenia).

It was less than an hour’s drive to our next destination, Ferlach – Austria’s southernmost town. We took the Karawanks Tunnel, a nearly 8km tunnel beneath the Karawanks Alpine Range.

80km/hr through the tunnel…we’re through to Austria in no time at all!

We had a very loose plan on the other side, aiming for the region of Carinthia. There are a number of cycleways in the area, coupled with beautiful castles and mountainous scenery. We were keen to check it out.

We found ourselves a parking place in Ferlach, a town famous for its gunsmiths, making guns for hunting which are used worldwide. Behind us are the mountains we were the other side of this morning and beside us a babbling mountain creek.

Our nearby creek might get a workout tomorrow with 33°C forecast.
A little further upstream are these lovely falls

We got the bikes out for an explore. The town is so pretty, and hardly a person around.

A lovely water feature surrounded by blossoms in the town square
Mr A kindly demonstrates one of the many hanging arrangements
Cycle friendly bridges over the creek

We had an explore locally before heading down to the 510km Drau Cycle Path which runs alongside the River Drava nearby. We did a small taster cycle as it was getting late in the day, but it has definitely encouraged us to come back and see some more tomorrow.

Beautiful reflections along the river
Schloss Hollenburg – medieval castle built in around 1100
Heading back to camp through a local farming village

After riding 19km, a beer in the local pub completed our day before we headed back to camp for showers and dinner. A great introduction to Austria.

A fine sunset as we finish our day

18 – 21 July: Lake Bled woos us with its loveliness

Author: Mrs A

Location: Lake Bled, Slovenia

We had driven past Lake Bled on our way to Bohinj and it looked lovely, but totally booked out in terms of camping opportunities. We could have done a day trip, but were really keen to see it in depth, so instead booked a hotel room for a couple of nights.

We selected the Grand Hotel Toplice, one of the oldest and most spectacular hotels on the lake’s edge, with fabulous view across to Bled Castle and Bled Island. We have our 17 year wedding anniversary coming up next month and I will be in London for my next hospital appointment, meaning we won’t be together. So, what better excuse for a few days of luxury?

Breakfast at the hotel was an event in iteself, with the best spread of food either of us have seen in many years of staying in hotels.

Delicious breakfast of poached egg with avocado and salmon, with an amazing view

DIY museli with fresh nuts, seeds and fruit, cold meats and juices, cooked eggs, sausages and vegetables, cakes, buns and yoghurts – the choice was endless and meant there was no need for lunch! All this while sat on a balcony with arguably one of the best views in the world.

We set off after breakfast to Bled Island on which stands the Church of the Mother of God, Mr A valiantly rowing us over in a wooden boat.

Getting a post breakfast workout
Lady muck

No motorised boats are allowed on the lake, keeping it serene. The church date back to the introduction of Christianity in this area (the year 745), with many adjustments over the years – mostly in the mid 1400s. Before this, there was a temple on the island dedicated to the Slavic goddess of love, Ziva.

Traditionally the groom has to carry the bride up these 99 steps before they can marry at the church!
Looking back towards Bled Castle
The church as we approach the island
A shoal of fish under one of the rowing boats
Very fit rowers paddle boatloads of people to the island all day long

Humans have been settled in this area since the Stone Age, with numerous artefacts found and displayed in the Castle, which we walked up to on our return from the island. There we enjoyed more amazing views, and saw our first little Slovenian red squirrel.

A well deserved shady break after the climb up
Impossible to do these views any justice…looking down towards Bled Island
Breathtaking…but breathing well (still hobbling with injured toes though)
Looking east towards the Karawanks…some big hikes through here

After an hour or so enjoying the hotel’s spa we went back to the room to get ready for dinner…Mr A decided to see whether we could get an upgrade. Well, he was very successful – managing to get us room 501, the best lake view room in the hotel!

A room with a view – cheers! 17 years of marriage coming up on 16 August…
Our hotel and new room as seen from the opposite shore, beneath the castle
Yet another photo of our ever changing view to the castle and island

Truffy was parked nearby so we picked up a bottle from our champagne stocks and cracked it open to celebrate with a glass of bubbles before going to dinner.

Dinner was at Restaurant Sova, which we had booked because of its fabulous reputation for both modern and delicious Slovenian food as well as having a wide selection of local wines and highly trained sommeliers. We were not disappointed.

Delicious local wines sampled
They allowed us to split a glass into two glasses to widen the sample tasted
We enjoyed a bottle of the middle wine – Starà Brajda Old Vineyard Red 2015
Food was amazing too – this seafood risotto with a scallop with champagne foam
Mr A enjoyed a pasta with cheese and truffles

Our evening finished off with a free live concert as part of the ‘Taste Bled’ weekend event. A great band called Lumberjack entertained us with covers from Kings of Leon, Lenny Kravitz and Dire Straits among others, before a ‘famous in Slovenia’ band headlined playing their own music (which was great for the locals especially). A perfect end to a perfect celebration!

After sunset – the view out towards Bled Island, the church all lit up
The castle floodlights stay alight all night
The twinkling lights of the township

I really did not expect to like Lake Bled as much as I have done. After Lake Bohinj, seeing big hotels, restaurants and a casino it all felt a little commercial. But in reality it has been far from it. The local people have been so friendly and welcoming, the hotel staff excellent, and everyone clearly loves Slovenia and is full of recommendations of what to see next. It has been more like being welcomed into a small town. This area will always have a place in our hearts.

Sunrise this morning

It’s so hard not keep looking at this ever changing scene, the chiming of church bells around the water (especially now as I write on Sunday morning, calling people to service). With a late checkout today I think we will treat ourselves to this view just a little bit longer before we jump back into our camper and continue our journey in Slovenia.

15 July: Ljubljana – a pocket sized slice of city gorgeousness

Author: Mr A

Location: Ljubljana, Slovenia

We found a place to park Truffy and wandered into Slovenia’s capital city – all very easy as it’s so dinky! The vibe was just so good.

We climbed up to its centrepiece, the magnificent castle.

Our first sight of the castle walls as we climb up
Mrs A relishing every single easy breath
Looking down to where we started…great views all the way

We did the whole Ljubljana Castle tour with audio sets and it was so worth it. From the unique artefacts showcased in the museum (including a 5,000 year old Celtic vase), to the description of its turbulent history as it suffered the onslaught of the mighty Ottoman Empire – at one stage only 100 miles from its doorstep, to the beautiful entertaining spaces that have been created inside the old castle walls and are a hub for modern day culture in Slovenia.

An art exhibition space in what used to be artiilery storage
Restored rooms with colourful stories
On climbing to the highest tower, amazing views over the city and beyond
Looking into the castle grounds
You can see a third of Slovenia from the top of this tower
Spiral staircases – wisely providing separate staircases for up and down
Now that’s what I call a wine fridge…or two…

Really the only parts of its history not covered was that during the Second World World War it served as an Italian prison (was that a deliberate omission? I don’t really understand the unwritten rules around what’s not spoken about in a tourist context). Then right up until the 1960s the castle was used as overspill city housing for the poor.

Imagine calling this your home…
One solid building

A short ride down on the funicular railway and it was time for lunch. We seem to have slipped unconsciously into that Mediterranean pattern of no breakfast (well we substitute tea for their coffee), then lunch as our main meal and a snack at night. I think Catherine’s missing her creative time in the kitchen!

Water is a key feature in the city with the Ljubljanica River forking off and looping around, creating an island
Our seafood restaurant with a view
A tasty Chardonnay for Mrs A – we are rather appreciating Slovenian wine after the desert of Croatia

We had a lovely meal by the river at a fish cafe, then wandered around the lovely streets filled with interesting shops, cyclists and happy smiley folk! What a great vibe…a city we would call at first glance like this very liveable.

A colourful city
Bustling with outdoor dining

In fact it’s the most likeable capital city we have seen so far on our travel based on our criteria – easy to get around by bike, waterways and green spaces everywhere, loads of food and wine choice, easy access to the mountains.

At just over 20,000 square kilometres, the country of Slovenia is a good deal smaller than Australia’s largest cattle station (Anna Creek in South Australia at 23,600km²), so its major tourist attractions are apparently heaving …we will find out tomorrow!

We capped off the day with a sunset cycle
The bridge of dragons
Dragons do indeed live here…

7-8 July: Krka National Park – the breathtakingly beautiful heart of Croatia

Author: Mr A

Location: Krka National Park, Croatia

Sitting in New Zealand at Christmas we had read about this National Park that has 17 waterfalls cascading through its limestone country. Now we were here..and loving it. Yes it’s popular with 1 million people visiting last year, but there’s a reason it’s popular – it’s absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.

We had booked a tour from the camp site we stayed at, a 9-5 day visiting the highlights of the park by minibus. There’s no way we would have seen some of these place left to our own devices.

A two hour walk had us deep in the forest on boardwalks, with streams and small cascades flowing all around us.

Water water everywhere, the boardwalk wound across lakes and streams
A Baltic Green Lizard poised ready to fight his opponent
The boardwalk – busy already at 9.15am
Small cascades give us hints of the beauty ahead
The waterfalls increase in size….helped by a huge thunder storm last night, bringing the first rain here for 40 days

Then we came to the first major waterfall, which allowed swimming. Catherine was off as I guarded our bags. It did look quite spectacular.

Skradinski Buk – the longest waterfall on the Krka River . Swimming is allowed here
Mrs A feeling refreshed after her dip
Travertine islands, barriers and lakes help create the falls which send a fine refreshing spray of mist for a hundred metres
Enjoying the spray
Relishing the shade on the the way back to our bus – it was about 34 degrees centigrade
Cloth making and basket weaving was common here historically and here we see where the cloth was washed – right up until the 1970s
The power of the water here has been harnessed for electricity since the late 1800s – the first hydro electric plant in Croatia

A Franciscan monastery sat resplendent on a tiny island in one of the lakes, Roman catacombs beneath another monastery…this park has the lot.

An Eurasian Kestrel soars above us searching for food in the valley
A dry, harsh country – much of the water deep underground
Those monks certainly knew how to isolate themselves
Beautiful pink Oleander grows wild everywhere we go in Croatia

We had lunch in a little tucked away cafe alongside the ever present waterfalls. Simple but lovely food served with Croatian wine….yup still the same verdict…thumbs down in the vino.

Cold meats, cheese, bread, olives and sliced tomato – simple fare but tasty
If you wanted to cool down you could sit at one of the wet tables, with the water rushing past your bare toes
Krka Monastery – built on top of Roman catacombs – mentioned in texts back as far as 1402. The fountain in the foreground is thick in dripping moss
The church painted in richly coloured frescos was renovated in the past decade
A refreshing breeze entices you to this window
Imagine the monks here…
More secret viewing spots visited along the way
Bilusica Buk – at the furthest easterly part of the park, very remote
A Roman military camp and amphitheatre are to be found near here – Bisulica Buk

The park entrance fee was about AU$50 and the trip including the monastery tour and lunch the same. What great value! With a million visitors a year it was disappointing to see little evidence of that money being reinvested in the park, but that seems to be the story across Croatia with the tourist dollar. I wonder whose pocket it goes in?

8 – 9 June: Enjoying a little piece of paradise with friends

Author: Mrs A

Location: Loro Piceno, Le Marche, Italy

Saturday: It was a dusty start to the morning after a fun Friday night out with Mel and Barney in Loro Piceno, with delicious food followed by dancing to a live band on the cobbled streets.

Exploring the streets of Loro Piceno

May explain the sore head on Saturday morning…Varnelli – similar to ouzo…

Fabulous cover band at La Taverna, singing a wide variety of songs in English

Mel had booked a haircut for me in a local village, and with none of the staff speaking English I was pleased Google Translate worked well enough for me to get the cut I wanted and not end up with a shaved head!

Our friends from the UK arrived early afternoon, successfully finding the house and enjoying a light lunch as we all caught up on news.

In the evening Mel and Barney had booked us a table at a local restaurant, Casa Azzurra. It is set around a pretty courtyard, with delicious food and wine.

Pink Prosecco to commence the evening

Enjoying our aperitif

Casa Azzurra

Sunday: The eight of us piled in to two cars and headed up to Mount Sibillini National Park, a hour’s drive away. It was a warm day, around 35 degrees in the valley, but as we climbed we were relieved as the temperature dropped to the late 20s.

Our first stop was at Lago di Fiastra (Lake Fiastra), the main reservoir for the region. The turquoise waters look quite striking, surrounded by mountains and beaches. There were quite a few people swimming in the water and picnicking on the shore.

John enjoying the view in a field of wildflowers

Karen, Mel and Stuart enjoying the view

Many of the buildings in this area are still damaged from the two major earthquakes in 2016. On the winding road up the mountains there was extensive evidence of work done to shore up the cliffs and prevent rockfalls and landslides, and many buildings remained abandoned, shored up by steel cables and wooden braces.

Church and buildings unsuitable for occupation post earthquake

We continued a short way up the mountains to Rifugio di Tribbio, a lovely rustic restaurant Mel and Barney had found. What a gem! There’s no way you would stumble across this as a casual visitor without the local knowledge. There we feasted on three generous courses and two litres of wine for the grand cost of about €160 between the eight of us (AU$33/£18 a head). We sat outside on a bench table with great views across the mountains.

Views of the nearby ruins of Magalotti castle

After lunch we wound our way up the mountains even further, found a shady parking spot and headed off for a walk. It’s a glorious time of year in the mountains, with wildflowers in every corner.

Wild peonies (Paeonia officinalis) growing on a limestone slope

Every square metre is covered in flowers – pinks, mauves, purples, yellows…so pretty

Lovely orchids

Wild Narcissus (Narcissus poeticus)

We did a lovely circuit walk – steep on the way up and blissfully downhill on the return loop, helping us burn a few lunchtime calories and enjoy the clean mountain air.

Wondering whether the last glass of wine was wise!

The walkers – minus Barney – L-R Mrs A, Mr A, Catriona, John, Stuart, Karen and Mel

Looking back at the lowlands which look rather hilly when you’re down there!

We drove back down the mountains and into Loro Piceno for an evening cocktail at La Cantina, a bar with a terrace boasting amazing views over the valley and out towards Mel and Barney’s house. We then headed home for an early night in preparation for celebrating Catriona’s big birthday tomorrow, the reason for this gathering of friends.

Enjoying the views and drinks

Catriona tries out a swing chair

Karen and Catriona try out their first Aperol Spritz

Beers for the boys – Stuart

John

5-7 June: Our introduction to Le Marche

Author: Mr A

Location: Abbadia di Fiastra, Le Marche, Italy

Wednesday: We have friends of friends who have kindly invited us and some of our friends (with it so far?) to stay with them in eastern Italy in the region of Le Marche (pronounced lay markay). To be honest, until they gave us their address we had no idea where that was, or even pronounce it. Well now we do and what a find it has been.

Le Marche doesn’t roll off the tourist tongue like Tuscany, and the thankfully the coaches aren’t rolling down the streets just yet in this region…. We arrived via the excellent west to east route along SS77. A dual carriageway with tunnel after tunnel bored through the mountains that run in a chain down this part of central Italy.

We were making for a campsite our friends had suggested in the grounds of an old abbey and country park near to their village. We had given ourselves a couple of days to explore the area and get things prepared for the onslaught before everyone else arrived.

We arrived to find a beautifully near deserted camping area, with only a couple of other vans there. We picked our spot and had just set up the chairs…as a motorhome drove right next to us completely blocking our view. I gave him my best evil eye and exaggerated “what the ….” shrug…he moved off when Catherine joined in! She’s a terror…

Time for lunch

So with view restored we were soon visited by a young cat who was clearly Italian given his chattiness and general exuberance! He was to become our constant companion over the next two days..,well until someone else pulled up he thought might feed him…

There goes our last tin of tuna…

It was time for our customary exploration on two wheels. What a ride we had, as we came round corner after corner with a new vista of perfectly green fields opening up…and the odd snow capped mountain! This was cycling heaven.

Fields of spinach

We made our way through the park, exploring Roman ruins, admiring the bird life, and smelling the wild flowers.

Thursday: The next day we went further afield through several of the nearby villages. And not a tour bus in sight…

Yes, still snow up there

More fields of poppies looking towards more hilltop villages…

The castle in Colmurano

A couple of happy cyclists

in the late afternoon we headed out again, I had spotted a winery within striking distance of the bikes.

Now that’s a decent driveway!

The terrace tasting area with fabulous views

Murola tasting room

Enjoying a few drops of red…yes we invested in a case and a half

A post tasting tour around the barrels and bottling plant

After some initial confusion about what we wanted, as I had asked for a “wine tasting”, which apparently in Italy is more of a wine experience with food (and €15-20 a head), not a tasting with the purpose of trying before you buy. We embarked on our mission to stock up with some more wine before the rest of the troops made it here. It’s a tough job but someone has to do it. And what a great selection of wines they had, set in beautiful grounds. Our host Anna even offered to deliver our wine to the campsite! Now thats a service I doubt you’d find at your average Tuscan posh as you like winery.

We think we will like it here!

A fantastic cycle home to Truffy

Friday we did a little more exploring on foot, taking a look at the monastery and abbey, and taking some of the footpaths at a slower pace, listening to the birds, smelling the flowers and generally just enjoying the peace before the storm.

Poppies are everywhere splashing red into the fields

Wild roses

Inside the abbey

Our friends Melinda and Barney arrived at around 5pm to escort us to their home in Loro Piceno, and tomorrow four more friends arrive from the UK. It’s all going to get a lot busier around here!

5 June: Spellbound in Spello

Author: Mrs A

Location: Spello, Umbria, Italy

Wednesday: We only drove 15 minutes to Spello, just 10km away from Assisi, everything we had read suggesting it was worth a visit.

We took quiet winding roads through agricultural land, grateful we didn’t meet any other traffic along the way.

Maybe just room for a cyclist to pass here…fabulous roads to drive on as long as you don’t meet anyone!

Gorgeous views accompany us on our way

Spello is far less well known than Assisi, but its history stretches back just as far. Much of the town is built on Roman remains and foundations, and sits within an old amphitheatre. The churches are often built on top of old Roman temples, and encompass little clues here and there to the past.

We entered through a grand gateway flanked by towers, amazed that there was not a soul around. In fact that is one of the main appeals of this town – it is so close to Assisi but there are so few tourists here. The streets and buildings are quiet, taking on a pink hue from the Mount Subasio limestone used in their construction. The constant call of swallows can be heard as they swoop catching flies around the rooftops, and the hum of insects on the ever present flowers.

Where are all the people?

These stone walls were restored in the early 1900s

Every corner is filled with flowers

Pretty pathways in all directions

A lovely looking villa

Every little space is used for pots of colour

Richness of colour in every direction

Seppo is full of flowers, every windowsill, doorstep and corner brimming with blossoms. The few people we did see were often tending to their pots, painting wooden planters, replacing dying plants with new ones.

A local gardening enthusiast tends to his pots

There seemed to only be one cat in Seppo…quite a chunky one too!

Fine views across the Umbrian countryside

From the top of the town there are fabulous views back across to Assisi, a monastery behind us enjoying this view daily.

Assisi on the hillside opposite

Wander around forever and never see another person!

Heading off down yet another enticing lane way

Will we get tired of these views?

A flower within a flower?

If only we could understand the stories behind this architecture

We tried to find somewhere nice to have lunch, but the menus were quite restrictive in terms of dairy-free, and the restaurant we really wanted to go to was closed on Wednesdays.

Mr A making use of the Google Translate app to ask about dairy-free meals

So we wandered back through the town, calling in for some wine tasting on the way through (three small glasses for €10), and popping our heads into the Chiesa di Saint Andrea, a church built in the 11th century, an example of Francisan architecture.

Hard to resist another little alleyway to explore

Chiesa di Saint Andrea

Frescos by Tommaso Corbo in 1532

We’ve seen sculptures like this all over Italy

It was well worth the visit to Seppo. We didn’t buy any wine, the prices set for the American market (two to three times the usual cost!) rather than the Italian value we have become accustomed to. It would be a great location to stay if visiting Assisi and wanting to avoid the crowds, assuming you had a hire car you could park outside the town walls.

We, meanwhile, jumped back on the road and continued our journey towards the east coast.

21 May: Camogli – what a gem!

Author: Mr A

Location: Camogli and San Rocco, Italy

Every so often when you’re exploring new ground, you come across a place that you know will be etched into your memory for ever. The little port of Camogli ticked that box in spades.

We planned a stop over between Genoa and the Cinque Terre coast at a car park that was described by one reviewer as having “a nice view”. What an understatement! This unassuming bit of tarmac overlooked a chunk of coast that took our breath away.

Our view from our sosta – not bad for a free night!

Our first view of the small fishing town of Camogli on the Italian Riviera, about an hour’s drive east from Genoa on the E80, a road that we had been on and off for a few days.

As an aside, what a spectacular feat of engineering the European route E80 is. We didn’t realise until we did a bit of research that in fact it travels through 10 countries as the ‘Trans European Motorway’ from Portugal to the border with Iran. It then joins the Asian highway which continues all the way to Japan! We looked at this freeway in a new light. Living on a rather big island for so many years it really made us think what is possible in Europe.

So this car park was on the outskirts of a small settlement called San Rocco, with a path that led down to the sea, as well as many others which criss-cross their way over the peninsular to Portofino on the eastern side.

The views keep on coming

Blown away by the beauty of the scenery

Looking west from the peninsular – better known Portofino is on the eastern side

Loving where our little Truffy is bringing us….but the bikes weren’t right for this location

Breathtaking!

Firstly, we cycled as far as we could on the bikes before encountering steps, then packed away the bikes and donned walking shoes.

Feeling happy here…can we move in?

Our wooded walk was accompanied by the sound of water

San Nicolò di Capodimonte, a church along our walk – it officially dates back to 1141, but legend has it there has been a church here since the year 345

A well constructed pathway down to the wharf – quite steep with many steps

Wish we could share the scent of these roses….Devine!

Warmed up in the afternoon sunshine

Spying the ferry we run to the wharf

Without much of plan, we headed off down along this fabulous coastal path, then as we got to sea level noticed a ferry coming in. We both looked at each other and went “why not” so we jumped and were carried around to the harbour of Camogli in style.

Twelve euros later we have bagged ourselves a couple of spots on a boat trip

Portofino Promontory in the background

Love a good boat trip!

Coming into Camogli harbour

The moment we saw this place from the water we loved it. It had a genteel calm, without tour buses, and with a real authentic air of still being a working town. Some guys were just heading off to fish as we landed. I’m amazed there’s any left to catch!

We strolled around and immediately decided this is somewhere we could happily spend as week relaxing in. When I started to write this blog and read about the town, so many people described it as “undiscovered”, well by non-Italians anyway. It sure felt that way.

Exploring the town

Castle della Dragonara, built in the early 13th century, a fabulous entry to the harbour

Looking back out towards our home for the night – the clouds looking like they are descending

Feeling such an affinity with this village

Bagni Lido – the public beach

Reluctantly we headed back up to our car park, via 896 steps…we were ready for dinner by the time we climbed that lot.

A noisy Bean Goose shouting in the stream through town

Up and up the path went…

Fat pheasant in amongst the olive groves on our climb up

May I have some treats?

Yes…Mr A does carry cat treats in his bag!

We discovered Italian cats know the universal sound of cat treat bags…

Camogli, thankyou for giving us such a great memory to take away. I hope you don’t change too much too quickly.

19-20 May: Gorgeous Cervo (You won’t find it in the Lonely Planet)

Author: Mrs A

Location: Cervo, San Bartholomo al Mare & Diane Marina, Italian Riviera, Italy

Sunday: With just an 18km journey between locations, it was one of our shortest journeys yet, but not without its challenges! We followed a busy stream of traffic and our Google directions down a one way road, which appeared to get narrower and narrower with a line of parked cars down one side and a wonky stone wall on the other.

We pulled to one side to assess our options. With traffic constantly coming down the road, reversing was going to be impossible without significant help…and going forwards looked equally daunting without potential damage to Truffy and/or parked cars. Not a fun situation.

One of the cars passing us slowed and wound down his window. We half expected abuse for blocking the road, but no, the Italian driver told us that the road is not as bad as we thought, and that as a motorhome driver himself he was confident we could drive down safely. Mr A bravely took off, me walking in front, letting him know how much space was either way. To increase stress levels, a bus was following us, but amazingly was very patient. When Mark pulled over on a wider piece of road, the bus driver even indicated he understood the caution and gave me a thumbs up. Phew! Another skilful negotiation of a tricky road – absolute kudos to Mr A for excellent driving. We could not imagine such patient drivers in Sydney – they’d be much quicker on the horns!

So we arrived at our next destination with no damage done, a campground beside the beach 15 minutes walk from the village of Cervo. We immediately set off to explore.

Stormy skies over Cervo but we didn’t get too wet

Cervo has around 1200 residents, many of them artists, sculptors, wood carvers, painters and jewellers. The village largely built up around an initial Roman villa more than 2000 years ago. Like France, Italy has a ‘most beautiful villages‘ classification and Cervo has well deservedly achieved that recognition.

The streets are very steep, and at the moment I am not breathing too well…but made it with a little wheezing. Mark is suffering with tendonitis in his calf, so also struggled up the streets – not doing brilliantly between us! It was well worth all the effort though, with gorgeous views, interesting little alleyways and of course the friendly village cat there to meet us at the top!

Curvy cobbled steps lead us up into the village

A well looked after village, touches of colour and flowers everywhere

Trees growing on seemingly impossible surfaces

Even the snails are colour coordinated

Endless beautiful laneways enticing us down

You can almost imagine the lives that have taken place in these streets over the centuries

‘St George and the Dragon’ mural painted in the early 1900s after sailors from England shared the story with local artists

Fortified walls evident at the top of the village

Italian cats say ‘Ciao’

A fine view from outside the church

One of the key highlights in the village is the Romanesque Oratorio di Santa Caterina church. You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the historical and artistic significance of this magnificent building, having pride of place looking out to sea and covered with incredible frescoes (mural paintings painted on plaster).

Heading up into the church

Incredible frescoes cover the walls and ceilings

A grand gold and marble alter

The equivalent of the church hall, all set up ready for a conference

Such a picturesque area, with plenty of exploring to be done. We can only imagine how busy it gets here in the summer holidays, despite the fact that Cervo does not appear in the Lonely Planet and has a pebbly beach.

All this exploring worked up an appetite and we went along to Pizza Pazza, the restaurant right next door for dinner in the evening. Yet another fabulous meal, and again at a fraction of the price we would pay in the UK or Australia, including a bottle of wine.

Monday: Glimmers of blue skies greeted us so we leaped on the task of washing first thing. Once everything was either hung out or dried we decided to go exploring in the other direction, biking our way to the next little settlement, San Bartholomo al Mare.

There are no bike lanes here, but the drivers continue to be quite respectful of cyclists, keeping their distance and no agression at all. This is all in absolute contrast to what we have been led to expect by the various blogs we’ve read – maybe our expectations have been lowered by our experiences on the road in Australia and New Zealand?

We took a random uphill road just to explore, and were soon making use of the motors on our electric bikes to take us up past gated villas with incredible views, meadows and Ligurian olive groves. It was all very picturesque.

Gorgeous views across to Cervo on our ride

Even ‘warm’ enough for shorts!

Garden like wildflowers along our cycle

Terraced olive groves are plentiful here with agriculture still a key source of income

Beautiful orchids growing by the side of the road

We then cycled up to the next settlement, riding up a cycle friendly pedestrianised area and finding a little pizza place for lunch – yes, they even did me a pizza without cheese! We both ordered the small portion, which ended up being absolutely huge. Despite the fact I only ate half, we had no need to eat for the rest of the day!

27 April-2 May: Our final family time this spring in Sussex

Author: Mr A

Location: Brighton, Hastings and Newhaven Ferry Port, East Sussex, UK

Saturday-Sunday: Before heading to Continental Europe, we spent our final weekend in Brighton with Catherine’s sister Helen and her family. London-on-Sea, as it is jokingly known locally, served up its usual eclectic way with everything from fine dining to a wonderful greasy spoon cafe for brunch.

Feeling a little neater after some haircuts

Catherine, Helen and Isabel – just the girls

Just a small brunch to start Sunday!

Miss Isabel ready to party – Catherine bravely accompanied her to a 5th birthday celebration, despite the promise of party balloons 😲

Then it was time to head along the coast to Hastings and Catherine’s mum, Jenny.

Monday: Catherine and Jenny visited her nearly 97 year old grandma, good genes on that side of the family at least!

Jenny looking radiant

96 years young, Jean enjoying the sunshine

Jean will be 97 in a few weeks’ time – this may be her first selfie!

A few more lovely home cooked meals from Jenny, and a chance to get some last minute tasks ticked off before we head over the English Channel on Thursday.

Young Marmalade enjoyed the mouse on a stick we bought for him

Tuesday: Jenny took us over to Hastings Country Park for a short walk and some fresh air, another place of great memories for Catherine.

Views over the gorse flowers across the country

Jenny heading through the kissing gate…

The sun breaks through the cloud…team photo

A lovely woodland walk on our return circuit

More bluebells adorn the woodland here

A mother-daughter shot to complete the walk

Later in the day, Catherine took me on her and her sister’s favourite after school activity, a ride down to the beach and along the coast. It was a cold day, but the sun shone and Hastings showed us her good side.

Warming up in a sheltered spot on Hastings Pier

Yes, there is sand (at low tide) in Hastings!

Matching bikes and huts

Mingling with the local wildlife on the pier…odd….

Riding the bike path along to Bexhill-On-Sea

It’s an interesting mix here of demographics, with everyone from a scattering of celebrities, and working class housing estates. If feels an authentic town, with the largest beach based fishing fleet in Europe still bringing in the delicious fish and cockles that we just had to sample.

So many memories from Catherine, shared with me, and it does draw you even closer together understanding someone’s childhood, as I had shown her mine in Kettering.

Wednesday: Now it’s our last day in the UK, with a ferry across to France early tomorrow. I few nerves on my part as I keep running through all the things we need to have sorted. Catherine as ever the calm one, thank goodness.

We are parked up at Newhaven Ferry Port for the night. Little Truffy is dwarfed next to his bigger HGV cousins all waiting for the 9am ride across the Channel to Dieppe. What adventures await us in France?