20-30 June 2023 – A Conference in Milan…. then a taste of Liguria

Small boats in a harbour at night

Author: Mr A

Location: Milan and Camogli (Ligurian Coast)

A conference husband’s life is not bad one. You help your wife with wardrobe choices, wish her well with the presentation she’s making to senior medical practitioners from around the globe, and then take a brief from her to buy a new handbag to match her outfit! So off I go to to the wonderful boutiques of Milan, style capital of the world.

I quickly manage to tick off the handbag purchase thanks to some diligent research and a very cooperative store owner allowing me send lots and lots of photos to madam! My knowledge of handbags has now grown exponentially..from zero..to the ‘little-bit-is-dangerous’ level. Now I could move to the more solid ground of the serious act of procuring some new smarter threads for myself, appropriate to a stay on the Italian Riviera coming up next. I made a quick reflection as I walked the malls of how our life has changed since moving back to Europe!

The central shopping area of Milan is dominated by the Duomo, a huge cathedral Catherine and I visited when we last came to Milan back in 2012

Mrs A is once again on a mission to help the 7,000 odd members of the support group she runs by attending a conference with the world’s thought leaders on ENT laryngology diseases. She listens to the latest research being debated by the experts, and works through what will be the likely implications for her fellow suffers of idiopathic subglottic stenosis (a narrowing of the trachea just below the vocal cords, with no known cause). She networks like crazy, building new relationships with these practitioners and deepening existing ones. She wants to ensure her support group members have access to the latest data on what’s working and what isn’t in treatment options. Mrs A also has to sometimes call in favours for people in urgent need of medical are, which isn’t always recognised by the gatekeepers making the appointments.

The first ever patient to present at an European Laryngological Society Conference – breaking new ground!
Catherine has been in touch with these doctors for up to 20 years and counts them as friends as well as esteemed colleagues!

Catherine had to crowdfund for this conference her travel and attendance costs from friends (thank you to donors who read this blog, you know who you are!) and her support group, who have given generously recognising the value the community gives them. I am enormously proud of her and the energy and enthusiasm she brings to this new vocation.

We are, I recognise, enormously privileged to have the opportunity to travel like this, combining business (for Mrs A) with pleasure. So after a few days in Milan we headed down on the train to the Ligurian coast, just to the west of Genoa. I have to say after reading supposed `’horror stories” about catching trains in Italy, it was all very civilised. Clearly the authors of these posts had never experienced rail travel recently in the UK!

In 2019, while motorhoming our way across Europe, we had stayed in a car park overlooking this gorgeous Ligurian coastline and randomly caught a ferry that took us to this little village of Camogli. We were besotted.

Catherine and Mark of four years ago, May 2019, when we first stumbled across Camogli

It still has a working fishing fleet, their catch cooked in the local restaurants. We barely heard any language other than Italian being spoken. The houses have been built up six stories, allegedly so fishermen could spot them from way out to sea, and their wives watch for their safe return (I did check and there is no record of women working on the boats).

“We’ll come back here one day” we promised ourselves, and we grabbed the opportunity when we realised we would only be a two hour (and 26 Euro!) train ride away in Milan. Our train journey into London from our home in Somerset takes about the same journey time, but costs four times as much.

So we had decided to treat ourselves to a nice hotel in Camogli. We are still getting used to not being campers, caravaners, and motor-homers, so the idea of paying lots of money for a night’s shelter still rankles! But pay we did, and had a place right on the front with sea views. Privileged indeed. Sitting over a leisurely breakfast with this view will be an enduring memory for both of us. As will for Mrs A having her first (second, third and fourth!) vegan croissant!

This was our magnificent breakfast view each morning, from the terrace above our bedroom

Our days were spent exploring by train and ferry along the coast.

A boat trip to San Fruttuoso, home to a magnificent Abbey
We didn’t feel too sorry for the monks enjoying views like this

One trip included a trip to the more famous port town of Portofino, home apparently to the rich and famous.

Two of the smallest boats in Portofino Harbour!
We climbed up to Castello Brown – once the home of the British Consulate Brown Family in the 1800s. The structure itself dates from pre 1400s, but has been renovated over the centuries
Great view from Castello Brown – now you can see the super luxurious cruisers and villas lining the hillsides

And you can see why. What a visually stunning place, but not an iota of authenticity left we felt, and were a little relieved to get back to our more laid back Camogli. There are a lot of family owned holiday apartments there, and we met people from Milan who had been coming here for generations. It gave a lovely feel to the place as the restauranteurs knew they had to cater for returning customers.

Fine food and wine wherever we went

We had wonderful dining experiences all week, provided by people who were clearly passionate about their food and wine, and seemed genuinely to take pleasure still from seeing their customers enjoying themselves. It does help I think that I tend to be quite vocal about my tasting pleasure! We sampled some local wines of course, mostly whites, with Vermentino (or blends including this grape) being one of the main varietals. A perfect match for the variety of fresh seafood we found ourselves served. Anchovies straight from the boat, the same for a variety of fish we’d never heard of, but that didn’t deter!

Yes, the new handbag had a bit of a workout
Looking down the coast at dusk
On our final day we hired a kayak for a couple of hours’ explore along the coast
And a unique view of Camogli and our amazing room at the Sublimis Boutique Hotel
Small boats in a harbour at night
Camogli’s old town surrounds its port, home to many active fishing vessels
Looking along the seafront at night towards Camogli’s castle

This spring and summer has certainly had an Italian theme, with two trips within a few weeks of each other. But we both share an excitement for coming back to what we feel is our little slice of Somerset paradise. to walk amongst our trees, check on the veggies, listen to the birdsong. We’re home.

A double rainbow welcomed us home
And the very well looked after Princess Tassie was there to greet us – thanks to house sitters Steve and Sam who looked after her and our home brilliantly!

22 – 23 May: A visit to the Cinque Terre (five lands)

Author: Mrs A

Location: La Spezia and Cinque Terre

Wednesday: We had seriously thought about missing out a visit to the Cinque Terre, given how popular they are and so much on the tourist trail, but given we were so close and travelling out of peak season we thought we’d head over for a day.

Leaving San Rocco, we headed back on the E80 and drove an hour or so along to La Spezia, where we parked up in a secure sosta along with about 40 other motorhomes. The site we were on looked more like wasteland than a camping area and was located in the docklands area of town, surrounded by containers and ships. It was not a great first impression to our visit.

A boat returning from a day out at Cinque Terre, looking back towards the port

Regardless, we jumped on a bus and headed into town. La Spezia is actually a very pretty town, with a lovely pedestrianised shopping area with a mixture of small boutiques and designer stores.

A very smart and affluent town

Giant pots welcome you into the shopping district

No (squashed) flies on Garibaldi….

We had a great afternoon wondering around and Mr A managed to get a haircut too.

Plenty of yachts awaiting a day out on the water

We enjoyed a glass of wine before dinner in the evening at a great little bar in a side street, a customer and the owner jamming to blues music, and providing entertaining conversation – La Spezia has a lovely feel.

Thursday: Cinque Terre (pronounced Chink-we Terrer) are five Unesco-listed villages painted across the steep Ligurian coast, stitched together by a great piece of railway engineering connecting La Spezia and Genoa. If you can build tunnels, then Italy is the place to work, as the scenery calls for many to link the towns. We cannot imagine how people coped before the transport networks were developed.

The five villages comprise of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. We decided to start our day at Monterosso, the furthest away village and jumped on the train from La Spezia.

Monterosso al Mare is probably the most resorty of the five villages, with a large beach set up with sun beds and umbrellas. It also seems to have the greatest amount of flat area, with market stalls set up selling wood carvings, clothes and fried food. We had a wonder around before setting off to do the hike across to Vernazza.

A vibrantly coloured village with flowers everywhere

Looking down across the beach – grey pebbles, no sand here

Looking along the coast and the hilltop walk we are about to embark on

Feeling blessed with incredible sunshine after a few days of cloud

Look at the colour of that water!

Heading off on the hike….

The hike between Monterosso and Vernazza is described as challenging and requires purchase of a card and agreement to wear the appropriate footwear and take water. It’s a great way of doing things – we have been on many hikes around the world and seen people stumbling along in flip-flops with no sticks and no water, ultimately putting the lives at risk of anyone who is then sent out to rescue them from injury or issue.

This hike is tough, particularly if breathing is a challenge. It climbs steeply up along the coast, following a rough rocky pathway. In its favour, it follows alongside many of the terraced vineyards and olive groves you look at from the villages, wondering at the fitness and agility of the farmers who tend the lands – I can assure you they were not breathing through an airway the size of a straw when they did it!

Incredible views from up here along the rocky coastline

Mr A tackles one of the old stone bridges with gusto

Our first glance of Vernazza as we climb down the headland

It was a hard climb over, with some amazing views along the way – it was a busy walk too, with occasional groups of people marching on past, unable to utter ‘thank you’ in any language for letting them past! But within two hours we were descending into Vernazza.

The village of Vernazza

Of course there’s a cat waiting for Mr A’s treat bag!

As always, a gorgeous maze of little stairways and streets to explore

Vernazza’s a smaller village set around a lovely little fishing harbour. We sat by the water’s edge and enjoyed a gelato – banana and kiwi fruit on the recommendation of a young Melbourne lady we happened to sit beside!

View from our harbour wall resting area

From here, we caught the train our next destination, choosing to skip the village of Cornoglia and arriving in Manarona. This village sits high up on rocky cliffs, seemingly impossibly perched above the turquoise waters.

A wonderful colour palette awaits us

Lunch is calling – we head to Nessun Dorma for bruschetta

We climbed up to a restaurant with incredible views, expecting it to have ordinary service and overpriced food and drinks…but no, Nessun Dorma served us some delicious refreshments and freshly made bruschetta which satisfied our post hike hunger, with great service. Fabulous, and totally in line with all of our Italian experiences so far.

We had a bit more of an explore around the streets after lunch, before heading back to the train to head to our final village for the day.

Riomaggiore allowed us to escape the crowds and find ourselves a few moments alone to sit and enjoy the views. There is a walkway which links all five villages, but only the segment we hiked is still open. Apparently a combination of heavy rain in 2011 and abandoned terraces on the cliffs led to major landslides, plunging the path into the sea. We could see evidence of the path being restored in a few places, particularly Riomaggiore, but it looks like slow and difficult progress.

Down at Riomaggiore’s harbourside

Rooftops galore, looking out to sea

Looking across at terraced gardens that have been tended for centuries

Finding some solace high up in the village


Looking out towards the closed walkway, the train station to the right

As the crowds began to leave, taking their boat trips or the train back to their hotels, you could almost feel the sigh of relief as the locals reclaimed their home streets for their own, and the lapping of the water on the boats in the harbour became the prominent sound.

We had our final look around before heading to the station and our short journey back to La Spezia. By the time we got back to Truffy at 7pm, we had walked just under 15km (9 miles) and climbed more than 100 flights of stairs. We were appropriately tired!

We’re pleased we got a chance to see Cinque Terre, but do appreciate there are many other places which are perhaps equally as beautiful, and certainly less frequented by tourists. When we look back at the spectacular places we have seen in the past week, we feel very fortunate to have experienced those without coach and boat trips blocking our views and interrupting our peace.

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


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!

17 May: Benvenuto in Italia!

Author: Mrs A

Location: Ventimiglia, Italy

As we packed up to depart this morning we met two sets of interesting fellow campers. The first a British couple, fellow Hymer owners (also members of the owner’s group), Steve and Kathy, permanent travellers who offered many great tips for our foray into Italy. Secondly the German couple parked beside us who were travelling with their gorgeous camping cat, a friendly 12 year old tabby. It was almost enough to make us stop a second night.

We moved on regardless, onto the toll-road that was to take us along the coast into Italy. We filled up with diesel and then had the daunting task of filling with LPG gas. No two filling stations seem to be the same, and on this occasion I had to pre-authorise an amount in the shop before anything would start. Sensing confusion, an attendant came out to help Mark connect the French/Italian adapter and we purchased our €12 of gas – no nightmare fill up like our last experience in the UK, thankfully!

On we drove, the temperature dropping down to 15 degrees centigrade as we climbed into cloud. Before long we were back down by the coast and passing through the border in to Italy – no passports checked, but a few military vehicles around.

Crossing the border into Italy

The coastline winding along

We wound our way along the coast, spectacular views in front of us, and before long we were arriving at our campground in Ventimiglia.

It always amazes us how you can cross a border and instantly the culture and look of an area changes. Although there has been much Italian influence in the French Côte d’Azur it is nothing compared with the real Italy.

More than one in ten people in Italy is unemployed (compare this with 5% in Australia and just under 4% in the UK and USA) and it was immediately obvious with young men hanging around and our first sight of people begging for money. Reading the forums, it seems that Italy is also the location where many motorhomes are broken into. We felt safer leaving our Truffy parked up at a campground with good reviews on the outskirts of town and taking the shuttle bus in for a look around.

Friday is the day for the big market in Ventimiglia, and we had great hopes for picking up some fresh fruit and vegetables. Unfortunately there were few food stalls, mostly selling cheese, sausage, fresh pasta, sun dried tomatoes and pasta sauces. We bought some pecorino and sausage, Mr A trying out his Italian.

“Grazie signor!”

So much for the arts, crafts and flowers here…

The rest of the stalls were a repetitive mix of cheap clothing, shoes, handbags and homewares. Nothing unique or artistic…while this was on the scale of the market at Edmundi in Queensland, Australia, it was nowhere near the quality or variety.

After a good look around, we wandered over the river, deciding to explore the old town. It is high up above the water and dates back many centuries.

Looking dramatic against an alpine backdrop

It would have been great to have taken a tour, there are dozens of interesting doorways and clues to past building uses but for now those stories remain hidden.

Walls gradually dismantling their own history…

We were dying to know the story behind this hidden archway…

A gate worthy of Game of Thrones

When you can’t make it, fake it – spot the real balustrade…

Is there a rule on making your washing picturesque?

Few painted buildings, but when they are they stand out

Fabulous views from the top of the village

All this climbing makes you warm up!

Love the use of colour

Blackbird on a fig tree

No post complete without a colour coordinated cat

After a good explore, we called our campground shuttle bus and they were there in 5 minutes to collect us and take us back to Truffy for the evening.

Of course our first meal in Italy was pasta, together with pesto, vegetables and some of the delicious spicy sausage we’d purchased. But no wine. No, we are still recovering after the excesses of France!