Friday, 7 September 2007

The Italian Riviera and the Cinque Terre

This post covers our first few days in Italy.

On Tuesday 4th September we drove into Italy and very slowly headed along highway 1, the free road which hugs the coastline. There are many beautiful views along this road but once again, motorhomes were largely banned from parking anywhere. I had a minor panic attack thinking "oh no, I don't speak a word of Italian" but everyone in the tourist industry we've met so far speaks English. It's quite strange to hear Dutch and Germans speaking to Italians in our mother tongue! I should learn a few bits and pieces in theory, but my brain is already confused enough with French and Spanish!

Left: Manarola, Cinque Terre
2 Below: Who are these stunningly attractive people?

We arrived at Diano Marina about 1.30pm and went to the Camper Park – not quite a campsite and not quite an aire de service. We paid €12 to park on a nice pitch amongst the trees with electric hook up. The electric hook up wasn’t very many amperes though, as soon as we turned on the electric hob or the hair dryer the trip switch went. The fridge and laptop were quite happy though! There must’ve been 200 or so motorhomes here, the park was huge! So much for low season, we thought places would be desserted by now! We had a lazy afternoon (due to our lack of sleep the night before) but before dinner we went for a nice walk to the beach, about 10 minutes away.

The next morning we headed off along the coast road which again had fantastic views but was painfully slow. The Netherlands and Germany have hundreds of bicycles everywhere, but Italy has scooters everywhere! The scooters are pretty reckless when they overtake you, you have to be careful when you pull out slightly to overtake a bicycle that there isn’t a scooter overtaking on the other side! We drove through town after town but in the end decided to take the autostrada (motorway) as the GPS told us it would take another 3 hours to drive 120km! The autostrada was a bit scary in places, the lanes weren’t very wide and there were lots of sharp bends, high bridges and tunnels. After an hour we got off the motorway expecting a huge toll but thankfully it was only €5.40! Nowhere near as expensive as France!

The last 12 km to Dieva Marina were very stressful. Once again we took the coast road and we came to a one-way tunnel which the sign said was only 3 metres high and 1.8 metres wide. Ace is 2.9 metres wide and is about 2.3 metres wide. We were about to turn around when we spotted a large truck in front of us and another one coming out through the tunnel towards us! We decided to go through the 4km tunnel which was carved out of the solid rock near the sea. We kept having scary thoughts of the tunnel narrowing, but thankfully it didn’t. Out of that tunnel we had to stop and wait at the lights for another one-way tunnel, again the restriction signs were in place, but this time there was no sign of the truck in front of us. Having little option, I drove through, thinking that if the tunnel did narrow, we were well and truly stuffed! We would have to reverse along the dark tunnel and with lots of traffic about it would cause chaos! Luckily after a couple of kilometres we came out at Dieva Marina, phew!

Once again a campsite which had a €14 rate told us they wouldn’t honour it, so once again we told them no thanks! Since it was already 7pm, we stayed the night with 5 other motorhomes in parking area which didn’t look great, but was okay in the end. There was no point paying 20 odd euros to stay that night. The next day, Thursday 6th September, we drove to one of the campsites at 10am. It was quite expensive at €26, but at least we had the whole day at the campsite, free WiFi, and free bus transfers into town.

Left: Lovers Lane coastal footpath, Cinque Terre

We got the 12.30 bus into town and the connecting 1.08pm train from Deiva Marina to the last of the Cinque Terre towns, Riomaggiore. The Cinque Terre are 5 pretty villages on the sea connected by rail, boat and public footpath. The area is a national park and is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The traditional industry here is winemaking.

We had a look around Riomaggiore and then took the coastal footpath, this part of it is called Lovers Lane, for 15 minutes until we reached a café for lunch. The views along the way were fantastic, though a little spoiled by some graffiti on the tunnel walls and even on poor cacti that lined the route! After our lunch of bruschetti (Sarah had tomato and mozzarella, I had tomato and pesto), we continued on to the pretty town of Vernazza by foot. The best view of the town was after leaving on the footpath towards the next village. It was a good 40 minute walk to Cornigilia and we arrived just in time to catch the train to Vernazza. We spent an hour here looking around town and watching 7 guys practice water polo in the harbour! We were both pretty tired by then so took the train back to Deiva Marina. Today (Friday) we head north towards the Lakes, no idea where we’re going!

Above and below: Vernazza, Cinque Terre

Below left: Coastal footpath
Below right: Sunbathing, Italian style

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