We arrive in Ancona, Italy some 22 hours after leaving Greece. Its late afternoon but we are not quite sure what time it is but it is somewhere between 3-5. Time zones always fox us! We roll off the ferry and join the slow troll of the traffic trail out of the port and on to the streets of Ancona. In true Italian style, its manic, chaotic and invigorating. Pure Italiano and we just love it. We speedily head north hugging the coast, the light is fading and we need to find a spot to park before its too dark. We find a number of places but they are a little too close the rail tracks but eventually we find a quiet spot in Cesano.
That night, we read all the wonderful comments, messages and emails from people. It is very moving and we can’t tell you how comforting it feels when so many people send you their support. So a massive thank you to everyone.
We discuss our route home…so many options and variables, we feel frazzled.
Good morning Italy! We wake to the most intense sunrise and quickly get ready to take Mac n Tosh for a morning walk. Their last beach walk of 2016 but sadly it is brisk, as the waves crash over the sea wall and the battering wind is bitterly cold. It feels doubly cold after spending several glorious weeks in Greece, so out go the mankini and in come the long johns!
Just as we are about to set off…the habitation door latch spring breaks. Arrrghhh! Craig managed to do a temporary fix a few weeks ago but now it needs more permanent solution. We need to sort it sooner rather than later because we can’t lock/unlocked the motorhome. Our experience of Italian repairers isn’t great, so rather than mess around in Italy and waste time we look at route options via Hymer in Germany. After all the door is less than 12 months old and so still under warranty or so we hope. A quick call to Hymer and we are booked in 5 days from now. Not ideal timing but its better than travelling and sleeping with an un-secure motorhome.
We debate all sorts of routes but settle on a couple of days at Lake Maggiore. A place we really enjoyed in 2014. So a quick route check and we set off to Lake Maggiore.
Vin takes the motorway for 360 kilometres of the 450 km drive and it is superb. Driving through the classic landscapes of Italy, familiar from a thousand renaissance paintings, with backdrops of medieval hill-towns, rows of cypress trees, vineyards and olive groves, and perfectly sited villas and farmhouses. With 3 tolls costing €34.40 we arrive in Angera just before sunset.
We park up on the lake, eat, chill and sleep.
Lake Maggiore in the morning is cool, crisp and in Craig’s words “bloody freezing”. Ducks waddle on the frozen lake and Craig wipes the dew drops from his nostrils. Even with t-shirt, thermal jumper, fleece, thick coat, jeans, triple thick socks, bob hat and gloves he still shivers like he’s been electrocuted. Craig hates the cold just like I hate the heat.
Would you believe it, the shower rail broke…good job we are off to Hymer!
We stroll along the lake side. Its still early and the young Italian waitresses are already preparing the white napped tables for the lunch time trade in the shadow of the town castle. The Rocca d’Angera proudly stands on a spur of rock that dominates the southern shores of Lake Maggiore. Located in a strategic position to monitor the trade routes, it was house of the Visconti family from Verbano.
We walk to the end of the pier and somewhere behind a tiny kiosk, an espresso machine hisses. The air is filled with the rich aroma of fresh espresso. There’s a clink as a barista places a little porcelain cup and saucer in front of an old gentleman. A quick slurp and chat is all part of his morning routine. He waves his hands, shouts loudly and then sits down with a beaming smile. Chow baby! We glance at each other, about turn and head back to Vin for a homemade Italiano espresso, Craig style!
In the afternoon, we head to Germigna, a nice quiet sosta on the edge of the lake. Just like in 2014, the pay machine was broken, so we joined a handful of other campers and enjoyed the free overnight stay with wonderful vistas of the snow capped mountains.
It’s easy to get lost in dream land when you saunter among the tree-lined pathways of lake Maggiore. With the beautiful lake on one side and narrow cobbled alleys on the other. The lanes boast quaint villas; some ornate, others dilapidated and forlorn. But what ever state, its all rather inviting and enchanting as we ponder over its potential.
The village of Germinga is rather sleepy but the next town Luino is a little more awake. We wander through the town’s old quarter, perfectly content as we admire the baroque architecture. Two things struck us about this ebullient style that flourished from the 16th to 18th centuries. Firstly, the finely carved honey-toned sandstone had resisted weathering remarkably well and, secondly, it wasn’t limited solely to churches. Many houses ooze baroque from their elegant balconies to sculptured doorways. Then we spy something rather special. Inside one of the elegant doorways a pizza parlour. The temptation was too much, so we ordered two huge pizzas, closed our eyes and enjoyed the true taste of a fresh oven baked pizza. Heaven.
Not far from Germigna, Parco di Santa Caterina del Sasso, a sleepy neighbourhood seems to use an inherent old world charm to shield itself from the slightest glimpse of modern revelry. We navigate our way around its curves, bends and gardens to be greeted by a locked gate. Sigh, as we glance over the rock face, the church exudes a meditative and solitude atmosphere as it is closed for winter.
We decided to leave Germinga a day early for fear of heavy snow fall on the Alps. We didn’t fancy getting stranded in the middle of Switzerland! We climbed the slopes of Germinga hill and crossed in to Switzerland at an unmanned border. Switzerland borders are usually very strict, so this is not what we expected but non the less we parked up and headed inside for a vignette. But the locked door stopped us in our tracks. Ummm, what now? Nothing for it, we tootled down the road and stopped at the next reasonable sized fuel station and purchased a vignette. The one size fits all for 12 months cost £30.
We start our ascent towards the snow capped peaks and the condition of the roads was much better than expected. Maybe we can wind our way on to the San Bernadino Pass? It is one of the most beautiful and smoothest mountain passes in the Alps. The last time we drove the San Bernadino Pass, was on the way down to Lake Maggiore, now its time to do it in reverse.
The approach to San Bernadino runs along the beautiful Mesolcina valley in Switzerland. Located south of the Alps in the Swiss Canron Ticino, the architecture in this valley feels very much Italian influenced. The route takes you through quaint alpine villages before starting your ascent of the pass. The initial rise consists of wide sweeping turns and incredibly smooth roads all lined with snow dusted alpine trees. The gradient at this point is about 5%, so not too bad and with snow clear roads a relatively good drive. The sprinkling of snow and several deserted castles amid the snow capped peaks all added to a rather scenic drive.
Once through the village of San Bernardino the ascent steepens and narrows but unfortunately the road was closed. The army were out in full force and clearing the pass. At an altitude of 1600m or so we were ok but any higher and conditions weren’t safe. We jumped back on to the main highway, drove through a few tunnels and stopped for a quick brew. With dramatic rocks, the first trickles of waterfalls and clean alpine streams, a great pit stop!
We had planned on stopping in Chur but the modern industrial zone town didn’t hold much appeal. Then to top it, the camper stop wanted 40Fr for one night plus 30Fr for electric. You must be joking for an roadside lay by!
We bumbled on via a quick stop in Lichtenstein (just so we can say we’ve been) before entering in Austria and finally Germany.
Pause….that is 5 countries in one day…Italy, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Austria and Germany.
We parked up in Bad Schachen and slept!
The next day we head over to the village of Wolfegg. We found this little place last year and it really is quite pretty. With bakers, schloss, camperplatz, vintage car museum and some stunning walks across the surrounding meadows. The schloss forest is one of our favourite places and if you tread carefully, you even get to see the white hearts and deer.
After our forest walk we wander around the village and pop in the church for a toot at the German architecture. The imposing façade of the church was dominated by a large glass window from which spread a minutely detailed and symmetrical design of columns and friezes. Saints, dragons and gargoyles crouched in niches like seabirds on a crowded cliff. The effect was wonderfully effusive – an unrestrained outpouring of creativity that somehow managed to hold back from the brink of candy floss pink gaudiness.
After a quiet night in Wolfegg we head over to Hymer in Bad Waldsee. The team were excellent as usual and they accepted our 12 month door was faulty and would be replaced under warranty. As a goodwill gesture they also replaced/repaired our cracked fantastic fan, snapped shower rail, hydraulic garage arm, garage lock and gave us 6 cupboard latches. For more pictures of Bad Waldsee, click here. After a day in the workshop we we as good as new, ready to get back on track and head on home via a few Christmas market, of course!