We can no longer deny we love camper vans (well ours anyway) and so we our camper van people! We have had a month attached to laptops back in the UK, focussed on what we know we needed to do but always with an eye on the weather in the Mediterranean. The promise of an Indian Summer and its arrival was not enough to tie us to our bricks and mortar ‘home’. We missed our ‘home’ on the road, we missed camper van life and we missed the heat of the sun, so we packed our laptops and flip flops and headed south again.
As usual we set off without a plan, booking our slot on the Channel tunnel as we threw a few shorts, t-shirts and jeans into our bags. We only knew that we couldn’t escape completely ‘off-grid’, we would need to have time, space and connectivity for laptops so wanted to keep it simple. Still we sought a different route through the alps than we had travelled so many times before; we had stopped briefly in Piedmont a few trips ago and enjoyed the wine and food of this stunning and varied region and so, on the French autoroute, we planned to go over into Italy through Piedmont.
First stop a strangely nice campsite near Fontainemore, squeezed between the quiet road, which wound its way up through the Gressoney valley, and the river that tumbled noisily along the gorge over stark, smooth white boulders.
The only other camper van people we saw during our stay were two melancholy, empty handed, fishermen who trudged up from the river, heads down, into the campsite at sunset. Our spot for the night a little grassy oasis between two empty, permanently pitched, vans with an amazing view one way to the mountains beyond and the other down to the river. We didn’t mind at all having this place to ourselves, our own little camper van peace of heaven.
An evening of wholesome food and relaxed chat, the otherworldly feeling of this peaceful valley I think had physically and emotionally disconnected us from distractions that may lurk in our laptops, topped off a long day of travelling beautifully. When the Italian stews of local sausages arrived in their rustic pots, along with a huge portion of polenta baked with Fontina cheese, the conversation did halt for a while as we let our taste buds explore and were delighted once again by the enjoyment we can always find in simple but extremely well done local food.
The next evening’s stop was a complete contrast, equally as strange yet so different in many ways. Trieste was unavoidable on our way to Slovenia and on to Croatia but not really top our list of places to stay (having both visited on business) however as we approached along the coast (seemingly devoid of campsites) we spotted several campers in a car park by a small marina. Luckily there was a space so we squeezed our little van between the slab sided motorhomes and investigated. For an unknown reason these 10 or so spaces, at the coastal edge of a car park, are designated for campers. It’s a great spot just north of Trieste by a lovely harbour and a long promenade which stretched back up the coast to the Castello di Miramare.
Certainly not the usual secluded and peaceful ‘camp’ we search for but we had a great view, a place to walk and jog and most fascinating, the people we met during the evening… the row of campers as diverse as their owners.
So the camper vans and the camper van people we met…
Two, very swish second-home type vans, who travelled together, whose owners spent most of their retired time out of the uk exploring. For several years exploring Spain and Portugal, they had decided to try Italy and Croatia. We thought it very inspiring and amusing that one of the couples had the lady’s 97 year old mother with them. ‘She’s in a wheel chair and has a colostomy so can’t go particularly fast or far from the van,’ John explained with a smile ‘we told her she could either come with us or go in a home!’ and so they travelled together, very happily it seemed, the three of them and their funny little dog.
There was another British camper van that had travelled through here before and used this as a base for Trieste city. He was very clued in on local parking etiquette and held us and others decipher the ambiguous signage.
A Luton van, converted into a custom camper van, belonged to a young guy who had set off at the beginning of the summer from Headington in Oxford (a very small world since we moved from there only a year ago). He had made this space by the harbour his ‘home’ in his camper van and was keenly learning Italian, probably driven by his beautiful, ever present, Italian girlfriend.
An Italian lady had discovered the parking spot on the internet she told us and was a little disappointed that she couldn’t find a space. The car park was a local’s favourite too it seemed, as car after car filled the spaces around us spilling out sprightly couples in running gear, who jogged and stretched (in a stylish way that only Italians can) and then disappeared again. The Italian lady’s van and a couple of German campers circled like vultures, grabbing the spaces as soon as they were vacated and then they too joined the motley club of camper vans.
The most intriguing camper people were those in the van next to us. A battered old Italian camper van that looked almost rooted to its space. The dusty windows were open but it remained dark behind the nets that wafted in the sea breeze and none of us ever saw a soul, though we all had our imaginations painting pictures of who our mysterious neighbours might be.
We shared stories and tips, finding something in common despite the diverse backgrounds and ages of the ‘camper people’. John came back to ask us more about Croatia and then beckoned his navigator / wife, ‘ I just drive’ he said ‘I have no idea and no say in where we actually go!’ Pauline swaggered across, it looked like she had enjoyed almost as much wine as we had, dragging their little white dog behind. We pointed to a few places on the Croatia map, ‘Hang on, I need my glasses and my notebook’ she said and before I knew it I was standing in a car park in Trieste, between two big white camper vans, holding the lead of a little white lap dog!
In the morning we explored as far as the castle, Castella di Miramare, with a jog along the promenade and a quick dip in the sea before all the camper vans, almost in unison, set off and all went our separate ways.