A year in the French alps

It’s been a busy year living in the French Alps…

When the builders completed the transformation of the shell of our 1850s Savoyard barn in August we spent a fun, exhausting and fascinating five months completing the renovation ourselves. From fitting floors to building furniture.
here is how we renovated a tumble down barn to boutique ski chaletbarn to boutique chalet

Finishing just in time for winter season we had a busy year; enjoying time with friends old and new to enjoy winter season in the French Alps. Getting just a little better at snowboarding, learning to ski again.
Here’s our winter season captured in pictureswinter season Portes du soleil

We were also busy during this first year living in the French Alps managing our holiday rental business in the UK and building up to the sale of the business in May and June.

We think we amused and inspired the team at Travel Chapter (the new owners of the Sheepskin brand and UK holiday property collection) in equal measure by choosing to camp in our VW camper van throughout the six week sales completion process.
Just for fun here’s our business sale ‘adventure’ in picturesIMG_4539

Business sale complete, at the end of June we were off on the road with Adam’s parents this time for two weeks sharing some of our favourite places with them on a camper van trip as part celebration of their 60th wedding anniversary.
A day in Provence, ten days in Italy and back to the French Alps….ten day motorhome holiday Italy Pastum

In July, back to home in Montriond in time for the bikers to arrive in force. 10,000 Harley riders, two BMW riders (us!) and one Triumph rider (my dad!). We made the most of the Harley Days Festival with two ride outs on Harleys, a night at the Blues Brothers concert and a quiet evening BBQ at Lac du Montriond.
All in all a great Harley Days Morzine 2017Harley Days experience tour

In August the mediterranean sea and sunshine were calling us but so were the peaks around our home in the French Alps so in August we completed our quest of walking the four peaks that we can see and that inspire the artwork in our home; Roc D’Enfer, Nyon, Ressachaux and Nantau and a few other wonderful alpine walks with friends too.
Walking in portes du soleil.walking portes du soleil

So that is the whistle stop summary of our year in the french alps, from August to August.

Of course we didn’t sit still in September,  we’re still busy and I’m busy writing so stay tuned….

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Motorhome holiday in Italy…

A motorhome holiday in Italy was Adam’s parents holiday they would most like to experience as part of their 60th wedding anniversary celebrations.  We have visited Italy many times in our VW camper van so relished the idea of returning and sharing some of our favourite places in Italy with them.

So off we went with a vague plan for a motorhome holiday in Italy.

After picking up the motorhome (from Hertz in Lyon) and filling it with all of our plates, bedding, provisions and our two man tent for us to sleep in we set off south for a day in Provence.

A wander into the nearest town to search for local wine and a morning coffee brought us to a beautiful tranquil squareA day in provence peacefuland made us linger a little longer than planned as the beautiful light, colours and stylish, Provence locals distracted and intrigued our group of people watchers. A day in provence styleWine rack stocked with Provence Rosé next stop Italy.

We drove via Piemonte and one of favourite places for motorhome stops in Italy, a basic campsite in an olive grove just outside of the lovely hill town of Olivetta San Michele (which has a fabulous food shop with home made savoury pastries!)motorhome holiday italy piemonte

Finally the motorhome holiday in Italy started fully.  Along the coast though and into Tuscany for a few days of amazing home-made pasta and of course some lovely Chianti wines.motorhome holiday in italy pasta

During our stay in Chianti, on a walk to the local town of Marcialla we found a fantastic delicatessen selling wines produced on the surrounding hills.  You could buy the wine to take home or, for the same price, chilled to enjoy on their terrace with a view.  We couldn’t resist!motorhome holiday italy chianti

On this motorhome holiday in Italy, as always, we had so many amazing food experiences, too many to mention here.  One in particular was in Umbria; a wonderful foodie find with the local food shop in Civatella del Lago.foodie motorhome holiday Italy

During our ten days in Italy we managed to get as far south as one of our favourite places, Paestum, and treated Adam’s parents to Mozzeralla direct from the buffala farm and a beer by the Greek ruinsten day motorhome holiday Italy Pastum

We were half way through holiday time and so time to head north and towards home.

Herculaneum was far too busy and hot for us to wander around this time unfortunately but it was fascinating to stay above and see the ancient and modern cities together.Motorhome holiday Italy Herculaneum

Stopping at Solfatara campsite just outside of Naples was a steamy and smelly as alwaysitaly motorhome holiday Solfatara

and a little more challenging getting in to and out of the campsite in our motorhome versus our VW campervanIMG_4606

One final stop in Italy, parking the motorhome down a tiny street in Courmayeur and finding a great local restaurant (one we hadn’t found on any of our ski trips in winter), a great find with amazing views.IMG_2157

Ten days was not really enough in Italy in the motorhome but we managed to share some of our favourite places and find a few new ones that we will be sure to revisit on our next motorhome holiday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Camper vans and camper van people

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.

Gressoney valley beautiful moutnain river

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.

Trieste camper stop

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.

Trieste Italy camping Barcola harbour

Living like a local and relaxing near Rome

We couldn’t miss the chance of living like a local and relaxing near Rome.

Our sketchy plan since setting off from Oxford included seeing our two lucky friends who live in Rome, or at least in an ideal location near Lago Bracciano just to the north west of Rome.   This visit was more about catching up with our friends rather than seeing Rome.  Adam and I have visited Rome on other occasions and Gary and Donna have worn out the circuit with various visiting friends and family.  It didn’t take us long (less than half a glass of wonderful, local Lazio red wine) to agree that we should simply do the things we all love doing; eating, drinking and walking.

We had a fabulous walk in the nature reserve at Monterano and around the beautiful countryside there, not seeing another living soul other than rather splendid looking Maremmana cattle grazing on the dry grass on the hillside.

Maremmana Cattle near Antica MonteranoAdam did tell me they were too far away for a great photo but I wasn’t keen on getting much closer.

The walk took us to the fascinating ruins of Antica Monterano.  No time for photos unfortunately we were all rather hot by the time we got there (we’d chosen midday to set off again and the temperature was already showing 32 degrees Celsius when we left the house).

We all love the sun and the heat but used what shade there was and refuelled…

Refuelling in the shade at Anitca Monterano

As we neared the end Gary took us to one of his favourite spots on the walk a welcome fresh water pool where we all took a dip and enjoyed a little wild swimming to cool off.

Cooling off after walk near RomeBy the time we had walked back, past the sulphur springs and up to the car we were completely dry and ready for a cold beer.

A much more sedate day next at Lago Bracciano, a beautiful and rather surreal place. We went straight to a pebbly beach (fairly quiet and equidistant between a bar and a restaurant so easy to see why it is Gary and Donna’s favourite spot there).  The beach was scattered with sunbathers and in calm, clear waters, lazy swimmers floated strangely amongst fully wet-suited divers and between everyone, several swans and their signets glided serenely by.

Surreal beach at Lago Bracciano ItalyAs I say, beautiful and surreal…

serene swans at Lago Bracciano ItalyAfter a lazy lunch, the lake took on a different feel as a storm developed on the far shore, the beach emptied and nature moved in. After enjoying the stirring, dramatic weather for a while, we headed to the hills at Bracciano for very good Artigianale beers…

stormy skies over Lago BraccianoA wonderful few days, providing an insight into a local life, playing and working in the sunshine. As we headed off north again, we were all envious of each other, the extensive diversity of what we (Adam and Helen) had seen on our journey contrasted with Gary and Donna’s deep understanding of and familiarity with the beauty of a single location.  Adam and I had enjoyed living like locals and relaxing into the pace of life in Rome.  We concluded that a balance between the two would probably suit us well.

Greek Ruins and Mozzarella of Campania

We knew near Paestum we could see the Greek ruins and Mozzarella of Campania but first we wanted to explore Agropoli; the medieval old town that we missed the day before as we searched for our beach hideaway and to experience it in the evening.

Our map showed a campsite in Agropoli itself but this was not to be found anywhere rather we found a great little camper place at Trentanova, just a couple of miles walk back into town and actually, with its own pleasant village where you find a great delicatessen and a bar restaurant.  Camping Trentanova was a pleasant surprise at first it looked like you would be parking in a disused industrial ground with a huge barn welcoming you to the site but the good mix of sun and shade below the Eucalyptus trees and absolutely amazing, pristine, beautifully decorated toilets, showers and washing up area made it a great base from which to explore Agropoli.

strange quiet camper stop Agropoli CilentoOur first experience of Agropoli was the day before as we had passed through at the beginning of our testing Cilento coast day. As we entered the narrow streets of the ‘new town’ at 8am it already had a charm and bustle about it.  After breakfast, coffee and Coronette (Croisant) in a friendly little bar close to the centre, we noticed a delicatessen type shop that sold mozzarella so went to investigate.  We couldn’t see any at all amongst the great selection of cheeses behind the tiny counter but the lady old us there would be a new delivery in 5 minutes.  We wandered further, buying more wonderful plump Italian tomatoes (our rule is that you can never have enough tomatoes) and returned to the little deli 10 minutes or so later to find a queue out of the door.  The Buffalo Mozzarella had arrived and the locals obviously knew that it did so every day at that time and that the early bird catches a very fresh and delicious mozzarella. We bought our precious ration and couldn’t resist just a taste of the buffalo milk ice-cream too.
Buffalo milk icecream in Agropoli Italy
After a lunch at the van of our wonderful Mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, (too much) Greek Rosé and delicious melon, we lazed in the sunshine rather than risk any crowds at the beach. Later as the sun dipped, we scrubbed up and flip-flopped into Agropoli for dinner.

It was then 9pm and the streets were full of life and intrigue. The fresh fish shop had tables outside where a few enjoyed dinner, the fruit and vegetable stores cascaded colourfully onto the street and the smell of wood smoke from the fresh baked pizza ovens filled the air. As we approached the central square, the sound of hundreds of people promenading, dining and taking in the warm night air gave the town a vibrancy we had not expected.   We strolled, mingled and had just slowed to their pace when the power to the whole town failed; screams and giggles filled the square and a multitude of mobile phone lights soon lit up the evening.  We continued slowly in the dark weaving our way through those paralysed by the dark and eventually found a little restaurant where emergency lights and gas stove meant they could still serve us a great Spaghetti Vongole (clams) and Frittura Mista (wonderful lightly battered and quickly fried calamari and little fishes).

The lights came back on again a few hours later allowing us to find the way up to the old town and explore the cobbled streets, a beautiful and intriguing place but still packed with people at midnight.  A fascinating evening to end our few strange days and now we had seen (sort of) Agropoli and the old town, it was time, we both agreed, to leave the Cilento Coast and head north. Not an easy decision as any direction north now meant closer to home.

Now for Greek ruins and the Mozzarella of Campania! One last brief stop in Paestum to buy more Mozzarella the following day turned out to be very fortuitous. As we pulled into the driveway of the farm directly opposite the amazing Greek temple ruins we noticed a familiar Camper sign.  It couldn’t be that we could camp in the olive groves surrounding the Buffalo farm right next to the shop and restaurant where they serve an amazing array of Mozzarella and Scamorza could it? It could!Camper van in olive grove Paestum ItalyJust us and one more VW camper in the vast olive grove soaking up the sunshine and marvelling at the Greek ruins just a short stroll from the camper van…

Wonderfully preserved Greek ruins Italy

We toured the farm and said hello to the generous Buffalos…

Paestum Buffalo farm Italy

before a delicious feast of cheese, meats and of course wines from the farm.

Cheese feast at Buffalo farm Paestum Italy

Next stop Rome to see our friends, who have rather fortuitously found themselves living there, so in the morning we bought a huge (500g) Mozzarella, local Aglianico wine for them and filled our fridge with a few of the cheeses from the shop before, sadly now, saying goodbye the Paestum Greek ruins and to Campania.