After our inspirational stay in Saillon where we visited the Dalai Lama’s vineyard, we headed for Italy en route to Menton in the South of France for the lemon festival.
Nothing prepared us for the absolutely magical trip through the Simplon Pass – a high pass (2005 metres) between the Pennine Alps and the Lepontine Alps in Switzerland.
The road was built in the time of Napoleon in order to transport pieces of artillery through the pass between the Rhône valley and Italy. However, it was only in 1950 that improvements such as avalanche shelters and expanded road tunnels were begun (and completed mostly by 1970) to allow the road to open between October and late April.
It was seven degrees Celsius when we wound our way up the mountain pass and there was snow everywhere making it look absolutely magical. We were very fortunate that we were blessed with great weather as we were woefully ill prepared with no snow chains or shovel.
We arrived safely at the Italian border quite exhilarated by the stunning vistas and gorgeous mountain peaks.
After the good Swiss roads it was quite a shock to drive into Italy where the road was potholed and rough although it did get better after a while.
Our first stop in northern Italy was on the banks of the lovely Lake Orta (actually the Italian name is much prettier – Lago d’Orta) in the Piedmont region. When we arrived it was quite late so we didn’t do any exploring until the following morning.
It was so beautiful to wake up to the gorgeous view and straight after breakfast we took our bikes down to the lakeside hoping to cycle round at least some of it.
It was not long before the path narrowed to the extent that you could only just cycle single file so we decided to walk and push the bikes (as I’m a bit of a wobbly rider!).
The lake is in a picturesque setting surrounded by woods and hills, and it is said that the Italians in the know prefer to keep it a secret to avoid it becoming as commercialised as the larger lakes.
We turned inland from the lake and discovered the beautiful medieval village of Orta San Giulio. Built on the end of a hilly promontory which gently slopes towards the shores of the lake, this delightful village is a maze of tiny narrow streets and alleyways.
At the centre of the village is the Piazza Mario Motta, where there are various cafes and shops and where you can catch a small boat to the tiny Island of San Giulio which looks as though it’s floating on the lake. On the island there is a convent belonging to a Benedictine order of nuns.
We sat down at the delightful Piccolo Bar in the Piazza where we enjoyed the early spring sunshine and ate our first bowl of Italian pasta with a very pleasant glass of red wine.
After lunch we cycled back along the road and set off for our next destination – the Chausson dealer from where our van originally came from, in a town about 220 kms away called Genola, not far from Turin.
We thought it would be a good idea to call in as there were a few items that needed fixing under warranty e.g. One of the hatches in the roof was leaking slightly (we had a paella pan jammed between the spare bed and the ceiling to catch the drips) and the thermostat on the fridge was a bit dodgy.
When we arrived (in the dark but there was a wonderful full moon) we were happy to find a small overnight site right next to the Chausson dealer. There was no charge to stay there and there was electricity, water and waste emptying services. Perfect!
Sadly, the best laid plans …The next day was Wednesday and we strolled to the entrance of the huge Chausson caravan/motor home store only to find that the store, the workshop and the offices were all closed all day on Wednesdays. Despite having an email exchange going back and forth between us and Chausson they did not think to let us know about their midweek break!
We stopped for a coffee in the little bar outside the big warehouse where the proprietor let us know about the Wednesday closing and also where we could find a shop to buy a SIM card. She spoke excellent English unlike the staff at the electronics superstore down the road.
After several attempts to convey we needed to buy data we finally we managed to get use the shop WiFi to get on line and buy a data bundle on our existing Netherlands SIM.
Rather than wait another day to chat to the Chausson dealers we decided to press on towards Menton to be in plenty of time to meet my sister and her husband (who were travelling from England) for the famous lemon festival.
Ticket for the lemon festival
**If you missed my blog entry about the world’s smallest vineyard, the Dalai Lama and Switzerland’s Robin Hood follow this link: