Venice, Monaco and the French Riviera

14th Oct 2022

So..Our journey so far has involved travelling south and east from Calais on 9th August. Large parts of our trip have been spent in Slovenia and Croatia and when last we spoke we have skipped across the Adriatic into southern Italy. My brother Jez has been dropped off at Naples airport after several days doing the Vesuvius, Pompeii and Amalfi Coast thing and being squeezed into Ruby overnight in Sorrento. We now need to slowly head back uphill with a return Eurotunnel booked for 1st November. 

Clean up Service Area

The first stop was overnight in a free motorway service area on the Italian A1 Toll Road.  The services part-way along means there is an element of security overnight as criminals won’t pay the toll charge to come and rob you…!  Anyway the important part of this service area was that it was flat tarmac and almost empty. This gave us the chance to empty some stuff out of Ruby and give her a good clean out. Several weeks of living under trees with olives, leaves, and seeds whilst surrounded by ants and mosquitos meant we needed a good shake out. This was a perfect location, particularly as it was hot, sunny and dry. 

The actual toll itself cost €58 (£50) for something over 700km and the following day we arrived on the outskirts of Venice at Camping Serenissima on 15th October. It was a flat quiet site which was ideal and importantly the bus into Venice City stopped right outside the entrance. We did not spend much time on site however as we quickly jumped onto the bus and headed into Venice three days in a row. The campsite sold us the Venice City Clear Way ticket at €45 (£39) each. Not cheap but this gave us 72 hours of travel to and around the city, including bus from the campsite, all water buses within Venice and the boats out to the islands around the lagoon. On arrival on the first day we thought we had been seen off with this ticket. Struggled to find out what we could actually use…but within a short while we were hopping on and off water buses along the Grand Canal and round the Lagoon outside the City. 

Sooo.. Venice.. bloody loved it. What a strange, interesting, buzzing, hectic and historical place to visit.  Of course we all know that there are no roads and it’s all about boats but we don’t tend to think about the practicalities. Barges with construction workers and cranes on, police barges, rows of ambulance response boats outside the hospital and bright yellow DPD delivery barges to name but a few. It was a very busy place despite being out of the main summer season. However access and transport links are good and effective. We visited all the famous sites  such as the Rialto Bridge, St Marks Square and Bridge of Sighs alongside footpaths, many, many squares with shopping areas, restaurants and bars to walk around. There is certainly plenty to see and – sorry to say- loads of photos for you to enjoy..!

Speaking of St Marks Square… we considered it would be a great place to sit and enjoy the sunny warm weather and the atmosphere so a coffee was required. ‘I reckon this will be our first time of spending over a fiver for a coffee’ says I, as we walked over to outdoor seating of this posh looking restaurant in the square. Well….. €11 each later WTF… how the hell did that happen..! I am from Yorkshire- I kick off about paying £3.20 a cup at home. Don’t know what possessed us to pay £9.70 for one cup of coffee, but it was pretty stooopid. We did spend two hours there and had two glasses of water each too. That’ll compensate for the cost…! NOT.

Toilet Challenge

Another side of Venice that was a real shame was the toilets. There are a few public toilets round the city. Not enough, but they are clean, modern and shiny. However they cost €1.50 per visit!! (£1.32). Ouch! And they have ladies running the place that have had failed to qualify at the School of Hospitality. Not helpful. A broken token machine meant we couldn’t even pay with a card or contactless. Gotta find some cash from somewhere.

Consequences are that many of the small alleyways and streets are used as toilets (presumably just by blokes!). And, the other option is for people to walk into the bars and restaurants and use their bathrooms. This results in them being disgustingly dirty and neglected and uninviting. Gotta think that this is not good for the tourist industry. 

Anyhow we managed to survive and thoroughly enjoyed our visits. We wanted to visit the outlying Island of Murano which is famous amongst other things for producing glassware and jewellery. Michelle had some bracelets in mind. So we jumped onto the water taxi for the 30 minute ride across the Lagoon. ‘Is this Murano?’ we asked the bus conductor. His Italian reply sounded like ‘No it is the next stop’ so we jumped back onto the boat. In fact what he presumably said was ‘yes this is your stop’..!  meaning we spent another 15 minutes cruising over to the island of Burano in error before returning back to Murano on the next water bus. Dammit. Was a nice beautiful day though so it was still enjoyable. 

We spent our days eating pizza (of course) and having drinks alongside the highways and byways of the old city before the grand finale on the last day. Of course one cannot go to Venice and not do the gondola thing.. Despite it costing €100 for the half hour ride. Antonio our Gondolier was great and informative as he paddled along the Grand Canal, along some side streets and out onto the Lagoon past St Marks Square.

We even had the bonus of the gondola behind having a singing Gondolier in charge that we could listen to at no extra cost..  The evening was topped off with a nice meal in the open air, after dark, overlooking the Lagoon and the Basilica di Santa Maria… with a beautiful sunset. It was brilliant and a good end to our wonderful Venice experience.

19th October and back on the road, heading west with France and Monaco in mind. We still had several days available so picked Lake Garda as a good stopover for a couple of nights on the way across the top of Italy. 

Surprisingly two of the campsites we were interested in were closed- early- for the end of season so when we arrived at plan C – Camping Bella Italia at Peschiera del Garda we were surprised it was so active. Loads of staff and cheery security guards wandering round. Looked really good, and a decent price so we checked-in at the gate. ‘ There are a lot of you guys around’ we says to the nice lady on the gate ‘Yes’, she says ‘it is the last day of the Verona Cup today- there are 3000 football playing kids and their families staying this week’…… aaaargh. Nooooo..! And there was. Boys and girls, aged 10-17 from all European countries (UK not invited..!) running round, excited and cheery. The Danish team had won the Verona Cup and coach loads of them turned up after their matches in nearby Verona. Well to be honest they were not too bad. Thankfully their chalets were some distance from our pitch and all was calm. We had views across Lake Garda north toward some mountains. I say ‘some mountains’ because we could not see them. Over the three days / two nights we could not see across the lake because of the mist. I am sure the mountains were beautiful. Who knows. 

But we spent time in the local area. Found that the town of Peschiera del Garda is impressive and historic and the lake was huge. 

The only problem we had with this campsite was on the second night. Nothing to do with the Verona Cup- but three older teenage lads (the only Brits on the whole site) were very loud, very drunk and very excitable and decided the best place to approach midnight was on the bench right next to our pitch… Really. 

22nd October and our last night in Italy. A free site at the swimming pool, health centre car park in Cuneo. Excellent location. Yes, just a car park, but somewhere to spend the time en route. Safe amongst another dozen or so campers. We popped up via a vernacular lift into the main town for a look round. Kinda posh and upmarket place. Short and sweet visit. 

Moving on… we decided that all these toll roads were great but missing lots of beautiful areas. I found a route across the alps into France via the Colle di Tenda tunnel. (Google it..exciting..). This road is challenging in itself but then enters a tunnel over 3.5km long and opened in 1882. This tunnel is narrow and low but cuts out some very narrow, winding hillclimbs. However the tunnel was now closed till 2025 due to a collapse inside. 

So, in reality, we failed- bottled it and took what we think was a wise decision and turned back. We avoided one long toll road towards France but ended up with three smaller toll roads and having to turn back and pay again.. It does seem difficult in many areas to avoid paying for tolls when driving anything bigger than a car or taking on a very long route through the villages. Shame. But the right thing to do. 

Speaking of toll roads-on arrival into France looking for a site near to Nice/Antibes we not only had to pay for a toll road, but then we had to pay another €1.50 just to take the 100 metre slip road to get off the toll road… ! Grrrr. 

Monaco…and the French Riviera was our final destination. After struggling with full campsites we found ourselves at the Maurettes site just outside Antibes. Importantly it was 500 metres from the mainline train station which would take us both ways. Monaco travelling east and Cannes west. Win win. 

The site itself was pretty good but again we did not spend much time there. The 50 minute train into Monaco was €29 (£25) return for the two of us. Fair indeed. So we went in on two days in a row. This gave us chance to tour the Principality both on foot and on a hop-on, hop-off open top bus. Pretty impressive. And, of course, we had to walk the whole formula 1 route and the pit lane/paddock areas. A couple of drinks at the Café de Paris on casino square during the first morning and during the evening of the second day. 

Now you may like this bit. I thought there would be an opportunity for good overhead drone photos of Monaco from over the marina and the huge ocean going yachts. Having obtained drone footage in Croatia, Italy, Slovenia, Germany etc this didn’t seem like a problem. The take-off location was very quiet. All was unpopulated and ‘compliant’ with  drone safety… however just as I was landing I caught site of two Monaco police officers approaching… well everyone loves and respect these smartly dressed, saluting, smiling officers of the law… well they gave me a  €100 fine for flying without authority in Monaco. €100…! Really….

They were very nice about it, gave me a bollocking for not carrying ID.. and then apologised for giving me the ticket… Well that’s alright then….! Michelle enjoyed the spectacle of me stuttering to avoid being arrested. They even ‘requested’ (!) that I delete the photos…!

Rather a painful memory of wonderful Monaco but otherwise definitely a worthy visit. Top Place. Lotsa money but there are Ferraris, Porsches, Lambos and loads of pimpmobiles around. And a walk round the marina will always make you feel like buying a lottery ticket…

Interestingly enough we had some more fun on the way back to Antibes on the train on the second day. Always, always make sure you do not opt for the last train home. And this is why… thankfully we caught the 9pm train rather than the 9.30 from Monaco back to Antibes. I was carefully watching the screens on the train identifying the approaching stations. Ready to dismount at Villeneuve Loubet ..and a 300 metre walk to the campsite. Well… I had a strange moment, lost my concentration and thought we had now stopped at Villeneuve Loubet… but not sure… shit… better to get off just in case. Force the closing doors open and we both leap onto the platform. Um.. don’t recognise this one. Ooops. 

Anyway the next (and last) train was only 30 minutes later. We really loved sitting on a cold dark empty station late into the evening after a long day round Monaco… ! Sorry Mich.. 

Also whilst down this part of the world we wanted to have a couple of last dips into the Med before we had to head up north to colder climes. We found that Antibes itself was a pretty good place. It was one of the easiest bike rides straight along the coast on recently uprated cycle tracks. 20 minutes and we were right in the heart of Antibes. The old town was interesting with good bars and food and it was close to a decent set of beaches. We spent as many hours as possible on the golden sands (our tans were in need of a top up) and popping in and out of the sea. A good couple of days out. 

Another final train ride took us into Cannes. Cannot do the French Riviera without taking in the Cannes Film Festival site and enjoying yet another beach. We really enjoyed this area. It is friendly and it appears to have plenty of quality things to do and places to visit. Prices were not as bad as expected. We will be back. 

So…. 29th October arrived too quickly. We had a Eurotunnel booking for the 1st November and 700+ miles to go and it was with a great feeling of sadness that we turned Ruby north. Once again there were lots of tolls.  A whopping €174 (£150) for over 1200km (745mls). Stupid money. Is it worth it..?  We are still not sure. Relaxed, straight, good quality, easy tarmac – v – slow, winding, bumping, busy, traffic, pedestrians, lights, roundabouts…. But hey…we ended up back at a previously visited free overnight pitch in Grenay, an hour south of Calais for our last night on the continent. It was already cold, cloudy and damp – in preparation for the UK…

1st November 2022. Here endeth our glorious wonderful exciting whirlwind trip round some hotspots of Europe. Where next….!?

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So.. how did it go? Did it work? Well, yes it did. We really loved it, we visited many, many places that were exciting and interesting. We visited many areas that were a bit too touristy – too busy and too expensive but it gave us an appreciation of other countries and cultures and some ideas for the future.

We certainly spent more money than we planned (isn’t that always the case..) but we pretty much kept to a basic travel plan with inbuilt flexibility. Over the three months we visited France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy and Monaco. We had two family members join us to provide civilised conversation (!). We did not get any injuries or attacks or violent exchanges and only the occasional blast from the horns of other motorists. No known speeding/parking fines received. (Yet..! ) Just the one drone flying fine..! 

Ruby survived incredibly well with many awful quality roads and ‘entertaining’ motorists, and did not gain a single scratch or bump. She now has over 21,000 miles on the clock at just three years old. Not bad for a motorhome. We had just one attempt to gain access overnight near Lyon in France but the alarm did its job. So in our book, that was a great adventure. 

Did u know.. 

Venice has become flooded many times in the last two decades due to global warming. Floods in November 2019 left St Marks Square under several feet of water and many businesses and homes ruined. The Mose Project has been developed to hold back the sea (Mose being Italian for Moses). It was completed in 2019 after 16 years of delay due to corruption and disagreements. The project involved constructing a control room island and 78 immense floating barrages across the islands of the Lagoon holding back the sea from the Adriatic on exceptional high tides. At a cost of over €5.5 billion the construction has been controversial, however the cost of future damage to the historic, vulnerable city would be much higher.