Post 1 Autumn in Europe
So, our first big Bimble in Boris this year saw us head across to Europe to explore some places completely new to us. After spending a good night on the carpark at the channel tunnel (we know how to live!), we caught the 6.20 shuttle and were on the road at Calais 40 minutes later. Just as well, because our goal was an 8 hour, 477 mile drive to Rothenburg ob der Tauber, on the Romantik strasse in Germany. That dealt with the worst of the driving in one hit.
The Romantik strasse runs from Wurzburg, south to Fussen, and was a concept promoted after WW2 to bring tourism back to Germany. It is so pretty, and Rothenburg is one of its northern gems. A Mediaeval town, perched high above the valley, it entranced us at every turn.
The parish church was interesting and is on one of the pilgrim routes to Compostela.
Another lovely feature was an exquisitely realised, bronze relief map of the town, captioned in braille so that visually impaired visitors could share in it’s beauty.
A big surprise was a huge Christmas museum, and some beautifully presented shop windows.
Spot the people to get an idea of scale!
Great restaurants too! Chris was happy with his beer, and decided to fully embrace the local cuisine.. wildboar sausages, red cabbage and apple and sauteed potatoes.
The walk back to our lovely campsite showed another view of the town.
What a great start to our hols!
PS They seem to have got recycling colourfully organised here!
Post 2 if it is Wednesday it must be Austria…or is it Slovenia?
Our objective on this trip is to travel to Southern Croatia, so Germany and Austria are, on this occasion, serving as interesting stopovers! Our night in Germany was… chilly. So glad I packed the 10.5 tog duvet. It dropped to -2 degrees C in the night, but we were on a site with electric hookup AND an all night electric blanket. Best camping tip I can give anyone!
A gloriously clear day for our drive south east, past Munich towards the Austrian border . The Alps gradually appeared, and the scenery became stunning.
We arrived at Camping Nord Sam, on the outskirts of Salzburg, at 14.30. We had a quick snack, and caught the very convenient bus to the town centre. The Mirabelle gardens around the old palace are beautiful… and where the children in Sound of Music sang Do, Re, Me. (So I am told. I have managed to get this far through life without seeing it!)
We sadly opted to skip the 4 hour Sound of Music city tour (was it a sing a long tour I wonder?), and did our own walk. Crossing the river to the Aldstadt, the whole city centre is stunning 17th and 18th century architecture, with lovely narrow streets, and ornate metal shop signs. No Golden arches here!
The baroque Cathedral was impressive, but we loved the little chapel and cemetery of St Peter, and the hermitage chapels and catacombs in the cliff face.
Mozart was born and lived in Salzburg, and much is made of this. Mozart chocolates, liqueurs, Umbrellas, aprons, rubber ducks…. you get the idea. No music though!
Our final visit was to the Augustinian Brauhaus, a monastery brewery since 1621. A huge, traditional hall has expanded into 4 halls and a terrace holding over 5000 people! You collect your stein, get your beer dispensed…7.2% proof, and then find some yummy, if very meat based, street food at the indoor stalls.
It was a great experience, rounded off with the bus back to Boris and another very chilly night!
Another bright start and we crossed Austria on route 8. We had bought a vignette for 9 euros to allow us to travel on the motorways. Route 8 had tolls as well, for the 2 huge tunnels which meant we did not have to climb high over the Alps. We were in Slovenia in 2 hours, and 45 minutes later had found Camping Bled, on the shores of magical, glacial Lake Bled.
Another quick lunch, then off to walk the 4 miles around the whole lake, plus a long climb up to the impressively perched castle.
Fantastic views and some very interesting historical exhibitions. The castle has never been beseiged in it’s 900 year history. I wonder why.
The lakeshore is dotted with beautiful 19th century villas, one of which was taken over as a summer home by President Tito, the communist ruler of the then Yugoslavia.
An island in the centre has a lovely church of the assumption. Visitors can ring the church bell to ask for a wish to be granted, so our walk was regularly punctuated by slightly discordant chimes!
The only way to reach the island was to row yourselves.. maybe tomorrow…. or go in a traditional Pletna boat, propelled by a gondolier with 2 oars!
Great views at every turn on this walk. I am so glad I have a camera phone. A 12 shot reel of film would have been woefully inadequate!!
What an introduction to Slovenia. Magical, and the most photogenic place I have ever been to.
Tomorrow I am determined to eat the local Bled cake… a very very very unhealthy custard and cream slice!
Post 3 Slovenia is gorgeous… it’s official!
A peaceful night at Camping Bled, and the luxury of excellent showers in very modern, heated washrooms! Then we set off to find the Vintgar Gorge walk. We recommend the circular walk, along the deep cut gorge, climb up through the forst to Katerina, and return along the side of Hom Hill with magnificent alpine views and cows with bells! Gorgeous.
Next we drove for 45 minutes, past local farms which have special racks, used for drying hay.
We went to the neighbouring, but more isolated, Lake Bohinj. Wow. This was stunning too. At the far end of the lake is the cable car to the Vogel ski area. We ascended to find Alpine scenery, and some gorgeous walks. A highlight was watching crossbills feeding in trees right next to us.
Back down in the cable car, we visited a tiny church of St Christopher, and marvelled at the clarity of the lake water, and the relections.
Then to our campsite, with a super pitch by the river, and a walk to town where Chris continued his healthy eating campaign with a very traditional supper of local sausage, sauerkraut and a delicious mashed potato with onion. This was accompanied by 2 very tasty (and strong) local ales! Slovenia likes craft beers!
Next day was an early start to walk the length of the lake, watching the mist rise as the sun burned it off. 4 miles at a brisk pace so that we could catch the ferry back. What a super morning.
The tiny village church was filled with astonishing paintings, some 600 years old!
A picnic lunch surrounded by glorious scenery, before driving to Ljubljana, the capital.
However I had spotted a comment that a village enroute, Radovljica, was worth a look! It was gorgeous, and the highlight was the museum of Apiculture. Beekeeping is a great tradition here, and the old wooden hives are still used. For 200 years, paintings were done on the ends of the hives, depicting religious, historical or comical scenes. They were gorgeous.
Next onto our camperstop near Ljubljana, where our neighbours were some cute piggies, goats and a kitten! A short bus ride into town, and we strolled through the charming streets of this delightful, miniature capital city, and visited the beautiful cathedral. Slovenia gained it’s independence in 1999, and is fiercely proud of it’s heritage. Slightly worried about the baker though!!! We enjoyed a super meal at Atelje before returning to Boris for another peaceful night.
We caught the first bus back into the city on Saturday morning for an excellent walking tour. The city chose a poet as the name of it’s main square, rather than a military leader or politician, as they value their language, and love over military actions. Nice!
The architecture is delightful. Baroque and Art Nouveau styles are much in evidence.
Much of the town was damaged in the 1895 earthquake, so Art nouveau was the style of the time!
Time to leave. But not before lunch in the square at the Beer and Burger Festival.
We timed our visit well!! No alcohol when driving here, but Chris buys a craft ale for later. The burgers were superb. Organic meat! We love this country.
Now a long drive southeast, into Croatia. Slovenian scenery was gorgeous all the way to the border. Croatia quickly became more rugged and wilder, especially as we crossed the mountains and headed towards the coast. We witnessed a gorgeous sunset, and then drove to a tiny campsite in Skradin, where Chris could at last drink his ale!
We are more than halfway to Dubrovnik, our next destination… and that involves a ferry ride for Boris
Post 4 … Dubrovnik – a phoenix risen from the ashes.
We left Ljubljana in the afternoon, and drove nearly 200 miles south. The roads through Slovenia were small, and bordered by verdant scenery, and pretty villages at every turn.
Then, after a few slightly worrying moments with a rather stern border guard, we crossed into Croatia. Within 20 minutes we were on a smooth motorway, but the scenery was much more rugged. Predominantly limestone karst with rugged boulders strewn about, and mountains all around.
As we neared the coast we saw a brilliant sunset, and a strong wind buffeted Boris all the way to a nice camper stop at Skradin.
Off on our way early, we drove 2 hours south to Ploce.
Croatia has 1,770 kms of coastline. Due to a centuries old agreement, Bosnia owns a 9km stretch of coastline in the middle of it! Dubrovnik is the other side, and many car insurance companies, ours included, won’t issue a green card to drive there. So we have to catch a ferry to the adjacent peninsula, and drive south to Dubrovnic that way. Ferry cost £36 for us and Boris, lasted an hour, and we could pretend we were cruising the Adriatic!
The drive down the peninsula was spectacular, including past the village of Ston, which boasts the 2nd longest wall in the world. It was built in 1358, then over 7km long, to protect the salt basins, a prized commodity.
We arrived at Camping Kate in Mlini, south of Dubrovnic, high above the Adriatic, and very nice for 17 euros per night with our Acsi card! We took the walk down to the lovely waterfront, had a good supper at Konoba asatrea , and then staggered up the very high, very steep hill to Boris.
Next morning, a ferryboat took us to Dubrovnik. So exciting. I have wanted to visit here for years, and to approach from the water was extra special.
This is an exquisite city. Visually and historically fascinating.We took a walking tour and learned so much. Dubrovnik was always under threat from the 2 great powers in the Middle Ages – Venice to the north, and the Ottoman Empire all around. After they built their amazing defensive walls, no-one ever attacked them again… until the Yugoslav army in 1991.
Map showing the sites of all the bombs which hit the city.
Dubrovnik became fully self governing in 1358, and thrived. It was way ahead of it’s time. A medical service was introduced in 1301, with the first pharmacy, still operating to this day, being opened in 1317. An almshouse opened in 1347, and the first quarantine hospital in the world (Lazarete) was established in 1377. Slave trading was abolished in 1418, and an orphanage opened in 1432. A 20 km (12 mi) water supply system, in stone pipes, was constructed in 1438 by the Neapolitan architect and engineer Onofrio della Cava. He completed the aqueduct with two public fountains.
Still drinkable today !
We took the cable car for stunning views, and walked the entire walls.
The Game of Thrones references were lost on us, but many scenes were filmed here, including Cersei’s walk of shame down the steps.
Apparently, there is a daily market held below the staircase. During filming, it couldn’t take place. The stallholders refused to move because of loss of earnings, so the film company bought the entire stock on every stall!! Also, there are many shuttered windows in the wall to the right of the staircase. The owners were told they must be kept closed for hours and hours each day for filming. They refused, and negotiated a deal of 100 euros per window, per day to leave them shut!!
This is an amazing city, but it was most moving to hear what they went through in the recent war, and see images of that time.
Now, it is a city of hope, repaired and thriving!
Post 5 A tale of two countries. Bosnia and Hertzgovina, and Montenegro.
Our motor insurance would not cover us to drive in either Bosnia and Herzegovina, or Montenegro. So we used 2 excellent tour companies based in Dubrovnik, Select Dubrovnik and Amico, to do day tours to each one. We were so glad that we did this.
However it meant we stayed on Camping Kate for 4 nights, and were there in an all night thunderstorm of epic proportions. The rain sounded as if teams of people were chucking buckets of pebbles at the van roof. The thunder was incessant. This is a map of the lightening strikes!
Chris slept through it all! Apparently it is the most rain Dubrovnik has ever had in 24 hours. There were flash floods and we saw small landslips!
We headed for our pick up above the campsite in pouring rain, togged in full waterproofs for our trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina. Within an hour the sun came out! The day started with a visit to the beautiful Kravice waterfalls.
Then onto Mostar, which of course featured heavily in the 1990’s war here. Poor Mostar. Our excellent guide explained that the Bosnian population is the most ethnically divided, with a 3 way split between Serbs, Bosnian Croats and Muslims. Mostar had been a centre for the production of military equipment in former Yugoslavia, so all 3 sides wanted it. So it was shelled from all sides. 80% of its buildings were damaged.
It’s famous bridge, built in 1557, when the area was firmly under Ottoman rule, and became a main connection between the christian and muslim parts of the city. It survived 2 world wars, but was destroyed in 1993. It has been rebuilt by Unesco, who would only provide funds if they used traditional methods, cementing the original, retrieved stones, with egg white, goats hair.
For centuries, men of Mostar would free jump from the bridge to prove their manhood to the ladies of the town. They still do so today for the tourists!
https://videopress.com/embed/aikLVfvi?hd=0&autoPlay=0&permalink=0&loop=0We had an amazing lunch in Restaurant Tima-Irma.
Wages here are very low, so prices are relatively cheap for tourists. We bought some local beers!
We also visited a lovely turkish house, one of the few remaining.
Many buildings bear the marks of bullets and shells. The saddest part of the day was when our young guide said that the people see no point in rebuilding because their country is a cauldron of conflict, and they will surely be fighting again.
It was important to see, and hear a different perspective on the conflict, and life today.
The next day was sunny, as we caught our early minibus heading south to Montenegro. Strict border controls meant hold ups both ways, but WOW!, was it worth it?!
What a stunningly beautiful place. Kotor bay is ringed by high mountains, and a very sheltered inlet, with a narrow entrance, guarded by an island church. More of that later.
First we visited Kotor. Built while under Venetian rule, with formidable defensive walls, this delightful town contains palazzos and churches dating back 800 years. It is charming, and squeezed in between the mountains and the water.
The maritime museum was interesting, and the Cathedral is 852 years old, with fragments of original wall paintings.
There is also a tiny chapel, which combines both an eastern orthodox, and christian altars.
Many of the church decorations are silver, because for many years it was the most valuable of the commodities being traded.
Then a visit to pretty Perast, and a ferry to the tiny island. Legend says that 2 sailors found a picture of Mary on a rock. One was very ill, and against all odds, he recovered. They decided to build a church, but there was no island, so over a period of many years, locals sunk ships around the rocks, until they had footings. They built the church in the 15th century, Our Lady of the Rocks, which is the patron of sailors. The interior was painted by venetian artists, and is breathtaking.
Ships stop to ask for a blessing on their voyage. If their ship is involved in an accident, and they survive, they bring a Thank you to the church. Most common are silver plaques. Over 2000 adorn the walls. Gorgeous!
The small museum also contains a tapestry, created by a local wife waiting for her sailor husband to return. She worked on it for 25 years, using minute stitches-700 per square cm! The most remarkable part is that she used her own hair for the heads, and as the years go on, her hair colour changes, until it ends up white!
We loved Montenegro. Really worth a visit!
Post 6 Heading North… Korcula, Split and Trogir.
So now we start heading north again, continuing to explore Croatia as we go. (In Chris’ case…test the craft beers!) Another car ferry takes us to Korcula island, and we visit the little beach at Lumbarda, where we get out the chairs (a rarity for us), and read, and paddle!
Then to the delightful town of Korcula, a classic mediaeval hill town. Limestone walls, tiny narrow streets and red tiled roofs by a lovely harbour. We look into any open churches, as they all have their own beauty. Sadly, many have firmly locked doors!
Then a night in an olive grove, before the early ferry to Split, watching the sun rise, as we, and Boris, cruise the Adriatic!!
Split is a complete contrast. A bustling city and seaport, with a fascinating centre. The Romans came here, and in 305AD, Emporer Diocletian ordered a vast palace to be built, with an octagonal mausoleum at it’s heart.
Gorgeous 14th century carved doors.
In 605, freed Christian roman slaves came and revitalised the city as a Christian town. The Venetians and Byzantines added to it, but all keeping the structure of the Roman palace. So we can walk through vaults, see buildings and artefacts that are 1700 years old, bound up with baroque architecture, or a modern museum.
The Cathedral is inside the octagonal mausoleum.
Suddenly an art nouveau building will pop up, another reminder of the centuries of new life breathed into this city.
Next onto Trogir, a Venetian town, used as Qarth in the Game of Thrones filming recently. A stunning town.
14th century marble pulpit.
14th century wood carving.
Golden limestone walls, a fortress and numerous beautiful churches and Palazzos. Here we saw several Weddings. Immediately after the church services, everyone poured into the square. Traditional music was played. Everyone sang , Croatian flags were waved and fireworks let off!
There were tiny churches everywhere, and the town square had a beautiful Loggia, which would have been the town meeting place.
Camping Rozak is lovely. We are right by the beach, and the evening sunset was breathtaking.
However, thunderstorms overnight, and a rainy morning presented the perfect opportunity for housekeeping! Laundry, and changing the bedlinen must be done. We even caught up with admin, and played some games! Back into Trogir, for a super dinner, tucked in a quaint courtyard. The fish is excellent, especially the Carpacccio of Swordfish!
Chris had a local meat dish, braised in red wine with mountain herbs. Yum!
Post 7 Waterfalls, waves and…Waterfalls!
Plus a few other things but I like the alliterative title! Heading north from Trogir, we stopped at the small coastal town of Sibenik. The old town is a warren of Venetian era alleys, stairways and churches.
If you could teleport a resident back here from 300 years ago he would probably recognise it immediately. In these towns we love to wander, and it is often the small details that catch my eye. Ancient carvings, or decoration above a doorway, indicating status or family links.
The tiny, kneeling figure is Marko, the town doctor and surgeon, who paid for this window in St Barbara’s church in 1419!
This stone trough at the foot of a wall, was a 14th century water bowl for dogs.
We discovered a 15th century monastery garden with a sweet cafe on the way up to the fortress.
The churches were lovely, especially the eastern orthodox church, and the richly decorated, 13th/14th century cathedral.
These carved heads date back to the 15th century! Some look so modern!
A good, free museum too, and a shoe shop with latest Italian solutions for the shorter lady..
Then we drove back to Skradin, to the sweet autocamp where we stayed a week ago. They remembered us! We were duly presented with a pomegranate because we came back!! An evening walk through the nice village, also revealed some battle scarred buildings at one end of town, as yet unrestored. Our reason for being here is to get an early boat up the river to see the Krka waterfalls before the crowds. We managed it, had a superlong walk, and the pictures speak for themselves.
A very early Hydroelectric plant was set up here, under the influence of famed local electrical genius Nikola Tesla, and nearby Sibenik had the first electric street lighting in Europe powered by AC (alternating current).
Chris took the opportunity to do some dead weight lift practice!
Next we drove to Lake Vrana, the largest natural lake in Croatia, encountering a croatian style traffic jam!
In winter, 100,000 coot call it home. Today, pygmy cormorant, and a stray spoonbill were our best spots. Next, Boris had an adventure, climbing the twisty lane up Mount Kamenjak, for incredible views over the coast and islands.
Mixed emotions here. A small chapel commemorates local people who were massacred here in various conflicts, while outside, the flag flew proudly to commemorate Croatian independence day.
The season is ending here, and many campsites are closing. Wild camping is illegal, but some people do it, using the great app Park4night. We had to resort to this at Zadar, using a former campsite on the waters edge. In fact we had a great sunset, and a peaceful night with the waves lapping a few feet from Boris!
Next day a visit to Zadar, an ancient trading port which had been colonised by Greeks, romans, slavs, Venetians, Hungarans, Austrians. It was heavily attacked in the recent war due to having 5 military bases. Now those same building house schools, university buildings and clinics! One modern restaurant facade hid an early christian church, which in turn had reused roman columns!
We did some shopping in a very modern supermarket, with an unmodern system for service. I had put 1 cucumber, 1 pepper, 4 tomatoes, 2 apples, 2 bananas, a courgette, an orange and some spring onions in my basket. Suddenly, 2 women came running towards me shouting. Firstly, every item had to go into a plastic bag. Separate bags. I protested at the use of plastic but was firmly told off! Then, one woman ran back and forth to the counters shouting a code number for each item. The other wrote it on a scrap of sticky paper and stuck it on the bag. This then was input at the till. But the lady at the till couldn’t read all the numbers… so she had to call the women over.. who ran back to the veg counter and shouted the number …aaaagh!!
Highlights of Zadar were the remains of the roman forum, and a lovely ancient glass museum. All the locally found glass was between 1800 and 2000 years old! Some undamaged, yet so delicate and ornate.
A stunning glass ‘pin’ from 3rd century AD.
Lastly, the lovely feature of Zadar was it’s new promenade, ending at the sea organ. Huge pipes have been laid on the sea bed. As the waves move in and out they play haunting tunes which constantly alter. Quite mesmerising to sit here and listen.
Next a drive inland, where autumn has arrived! We are heading to Plititze, and another huge waterfall system. We stay at the charming Kamp Bear…becauae bears and wolves live in this region. We are greeted with homemade Schnapps by the owner! Wow..quite a kick.
Again, an early start to beat the many tour buses that come here on day trips. It was busy in October… July and August would be hell. We were walking by 8.30 and had much of the first section to ourselves. It is a huge area of 16 lakes with waterfalls cascading down. We took route H which visits most of the lakes, and includes a boat ride down the longest lake. 6 miles in total, all beautiful.
Spot the people to get the scale!
Finally back to the coast to our final part of Croatia, the Istrian peninsula. Again, Boris’ wheels are nearly in the sea. Night night!
Post 8 Last days….part 1!
Our last day in Croatia was spent on the Istrian peninsula, nearly at the top of the Adriatic sea. Colonised by the Romans, and Venetians, it has a rich heritage, and was part of Italy for many years, only regaining it’s Slavic identity after World War 2. There is a definite Italian feel to the architecture and cuisine here!
Many smaller Autostops for campers have closed by October so we stayed on 2 large coastal sites. Lovely waterside pitches, nice showers and facilities and quiet.. but our idea of hell in July and August with 500 crammed pitches, pool, entertainment and queues for showers! Also, many of them are more than double the price in high season. We count our blessings that we can travel out of season.
We have also had 3 weeks where temperatures have mainly been between 20 and 27 degrees C. Perfect. Others have told us it was up to 40 degs in summer and unbearable.
Our first visit was Pula for it’s remarkable roman heritage dotted throughout the town. The Hercules Gate, Temple of Alexandra and most impressively, the amphitheatre, all date from the 1st – 3rd century AD.
Don’t miss the little church and monastery of St Francis, with it’s 13th century cloister, and beautiful polyptych .
Then up the coast to Rovinj, a truly charming pedestrianised town and port, with a warren of alleyways, and waterside paths with lovely views of the sun setting over the sea.
We walked from our campsite, passing the fishing fleet. A merging of old and new. Sailors sat repairing their nets, next to brightly coloured stacks of plastic trays, giving an idea of the size of the expected catch.
The imposing church of Euphemia is at the highest point , and the atmosphere was made rather surreal by a guitarist outside singing ‘Wish you were here’, by Pink Floyd in a strong Croatian accent!
Inside, a nun was praying while her companion studied her phone!!
We found a tiny, local restaurant, Ulika, hidden away in the old town, and had a wonderful meal there as our farewell to Croatia.
Croatia – conclusions:
1. Beautiful coast and inland, but tourism is huge so areas are feeling quite commercialised, with the potential for Huge crowds. Personally, we would avoid between mid June and mid September, and seek out more remote spots and islands.
2. Quite expensive. No cheaper than UK and in some places more. Most churches and museums charge and entrance fee, only £2 or £3 pp but it quickly adds up.
3. We aren’t beach bods, but met quite a few people who were surprised that the majority of beaches are rocks and pebbles. Sandy ones are rare and get very busy!
4. We ate out a few times, and had to really hunt for non touristy menus. Lots of Pizza everywhere!
5. Island hopping was a lot more feasible with a camper than we thought, and fairly reasonably priced. Not every route takes vehicles. Get a good timetable!
Next, back into Slovenia for a day visiting their 47km coastline, especially beautiful Piran. We parked Boris in neighbouring Portoroz, by the old salt warehouses
and walked the 2km coastal promenade path to lovely Piran, passing this hostel on the way!!!
What a delightful town. Again, very Italianate architecture, with a lovely atmosphere.
Climb up to the Cathedral of St George to see a beautiful ceiling, and statues.
There was a square here, almost filled by its Bellini fountain, with an interesting guttering arrangement.
We had a coffee gazing out over the sparkling water, feeling sad to head inland and leave the clear blue Adriatic.
Inland for 2 last amazing Slovenian surprises. A tiny detour to the middle of nowhere brought us to the church of the Holy Trinity at Hrastovlje, fortified against the Ottomans. Inside are the most incredible, original frescoes, painted in 1490 to illustrate bible stories, morality and the cycle of the seasons to the population who couldn’t read.
The dance of death is the most famous section.
In the UK we have churches with fragments of original wall friezes, mostly plastered over thanks to Henry VIII . This is what our churches might have looked like. A blaze of colour! It was incredible.
Secondly, onto the caves at Skocjan. We have visited many cave systems, but can honestly say these were by far the most impressive. We visited 2km of cave, with huge chambers full of wonderful formations, but the thing that set this system apart was the river, thundering through far below us, still cutting down and illustrating how this amazing place was formed. At times, it had a Lord of the Rings quality!
No photos allowed inside, so these 3 aren’t mine! And yes, I did manage to walk across that bridge.. gulp!
We said a very sad Goodbye to Slovenia, which wins the prize as our favourite country on this trip. Wonderful in every way.
We crossed into Italy and wildcamped in a car park by the cliffs overlooking Trieste Bay.
A very multinational spot. 5 campers there, representing Italy, Austria, Germany, France and GB. Our exact route home!
Post 9 Last days part 2 – Italy and Austria!
We like to ensure that our travel days are holidays as well, so we look for interesting things on, or near, our route. At the NE corner of the Adriatic, in Italy, we found 3 little gems.
Firstly, the Riserva naturale della Foce dell’Isonzo is a bird reserve where a 2km walk took us past summer breeding scrapes, and wetlands where wintering birds were starting to arrive. We have also never had such great views of snipe, and, bizarrely, Carmargue ponies!
Then, the drive to the pretty town of Grado, and across the causeway, waving a sad goodbye to the azure sea. The next seawater we encounter will be the colder, and greyer, English channel!
Just north of Grado is Aquileia! This was once the Roman regional capital, and main trading port, long before Venice existed. They are still uncovering ruins, revealing remains of a huge city. They are only ground level ruins, but a short walk revealed the site of the forum, and the vast remains of the Roman wharves, dock ramps and warehouses.
Best of all is the church, or Basilica, which was built in 1031 on the site of an early Romano christian church . Bishop Poppo, in 1031, had a red tiled floor laid over the original 4th century floor. That has been uncovered and is stunning! It is the largest paleo christian mosaic floor in the world. The detail is remarkable.
But look up too. The intricate wooden carved ceiling is 15th century!
The basilica had another treasure – the crypt of frescoes. More stunning wall and ceiling frescoes, painted in the 12th century, preserved because they are away from light.
Really worth a visit, and it set us up for our long journey north into Austria.
Being us, we don’t do things the easy way. We chose to go due north, taking the less used route over the beautiful Carnic Alps. Autumn colours were everywhere. Gorgeous.
Having reached Austria, we decided to take the route over the Gross Glockner pass, as it was a glorious day. Be warned. This is not for the faint hearted, nor a dodgy vehicle. You climb, and descend, steeply up to 9000 feet, with 38 hair pin bends! Just short of the highest point, Boris appeared to give a little hiccough. We had visions of spending the night up thete, but thankfully a few minutes rest to cool down and he was fine. Stunning, if bleak views from the top!
Then down to the glorious scenery of the lake at Zell am See, and the luxury of the Seeland campsite, which had a super restaurant – I had the best fresh trout I have ever eaten, while Chris went for a meatier option! Then the luxury of hot showers, with underfloor heating!
Next morning, we walked around the Lake to the town. Our amazing luck with the weather continues!
Zell am See is in the very traditional Tyrol, so no shops open on Sunday. St Hippolyte church was built in 1514, and is worth a visit.
Then we set off on our long drive through Austria to Switzerland. To use motorways and some other main roads you need a Vignette. Austria do a 10 day pass, costing 9 euros, for vehicles under 3.5tons, like Boris!
Beautiful scenery all the way.
Post 10 The very last days…Home via Austria, Switzerland and France!
Into a less visited, but stunning part of Switzerland, Appenzell, we stopped at a free riverside aire just outside town, and walked in. I used to live in Switzerland, so loved hearing the Cowbells!
Lovely painted buildings, some updated with a modern twist.
Appenzell is one of the older Swiss cantons, and still practice democracy in the old fashioned way. Once a year, since 1403, the community gather in the square. A church service and lunch are followed by 3 hours of voting on local issues. Men vote by raising hands or swords, women with their hands. (It is a little known fact that women in Switzerland were not able to vote at all until 1971!) Photo not mine!
Their shops also sell an alarming array of potential souvenirs! Crossbow anyone!
A lovely, peaceful night, then we treated ourselves to a cable car up to Hoher Kasten, with stunning views at the junction of 4 countries – Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Liechtenstein (and a very strong wind!).
We had coffee in the revolving restaurant . Chris nearly lost his hat!!
We drove past Lake Constance. The opposite shore is Freidrickshafen where Zeppelin airships were, and still are made. We were lucky enough to see one flying over the lake. On to beautiful Stein am Rhein, with the most beautiful decorated houses we have seen.
Finally, to Neuhausen, to see the Rhine falls. Not the highest, or widest, but with a phenomenal amount of water pouring over them each day – up to 600 cubic metres per second in spring spate.
From here, we pressed on across Germany and into France, to spend the night at a lovely free aire near Colmar, next to a pretty grotto for Our Lady of Lourdes!
Next morning, we did a self guided tour of pretty Colmar. The many timbered houses are 15th century, coming from a time when this was a very successful merchant centre.
The church contains a rare 15th century artwork , which was stolen in 1972, and then ‘found’ in 1979! Not exactly portable!!
Ten minutes drive up the vine clad hills into the Vosges mountains is Kayserberg. Also worth a stop. More beautiful houses, and a ruined hill fort with great views.
Crossing the Vosges, looking lovely in Autumn colours, we drove to Champagne country, near Rheims, making a special detour to the Lac du Der. We have wanted to visit here for many years because it is where a rather remarkable bird event happens. Each autumn. Literally thousands of Eurasian Crane fly in here as a stop on their way south for the winter. We were a few weeks early for the larģe numbers… but maybe a few had come early? The huge lake was showing the devastating effect of the Long, dry summer. The water was a long way off. But… what was that… a long skein of birds flying in. Could it be…. yes it was! Crane! In all we were privileged to see about 200 birds before we had to continue our journey.
Arriving at Champagne country, we found a super free aire right next to the river at Mareuil sur Ay. Champagne houses were everywhere, and we awoke to the heady aroma of fermenting grapes…hic!
Our last day was spent doing a lovely walk along the river, doing a large shop at Super U, and visiting the Champagne house of Canard Duchene.
Very interesting it was too. When Chris discovered that Champagne making is quite akin to beer brewing, and 1 vine = 1 bottle, he started to rethink his home brew plans! We also learned that the bottles need to be turned every day. A good bottle turner can turn 40,000 per day! The cellars were built in 1868. They are miles long, and have 11 million bottles stored. In World War 1 and 2, their chateau was destroyed, but many of the cellars were bricked up, so they were never discovered. I cannot drink wine, so Chris enjoyed both glasses!
Then a drive up to Avion, near Lens, just 1 hour from Calais passing through the Canadian war cemetery there. Very poignant.
A super, peaceful, free aire again provided by the village, meant a good nights sleep. Then a 1 hour misty drive to Calais and our P&O ferry home – excellent value for £58 using the Caravan and Motorhome Club discount.
Now… can we make it home in time for the Pub Quiz?
What a fantastic trip this has been. 3,500 miles. We hope you have enjoyed reading it. I will update it soon to list campsites.
P.S We did make it home for the pub quiz… and we won!!