Thursday, 3 May 2012

IATTOUR Apr 18-24 Tuscany, Cinque Terre and Southern France

One our way out of Rome up the coast we managed to find a nice secluded bay to stop off for the yummy lunch that Elaine whipped up at 0500 prior to Glenda and Lyse leaving Rome..only thing missing was the wine!

Our destination for the night was the mountain top town of Volterra.  The weather deteriorated through the day and we arrived to a pretty wet town.  Duly checked into the small hotel we headed off to explore the town.
Church of the Day- "COD"

The town lives up to its advanced press and is a charming place to stroll about taking in all the narrow cobble-stoned streets.  The rain continued, Ron and Wendy finally broke down to buy a couple of umbrellas..Elaine and I were dry with ours.

Pot luck dinner in the hotel washed down with a bit of local wine.  Finally it looks like we might get a break in the weather for tomorrow.  There are old Roman ruins every which way you look on the morning stroll before brekkie.
Wendy checking out the Catch of the Day, not to be confused with the "COD"

Hearty brekkie before heading out for the day.
The drive over to the neighbouring town of San Gimignano to take in the Saturday market was spectacular wending through the hills and valleys.

A stopoff along the way to eat our lunch purchased at the Market.
Needs no introduction, Wendy pushed the Leaning Tower of Pisa back upright along with all the other helpers...but the place was very crowded on this sunny Saturday afternoon.  Parking in town was difficult, and a bit worrying with a number of unsavory looking touts-hawkers offering to look after the car.  We had a good visit with the plaza then headed north to our next stop of Pignone...our HQ to explore the Cinque Terre.

 As we headed off the motorway we started seeing the devastation of the floods last fall, with numerous washouts, slope failures....deja vu..its now raining torrentially, streams are rising fast then we are in Pignone.  This is an old medieval town in the hills above Cinque Terre, where we stayed in a small Locanda a few years back.  Its raining too hard to even consider heading out so we congregate in the restaurant (not open), to sip on a bottle of wine and play a few games of cards and Take-4.  We decide we have to get out and nip into Monterrosa for a quick stroll before dinner.  Wow these roads have a lot of curves and strait drop offs, not for the faint of heart. The town has had a lot of damage on the southern end, but work continues everywhere at a frentic pace to be open for the coming tourist season.

The next morning we head out for a hike up one of the nearby hills and stroll the plaza in Pignone before breakfast.  Elaine and Wendy are spotting all sorts of familiar native plants.
Outline of where the old historic bridge stood before the flood!
Back to Monterrosa to catch the train to the other towns on the coast. The weather gods have prevailed and there is sun!
By-the-Wind Sailors..>millions of jelly fish on shore

Down the line first stop Riomagiore.


We decide to stop into Vernazza, even though we had been warned of the ruin of the town's core and harbour. It's hard to contemplate the power of the storm floods that raged though the towns main street.  It will be some time til this town is back to former glory as the jewel of Cinque TerrePeople are still coming, lets hope they still support the area in the coming months.

Onward and upward, look out France here we come...Wendy lost count of how many tunnels we passed through on the route that passed through Genova to Menton.

 We roll into Menton France late in the afternoon and find a Hotel then head off to the beach to enjoy the remaining sun.  Thanks Carmel for this round of drinks-"A votre sante!"

This is a delightful spot to stroll on the seaside to take in the vistas and rich marinas.

The next morning we make our way along the coast through Monaco..but alas the black ties and supercars are only out between 2200 and 0500 hours and we aren't!  So no star sightings.  We finally roll into Nice to wander the market in Old Town, climb the hill to visit the castle and take in the marina. 

What to say about the beautiful old market?  We made it out with only a few purchases.

                      Vintage musical instruments for Wendy and Vintage dresses for Christina
The view from the Castle- stunning in all directions on this sunny day with the French Alps in distance.

Wendy scouted out an inspiring factory visit rather than a COD so we zig zagged along the route to a candy factory in the hills of Provence.  Not having had lunch and hitting the tasting room was a bit of a challenge for self control.  We escaped with a bit of the ware purchased.   The factory was located on a beautiful mountain side stream with towering mountains on all sides. Make candy, ponder the view, not a bad job! 
We found our way to a small town called Lunel which was central to Avignon, Arles, Montpeller and Calvisson. Around every corner there was something else that would capture our attention.
communal laundry

Wendy refilling the Holy Water Bottle--gotta find a way to stretch our travel dollars!

Sur le Pont Avignon
We tour through this historic town the other holy city in which a number of Popes lived for over two hundred years.

Wendy finds the ultimate gadget shop; too bad its closed

Arles has its own Colleseum; now hosts Bull fights.

On the way back to Lunel, we can't not stop for this photo op and stroll along the canal. We found the name on this derelict boat to be quite appropriate- "Ambition"!

We found out the hard way that pretty much everything is closed on Sundays after about 1pm--even Tony's place.  After a panicked search of Lunel, we found a "Tony's Pizza", so here is our makeshift fine dining set out on the Hotel terrace with a new Provence tablecloth...bon appetite!
The next morning we strike off for a hike to Pic St. Loup a peak near to Montpeller.  We program the GPS to avoid the tolls and off we go.  Needless to say we hit rush hour passing through the major centre of Montpellier; but then we would not have seen this Lip Sculpture!

Vertical face Pic St. Loup

Ron laughs at this hill-  "you call this a mountain!"  I guess a young guy of 83 can make these sorts of comments. Really, we all enjoyed the hike up and revelled in our timing as we had the peak to ourselves...on the way down we must have passed 40 people on their way up. 

We leave the Montpellier region to head to St. Cyprien our last layover before heading into Spain.  Agian another great old town with lots of texture and a wonderful sunrise view from our room.
The snowcapped Pyrnee's in the distance mark our route later today.

We kept climbing up from the seashore and watched as the outside thermometer dipped down to 4 C. At a WC stop we happened on this mountain rescue group exchanging crew..lots of, rescue, what ever it was kind of exciting to watch...then we all found our bushes!

Into Spain we go through a 5km tunnel!

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