Week 18 – Provence – when too much is not enough

  • Sunday we headed for the Luberon Valley and it quickly became obvious that every corner, every town is another “wow” moment. First things first though – Adrienne has dreamt for years about being in a field of sunflowers and finally we found a field all pointing the right way, so in she went…
Tip toe through the turnisols
  • It was then on to Lourmarin, another ridiculously beautiful little town. But, joy, after trawling through at least 500 shoe shops Adrienne finally found sandals that met the criteria and bought 2 pairs – both on special so even better, and with luck I will be free of sitting outside shoe shops for at least a few weeks.
Sunday lunch in Lourmarin
Lourmarin’s “thing” is artists and Sunday is the artist market day. We were tempted but we already have a number of paintings to get home
We felt that Meriton would see the parkland in front of the chateau as wasted and throw up a 25 storey apartment tower – lucky this is not Sydney
The view as I turned around from the chateau photo above
  • But there are many more villages to see so we headed off
This one is for our family – “Bonnyox” has been a running joke since we visited in 2003, but you had to be there to get the moment. Andrew and Anna – enjoy!
Bonnieux not Bonnyox
  •  Next stop was Roussillon, another of the “plus beaux villages de provence”, it’s claim to fame being the ochre that dominates the colours in the village. It is a mineral found rarely in the world but is shared by, (amongst others), “Uluru in Australie”, (fun fact for trivia nights). The following photos are just the start here
Roussillon and the Luberon
Heading toward the lookout in the village
No, Adrienne, I cannot steal the door and get it in my suitcase
Note the steps on the right to get to the bell tower – I bet there was no handrail when this was built
A beautiful village on the edge of the stunning Luberon
  • We went for the “Ochre walk”. The area that is solid ochre – fine dust everywhere and some poor fools had sat down in it – throw those clothes away
The “Ochre” walk is quite a thing
They call it the “mini Grand Canyon” – those are quite big trees at the top
  • Monday we felt that a training walk for our Camino adventure, (next week in Spain), was in order so after some discussion with our hosts we headed for Vauvenargues and a hike in the Montagne Sainte-Victoire National Park.
    Being an ex Boy Scout I had a map – took a photo at the entrance to the trail
    Am I fit yet?

    I’m knackered – that climb was tough – hope it’s cooler next week in Spain
  • But around the next corner – lavender fields – Adrienne back in heaven
    Adrienne channelling her inner hippie

    Fields of Lavender – sadly already harvested but still smelt nice
  • We completed the circuit in about 2 and 1/2 hours and headed home via the Boulangeries Paul – bread and pastries to break any dieter’s resistance. We added a nice rose wine and gave in very easily.
  • Tuesday was an official rest day ahead of Richard and Carolyn Davies arriving to join us on the Camino. Adrienne had worked out that the mis-shapen apples in the garden are a heirloom variety – ideal for cooking, so gathered some up and cooked a crostarta pie for our hosts – very well recieved. They thought they were just “ugly” apples and were going to cut the tree down.
  • Carolyn and Richard arrived about lunchtime on Wednesday, so after the requisite “picky lunch” we headed for Aix-en-Provence. And did we shop – mais oui – Carolyn was out of the gates fast and into the thick of it.
Aix Hotel de Ville – you can’t hide a shopping bag
  • Thursday we went to Peugeot to see if our car was repaired – but “il est mort”, (new gearbox required), so hire car until we go to Spain on Saturday.
  • But then on to Cassis in the Parc national des Calanques. Yet another impressive piece of natural landscape. The calanques are a group of inlets that look like fjords but are not. We did quite a long walk, stopped in town for lunch and then went across the road to the beach.
Parc national des Calanques
Cassis beach – not your normal Australian sandy beach, but the people pack themselves onto the stones and rocks wherever they can
Everywhere we have been in Italy and France there are boats of every size moored – they love getting out onto the water
  • Friday, our last day in France before heading for the Camino. Today we’ll visit some more villages in the Luberon, but these are for the next blog.


Week 17 – Provence – where ugly is not an option

  • The drive from Cinque Terre to Menton in France took us through Genoa right past the entry to the collapsed Morandi bridge, (which we should have driven over), and a little later we could see it side on from only a few hundred metres away – pretty scary – the traffic will be a mess for years while they rebuild the bridge or by-pass via tunnels. The media here is going frenetic as there are now reports of multiple bridge collapses and fingers are being pointed at the Mafia, corrupt politicians, corrupt bureaucrats, the EU for their demands for austerity, privatisation of the roads, and all manner of other contributing factors – it will be interesting to see if the Italians can sort out some of their mess.
  • Our first stop in France was a few days in Menton, which sits right on the border with Italy, but is most assuredly French. The roads are all in good order and after a few close shaves, (me driving like I was still in Italy), and some horns being honked at me, I am back in the world of obeying road rules!!
    Menton Harbour from the Cathedral steps

    Our neighbours in Menton – The Riviera Palace – not bad for a summer house
  • Menton is an attractive, if “modern” port town, but the big attraction was a visit to Eze, an ancient hilltop town, now famous for perfume manufacture – we visited the Fragonard factory – the mixture of smells is staggering.
  • On the way back we called into Monaco – the first 3 cars to pass us were a baby blue Bentley convertible, a bright yellow Lamborghini, and a jet black Audi R8 – we knew we were in the land of the mega-rich!! We quickly decided we were well out of our league, (and were not really interested), so after a brief touchdown we headed back to the normality of Menton.
Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat from Eze. Only the megarich “hang” here
Eze street scene – ugly is just not an option in Provence
  • After two hot days we headed for Aix-en-Provence. We are in a lovely rural house called Le Clos Manoe just out of Aix.
Our new evening hang out – vegetables straight out of the garden
  • Having rested in Menton we were keen to see Provence having only been here briefly in 2003 with two very disinterested children. Our first day, (Wednesday), we went into Aix – a city of about 150,000 and it was love at first sight – a really nice, liveable city – we love it. My favourite thing in Aix, (and the rest of Provence), is the wide avenues of attractive stone buildings framed with beautiful, mature, plane trees. The French keep beautiful things and work around them – pity we in Australia do not operate this way!!
  • Next day we headed for L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. This really is an “Oh, la, la” place. The town is a bunch of islands in the Sorgue river – and the good burghers of the town have created a living picture postcard overflowing with antique shops and interesting alleyways and waterways.
Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with Adrienne’s new “Aix” dress
Now this is a water feature
Adrienne went quite weak at the knees when we found the glace fruit shop. Spent plenty and scoffed the lot, (sorry, Bill).
The Town square in front of the Cathedral – the plane trees kept it shady and cool – just what we needed to enjoy a beer
  • Friday we decided to have a nature day so headed for the Camargue, (the huge wetland at the mouth of the Rhone river). Amongst other things it is famous for pink flamingos, and wild Camargue horses and cattle. We did the tourist thing and did a “noddy-train” tour to see the marshes and wild life, but sadly this is not flamingo season, so only saw a handful of stragglers.
Was not impressed that they bred the cattle now for the bullfighting ring, but with the spectacular horns they look the part
The Camargue horses all start out brown and turn white at about 5 years
  • Had the afternoon on the beach and headed for home via Aigues-Mortes. A most impressive castle but what really pricked our interest was the vast array of boats in the canal. We are now planning our “cruise” on the canals, (my dream of a house boat on the Canal du Midi is alive and in the planning. Bill and Di – keep September 2021 free!!)
  • Heart skipped a few beats on the way home – the gearbox in the car went kaput on the freeway, (me playing James Bond at the time may not have helped), and we limped home in 4th gear, (having lost 1st, 5th and 6th). But after some phone calls the next day the car was collected, we were taken in a taxi to Aix, and we now have a hire car at Peugeot’s expense. Peugeot Open Europe handled everything efficiently and quickly – so thankful it happened in France not Italy – we would still be on the freeway in Italy!




Week 16 – Cinque Terre

  • We headed north from Caserta with about 600 kms to our next stop at La Spezia. We were about 4 hours in and we spotted the signpost for Siena – okay it’s about 60 kms off the road but did someone mention shoe shopping and pizza in Piazza del Campo – in we went!
All set up for the horse races, but we were 4 days too early – bugger! But we had the beer and pizza and Adrienne did manage to buy more shoes …
  • But then on to our next house in Fezzano, (near La Spezia). The apartment is quite small, but the view from the balcony isn’t too bad
What more can I add? Great view but about 70 more steps
  • The Cinque Terre is right up there on everyone’s bucket list, so we cut Carovigno short and came here for a week. Monday was Adrienne’s birthday so we caught the ferry to Portovenere and this place is spectacular – I’m just going to load photos – better than words
Coming in on the ferry – note the storm clouds
From the church steps towards the Cinque Terre
Not much sand on these beaches
Top right through the opening is the castle – but there was so much to see we did not make it up there
Byzantine Church
Over 1000 years old
Birthday lunch – the storm hit at the right time – we were tucking into a very nice meal
The sun came out and we headed home with more shopping
  • Tuesday we decided to join the crowds on the trains and went first to Riomaggiore, (but having walked up and into the town we found the path along the cliffs was closed), so back onto the train and on to Corniglia. The next photo was my excuse for stopping …. and we had not even got into the town.
These are the steps that rise straight from the train station that can be seen way below to the town which is about 250 metres elevation. And the walk has not officially started.
Corniglia is a beautiful town, so we stopped for a coffee and panini to catch our breath after the climb up the stairs
  • We decided to walk from Corniglia to Vernazza – it looked a casual 3 or 4 kms. The scenery along the cliffs is spectacular but it is all up and down on very rocky paths – the photos tell it all. The walk took an hour and a half and despite being overcast we were soaked in sweat – it was a solid workout for the quadriceps and we were knackered when we finished.
    Looking north
    Rest break
    Corniglia in the background
    Adrienne heading off again

    Typical section of the path
And finally Vernazza comes into view – another beautiful village clinging to the cliffs
Vernazza – lots of people but a tiny gem – we rewarded ourselves with a nice restaurant on the beach
  • We then headed back to La Spezia on the very crowded train, (pretty much all tunnels except for the train stations in each village), and spent a very pleasant evening on the balcony with a couple of Menabrea birras and some local red vino.
  • Wednesday – rest day and blog catch up. Today was Ferragosto – a national holiday so we did not head past our local village, and why would you bother?
The view from where I am writing this in Le Grazie
Le Grazie beach from the pier
  • Thursday – really hot today so we canned the plan for Portofino. We will go to Lerici beach this afternoon and head for Portofino tomorrow.
  • Friday  – still bloody hot so we tossed up between an hour on a hot crowded train to Portofino or 30 minutes on a gentle ferry to Portovenere – we didn’t go to Portofino!!
Doria Castle in Portovenere – yet another climb up endless polished marble steps
No bus, no funicular, we now have thighs like Olympic ice skaters!!
  • But we did get a priceless photo, a genuine “Benny Hill” moment

    What to do with a wet Italian pussy …. 


  • And the 1000 year old church from Doria Castle
No need for comment – too beautiful
And we headed for home – Fezzano port
  • We are now done with Italy – tomorrow we head for France – Arrevaderci Italy, we have had a blast but are now looking forward to moving on.




Week 15b – Montecassino, Caserta and Pompeii

  • We had two days to see these three “must do” sites. We based ourselves in Caserta as the mid point and would certainly not do that again – what an unhappy, run down, sad-arsed place. They have one of the finest palaces in Europe, and we could not find a restaurant that looked even remotely inviting – went to Carrafours for groceries and had picky teas in our hotel room.
  • Thursday morning we headed for Montecassino – this place obviously looms large in our ANZAC history and did not disappoint – the allies took just 3 days to destroy this amazing abbey, and it took the Italians 19 years to rebuild it “where it was, as it was”, but they understand history and rebuilt it beautifully, reinstating everything they could find in the rubble “as it was”- even small sections of Byzantine frescoes. (Note to NZ Government – have you no sense of history – rebuild Christchurch Cathedral!! There are so few beautiful buildings in NZ – don’t lose that one.)
  • The abbey has been destroyed and rebuilt 4 times since it was first built about 550 AD, and there are parts from all eras. The museum is stunning in it’s attention to detail, with no great emphasis on the WW2 destruction – this was just another phase in the history of the abbey.
Montecassino abbey courtyard
The nuns did like a great view
Polish Cemetery at Montecassino
Grant at the front gate
  • We then returned to Caserta and on a very hot day went to Reggia di Caserta. The palace is the largest palace on earth and it’s design was based on Versailles. It is beautiful, and in my opinion more structurally impressive than Versailles, (all marble), but almost unknown outside of Italy. I got the impression that they just don’t have the money to really ramp it up as a destination, so it just plods along attracting relatively few tourists, with not enough money to really keep the huge gardens in top shape.

    Reggia di Caserta – it was hot but where are the people??
Quite an impressive waiting room
This just one fish pond in a line that stretches across the town to the hills in the distance
They do like a bit of marble here
Looking back from previous photo
  • Friday was hot and humid but it was Pompeii no matter what. We got there early and found a park very close, but by the time we had stood in the ticket queue, (or what passes for a queue in Italy … ), for 20 minutes we were sweaty messes anyway. Pompeii was very hot, and very crowded, (better marketing job than Caserta), but was worth the effort.
Pompeii forum – hot and sweaty
Mummified by the ash. How much pain was the dog in the middle in!!
This made me laugh – there were speed humps on many roads – to stop the hoons racing their chariots??
The houses were quite large. This must have been a wealthy town
Requisite amphitheatre – you need to take a photo to say you’ve been there
  • They have done a brilliant job of excavation, empathetic restoration, (or is that protection), and this is a must see place – it really is spectacular.
  • Handy hint – if you go to the very large house at the far end “Villa dei Misteri” it is a) not crowded, b) very impressive, and c) has a really nice bar under a grape covered loggia just outside on the road for a great coffee, food and cold beer! Just tell the bloke at the gate you are coming back in – no problem – kept me going when I was starting to fade.
  • We walked the whole town of Pompeii, and then retreated to a lovely little restaurant over the road for probably more beer than I should have had on a hot day.
They did a great pork knuckle and chips
  • That was Friday and Saturday we headed for La Spezia and the Cinque Terre


Week 15a – Our last week in Puglia

  • After a wonderful 14 weeks in Puglia we spent our last few days resting at Pantanagianni beach, doing some training walks for the Camino, and had a really nice long lunch with our hosts of the last 10 weeks – Andreas, Pasqua and Tobias Staude. Adrienne cooked a pavlova and we introduced them to the delights of Taylors Cab Sav, (thanks to Paul and Bruce for bringing the wine all the way from Sydney). The Staude family were excellent hosts and helped make our long term stay very easy.
  • In the middle of last year we signed up for 4 months in Puglia with some ideas, but having never been there, it was with a degree of trepidation that we drove into the area and dropped anchor. We need not have worried – our stay was full of new experiences, wonderful scenery, history at every turn, brilliant food and wine, great beaches, authentic rural Italy at it’s best and whats not to put on the “to do” list from –
  • Beautiful towns – Ostuni, (our ‘hood), Alberobello, Polignano a mare, Savelletri, Otranto, Matera, Leuca, Gallipoli, Lecce, Cisternino, Barletta and more
  • Beautiful beaches – Torre Guaceto, Santa Sabina, Pantanagianni, Lido Morelli, Pescoluse, San Vito, Trani and more
  • Scenery – Itria valley, (the Trulli capital), Castellana Grotte, endless olive trees, (60 million in Puglia), the coastal drive between Leuca and Otranto
  • History – the Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins at Egnazia and Cannae, the Sassi in Matera
  • Castles – Castel del Monte, Barletta, Bari, Otranto
  • Masserias – we have talked about a few of these reborn, fortified, great farm houses that we visited and loved, but there are dozens if not hundreds in Puglia – all with histories of 400 years and more that are now getting a new lease of life as agriturisimo B&B’s with restaurants serving the freshest, most authentic food we have ever had
  • Restaurants – La nonna menna in San Vito dei Normanni, pizzas in the piazza in Ostuni, Osteria del Porto in Savelletri, and many, many more for meals that were overwhelmingly really good
  • Wines – Puglia classics – Primativo, Anglianico, Negroamaro – 4 euros buys some really good local vino
  • Shopping – enough said!!
  • Our advise to all is Puglia is a little known gem – get here soon, allow plenty of time and just dive in – once you get past the total lack of road rules and mind numbingly inconsiderate parking, the locals are friendly, it’s cheaper than any where else in Italy, the food and wine is brilliant, you will love it!
  • Wednesday we packed the car early and headed for Caserta near Naples. We had three goals here – to visit Montecassino, Reggia di Caserta, and Pompeii – all in two days, all in 35oC temps – see week 15b for the outcomes

Week 14 – The shopping just got serious

  • Our friends Joy and Alison arrived on Saturday evening, so over a few bottles of Primitivo we planned the week ahead – little did we know that two Olympic gold medal class shoppers had arrived!
  • Sunday we were straight into the sightseeing, and headed for Alberobello, (jewellery from the same upmarket place that Helen had found), and then Ostuni for pizza in the piazza and into the old town for dresses, (including one for Adrienne), necklaces, a huge red sunhat, tops, and we wandered home about 11.00pm after gelato in the piazza.
Alison and Joy in Alberobello
  • Monday we headed for Auchan shopping centre in Mesagne – the summer sales were still on so shoes, (Alison found the same FMF’s as Adrienne, but on sale), an O bag, a top – these two went at it.

    Stand clear, this could get dangerous
  • Tuesday was a beach day, but Wednesday we went to Otranto, (or in Joy’s case O’tranto – the famous Irish town), and these two hoovered the shops at breakneck pace – handbags, dresses, tops, jewellery, shoes, and we even managed to stop for lunch.

    Taking a break at Otranto Castle
Three days of serious shopping, and there was more to come
Kiera – this is when shoe shopping is taken to the next level
  • Thursday we went for the olive tree tour at Masseria Brancanti, and then to Masseria Salinola for dinner. As with our previous masseria dinners this was a spectacular setting with fabulous food, service and wines – a real highlight to finish a fun, (but exhausting), week.

    Reputed to be one of the oldest olive trees in Puglia this tree is about 3000 years old and still producing at Masseria Brancanti
Adrienne, Joy and Alison at Masseria Salinola – yes, Joy did buy the same dress as Adrienne is wearing in previous photo
Dessert after 5 courses – it was hard to resist
Masseria Salinola
Masseria Salinola courtyard
  • Friday arrived and after 5 big days we headed for Polignano a Mare, (more shopping – all our guests have found the artisan jewellery store here), and then to the airport in Bari to wave our last visitors to Italy goodbye.
  • We decided that after 4 months and many visitors that we should rate all the shopping efforts, so at the risk of denigrating some efforts, (for which we apologise), here are our assessments in horse racing speak
  1. Pauline – first to the barrier but jumped tentatively and never really got going, a particularly poor showing at the Auchan O bag shop – rating: 2/10
  2. Gai and Jayne – jumped well and went in hard, but knew they were running a long race and did not do too much damage to the credit cards – rating: 5/10
  3. Helen – arrived with an empty suitcase and some serious intent – jumped out well, ran hard, attacked the shopping seriously and methodically, no shoe or dress left uninspected, (Brindisi Zara want her phone number as a shopping consultant), and finished the race in good style – rating: 8/10
  4. Anna, Georgina and Cally – young fillies stepping up in class – tried hard but lack of wallet weight held them back – rating: 5/10
  5. Joy and Alison – last to the barrier but jumped straight to the front and stretched the lead at every opportunity – these two are cup winning shoppers, and made a considerable contribution to the Italian economy. Is it a coincidence that the Italian prime minister has announced tax cuts today? It is a credit to them that they did not play favourites – every town we visited enjoyed a shopping bonanza – a fantastic effort – rating: 10/10
  • This was our last full week in Puglia as we leave on Wednesday for Caserta and then on to the Cinque Terre. Our next post will have a summary of our 4 months in Puglia – we have loved it and recommend little known Puglia to everyone – this is a hidden gem and should be on all to do lists before it becomes “Disneyland” like Tuscany.