14th April …….Montgenevre, the French Alps
We set off from the Aix en Province area with the intention of parking up for the night the French side of the border before heading off to the Italian lakes. We actually only drove 167 miles that day but what a fantastic drive it was going to become. We set off and the first part of the journey found us just enjoying the beautiful French scenery. Around lunchtime we started to get views of the snow covered French Alps and couldn’t wait to find a place to park where we could have our lunch with that view in front of us.
Further on and we were driving in the valleys of the magnificent mountains and the snow covered peaks were getting closer and closer. We started to see lots of signs warning us that we had to have snow chains with us and other signs warning of the possibility of snow. Our satnav shows how many meters above sea level we are and at any one time and we were soon over 800 meters up.
The instruction came on the machine to take a left turn and then the fun really started. Now the gradient of the road increased quite dramatically and we were zig-zagging up towards the snowy peaks we had been admiring earlier on. In no time at all we were at 1200 meters up and 1200 soon became 1400 meters. Harriet, our motorhome, was coping with all of this very well but because of the chassis length of 7.04 meter then it was difficult to stay our side of the road at those bends that just turned sharply back on themselves. Earlier on when we set off last year Elaine hated this sort of road as she constantly worried about us going over the edge. What a difference; although she kept telling me not to look at the views as I was driving she spent her time taking pictures with her mobile phone.
Close to our goal we rounded yet another hair pin bend and there was snow right up to the side of the road but luckily the road itself was totally clear and quite dry. We drove into the ski resort of Montgenevre which is just 1 km from the Italian border and there were people skiing right beside us. There were cable cars all around us going up to the peaks and we passed shops selling ski equipment. We followed the signs to the large aire which could hold 250 motorhomes but there were only a handful of vans there when we arrived. The satnav said that we were going to spend the night at 1864 meters above sea level and the app on the phone said the temperature was going to drop to 6 degrees centigrade that night so we were pleased that Harriet has a good heating system.
We walked down the road and then around the resort and there spotted people on small sledges that were on a shiny metal rail that came all the way down the mountain side. It was called the luge and a cable car took the people to the top along with the empty sledges. Despite Elaine’s new nonchalance for heights, I didn’t think it was worth bothering to ask her if we should have a go. We managed to find a shop open where we could buy a loaf of bread and some milk and then had an early night as we knew the next day was going to be busy driving down the other side of the mountain and on to Lake Maggiore.
15th April……Baveno, Lake Maggiore, Italy
Within just 1 km we crossed over the border into Italy and spent the next half an hour driving round bend after bend down the mountain and the concentration then was to keep the speed down without keeping the foot brake on all the while. It was quite an ear popping experience as we descended so quickly. As usual we had set the satnav for the fastest route but to avoid the motorways we would have to pay to go on. Our mission is not to get between A and B in the fastest possible time but to for us to see as much of the countryside as possible. We had decided, at first, to make a stop at a place called Novara and that involved going around the ring roads of Turin. Our drive was strangely quiet and we were soon discussing with each other that the Italian drivers were surprisingly well behaved in this area of Italy. After our last travels across Italy right down to the toe we had got quite used to being madly overtaken on either side and the constant blaring of horns. It didn’t last! We were the head of the queue waiting at traffic lights to turn left on the outskirts of Turin. Immediately the lights changed a large black saloon came round the wrong side of us and with screeching tyres, roared round and shot up the road with black smoke pouring out of the exhaust. Elaine and I both laughed. Now we knew we were back in Italy.
We changed our minds and decided to go directly to the campsite at Baveno. Surprisingly her that has to be obeyed (the satnav voice) turned us onto mile upon mile of single carriageway roads with passing points. Either side of the road we started to see large square fields under about 9 inches of water. My guess was that they were rice, paddy fields as they were much too shallow to be there for making salt. Elaine looked it up. Over 100 varieties of rice are grown around Vercelli and the fields stretch for miles and the seasons are defined by the different colours and different activities and these farms are known as Cascina a Corte Chiusa. A little while on we saw in front of us an eagle being buzzed by a magpie and the eagle was doing its best to escape the attention of the pesky bird. Right in front of us the eagle swooped down almost hitting the road in front of us before zooming off straight up in the sky. What a magnificent thing to see.
The sky over the mountains we were aiming for looked decidedly grey and certainly looked full of rain. Finally we reached Bovena and after a couple of wrong turns we finally made it to the campsite. We are close to the water’s edge of Lake Maggiore. Unfortunately it soon started to rain and it is Sunday now and the rain has only just stopped.
The panorama over the lake is decidedly gloomy but I have taken a couple of pictures just to show that we are here. We have decided that as soon as the weather improves, which should be tomorrow, we will take boat rides to the three islands on the lake and next day we will go on the Lago Maggiore Express. This will be a full day where will travel on the lake for 3 hours to Locarno in Switzerland. After 1 ½ hours there we then take the very scenic narrow gauge railway trip past many mountains to Domodossola, Italy before catching the fast train back here to Baveno.