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Return to England Spring 2014 PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

RETURN FROM GREECE TO ENGLAND, via ITALY and FRANCE

Margaret and Barry Williamson
June 2014
 

Continued from: Return to Greece: Spring 2014 

After a winter in southern Sicily at the magnificent Camping Luminoso, and a spring cycling in the familiar mountain territory of the southern Greek Peloponnese, we begin our reluctant return to England. Reluctant for the usual reasons, familiar to all long-term long-distance travellers, but also full of hope. We plan to replace our comfortable though cumbersome arrangement of our 6.6 metre Lunar Quasar caravan pulled by a 6 metre 3.5 ton mwb high roof VW Crafter van. A total length of 12.6 metres or 42 feet!

We have our eyes and future travels plans focused on a nimble 3.5 ton under 7-metre motorhome!

Sparta to Camping Isthmia Beach, Corinth (Korinthos) 92 miles

Open 1 April-mid Oct. www.campingisthmia.gr. 19.70 inc 10 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi around Reception only.  N 37.88886 E 23.00575

After weeks of deliberation we were still undecided about taking the caravan on to Eastern Europe, or whether to return to the UK and exchange the caravan/VW combination for a motorhome. The ideal would not be another weighty and thirsty RV but a 3.5 ton coachbuilt model, preferably with a garage for the bicycles, and we'd found a possible contender on-line at Marquis Motorhomes.

Reluctantly we bade farewell to our host at Sparta, the ever-smiling Peter Kapetaneas, and set out for Corinth, which would be the decision point: west to Patras for a ferry to Italy, or east to Bulgaria.

We circled round the congested centre of Sparta, crossed the bridge over the Evrotas after 4 miles, then headed north for Tripoli (Sparta's new motorway link as yet unfinished). The smooth road climbed to 900 m or almost 3,000 ft before joining the A7 motorway at 37 miles. The first toll, 9 miles later and just past the services, was 6. We drove through a mile-long good modern tunnel, followed by a shorter one, before passing the ancient stone quarry from which Greco-Roman Korinthos was built, at 71 miles.

A second toll (6.40) came at 75 miles, then another service station. There was a good view of Akrokorinth high above on our left, before joining the E94 (Athens direction) at 83 miles. At exit 10, 5 miles later, we turned off south for Isthmia. The left turn down a lane to the campsite is signed after another 3 miles.

The securely fenced site lies along the pebbly shore near the southern entrance to the Corinth Canal. It was very hot over 30 deg C inside the caravan and the site was mainly filled with statics, with no sea-view pitches free. The young man in Reception warned of a group of students due to arrive tomorrow.

After lunch we went on-line to check availability on ferries to Italy. Disappointingly, both Minoan Lines and Superfast appeared to be fully booked for at least a week. On the telephone it was the same story from Minoan but Superfast had just got one cancellation for the next day. Decision made, we booked the 5.30 pm sailing from Patras to Ancona tomorrow, with 'Camping on Board'!

Excited, we nipped out to the AB Supermarket 2 miles away, for supplies and cash, then parked and ate over the road at Goody's, before walking across the bridge and back for a view of the Corinth Canal. Its sheer rock sides and long narrow channel are an unforgettable sight, also available as a bungee jump!

Back at the campsite it was still hot and airless, the mosquitoes were out in force and a thumping disco sounded from the adjacent hotel. One night here would be more than enough!

Corinth to Patras, South Ferry Port 111 miles

Overnight Ferry 'Superfast XII' to Ancona, Italy

Away after breakfast: 3 miles back to the motorway, then west for Patras. There was a toll of 6.30 at 14 miles, after we'd passed Corinth, though much of the road is not even a dual carriageway. It's a dangerous and very busy highway, with road-widening works underway, but there is no alternative except the impossibly narrow coast road. The weather remained hot and humid, with a short heavy rainstorm along the way.

We passed the service station near Ancient Sikyon after 20 miles, taking a break at the next services, Akrata, at 50 miles. A third services is at Egio, 15 miles later. To avoid the mayhem of Patras city centre, keep left (signed Pirgos) after passing the turn-off for the new Rio Bridge. The best exit for the new (south) ferry port is junction 2.

Inside the new port it was chaos, with nowhere to park, wait or queue and no signs, but at least the men with guns and dogs were keeping away any would-be illegal emigrants, who had plagued the old port. Barry circled while Margaret went in search of a ticket office and we eventually managed to park among the trucks, though a lorry driver protested.

On board, the Camper Deck was packed full, airless, vibrating and noisy. We have many happy memories of 'camping on board' but it was on a spacious open deck - never like this! After sailing at 5.30 pm Margaret went to Reception to complain and ask about the cost of a cabin. The nice young man in uniform accompanied her to see the situation for himself, then offered us a 2-berth en-suite outside cabin FREE OF CHARGE! We celebrated with an excellent 3-course meal in the a la carte restaurant, a great treat, then had a restful quiet night.

ITALY Friday 13 June (and a Full Moon)

Ancona Port to Camping Mar y Sierra, Stacciola di San Costanzo, Puglia 33 miles

Open all year. www.marysierra.com. ACSI Card 16 inc 16 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi around Reception only.  N 43.74600 E 13.08140

After a leisurely shower in our free cabin, we went down to the caravan to make breakfast:  a great combination! The camper deck was still throbbing uncomfortably, so we spent most of the voyage reading in the cool peace of the ship's forward lounge. The on-board WiFi was not working.

Docking in Ancona at 5 pm (Italian time), it was almost as hot as Greece. We crawled through 10 miles of slow traffic to join the A14 towards Bologna, leaving it 18 miles along at exit 14 (toll 2.60). The campsite is 5 miles from the Autostrada: 3 miles inland on rd 424, then turn right (signed Stacciola) by an Opel garage, continue uphill and bear right at the camp sign after another 2 miles.

The campsite is set on gravel terraces on a steep hillside, making access to the pitches difficult. Its 'sea view' is obscured by woodland, full of birdsong and an occasional red squirrel. The free open air pool was thronged with children on a school camp. An on-site restaurant supplied a take-away prawn pizza, with a less than generous topping. Later the heat erupted in an overnight thunderstorm.

Next day being wet and very windy, we stayed a second night and spent time planning the route back, phoning campsites and looking at more motorhomes on-line. We decided against breaking the journey in Milan when Camping Citta di Milano quoted 38 a night! 

Stacciola di San Costanzo to Camping Mombarone, Torre Daniele, Settimo Vittone, Torino 333 miles (alt 927 ft/281 m)

Open all year. www.campingmombarone.it. 16 inc 4 amp elec and showers. Free WiFi on pitches near Reception.  N 45.56474 E 7.81668

With a long journey to the Aosta Valley ahead, we were on the road before 8 am on Sunday: always the best day to cross Italy in the absence of trucks. It was 2 miles downhill to rd 424, then another 3 miles to Marotta to join the A14/E55 to Bologna. The road works we remember are all finished now, with 3 fast-flowing lanes in each direction.

It began to rain after Imola and on round the Bologna Ring. At 120 miles we joined the A1 and continued past Modena. Italy looked much greener and less parched than Greece, with fruit trees and vines thriving across the plains. By the time we stopped for lunch on Parma services at 166 miles the showers had stopped.

At Piacenza (200 miles) we turned west onto the quieter A21, crossing the 45th Parallel near Voghera 21 miles later. Half way between Equator and North Pole and it did feel pleasantly cooler! At 265 miles by Alessandria we took A26 northwards, soon bridging the broad River Po near Casale Monferrato. We turned off northwest at 287 miles, on the A26 for Aosta. The contrasting scenery was amazing: white egrets waded in bright green rice fields on either side as we crossed the flood plain of the Po, with the snowy peaks of the Alps emerging from the haze ahead. At 322 miles we kept right onto A5, north past Ivrea, exiting at Quincinetto 10 miles later. One single toll for the whole day's journey came to a little over 30 and well worth it!

The campsite was just a mile away and easily accessed: turn right, cross the river, turn right again and the entrance is on the left. It's a lovely little site with a view of the mountains, a very friendly English-speaking Reception, excellent ablutions, and bread rolls on sale in the morning. There is a footbridge from the site to the adjacent 9th century Church of San Lorenzo, or it's an easy walk back to Quincinetto. We'll certainly stay here again when using the Mont Blanc Tunnel. The only negative was the 4-amp hook-up, which wouldn't run the microwave (or much else!)

Next day was warm and dry again. We did the laundry and hung it out in the wind, planned our route across France and booked the P&O Calais-Dover ferry. After lunch we walked across the bridge over the Dora Battea River to Quincinetto, where the motorway soars above the narrow cobbled lanes and church of the medieval centre. The glacier-blue river, parallel canal, railway, main road and motorway all flow down the valley past this quaint village.

Settimo Vittone, Italy to Camping Crotenots, Le Miroir, Cuiseaux, France 212 miles

Open 1 April-mid Oct. The Website,  12.40 inc 6 amp elec and local tax. Shower token 0.80. No WiFi. N 4634'14" E 521'28"

After a showery night it felt cool and green. Away at 9 am, we returned 1 mile back to the A5, to climb northwards. The motorway soon crossed the regional border into the magnificent Aosta Valley, running through several short tunnels. Castles perched high on rocky crags guarded this historic route, which turned west with the river at St Vincent (17 miles), now at 1,320 ft/400 m.

Just past the Aosta services we paid our last Italian toll (27.10) at 30 miles. There is a choice of Alpine crossings from here turn off north to the Great St Bernard pass or tunnel into Switzerland, or continue west - as we did - for the Mont Blanc Tunnel into France. A series of shorter tunnels took us past Morgex to join the SS26 at 57 miles, up at 4,224 ft/1280 m. A mile later, at 4,554 ft/1380 m, we had a stunning view of the White Montain itself before entering the 7-mile Tunnel that runs below Europe's highest peak. The toll for this was 57.

FRANCE

At 65 miles the Mont Blanc Tunnel opened into a burst of French sunshine as we entered the Department of Haute Savoie at 4,046 ft/1226 m. The onward road hair-pinned steeply down, with a speed limit of 25 km (16 miles) an hour for caravans or vehicles over 3.5 tons. We joined the A40 (the Autoroute Blanche) for Geneva 3 miles later, with a view of the Glacier des Bossons on our left. After feeling alone on top of the world, we suddenly found ourselves following a Shearings tour bus!

The A40 motorway gradually descended, through a pair of cash tolls (7.20 and 3.70), until we collected a toll booth ticket before stopping for lunch on the Valleiry services at 127 miles, down at 1,800 ft/545 m. On we drove, through the tunnels and over the viaducts of the magnificent Jura Mountains. After the Tunnel de Chamoise we climbed a col to 2,132 ft/646 m at 158 miles, then dropped steeply for 6 miles (with lots of speed warnings) to cross the River Ain at 987 ft/299 m. Four miles later the A40 turned abruptly north, past Bourg-en-Bresse.

At 183 miles (altitude 790 ft/240 m) we took A39 north towards Dijon, leaving it at exit 9 (205 miles) for Le Miroir, with a final toll of 26.40. Misled by the SatNav, we meandered anxiously round 7 miles of increasingly narrow lanes and crossed the motorway twice before finding the quiet rural campsite. It actually lies to the east of the motorway, only 4 miles from the junction!

The resident owners sell local wine and honey, as well as running a rather formal restaurant (3-course menu for 17; BBQ on Fridays for 11). We simply ordered some croissants for morning, which were scrumptious. The other campers were mostly Dutch, with one other British caravan.

Le Miroir to Camping Municipal Val-de-Vesle, Reims 247 miles

Open 1 April-mid Oct. www.reimstourism.com.  13.70 inc 8 amp elec and showers. No WiFi. N 49.16687 E 4.21416

It was 4 miles back to the A39 via Le Miroir, for a fill of diesel (better price than Italy), then north on the motorway along the western edge of the Jura National Park. At 69 miles we joined the A31 near Dijon, turning northwest 47 miles later onto A5.

Lunch on the Chateauvillain Orges services at 133 miles. Another warm day, though a head wind made for a slow journey and clouds were gathering over the infinite flat greenscape of wheat fields, cattle and woodland. Near Troyes we joined A26 at 174 miles and continued north for 60 miles to meet the A4. Here we turned east for 1 mile, to take exit 27, near Chalons-en-Champagne. The toll for 232 miles of A-numbers was 46.

Along the D944 for 10 miles towards Reims, then right on D326, past tall grain silos and over a canal, following camp signs to a pleasant grassy municipal site. The weighty security gate needs a code from Reception (which is open 8-8). We'd booked ahead on the phone and found our pitch marked 'Williamson Reserve'. British neighbours on all sides ignored us, suffering from WVS (White Van Syndrome)!

Val-de-Vesle, Reims to Camping La Bien Assise, Guines 184 miles

Open 5 April-27 Sept. www.bien-assise.com.  ACSI Card 19.40 inc local taxes, 6 amp elec and showers. Free indoor heated pool. WiFi expensive (from 2 for 1 hr). N 50.86611 E 1.85694

Along the busy D944 into Reims, where in a confusion of road works, diversions and traffic we somehow found the Reims Ring and followed it anticlockwise to join the A26. This motorway, aptly named Autoroute des Anglais, runs northwest all the way to Calais! The first services, Champ Roland, at 35 miles would be excellent for motorhome parking overnight, with a separate parking area, a dump and token-operated water and electricity - but we had a ferry to catch tomorrow.

At 76 miles in Picardy we crossed the River Somme near St Quentin. On past Cambrai and Arras, names redolent of the Great War. As we passed the exit for Vimy (at 125 miles) we caught a glimpse of the Canadian Memorial up on Vimy Ridge to our right, alongside a Commonwealth War Grave and a coach park: poignant sites we have visited more than once on these battlefields.

Lunch on the St Hilaire Cottes services at 150 miles, before paying a toll of 32.60 and taking exit 2 at 173 miles. Road D943 then led to Guines, where the entrance to La Bien Assise is on the left of a roundabout. The large campsite is set in the grounds of a small chateau that serves as a Logis de France Hotel - the hotel is open all year, the camping is seasonal.

Convenient for both Calais and the Channel Tunnel, it's a popular site with the British, who were out in force. Campers have access to the hotel's free indoor and outdoor pools, an upmarket restaurant, and an excellent take-away and bar. Margaret enjoyed a swim before collecting our supper: one freshly cooked home-made cheeseburger and one salmon & leek quiche, only let down by the reheated French fries! 

Guines, France to Gullivers Camping & Caravanning Club Site, Milton Keynes, England (via Calais-Dover Ferry) 18 French miles and 142 English miles

Open 14 March-10 Nov. www.campingandcaravanningclub.co.uk. Senior Member Rate 19.05 inc 16 amp elec and showers. WiFi 2 for 24 hrs (or 10 per week).

Along a new road from the campsite roundabout, it was just 5 miles to junction 40 onto the A16 (toll-free). From exit 47, 7 miles later, we drove 6 miles to the port at Calais. We'd booked the 11.35 am sailing but, arriving early, were directed straight through for the 10.45 boat.

It was a smooth crossing, the ferry busy with French school parties. A free food voucher for 20 issued with the ticket bought two full English breakfasts and coffee, before docking in Dover at 11.30 am (English time).

ENGLAND

Gradually readjusting to driving on the left in the congested traffic of southern England, we followed A20, M20 and M25 anticlockwise. After 49 miles from Dover we crossed the Thames via the Dartford Tunnel (toll 2.50) and on to join the M1 north past St Albans.

From exit 14 (Milton Keynes North) we followed signs west for 3 miles to the Camping & Caravanning Club site near 'Gullivers Land' theme park, where we had a warm welcome from a friendly Warden.

A relaxing evening, with Radio 4 freely available and the novelty of British TV: 'Midsomer Murders' and 'Have I Got News for You'.

Milton Keynes to Clumber Park Caravan Club Site, nr Worksop 116 miles  

Open all year. www.caravanclub.co.uk Member Rate 20.50 inc 16 amp elec and showers. WiFi not working. No phone signal.

Back to the M1 and north for 102 miles to exit 30 (Worksop). East on A619 and A57, past Worksop to the A1 junction. Here we turned briefly south on A614, then right into Clumber Park through a stone archway. Signs led for a mile to the Caravan Club site, busy on this sunny Saturday afternoon the longest day of the year.

We'd booked a few days on this site, assuming it would be a good base for visiting Marquis Motorhomes at Dinnington. However, we were very disappointed to find the WiFi was out of order long-term, nor was there any mobile phone signal. This was only explained after we had paid and the staff attitude was deplorable: 'go and chill' they told Margaret.

After pitching the caravan, we nipped out in the VW to shop in Worksop and check out an alternative site: Riverside Caravan Park in the town. Kath, the Warden, couldn't have been friendlier, there is a good phone signal and WiFi available, and we agreed to move there next day. Weeks later, we are still trying to get a refund from the Caravan Club through their complaints procedure

Clumber Park to Riverside Caravan Park, Worksop 8 miles

Open all year. www.riversideworksop.co.uk 18 inc 10 amp elec. Good long showers 1. WiFi at various prices, eg 25 for 7 days. No laundry facilities.

The Warden at Clumber Park was even impatient at the request to stay and eat lunch before leaving, even though other campers were doing the same not to mention the fact that we'd paid for the night in any case! What a relief to drive away.

Riverside Caravan Park, tucked behind the County Cricket Ground and bowling green, is a beautifully wooded site and we were welcomed onto a very spacious hedged pitch in a quiet corner. Hard to believe we were only a 5-minute walk into the centre of Worksop, with a great choice of shops and places to eat, as well as a thrice-weekly street market and access to the Chesterfield Canal towpath to walk or cycle.

As an ice cream van called to cheer us up, we felt very much at home. Just as well, since (little did we know) we were to remain here on-and-off for over a month! We would recommend this site, and especially Kath the Warden, without hesitation. She helped us enormously in different ways through a difficult period, allowing us to store things in her garden shed and giving a reduced rate on nights when we left the caravan unoccupied.

(continued at: Marquis Malpractice)