Northern Italy with 3 kids in a car!

Northern Italy with 3 kids in a car!

These photos have all been copied from a previous travel blog that I used to write in 2010. This was prior to us becoming vegan or sugar-free so I do apologise for the photos of food! At this stage our children were small, approximately aged 7, 3 and 18 months.

All of these photos were taken with my very first DSLR, a panasomic lumix. I shot everything in automatic, not understanding what manual settings were, so forgive the strange angles and the lack of focus 🙂 I could edit these photos but I am figuring there is little point, at least it shows how far I have come in the past 4 years!!

This is the blog of our four week journey around Italy with my husband, our 3 kids and a rather small car:

1 day to go & counting as the preparations begin

Thought we’d start writing a blog for our epic 4 weeks away; 2 adults, 3 children, 1 scuby and a roof box. We’ll be driving down through France and spending 2 weeks in the north west of Italy before heading across France to spend 2 weeks near Bordeaux.

Preparations have started as we fix the roof box to the Scuby – sacrilege!!! and manically try to pack the piles of various things I have collected over the past couple of days.

Eurotunnel to Reims, France & down to Grenoble.

Eventually we set off, only an hour late!! Southampton to Dover, not quite sure how long it took but we made check-in with 2 minutes spare and boarded straight onto the train without even having our passports checked!!??Driving on the continent, although especially in France, is a dream 🙂 Long stretches of open peage, perfectly formed with few potholes meant that we arrived at our hotel in Reims just after 2am. Late night as we didn’t get to sleep until 3am and had an early start rising at 7:30am. The room is great, newly built hotel with sleeping for four. Alas Z (2 yrs) sleeps with Daddy in the double bed & I sleep in the bunk beds with S (7 yrs). I (6 months has her own pop-up moses basket & sleeps on the floor. Breakfast is an all you can eat affaire with brioche, bread, compote, yoghurt & hot chocolate.  Unfortunately the Premiere Classe hotel appear to have charged me 3 times for our room and I have to claim this back through the credit card company, although may try to email the company direct.

Long day ahead driving and whilst we hoped to get to Nice, we only made it to Grenoble. We’ve stayed here a number of times but the scenery never ceases to awe me. The contrast between the beautiful backdrop of serene snow clad mountains with the hustle and bustle of a busy city. Grenoble however has become slightly run-down in the past years and crime, particularly car crime has increased. This was ever more noticeable in the unpatroled carpark outside the hotel, where the car next to us got broken into 🙁

We celebrate Z’s 2nd birthday in a French steak house and he is bemused to say the least when they bring out his chocolate mousse desert with a lit candle and a loud speaker singing ‘happy birthday’ in French!!! Despite it being a chain, I have the most amazing steak;
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Dropping down the mountains onto the French riviera

 Second day of driving and we head from Grenoble down the coast, past Nice and Monaco and head for the Italian mountains.The roads are jampacked, as we suspected and feared, so rather than stick to the N roads we decide to cut across the mountains. After being stuck in traffic for an hour and this diversion, it adds an extra 2 hrs to the journey but the views are breathtaking and I want to show the chidren a different side to France, other than peage and motorway driving.

The temperature according to the car’s thermometer says 36 degrees but I know that it is at least 5 degrees out as many external thermometers say 41. It is baking inside the car, so rather than waste petrol by using the air con, we have the windows down. The poor boy however gets stung by a bee on his forearm. He doesn’t seem too adversley affected and falls asleep, although I start to panic he is in shock and keep poking him for a reaction!!

The scenery is amazing as we wind around mountain tops and climb to 1100 metres. Rock overhangs roads and it is a great chance for the kids to experience a geography that they wouldn’t usually see in flat Southampton!!

In the distance I can see a church on the top of a huge mountain. Totally isolated and there appears to be no visible road running to/from it. I suddenly recall a James Bond film ‘for your eyes only’ and wonder if it was filmed during that?  I think it was called Le Cannet?

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Crossing the border from France to Italy.

Eventually we cross the border into Italy – still not having had our passports checked – and make our way back up into the mountains to our first destination Perinaldo. Slightly inland from the coast it takes about 30 minutes from leaving the autostrada at Ventimigglia to arrive.

Lying nearly 600m up, there are lots of snakey roads up high inclines with poor safety barriers and lots of mad Italian drivers!!  Our heavily laiden car just about makes it up the steep curves although not without some peculiar noises which we later discover are the tyres rubbing on the inside of the wheel arches. Eek.

The view however is absolutely fantastic.
Perinaldo – perched on a mountain top overlooking the sea

Our first day in Perinaldo

We’re staying on Via San Michele, the downstairs house is slightly monolithic having been built literally into the side of the mountain, and benefiting from 180 degree views.

The middle white house with the balcony was ours

The weather is fantastic, about 29 degrees and the kids are able to play outside in the garden making ‘potions’ from water and lavendar and whatever other flowers/herbs they can find in the garden.

We go off exploring this rather hilly little medieval village and discover a labrynth of cobbled pavements, arches, narrow streets and wonky houses. The steps are steep, which with one child who doesn’t walk very fast and one on my back is a little difficult to negotiate but well worth it.
   

Ventimigglia.

We didn’t pick the warmest day to visit the beach and given how stoney/shingly it was, decided that we wouldn’t stay but would walk along it and paddle on the shore line. This is something the Italians clearly don’t do as we appeared to be somewhat a laughing stock with people staring and pointing at us.
Regardless we ignored them and carried on
We found a restaurant although it was nothing to write home about, the food was freshly cooked and fairly nice. We discovered that few establishments in Liguria accept plastic instead favour cash – something we don’t do!!! This meant that many of our meals were cut short by a lack of money. Pity as the food in many places was really very apertising.

San Remo

Unfortunately I didn’t take many photos here, however it was the hottest day that we experienced in Liguria and hit the beach.

San Remo is a lively bustling city partially based high in the mountains leading down onto the coast. The architecture in parts is well worth a look.

The beach is made of the same shingle composite that Ventimigglia is and although many parts of the beach are private this doesn’t stop it from being dirty! Used sanitary towels were floating in the water amongst other things.

I would have liked to have explored San Remo in greater detail alas it was not to be! Children dictated that we returned back to the house.

Apricale to Dolceacqua

The road between Perinaldo and Apricale is described as ‘difficult and dangerous’ and it wasn’t difficult to see why with 600m drops, no safety barriers, often single track road and mad Italian drivers trying to barge past at 50 mph. I would have thought the amount of roadside graves and flower tributes would serve as warning but apparently not!? I am not a good passenger so was forced to sit on my hands for the majority of the journey and try to keep quiet. It wasn’t helped by S, in the back, asking “Mummy do you believe in heaven and hell?” and R laughing suggesting I was already in hell!

Apricale itself is quite a quaint but fairly busy town, perched approx 700m high. It has some great medieval architecture and if you can find a parking space is a great little stop for food.

Apricale

Crossing through the mountains and back onto ‘proper’ roads, we headed for the most delightful little town Dolceacqua. It has an incredible bridge in the centre and although is slightly touristy, makes for a nice walk and the icecream is delicious.

“What the hell is that? It looks like a baby elephant!!”

It is our last night in Perinaldo so we decide to go out for Pizza in the local restaurant. The pizza is delicious but enormous and our resident hoover R eats up the remnants that we have left.

Rei, Perinaldo, Liguria.

As R is parking the car, in complete darkness with no streetlights, he leans from his seat to look out of the window and says “What the hell is that?” Expecting to see some insect, I barely look until he says something along the lines of “it looks like a baby elephant” lol. It is at this point that I realise he is looking at a wild mountain boar 🙂

Alone, which is unusual as they are pack animals, I tentatively attempt to get out of the car to take a picture but the creature scuttles off into the undergrowth and I am left wondering whether it has actually retreated or whether it intends to charge at me. We are safe as it scampers off down the mountain however. It has made a nice little ending to our week in the mountains, as neither R nor S have seen a wild boar before.

Our thoughts on Perinaldo and our house on Via San Michele

First off I shall start by reviewing the house that we rented on Via San Michele:

Although we had some distinct problems with the house, IE the two bedrooms leading straight out onto the terrace, not interconnecting and not being able to hear between the two bedrooms, the majority of our stay was really pleasant and we had a great time. Admittedly the two bedrooms downstairs were incredibly damp and the bedding was wet to get into and our clothes were slightly moudly smelling, however the views from the house were phenominal and we got to experience some magnificent weather changes that we would never have experienced

The view would change rapidly from being encapsulated in cloud, to it dispersing and then sun rising. Amazing.
Both of the kitchens, upstairs & down, were incredibly well equipped which made it easy and a delight to cook. It was difficult not having direct parking and we were never able to use the pushchair, which meant either me or R having to constantly carry a child. This was made more difficult at times in the dark as there is little street lighting. In hindsight though this was our ignorance as we should have realised that being on a mountain 600m high, there would inevitably be some steep climbing. The insects also proved a huge problem for us, however this was not directly linked to the house.

Perinaldo in itself is a really quaint but fairly vibrant town. The architecture dates back to medieval times so it is quite interesting to see how modern living has adapted to the rustic buildings. The local Policeman was lovely and rather than write us a ticket for dodgy parking, he came to find us to give us a friendly warning.
We visited the observatory one evening however due to excessive cloud we couldn’t look through the telescopes so sat and listened to a planetarium talk in Italian & French. The staff were very accommodating of our sprinkling of Italian language and kindly translated much into French for us. It was greatly appreciated and meant that I could keep a running commentary for S.
Liguria itself remains almost undiscovered by British toursists, which we found to our distinct benefit. Don’t you just loathe going somewhere abroad, only to hear a British accent behind you? Well, I do!! We spent the week submersed in Italian language and culture and thoroughly enjoyed it 🙂

R and the kids in Perinaldo
The view from our bedroom across the mountains
Me & the kids in Perinaldo

Leaving Perinaldo, Liguria for Moasca, Piedmont.

For one the weather has changed as well as the landscape and buildings. Piedmont, or at least Asti, Canelli & the surrounding area is flat, full of farms and vineyards. The weather has taken a drastic turn and is pouring with rain, flooding the local fields.

This is the view that greets us when entering a small village en route:

The architecture has changed dramatically from high built perching half houses to wide, elongated farms, barns and houses all together. First impressions of the area are that it is similiar to Tuscany, however we haven’t seen another British car for at least four days so know that it is unspoilt by British hands 🙂

The three A’s; Alessandria, Alba & Asti.

Allesandria was founded in 1168!!! Here we found St. Peter’s Cathedral which is almost entirely clad with marble. It’s in incredibly good condition and we were made to feel very welcome by the Nuns & a priest, who fawned over the children.

Perinaldo
St Peter’s Cathedral
The ceiling of St Peter’s Cathedral

Usually I am incredibly anti-religious, especially Catholicism, however this Cathedral had a calming effect upon me. Maybe it is the splendid art work throughout, or the coolness of the marble?

Walking through the ancient narrow streets, we found little community gardens and this sun-clock upon the wall.

Sun dial clock

Alba has the feel of being much more modern, which is partially due to the excessive and expensive regeneration programme happening throughout the town. Alba dates back to the Roman era and there are still some towers remaining. There are also Roman foundations, which now house above them a more modern block of apartments.

Il palazzo marro

We also saw a Baroque church; Chiesa Maddalena. Fantastic example of works in wood, with what I presume to be a more modern decor of marble. Although I am unsure.

Perinaldo
Chiesa Maddalena

Alba also houses the more modern Cathedral of San Lorenzo

San Lorenzo


S (7 yrs) stated that she’s had enough of looking at boring things, so we decided to visit the market in Asti and have a spot of lunch Italian style. The market was big and housed everything from machetes to knickers and S’s favourite.. toys 🙂

Asti market, where boy slept.

The one thing I really like about markets in France and Italy is the amount of fresh produce and this market didn’t disappoint. Vine tomatoes 1 euro a kilo and watermelon 50c a kilo. However what I always really enjoy seeing is the selection of fish. We just don’t get this amount of choice back home. I think it’s important for the kids to see an array of different looking food, so they don’t become Mcdonaldized!! This is why I love showing them squid and octopus. Unfortunately S (7 yrs) doesn’t remember being on the coast in Croatia when the fish were being sold live and one octopus decided it was time he went back into the water. Alas here, further inland, we have to contend with dead fish.

Octopus in Asti

Lunch was a moderate affair with risotto, pasta, pizza, beef and of course espresso

Lunch in Asti

Turin

Turin is another fanastic city, about an hours drive from Moasta where we were staying. In the month of August practically all the shops in Italy take an annual four week holiday, so Turin was practically deserted. There was us, a police car and a film crew in the main square at one point.

Main square in Turin, almost deserted.

The castello del Valentino sits above the Po river. Although once a castle it is now owned by the Architecture Faculty of the Polytechnic University of Turin. Located in the Parco del Valentino, we weren’t actually allowed in but could wander around. There was also an area of botanical trees and in the 1800’s juventus FC played here!!

Perinaldo
Can you imagine going to Uni here?

Unfortunately Turin was spoilt by the large number of beggars; men and women alike begging for coins. It was not only in the main square and outside the shops, but also at traffic lights which was quite intimidating for the children.

El Argentino restaurant – Collina Forni.

We found this remote Argentinian restaurant after following signs for what seemed liked hours, twisting around all over the region!! Great news for us that we did.

Both myself and R had 3 courses; antipasto, primero and dolce, and the children 2; primero & dolce. The bill was around about 100 euros, so it wasn’t cheap but the meat was exquisite and the service friendly.

Both myself and R had steak, rump & sirloin, and the kids had chicken. We weren’t asked how we would like the steak cooked, it just turned up, however it just melted in your mouth. It was easily the best steak we had ever had – and that says something!!

One thing I have noticed in Italy, wherever we have eaten out, is that coca-cola is excessively charged. Usually around 3 euros a can, it adds a hefty amount to the bill. Wine is less expensive as is water.

This was a great restaurant and I’d recommend it to anyone!

The chef
Cheese & Chilli
R’s steak.
My steak
Caramalised apple pancake
Meat cooking

Driving back over the border into France & heading for Clermont Ferrand.

Well, what a relief (for me) to be finally head acrossing the border back into France. I feel much more at home in France; I prefer the language, the food and definately the people 🙂

We crossed under the Alps at Bardonecchia and crossed the Italian-French border, driving through a series of tunnels, one approx 8 miles long. We had to pay 35 euros for the privilege but 8 mile long tunnels are not something you see everyday, especially in the UK.

Even though we were doing a relatively short journey to Clermont Ferrand, it took us about eight hours due to lengthy traffic jams and stops. The scenery however was spectaculor and I managed to get some fanastic photos of weather – again!! Cloud dropping down the valleys, hanging around the mountain tops.

More shots of clouds and mountains 🙂

Although the picture looks grey and bleak, it was far from it, we hit 30+ degree temperature and bright sunshine.

We stopped off in St Jean de Maurienne for the most delicious pizza cooked in a ‘four au bois’, then hit the road to Clermont Ferrand.

R & I enjoying pizza

Finally reaching Chalais & Salles Lavalette

After one and a half days travelling (we have to break it up for the kids), we eventually got to Chalais, Charente just after 1pm – just in time for lunch 🙂 It was great to be back in familiar territory and the weather was superb at 34 degrees. We jumped in the pool straight away!

Mid afternoon we headed 30 minutes north east up to the house that we have rented in Salles Lavalette. It is the cheapest of all three properties we have rented this holiday and by far the best. It is a very old property with some modernisation (kitchen & bathroom) and suited us perfectly, although the electric toilet scared the pants off me!! The plumbing/pipework is so antiquated that they require an electric pump on it. It is plugged in and in true French style is probably in the most dangerous place it could be – right in peeeing aim!!

R outside the house in Salles Lavalette.

Leaving the Charente and heading for Rennes.

Last day and we head for Rennes fairly early so we can spend the day there. The temperature drops as we head north and foolishly we have opted to leave on the last weekend of the holidays, so the roads are chocka-block! Once we have passed the Paris turn offs the traffic eases, but it adds another 2 hrs onto our journey.

We stop off at a service station and have a refreshing break in a shower 🙂

Our hotel is a little dissapointing to say the least and looks fit for demolition derby, however it is cheap at €40 and as with all premiere class hotels they don’t make us check in and traipse through reception, thus not knowing that there are 5 of us in one room!! I’m sure this is a fire risk, but for now it’ll do.

Rennes stank of sewers unfortunately and nobody really wanted to spend much time there so we headed for an end of holiday treat at a Mcdonalds with an indoor play centre for the kids.

After stuffing our faces at the ‘servez vous’ breakfast we leave for Basse-Normandie and Le mont st michel.

Le Mont St Michel

Well it is bloody freezing in Lower Normandy and we needed our coats (which we didn’t take) as the wind was so strong. Le mont st michel is twinned with the Mount st michael in Cornwall and just slightly east from ST Malo. The abbey is the highest building you can see on the below photo.

Le Mont St Michel

I have visited this partial island before, however at the end of September and at low tide. Now it was high tourist season and very high tide. This meant that we had to battle through the 5 coach loads of Japanese tourists to even get up onto the island. It was heaving with ppl and some parts of the island were inaccessible due to the very high tide. I remember there being a very old church built on the lower west side of the island, that has partially been swept away by the sea but alas we couldn’t see it on this occasion.

We climbed up into the abbey but at €9 each for entry we decided against it.

Me and the kids at the top of the Abbey

The island is very steep and incredibly difficult to get to with a pushchair so we opted for putting the youngest kids in carry pouches. Although slightly harder on the leg muscles, as there are a LOT of steps up to the Abbey, it is better than attempting to drag a pushchair up.

We had contemplated eating on the island, however due to the overcrowding we chose to drive up the coast and head for Le Havre.

Leaving the windswept island

I really like this island and would recommend to anyone that they go, however would definitely suggest that they go outside high season to avoid tourists and also go at low tide so you can access the beaches etc.

Les falaises restaurant, Jullouville, Basse Normandie

I was determined to show the kids a side of France they might not possibly see again, and as we have elected to travel back on the ferry from Le Havre we took the opportunity of driving round past/through Avranches and round the coast road through Carolles and into Jullouville. Everything is looking fairly shut up as the holiday season has drawn to an end, however we stumble across a restaurant ‘Les falaises’.

The man was really friendly and gave us an innovative “arrez au sur”. My french spelling is atrocious so this is probably spelt wrong but it means high chair; which was made of local papers stacked together so Z could sit on them. Here we had the perfect end to a great holiday; Moules Frites 🙂 My favourite.

Cooked to perfection, everyone tucked in:

S enjoying moules frites
Les falaises restaurant

We take our time and enjoy the food & wine, only realising at nearly 3pm that we have to be in Le Havre for 4pm. We manically pay the bill and rush out of the door, only realising 2 hours later that we have left the children’s nappy/changing bag behind.

After a phone call the next day to the restaurant this very kind man not only keeps the bag but sends it back to me here in the UK. This is great generosity and I cannot thank him enough. Although the bag only contains nappies, cream, changing mats and toys, it is of personal sentimentality. So, a big thank you to Les Falaises 🙂

Eurotunnel from Calais to Folkstone

Our boat has a hole in the front of it… not what we want to hear, so we have another 4 hour drive up the coast to Calais. Not what we wanted to hear!

It’s about 10pm when we finally make it to Calais and about 11pm when we board our train. Using my trusty iphone I had attempted to book online, however the battery died as I was paying for it and payment didn’t go through. Not booking online meant that we had to pay €200 however I am a big fan of ‘le tunnel’ and gratefully coughed up.

Ever seen a boat boarding a train? Now you have:

The most amusing thing I saw all holiday

By midnight we were boarded, crossed and had reached Folkstone.. now for the 3 hr journey home. The roads were empty and thanks to the scooby turbo we made it home by about 2:15 am. Exhausted was not the word. We certainly hadn’t planned for an additional 4 hours of driving, but c’est la vie.

3,302 miles. 2 adults, 3 children, a Scooby and a roof box

I am incredibly proud of my little tribe. At times it wasn’t easy but we pulled together and had a great time.

Map below of our extensive trip around France and Italy.

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