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Published: September 1st 2009
.. the whole area was bright green with young crops.
Motorhome News from Europe 20.
Italy March 2005
Umbria, Marche and northwards to Venice and the Dolomites
Gubbio, Urbino, San Marino, Rimini, Ravenna, Venice, The Dolomites, Cortina d'Ampezzo and Camazai
It’s been another busy week for the grey haired nomads. After leaving Perugia, we continued our tour of historic towns with visits to the delightful towns of Gubbio and Urbino. Gubbio is, like Assisi and Perugia, an Umbrian hill town with grand piazzas, palazzos, fountains and churches. Despite it being a Sunday, the town was almost empty of tourists, the only sign of locals in any number seemed to be at the local football match. We found an excellent “sosta” (dedicated parking and overnighting area for motorhomes, often with water and waste facilities and usually free) in Gubbio, but the day was still young and we decided to head on to Urbino on the quiet minor Umbrian roads through beautiful scenery across neat, rolling, wooded hills.
Urbino is in the adjacent province of Marche, a little more rugged perhaps than Umbria, but still captivatingly hilly and mountainous. Despite the slope of the land, here in Marche they seem to want to cultivate as much of
Urbino - from our campsite
....we watched spellbound as the towers and spires began to appear and disappear in the thick white mist
the land as they can, growing crops across vast swathes of steep hills. The whole area was bright green with young crops in the early evening sun. Urbino is touted as “one of the best preserved and most beautiful hill towns in Italy”. We managed to find a campsite with a fantastic view over the town and as we breakfasted the following morning, we watched spellbound as the towers and spires began to appear and disappear in the thick white mist which hung below us in the valley. Urbino has quite a different feel to Assisi, Perugia and Gubbio. It is a ‘Renaissance’ town; the architectural style more refined and less rustic. The town is dominated by the enormous Palazzo Ducale which houses a gallery around which we were escorted, rather than guided, by a guard! Raphael’s fabulous 'La Muta' made the visit worthwhile, although there were many other gems as well. Raphael’s house is in Urbino; beautifully furnished in the period giving a true feel of the 15th century and the haunting presence of the great man.
After Urbino, we wound our way through the beautiful Marche countryside to the tiny principality of San Marino, perched high above
...inside Raphael's home.
on the rugged mountain. Sadly the view was virtually obliterated by a grey swirling mist. It took us just twenty minutes of driving, up and down again, through the entire ‘country’ of San Marino! Further north along the road we hit Rimini, a resort heaven for the well-heeled, amazing to behold but certainly not our cup of tea. Its famous beach of pristine sand some 40km long, was a delight to behold; but divided into sections, each presumably the domain of seperate hotels, charging for sun umbrellas and loungers in season. It was still way too early for there to be anybody here on holiday and all the many campsites remain firmly closed for another couple of months.
And so we continued to “sosta” heaven, Ravenna. Ravenna has at least three sostas, one of which we found easily and decided to join the other fifteen motorhomes parked there for the night. Late that evening we realised that only one of the fifteen was actually occupied; the rest probably belonged to local flat-dwellers! Ravenna was a surprisingly attractive town. In addition to the numerous churches, mausoleums, baptisteries and basilicas that all feature amazing mosaics, it was neat and
a city of bikes
tidy, and preferred bicycles to cars in the centre of town. In Ravenna, you can actually borrow a bike for free, and are trusted to return it, whence it came. They tried that in Cambridge back in the UK, but before the first week was out all the bikes had vanished, we’re told. We also found a church with a crypt which has a lovely mosaic floor, but it is flooded and has goldfish swimming about in it! There is always a little magic left in the barrel if you dig deep enough! Yet another gem.
North of Ravenna, we headed towards Venice, passing through the Po Delta en route in the hope of some good birding. After the deltas of eastern Spain and the Camargue, the Po was disappointing and there were few birds about. But this is Italy- there are lots of guns in Italy! We’ve seen very few birds anywhere in the country, hence the lack of bird reports recently. We did have some good sightings of marsh harriers and avocets, the usual egrets and herons and grebes, but nothing to get too excited about. The only reserve that we found was firmly
goldfish in the crypt!
shut, probably to allow the hunters time to get the job finished. In our meandering about the delta, the most exciting event was a trip across one arm of the Po on a pontoon bridge, supported by boats lashed together. We hoped that Smiley wouldn’t exceed the 5 ton weight limit and sink midstream! given our luck, this is just about the only disaster that hasn’t happened to us!
We survived fine, and wound up in Venice - or at Punta Sabioni at the end of the Jesolo spit to be precise. This spit, between Lido di Jessolo and Venice boasts an astounding thirty or so campsites, all but a few were still closed, awaiting the sun.
Camping Miramare, our choice and recommended, was just 500metres from the waterbus to Venice, and it was packed with Germans and Italians. Since we left Almeria in southern Spain many weeks ago we have not encountered any busy campsites except perhaps Florence. Often we have been the only residents. But Easter holiday time had arrived and families with motorhomes suddenly emerged and the site was almost full. The sosta next door that belonged to the same campsite and charged
across one arm of the Po on a pontoon bridge, supported by boats lashed together
16 euros for the priviledge, was full. There were another thirty or so motorhomes parked (illegally) along the road and yet more parked in the carparks by the ferry terminal. We could find no other Brits though until our second night, when old motorhoming friends Kathy and David from Brighton turned up on site. We first met them in Valencia in January, then bumped into them again in Florence. While we’ve been to Sicily, they’ve been to Greece seeking out the sun!
We were in Venice a few years ago, also during the Easter holiday, but we don’t remember it being quite so jam-packed with tourists. The waterbus was laden with dozens of French teenagers on a school trip. We felt very sorry for their longsuffering teachers. Of course the waterfront and St Marks Square were also seething with people (and pigeons), but away from this main hub, it was easy to lose the crowds. We visited Venice three days running, walked our feet off, and enjoyed all the art and architecture, glass, masks and fabulous fashions; not to mention the pizzas, pasta and ice-cream! After St Marks, the Doges Palace and a dozen or more churches, we
couldn’t take in any more Tintorettos or Veroneses, so we rode up and down the Grand Canal on the waterbus soaking up the mellow waterfront architecture that truly makes this love affair with Venice so passionate. Unfortunately, the weather remained fairly grey for the duration of our visit, but that’s what you have to expect in Venice. For the first time in our brief lives, the camera card was full before we disembarked!
We both knew by Easter Day that we’d had enough of cities, so we took the opportunity of lorry-free roads and headed north to the Dolomites. Names recalled from “Ski Sunday” suddenly appeared on the map. The flat Veneto gave way to soaring, jagged limestone peaks and we found snow again. The spectacular scenery prompted us to stop at Cortina d’Ampezzo, where we had breath-taking mountain views all around. This is definitely where the rich and famous come to pose on the slopes or in their fur coats in the high street, even when the sun is shining and it is 20 degrees as it was on Easter Monday. There was still enough snow for skiing, but we found a hiking trail through larch
woods which was mostly snow-free and gave us some stunning views. Cortina was very pleasant, but after a couple of days we dragged ourselves away as there are a lot more mountains to see. Overnight it rained constantly, which left a frosting of new snow on the peaks. As we drove west the road climbed higher and higher up to about 6,000 feet passing dozens of ski slopes, all busy with skiers enjoying the fresh snowfall.
We are camped tonight at Canazai, at just 5000 feet (a little higher than Ben Nevis) and it’s raining again. The mountains are temporarily lost in cloud, but I’m sure it will clear soon, giving us the opportunity to explore the snowy peaks of the spectacular Valle de Gardena in sunlight tomorrow.
Janice and David
The Grey Haired Nomads
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