Day 18 Helen- Grenobles to Arles

We parted ways late morning, having repacked our stuff and left the back box and my helmet in the care of the hotel for the next week.

French trains are renowned for their punctuality and, unlike German trains, are cheap. I paid 40 euros first class for a one way ticket to Arles- a three hour journey. After a bit of a panic approaching Valence for the change, due to there being two stations called Valence ,10 minutes apart, I arrived in Arles. By now it was baking hot with a deep blue sky, unlike the gloomy, damp weather I had left behind in Grenoble. I wondered how Dave was and if he was staying dry.

Only 5 minutes walk from the station, you hit the old town of Arles in the area around the Roman arena where my hotel was located. It is everything I imagined. Old buildings made of local stone with blue, faded shutters and a backdrop of Roman ruins. It was very touristy around the arena in the middle of the afternoon and there was a preponderance of shops selling provencal aprons and lavender bags. I got some funny looks from the scantily clad tourists as I was clearly over-dressed for the weather in my bike boots and leather jacket.


The Hotel Calendal is right opposite the Roman theatre in a wonderfully central location. The hotel has a lovely garden at the rear and many of the rooms are set around this, including mine. The room itself was tiny and smelled of damp, as is often the case in old, stone places but had everything I needed. It wash`t  until I went to bed, that I realised that the frosted glass door to outside did not have a curtain, causing light to come in from the patio.

I changed into something cooler and spent an hour wandering the streets, getting a feel for the town. I also located my apartment where I would be moving the next day. Arles is exquisite and it is very easy to lose the tourists and find yourself wandering silent, ancient streets alone. I found myself in the Place de la Republique which was filled with beautiful, flamenco guitar music, courtesy of a busker with an amplifier. The square was full of people of all ages and types, sitting around the fountain or on stone steps, taking in the atmosphere of the place. It was far too romantic to be doing this alone.

The hotel has a free spa. I was told to ask the receptionist to let me in. I imagined a place full of other women and maybe a couple of men, sitting around in towelling robes, but was surprised to find I had the whole place to myself. There is a window from the jacuzzi overlooking the Roman arena and the spa itself is styled like a Roman bath, so the whole experience was pretty evocative of Roman times. After a 20 minute steam and power shower, I was the cleanest I had been since I left Berlin. I lathered on all of the free LÓccitane products and made a mental note to visit the LÓccitane shop tomorrow.


That evening, I ate at the Place du Forum in a restaurant opposite the Van Gogh Cafe, claimed by some to be the cafe that inspired the Van Gogh starry night painting and claimed by others to have been built in the 1980s. I had one of those magnificent, composed salads that only the French know how to make well and a glass of Cote de Provence rose wine. The square was heaving with holiday-makers and there was a very cheerful atmosphere. I finished the evening at a cafe overlooking the arena, now devoid of tourists and drank my way through a large pot of rooibos tea while watching others eating huge ice-cream sundaes and crepes with chantilly cream. The perfect end to the day was a visit from a couple of gitano buskers who gave us their rendition of some of the Gypsy Kings best songs (the Gypsy Kings are from Arles). The Camargue area of France has a large population of gypsies who were displaced by Franco after the Spanish Civil War. Of course, being of Roma blood, this type of thing really moves me, even if others might think it a bit cheesy. I wondered back to the hotel very happy.

Day 17 Le Bourg dÒisans to Grenoble

The rain promised fro Day 16 had started early evening and by the next morning was heavy and persistent. Even our super, all weather tent was taking the strain. At least the slugs had been washed out. Dave heroically donned full waterproofs and went out to cook the breakfast. The rain lashed down for another 3 hours but we took advantage of a short break around 11am to pack up and move on to Grenoble. It was a miserable journey in the rain but only took an hour.

We had booked a hotel room near the station so that Helen could easily catch a train to Arles the next morning, where she was spending a few days while Dave met up with Jason and Spider for some more riding. It was embarrassing turning up at the hotel dripping wet with carrier bags of damp, smelly gear. The Ibis Styles had good facilities, including on site underground parking which they let us have for free, good WIFI and breakfast included for 75 euros. The shower was the best we have encountered all holiday. Also useful is the location of Carrefour Express next door.

Of just as much interest as the parking was the proliferation of Indian restaurants and ethnic supermarkets, all closed when we arrived. We smartened ourselves up and went into town on foot wearing our bike boots as they were our only dry shoes. The old town is what you would expect of an old French cityand, on a clearer day, the mountain views extend in every direction. The atmosphere was severely dampened by the weather though, as it had been in Turin. We found some vegan food a a pretty terrible falafel shop and fortified ourselves with a drink in a cosy bar.

That evening, we headed for Shiva Indian restaurant only to be told that they were full. The Bombay told us the same thing but took pity on us and found us a table with low level cushion type seating-just iike camping-which we could have for an hour and a half. The place was thriving and the staff were super friendly. The food was fairly good but not spectacular.

Day 13 Turin to Le Bourg dÓisans, France

We had arranged a week before to meet old friends Sarah and Jerry at a campsite in Le Bourg dÓisans in the French Alps. We were heading that way anyway and they happened to be staying there for a few days in their great VW camper van. Dave had not seen them for 10 years. We first met Sarah in 1996 when we rode around India together for a few weeks along with a motley group of other bikers met along the way.


The ride from Turin was fast and easy along the motorway. There are some very long tunnels as you approach the French border. First impression of the French Alps is that they are not as pretty as The Dolomites. Higher, yes but less forested and there are more ugly ski resorts. The villages are mostly newer and do not have the atmosphere of Italian villages. You do see more snow though and lots of waterfalls.The highlight of this short trip was the Col Lauteret at 2,200m with great views from the top of the pass. It was bloody cold though. Only in France will you find stalls selling local delicacies on a high mountain pass. We bought some jam from a woman who claimed to make all 16 varieties herself. I am sure that making the jam is a lot more rewarding than standing out all day in the cold trying to sell it.


It was great to see Sarah and Jerry. Jerry had just come back from riding over one of the high mountain passes, Col Galibier, 2,600m, on his bicycle! The campsite Ferme Noemie was stunning. Run by a friendly British couple and very laid back. It was strange to be surrounded by so many British people. It did not take long for the beer and wine to be broken out. Sarah cooked a veggie curry and a very nice evening was had.



Days 11 and 12 Lecco to Turin

We agreed that we needed a hotel night. Wifi was needed to update the blog and book a hotel for Grenoble next week. We also needed a change from riding and camping. We have covered 6 countries in 11 days and that is quite tiring.


After much discussion, we decided to head for Turin and we booked a B&B. We left Lecco after a hearty breakfast of veggie burgers and fried veg and decided to stay north where the roads might be good. After about an hour of sitting in traffic on congested, dull roads, we were forced to abandon this idea and set the GPS for a direct route to Turin. We bombed down the motorway for 90 minutes, covering a lot of ground in a short time at a cost of 12 euros in tolls. Again we stayed dry, for which we were very grateful.


Arriving in Turin, our first impression, of the outskirts was that this is a pretty multicultural city. The GPS did a great job in navigating through the tiny cobbled streets of the old city, directly to our accommodation.The only problem was that it was on a pedestrian shopping street and the check in did not open for another 30 minutes. Many of the B&Bs in Italy keep costs low by not having permanent reception staff. You have to inform them of your arrival time and they are there to meet you. We brazened it out, parking the bike up outside and sitting in a cafe to wait. About ten minutes later, a police bike went by and paid us no attention whatsoever. Italy is very laid back like that-made for rule breakers. Having said that, we did get a ticket in Lake Garda in 2012.


The B&B Le Due Matote is manned by Jack White`s (the rock star no the other one) better looking brother and he seemed very disappointed that we did not want to know about museums and sites to see. He was not convinced by our approach to seeing cities of wondering around and soaking up the atmosphere. He directed us to parking 2 minutes away- only 10 euros a night for secure, underground parking. By the time we walked back it had started to rain heavily. The B&B is on the 4th floor of an 18th century building and the room is very quaint and tasteful. One of the highlights is the tiny lift, just big enough for two, that rises very slowly to the top of the building. Jack White´s brother gave us a bunch of 5 keys that we needed to get in and out of the building, so tight was the security.


The rain set in for the night. We bravely ventured out for a beer and a prosecco and even sat outside under a table umbrella but we were eventually forced to look for a restaurant indoors and bought a brolly from a street vendor as the rain became very heavy. Turin was like a ghost town. We were very lucky that the first open restaurant we found was warm, if a bit lacking in atmosphere and the food turned out to be really good. They served bruschetta topped with sautéed spinach- a vegan´s dream. The pizzas were amazing, cooked in a wood fired oven, with thin crusts at the centre and thicker crusts on the outside and the wine was great.



Overnight, we decided to stay for a second day so we chilled out until about 9am and ventured out into Turin. It was raining heavily again. We very stoically headed for a camping shop that we found on the internet. It was a bit grim about town, the streets were empty and the puddles were getting deeper. We were fortified with some Italian coffee and breakfast and we visited some piazzas which must be stunning in the sunshine but were harder to appreciate in this weather. The rain forced us inside the many arcades where the architectural details were really stunning and the signage probably the best we have seen anywhere-even more interesting than Prague or Paris. Turin is full of old fashioned shop fronts and tiny purveyors of tobacco, wine and other old fashioned things. It is very charming and has a unique quality- even in the heavy rain.

By lunchtime the rain had stopped and the sun came out briefly. The city started to come to life and pavement cafes reopened.

In the evening we found the perfect bar offering free tapas like snacks with the wine and beer and there was a much better atmosphere than the previous night, although still no sunshine. After dinner, we wondered back to the room just before it started hammering down with rain again. So glad we were not camping.

Day 10 Bellamonte to Lecco on Lake Como, Italy

Due to the poor weather forecast, we decided to take a more sensible, lower altitude route through the mountains on our way, eventually, to France, where we need to be in 3 day´s time. Our goal for the day was Lecco on Lake Como. We left in heavy cloud but we were lucky and it did not actually rain on us today. The Dolomites west of Trento are not anywhere near as beautiful as those in the east and the roads were much heavier with traffic so the riding was not as much fun for a large part of the day. The standard of driving was also pretty dodgy and we did not feel that safe at times.

We passed through quite a lot of ski resorts which, although having a backdrop of snowy mountains, were pretty ugly. One even had blocks of flats built on the outskirts, like a council estate in the UK.


We rode for about 5 hours with only a couple of quick stops and were pretty tired when we arrived in Lecco. We generally dislike lowland campsites in touristy areas. They are usually too hot and crowded and this one was no exception. We were directed to a space underneath the huge road bridge that crosses the lake and right up against the low boundary fence. Hardly paradise.This did not feel secure and we had local people walking and jogging past all evening, some who, to our tired selves, looked quite dodgy. At the front of the site,there were lovely pitches looking right across the lake and kiddies were swimming in the clear water. Lake Como seems quieter than Lake Garda but does not have the glamour and that real Italian feel that you get in Garda.

We felt pretty exhausted for some reason and a bit down in the mouth so we visited the bar before cooking dinner. A few bottles of Peroni and some Pringles soon sorted us out. After a chickpea curry and some more beer, we were pretty cheerful. No chance of an early night though. Unlike in most countries, the Italian kids stay up until about midnight and there was a lot of noise generally. We locked up everything to be sure it did not go missing, courtesy of people hopping over the fence and helping themselves.


The next morning the campsite seemed a lot quieter and more benign and the people more friendly. Helen has a theory that the Italians get more animated during the day as their caffeine levels peak. The mornings are just more relaxed.

Days 8 and 9 Camping Bellamonte


We discovered this campsite in 2013. It is high up in The Dolomites at 1350 metres and is everything we want from a campsite. It has stunning mountain views, clean air, green grass, lots of space, peace and quiet, a restaurant and it is only a few minutes ride into the town of Predazzo, where there are good facilities. There is something incredibly Italian about this site. It is not used by many foreigners or passersby. Most guests have permanent tents fixed up. They wonder across the site in the morning, in their dressing gowns, toilet rolls under arms and seem very at home. They are friendly enough, without the enforced politeness and unwritten rule-following that you get in German sites. We prefer the Italian way.

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In 2013, we were grateful for the high altitude as, down in the valley, it was 37 degrees. Even then, we had to go to bed at 8pm as it is too cold to sit out when there is no cloud cover and temperatures drop to about 7 degrees. This year, were were not so lucky as the weather is not that good across most of Europe and, after the first day on the site, we experienced prolonged and heavy rain, which went on for about 36 hours. This did not deter us, as experienced campers. We dug deep, still cooking during gaps in the rain and holing up inside the tent for hours and hours, reading while it hammered down outside. At the end of the last day there, we ventured to the restaurant for some respite, to be treated to delicious, simple, wood fired pizza, cooked by a friendly, old guy and some great local wine (Helen´s favourite wine is northern Italian white). The smell of the wood smoke and the thick cloud hanging low over the mountains lent a real atmosphere to the place.


Despite the romance of it all, there is no doubt we were damp and needed a change. Our plans to stay north in the mountains and cross into Switzerland seemed unwise, given the weather, so an alternative plan had to be hatched.

Day 7 Forni di Sopra, Italy to Bellamonte, Italy

Passo Giau

Passo Giau

This is what it’s all about. The top of a mountain pass in the Dolomites. Roads are great, sweeping hairpins and bikes are plentiful. I (Dave) like to think I was riding pretty well but that didn’t stop a guy on a Panigale acing us on the penultimate bend.  A bit rich, considering we were two-up carrying bloody great Touratechs.10329776_10152627036324515_4655936189179795460_o This was the best day we had had so far. The Dolomites at their best. We love riding over the high mountain passes in The Alps and luckily today the weather stayed dry for it. The Passo Giau is over 2,200m. The ride up was pretty easy, compared to some, like the Grossglockner and Stelvio Pass which we conquered last year. The views at the top were just as good, however. There were a lot of bikes out, as it was a Saturday, but that just made it more fun.10453037_10152627035619515_2366674586931231238_oIt was interesting to see that almost everyone at the top of the pass was over 40- cyclists, hikers and bikers. Wonder what young people do at the weekends. The cyclists are always impressive when you watch them cycling up. They must be mad of course. Some were even pulling little trailers!10496075_10152627035949515_8822673059710334068_o

This is by far the most stunning part of The Dolomites and, for us, so far, the whole Alps but we have yet to get to France. The Dolomites are not as high as the French Alps but they are very vertical, so more impressive than you would expect for their height.
We had a very nice espresso at the top of the pass and we ate some locally made dark chocolate while we soaked up the scenery.

We finished the day at our beloved Camping Bellamonte near Predazzo.

Days 4 and 5- Slovenia to Rabac, Croatia



We left Slovenia in sunshine and rode through some great scenery, on fun roads, for a couple of hours. Detouring into Italy (crossing the border in the middle of a housing estate) to ride along the corniche into Trieste was a bit disappointing as there were trees and bushes blocking the sea view all along the coast road. Trieste was a bit crazy with traffic but was a beautiful Italian, port city with a huge main square and a real Italian atmosphere. We both commented on how much we preferred it to Prague. Dave did a great job riding and navigating through the city, with the help of the GPS, under difficult conditions.


We crossed back into Slovenia for a while and felt impatient to see Croatia. On approaching the border, we were surprised to learn that Croatia is not party to the Schengen Agreement and there was a proper border crossing with guards, where we had to show our passports. Some Swiss guys in a sporty Audi were turned away, which made us a bit nervous (as border crossings are prone to do). We had no problems entering our 24th country on a motorcycle together though.


Almost instantly, the landscape became less mountainous and pine forests had turned into vineyards and olive trees, with a real mediterranean feel. We crossed the Istrian peninsula, which seemed totally devoid of life. We passed through a toll booth which seemed to indicate a motorway only to find we were on a normal, well surfaced country road, that clearly warrants a toll in these here parts. When we got to the other end of the toll road, it was free for bikes, so no complaints but still weird.

We checked into our lovely hotel Villa Annette for two nights, as part of Helen´s 50th birthday treats. A lovely room with stunning views over the bay of Rabac from the balcony. A bit of a change from camping. You always feel like a pair of tramps arriving at a nice hotel on the bike with all the gear and the smell of camping lingering. on entering the room, we instantly raided the mini-bar for cold beer and pretzels.10550083_10152608826649515_8878976571951201164_oWe had a posh meal in the upmarket, hotel restaurant where the cutlery was too big for Dave to feel comfortable and the waiter kept hovering. They made a pretty decent attempt catering for a pair of weird vegans. Pudding was a champagne glass with liquid strawberries-delicious. We sampled the local wine which is made by the hotel- it was ok but came in BIG glasses. It was a lot better than the Slovenian beer. Croatian beer is pretty good too. We have a feeling that years of hardship have made drinking a higher priority for the locals here.

10498224_10152610775659515_6713452901484506761_oOn our second day in Rabac, we ventured up the hill looking for a supermarket and found a wonderful Venetian town. Just our kind of thing. What´s more, the restaurant on the main square advertised vegan burgers. We had to change money, as Croatia is not in the euro. We changed 30 euros but found lunch cost only 10. We pottered around the tiny, cobbled streets and admired the sea views before stopping at the supermarket to take a big bag of beers back to the hotel.

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Day 3 Wildalpen to Bovec, Slovenia


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We’ve been to Slovenia before, about ten years ago. This time, we are on a brilliant bike. Last time, we were on a Yamaha Thundercat. We must have been miserable sods back them because we do not remember thinking that Slovenia was stunningly beautiful…and it is…remarkably so.

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Yamaha Thundercat. Not a brilliant bike.

The weather was very mixed today and we had the waterproofs on and off a couple of times but we arrived dry, which is the most important thing when you are camping.

The scenery upon entering Slovenia from Austria, via cutting the corner off Italy briefly, was equally the best we have seen in Europe. We were so high up, looking deep into the valley below that it was almost like being on a plane. The tall, rocky Dolomites to the west and the green Julian Alps to the east and north were staggeringly beautiful. The road was also a lot of fun. It was as if everything had been shrunk down since Austria. The road much narrower, the mountains close enough to touch and finally the sun shining.


Bovec is an attractive little tourist town in a wonderful setting. A campsite, B&Bs, advertising rooms for 25 euros a night, two big supermarkets and a few bars and restaurants. Helen´s favourite place was the tiny greengrocers where they sold big punnets of black cherries and fresh, green figs which we polished off after a meal of tofu curry cooked on the stove. Slovenian beer is pretty terrible but then the people do not come across as party animals. We noticed that back in 2004 on our last visit. Good beer is clearly not a priority.


Dave´s turn to cook breakfast


Day 2 Prague to Wildalpen, Austria

We both loved this campsite at Wildalpen in central Austria. We agree it is number 3 of the best campsites in the world-so far; held back for Dave by not being able to park the bike right by the tent and for Helen by being in the valley (600m) rather than higher up the mountain. Mind you, it was a bit chilly so it would not have been much fun at higher altitude.

It was a great end to a pretty dull day crossing the Czech Republic. We really want to like it there but it is a dull place to ride across. Gently undulating and green but nothing to get excited about.  This was our second time and it did not redeem itself following our first dull crossing in 2012.


The campsite had a great river setting. Most campers had wood fires and the smell of woodsmoke was wonderful. This site is used mostly by kayakers and there was a slightly roughy-toughy feeling about it. Just as we were entering the village Helen saw a Chamois (wild goat/antelope) at the side of the road- very exciting. 10497943_10152608841174515_791660813560487470_oWe feasted on our first camping meal of the trip. No beers tonight after last night´s indulgence in Prague. An early night all cosy and warm in the tent.
Dave (46), Tiger 955i (10), Dave’s fleece (20)