OUR TRAVELS

PART EIGHT

Subtitle – Onwards and Upwards!

Err, well actually, downwards! Not at all in quality, excitement and adventure of course, just geographically – we move further south for Part Eight of my blog, and once again I’d like to take you with us!

There are so many places to visit in Italy, I’m sure those who’ve been would agree. The difficulty is both prioritising, and knowing that visiting one place can mean going past another without a stop! However, we are on this adventure for the long haul, so there will be time to visit at least some of the places we miss on this leg another time.

Mt Vesuvias!

High up on our list was Pompei. The eruption of 79AD, the dreadful loss of life, the few who escaped, and the subsequent discovery in modern times of the town ‘frozen’ in time, is a true story of biblical style. Plus, of course, there have been other dramatic eruptions of this, mainland Europe’s only active volcano (Etna is on the Island of Sicily, of course, and active right now as I write!).

Of course, Covid got in the way – what a couple of years we are having! Pompei was in Orange, one down from the most restrictive category, Red. We could therefore go there but it was unlikely the ruins, museum etc would be open to visit. However, given our wonderful luck thus far, we have a very positive frame of mind – so we went for it, hoping that things might improve.

As you might imagine, knowing me, there was also another attraction – the winery Bosco de Medici has vineyards on the foothills, and rising, of Mount Vesuvio itself! An e-mail, a whatsapp and a chat produced an invitation to visit!

Our host, Giuseppe!

Now, I say, Bosco de Medici Winery, accurate, but it doesn’t at all tell the whole story. It is also a resort, where there are a number of rooms, like a hotel really, a swimming pool, beautiful gardens, a riding school and something of a menagerie, boasting an exotic pig (there’ll be more now, she was pregnant then!), rabbits, birds, peacocks and more. There’s a small electric train that takes visitors on a tour and there are also 200+year old buildings being restored, adding to the marvelous vista that is Bosco de Medici.

The Bosco de Medici Resort’s thriving riding school.

Plus, it is literally adjacent to the start of those ancient ruins – we could only see a small part, but were nevertheless in awe. Well, it is an awesome place!

Volcanic soil resting on, and born of, lava flows from eruptions over milennia now home to Bosco de Medici vineyards and the path that leads to majestic Mt. Vesuvio itself!

And what about the wines, I hear you all shout?! Well, as I’ve said this is a travel blog, and it’s not my intention to give chapter and verse about the wines we discover, wineries we visit etc here. Such stuff can, of course be seen on my Facebook account, including the link to my Valley FM Wine Show, broadcast last Saturday 3rd April, which is devoted exclusively to Bosco de Medici.

However, if you’ll indulge me just a second or so longer, I will say that the wines, particularly their white mineral influenced examples are extraordinarily good. They can be bought online – mention my name, I won’t receive any commission, of course, but it would be nice for them to know that their generosity has been rewarded a little, at least!

Down to business – I’m not on holiday all the time you know!

Strewth, more work!
Homework too!

We’d asked if we might be able to stay overnight in Campy, as you know we seem to be making a habit of this! Of course, they accepted with alacrity, going the extra mile too, by offering us the use of one of their rooms as well for showers, electricity and the loo!

One of the charming rooms at Bosco de Medici. When next visiting the Amalfi Coast, this is where you need to stay!

Plus we also had the tour, mentioned above, and a glorious tasting, with some wines to take away, so I could film one or two Wine Reviews on Video in the weeks that were to follow! What a fantastic time, once again – but, unfortunately short-lived. We heard that the area was just about to go into Red – we had to escape!

“Early morning yesterday, I was up before the dawn.

Well, I really have enjoyed my stay, but I must be moving on!”

OUR TRAVELS!

PART SEVEN

We’d always wanted to try further south in Italy, we’d heard quite a lot about it but never visited much further south than Rome.

Hmm, Rome – now there was an idea! We’ve been before, of course – once on one of our three honeymoons, this, in fact before we were married, but hey, you don’t need to share that! We think Rome is magnificent – every corner you turn there’s some staggering beauty, amazing architecture and so much history too.

Also, Pompei, where we were desperate to visit was too long a journey in one go, well for people who aren’t in a hurry, and Rome was sort of on the way. Done!

What we didn’t realise was that, unlike London, Paris and more capital cities, no doubt, it only needs a 15 mins train journey out of the centre and you are suddenly in the countryside – no sprawling urban landscapes, lovely green fields and, actually, sports facilities too.

We found this out by lucky coincidence – our camping book told us of Flamino Village Bungalow Park – Campground, bragging a 15 mins simple train journey from the nearby station to the centre, to Piazza del Popolo in fact. We couldn’t imagine it, wondering how it could be that a campsite was stuck in the middle of such an expanding city. We didn’t know that we had struck gold again!

This huge camping and mobile home/bungalow facility must be very well populated in the summer months (too much, perhaps?) – of a normal year – because of its location and its beauty too. In February there were just two other campervans, and only for a short time during our stay, so we enjoyed almost complete privacy. There are very many mobile homes, some very elegant, and some of these were occupied, by young sports people using the impressive adjacent facilities as well as, by the looks of it, business people, some military/police personnel, aircrew etc.

It was very quiet and peaceful but there were apparently sufficient clients for the campsite restaurant to remain open – wow, this was a real bonus for us, as we, in common with most of the world, hadn’t been able to go to a restaurant proper for quite a while! Plus, for an ex-PE Teacher/sportsman/footy coach like myself it was a real delight to see tennis and padel games being played as well as some coaching for some kids’ football teams, of which I’ve done rather a lot in my time! Also the Zumba/Pilates music blaring out was, mostly, appreciated!

The weather was excellent, tracky bottoms off, shorts on for the first time for our lovely walks around the perimeter.

Although open for the winter there weren’t sufficient actual campers to justify opening the shower/loo block – which in fact worked to our advantage. They gave us the keys to one of the nearby mobile homes which were were able to use for hot showers and the loo, too!

Claire had plenty of work to do so we made sure she was settled with her wifi needs for her online teaching before we ventured into the centre of Rome! As I’ve said we loved it, the history, beauty etc, plus, although in many ways it’s very sad, Rome was very quiet – bet you’ve never seen that before! So, moving about was easy, and not at all Covid dangerous – there were police and army stationed all over the place. Social distancing was in place, masks were worn by all, sanitizers stationed all over and so on. Restaurants were open for lunch and we enjoyed the Roman version of Spaghetti Carbonara, plus a chilled white wine as well.

I needed to film a Thirsty Thursday Wine Review on Video and we decided to do so the next day, or so, at the famous Trevi Fountain – what a beautiful location and well appreciated as there were eventually approaching 900 views on the three social media platforms I use! I talked about a Chateauneuf-du-Pape red on the video, from Domaine La Célestière. I sent the link to our new friends Neil and Beatrice, co-owners of Domaines Dalmeran & La Célestière (see below) and he commented that perhaps it would have been interesting to have tasted their wine outside the Vatican – dear me, we hadn’t thought of that! Bringing Chateauneuf-du-Pape back to the ‘new’ home of the Popes!

Of course, I’m not sure how well that would have gone down (very well in terms of my tasting!) with the authorities as we’d encountered a little bit of polite and pleasant, though obligatory ‘move along please’ from the Carabinieri when we’d sat on the side of the beautiful fountain to film – it isn’t allowed. It was ok a little higher up though – you can see the video on my Facebook account https://www.facebook.com/100009478376720/videos/2931164940542756/

We chatted about it the next day and thought that maybe we should go and see St. Peter’s Cathedral, Neil having mentioned the Vatican, at least from the outside as we expected it to be closed. However, we were amazed to see that in fact we were able to enter this stunningly beautiful, quite amazing cathedral and wonder at how it was constructed and decorated. Religious or not, it’s exquisite and quite takes your breath away – plus, there was no fee to enter. Amazing.

Another real highlight on our brilliant journey!

“Early morning yesterday, I was up before the dawn.

Well I really have enjoyed my stay, but I must be moving on.”

Supertramp, and our mantra!

OUR TRAVELS

PART SIX

Campy parked in Toscana Village Camping, Montopoli, Toscana, Italia!

Follow that, you may well say again after Part Five below – however, in a way, this time we didn’t – at first, at least!

We had it in mind to go from Domaine Dalmeran to Frejús, nearer to the Italian border to wait for as long as necessary for us to be able to cross into Italy following all Covid Protocols, of course. So, off we went.

It was a good campsite, though rather sodden after unusually heavy rainfall, 10 minutes from the town on Scoots. It was pleasant, there was a lovely beach, but the weather, contrary to how we’d expected, was really cold – I guess living in SE Spain for so long has weakened our resistance to cold weather!

Fortunately, we soon learned that all we needed for entry into Italy was a negative Covid test and an address to which we were travelling. We fancied Tuscany (who wouldn’t?!) so we booked into Toscana Village, Montopoli, receiving confirmation, should we need it at any police stops etc. The local chemist was performing official Covid Tests – we booked one each and soon were on our way.

It’s a fair distance from the French/Italy border to Toscana, so we knew we would have to ‘wild-camp’ en route, but if it’s good enough for the truckers, it was good enough for us! In honesty, it wouldn’t be my first choice, staying overnight at a motorway station, but we were really pleasantly surprised. It was perfectly safe, all facilities were open, everybody was Covid conscious, sanitisers, masks etc – and, a shock to us at that stage, the restaurant was perfectly ok to visit for dinner if we’d wanted (we didn’t, as we had a dish already cooked and ready to re-heat in Campy), and breakfast, which we did – trying a couple of different coffees until we got it right for our tastes!

Actually it was quite tempting to dawdle over breky, something of a tribute to the service stations here in Italy, but we needed to move on. Our cooking and central heating when required is from GPL gas, which isn’t always so easy to find – however it is quite popular here, so we filled up with gas and diesel and hit the road!

When we arrived at Toscana Village, the weather was rainy, chilly too, and yet it was really quite beautiful. A fitting start for what turned out to be another brilliant experience, up there with the others mentioned below!

There was an Irishman, a Scotsman and an Englishman, as the old joke has it!

On our third night we were invited to a pit-fire BBQ. Apparently, it was Irishman Tony’s (on the right), turn to host this small weekly event, which included, the much travelled Kitch, the lovely lady in charge of campsite cleaning and Scotsman Wil, co-founder of Caravans in the Sun ( https://www.caravansinthesun.com/), who is two years into his 5 year plan, helping the owners of the site promote their business, as well as his, of course! Wil had been very helpful re a number of issues – internet, electricity etc when we’d first arrived, and always with a smile! A mention here also for Andrew, who wasn’t at the BBQ, but who had also been so helpful and friendly!

And talking of smiles, Tony’s is irrepressible – so typical of the Irish! We brought some wine, though Tony insisted we also try his supply, from the local winery and bottled without labels (often a major plus!). The conversation got around to football as we ate the pre-ordered pizzas and I happened to mention(!) that’s I’d been involved with Liverpool FC in the 90s, when Tony almost fell off his chair – he’s been a Reds supporter all his life!

Wil, who supports some obscure Scottish team, Hibs?! Oh dear, he won’t like that, has also watched Liverpool on several occasions, so we rambled on about the great matches, ex and current players and so on. Conscious of trying to bring Kitch and Claire into the conversation I decided that a change of direction was needed and was given the chance when ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ (Gerry Marsdon, LFC anthem) was brought up – odd, though it sounds, considering Claire’s classical music training, opera aria singing etc.

It seems all Italians love Classical Music/Opera and when I told the assembled quorum of Claire’s beautiful soprano voice and singing experience they insisted on hearing some. After a few drinks and half a pizza, Claire wasn’t so keen on singing there and then, but wait, says I, we have videos! The silence that ensued as I played some videos of Claire, for example busking as below in Avignon and Benicássim and others, was only broken by the sound of jaws dropping in awe!

Wil, always a business man, realised straight away what an attraction Claire would be for Toscana Village in the summer season – would she be interested in working the July/August season for them, singing at the beautifully lit pool and restaurant a couple of times a week?!

So, after just three nights in Italy, the opportunity that we’d hoped might present itself, did so – the following day a deal was struck.

Like Kitch, Tony and Wil, we are really looking forward to returning to Toscana Village, under the Tuscan Sun, towards the end of June!

Ciao, for now!

OUR TRAVELS

PART FIVE

Chateau Domaine Dalmeran

After Part Four of this blog (please see below) you may well have said – well, follow that!

We said it also, and were amazed to find that, in fact, we did – and some!

When we awoke in Campy in the village car park of Chateauneuf-du-Pape after our morning visit with Neil, co-owner of Domaine La Célestière, our afternoon tasting with Michel Blanc, Secretary of the AOC, and a Chateauneuf-du-Pape wine selected from the several bottles kindly given to us – we felt elated, rather than groggy. It had been such a magical day and night.

Our excited chatter was interrupted by a call from Neil, re-emphasising that he’d really meant his invitation for us to visit their other property, Domaine Dalmeran. We hadn’t wanted to impose further on their generosity so had said that we’d love to do some time in the future. Well, let’s be fair – even only 24 hours on was still ‘in the future’!

When we’d remarked how beautiful La Célestière was, he’d thanked us, but said – wait until you see Domaine Dalmeran!

We breakfasted sharpish, packed up and hit the road!

Well – Claire and I were completely bowled over by this magical, mystical, spiritual, truly beautiful part of the world, close to Les Baux de Provence. Neil’s casual, “Oh by the way, no need to sleep in Campy, there’s a house in the grounds for you, the heating is on and it’s yours for as long as you’d like,” bowled us over once again. Such generosity and kindness.

Our own mini-chateau!

In the morning, a message arrived on my phone – ‘Bonjour, suggest you open your front door.’ I did, of course, and there was a tray with baguette, warm croissant, butter and homemade jam! How wonderful!

That morning we walked a little of this huge estate viewing the vineyards, small and large parcels of vines, some of which Neil had been pruning already, set against a backdrop of huge granite outcrops, surrounding us, along with the tree-studded hills and tiny brooks. Paradise! Neil told us some of the history of the property, pointing out some of the remains of the Roman aqueduct that had crossed the property two thousand years ago, parts of which were perfectly preserved. A medieval well, parts of various other Roman architecture, a chapel, wonderful grounds laid to lawn with multiple trees and so much more make up this amazing property.

And here, a Vinoborem, in its natural habitat!

We tasted some outstanding wine with Anna, a lovely Spanish young lady who works in the offices at the Domaine’s tasting centre, where we also met Neil’s French wife, Beatrice for the first time. We were told also that there happened to be another young couple staying at the Chateau, Liga from Latvia and Israeli, Doron, who were to be married in two days time, in the chapel in the grounds! Would we like to join the four of them for some tea and cake (Doron is an experienced Michelin restaurant pastry chef) in the Chateau the next evening?

What a beautiful dining room in what was essentially a stately home! We were intrigued as to how Liga (a jeweler who had been working in Hong Kong) and Doron had met, and when we heard the truly romantic story of their courtship and his incredible, amazingly elaborate proposal – well, it’s such a great story! We chatted and I told them all that Claire was an amazing soprano, at which point Claire asked if they might like her to sing a few songs as ‘our’ wedding gift on the day itself! They were so delighted with the idea that discussions ensued re their favourite arias etc.

‘Our’ gift to the newly married couple! NB video’s of some of Claire’s songs are/will be on her social media posts.

Needless to say, the small wedding was wonderful and Claire was a great success. We were invited onto the terrace for a glass of Champagne, and afterwards, perhaps we’d like to join them in the Chateau again for dinner?! We accepted with alacrity of course, though insisting that I brought the Spanish wine (Sparkling from Raventos i Blanc; Casa Cisca & Casa de la Vela from Bodegas Castaño; and Casa Boquera’s Selección Limitada – since you ask!) and Claire brought some Spanish style starters!

What a wonderful night we had!

I couldn’t leave out Elliot, who also enjoyed the wedding, and his own dinner later!

Claire and I knew that we were in for some wonderful experiences on our travels – but, really, this and Part Four, were almost unbelievable!

And, as the comic, said – There’s more!

Thanks for reading – please feel free to comment, by e-mail, or on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram please, rather than below, as I have over 2,000 spam comments, for some reason, and it’s very difficult to find genuine ones, which accounts for the probable fact(?) that I may not have replied to anybody who did send a comment. My apologies! Please do make comments as above!

Finally, as you know, this is not a wine blog, but I do know that there are those who would like more specifics about the wines tasted during these experiences. You can find these on my Facebook/Instagram/Twitter accounts – usually my Wine Reviews on Video!

Hasta ahora!