A much-needed, well-chilled dry white wine in a lovely square off Las Ramblas, Barcelona prior to embarkation on the ferry to Civitavecchia – Rome’s port.

There’s not much positive I can say about our Grimaldi ferry crossing – except to say that it took us there safely, for which we are grateful, of course. Dreadfully disorganised, late leaving, even later arriving, it wasn’t a pleasant experience, causing us to make an unscheduled wild-camping overnight stop on our drive to Lago di Bracciano.

Rosanna and Claire, cooling off in the beautiful Lago di Bracciano.

Lake Bracciano is about an hour’s drive north of Rome – easy to get to from the port. It really is a lovely haven of tranquility. Who knew? I’ve always thought of ‘the lakes of Italy’ are those in the north; Lago di Garda, for example, as well as Lakes Como, Maggiori and others (in fact we are now in Verona, having spent a glorious time at Lake Garda), but no, there are more lakes in Italy and Bracciano is wonderful.

Pitch-perfect – Claire always is, of course, and here our camping pitch couldn’t have been bettered.

We were but a cork’s-pop away from the water, the ‘beach’ of which we had virtually to ourselves.

Another cork, popped – loving the life.

Claire, of course, had lessons to teach online and Rosanna had lessons to learn online as part of her assessments for her imminent GCSEs. Both agreed that teaching/learning in this location was far better than in a classroom! Apologies to teachers about to go back to school after the Summer Hols – we know we are incredibly lucky!

Whilst the lake is stunning, there’s not that much to do in the surrounding area and we knew we had to be at Toscana Campeggio, Montopoli, Tuscany for the beginning of July, so we left the lake and drove to one of the most famous parts of Italy. Toscana.

When we arrived our host, Wil, explained that there would be a delay in Claire singing. It seemed there was a problem with the lady who had the restaurant concession for the season, who wasn’t very (at all!) pro-active re business promotional ideas. Plus, we found that in fact, Wil, wasn’t really the autocratic manager we’d been led to believe, as he had a partner – the owners of the site. The start of some bad luck, as alluded to above.

The Euros were big at the time, so this caused a further delay, with Claire performing only once after about 10 days. However, we had a very important guest to welcome!

Christo – socially distanced and quarantined!

Wil told us that there was a new quarantine rule for arrivals from UK, so he kindly found us a posh cabin for Christo to stay for five days. We were able to eat with him, at a distance though, and unfortunately, he wasn’t able to watch the footy with us, nor attend Claire’s first performance!

Our lovely neighbour, Joan who’d flown in from New York to take residence in her bungalow, loved the gig so much she presented Claire with a beautiful display of flowers!

The performance was well attended, including our new friends: Joan, Kitch, Fleur, Robbie, Tony (Irish, remember him from earlier in the blog?), Alessandro, Wil and Derek, and well appreciated too!

Wil, Claire and I were trying to make another plan re her performances as the restaurant manager wasn’t really interested (why, we’ll never know). We hit upon the idea of a sort of fair, where local producers would bring their wares for people to taste, paying a small fee for entry, much in the French Marche Gourmand model, and to listen to Claire. There were some negotiations and arrangements to make between Wil, his partners and the local producers, but we were to discover that these weren’t as simple as they should have been.

Meanwhile, after quarantine, we wanted to take Rosanna and Christo to see a little more of the area – so Pisa was only a train journey away.

The Cathedral in Pisa next to the iconic tower!

Yes, there’s the leaning tower – but Pisa has lots more architectural beauty (that isn’t falling down!)!

This next photo is slightly out of order – please view after the next!!

Arriving at a beautiful, very professionally run campsite a short bus ride away from wonderful Siena!

Siena, is of course, a must-visit city in Tuscany and it proved to be every bit as magical as we’d anticipated.

The iconic Capella di Piazza – by night. Beautiful and atmospheric!

As you might have guessed, after all this sightseeing, and bearing in mind it had been a long time since – we decided to visit a winery, in fact just about 3km from the city. And, talking of ‘must-visit’ you really should add La Torre alle Tolfe to your bucket list!

Like a Chateau in France, or a Country House in the UK, Torre alle Tolfe is really beautiful!

There is an air of tranquillity which blends in so well with the surrounding area (the hamlet of Tolfe, the rolling vineyards, Cyprus trees and olive groves) and the immense history of the building which is gently staggering. With foundations built in the Etruscan period (that’s BC, guys!) one cannot help but be impressed.

We stayed in Campy, of course, but booked for breakfast in the hotel grounds, following a superb dinner the night before – which we enjoyed after our tour and tasting!

Add to this the charm of the current owner, Mania, who took us around the magnificent property; as well as that of Emily, who hosted our wine tasting; along with the quality of the wine they craft and the outstanding olive oil; their excellent restaurant; and their wonderful hotel – and you can understand how this may well equal paradise itself!

*Please note that La Torre alle Tolfe features in my www.valleyfm.es Wine Show this Saturday 4th September 12 – 13:00hrs (CET). Please also note their Autumn Olive Oil harvesting and tasting event, whose details you can find here: https://www.latorrealletolfe.com/

Unfortunately, Rosanna and Christopher had to return to the UK – Rosanna had a summer job to go to (her promised resto job in the campsite hadn’t worked out either!), making and serving ice creams, and Christo had to return to his studies (he’s one term away from completing his Masters Degree in Sports Journalism). There’s an airport at Pisa and, unknown to me really, a beach area too. So, it seemed that a couple of days there before their flight would be perfect.

Well, it wasn’t! To put it simply, our experience at the campsite at Lido di Pisa convinced us that: a) we prefer out of season camping on our travels; and b) we want to avoid seaside locations in Summer!

When the kids flew out, Rosanna having been with us since April, we were a little lost to start with, but our wedding anniversary was coming up soon, so we had something to celebrate.

Sometimes referred to as ‘Little Venice’, there is a beautiful area in Livorno, close to coastal Pisa, where there are a number of interconnecting canals.

We enjoyed watching some of the boats travelling out to the Med and back into the harbour, as well as having a lovely anniversary lunch in one of the canal-side restaurants, with a local white wine to boot!

A delightful day in Livorno!
Our lunch restaurant was just behind Claire’s left shoulder!

A little down as we were missing the kids, there wasn’t great news to come back to after our visit either. Phone messages and calls with Toscana Village Camping indicated to us that it was going to be a waste of time returning. The promise of Claire singing for the season wasn’t going to be delivered, which was disappointing, as well as something of a financial blow. However, we saw it as a sign – we obviously needed to move on.

The northern lakes of Italy weren’t that far away, it would be slightly cooler and an area that we’d intended to visit anyway. Claire wrote to a few campsites around the southwestern area of Lake Garda – short notice of course, but might they be interested in a couple of performances a week, in exchange for a free of charge pitch?

We packed up and left Pisa’s beaches (probably never to return!) and drove towards the mountains. Over night we received a reply – yes, please come and sing one night at the campsite where we can offer you a pitch, free of charge, and another night at our other site (a short Scoots ride away)! Brilliant – our good luck was bouncing back!

“Early morning yesterday, I was up before the dawn, Well I really have enjoyed my stay (not that much actually!), but I must be moving on!”

Well, that concludes Part Thirteen of our blog – we hope you enjoyed ‘travelling’ with us, and that you’ll be interested in catching up with us again very soon. As always, all comments are most welcome – please keep in touch this way! Best to e-mail: colinharkness53@gmail.com

Ciao for now!

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