30 JAN 2018: We had settled down in Antwerp's fine marina for the fourth winter of our five-year boat trip and were enjoying all that city had to offer. However, on 7 January last year (my birthday, in fact) we awoke to an inch of snow on our decks. "Outta here!" my husband said decisively, and I certainly didn't argue!

So it was, that less than two weeks later, after the exchange of many messages and lots of price comparisons, we boarded a train for Paris and thence on to Milan. We had, once again, rented a motorhome for nearly three months, this time with Italy in our plans.

The motorhome company was based in Monza, just north of Milan. After a much delayed arrival in Milan due to missed train connections, we spent the night in a quiet district of that city at the Best Western Felice Casati, located on a street of the same name. It was after 10 p.m. by the time we arrived and the few nearby restaurants were closing. However, the staff on the hotel desk directed us to the BW bar where complimentary tapas-style snacks were still available and, of course, wine. There was also a bowl of apples and a jar of cookies in the lobby. We were certainly happy to make all that our dinner.

Everything went smoothly the following day: train to Monza, met by the motorhome company, signed papers and given a familiarization of the vehicle that was to be our home through Italy. It was too late, by the time all this had been done, to travel very far so we headed for the only campsite listed back in Milan. It was dark by the time we arrived; the site was open but virtually empty ... hardly surprising since temperatures were due to drop to below freezing that night. Not ideal for a night in a camper, but we survived and were up early the next morning.

With our European atlas on my lap for route overviews and our chosen voice - 'James' - plugged into our GPS we were soon off in a southerly direction on a fine Italian highway. "No stopping, no sightseeing, until it gets warmer," said my husband. I agreed. (I should also mention here that I fell in love with 'GPS James' over the coming months. Guided by his rather nice voice he helped us find locations we would never have found but for him. And I consider myself quite a good map-reader. If you are contemplating such a journey please take a GPS system. This is also a good time to have a word about Italian drivers. It seems there is only one rule of the road in Italy: everyone must try their best to get ahead of the car in front of them. No matter if you're in a Porsche or an old deux chevaux the race is on! Having said that, I must add we didn't see any police on the highways at all, but nor did we see any problems. Italians do drive fast but they do seem to concentrate on the task in hand.

We navigated the southern suburbs of Milan and before long were enjoying the mountain scenery north of the Italian Riviera. We were heading for San Remo, which had the reputation of enjoying a warm micro-climate together with a highly recommended campsite overlooking the Mediterranean. It turned out to be perfect choice.

The sun was shining, the temperature warm and flowers were blooming around us as we selected an ocean-view pitch and started to get ourselves properly organized. Not only was it a lovely site, but within walking distance we discovered a large grocery store and also a fine hardware store for those little odds and ends we needed to make our tiny home efficient and comfortable. Soon we were stowed and organized and were ready to relax with a glass of Italian wine in hand.

Next morning we set out on foot to explore San Remo and soon discovered that a coastal bike and pedestrian path led into town. San Remo lies on what is known as the Riviera di Ponente which stretches from the French border to Genoa. San Remo is the largest resort of the region. It was once a gathering place for the well-heeled and well-connected of Europe, with fine hotels, a palm-lined promenade and a casino. A famous inventor and philanthropist -Alfred Nobel - also lived here. The town has become a little faded and shabby now, but some of its past grandeur is evident and it is obviously still a popular resort, especially amongst those of a certain age who have been coming here all their lives. But this was January, there were few tourists in evidence and we were able to enjoy the shops, harbour, parks and promenade in cool sunshine with the locals.

A year earlier we had done a three-month motorhome trip from Valence, France, through Spain and Portugal and back to Valence. Towards the end of that trip we had planned to spend some time on the French Riviera, with Nice and Monte Carlo part of our itinerary. With so much to see and do it did not happen. We got as far as Cannes and then, with our rental days running out, had to turn north. But here in Italy we were again near southern France and realized we could easily visit some of the areas we missed.

We set out towards France on two separate day trips. On the first trip we drove the motorhome, heading for Nice and St-Paul-de-Vence and the Maeght Foundation Gallery which was on our wish list. En route to Nice we had to drive through Monte Carlo where I had been more years ago than I care to mention, but my husband had not. He is now able to say he has driven that famous Formula I circuit, though has to admit that doing it in a cumbersome motorhome is far from 'cool'!

Nice is a busy, sprawling city today. In a park on the Promenade we passed the tributes to the tragic terrorist events of the previous summer. Heading north through the suburbs the scenery had barely changed before we found ourselves in St-Paul. Much beloved by many artists, I had thought this pretty village was way out in the countryside ... today it is close to being swallowed by Nice itself. It is still quaint nonetheless, and we easily found the art museum that was our destination. We enjoyed our visit and especially the small but lovely gardens with their sculptures. And the coastal road and the village of St-Paul alone had been well worth the drive.

Heading back into Italy, my husband said that he'd like to take another look at Monte Carlo but without the motorhome, which we'd already noticed would present a parking problem there. So we agreed we'd make another day trip by train. You can read all about it in my next column.

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Ann Wallace

Ann Wallace is living a writer's dream currently writing of her adventures as she and her husband sail their boat around Europe.

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