France and Italy – Part 2

After spending a few days in the French regions of Provence and Côte d’Azur, we decided to hop over the border to see what Italy had to offer. We found a campsite that was open in San Lorenzo al Mare, part of the Liguria region. As the name suggests, it’s a small coastal town, about 20km away from its more famous neighbour, San Remo.

We were keen to check out two small climbs in the area, famed for their inclusion in the ‘spring classic’ bike race, Milan-San Remo.

The riding

The first on our route, was La Cipressa. At 3.7 miles long, and with a gradient averaging at 3.9%, it was a nice reprieve for our legs, after the tough mountain climbs we’d been tucking into recently.

We then had a leisurely spin up the next climb on our list, the Poggio di San Remo. This is even shorter at 2.5 miles, and has a gentle average gradient of 3.7%.

Both climbs were thoroughly enjoyable in the sunshine, and we finished the ride with ice creams on the seafront.

There’s a coastal bike path built on a disused railway line, running from San Lorenzo al Mare to San Remo. A number of little bars, cafés and restaurants can be found along the route, although most were closed due to it being low season. We took this quiet, traffic-free path a number of times, once for lunch in San Remo. It was nice to be tourists for a short while. As ever though, the mountains were calling, and they were getting harder to ignore.

Bike path running from San Lorenzo al Mare to San Remo
Bike path running from San Lorenzo al Mare to San Remo

The campsite

We stayed at Il Persiano, a terraced campsite situated up a winding mountain road. The facilities were clean, and the pitch was just about big enough to accommodate our camper van.  With it being low season, the usual services weren’t yet available (restaurant etc.), but we’d expected that. It was adequate for a short stay.

Chamonix

The final stop on our 12-day trip took us back to an old favourite of ours, Chamonix in the French alps. We’d never road biked there though, so this was a chance to traverse and enjoy the valley in a different way.

It was too early in the year for most campsites to be open, but a note helpfully taped to the gate of one we tried, advised us that there was somewhere up the road that would welcome us.

Camping les Deux Glaciers can be found 4km from the centre of Chamonix, and it boasts stunning views of the Mont Blanc massif. The Bossons and Taconnaz glaciers spill down the mountainside before you, and you feel like you can just reach out and touch them. This has to be the best view I’ve ever had on a campsite, and it was a joy to sit outside with couple of brews, and just soak it all in.

Stunning views from our pitch at Camping Les 2 Glaciers
Stunning views from our pitch at Camping Les 2 Glaciers

The riding

Chamonix’s road biking is quite limited compared to other alpine areas, but we only had a couple of days so it didn’t matter. First up was the Col des Montets from Chamonix.

It was pretty pleasant really. Fairly long at 7.2 miles, but has some cool switchbacks, and it’s never too steep (3.3% average). 

Col des Montets, with the Grandes Jorasses in the distance
Col des Montets, with the Grandes Jorasses in the distance

Up next was the climb to the imposing Barrage Emosson (Emosson Dam). We dropped into Switzerland to a place called Finhaut, where you turn off to begin the ascent. It starts off fine, but then gets a bit burly and never lets up. I found this one to be pretty punishing, not helped by the pocked and rutted road surface. It weighs in at 7 miles, and has an average gradient of 7.6%. Dramatic views awaited me at the summit, as well as a fair bit of snow and a very cold Ciaron.

Barrage Emosson
Barrage Emosson

We had burgers at the Micro Brasserie de Chamonix (MBC) as a post-ride treat. Definitely worth a visit, great beers and tasty food. There’s a decent vegetarian selection too.

The campsite

Again, the low season meant that not all the usual services were available, but we didn’t miss them. You could still order bread and pastries at reception for delivery the following morning. All the facilities are underground, and did the job. You can get tokens from reception if you want to use the washing machine / tumble dryer.

Pitches are spacious and fairly level. If you don’t have transport and a 4km walk doesn’t appeal, you can catch buses from 2 different stops nearby to get into town. The timetables are available online.

For me, the winner was that view though. We found it hard to leave it behind, but we knew we’d be back.

Thoughts on the trip

If you’ve read part 1 of this blog, you’ll know that I was anxious about the spontaneous, plan-free nature of this trip. In the end, it wasn’t actually too bad, and I enjoyed having the freedom to move on whenever we pleased. There are bags of online resources, so as long as you have internet access, it’s really quite easy to do. I’d always phone ahead though, just to check that the campsite you want is actually open. We found that some had the wrong information on the website.

On this trip, we visited places that would probably never have been on the radar had we planned it. I liked the spontaneous approach in that respect. I’d definitely do it this way again, providing the trip isn’t too short.

It was amazing spending so much time in the van, that’s for sure. I’m happy to report that we run a pretty slick operation now! Next up we have a mountain biking weekend in Wales on the cards, hopefully it won’t be too muddy…

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