Which way to go?
There are a few options for crossing the Alps from France to Italy. The further south you go the lower the mountains become but the busier it gets. The northernmost crossings involve expensive tunnels and toll roads. So we opted for one in the middle, the one that that takes Briançon as the point of departure and goes over the mountains the col at Montgenevre – apparently there is an aire at the top for those with plenty of gas for central heating!
Packing a van is quite a stressful process, especially when closing the house up as well. Not so bad in York as we have house sitters looking after the house, but in France everything has to be emptied, turned off, made safe – I have been known to leave fruit in the fruit bowl before now. It dehydrated rather than liquifying I’m pleased to say and there were no angry swarms of wasps and flies awaiting our return.
Being a bit unwell a leisurely pack and unhurried start were needed – therefore we would not go far that day. “All the Aires” offered a pleasant sounding spot at Prisée near Macon – still in Burgundy and clearly they were expecting us!
Since its last visit from the inspectors the aire had been newly and beautifully done up: positioned alongside a vigneron it was ornamented with roses and other shrubs around neatly defined bays. Free tokens for water were available in the vigneron shop (good move) so naturally we felt obliged to stock up whilst in there. Rosé fizz and five litres of Macon rouge found their way into the laden van.
So far so good but, the best laid plans of mice and men….. Already anxious about the crossing – we had seen videos showing it was narrow and winding – a diversion sign was a bit alarming. It appeared long before the the turnoff for the mountains and indicated the road was closed just before the pass and a very long detour around two sides of a triangle was offered. It was already pretty mountainous and few through roads are actually available. A quick consultation of the map showed it would be quicker to continue south and take the next middle route over. This took off from Barcelonette and crossed at the Col de Larche. Another quick consultation of the books and a destination for the additional night in France was identified. Despite the ominous name, I selected an aire at Corps near Gap. This was a less attractive spot in a sort of car park-come-municipal vehicle park – but lovely mountain sunset views nonetheless (if you craned your neck a bit).
There is a second aire there up a bit of a hill and at least two motorhomes just spent the night in the town square car park.
Heating needed – will we run out of gas?
Both nights in France were cold and we needed the heating on. Why were we not concerned about running out of gas as we were in Spain in the winter? Why were we not worried about the necessity of acquiring an Italian gas bottle and all the associated pipes, regulators and adaptors? Because we had fitted an LPG tank whilst back in the UK. Hurrah! Refillable gas at petrol stations in all (most) European countries (apparently Finland does not have it). All you need is a set of adaptors for the different national pumps! Of course you do – a recent fuel type, widely promoted on ecological grounds but still not standardised across co-operating countries! Three adaptors are provided with the installation in a nice little bag and these cover the whole of the EU, so clearly some standardisation efforts have been partially successful!
The work was done by Autogas 2000 just outside Thirsk, whom we can strongly recommend. We could have had a larger tank slung under the chassis but it would have meant cutting into one of the struts holding up the habitation body. Not a problem it seems but maybe adversely affecting the warranty. What doesn’t? The alternative, a permanently plumbed-in 14kg tank in the existing gas locker with an external filler point in the skirt. This was a smaller capacity than we had hoped for and partly took up the space in the gas locker which we had hoped to use as a modest external storage space as we have none. We preferred the latter option though and there was still usable space for outside type stuff – the electricals, the levelling blocks, toilet chemicals, hose pipe, watering can etc. It was also half the price of the more major installation which was an unexpected bonus. The thought that we can just refill at will is bliss, although a bit anxiety provoking until we have tried it in anger in foreign lands.
Onwards and upwards
The road through the col looked a bit fearsome on the map – so twisty they couldn’t deliniate them all on the map – but it wasn’t too bad at all. Portia channelled her inner mountain goat and swung nimbly around the hairpins, ignoring the sheer drops. Two lanes for the most part but a certain absence of white lineage in places, especially around the hairpins. Lakes appeared in the valleys, snow shone in the hollows by the road, despite the sunshine, and the peaks towered white in true alpine fashion.
There was a border post at the col – two Italian Carabinieri stood and chatted to passers by. We nipped into the car park from the French side for a photo-op then out the other side into Italy without troubling them at all.
So there we were. In Italy with a whole new set of books in a whole new language that neither of us can speak:-( The Aree de Sosta book is supposed to be the equivalent of the All the Aires books for France and Spain but is totally different: the maps are poor and the layout is confusing in the extreme. And it is written in Italian, which is fair enough. I won’t even start on the mindboggling number of standards for expressing geographical co-ordinates, but each book and website, and Stella, seem to use a different one! And each converter offers a subset of those available. I now have a converter that copes with five – but I don’t understand the fifth!
Three or four aires are marked on the road down from the mountains but, we had been warned, that signs for them can be a bit hit and miss. We missed the first one and pulled into the second rather tentatively as it looked like a rather ramshackle car park beside a café. Googlemaps seemed to show us as being in the right place though so we parked up and had a stroll around. The toilets were truly disgusting and the sign that seemed to be addressed to motorhomers was a stained and crumpled piece of paper that we chose to ignore. This was a mistake as it turned out. Closer examination of the Googlemaps image showed several mohos parked the other side of the café so later in the evening, after all but a solitary campervan had left, we moved around and joined it. It had felt decidedly isolated so another camper was welcome. That was when we spotted the electric power points on posts. Locked! you had to go into the café to pay and get one unlocked. And the café was now closed. The stained and crumpled piece of paper was saying you could stay with electricity for 7 euros. Ah well – we had plenty of gas! And it was a lovely spot with a rushing stream only feet from our door.
The aire at Argentera with added Neil and more of the view.