From Venice the plan was unclear. We spent an evening with maps trying to decide whether to travel directly north, crossing the Alps into Austria, or head west across Italy to the Mont Blanc tunnel.
Going through Austria meant retracing our steps of last year whilst Italy presented new horizons, but all via the wretched A4, which we would have to travel the length of.
We returned to Soave to make a decision. It was good timing as the town was celebrating a chocolate festival. It also promised a ‘fontana di vino’. With our new passion for Soave wine this was not to be missed!
Over a couple of days we meandered around the medieval streets munching on tiny morsels of artisan chocolate (it was pricey) and wondering when the fountain might flow. 21 vans managed to squeeze onto the aire for eight alongside us.
On Sunday morning and with a new plan we gritted our teeth and got onto the A4 towards Lago di Garda. The skies were high and blue and the sun was shining.
The steeply terraced hillsides of Verona’s picturesque district looked especially lovely and we picked out dreamy villas set in acres of landscaped gardens punctuated by marble terraces and the signature shapes of Italian cypress trees. Traffic on the A4 was light and, crucially for us, freight-free.
As we neared Lake Garda the cars upgraded to speeding Porsches and Alfa Romeos all registered to Milan.
Garda was a mistake that day. A combination of day trippers and a cycle race meant the roads were jammed with traffic and the motorhome parking was full before we arrived. An apologetic official waved at us to turn around, and then ‘arrivederci’. At a fuel station we enjoyed the three second spectacle of hundreds of speeding cyclists whooshing past, followed by several minutes’ worth of heavily sponsored support vehicles. It was one of those pivotal moments.
We’ve travelled enough to know that sometimes your plans just change. With hindsight we usually discover that we have avoided a nasty event, or we experience something wonderful and unexpected such as meeting new friends whom otherwise we would never have encountered.
It was back onto the A4.
With a light wind pushing us forward Bertha bowled along 260 miles west from Verona, skirting Milan, in light traffic and overtaking just seven lorries to reach the Aosta Valley in the late afternoon.
As we climbed up the long inclines following the wide river bed the views of fortress towns and monasteries carved into rocky hillsides were magnificent. Many ruined watchtowers stood guarding stone-built villages below them, and the fading light showed the landscape to be timelessly medieval.
We were now at the very top of Italy’s ‘boot’ and found overnight parking in an aire at Châtillon by ourselves for a solitary night.
As the winds got up and the sun set behind a snow-topped mountain we felt cold for the first time on this trip. After a long drive, only comfort food would do. Bertha’s oven helped warm the van as we chomped on cheeky oven chips!
Tomorrow would bring the big climb up and through Monti Bianco…