In 2020, the world was thrown into disarray by the outbreak of the Covid pandemic. Foreign travel was just one of many things that came to a virtual standstill. With little improvement during 2021, our proposed trip was put on hold right up until the last week before departure when we decided to go for it. We curtailed our original route taking us through France, Germany, Czechia, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, as the mountain of paperwork involved was just too daunting. As it was, reams of paperwork were still required, both online and in hard copy form, that would enable us to cross borders and visit France, Switzerland, Italy and Greece. The shorter route would entail driving over 4000 miles, ferrying a further 1600 miles, overcoming the unforeseen, and at times, pushing ourselves and our van to the limits. This was not so much a holiday as an adventure.
(Please click on a picture to enlarge the image and find a description, and go to the bottom of the page for a written account of our trip)
Our return route with overnight stops shown (straight lines indicate the ferry crossings)
France – We arrived in Dieppe early in the morning, hopeful that we had the required paperwork for entry into France, and we were pleasantly surprised to soon be on our way south with little hold-up at the border. The road to Kaysersberg is a joy, and that early in the morning we made good progress to the campsite.
Switzerland and Italy – we were looking forward to our two-night stop in picturesque Melano, Switzerland after the long drive through France the day before. It gave us a chance to relax before having to drive through Italy in less than 36 hours to avoid a five-day quarantine and Covid tests. We need not have worried, there were no checks at the border and we could have stayed as long as we liked. We aren’t keen on the Italian roads, or the drivers, and the industrial north and touristy east coast have never attracted us, so it was a pleasant surprise to find a sosta in the lovely old town of Corinaldo. Corinaldo is a small commune that is home to a well-preserved 14th-century walled town, about one hours drive from Ancona where we had to catch the ferry the following day.
Greece – We had booked a luxury cabin on the ferry from Ancona to Patras as we intended to isolate ourselves as much as we could for the 23-hour crossing and wanted a bit of comfort. We spent much of the time watching the news about the tragic fires sweeping across Greece. Small villages were wiped out, century-old olive groves destroyed, and services and communications were in ruins. We did not know what to expect when we landed, but we were grateful for all the German fire trucks that had surrounded us in the ferry garage on their way to help control the fires. Our planned route through the mainland should have kept us clear of the worst fires until we reached Athens when we would board the ferry for Rhodes, all being well.
Rhodes – against the odds, we arrived in Rhodes! Not Covid, Brexit, nor a few mechanical problems could stop us. We would spend the next six weeks on the perfect Dodecanese island of the Gods. The soft golden sunlight would wake us each morning, like a gentle hand stirring us to explore and enjoy this magically diverse island. We would spend time with lifelong friends, make new ones, and experience new sights and adventures that will remain with us forever. Rhodes combines a cosmopolitan atmosphere with medieval architecture in a unique way. The natural landscape, imposing buildings, ancient towns and picturesque villages nestle next to amazing beaches, forests and mountains like no other place. In Rhodes town, the new and fashionable areas rub shoulders with the medieval walled city with ease. There is something for everyone. Our trip this year would keep us slightly away from the more crowded places, we would visit fewer of the tourist attractions and spend more time either on our own in remote locations, or socialising with our Greek friends. For the kindnesses that can never be repaid, with love to Federa and family.
Mainland Greece – We had allowed several days for our return trip across Greece before catching the ferry at Patras back to Italy. With no real itinerary, we opted to look at some places recommended to us by a friend on Rhodes, we were not disappointed. Following the coast road around southern Greece, we would visit the ancient theatre at Epidaurus, the hidden castle town of Monemvasia (built to be unseen from the mainland), the spectacular Caves of Diros, and other points of interest in between.
Italy and France, the return journey – We were still keen to comply with the 36-hour deadline for driving through Italy, even though we knew that it would not be enforced, so we only stayed one night before the picturesque trip through France. One day we will get to enjoy the west coast of Italy that promises so much, but for this year we would spend a little more time in France, visiting the small towns along the Rhone and the Loire until we reached our departure port of Caen.