A Panda to Tuscany++

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Jacques Vert

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There is a 45 minute tour of the tombs (only in Italian) which costs EUR5 (reduced to 3 which the Gold card). Despite the fact we couldn’t understand a word the guide said, it was very interesting. You can get a hand-out in English which is very much an abridged version. The whole place was marble and beautifully kept but unfortunately no photos allowed. We were however allowed to take photos of the Basilica which was basically in the same colour scheme:

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JV
 
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Jacques Vert

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After the Basilica, we drove to Cannes via Cuneo. Spectacular scenery along the way. You get used to tunnels through mountains in this part of the world but this 3.5km one way tunnel under the Italian/French border seemed to have more character than most:

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Some more snaps along the way:

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Jacques Vert

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After a long drive the day ended at the Intercontinental Carlton in Cannes where we were booked using an Ambassador Weekend BOGO certificate (couldn't afford to stay here any other way). Again thanks to the AFF community for putting me onto IHG, Ambassador and the BOGOs.

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Room was impressive:

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Jacques Vert

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Day 5: CANNES

We only had a total of 4 nights on the Cote d’Azur so this was only a “taster” on our way to Tuscany to see what the area was really like (although admittedly a significant detour).

We had originally thought of driving to St Tropez today but M. Concierge advised that as it was a Sunday it would take at least one hour longer and better to go on Monday. So we checked out the area from Cannes north to Antibes and a little inland instead. In the afternoon we walked around historic Old Cannes which is quite lovely:

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Of course new Cannes is also nice:

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Jacques Vert

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Then we ate at the Carlton restaurant in the IC. Quite expensive as you would expect for a five star restaurant across the road from the beach but not as expensive as I imagined (main + dessert + bottle of wine = EUR165 for two). Well it will be some time before we are back here:

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Of course the quality of the food and service were impeccable.

The one thing that was disappointing about the IC Cannes is that, like many hotels in France, there are no tea & coffee making facilities in the room. I would have thought that for an IC they could have provided this, pas le problem.
 
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Jacques Vert

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Day 6: St Tropez

To drive from Cannes to St Tropez along the coast takes about two and a half hours (one and a half along the Autoroute/motorway). We went there along the coast and back the fast way. The coast is quite beautiful:

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Jacques Vert

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Day 7: NICE & MONACO

After leaving St Tropez we drove north to Nice where we stayed at the Holiday Inn for two nights. A typical HI in many ways but in an older building as you would expect. At least they had tea & coffee in the room. But on check out, the young lass charged my CitiPlus card in AUD without asking (including the 3.5% surcharge for the hotel). When I questioned this she and the manager stated that it could not be reversed! I am writing to the manager and IHG on that one. If you stay here, use cash. Only place this has been tried on me so far.

Arriving late from St. Tropez and needing to leave early after our two nights to drive to Toscano, we had one full day to fill in so we did a little window shopping in Nice early morning and the headed to Monaco to look around and compare prices. We took the scenic route along the coast road on the way there (and back by the Autoroute to save time). Some photos that +1 took on the way to Monaco:

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Jacques Vert

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Day 8: Nice to Barga

So finally heading to Toscano. We headed up the Autoroute and went through tunnel, after tool booth, after tunnel, after tool booth, after...well you get the picture. Total of EUR34 in tolls and at least 100+ tunnels. I have always been against tolls in Australia but must admit when I have traveled here (and in Malaysia) and see how good the toll roads are, I am not so sure anymore.

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And a short detour to drive through San Remo:

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Jacques Vert

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And if you are in this part of the world, then why not stop for lunch in Portofino:

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The Lonely Planet says that the road into Portofino is narrow, winding and scary. Narrow and winding it may be, but scary? Not nearly as difficult as driving in the narrow streets of old parts of Nice or many other towns in this part of the world. If you are in the vicinity then don't be put off by the guidebooks; just take your time, drive slowly and be careful.

When you arrive in Portofino there is a visitor's car park where the Panda felt very safe and comfortable while we strolled around the village/town and enjoyed lunch, and a well earned break on our longest drive of the trip.
 

Jacques Vert

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Then onto our first stop in Tuscany, sorry Toscano. We were staying at the Il Ciocco Renaissance Resort near Barga.

This hotel is located in the hills/mountains over looking Barga, a medieval town approximately one hour up a valley north of Lucca.

But first we went over and through the mountains to get there rather than coming up the valley from Lucca:

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Jacques Vert

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Day 9: Barga

Breakfast on the Veranda overlooking the mist/fog rising from the valley. Quite beautiful and an interesting change from being on the coast the past few days. Breakfast here was excellent: good selection and the hot food was actually hot, a pleasant surprise given the lukewarm stuff you usually get while travelling.

The old town of Barga on the next hilltop.

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Looking back at Il Ciocco from the valley:

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Some more shots of Il Ciocco:

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We enjoyed our time at Il Ciocco, despite the fact that maintenance was a little wanting and that there was no heating in the room. We were told that there is a regulation that prevents them from having heating until late October. I wish I had known that before I opened the balcony door and let the cool of the evening into our room.
 

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Today was washing day so we visited the local la lavenderia automatica (or sometimes lavendaria self-service) and caught up on our washing (14 Euro). After that, we visited a local small winery, tasted the three wines available and took one of each with us. I expected that we would have to pay for the tasting so I was only a little annoyed that the 10 Euro charge wasn’t mentioned until the end.


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Jacques Vert

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We drove into the medieval town of Old Barga for dinner. You park just outside the medieval gate and then walk to the restaurant of your choice. The hotel gave us a map and recommended four restaurants. We checked out all 4, but 3 of them were virtually empty. The other one (the first inside the gate on the left) was D’Altana; almost full - in fact we got the last table! Something to do with the best location, great food - all home made, good prices, lovely people, great ambience. All truly authentic. Highly recommended.

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That's a mural (should I say fresco) on the wall, not a window:

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There is something nice about ordering the house wine that comes with the restaurant’s own label:

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Jacques Vert

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Day 10: Cinque Terre

It was raining in Barga today so we decided that this was the opportunity to head to Cinque Terre, a log drive but worthwhile to visit 5 small towns on the coast north of La Spezia (Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola and Riomaggiore). Basically no cars (only the odd delivery van) but connected by train and walking tracks.

We decided to drive to La Spezia Centrale (railway) Stazione, park the Panda there, and take the train. Parking for most of the day worked out to EUR10.20. There is a ticket office at La Spezia stazione where you can by a pass for Cinque Terra for 1, 2 days, or more etc. Our one day adult pass cost Eur12 each, including unlimited travel between the five towns (as well as the train from/to La Spezia), access to the walking trails, and possibly more that we took no notice of.

We took the train all the way to the most northerly town to begin with as the train was crowded, the first town appeared crowded, and I thought if we started at the other end we may avoid the worst of the tourists (obviously as AFF members we are not counted as part of the crowd, tourists, etc.). I hate to think what the crowds are like in the middle of summer but the good thing is most of them leave on the train(s) in the afternoon. Basically the plan worked and so we started our visit in Monterossa:

The station is in the middle of the northern half of the town and it has a beach:


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And a giant:

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A nice ambiance:

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It is basically flat so easy walking and dragging that rollerbag and there is even a tunnel to connect the two halves of the town to avoid a climb over the hill (unless you want to go over the top, of course):

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And some nice Piazzas:

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I
f I were going to stay in one of the towns for a few days this would be my pic.
 
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