One of the benefits of spending a couple months in France is the ability to go to Italy when you have a few free days. We had purposely left a little more than a week open on our calendar thinking we might want some spontaneity in the schedule, something that I am not very good at.
We had talked about scheduling a few stops or possibly spending another week in Paris which is our next destination. Kelly told me I could not schedule anything in advance, she wanted at least a week left open on the schedule to be filled last minute. So until last week we had no idea where we would spend May 21st– 29th. We decided we did not need to see more walled towns, castles, cathedrals etc. Instead we wanted somewhere warm, relaxing and within our budget, oh, and a water view would be nice.
As we were wrapping up our week in Villefranche we started looking for an Airbnb on the coast and found a beach town just an hour away, Ospedaletti, Italy. We had never heard of the town but thought we would try it for 5 nights. It was perfect. A small, picturesque beach town just gearing up for the summer season. Italy is substantially cheaper than the French Riviera just an hour away.
Our housing was on budget at $517 for a five-night stay. A very nice dinner for two at a beachfront restaurant with wine will set you back €50-€75. We had a great meal off the beach with wine and coffee for €38. Again, our Airbnb was great, large airy, with French doors opening onto a small deck overlooking the beach. It wasn’t perfect having the worst mattress we have encountered so far and very limited internet access.
Our goal was to do very little, just relax, read and get in some walks. Our friends Neil and Jin decided to make the trek from Nice for the day so we made them lunch and then rented bikes and rode the bike path to San Remo. Several years ago they took out the beach front rail line and replaced it with a paved bike and pedestrian path that runs for 24KM along the coast. For €10 each we rented bikes for the afternoon and headed through the mile long lighted tunnel that leads to San Remo. The weather cooperated with partial clouds and warm temps in the 60s. We rode a total of 20KM and stopped twice for beverages. First coffee then the obligatory Aperol Spritz, which is required whenever you are in Italy on a sunny day. Both Kelly and Jin were happy to complete the ride without injury as neither were excited about a bike ride. The ride also proved educational as the tunnel has dozens of banners which tell the more than 100 year history of the Milan-San Remo bike race.
After the ride we drove Neil and Jin to Ventimiglia for their train ride back to Nice. The downside of a lovely bike path in Ospedaletti is that the train no longer has a track running into the town. In Ventimiglia we walked the old town and had dinner at one of Jen and Neil’s favorite restaurants, Il Bucaniere.
Kelly enjoyed the bike ride so much she suggested riding bikes to San Remo on market day so we rented bikes on Saturday and headed back through the tunnel. We added to our limited travel clothing finding some reasonable deals at the San Remo market. I even picked up a scarf, because everyone in Europe wears a scarf and we both thought if we bought some warmer clothing the weather was bound to improve. Kind of like carrying an umbrella to ward off the rain, we will let you know how it works.
After five relaxing days in Italy we started making our way toward Paris. We drove 7 hours north to the little town of St. Jean Losne, or actually a canal just outside town where our friends Jon and Cindy have their barge. Jon and Cindy are truly amazing, they are 80 and 77 respectively and recently moved onto a barge they purchased in Belgium, refurbished and motored to France. This is their fourth Barge. Their first was moored in Paris in the 80s when Jon was a naval officer stationed at the Embassy in Paris. We met them when they owned the house next to our property in Honduras. Needless to say, they have led a fascinating life and have no plans to slow down soon. We spent 3 nights on their Barge, 90 feet long, 16 feet wide and 1000 square feet of living space. We were joined one evening by their British friends who have been living on their barge for the past 10 years.
They stay here on the canal in the winter and move around France, Belgium and Germany during the summer and fall. Life on a barge is relatively budget friendly. Barges are cheaper than apartments, $75,000 for a fixer upper though you can certainly spend more. Mooring with power and water at a Marina will cost around $250 a month even for a 90 foot barge, and when cruising around France most tie ups along the canals are free.
Every week we meet interesting people living life just a little outside the norm and loving it. It is not without its risks and frustrations, getting a long-term visa through the French bureaucracy requires tenacity and perseverance. But we have not heard anyone regretting their choices and wishing they had stayed home dreaming about travel and mowing the lawn on weekends.
See you in Paris