We have been driving most of the day. After a lunch stop in Cavaillon, famous for its melons where we have a delicious lunch under a shady terrace recommended by the lady in the bookshop where we buy a guide book, we have an afternoon tea break in Saint Laurent du Var, just next to Nice. It seems easier (and quicker) to go there than into Nice itself. We discover some beautiful oleander avenues and the pretty little village of Saint Laurent.
We cross the border into Italy and leave the motorway at Sanremo. Our destination is a B&B in Baiardo, up in the hills, about 20 km and ½ hour away according to my iPhone. We have reserved a room with a view. The GPS says 50 minutes. We find ourselves on a very narrow road with a succession of hairpin bends. We get lost a couple of times and tempers are getting frayed. I’m too stressed to even take photos!
Before we even reach the B&B we have decided that we are only staying one night and not the three we’ve booked. The further we get up the hill, the less sun and more mist we have. We see no other cars on the way, only three cyclists obviously in training for the Tour de France. We reach the address at last and ring the bell. No response. We try the house next door and a friendly German who speaks both English and Italian phones the owner.
She talks to us through the intercom and explains how to get in the back way. We bump over a dirt road and she is waiting for us at the door. She greets us warmly asking if the drive up with OK. She sees the stress on our faces and asks if we have a “navigator”. Our GPS didn’t choose the right route it seems. There is a much easier one but which is just as long.
We visit the room which is very pretty and see the mist enveloping the hills from the balcony. The deck chairs look a little superfluous. She apologizes for the weather and hopes it will be better next morning. We explain that we will only stay for one night, because 45 minutes of such horrendous roads twice a day is not part of our cycling schedule.
She is very understanding and says it’s important that her visitors are happy with their stay. We are relieved that we have a picnic with us and don’t have to go out again! We have a good wifi connection, thank goodness, and are able to find another place to stay for the next two nights. We sleep well and wake up next morning to bright sunshine and a most spectacular view.
We are able to have breakfast on the terrace overlooking several hills and valleys. The breakfast is excellent with freshly made apple juice, apple cake, scrambled eggs and bacon, fresh fruit and different sorts of bread. “Make the most of this”, I tell Jean Michel. “This is probably the best breakfast you will get in Italy.”
With instructions from our hostess, we take the easy road down to Sanremo which includes a couple of large villages, but it’s still 45 minutes so we don’t regret our decision to move on. We’ve found a one-bedroom apartment with a view in Imperia, only 15 minutes from the centre.
Parking around Sanremo proves to be impossible so we ask the GPS for underground parking. It is practically empty which is suspicious and no prices are displayed. I ask someone but my Italian isn’t sufficient to understand the answer. I try someone else who fortunately speaks English. “Not expensive”, he says, “just a few euros.” We lug the bikes up the stairs (there is no lift or ramp that we can see, and join the bike path from Ospedaletti to San Lorenzo, 25 km of converted train track, reputed to be one of the best bike paths in Italy.
It lives up to its name with beautiful houses, oleanders and plumbago along one side and the sea on the other. We turn left towards Ospedaletti, 6 km away, passing through a 2-km long tunnel which relates the history of a famous 298 K bike race from Milano to San Remo nicknamed “La Primavera” which first started in 1907. At Ospedaletti, we have a cappuccino at Il Golfo di Napoli.
We turn back in the other direction and pass Sanremo. What a wonderful place to pass through by train (though I imagine the soot and noise were less attractive to the inhabitants).
As we go past Taggia, we see a large church so decide to explore. Closer up it proves to be quite recent so we join the bike path again. The next section is the least attractive of the entire route, but we eventually get to San Stefano al Mare and are feeling puckish but don’t seem to be able to leave the bike path. I see a lady emerging with a pram so we follow a ramp down to a children’s playground. I’m not keen on any of the waterfront restaurants so we push on further.
We come to a likely-looking restaurant near the marina called Il Sandolino where I have a fritura mista (mixed battered fish and seafood) and Jean Michel has a tuna steak. Both are delicious but very copious. We choose a very cold and very welcome frizzante (slightly bubbly white wine). Riding under a bright blue sky at 30°C after a miserable 20°C in Blois is hot work even if the bike route is flat most of the way.
Back on the bike path we continue to San Lorenzo past more seascapes and through another tunnel. We will have been through 4 altogether but none as long as the first one.
As the town looks totally deserted, we turn around to go back to Sanremo and are surprised to see that the sky is looking a little murky. We arrive back at the car just before it starts spitting! It didn’t even occur to me to take our rain capes with us.
We end up paying 6.80 euro for our 4 ½ hours in the car park so the man was right – it wasn’t expensive. However, we saw that we could have parked right next to the bike path in an above-ground carpark about 2 k from Ospedaletti where they also have rental bikes. It would have been simpler.
By now it’s 4 pm and it’s a half an hour’s drive to our apartment in Imperia. Our cycling holiday is off to a good start!