country living

Barchetta Day

A day of touring out of season on the exquisite Island of Corfu.

The Island is one full of ex pats. Dutch, American, German, English and even a few Irish. The winter is the secret time when all year rounders come out to play. When the roads are clear of hire cars, when the beaches have no more sunbeds and the olive trees are laden with fruit, peace invades the land.

Where to Madam?

The mountains are still spectacular, the trees still mostly green and one in fifty tavernas are still open. We can put our noses out, like Moley in the Wind in the Willows after a winter of hibernation, and breathe clear, cool air once more.

In between the parties, christenings and the get togethers, my neighbour offers her car for a trip around the island. A Fiat Barchetta, no less, one of the few hand made cars, before robots took their place in the assembly line. A nhttp://fiat.barchettaeat roadster convertible.

My Greek boyfriend nearly faints at the thought, thinking back to the days when he drove one himself. I get a message early in the morning to say it has started, a minor miracle as it’s not taken out much and the battery gets run down.

We dash up and get hold of the key. My other half is struggling to get into it with the roof in place.

-How could I do this when I was forty? he groans.

We wrap up with woolly hats and jackets, figure out the roof procedure and the engine roars.

On our faces are plastered large smiles, as the air rushes past and the low slung car hugs the road. We feel like tourists.Once or twice the car refuses to start first time, but it always obliges in the end.

We chose the coast road, with the sea to our right, still and azure as ever it was on a calm summer’s day. We explore a couple of deserted resorts – picture perfect villages with their jetties empty, the tavenas deserted. When we drive all the way to the end of the pier and then slightly off it, on to more uneven ground, it is explained to me that Barchetta is the Italian word for a small boat, so it’s only normal to bring it as close to the water as possible. My panicked face breaks into a smile again and we retrace our steps up out of the village.

At Kanoni, Church of Vlacherna with Pontikonissi – Mouse Island in the background

Then along the north coast, stopping for a grill lunch of souvlaki and beer, then on again this time down the island through the mountain range where we see over to the west side and then slide down, down to the central plain and home. Hugging our neighbour in thanks for an exquisite day driving a true touring car that hugged the bends from sea level to 75 metres above in this concertina of an island.

Still high on the fresh air, we add a new phrase to our vocabulary – a Barchetta Day.

Every twentyfour hours 7


Could it be number seven already? Thank you for all the likes and comments. Its hard to believe this is being read in India. It gives me great encouragement to continue the blog which I love doing anyway. It’s a real plus to see people picking it up. I hope it inspires some of you to take the plunge and follow your dreams.

It feels like I pulled out of Rosslare yesterday.

I made it to Bourges today from Sees. And Mon dieu, the French know how to celebrate.

It appears La France is in to the next round of the World Cup – the semi final.

I am at the municipal campsite which is close to the town centre. The Robinson Campsite – The noise is deafening. Continuous car horns sounding and it sounds like all the fireworks will be used up by Saturday the Quatorze Juillet.

The gendarmerie will have their hands full tonight getting order back in to the roaring crowd which is quite audible from here.

I broke the journey up today between Tours and Bourges, by going to Chateau Villandry on the Loire.  It was a small detour but took me down some minor roads that were challenging with the van in tow. Still it looked so interesting that I felt it would be worth it. I was right!

The back story to this incredible castle is that it lay abandoned at the beginning of last century. It is a vast sixteenth century renaissance masterpiece, briefly owned by members of the French royal family. About this time, Anne Coleman – and yes there is an Irish connection – had married one Joachim Carvallo and they were looking for a family home. You can guess the next bit. While carvallo was a penniless Spanish scientist, destined for a great career, she was the youngest daughter in a dynasty based in Lebanon in Pennsylvania who had made great fortunes in mining. Ann had taken a degree in science in Bryn Mawr, the only college open to women in those days in the USA. She was greatly talented and fell for Carvallho when they shared a professor at college.  Their forebear was from Donegal, with the surname Hanlon and he actually took his wife’s name when he married Ann coleman’s grandmother. He had come over in the late seventeen hundreds, well before the main wave of Irish emigrants in the eighteen forties.

Carvallho made it his life’s mission to renovate the chateau and gardens. They had six children who all grew up in the chateau and it was the heart of a warm and loving and large family. It is now owned by Henry Carvallo, great grandson of the original couple.

The gardens are what are most remarkable about the chateau. They are not very extensive, but are laid out in meticulous patterns. Since 2009, the organic method has been adopted so no artificial fertilisers are used. Rotation planting is part of this method, but they not only rotate the classes of plants such as Brassica (cabbage family) and Solanum (aubergine, peppers) but the colour is coordinated to give contrasting stripes in between the box hedging which is used to separate each type of plant, interspersed with all of this are roses such as Rose Marlene Dietrich, and deep red and others with wonderful scents and vivid pink colours.

The white wheel turns to place a new plan on top of the garden. You can identify the plants using the colour coding

The flower beds have a love theme, the hedges shaped in hearts in one part and in a topsy turvy pattern in another to signify the ups and downs of love affairs.

My camera was almost down to no battery when I got there as I had been using Google maps, but I actually felt relieved that I did not have to record everything. It reminded me of my mother so much – gardens always do, but as I sat in the water garden I though this is where you are now at this moment in your life. I know I will look back on this trip with great fondness. Memories of the past do enrich the present but they do not define it. We all have our moments. I do remember my grandmother having prized Malmaison carnations which smelt of aniseed. They were reputed to have come from the gardens at Malmaison in Paris where the wives of the ill fated French royal family lived. I can still see and remember the smell in her old fashioned greenhouse.

The castle floors were tiled upstairs and downstairs in terrazzo tiling – very cool in the summer but it must have been a freezing place to live in the winter. The dining room was particularly well thought out – looking out over the gardens and with a medium sized oval table in the middle. There was a water fountain at the end of the room, continuously bubbling quite loudly reputedly so there would be no awkward silences while entertaining. Again the floor was tiled, giving it a wonderful solid feel.

The day was not without its challenges as I missed the turn onto the Autoroute for Le Mans so I ended up on some minor roads- much harder work than the wide motorways.

On the motorways, being overtaken by a large artic is a bit nerve racking. However I have developed a habit of moving to the right hand side as they pass. I have noticed that you are drawn towards them as they pass. When you understand this, you can counteract the force.

A car crossed the overpass in front of me seeming to be travelling away from me. It had a long white trailer with what looked like a boat upsidedown on it. It was three times as long as the regular motorhome, but only half as high.  Next thing, this vehicle started overtaking me out of nowhere. All I could think was damn, this will go on forever. As it moved ahead of me on the autoroute, I noticed it swaying towards a car that was overtaking it. So it happens to all vehicles. It must have come on to the same route as me from another direction.

The Aires run by Vinci are very clean with great facilities for recycling etc. The big ones cater for trucks of which there are thousands over here. Other Aires are very basic with only fairly rudimentary  toilets ( I won’t go into details) and a few benches.

Others still are designed for caravans and motorhomes to overnight.

I am torn between getting to Italy by Thursday or staying in France for the Quatorze celebrations, maybe in Chambery. With the World cup excitement it could be worth being in France.

I am taking heart from progress to date. Corfu is within my sights. The Italian roads are said to be quite a challenge. But I was told not to go into Naples too years ago when I was in Sorrento. I would be robbed blind. I thought it was totally illogical to miss an opportunity to see the Bay of Naples. Santa Lucia made a deep impression on me as a child. So in I went on my own leaving the others safely in Sorrento. I ended up taking the wonderful Via Vesuvio railway and taking the funicular up and down the streets of Naples. I even visited the Cabinet Segreto which is part of the museum and contains sexual objects collected from Pomeii. It was locked for reasons of prurience for many years.

Just a load of Phallic symbols and some naughty pictures that had been painted on the walls of the Pompeian villas.  So it is important to not always go with what ‘they ‘ say – ‘They’ are not always right. I also made a point of climbing up to the top of the fort overlooking the Bay in the blistering heat just so I could have the experience of seeing the historic and celebrated Bay of Naples for myself.  What is the point in being some where if you are going to be put off by talk of crime or bad reputation. Travel is all about being curious and driven to see for yourself what some where looks like and feels like.