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Camping holiday near Pisa
Mike Laycock is captivated by Tuscany’s charms during a camping holiday near Pisa, where he can’t resist that classic photo opportunity.
It was a magical moment. We had driven to the little hilltop town on a whim on the Sunday evening, expecting empty streets as people settled down to Italian TV’s equivalent of the Antiques Roadshow. We should have known better.
This was Italy and it was clearly time for a party in Cassale Maritimo – although we never actually found out what everyone was celebrating.
We were directed by a policewoman to a car park on the outskirts and then joined throngs of Italians strolling up the narrow cobbled streets to its medieval heart.
Here, a band was playing in the small square and some people were dancing, while others queued for food at a cross between a buffet, a hog roast and a barbecue.
After a few language hitches, we managed to buy some of the most delicious local speciality, porchetta, and ate it as we watched the setting sun cast a golden glow on the honeyed stonework of the ancient buildings, with the only sound being swifts screaming through the balmy air above.
Below was the rolling Tuscan countryside, with its vineyards and olive groves.
Suddenly, we knew it had been worth it: worth the usual airport security hassle, the long, slow queue to hire a car at Pisa airport and the frustration of getting hopelessly lost on the 40-mile journey to our holiday park, as aggressive Italian motorists tailgated our little Fiat 500 and then raced past at 150 kph.
For years, we had regularly sailed across the Channel and driven to holiday parks in northern France or Holland, with their variable weather, for our summer holiday. But this time, when Keycamp offered me a mobile home holiday for summer 2011, we decided we wanted our sunshine almost guaranteed, as well as some history and culture.
So we decided on Tuscany in Italy. Driving there and back was not an option in the week I had available, so there was no choice but to let a plane take the strain.
We were staying just a couple of miles from Cassale at the Valle Gaia parc near the seaside resort of Cecina. It was a small, well-maintained site, with plenty of cypress and pine trees for shade, and two swimming pools, a bar, restaurant and pizza takeaway, a decent on-site shop and deli.
We had been allocated a luxurious Villanova mobile home, complete with electric radiators in each room, and a CD player, microwave and oven, and decking outside.
Although there was a good, white sandy beach just a 20-minute drive from the park, we spent many of our days sightseeing. And in this part of Italy, there are a ridiculous number of wonderful sights to see.
Of course, we couldn’t fly to Pisa without seeing the city and its iconic leaning tower, which only re-opened to visitors relatively recently following the completion of a major project to prevent it leaning further and eventually collapsing.
It’s an amazing sight. Our pre-booked climb up a gradually narrowing and worn spiral staircase is not recommended for the faint-hearted or anyone suffering from vertigo, but the views from the top are superb. We also took an open-top bus tour of Pisa and concluded that the belfry tower and accompanying duomo and baptistry are the best things the city has to offer.
We were more impressed by our bus tour of Florence, which presented us with superb views from a hillside garden suburb of the Renaissance city, with its stunning duomo, or cathedral dome.
We had, sadly, left it too late for a visit to the Uffizi gallery with its paintings by Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci, but we strolled over the Ponte Vecchio bridge, a medieval arched bridge over the River Arno with shops built along it, occupied nowadays by jewellers, art dealers and souvenir sellers.
We also dipped into the market to inspect several leather bag stalls. Florence was rather hot and unpleasantly crowded with tourists, and in many ways we liked even more the gorgeous but much less crowded and lesser known city of Lucca.
We strolled through its narrow streets, which still follow the original Roman rectangular plan, until we reached the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, an oval-shaped square on the site of the amphitheatre, where we enjoyed an al fresco evening meal.
Other highlights of the holiday were the equally picturesque mountain towns of Volterra and San Gimignano.
WE flew to Pisa from Newcastle Airport with Jet2.com, which offers low fares and a 22kg baggage allowance on flights to Pisa from Belfast, East Midlands, Leeds Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle up to five days a week. Flights start from £32.99 one way including taxes. For more information, go to jet2.com
WE stayed in a mobile home courtesy of Keycamp. Seven nights from 27 August 2012 for two adults and up to four children staying in a three bedroom Vista mobile home with decking and air conditioning at Keycamp’s Valle Gaia parc will cost from £931, accommodation only.
Ferry crossings and fly-drive packages can be arranged though Keycamp at a supplement. For further information or to make a booking, visit www.keycamp.co.uk or call 0844 406 0319.