It’s the 1st August and our Eurotunnel train has taken us on the 35 minute trip from Folkestone to Calais. This is the start of our trip from Calais to Italy in a campervan!
Yes, we’re off!! It’s been a hectic week, but we’re here! En-route through France to somewhere, but still no definite idea of where!
After having a quick discussion on where we fancied heading, we left the Aire at Gravelines – about 30 minutes East of Calais and hit the road.
Then the decision was made – we’d re-visit the Alsace region. Thinking, well hey ho it’s a few year’s since the last visit – so why not? That was until we stumbled at the first hurdle!
Yes, our trip from Calais to Italy in a campervan wasn’t going to plan! So, let’s begin the journey and find out more!
Lo and behold. We’d only gone a few kilometers down the road, when we had a change of heart! “How about doing the Burgandy wine route again”, one of us said, although, I’m not sure who made the suggestion.
The next thing we know, we’ve got Dijon in the Sat Nav, where the wine routes begin. Just to the South of Dijon itself.
We’re all ready for a bit of the Red stuff and some sleepy village Aires (that’s French camper parking if you don’t know already). When suddenly, a lack of concentration and heck!! We miss a turning on the Toll Road, resulting in us heading to Paris…..argghhhhhh!!!
If you’ve driven round the Paris circular roads, you’ll know to avoid them at all cost, unless you really have to. The only good thing about this, and yes, there has to be a good out of each situation! Is that, as we we’re about to slip under the runway at Paris Charles de Gaulle International Airport, that is normal, by the way! There happened to be a very large aircraft passing in front of us, which made for a great photo opportunity, to pass to our pilot training Son.
Ok, that’s about the only advantage! Until that is, we see Fontainebleau on the road atlas. We admit it, right now, hands up, we still use an Atlas as a back up to the technology.
For some reason, we’ve never been to Fontainebleau. Goodness know’s how we’ve missed it, but now was our chance.
With amazing weather and no idea where we were now heading. Fontainbleau quickly became the ideal place to visit.
As we approached Fontainbleau town, we had the WOW factor come over us! The incredible Chateau of the same name and it’s famous grounds, came into view, this place looked awesome!
Following the Camper Contact App for the motorhome parking. Google Maps soon lead us to a cobbled, tree-lined Avenue. Thankfully, this was also the overnight parking for campervans and motorhomes.
It gave the most impressive view, through the tall, iron railings and gates, into the grounds and towards the Chateau.
Here we parked up, alongside the palatial gates. Feeling like Cossette from Les Miserables, this place had a magical feel that oozed character.
Thankfully, the grounds, including the beautiful boating lake and floral gardens, are open until 7pm in Summer. Incredibly, entry and parking is Free! How can something this beautiful, UNESCO World Heritage and so famous to the world be Free?!!
We spent our first couple of days here exploring the magnificent grounds, which also lead to the town. The Chateau state rooms are open to the public, but there is a charge.
The Chateau itself, is the only one in France that has been residence to all French monarchs. Dating from the 12th Century, it certainly has enough historic interest to keep the most ardent history buffs occupied.
For the more romantic, rowing boats can be hired for a few euro’s. Taking you across the pretty lake, which is also home to the biggest Koi Carp, we’ve ever seen!
There’s also a horse-drawn carriage to ride around in (not by yourself!) and a petit-train. However, we chose good old leg work, despite Nige, still nursing a broken foot bone, ouch!
So, as you can guess, it was a pretty good start to the trip. Blessed with fabulous weather, we’re reminded that, in our opinion – you can’t beat France in Summertime!
There’s no where as special as France, when the heat is on. Yes, those sunflower fields are blooming and the vines are ripening. Which can mean only one thing, hmmm, gosh, whatever can that be?
Ok, the suspense is over, Chablis and the wine routes surrounding the famous town, looked rather tempting. So it would be rude not to stop, wouldn’t it?
Now, don’t faint, but, we’ve never been to Chablis! Ask why and we just have no idea, as it’s a completely idyllic little French town. As expected, it has a rather upmarket feel and more importantly, is surrounded by vineyards, of course!
We arrived just as the Sunday market was coming to an end. However, the saucisson stall was just about open for business, so we quickly bought a selection of our favourite flavours. Ready for a picnic lunch, we found a shady area alongside the river.
Chablis has a really typical French feel about it, boasting beautiful floral displays. Pretty streams flow thorough, where restaurants serve the most delicious looking food and wine, under the shade of leafy trees.
There’s a really good walking wine tour to do from the tourist office, taking you on a route through the vines. Where, you can stop and sample the produce at various wine cellars.
Unfortunately for us, it was just too hot! Those that know us, will realise that for us two, to turn down a walk, it must be hot!
Instead, we drove on to Tonnerre to see the Fosse Dionne. This is a rather weird amount of water that oozes up from the ground. The strange thing is, that it’s never been explored. Apparently, it’s too deep and dangerous therefore, there’s no real record of how far down these clear blue waters reach.
It’s no surprise, that the Fosse used to be the local wash house and it’s a rather odd little place -somewhat a forgotten town.
One place not to forget, was our stop for the night at the Abbaye de Fontenay.
There’s free parking for motorhome’s outside on the approach. So, we conveniently parked up in a peaceful setting, along with several other vans.
The abbey is one beautiful building and it’s huge. Dating from the 12th century, it’s the oldest surviving Cistercian building in France.
It’s surrounded by forests, cycle paths and walking trails, so we chose a 2-hour walking route through the forest. Mainly, so that we could keep in the shade.
This area, Bourgogne, has a network of canals too, so it’s a really pretty drive and not so much of a tourist trail.
We actually made a decision to head to our old stomping ground of Annecy from here. A firm favorite and one of our old time motorhome haunts. First though, it’s a stop to the Cascades du Herisson, in the Jura region.
How have we not heard about this waterfall trail until now?
Dodging thunder storms, we followed the scenic path, through the forest. The well marked, popular trail, takes you past the most beautiful display of cascading falls. Each waterfall is individually named, to make the experience a little more intimate.
Starting from a visitor centre, the route climbs a series of stairs, over a 7.5km trail. The walk took us 2.5 hours to complete, on a scenic return route.
The first of the 7 stunning waterfalls is just beautiful, as it falls gently along a tall, flat rock face to the stream below. It was actually quite a “wow” moment.
The easy, but elevated path climbs past lovely streams, lush vegetation, rock formations and, of course, the various waterfalls. Passing each, as they cascade through the hillside at different stages. Culminating in a rather large display of awesomeness at the highest point.
We arrived late in the afternoon and it was busy. Luckily, the crowds had dispersed for our return back to the visitor centre, otherwise, it could have been a bit annoying on the slippy sections of path.
This is a site of special interest, so there’s no overnight camper parking allowed. There’s a €6 charge for day parking and plenty of seating and places for a picnic on the route!
On our visit there was lots of shallow water and beach areas, where people were taking a dip. It’s so nice to just relax by the water for a few minutes and take in the scenery.
A walk to definitely add to our favourite list and despite stormy skies, it still looked amazing!
On a sunny day, it would be even more beautiful!
Oh, if you like campgrounds, there is one right at the start, perfect for an early morning walk!
Well the power of social media had led us to these Gorges. It’s somewhere Nigel had spotted on Instagram a while back, so we had it on our “to go to” list!
10KM from Annecy, the gorges are a result of the Fier River, which runs from Mont Carvin, 2019m above sea level, high up in the French Alps. The river has created these incredible narrow gorges, carving out the rock into a display of intricate formations.
We arrived late in the afternoon, and it was packed! This is August travels for you, busy, hot and queues for everything.
We hadn’t quite realised that the Gorges here, were quite so touristy! We thought it was more of a hike, combining elevated walkways. Needless to say, these are built into the rockface above the river, providing an interesting sight.
A little disappointed, that we weren’t going on a long trek, in some remote part of the countryside. We gritted our teeth and carried on amongst the hordes of visitors!
This walkway is high and it’s also narrow, so it was no wonder that some weary spectators turned back! We loved it though, except for so many people!! Our pics were taken quickly, before too many people got in the shots!
Despite us preferring to be in a less busy location, the gorges are spectacular and well worth the effort. The rock formations and the way the river flows beneath your feet, from the high wooden pathway, is quite something.
The parking on our arrival was full to bursting, in a small van it wasn’t a problem, as we could park in a car space. Although, in a larger van, it would be best to arrive very early or very late!
Oh, it’s possible to stay overnight in the car park too, yes don’t we all just love France for their camper friendly approach.
The first time I visited Annecy I was just 17 (that’s a long time ago!). I always said I’d have to go back, even as a teenager I thought it was just beautiful!
So, fast forward to 2005 when we bought our first motorhome. Finally I got to return with Nigel and the boys, to this magical lakeside town which borders the French Alps.
We decided, it was one of our favourite places in Europe. So much so, that we returned several times, but usually in the thick of Winter!
Now, with it being just the two of us and having not visited for a few years, it was time to re-live the magic and have a couple of days exploring.
So, if you’re not sure where or what Annecy is, here’s the small talk!
Located approx 25 miles from Geneva, it sits in the most beautiful of settings. The cleanest Lake in Europe is its main attraction. Annecy, not only has the beauty of it’s ancient old town, with intricate canals and narrow streets, but it’s natural surroundings are just dreamy.
The Alps dominate the skyline, as the mountains appear to drop towards the water’s edge. The clear blue water of the lake is a haven for water sports, swimming, boating or just lazing around on one of it’s grassy banks or sheltered beaches.
The tourists do flock here, therefore, an abundance of campsites are available and on our visit the whole area was packed!
We of course, stayed for free on the Aire. Situated just a couple of minutes walk from the lake and about 10 minute walk to the centre of the old town, it’s ideal.
On our arrival, the Aire was complete chaos! It’s small, with no turning area and it was crazy with vans coming and going. We were really lucky to get a parking place, just as a motorhome was leaving. So we grabbed the spot and stayed put for a couple of days!
The heat was certainly on during our visit. Temperatures were well into the 30’s, so much so, that even Nigel went in the Lake (he hates water!).
It’s a great place to be in Summer, the atmosphere is alive. Restaurants are bustling at all times of the day and night in the old town. It’s such a lovely place to meander, through the old narrow streets and canal side alleyways.
We took to our bikes, and rather unexpectedly ended up cycling the whole “Tour du Lac”! This cycle path route, which is predominantly off road, takes you round the 50km circuit of the lake and it’s just superb!
Even our Brompton Bicycle ‘s coped with the hilly sections, that took us inland towards the base of the mountains. Before a steep downhill took us back to the lakeside at the Southern end of the lake.
We’d stopped several times for food, water, more water, swims, shade, so spent the whole day on the route. It’s simply breathtaking.
After walking the lakeside promenades and soaking up more of the atmosphere, we said goodbye to Annecy once again.
I’m sure it won’t take us long to be back, this place is still one of our most favorite destinations in Europe!!
From goodbye Annecy, it was hello French Alps!. Well, what’s not to love about the Alps?
We’ve spent many a memorable trip, meandering through these stunning villages and incredible mountain ranges, that dominate the landscape.
This year it’s been memory lane time.
It’s a few years, since our last visit, so we were more than ready to explore again.
Such happy memories of family trips, many skiing, staying in our earlier motorhomes. Lots of learning curves were had too in the early days. Travels in a Motorhome in the Alps In Winter, is very different to Summer and we soon found out!
So, first up this weekend was Thones, the gateway to the Alps and the Massif Aravis ranges. It’s a great little village to park up for a couple of nights.
Enough walking trails to keep us entertained too, and the Aire, located next to the river is perfect for town and it’s free .
If you’re into the Via Ferrata, there’s a very challenging looking route right in the town.
That’s not for us, but we quite enjoyed watching those that did brave it. Clinging to the metal ladders and ropes, seemingly with ease!
One last note, we’d had some pretty strong thunder storms, enough to not need the van washing for a while. It’s rather nice to be have been back in better temperatures though, which means, yes more walking!
The storm clouds have passed and the sun shines once again.
Temperatures were back to a more bearable level, from the previous week’s upper 30C. So, it meant a pleasant couple of days for us, meandering through the Alpine villages of the Aravis ranges, in the Haute Savoie.
This area is just a delight! Le Grand Bornand is a firm favourite of ours – it’s a low key, classy little ski resort.
We’ve spent many a happy time in Winter, skiing the slopes from Le Grand Bornand and have loved re-visiting. There’s a really good campsite here, where we’ve stayed in the past for Winter ski trips.
As usual, nearly all of these mountain villages have an Aires de Camping Car, so overnight parking is just easy and free.
Our drive over the mountain passes took us through the resorts of La Clusaz, Les Saisies, Flumet and Beaufort.
All within stunning Alpine scenery, with incredible views across the Alps as you traverse the mountain passes, along numerous hairpin bends.
Of course, this region is not just famous for the outdoor activities!
It’s also renowned for the amazing cheeses, honey, cured meats and local delicacies. These are all produced in the Alpine meadows in one way or another.
Luckily for us, it was market day in Beaufort, which could mean only one thing – plenty of tasty treats to see us through the week!
This has to be another wow-moment for us. We’re so happy to share with you the information on the incredible scenery in this part of France.
Crossing the Alps is always spectacular. The mountain passes are just incredibly beautiful, but somehow, this route over the Barrage de Roselend just seemed more special than ever.
Maybe it’s the time of year, or possibly the sun reflecting the light in all the right places.
Whatever the reason, our drive took a few hours!! With too many glorious view points, clear skies and all those mountains surrounding us. We took our time and made the most of the spectacular route.
Crossing the Dam wall is just breathtaking. The bright blue water is on one side and the drop into the mountainous valley below on the other. But it’s best for a small van as turning around on the other side could be tricky.
This was simply a special route. One that made us appreciate our surroundings that little bit more than ever.
From mountain passes where the only traffic jam is the herd of mountain goats! To the adventure hub of alpine activities, down in the valley at Bourg-St-Maurice.
This area of the French Alps is a complete outdoor lover’s paradise. Extreme sports are the norm, there is everything for the outdoor enthusiastic. It comes in bucket loads and when the sun is shining and the heat is on, this region just looks incredible!
To be honest, we could have spent week’s here in the Alps, it’s just beautiful and the facilities provided for tourism is superb. Completely equal to New Zealand in many aspects, but without the ultra extremes!!
Ok, so New Zealand is just is the no.1 adventure country in the world, isn’t it?
Back to Europe! The only reason, we were hesitant to stay longer in this region, is purely that we’ve done it before. For us, the whole emphasis of the tour was to explore somewhere that we didn’t know quite so well. That meant Italy was waiting!
In the meantime, we were quite happy to watch the mountain cattle and listen to those soothing sounds of cattle bells, as they wondered the pastures at altitude.
We love a bit of daily exercise and a brilliant cycle path took us through the valley, on a steady 20km route. This was more than enough in the heat, to keep us occupied.
There are brilliant mountain biking trails here, in case it’s your thing? It’s not for us, but we’re told that it’s fabulous biking down through the mountains.
From goats to cows, biking to hiking and all the glorious local food produce, there’s nothing to not like about the French Alps.
The walk up to Le monal was a truly magical hiking day, in the prettiest of places and all rather unexpected.
Noticing a sign for a walk to an ancient mountain village, we packed up the rucksack and headed off to explore.
An uphill walk followed, through the most beautiful pine forests, with the aroma of the pines accompanying us, as we meandered through the trees.
With glaciers gleaming on the mountains opposite us, the views were just outstandingly beautiful.
Emerging into the heat of the sun, on the mountain plateau, we followed a gravel track to “Le Monal”.
The ancient historic village is a preserved monument and it’s completely beautiful in every way.
Surrounded by the mountain peaks, green meadows, clear blue mountain streams and the sound of bells, ringing out from the herds of mountain goats.
What a find!! A truly surreal day up in the mountains and one we’ll remember for a long time to come.
The best thing about a mountain pass, is of course the view and the drive. In Summer, when these Alpine roads are open to the masses, there is no better feeling of the vast space around you and the sheer beauty of the dramatic peaks of the Alps.
However, this is no ordinary mountain pass! The Col de L’iIseran is the highest mountain pass in the Alps at 2770m and it’s stunning!
We started the route from the well known ski hub of Val’d’Isere, a fabulous outdoor adventure town in its own right. Where anything and everything seems available to those wanting that next big adventure thrill.
As the climb begins, the first amazing views come into sight. The glistening blue water of Lac du Chevril, sparkle in the distance, beyond the now tiny looking resort of Val d’Isere.
It seems that anything and everything on wheels is on this mountain road. It’s the glory of cyclists and they are out in the masses on this fabulous Summer afternoon.
The road bends are steady but obvious, ski runs surround us, even as we approach the summit.
This place is vast and the tourism sector of this region has embraced it for what it can offer. Some of the best mountain biking in Summer and thrill seeking ski runs in Winter, it’s just awesome.
Parking up at the Summit view point and “must do” sign, we brave the biting winds that seem to have come from nowhere.
A very quick photo opportunity and we head back to the van, ready for the glorious descent into the valley on the other side.
This is just stunning, a drive taking us, down the mountain into the green pastures of the Alpine meadows.
Farmers are busy collecting the freshly mown pasture grasses, in preparation for a harsh Winter. Wild flowers are in abundance, as we pass pretty mountain streams.
We stop to watch some playful furry mountain Marmots on the hillside, before continuing to the valley for a well deserved cuppa (anyone would think we’d cycled it!).
We end our drive in the incredibly picturesque Bonneval-Sur-Arc, a true surprise in its beauty.
We had no intention of stopping here the night, but needs must when you get an opportunity in such incredible surroundings!
There’s something so mystical about being in the mountains.
Feeling as if we’re miles from anywhere. The enormity of those dramatic peaks and ridges seem so close. Almost as if they can be reached out and touched.
The glistening snow and ice of Summer on the glaciers is beautiful, melting glacial water, cascading through gorges, carved out over millions of years.
It makes us realise just how small we all are on our ever changing planet. Bonneval-Sur-Arc is one of those magical places that bring the mountains to life. The old village is full of ancient wooden mountain dwellings, it’s quite something to see.
Luckily, there is motorhome parking at the village, where we joined around 30 other motorhomes for the night.
Some days, our walking routes take our breath away! This was certainly one of those moments…..just simply incredible!
Bonneval-Sur-Arc is beautiful in itself, home of the most simply, rustic dwellings, many with the thick slab stone roofs to protect them from the harsh winters.
When you’re in the mountains in the heat of summer, it’s really difficult to imagine it in any other way! To think that those green meadows and wild flowers are hidden beneath the thickness of the heavy snow falls.
Exploring on foot following the marked path’s out of Bonneval-Sur-Arc, this 2 hour return route led us through the valley, gradually rising towards the ancient village of L’Ecot.
Once the highest village in the Alps, this incredibly beautiful hamlet, is now only occupied in the Summer months and when you reach it you can see why!
As in all areas of France, walking routes are excellent and very well marked. The hiking trails here are no exception, with routes signposted along with distance in time that it takes, perfectly positioned to help us on our way.
There are no words really to describe this area, the region itself is just a delight and the walk to this ancient village even more so.
With that, I think I’ll leave it to the pictures, which will definitely paint a thousand words!!
Our mountain pass route into Italy, across the 2083m high Col du Cenis, wasn’t quite the scenic view we’d expected!
As we left the French alpine town of Lanslevillard at the base of the pass, the sun was shining and the heat was well and truly on!
However, a thick fog soon descended, as we climbed the winding bends of the mountains. Soon we were in what can only be described as “Pea Soup”!
Our views down to what should have been our stop for the night, at Lac du Mont Cenis, were non existent! The incredibly bright blue lake of the picture postcards was not even visible, although we did pass it somewhere!!
Such as shame to miss it, but at this point and with Madam in the driving seat, trust me to pick a mountain pass in fog to do the driving . We were just happy to get down into visible conditions.
So, now you’ll know why there aren’t any fab picutres to accompany the route! But this is real life and that’s exactly how we’re trying to keep things.
Italy is a country that we only started exploring last year. We concentrated then on the Northern Region, touring the Italian Lakes, Northern cities of Verona, Milan, Padova, Venice and a few more in the mix, before exploring the Prosecco wine routes and the Dolomites.
We were ever so slighlty hooked! So this year, we wanted to continue the exploring, starting below where we left off and into new territory in the Piedmont region.
Briefly our first couple of days had been a mix of extremely hot weather, followed by the inevitable early evening storms.
Our first stop was the Roman town of Susa, just over the border from France. With a fairly good mix of Roman ruins to visit and an intricate centre, it was an easy place to start a new country.
From here, the route took us towards Turin, stopping first at the Abbey of Sacra Di San Michele. At 3156 ft, it’s an imposing structure, resembling Mont St.Michel in Normandy.
Arriving at a free Sosta in Turin, we had an overnight stop whilst a storm passed. A Sosta is the Italian version of a French motorhome Aire and as we found out from our previous trip, they are everywhere in Italy too!
Heading out on the bikes, we had a good 45 minute cycle ride before we reached the city centre. Turin, isn’t the most spendid city we’ve seen, it’s possibly a functional business city rather than a typical tourist destination.
However, there are though, some interesting and architecturally delightful buildings, along with fascinating arcades that surround the exteriors.
It’s worth a visit if you’re in the area and you have the time.
There are numerous museums here and of course, it’s home to the Fiat factory, which houses its own museum.
Lastly, if you’re a fan of the original film “The Italian Job”, yes the Michael Caine, “blow the bloody doors off” famous line….then you’ll love Turin for that alone! Many of the scenes were filmed here and even we remember some of those famous locations.
What’s not to love about strolling through one huge movie set of a city?
adventure Aires Alps Australia Australia Roadtrip Best Drives Blog Campervan campervan trip new zealand Castellane Coronavirus Europe Explore France freedom camping French Alps Heating High Mountain Pass Italian Cities Italian Lakes Italy Sosta Motorhome Motorhome Sosta Mountain Drives Mountains New Zealand new zealand road trip Northern Italy North Island North Island NZ North Wales Off Grid Road Trip Roman Ruins Travel Travel Blog Travel Writing Tuscany Vanlife Wales War Memorial Sights Wellington wild camping Winter Travel