We’re continuing our Summer campervan tour of The French Alps and so far it’s a trip dominated by drives and some of the best in France at that. Now, it’s time to sit back and relax, because we’re about to try another amazing route – the 15 mile “Route des Balcons” of The Gorges du Cians.
Above all, this is a route of hair-raising bends, plenty of jagged rocks and incredible carved out tunnels. Now, we’re just hoping that the Sprinter will glide through all of it with ease!
First though, comes a short drive South, as we head along the Gorges de Valabres, towards the village of St.Sauveur sur Tinée.
This is a region in The Alpes-Maritime, just over an hours drive from the Mediterranean resort of Nice. For us, it seems a world away from the busy metropolis of the French Riviera.
Winding our way along the narrow, hilly roads soon brings an interesting sight. Ahead of us, clinging to the rock face is the hilltop village of Roubion, lying 1336m above sea level.
As usual in France, motorhome parking isn’t far away, meaning we can park up with ease. The sign for the Aire de Camping car takes us a couple of km further on, to the ski resort of Les Buisses. Now, all we have to do is follow a marked footpath towards this fascinating looking village.
After around 10 minutes, we arrive at ancient Roubion itself, and it’s an absolute treat. Here, a mix of intricate, tiny alleyways bring us into a bygone era. On top of that, there’s an artistic flare, where locals have painted scenes of local life to their front doors. Those ancient stone buildings clinging to the rock face behind.
Amidst the cobble stones comes the only sign of life – a couple of low key restaurants, where visitors are eating lunch. Splendid views surround the village, looking over the great vastness of mountains, valleys and the mountain pass.
Back on our route after our own lunch in the campervan, soon the village of Beuil appeared. So did the signs for the Gorges du Cians – now the butterflies started!
We always have to double check our dimensions before venturing onto any winding pass, especially those that involve rocky tunnels and narrow bends.
Signs gave the public a reminder too…setting out the dimensions for what lay ahead. For us, we were good to go, with our Sprinter being 5.93 long, 2.83 high and 2.04 wide, we should fit through nicely!
The only thing getting in our way now was the rain, which had just come in to dampen the spirits. Never mind – it can’t be sunshine and flowers every day of the week.
Soon, the deep red rocks of the gorges take all our attention – Wow! Not only is it dramatic, but the road is littered with small rock falls, tumbling off the crumbling cliffs above. Surely something could come rolling off the cliff face any minute – our eyes are watching every little movement.
Now, it’s not often that we’re grateful for rain, but I think we’ve hit a winner today! Yes, the rain is bringing all those red colours of the rock to life. The result – a colourful mix of red, all shining as water flows off the surface, it’s simply beautiful.
Crikey, things really start to get interesting quickly. Soon, we’re navigating craggy overhangs of hollowed out cliffs. Not only that, but rock is protruding in a pointy, jagged sort of way, as if we’ll be pierced at any moment!
So much so, that we’re checking above waiting, watching but thankfully nothing happens – What a relief!
As our close encounters of the rocky kind keep coming, so do the phew moments! To be honest, it’s not all that bad, but care is the name of the game, along with the hope that nothing too large falls off those cliffs.
The rain may bring a shiny glow to those rocks, but the downside comes in the photo’s. I don’t know about you, but I really do prefer a bright blue sky in my photgraphs, today though we have to make do with grey.
My time is taken by cleaning the camera lens rather more often than I’d like, but then comes an opportunity to pull over and take a walk. It’s also a perfect time for a quick photo stop, alongside the gorges which we’ve sort of forgotten about until now.
By the way, the Gorge du Cians isn’t just about the drive, as we’re about to find out! Entering a footpath beside the craggy tunnel beside the river, This place is like a forgotten land, so much so, it reminds us of something out of a Jurassic era!
We drive further, taking our time along The Gorges du Cians, where soon we’re entering what looks like a rainforest! However, this is where things go a bit wrong, or should I say – we make one bad move!
Suddenly, we notice a road off the main route and low and behold there’s a motorhome parked there. Gosh, this looks like it could be interesting, especially as there’s a road sign pointing to another gorge.
We quickly check the map, but there’s no marking on the atlas for a place called Pierlas. However, there is a road sign showing a 3.5T limit, but nothing more.
Most importantly, there is no sign to show a width or height limit, so because we’re under 3.5T, we decide it should fine for us. Then, after several km of climbing a very narrow, winding mountain pass, we’re begin feeling a little uneasy. First, the road is tight, next comes a very narrow bridge spanning a gorge and leading to a tight series of bends in the road.
Nigel is uneasy, I’m even more so! We may have made it across the bridge, but now it looks like we could be about to get stuck! These bends are so tight for the Sprinter but Nigel glides around the first corner, edging closer, higher up this tight section of road.
Next, we have to make a decision to turn back, the road is single lane with tightly packed hairpins that we just weren’t anticipating. Turning the Sprinter into the neatly stacked bends simply becomes too difficult, the campervan may be smaller than many, but we can’t take a chance here.
Nigel turns the Sprinter round, knowing it’s best to turn back now, while we can. Soon, we’re back along the same route, where rockfalls grace the route as the rains fall and mist descends.
However, it’s another lesson learnt – just because there’s no sign to say a height and width limit, it doesn’t mean to say it’s ok!
In the end we re-join the last stretch of the Gorges du Cians, enjoying the fabulous scenery along the way. Now, the road is wider, better still, we catch sight of something rather intriguing!
Yes – it’s The Tour de France and it’s heading this way tomorrow. Well, that means only one thing – time for a bit another detour to watch this world famous cycling event!
Join us next time, to find out how we get on as we watch the first mountain stage of The Tour de France.
We were on a three month Summer tour incorporating a large proportion of the French Alps. It’s been a fabulous trip, where mountain drives have become part and parcel of the daily drive. Now though, we were about to set out on an Alpine drive with a difference – The Col de la Bonette. Claimed by the French as the highest road in Europe – this could be interesting!
First though, we are heading towards the Combe de Queyras and the ski resort of Vars. This brings some architectural changes, a mix of old meets new. For us, this sort of spoils the quaintness of the mountain life, but still the scenery lives up to expectations.
Best of all, we were entering the Col de Vars and a new region – Haute Provence. Now came a wonderful series of fabulous gorges, carved out of the rocky cliffs.
Looking fairly inaccessible below, but equally impressive in their entirety, these limestone cliffs dropped towards the river bed. In keeping with the narrow width of the rocky gorge, the actual road became rather tight in places.
At the same time, we navigate narrow, craggy tunnels, whilst a dramatic river flows to our side. This is the first time in a while that we’ve seen water flowing – it makes a welcome change.
We’re glad of the narrow width of our Sprinter campervan, it’s fairly short too, at just under 6m long. This brings an added confidence when driving these roads of overhangs and sharp rocky outcrops.
Next comes an ultra blue lake – a reservoir, glistening in the hot summer sun, where light reflects across the water. The scenery and the variety all add to the thrill of the route.
Time is getting on, the early evening feels upon us, so it’s time to rest our weary heads or rather relax for a bit.
We find a place to park – an Aire de Camping Car, next to the Base de Loisirs. This recreation area and lake are full of Summer excitement, family’s out enjoying the warmth and the freedom they must feel after virus lockdowns.
The air is getting drier and hotter. We are now further South and this little resort of Jausiers is full of leisurely life, whilst the last few weeks of peak season are still upon us.
The parking area is large and dusty – these Aires aren’t everyones cup of tea but we enjoy the freedom they bring. This one is free to use and we’re not alone for the night. We’re joined by several other French motorhomes in a parking area now empty of cars – it’s fine for what we need.
Some days are chores days and today is one of them. Our plans went out of the window the moment we arrive at the gorgeous town of Barcelonnette. It’s located just a few minutes drive away from where we spent the night in Jausiers and we just have to stop and take a look.
We also need a laundry. Our washing bags are overflowing and we really want a laverie to clear the van of the clutter. The laverie we thought was in the town turned out to be a dry cleaners with a service to leave your dirty laundry and collect another time – typical.
Not to worry though, the town is just lovely – little streets and town squares full of eateries and life. It’s strange seeing people congregating still, how weird our lives are at the moment. Yet from bad comes good and no more so than the joy of watching life carry on. We now know this to be a brief interlude of normality.
Barcelonnette is colourful, pretty and well-delivered in terms of tourism appeal. To be honest, it’s a pleasant surprise.
In normal times, I’m sure it’s a picture of bustling travellers gracing those pavement cafes under a shady parasol. As it happens, despite the virus, like everywhere here in France this Summer, the abundance of atmosphere is strong.
After catching up on a supermarket shop just outside of the town centre, as well as filling up with fuel, all we need to do now is find an automatic laverie.
This comes at an out of the way location, in the ski resort of Pra Loup – 15 minutes away. Now we are in 80’s land! Yes, this small resort must have been built all at the same time and remains pretty much in the architectural design of its time.
It all looks a bit worse for wear but there’s a good laverie – perfect!
Next up is the big mountain pass of the day – maybe even the trip – The Col de la Bonette.
This is a road like no other, winding along 15.5 miles of mountains, to the dizzy heights of 8900ft or 2802m. Supposedly this is the highest road in Europe, although the real title stays with the Velota in Spain – something the French prefer to keep quiet!!
To begin the route, we have to drive back towards Jausiers, where the route begins. Now the road leads towards the fascinating Mercantour National Park encompassing 1615 square meters of incredible landscapes.
We set off with excitement and anticipation, hoping for the best but each km bringing better than we ever thought possible.
This drive is simply fabulous. We are soon crossing landscapes much more familiar to Mediterranean climates, yet mixed with lush greenery in between.
Gentle curves, although narrow in places, make the route less harrowing and more gracious than some other mountain climbs.
Add in the mix of Shepherds herding their flocks of sheep and goats crossing the road in front of us – we turn the engine off, wait and watch. Then imagine, the calming lakes and tumbling waterfalls – now we know this drive has something for everyone.
Of course, like most mountain passes in France, this is a cyclist hub of athletic, adrenaline fuelled climbs. We can only watch in awe at their accomplishments.
Coffee time is never far from our minds and a spacious plateau complete with parking area provides a rest stop. We take a moment to stretch the legs. Our parking spot beside a small lake is an idyllic location, surrounding us are high peaks, dramatic views and a lush green section of grassy banks.
We listen to the Marmots singing to one another in the now cooler mountain air. They skip across the grass, playing, teasing and pausing for a quick check on their surroundings.
As the climb becomes steeper, the landscapes become dryer and darker. They now resemble more of a volcanic appearance, where dark and loose stones coupled with steep rocky banks entwine.
This final push to the summit causes a slight confusion – gosh anyone would think we were cycling up!
A cone shaped mound in front of us brings signs of the actual summit. Now, the narrow mountain road splits – with a route to the right in a clockwise and anti-clockwise position. Along with a left turn which leads away from the summit mound.
We aren’t sure which way to go and I try and read the road signs. Nigel has to make a decision – we take the first turning right. A few bends in the road later and we come across a stone marker, indicating the summit.
It’s around 6pm and the road is quiet, just us and a few others, one campervan and a couple of motorbikes. We park alongside the stone landmark pillar and check out what to do next.
Pulling on an extra layer to our Summer attire we step out to investigate!
A shale path from the tarmac road winds up loose stone of the rocky mound – this is the walking path to the actual summit. So, this final section is on foot – that’s novel and we’re more than happy to stretch the legs.
Here, the wind rustles up, ahead of us is a viewpoint, just a little further and a few steps later, we are at a circular stone landmark. The views are amazing – 360 degrees of pure mountain, not a cloud in sight around this desolate mountain peak.
We feel high above everything around us. With barely a touch of snow in sight, this Mediterranean air certainly makes all the difference in these high peaks.
The wind is quite bracing, we’re glad of an extra layer, off season this place will be unrecognisable – snow, ice, harshness resigned for those brave enough to dare tread.
We take in the views as well as plenty of photos, luckily we have the place to ourselves giving time to enjoy the scenery. Incidentally – it’s breathtaking.
We walk back to the campervan, feeling ready to move off the mountain and continue along the route. There’s an off-road track that we can take, but we’re unsure of the width and don’t want to take a risk.
Instead, we continue along the tarmac mountain road and soon pass some interesting sights. Some large but derelict and abandoned forts still stand from the defensive Maginot Line of the second World War. We drive between the buildings, which edge the road beside us.
As we emerge into the wild, grassy banks of the mountain, we see Marmots running through the undergrowth. They are closer here than we’ve ever seen, not shy in showing themselves to passing humans.
By the time we reach the tree line again, we’re emerging into the beginning of civilisation – remote hamlets now in shade from the evening sun.
An historic village awaits for our overnight stop – St Dalmas le Selvage. Thankfully, there’s a small Aire for us to park, beneath the tiny alleyways of the village centre.
The following day, a storm is threatening to hit by lunch, so we take an opportunity to set out into the hills early. We pass plum trees, orchards and Summer berries – these hills are alive with produce.
After a couple of hours exploring some easy, but hilly paths above the village, we meander back to this rustic little place. A scenic river flows beyond the village itself, where some “wild camping” folk in cars and day vans are parked up – their van attire scattered amongst nature. Everything from clothes to camping equipment are laid out across their “pitch” – the sign of the times – brushing teeth outdoors as we pass.
The stone buildings rise towards the sky, clinging tightly to each other, as if for protection. Within the tiny streets, locals chat on their doorsteps. I wonder what life is like in these parts, after all – it seems so simple, living off the land, growing seasonal produce in abundance.
Each vegetable patch, not just here, but in so many parts of France, looks like they could be a prize winner. Storing logs for the long Winter in neatly tendered walls of firewood, resemble a piece of artwork rather than a wood store.
It all seems such a far cry from the busy, commercial lives so many of us have today.
About 4km away is the ski resort of St.Etienne de Tineé – our next stop. We weren’t sure what to expect, but a riverside Aire proves too tempting to miss.
We may have been tempted to move after a look around the town, but the weather changed. Those storms arrive and we hibernate in the campervan, a little frustrated at having to stay indoors for a while.
Once the rains ease, we take our chance – walking the short distance into the old town centre. There’s a leisure lake and campground here, beside a Telécabine, reminding us of the Winter sports these regions still offer.
It’s always fascinating to check out the ski run map – those large displays showing the transition from Summer to Winter fun.
Our parking place on the grassy banks of the river is spacious. A reminder of just how easy campervan travel is in these parts.
We settle in for the night wondering what tomorrow will bring. That’s because next is a hair-raising looking route and our first “Balcony Road” – The Gorges du Cians.
More of that next time!
Don’t let this blog post put you off motorhome travel, because this isn’t meant to be alarmist. However, in 2016 our Campervan tyres were stabbed on a trip to Spain. So, the title sounds extreme, but you’ll see why later in the piece.
Ok, here’s the good news, because there has to be a positive side alongside this sober tale. First of all, it hasn’t put us off in the slightest!
Secondly, it’s the only time anything has ever gone badly wrong for us – Yes, a thumbs up there. Looking back, we may have just been lucky or are bad encounters more common than we think? The answer to that is a difficult one and I’ll address it a bit more as I write.
Now, let’s begin with what happened to us on that March day five years ago.
Our Winter trip to Spain had begun several weeks earlier. Leaving a cold January in Britain for the popular, warmer climate of the Spanish Mediterranean.
We’d travelled through the middle of France, just like we’d done many times before. Then, after a few days of travel, we’d arrived at the French/Spanish border and the Mediterranean Sea.
Next, came a meandering type of trip, as we slowly made our way along the coast of the various Costa’s. By the time we reached the Murcia region or The Costa Calida, it was mid-March and we’d been on the road several weeks.
Now, cast your minds back 5 years. Those of you travelling in a motorhome back then, may remember there had been some awful events in the world. It was a time of terror attacks. Including an horrific shooting at hotel and beach resort in Tunisia.
This meant many Europeans who usually travelled to Morocco for their Winter sun, chose Spain instead. By chance, this coincided with an increase in the popularity of Motorhome ownership. Not only in the UK but in Germany, Belgium, France and The Netherlands too.
As a result, the campsites and motorhome stopovers of the Spanish coast were full to bursting point. In other words, this left many people, including us, out on the streets or should I say beaches.
Yes, we found ourselves staying on any Motorhome Stopovers that had room. These were usually ones that had just been built to keep up with demand.
Otherwise, when all other areas were full, the only choice for us was “wild camping”. Despite the trend in recent years for people to do this – for us it isn’t the big attraction that it used to be, even more so now.
For some time on the trip, we’d struggled to find fresh water and a place to empty the loo and waste tank. Luckily, we’d managed to get the last pitch on a campsite a few nights previously, which was perfect for taking care of the essentials in van.
However, now we really needed a service area again and many people we’d spoken to en-route recommended a garage at Aguilas. Mainly because this also happened to have a motorhome dump area and fresh water, so everything for motorhomes in one place.
So, on arriving at Aguilas we soon found the “one stop” garage. Next, we parked up, then one of us stayed with the van, whilst the other popped to get a key that was needed to use the water tap.
Staying with the van is something we do at fuel stations, no matter if we’re in the UK or abroad. So all we do is take it in turns, whilst one pops to the loo or for food etc. Purely so the van isn’t left unattended.
This is simply because in our earlier days of motorhome travel, we’d begun to read about tricks used by thieves.
Predominantly, this involved tampering with tyres whilst the occupants had left the motorhome or when they slept. This was often at fuel or service stations and usually on French motorways or in Spain.
This trick of preying on motorhome owners was certainly nothing new, because we first heard about it around 2005. Then every so often it would crop up again in the press, reminding us that the danger was still present.
Back at the garage and after sorting out the waste and water, we decided to use the car wash. So, next we moved the campervan into a cleaning bay and set about washing the van. During this time, I waited outside the van whilst Nigel did the washing…Hmmm – crafty I know!
Finally, with the chores finished, we thought we’d fill up with fuel, so moved the van again – this time to the fuel pumps. Then, last but not least, we took the opportunity to fill up the “Ad Blue”.
Our Sprinter was brand new at the time and we’d never had to fill this up before. In essence, it was a new experience and we didn’t quite know how it worked.
The garage had a proper “Ad Blue” pump, so we moved the van yet again, but the pump needed unlocking. Now, this is where we let our guard down unintentionally.
The garage itself was quiet, so I guessed we thought that both of us walking the short distance to garage shop wouldn’t do any harm.
As we walked in, there was only one other person in there, but only one member of staff and the customer wanted a gas bottle. By the time, all that was sorted, we’d been waiting about 10 minutes, of course, that was also 10 minutes of the van being left unattended.
After paying for the fuel and the “Ad Blue”, the attendant unlocked the pump and we happily filled the “Ad Blue” tank. Finally, we could drive on.
No sooner had we left the garage than we noticed a sign for a beach, almost directly opposite. We drove down the dirt track leading towards a large parking area filled with motorhomes.
By this point, there was nothing to suggest anything was wrong and that maybe because there wasn’t.
We hadn’t planned on staying, but parked up and went off for a short walk. The beach, called Carolina is quite a pretty place, unusual due to its rock formations. There’s actually a couple of bays, with the parking area located between the two on a fairly steep, raised bank.
After about 30 minutes, we returned to the van before deciding to move on. This we did, but didn’t really go that far, probably around 5 miles or so. We had a look at a couple of other beaches – again filled with motorhomes, trying to find somewhere to park for the night.
Eventually, we decided to drive back to the first beach opposite the garage, found a parking spot and settled in before darkness fell.
The following morning my phone rang early, it was about 8am and the call had been from home to say my Grandad had passed away. From that moment on, I was constantly on the phone to various family members and taking in the bad news.
As we opened our campervan blinds, Nigel noticed a strange looking character, walking behind the back of the van. He was dressed like the TV character ‘Ali G” in a yellow shiny track suit and glasses, he soon disappeared down the steep sandy bank behind us.
At about 8.30am there was a knock on the motorhome door. Nigel opened it to find our Belgium neighbour, standing there, pointing to our wheels. He’d also stayed the night – in his Carthago, there had been around 20 other motorhomes in total, maybe even more than that.
Nigel got out but I stayed inside the van, still on the phone to relatives. He soon realised that 3 out of 4 tyres were completely flat, something had gone drastically wrong but when, where and how?
It’s strange when things go wrong, but suddenly, nothing mattered to Nigel other than getting those tyres inflated. All we wanted was to get the hell out of there.
I was still on the phone, shocked and upset due to my Grandad’s death. So much so, that I wasn’t really sure what was going on outside the van. However, I soon realised it was something quite serious and as Nigel’s survival mode kicked in, he put all his energy into getting the van mobile.
He and I knew that in cases where we know of this sort of thing happening, the motive is clear – robbery.
For us, the big question now was simply – Had someone just done this and were they waiting for us both to get out the van? Or had it happened the day before at the garage?
Now, Nigel used the only thing we had on us – the Fix and Go kit that came with the Sprinter.
For those that don’t know – these are a common weight saving accessory in motorhomes, where a spare wheel isn’t provided. They come with an all in one sealant and a pump, with the idea being to inflate a tyre in an emergency.
Of course, not only would you rarely need to use this kit, but you’d never expect to have to use it on 3 tyres at the same time.
The tyres were as flat as a pancake, by now Nigel could see a puncture mark on each tyre so we knew this was a definite act of intent.
Inflating the tyres seemed to take an eternity, the Belgium guy stayed around to make sure we were alright and another couple of people came over to see what had happened. Other than that, we have no clue if anyone else had any trouble.
At last, the tyres were inflated enough for us to move. Our aim now was to find a tyre garage, where specialists could to take a closer look.
You have to remember, the Sprinter was brand new. This was our first big trip out, other than a couple of trial overnight stays at campsites near home in Wales.
Our campervan is a 4×4 and the tyres that were on it at the time were Continental mud and snow. Even if the campervan had come with a spare tyre, it wouldn’t have helped us in this situation.
Now we had to find somewhere that was able to check the tyres for us. We just hoped that the inflation would hold long enough to get there.
After about an hour searching, we finally found a garage that could help us. Luckily, the inflation in the tyres was holding up, giving us desperate time.
The staff at the garage, which were also specialist in 4×4 vehicles, couldn’t have been more helpful. In broken English and no Spanish, we managed to convey what had happened. They moved vehicles aside so we could drive in straight away so they could take a proper look.
Then, they took each tyre off and what they found confirmed our suspicions. Sure enough 3 of our campervan tyres had been stabbed with what they thought to be a screw driver. The puncture marks were obvious but now worse was to come.
The garage had no replacement tyres available, they checked their system and couldn’t find any at all through their suppliers.
Their solution – to patch the tyres, something we were really unsure about, but the guys reassured us that it would work. They explained that they took their own off-road vehicles across to Morocco each year. During their trips they’d have to fix punctured tyres regularly and this is the method they used. They insisted each repair would hold to get us home to the UK.
We took their word for it and agreed on the repairs, costing nothing more than 15 Euro each tyre. They were really sorry for what had happened and felt obliged to help as best they could. Within an hour or so we were good to go.
We said our farewells and drove off, hoping to find another garage where we could buy replacement tyres. Although we trusted these guys, we really would prefer to get new tyres, especially as the repair they did is not legal in the UK.
That day was spent searching high and low for replacement tyres. We travelled to every garage we could find, until a lengthy spell at a large Mercedes main dealer really confirmed the worst.
Yes – there were no tyres on their system in Spain at all! The earliest they could get some would be 3 weeks later – something that each previous garage had already told us.
This was because the tyres were snow and mud, they would have to order them direct from Germany and wait. Something we couldn’t do. The only alternative was to buy a complete new set of different tyres altogether, but that meant we had no room on board to take home the 4 existing tyres.
Gosh, it’s funny how this scenario would never enter your thought zone when buying a motorhome! At the end of the day, we realised we were going to have to take a chance on the guys who repaired the tyres for us. Our gut feeling was that they were genuine in their knowledge and we just had to hope that they were.
On arrival back in the UK, we’d have to get a new set fitted and send the existing tyres off to be vulcanised.
So, with our trip cut short we headed back home, all be it in a calm manner without any rush or too much worry.
To be honest, we couldn’t wait to get out of the area either. When something like that happens, you don’t know who’s watching or what could happen next!
I’m pleased to say we made it back, the tyres held, just as the guys said. Unfortunately, the cost for a replacement set of tyres set us back around £700. On top of that, we had to pay for vulcanising the original tyres, but now we have a complete spare set – not sure what use it is when we’re away though!
Best of all, we took the opportunity to buy a different type of tyre, some BF Goodrich, off-road tyres, so all was good in the end.
Although we could have claimed off the motorhome insurance, interestingly we chose not to. This is mainly because we feel insurance is for bigger claims than this, especially with the excess.
Well this is the all important question – Why were our campervan tyres stabbed in Spain and could we have prevented it?
Firstly, we’ll never be sure where, when and why it happened, but we do have an idea. Looking back over the events we think it probably happened at the garage. We remember an old dark coloured BMW following us out of the garage – were they purely going the same way or was it something more sinister?
Knowing what we know now about these kinds of criminal acts, along with what we already knew, it seems we had a lucky escape.
The likelihood is that during those 10 minutes whilst we left the campervan unattended, the criminals used the screw driver type implement to stab the tyres. This is a well-known trick and we knew it even then, but just let our guard down.
Next, the usual tactic by the criminals is to follow the motorhome. Then as the tyres would deflate, the gang would flag the driver down by flashing their lights etc. When the driver and usually the passenger gets out to see what’s going on, an accomplice enters the van before robbing the contents of the motorhome. In other words it’s a distraction robbery.
Fortunately for us that day, luck was on our side. First of all, no sooner had we left the garage, than we turned off for the beach and parked up with others. Secondly, our tyres weren’t everyday ones, did the fact that they were mud and snow tyres make it harder to deflate them?
We think it was probably a slow deflation initially, which is why we didn’t notice anything straight away.
The only other possibilities were simply an act of vandalism, but somehow we doubt that to be the case, especially having read up on similar cases. Perhaps it was the “Ali G” character that we saw coming from behind the van that morning?
Maybe, someone else was about to tell us we had flat tyres – a thief disguised as a good Samaritan type. The usual scenario – we’d both get out the van to look and some accomplish would hop in and take any valuables.
If that should have been the case – I never got out of the van due to Grandad’s death. Such a horrible event but maybe one that protected us from worse that day.
Perhaps we just got lucky over the years, because this is the closest we’ve come to trouble in over 30 years of van travels.
Having said that it’s been a lesson well learnt. That’s because, we had got complacent – just because nothing ever happens, it doesn’t mean to say we’re immune. This was a reminder of that.
After this incident we increased our security again and our preparations for things going wrong. For example, we had Armour plates fitted to the locks and make sure the alarm, which we already had is actually set!
One important thing we now have is a good quality 4×4 compressor. It fits in the engine compartment, so takes no room in the campervan. So, if we do need tyres inflating, it’s an easy process. We also carry spare inner tubes for each tyre and a proper puncture repair kit.
Above all, we listen to other travellers, take in what they tell us about bad experiences they’ve had and try and learn from that too.
Since our incident, we’ve spoken personally to people who’ve also had issues relating to crime. This is without the usual pick-pocket type events, but relating directly to motorhomes and campervans.
On this same trip we later came across a British couple who’d had their motorhome broken into through a window. There was another German couple who had the same experience – both had electrical items stolen – laptops, iPads, phones and cash.
Another conversation with a German campervan owner in Italy brought more revelations. He told how his van had been broken into on several separate occasions – all in Spain, mostly in the Pyrenees. Despite this, it didn’t put him off!
It’s important to remember it happens in other countries too. Parking next to a Belgium couple one night near Milan, we began chatting for some time about travels. They’d had a break in during the night whilst parked in Southern France.
Then there’s a time in Lake Garda a couple of years ago – we were on an authorised Sosta with about 20 other motorhomes. The following morning, a British lady knocked on our door. Both her own motorhome and another British motorhome had been robbed while they slept.
Finally, we’d like to say we love van travel as much today as the day we started. None of this puts us off in the slightest, there are good and bad people everywhere, thankfully our travels are generally full of the good things in life.
With that, it’s time to reflect, yes bad stuff happens, but it’s very rare. So long as we’re cautious and aware then life on the road is still the best adventure and one we’ll keep on doing for a very long time to come!
Thinking of of a Winter motorhome trip to Spain? Here’s our Top Tips Top Tips winter motorhome Trip spain
Today we’re sharing our Top Apps for Motorhome Stopovers, which have made touring so much easier to all our lives.
Do you remember when there wasn’t even an English book of Aires? Gosh, it’s hard to believe now! It seemed so exciting buying that first publication, the first of many.
So with technology now at our fingertips, let’s first have a look at the background to Apps and how they evolved. Next, we’ll look at options available to find that perfect motorhome stopover, whether it be an Aire, campsite or alternative scheme.
Rewind to 2005 when the only way to find Aires, other than just coming across them, was to buy a book. These would come in French or German etc, so weren’t ideal if you didn’t know the language.
Initially, you could only buy these in country or by sending away for them. Then came the first English published book of Aires in France – how exciting! So much so, that I remember taking photos of Aires and sending them off on a disc for the next years publication!
Although the book was really thin in those early days, it wasn’t long before it grew. Then, the amount of content it contained expanded too.
Eventually, “All The Aires” books became the Bible to finding Motorhome Stopovers. Not only in France but for many other countries too.
These books educated us, at the same time as providing locations for parking overnight. Not forgetting, they only listed legitimate, authorised parking areas – so you knew you wouldn’t wake to a fine!
One other advantage was the fact that they gave detailed information on the rules of Aires, such as ‘No Camping” and being Self-Contained. As well as showing photographs of types of service points, how to use them and much more.
Of course, you can still buy books from Vicarious Books in the UK and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially for those new to motorhome travel.
Advances in technology and the arrival of smart phones brought changes to how we searched for somewhere to stop. It wasn’t long before Apps entered the scene when mobile data roaming began in earnest.
Next, mobile service providers began changing the rules on using data in Europe. So, we could roam without extra charges – what a difference this made. It’s worth remembering that data is still capped abroad. Check each country, but most often it’s 20GB although it can be lower.
Soon, Apps already on the market would change the way we searched for stopovers forever. Finally, more App businesses began tapping into the scene, bringing more choice than ever before.
More recently again, Apps for motorhome stopovers gave options to download data on to a Sat Nav, you could also buy a Sat Nav with the data already built in.
Finally, the option of browsing offline made things even easier.
Well today is the first day of life after leaving the Eu. So as yet, we’re unsure what this entails for data roaming in Europe, but I’m sure we’ll find out soon enough. All official advice states to check with your own service provider on their new rules on limits and charges if any.
One App that was early on in the motorhome stopover trend was Campercontact.
Campercontact started out in 2003 as a book, before being published on DVD. It then embraced the technological era and new products available. The App has been a valued accessory to our own travels for some years now.
It’s roots are with the Camper Club of The Netherlands and it basically lists 3 types of facilities:
Campsites; Dedicated Motorhome Stopovers and Motorhome service/dump areas.
There aren’t many “Wild Camping’ spots listed, because it’s never really been their philosophy to promote this side to parking overnight.
Having said that, it’s often the public that submit details of parking locations, therefore, some may slip through the net. With that in mind it’s best to check overnight parking, incase it’s not an authorised place.
For example, this local search shows one car park with overnight parking prohibited, however, it’s still on the App.
When it came to searching for campsites, there were only a few options – to buy books and join organisations or drive and look!
One things for certain, if a campervan isn’t Self-Contained then a campsite will usually be needed. In addition, in some countries a Campsite or similar stays are the only legal option. So, sometimes a campsite type stay is the only way to go.
Sometimes, it’s just so nice to book into a campsite, have a proper pitch and set up camp, it’s also more sociable in many ways. Last but not least, there’s nothing better than have a proper shower block from time to time!
Thankfully, websites makes searching easier, but in the early days, some were very basic and not all offered online booking facilities or showed availability.
Nowadays, most campsite providers have moved on. Offering excellent websites and those organisations which involve membership, will also have an App, in addition to a website and a book.
Here’s a selection of Campsites guides:
We’ve been members of The Caravan and Motorhome Club since 1997 and to be honest we love it!
Our early days of caravanning and motorhoming were nurtured in the safety of the club sites network and their overseas travel service.
For UK trips, the Club provides that reassurance we need of a first class site, yet without all the bells and whistles of larger sites.
It provides all the settings of adventure without the draw backs and within a range of excellent locations. Above all, the sites are immaculately presented, specious and evolving to bring ever more sustainable amenities.
They have an excellent App and website, making searching and booking direct easy. By joining the Club, you’re also gaining access to their CL or Certified Location network. This is small sites, which take up to 5 vans at a variety of privately run locations, making it ideal for a low-key stay.
Early on in our motorhome “career” a scheme which had actually started in 1993 – France Passion was becoming more popular. Once again, the earlier books were thin on the ground for places to stop, but we joined all the same.
Thankfully, in 2020, they finally launched an App, making the joining fee of €30 per year even more inviting.
France Passion is a scheme enabling Self-Contained Motorhomes – e.g those with on-board toilets & water tanks etc to stay overnight at various producers.
This could be a Vineyard, an Orchard or a farm amongst others and provide a great alternative for those wanting a more rural, laid-back feel.
Several years after we switched from touring caravans to motorhome travel, another familiar British company also began a scheme – Brit Stops.
These have established links with various establishments across the UK from pubs to farm shops. Once again, the scheme is for Self-Contained motorhomes only, with on-board toilet, water & waste tanks etc.
It’s not for camping in any form but allows a convenient, free 24-hour stop in exchange for the hopeful purchase of food or drink or produce etc from the landowner.
Finally, there’s no App yet, but we’re listing it anyway.
Our introduction to finding “Wild Camping” spots by using technology, used to be on a wild camping website. Actually, it was a forum with an annual fee. Most significantly, it had maps and people could submit a location of a place where they’d parked overnight – Wow, this was so new at the time.
Back then, the nearest to portable internet was a laptop with a dongle for wi-fi. To be honest, it wasn’t even worth the effort of carrying round with us in the motorhome, as it was pretty useless! So the research had to be done before leaving the house.
Unfortunately, our “Wild Camping” days weren’t to last much longer, because times were changing. More rules came in to stop overnight parking in many parts of Europe and often height barriers were erected to stop high vehicles. In many places signs displaying the rules and detailing fines to those breaking them appeared.
For us, our “Wild Camping” days were left behind some years ago!
First, it’s important to remember when “Wild Camping”, that each country has its own rules. Secondly, just because it’s on an App, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an authorised place to park the night.
For example, in most parts of the UK, those wanting to “Wild Camp” should have the permission of the landowner.
Most Apps allow the public to submit a location to the App provider. Often, this is without gaining permission of the land owner and may simply be “Joe Blogs” posting a picture, writing a few words and pressing send.
For example, imagine a shady woodland setting, an idyllic campervan parked under the trees and a quote saying something like ” I had a quiet night sleep without any bother”.
Occasionally, someone will state they’ve stayed, despite a sign saying “no overnight camping” or “no motorhomes”. I always think, just because one person has got away with it, it doesn’t make it right for the next person to do the same!
When searching locally, a number of areas came up which I know are not overnight parking areas, so caution should be had.
There are several of their locations which I know have signs the same as the one shown below, yet these locations are still listed on some Apps.
Here’s a screenshot from the Natural Resources Wales website, who maintain and operate various locations across Wales. It shows details of a court case from October 2020, the fines imposed are not for the faint hearted!
This is a French company that used to be more for “Wild Camping” locations.
It’s one that we’ve had on our phone since it first emerged but personally, I could never take to it. Thankfully, the App owners seem to be taking more of a commitment to promoting “Responisble parking”, something that has lacked in the past in our opinion.
Here’s a snapshot of their new, more responsible promotion supposedly to be endorsed by those who use the App.
There are also now more campsites and Aires listed on Park4Night, along with service/dump areas. Although there are “Wild Camping” locations still included, it does make us wonder if these will be reduced further as time goes on.
It’s worth noting that once again, locations aren’t necessarily regulated or legal places to park overnight. For example, here’s a screenshot from their website.
Interestingly, when I searched for places I know locally, once again it showed some overnight parking at locations which do not allow overnight parking!
This is one of the more popular campsite schemes which began in 1965. It’s a Netherlands operated business which also have an office in India.
In order to join ACSI you need to pay a yearly fee, in return you have access to their member campsites which are all listed in a book. Along with the book comes a card and also access to the App (subject to correct subscription).
Basically all this gives discount to the selected campsites at various rates. However, when we joined we were told by other travellers that it’s sometimes cheaper to book without ACSI at a campsite!
Initially we thought this was a bit strange, but soon found the advice given to be correct! Yes, despite paying for the ACSI scheme, before paying at campsites, when we asked what the non-ACSI prices were, they were often cheaper!
This App and website lists pretty much everything you can think of! From campsites and Aires to CL’s and CS’s and stopovers to “wild camping” spots, there doesn’t seem to be much it doesn’t offer.
Once again, some “wild camping” type locations are listed on our local check search, which may not necessarily be authorised places to park overnight!
If anything, this App lists a bit too much information, but this may suit some people.
The other big club in the UK also has an excellent App and website. We’ve been members for a number of years and the choice of sites makes it an ideal way to tour within the UK and abroad.
By joining this club you’re also accessing their CS network of Certified Sites which can take up to 5 vans. These are ideal for low-key stays in a variety of locations, giving a more intimate feel.
This super new scheme allows fully self-contained motorhomes to stay for up to 24 hours, in a variety of host locations throughout Portugal. There’s no book or annual joining fee, so it’s fuss-free to use!
The principal is simple – choose a location or host from the website. https://portugaleasycamp.com/en/
This could be a vineyard or any kind of local producer such as fruit, cheese, honey etc. Next pay online using either PayPal or credit card – then when you arrive at the host, you will receive a welcome pack of produce!
So there is no fee as such for the parking place, as you buy the local produce instead. You should book beforehand (up to 24 hours before) and as usual with these type of schemes, there won’t be waste/water service areas.
The authorities in Portugal are extremely keen with rules on not allowing “Wild Camping”. So, this scheme is a welcome and safe alternative to those wanting a more relaxed place to stop the night – perfect!
We’re about to leave Montier-les-Bains behind. It’s our Summer tour of the French Alps and next it’s time for something a little different. Yes, we’re heading for the fortified town of Briançon. Then we’ll be driving towards the dizzy heights of the fabulous Col d’Izoard mountain pass.
So – what are we waiting for? Let’s hit the road and discover the richness of this incredible region of the French Alps.
Before arriving at Briançon, we’d envisaged staying the night at the Aire in town. Well, we soon changed our mind when we got there! Yes, some locations are better than others and this one wasn’t quite so appealing.
What was wrong then? Well, the area resembled a tired industrial estate. As it turned out, this was ok for a quick park up to visit the town but didn’t justify a longer stay.
After parking up, next came a walk to the centre – mostly on the flat and taking us through the new side of town. Then came a path leading up a steep hill towards the old fortified town of Briançon.
Standing at 1320m high or 4330ft in old money, this is supposedly the highest town in Europe! Wow – quite some title we thought. At first sight, we weren’t too sure what to make of it. Then, this strange looking town close to the Italian border actually quickly grew on us. So much so, that in the end – we loved it!
After a steep walk towards the towering walls of this fortified town, we soon arrived at a huge gate. This turned out to be the Porte de Pignerol – a massive gated entrance to the town. By now, the streets came into view, previously obscured by the stone walls surrounding us.
What a place this is! Not only are the narrow stone streets quite beautiful, but they also have water running down the high street! Now, there’s nothing too unusual in that, but this is like a water feature. Gently flowing through the narrow cobbles.
It’s no wonder that Briançon is a rather special place, because this was actually designed by Vauban – a military architect to Louis XIV. Another surprise came surrounding the town, where a series of mountain forts are built as a defence. All in all, it’s quite a fascinating area.
Now, came views of the new town below and spread out in front of us. Beyond the town from a variety of view points, we stopped to check out more of the views spanning the Alps.
To be honest, the whole place soon turned out to be a bit of a treat. I should point out that Brançon is UNESCO World Heritage listed and we could see why. The colourful streets soon gave way to pavement restaurants and a variety of independent shops. Now more than ever, we began to feel a sense of normality from the strange world we were in.
As we strolled at our leisure, so did many Italian day-trippers. Briançon is so close to the Italian border, it inevitably attracts a mix of visitors.
For us, it brought a welcome break. After driving so many mountain passes over the last couple of weeks, browsing shop windows seemed quite a novel way to spend the morning.
One last view point at the highest point above the old town, gave us fabulous views across the Alps. Now it was time to re-join the route and take on one alpine road with a difference – the Col d’Izoard mountain pass.
The heat of the day was quite intense by the time we arrived back at the campervan. Summer in the Alps can be so hot, yet regular storms bring a break in the weather.
With the sun shining and clear skies, our time had come to leave Briançon behind. One things for sure, before driving the 2360m high Col d’Izoard mountain pass, it’s certainly best to check the weather.
Luckily, for us, our route towards the Parc Natural Régional du Queyras would be under a clear blue sky!
Well, what can I say? Except that this mountain pass, travelling along part of the Route des Grandes Alps, is absolutely breathtaking.
Our drive took us up along the winding road into green meadows and dramatic alpine views. Then, as the route climbed higher, the landscapes began to change – this was getting interesting.
Soon, we realised this was certainly going to be one of the best mountain passes so far on this trip. All the while, we were heading South and with it came a dramatic change in the landscapes.
As the landscapes changed from rolling green meadows to dry, rugged terrain, we knew we were entering a dryer region.
The scenery was just fabulous and as the drive continued so did the fascination in what was to come. This route really lives up to the grand name given as part of the Route des Grandes Alpes. At 425 miles long and starting at Lac Leman before ending in Menton on the Mediterranean, it’s an iconic drive. The Col d’Izoard mountain pass is roughly half way along the route.
Not only is the rocky landscape more dramatic than many other passes, but it’s also orange in colour. Or was it just our eyesight?
Here the grass became parched. Now, there was no sign of snow – which had still clung to ridges on other mountain passes. Above all, the sheer structure of the geography, combined with the actual layout of the road was just awesome.
As our drive continued, higher up we went, yet almost more gracefully. Soon, we pulled over for a quick photo stop and moment to take in the scenery around us. Above us, towering mountain peaks rising upwards to 3000m high separated us from neighbouring Italy.
I think this route is one of the most dramatic routes, we’ve driven. Not only because it’s breathtaking in scenery, but also due to the way the geographical elements dominated the landscape.
It was almost if it was showing us the change right there in front of us. The difference between the snow-capped Alps and the warmer climates of the Mediterranean.
By the time we emerged into greener pastures at Arvieux, we really did feel as if we were on top of the world. Now, with the mountain pass behind us, it was time to park up for the night and reflect on this wonderful region.
In true French style, this little village of Arvieux, provided a motorhome Aire. Not only was it located beside a river, set in the prettiest of surroundings, but it also had a campfire and enough ambience to melt our hearts.
All that was left was for a run up the mountain track beside the campervan, before dinner was served under the watchful eye of mountain cattle.
Oh the dreamy, balmy days of Summer are so magical in the Alps and no more so than here.
After a restful nights sleep, all that was left was to set about on foot through the scenic walking paths surrounding the village.
Soon, a mountain track lead us towards the far end of the valley, where pigs and grazing cattle made the most of the green pastures. It wasn’t long before we came upon a mountain bike event – yes a race! Gosh, in times of the virus, this seems such a welcoming sight – only because it reminds us of how things used to be.
There is charm in bucket loads here. Not only is it a traditional mountain village, with all the trimmings of log cabins and outdoor activities but it’s also still natural and fresh.
We stop to fill our water bottles from the fresh mountain spring and cool our hands before walking back into the full sun.
It’s not long before we take a detour – or should I say make a mistake! Thinking we’d taken a path up the mountain back towards the campervan suddenly proved a little tricky.
The path which had seemed like a proper route, soon merged into the side of the mountain and nothing more than a slope of shale.
Thankfully, with a bit of care and a slow pace underfoot, we eventually made it back to a larger, main track. Time then to leave and venture on whilst the going was good to our next mountain pass – yes I know – just how many are there?!
Well, more of that for next time, so until then – thank you for reading and keep tuned for more adventures!
Like so many others, we just love a bit of warmth to break up the grey British weather, so let’s get into the mood with our top tips for a Winter Motorhome trip to Spain.
Ok, so we’re not the only ones who like to head South for the Winter – far from it. That’s because the popularity of all-year motorhome travel has exploded in recent years and with it has come a whole new generation of motorhome adventurers driving to Spain.
So, let’s get stated with our top tips for a Winter motorhome trip to Spain and find out just what you can expect when you arrive.
For those wanting to drive to warmer climates in a motorhome, there aren’t many options available. Unless you head to Portugal’s Algarve or cross the Mediterranean to Morocco, then the South coast of Spain is about the easiest and warmest location.
Otherwise, most of Europe is pretty damn cold in Winter, despite having hot Summer’s in many regions. In other words, you have to be quite far South in order to have warmth from the sun in Winter.
I’m going to be honest here – Southern, coastal Spain isn’t our favourite destination, but it does what it says on the tin and that’s all you can ask.
Above all, it offers what we all want from a Winter trip – plenty of sun, clear blue seas, a reasonable cost of living and plenty of motorhome stopovers. Last but not least, it’s a friendly kind of place too.
When it comes to reaching the Spanish Mediterranean coast there’s basically two options – drive through France or catch a ferry to Northern Spain.
First is the ferry crossing options from Plymouth and Portsmouth to Santander and Bilbao – both of these ports are in Northern Spain and take either 20 or 24 hours.
Now for the important question – how much does it cost? Well, to put it bluntly, a ferry to Spain from the UK is not cheap.
For example, for a mid-week crossing departing mid-January and returning mid-March in a motorhome up to 8m long and up to 3m high would set you back £760 for a return trip. This quote was for 2 adults without pets.
The downside of the ferry, has to be the weather or should I say – if you’re unlucky and end up with bad weather! Yes, if those storm clouds flare up, then the rough seas will start. With it comes the possibility of a very memorable crossing – for all the wrong reasons.
Next, comes the issue of having to drive some distance once you arrive in Spain, because both ports are located in the North of the country.
At the end of the day, this means there’s still a long way to travel before any chance of catching those Winter rays of sunshine.
Lastly, the actual travel time to the Mediterranean coast from both Santander and Bilbao are not that different. That’s because both ports are relatively close together – being about a 1 hour drive between the two.
|Girona||6 hours 30|
Remember, there will still be fuel costs for the above distances to consider.
I have to say – this our preferred route to Spain, taking the 30 minute Eurotunnel to Calais, before the long drive through France.
However, I know it’s not for everyone and on top of that France is absolutely miserable in Winter! There’s also the issue of motorhome services being closed for the season. Basically, you have to be prepared, ensuring you fill up and empty wherever you find a working service area.
In addition – preparing for bad weather is also important. I’m thinking about a time when we were snowed-in in Northern France – on a motorway!
Thankfully, we had snow socks and snow chains, although we’d never thought we’d need them.
The journey through France will inevitably involve toll roads. However, in our opinion this isn’t too costly, considering the distance is about 780 miles.
For example: On a journey from Calais to Port Vendres – which is situated close to the Spanish border – we spent €220 return on tolls.
This was for a motorhome under 3.5t — which is a Classe 2 but included the Millau Viaduct.
However, in our A-Class Carthago, which was 4.2t and a Classe 3, the differences were never that great. Even better – if we were able to ask at the toll area for a reduction to a Classe 2, the staff very often obliged.
Another consideration is the cost filling up with fuel – for example, the cost from Calais to Port Vendres – came to €460 return on this trip.
|Tolls – Calais To Port Vendres||Fuel – Calais To Port Vendres|
|€220 Return||€460 Return|
The good thing about driving through France, is that you’ll always find somewhere to stop the night. Although it’s worth pointing out that Aires may be closed or might not look so appealing in Winter.
Personally, we don’t like to stay on motorway Aires, instead choosing the Aire de Camping Car options found throughout France. In general campsites will be closed in Winter, so you can’t rely on these for an overnight stop.
Here’s a list of Aires in France we’ve stayed at in Winter, en-route to the border with Spain. Finally, the approximate drive time from Calais to Collioure (close to the Spanish border) is 11 hours.
|Wissant – |
Approx 15 minutes from Calais
|Mixed parking area –|
buses leave early – approx 15 mins walk to beach
|St.Armand Montrond |
(South of Bourges)
|Next to canal and a few mins walk to shops||Closed Winter||Free|
|Port Vendres||10 mins walk to town with nice walks close by||Toilet, Water dump||€6 per night|
|Collioure||At a Park and Ride – |
Steep walk down steps to lovely harbour town
|Toilet and dump||€9 per night|
Our route from France has taken us into Spain just beyond the French coastal town of Collioure. Once you reach the South coast of France, the weather should have changed to the Mediterranean Winter you’d expect.
However, this isn’t necessarily hot! The average January temperature is 10C with a low of around 5C, so you’ll still need some warm clothing.
One of the last towns you drive through in France is Cerbére, before crossing the old border point to Spain.To be honest, we noticed the difference straight away between the two countries, as the more affluent regions of the French coast were left behind.
This route brings you to a rather mountainous area of Spain, crossing the border into the rugged landscapes of a winding pass and the Catalonia region.
From now on, if time allows, the motorway network is best left behind, in favour of coastal routes and country roads towards the well known Costa Brava.
With the exception of a few coastal locations just North of Valencia, we were able to tour along the entire coast. Starting in the Costa Brava and travelling as far as the Costa Almeria without using the motorway network.
Well this all depends which part of the coast you go to, for example, The Costa Brava which is the further North has an average high temperature in January of 14C. On the other hand, the more Southerly region of Costa Almeria has a January average high of 17C.
In general, expect a mild Winter with blue skies and pleasant daytime temperatures, but don’t reach for the bikini or Speedo’s just yet. Above all, go prepared with light layers and a coat, with the possibility of some nice warm spells in a sheltered spot when the sun is shining.
Well, I would say, it was far better than the cold, grey, wet and windy weather we have in Britain. In fact, in comparison to the UK, spending Winter on the coast of Spain is a treat! That’s because the skies are generally clear and blue, so the sun is shining which makes us feel better, although it’s not necessarily beach weather.
On the whole, it’s just a pleasant way to spend the Winter, with a bright feel to the day and little in the way of endless cloud cover and rain.
The below table shows the average high temperatures across the main regions in the months of January and February – some areas are not quite as hot as you’d think!
|Region||Average January High Temperature||Average February High Temperature|
In short the answer is Yes, although these do differ slightly to Aires you’ll find across France. This is mainly because many motorhome stopover locations in Spain are private.
Having said that, there are still Motorhome stopover areas provided by the local authority. Although, generally they are few and far between in these coastal regions.
Because most of the Motorhome stopovers are privately owned, many will offer extra facilities – such as showers, toilets and electric points. As with any stopover type system, these vary enormously and sometimes they can be just a parking area.
Yes there are.
There are some public Motorhome service areas, but most are located at either private stopovers or at a campsite.
Most will have a small fee applied for using them.
Absolutely! One thing to remember with motorhome Winter trips to Spain – is that the rest of Europe want their share of the sun too!
So, with that in mind, expect to share the campsite or motorhome stopover with plenty of Europeans.
It’s worth knowing that on our trip, the campsites and private motorhome stopovers were full, with many people spending the entire Winter in one place. In addition, we soon found out that many areas are booked up well in advance and have little in the way of vacancies for the whole season.
Public motorhome stopovers are less busy because people tend to move on more or have to do so due to the rules of the principality. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many of them though.
We found that the first regions across the border – So – the Costa Brava to the Costa Dorada were very quiet. This was mainly because they were pretty much closed for Winter. Probably due to the weather in these regions not being as good as those further South.
However, there are still some nice areas to see, but it all feels a bit like a ghost town! Once you reach the Costa Valencia, there are a lot more places open, people visiting and less of an empty atmosphere.
Further South again, you reach the main Winter destinations of the Costa Blanca, followed by the Costa Calida and Costa Almeira. It’s now that the weather becomes more settled and the best of the Winter sun resorts spring into action.
Oh this is a difficult one because we wild camped most of the time. However, it was messy – Motorhomes, caravans and vans were everywhere and most were camped up for the whole Winter.
I have to say we didn’t really like the feel of it all and it was obvious that the locals didn’t either! For us, we didn’t have much option in many places, simply because everything official was so full.
In most places, there were multiple motorhomes parked up – this being on streets, beaches, car parks, even along storm trenches.
However, the authorities have since stopped this wild camping madness in some areas, so if we visit again, we’d hope to find space at one of the many official motorhome stopovers that were under construction.
Campsites are very full, with many visitors staying the whole Winter and in the process bringing everything with them for their stay.
By this, I mean anything from outdoor furniture to a spare fridge, trailers with scooters, tow cars and just about everything else including the kitchen sink!
Motorhomes can be huge – the bigger the better when it comes to some nationalities and pitches are well maintained. Most sites have a wide range of facilities and are well equipped for the repeat visitor, ensuring excellent cleanliness and extremely tidy landscaping.
Last but not least, entertainment and activities are arranged on many sites, allowing for those long-term visitors to keep active and stopping them from becoming bored. Then of course, this may be not everyones cup of tea!
Yes you can book some private motorhome stopovers. Most will have a small office on site with someone available to take bookings and keep a watchful eye on the area.
We called off-chance at several different locations, unfortunately though, there was little in the way of availability.
Unfortunately, one country we’d been warned about in the past is Spain, more often than not, this was because of theft and we weren’t immune to problems.
When it comes to wild camping, the risks are even greater, so it’s worth weighing up the risks. In recent years we’ve spoken to several people who’d had their motorhomes broken into, usually though forcing a window in the habitation area. Then another route being to enter the van through the cab door.
Having said that, these instances can occur in other countries, so it’s not unique to Spain and it’s important to put that into perspective. For example, in our 20 years of travels in Europe, we had never had an incident – that is until we went to Spain!
You’ll have to keep an eye out for our next blog post to find out more about what happened to us whilst wild camping in Spain.
Finally, in all fairness, when staying on a campsite or an official motorhome stopover, especially a private one which has an office – then the risks from theft are probably no greater than anywhere else.
Last but not least – it’s important to remain vigilant and take extra precautions against theft before leaving home.
Yes, there are tolls on some motorways and you can pay at the toll booths.
Now on our visit to Spain, there were so many new motorhome stopover areas opening up, that it was impossible to keep up!
So, we think the best way to find a stopover is through a mix of using an App, as well as looking out for the motorhome signs in locations across the regions.
We like to use the Camper Contact App – https://www.campercontact.com/en because this is operated by the Camper Club of The Netherlands and as a result it only lists official, authorised stopovers.
In other words, you won’t find “wild camping spots” on here or areas that haven’t been checked by their publication team, prior to listing on the App.
There are other Apps out there which also list official stopovers and campsites – such as Park4Night and Search For Sites.
These also list “wild camping” areas submitted by users of the App, however these may not necessarily be locally authorised locations – so be sure to check for any signs at the locations. Also, double check for fines and rules of where you are about to park up overnight.
Yes it is, especially at lunch time when many beach bars and restaurants offer a set 3-course menu, often including a drink and all for around €10.
Yes there are plenty of British travellers, but probably more German and some Dutch.
To be truthful, we found some of our European neighbours fairly unwelcoming, especially when we arrived at busy motorhome stopovers or wild camping spots.
We were told that we couldn’t use certain free pitches – because those already there were expecting regulars or friends, despite there being no reservations.
It seemed to be a case of leaving places free, for those that had that same parking place each year, regardless of who may arrive in the meantime.
We were passing new motorhome stopovers being built on a regular basis, then on our return a few weeks later, these were finished and open.
One important thing to remember in our top tips of a Winter trip to Spain – it still gets dark early! For example in mid January, you can expect a Sunrise at about 8.15am and Sunset at around 18.15pm.
In other words, it can be a long night in the motorhome!
After setting off from a wild camping spot beside a river, it’s not long before we notice an intriguing looking dirt track. Although our drive for the morning is supposed to be the 2642m high Col du Galibier by campervan, this will have to wait for a minute.
Sometimes, we find one of those “must look” places and this is one of them. Without further ado, we’re driving down an off-road dirt track to take a closer look.
This is August, not only is it peak season but the sun is also red hot. Above is the clear mountain air, bringing an incredible outlook and breathtaking scenery.
So where are we exactly? Well this is not far from the classy resort of Valloire, in the heart of the French Alps. Unfortunately this well-known town is not so motorhome friendly, with “no motorhome” signs dominating any feasible parking places.
This had meant giving an overnight stop at the town a miss. Although there was a “Flot Bleu” service area and a campsite right in the centre of town. For us, the campsite in the depths of the virus pandemic was too much to bare. But probably in better times we’d have paid the fees and enjoyed the facilities for the night.
Back to the dirt road and the steep bumpy track soon lead us to a dead end grassy bank. We could see walking routes leading off in all directions, as well as a wooden bridge spanning the relatively empty river bed.
Several people were out on foot, exploring the wide valley which seemed to go on forever. Surrounding the scenic landscapes from our parking spot were almost volcanic-like peaks. Typically pointed and rising towards the sky.
We couldn’t resist taking a look around this place, so grabbed a quick coffee before checking out a walking route.
So, off we went on foot, crossing the wooden bridge then following the marked walking signs above the river. It’s not long before we’re surrounded by colourful butterflies and bright red crickets in flight.
The sounds of those mountain Marmots fill the air, echoing around us as we walk further along the path. It’s truly beautiful and in the distance we see a group of people on horseback. Taking a pony ride through the valley must be magical.
We hadn’t noticed the elevation gained, but before long, we were walking way above the river bed. Now, our campervan looked like a dot in the distance.
After about an hour, the mountain path became more rugged, merging into a steeper route. Soon, this would have taken us higher up again.
For us, it was time to turn round. But not before hearing the local shepherds herding their flocks of cattle across the higher slopes. The sight of the animals moving en-masse across the ridge was pretty awesome.
The stretch of our legs had us ready for the drive ahead. Now refreshed with the blood circulating and the mind active.
Back behind the wheel of the campervan, the time had come to hit the road again. This time, the Col du Galibier was calling.
I was in the driving seat as we took off along the craggy panoramic route of the winding mountain pass. Rising up out of the valley, the scenery has changed to a more dramatic, rocky landscape. Gone are the rolling grassy meadows. Instead, the landscapes look like a victim to some sort of mass earthy phenomenon in the past.
The giant boulders, craggy overhangs and shale slopes bring a harsher feel to the route. We are now entering a new region of the Hautes-Alpes, heading towards the Parc National des Ecrins.
There’s no snow on the ground this time of year. Although, we imagine what it would be like in Winter -harsh, desolate, dramatic springs to mind.
Along the well-formed pass we meet cyclists, motorbikes, cars and other motorhomes – it’s popular yet not too busy so far.
There are a few stopping places, but we choose to drive on towards the summit. As we reach the top of the mountain pass the road forks off in two directions. One for up to 3.5t, the other for over 3.5t. We take the lower weight limit, winding closer, more tightly round the hairpins to the top.
Then we arrive – greeted by the familiar sight of people. Lots of them, taking photographs on foot and on bike at the summit sign.
There’s a small car park, where enough space allows us to pull in and take a photo of our own. We know only too well by now that this is no easy task! These mountain summits attract thousands of visitors and all want that souvenir photo snap alongside the well-worn sign.
Eventually we manage a quick photo without too many strangers in the shot! Then it’s back in the campervan for the drive off the Col du Galibier and a lunch-stop in a warmer location.
Yes – the heat may be on in the valley, but at these dizzy heights there’s a real chill in the air. The route continued, taking us down the pass along with a fair bit of other traffic.
Cyclists overtook us, those that didn’t, crept up behind, almost clinging to our bumper it seemed. We had to have eyes in the back of our head. Watching those on their bikes as they tried to beat the sound barrier off the mountain!
As we left the winding route behind, the roads opened out again onto a wider, flatter area. A few shops and restaurants for those wanting food and rest awaited.
We find a parking place amongst lots of other motorhomes in a large, flat parking area. We could have stayed overnight but the cool air deterred us. Instead we opted for lunch in the van and a walk around before carrying on.
Here the road branches off – towards Briancon in one direction or Genoble in the other. We took the route towards Briancon, where the road once again merged into open green meadows.
Our day ended at a motorhome aire in Montier Les Bains. It’s a really pretty town, where the local Gendarmarie collected the 5 Euro parking fee. They were building a new Aire here and a brand new service area was just being finished too.
It would be a handy place to park any time of year, as the Télecabine, was located just across the road. After a walk around the town, it was time for local sausages and fried potatoes. Our day ended looking out towards the mountains with a good glass of wine – perfect!
Our Summer tour of the French Alps suddenly took us to a whole new level! Yes, a mountain pass with a difference and the hairpin bends of the Col du Chaussy.
Think narrow, steep and not much in the way of safety barriers and you’ll get a bit of an idea of what’s to come! Add in tight hairpin bends and this soon makes it a ride with a thrill attached.
First though, this isn’t a drive for the faint-hearted or for anything larger than a mid-wheel base Sprinter campervan. In fact, we hold our breath as we begin this spine-chilling ride from the nearby town of La Chambre.
Up we go, winding steeply up the mountain side with each hairpin seeming tighter than the last. The road is narrow, the views superb and the heat strong through the open windows of the cab.
We need every bit of fresh air we can get. Anything to cool us down in the heat of the moment, as we anticipate the road ahead.
This is one of those routes where we just hope that nothing other than a speedy cyclist comes our way. We’re in high Alpine country – home to the cycling enthusiasts who dream of completing these kind of routes, following in the footsteps of their Tour de France heroes.
Beside us are cliffs of solid rock. Tall slabs of stone lead the way up the mountain, guiding each new bend with a greater sense of excitement.
There’s no crash barriers in these parts, instead just an ornate looking wrought iron rail separates the edge of the hairpin from oblivion.
There’s also no photo’s of the hairpins, instead my sweaty palms are clinging to the iPhone, filming the drive to capture the moment. Yes – you’ve got to watch the Youtube video to see it in the flesh!!
We soon find ourselves high above the valley floor, where each hairpin is now stacking on top of the lower one. It’s a beautiful sight but we’re lucky – the road is quiet, even in peak season Summer. For us, it’s just the best driving experience but maybe that’s because we haven’t met anything coming the other way!
It’s one of those where we hope, keep fingers crossed and just get on with the drive without the thought of what if! Thank goodness, we make it to a wide clearing, the hairpins now left behind out of sight. We’re at a crossroads where a sign for a picnic area seems a sensible option to follow.
Along a dirt track we drive, heading towards grassy meadows, surrounded by forest on this plateau on the mountain.
Just beyond a small hamlet of mountain chalets we come across a few picnic benches, laid out beside a camp fire. The perfect place to park up, relax with our locally bought produce and take a walk through the trees.
Eating our saucisson and Beaufort cheese seems even tastier in these mountain surroundings. We think this would make an idyllic place to spend the night. But we want and need to get the drive finished and we’re only half way up the mountain!
Inquisitive as ever to discover just where the dirt track leads to, once our lunch is finished, we set out on foot to explore.
Before long, a narrow track branches off through dense woodland. We follow it, enjoying the isolation and shade from the strong sun. It’s not long before something catches our attention, slithering across the grass, I let out a scream at the realisation it’s a snake!
Why do we feel so much more scared of these creatures here in Europe than we ever did of all those venomous snakes down under?
Soon we reach an open grassy meadow, complete with perfectly rustic farm buildings and high peak views. It brings a totally different feel to the walk.
The dirt track is also an off-road driving route but the narrow, pot-holed road without passing places is not our idea of fun for the Sprinter.
After a couple of hours, the circular track brings us back to the campervan. We’re refreshed, re-fuelled and ready to re-join the Col du chaussy and the summit at 1533m high.
Merging back onto the tarmac road of the Col du Chaussy brings a different feel to the first section. This doesn’t seem quite as hair-raising, have we already done the most extreme part of the route?
Maybe not! Ahead are a couple of very narrow sections of mountain pass. We feel like we’re driving on air – help!
Cyclists whizz by, their downhill speed going at a phenomenal rate down the mountain. The drop at our side is immense – a tumbling, rocky outcrop of nothing!
We continue on, hoping once again that we don’t get to meet another vehicle of any kind! We’d rather have the road to ourselves and luckily we do – all the way to the summit.
A small village appears before opening out into grassy pastures and finally the summit sign. We’d arrived!
This level plateau of the Col du Chaussy summit is rather uneventful but lovely all the same. We park up easily at the large car park beside a restaurant.
Outside, the last few bikers sip on cold refreshments – whilst we take an opportunity for a few pictures and a bit of a look around.
It’s not one of those summits that takes the breath away, there aren’t panoramic mountain views or sheer drops here.
Instead it’s a laid back affair, a place to turn around, stretch the legs and get ready for the drive back down the mountain.
There are however, plenty of walking routes up here. It’s a pretty place of Alpine goodness, wild flowers and cattle bells.
Our return drive takes us down the mountain the same way that we came. Well that is for some of the route!
Instead of taking on the dense hairpin bends again, we choose a different direction at Montvernier, making an easier option to the valley floor.
Once driven, there was no real need to drive down those difficult hairpin bends again, I think we’d rather do the up than the down!
Before we know it we’re off the mountain, back to the wide roads of the valley and ready to continue along normal roads again.
We head to the functional town of St.Jean-de-Maurienne. We’re now about to turn off for Valloire – an upmarket ski resort at the top of the Col de Télegraphe. The drive is along more functional mountain roads, where fine alpine views lead us towards the town itself – Valloire.
The description of this swish resort should give a clue that it’s not motorhome friendly at all! Signs of “camping car interdit” pretty much dominate the town. That basically translates to “motorhomes forbidden”, so despite there being a service point next door to a campsite, there is no where to park for the night – Aire or otherwise.
We want to walk around the town, after all it looks super classy and typically rustic. Never mind, we have to give it a miss – although the campsite does look a nice option if we really wanted to explore more.
However, all is not lost! About 10 minutes out of the town, heading towards the Col du Galibier and we find the perfect parking spot for the night.
Settling in for a bit of ‘wild camping” with a few other motorhome folk, we find a space beside a river just in time for darkness to fall.
So, it’s a goodnight from him and a goodbye from me as we settle under another starry Alpine sky.
Until next time…..
Ultimately known as one of the best drives in the French Alps, we were about to do the famous Col de la Madeliene.
This was part of a Summer tour of the Savoie region where we were about to leave the small town of Bozel. Soon our journey would take us on a route renowned for its cycling history, passing some of the most spectacular scenery in the process.
It would take us to the dizzy heights of 1993m amongst rolling green meadows, lush landscapes and stunning mountain peaks. How exciting – we couldn’t wait to get started!
First though, we had some chores to take care of. But fortunately for us, the towns of Moutiers and Salins-les-Thermes provided that ideal opportunity.
With empty cupboards and a bag full of washing, we needed food and fresh laundry. That’s where the Super U came in. Don’t you just love the French supermarkets?
There are so many now with a laundrette or Laverie – right there in the car park. So, with the washing in the machine and the supermarket shop finished, all we had to do was find a service dump to sort out the motorhome waste.
Of course, that didn’t take us long! No, before we knew it, the fresh water was filled, the toilet and tank emptied and we were on our way again. Oh France – we do love you!
Now we were ready for one of the best mountain drives – the fabulous Col de la Madeliene.
Strangely enough, we wouldn’t get to the Col de la Madeliene quite yet. That’s because no sooner had our wheels started turning towards the route, than we happened to spot a wooden sign saying “P Camping Car”.
Well, what a fabulous little place this was. Resembling more like a wild-camping spot than an Aire. Seemingly in a quaint location below an old village, yet benefiting from an isolated feel. Taking our chances, we parked up in one of the parking bays.
Alongside us, was a grassy area complete with a picnic bench, bin and guess what? It only had its very own campfire with a metal grill for cooking and a log store!
Not to mention this was all free and provided by the local community. It was gorgeous to say the least.
Before settling down to a night beside the campfire, we thought we’d set out on foot and take a peek at the village.
A short walk up yet another hill, brought us to the centre of Bonneval. This traditional, almost unchanged character village of rustic chalets and a pretty church also had enough vegetable plots to feed the five thousand. Last but not least – it also had a bar – now you’re talking!
Settling on the outdoor terrace with a Vin Blanc and a Bier, we happily enjoyed the sleepy surroundings. Best of all – for the bargain prices of just 3.60 Euro! Who said France was pricey?!
We felt a bit guilty though at these low prices and a free Aire in the process. So we happily handed over 5 Euro instead to the grateful bar-owner.
Now all that was left was to light the campfire and spend the evening under a blissful starry night with the sound of crackling wood and owls for company.
After a lazy breakfast alongside the embers of last nights campfire, the Col de la Madeliene soon called. So off we went. Driving up along a scenic mountain road before stopping for a picnic lunch at the Télecabine Celliers.
Here the cable car climbs the stunning mountain landscapes, to the well known ski resort of Valmorel above. It’s actually an Aire with a new service area too, so it would probably also be a good place for the Winter ski season.
After lunch, we soon felt the need for a little exercise, so followed a walking sign above the village. As usual in these parts, a steep hill and narrow path soon lead us higher into dense woodland. Later we emerged into a rustic hamlet further down the pass.
Phew! We hadn’t realised it would be such a hilly one and half hours! Anyway, we’re always grateful for a stretch of the legs!
Now it was time to get settled back in the campervan and continue on our journey.
Back on the mountain pass, the road now started winding, bending and spiralling around the mountain side. Soon we were rewarded with breathtaking views across the mountains, meadows and villages.
For some reason the roads were surprisingly quiet. Maybe it’s because we were late in the day. Either way, it meant for a leisurely drive without the feeling of rushing or missing out on the scenery.
We’d expected it to be much busier, after all this was August – peak holiday season and fabulous weather too.
Because of this, we were able to stop from time to time, take a few photos and enjoy the views. The only company being an odd cyclist, motorbike and the mountain cattle.
It wasn’t long before the graceful bends of the mountain road grew less and less. Ahead of us, in the distance appeared a more open sky. Now we could sense the summit, coming closer along with a coolness to the early evening air.
Then we saw it, the summit was finally upon us. This flat, level plateau thankfully gave way to a large parking area.
For those wanting food, a couple of rustic chalets provided dining options. In fine weather, outdoor terraces made a perfect resting stop in front of the most fabulous outlook.
There was also a stall selling souvenirs along with walking routes stretching out in all directions.
At the dizzy heights of 1993m, the summit provided a sense of achievement for those cycling up the mountain.
We soon pulled into a dusty parking area alongside several other motorhomes, where incredible alpine views greeted us. It was a moment to feel grateful for the chance to stop and take it all in, especially as it was such a clear day.
After a cup of coffee and with our binoculars in hand, we stepped out into the now chilly mountain air. The sun was actually just about disappearing behind the mountains, yet the early evening brought a magical appearance to the panorama.
This route of the Col de la Madeliene is not only one of the best mountain drives, but also one of the most popular.
Completed back in 1969 this high pass across the mountains also played host for the first time that year to the Tour de France.
Unbelievably, on busy days, up to 15,000 people can be on the summit!
Not only that, during peak times over 1000 motorhomes per day can drive the Col de la Madeliene, coming from across Europe to complete this famous route. It seems we’d been lucky to have the road virtually to ourselves.
Although we could have spent the night on the summit, we chose to continue on down the mountain pass whilst the weather was good. Mainly so we could complete the journey in one go but also because there was thick cloud forecast for the morning.
We’d have been silly not to have seen all the route in such clear conditions. Over on the other side, the road gradually lead us off the mountain towards the town of La Chambre.
Here, an Aire on the edge of town welcomed us for the night. Now it was time to rest, ready for another day tomorrow in this fabulous part of the Alps.
The following morning, we woke to market day, so it would be just rude not to venture in to have a stroll and check out the goods.
This was a Sunday morning in La Chambre and the local antique stalls merged with local producers selling their home-made or home-grown produce.
The mountain honey proved too tempting to miss, so onboard it came, for the reasonable sum of 7 Euro. Just before leaving, we made our way into a local co-operative, selling everything we love about France! From cheese, meats and wines to local delicacies, it gave us an opportunity to stock up on our favourite Saucissons and a bottle of the local liquor – Genepi.
It’s a good job we did, because next we were about to tackle a mountain pass with a difference – the tight hairpin bends of the Col du Chaussy.
More of that next time!
Our Summer campervan travels continue to the incredibly scenic locations of Courchevel and Meribel.
These well known resorts may be familiar names to many, but we still find solace in the mountains and some super places to spend the night.
We’d come here by accident!
Desperately looking for a dump area, first we’d followed a sign up another mountain pass, only to discover the Aire was undergoing refurbishment. This meant a diversion and that’s where Courchevel came in, looking for another Aire at this popular Winter ski resort.
Of course, nothing in the French Alps is quick or easy when it comes to driving routes. To reach Courchevel meant taking another mountain road to 1747m high.
Courchevel and Meribel are part of The Three Valleys. The largest ski region in the World, boasting an incredible 600km of ski runs.
In Summer it’s a rather more laid-back appeal as we were to soon discover.
As usual, campervan parking was easy. After approaching the village itself, we soon found a free motorhome Aire, complete with a Flot bleu dump station. Thank goodness for that!
After emptying the waste, and loo and filling up the fresh we were ready to park up in the large parking area. In Winter, I think you’d have to pay to park up here, but in Summer, like many resorts in the French Alps, the Aire is free to use.
Just as we parked up overlooking the mountain scenery surrounding Courchevel, we noticed a surprise visitor. Nigel had spotted an Ineos Grenadier coming down the road right in front of us! Well, this rather eye-catching 4×4 meant nothing to me, but Nigel was super excited at the sight.
A British HGV had been parked up alongside us. Low and behold, the silver coloured Ineos swerved in beside it. Nigel jumped at the chance of a photo shoot, before this prototype model swiftly drove into the back of the lorry.
After talking to the guys, it turned out they were on a photo shoot for a few days. Taking the new design through its paces in the process. To me it all seemed a bit boring, but for Nigel it was the highlight of the trip so far!
Courchevel itself has a quaint old town with newer towns spread across the mountains. Courchevel Le Praz is where we’d spent the night. Complete with Eddie the Eagle style ski jumps, plenty of Summer hiking routes and Winter ski opportunities.
We took a stroll around to get our bearings, passing a lovely little lake at the base of the chair lifts. The sheer scale of the ski runs here soon became apparent. Hard-core heavy machinery carefully balanced on the mountain side, prepared the slopes for new and improved ski runs.
Mountain biking is popular too as well as horse-riding from a stables situated above the village. The outdoor adventure here is endless. A vast expanse of extreme sporting opportunities stretching on for miles.
Later in the day we decide to move a little further along the mountain. First taking a look at La Tania, the neighbouring resort to Courchevel. This is like stepping back into the 1980’s! A rather bland looking mix of apartment buildings and a one-way system that didn’t appeal.
By the time we reached Meribel, a short drive away things began to look up. At Meribel-Mottaret we find a perfect place to park the night at a mixed parking area at the end of the town.
I don’t think you’d be able to park here in Winter but Summer is all rather different in these parts. It’s location right next to the nature reserve of the Plan de Tueda, is also a gateway to numerous hiking routes.
Incredible mountain scenery surround the flat valley floor. It’s here that ski runs disappear over high mountain peaks – an endless arena of chair lifts stretching as far as the eye can see.
I leave Nigel behind to cook while I take to some running trails though this fabulous setting. I soon arrive at a small lake – Lac de Tueda – where families picnic in the shadow of the dramatic landscapes.
The following morning after a peaceful nights sleep, we set about walking through the Plan de Tueda. Following a similar route to my run from the night before, the morning light brings a new perspective.
Here, mountains rise high above grassy banks where playful Marmots sing. They are so loud! Around us the meadows and mountain streams meet, tumbling through rocky crevices.
This area is a relaxing place, giving a feeling of solitude. Well marked hiking routes veer off in various directions. It gives the feeling that here you could walk forever.
We choose a circular path rising above the flat valley. It allows us to have a different perspective on this idyllic setting. There’s no crowds here, yet you can’t help but think that Winter would be a whole different game.
We choose to drive back to Courchevel, once again spending the night at the Aire just outside the village.
The following morning, we take a drive further up the mountain towards Courchevel Moriond.
What a treat this turns out to be. We only wanted a quick peek but after finding a sign for Lac de La Rosiere we ended up on a detour.
This place was super busy. The last week of Summer holidays is certainly bringing out lots of families. Luckily, we just about managed to find a parking space and after a quick coffee we were on our way.
Following the signs for a 30-minute walk along a wooded path soon brought us out at the most gorgeous blue lake. Not only that, but this place was a hive of other outdoor activities.
Under an aroma of wood-fired barbecue we soon found a beautiful area filled with picnic tables. Neatly laid out under wooden shelters.
Tree ropes, a via feratta and walking trails graced the landscapes – we couldn’t resist walking on further. Soon we reached wooded glens where cascades of water flowed, over almost perfect rocks.
A botanical trail also merged with our route. Interesting signs showing the various plant species educated our path. Then the cascades became bigger, as the mountains closed in around us.
Now the swathes of flat rock faces were hidden under blankets of water flowing off the mountains. A few bridges crossed the wide streams, each higher than the last. Each brought fine views and a photo opportunity.
Last but not least, we walked back the same route until we reached the clear blue lake.
Another path took us up above a dammed section, looking back at an idyllic setting amongst rocky peaks. The stillness of the water and reflection of flowering plants surrounding us.
A quick stop to look back in awe at those braver than us beckoned. Clinging to the rock of the Via Ferrata brought thoughts of “rather you than me”! Especially after looking up to the tiny metal swing bridge perched between two vertical cliffs.
Enough to keep us on easier ground and over towards the last path with a warning sign marked “icy”. No chance of attempting that in Winter.
This narrow, wooded route back up the mountain lead us back to the campervan. Stopping in the village for a top up of fresh water from the fountain before a shady lunch under a leafy tree.
What a beautiful find, such a mesmerising location – but now it was time to move on once again.
When our Summer Campervan travels came to an end last month, we felt so blessed to have escaped into a world of relative normality.
Earlier in the year, none of us were sure if 2020 would still involve travel at all. For us, we couldn’t wait to get away, taking the bull by the horns, carrying on as best as we could as soon as we could.
In other words – it was more important than ever to get back on the road!
So, once travel corridors opened up and with it an opportunity for adventure across the Channel, we decided to make our move!
First though, we had to wait for Wales to open up!
It’s hard to think that back in July, unlike England, Wales was still in lockdown. Longing for the Welsh 5-mile rule and travel restrictions to end, we were beginning to feel frustrated.
We were so ready for new adventures and the feeling of being out of control of our lives was such a heavy weight bearing down. Like most people, all we wanted to do was to be free. Would we ever feel normal again?
Sure enough we didn’t have much longer to wait as our Welsh lockdown came to an end. That same week we booked the Eurotunnel and made our move.
This Summer, we really just wanted to keep it simple. Travel can be amazing when things are going well, but when they go badly, they can do so very quickly.
No more so than in times of Covid. When it seems, that no matter where we are in the world, the virus seems to follow us!
It’s no wonder then that we ended up with Covid ourselves back in March. Maybe, the months that followed battling this new virus brought a stronger determination to get back on the road. One thing’s certain, as soon as we were well enough to do so we were ready for the off!
Thank goodness, our recovery coincided with this window of opportunity. A chance to recuperate in the heat of a French Summer, just us and all the joys of nature without the need to mingle.
Boarding the Eurotunnel in Folkestone made us realise that in fact, nothing much had changed at all. It’s funny when you first set out after some traumatic event in your life. Often we expect some dramatic changes, things to look different or even people reacting strangely.
I’ve noticed this before, after a long recovery several years ago from an operation. It’s almost as if just because I’d stopped doing things that I’d expected the world to have stopped with me!
This I found true of life after lockdown. The only noticeable difference on the tunnel was wearing a face mask! The other rule of staying inside the vehicle is something we do anyway.
By the time we arrived in Calais half an hour later, any anticipation that we may have had lingering swiftly evaporated.
Goodness, we soon find the roads are busy, people are carrying on with life and everything is open.
This is Business as usual and it feels good!
The beauty about France is that we know all too well that we don’t have to worry about using campsites.
Aires in the world of covid come into their own. It’s one less worry, not having to think about where we’ll stay. The next few months will bring more gratitude than ever for the freedom that Aires bring us.
Having caught Covid once, we’re really weary of catching it again. Until scientists know for sure that those who’ve had it are immune, we’re not taking any chances.
To keep contact with others to a minimum, we will use our own toilet and shower for the duration of the trip!
All we have to do now is to choose a region and relax and there’s no better place to start than The Burgundy region.
To arrive in the Summer heat brings an extra sense of happiness. Doesn’t the sun make such a difference to our wellbeing? A feel good factor soon takes over amongst these sunflower-filled fields of blossoming countryside.
We spend our time outdoors. When the weather is constantly good so is the attraction of cycling, walking and just sitting! Breathing in warm air, absorbing the scents of the countryside and above all just enjoying the simple ways of life is all that’s important.
Our first supermarket shop is a surprise one. In Wales, we had to queue up outside, keep our feet within a marked distance, sanitise the trolley and walk round in a one-way system!
Goodness me – there was none of that here! No – it’s a case of carrying on as before. There’s no queuing, no wiping over the trolley and best of all, other than a bottle of hand sanitiser, we could just walk in and wonder around.
The one big difference though – face masks! When we left Wales, these were only mandatory on public transport, a rule that was to stay the same until the end of Summer. In France, we had to wear them everywhere indoors as well as outside in many towns and villages.
For us, we couldn’t go anywhere without one – it’s soon our new fashion accessory!
We soon realise that the French are pretty much either ignoring their 1m social distance rule or are just oblivious to it. First of all, we try and do our bit.
Crossing the road when we see another person and 2m social distancing has been our routine back home. Now we had to adjust all over again.
Inevitably we can’t bring ourselves to have a drink out, let alone a meal. That is until we find a mountain refuge, where we finally brave it for lunch on top of the most glorious mountain top.
We feel accomplished at our efforts and go on to do this a couple more times during the trip…so brave!
Isn’t it funny how everyday simple gestures are now mammoth events in our lives!
We soon get into the French way of doing things and for a few months, it’s almost as if the virus is a distant memory.
Of course, it’s not. Before long, France is heading in the wrong direction, their covid figures rising way above the UK. There’s no need to ask why. We know all too well, that the groups of families, friends and happy interactions will all end in tears.
We enjoy the mountains, having spent most of our freedom exploring the remote regions through the Alps. Isolated they may be but quiet they are not.
As Wales was reporting masses of tourists on staycations, the French must have been doing the same.
Mountain passes brought out the swathes of visitors, hikers, cycling enthusiasts and bikers. It’s as busy as ever with no sign of the worldwide lockdown that’s just passed.
Alpine meadows and incredible yet hair-raising mountain passes bring both therapeutic recovery and excitement. At the end of the day, there is nowhere more beautiful to spend our Summer.
France may already be one of the most motorhome-friendly countries in the world, but this Summer it’s off the radar! The sheer scale of motorhomes and campervans exceeds anything we’ve seen before.
Not only that but there’s also an increase in people sleeping in just about anything that they can fit their body in. Yes, have you noticed it too? Cars are now creeping into the Aires or close by, hiding behind bushes or down dirt tracks.
Nigel’s sharp eyes never fails to miss the sneaky “rough camping’ types as the French call it.
Usually confirmed the next morning when our walking routes pass all nationalities, hanging out their damp sleeping bags, the contents of the car or van surrounding every inch of space around them.
Is this the future we wonder?
By the time we reach the South coast of France after spending several weeks in the Alps, France is already taken off the travel corridor list.
Now we have to monitor the situation more than ever. The virus is spreading and so are the chances of department restrictions.
When leaving the UK we subscribed for updates from the “UK Government Foreign Office Travel Advice”. It’s an invaluable free tool when travelling.
As e-mail updates come direct to our inbox, it saves valuable time on searching for the information. We know that the French coast is a virus hotspot, so choose to drive on instead heading inland towards The Gorges du Verdon.
There’s no mistaking the tourists are still out in force. It’s strange seeing so many people carrying on with activities – rafting where buses transport groups, paragliding – strapped to a stranger and hiking trails involving shuttle buses full of people.
Would this be the same back in the UK – we doubt it!
We continued our Summer Campervan travels in both glorious weather and incredible locations. The flexibility we have with a Campervan is appreciated more than ever. We notice an absence of British number plates, those we do see are mainly assigned to cars rather than motorhomes.
When we do come across a fellow British motorhome, it’s good to chat in English for a change and compare travel notes.
As the weeks pass by, we re-discover the special connection we always seem to have with France. It’s such an earthy kind of place, relaxed in rustic appeal with a strong sense of tradition still evident in so many regions.
We’ve driven incredible “Balcony Roads”, swam in clear blue lakes, strolled hilltop villages and hiked the most amazing alpine trails.
Now as we leave the vineyards of the Rhône towards the Jura region, we know we must make a decision. Do we stay in France and have 14-days of isolation on our return to Wales or enter Germany for our final two weeks of the trip?
The choice is relatively easy – Germany it is. We know Germany fairly well, it’s a destination we’ve enjoyed several times before and we know how motorhome-friendly it is too.
Crossing the border from France to Germany was just like old times – busy, unassuming and tinged with sadness to leave France behind.
Having said that, Germany is a country that we actually do enjoy. It’s different to France in so many ways, yet it has a charm and affection that grows on you the more you embrace it.
Normally we’d indulge in our favourite German pastime – Thermes. These incredible bathing experiences involve a variety of hot and cold pools rising from natural elements in the ground and we love them! Best of all, they often have a Stellplatz attached – the German term for motorhome parking.
This trip though, we reluctantly gave them a miss. Too cautious of the virus to want to linger in a hot, steamy environment. Instead we fill our time with walks through the forest, cycling the excellent cycle trails and sheltering from the rain!
Yes – the weather changed not just in Germany but across many parts of Europe. Autumn had arrived early, brining days of wet, chilly weather – we weren’t used to this!
Our route soon took us towards the great rivers of Germany – The Mosel and The Rhine. These vast waterways bring numerous river craft, fairytale castles and riverside Stellplatz full of motorhomes.
What surprises me most is the sheer scale of vineyards lining every inch of hillside either side of the rivers. Steep sloping plantations of uniform vines, immaculate and ripe for picking.
There are few bridges to cross but ferry boats make an ideal alternative. We use one, costing 9 euro – this could get expensive for regular crossings.
These parts are adorned with historic villages, all sweeping down towards the river. Cobbled streets, half-timbered buildings and pavement cafes are filled with mostly German tourists. The rules here had been different again, 1.5m social distancing, face masks compulsory indoors and hand sanitiser but that’s about it.
Of course, just like France, there would be nothing to suggest the crazy world right now. We couldn’t help think that regardless of nationality, people were just fed up with the rules.
As expected, Germany too would soon have a second lockdown. Soon it would be the end of October and it was apparent that the virus in Europe was going from bad to worse.
Our route from Germany to the Eurotunnel would bring no difficulty. By the time we’d reached our final stop on the Mosel, close to Trier, the journey to the train would only be a few hours.
Complying with UK rules, or should I say Welsh rules (we have separate ones) meant completing the “return to the UK” online form 48 hours beforehand.
Those three months of Summer Campervan travels were over in a flash.
For us, it had been the best escape possible. Not only did it bring a realisation that life can go on, but also reassurance.
This important observation couldn’t have been more welcome because it brought hope. We now know that when a vaccine does arrive, normal life will indeed return again and more importantly – quickly.
Never have we seen so many people just willing for life to be good again and it made us feel good too.
So, those Summer Campervan travels were over! Arriving back in Wales to a new set of local restrictions. It was almost as if we’d never been away!
Now a time to try and catch up on some repairs. The Campervan had developed a slight oil leak over the weeks we’d been away, it wouldn’t be long before the £’s would be spent on a few maintenance jobs.
First, it’s emptying the motorhome to give a through clean. It doesn’t matter how many times we try and clean the van when we’re away, there’s nothing like a good scrub whilst on the drive.
With everything washed, cleaned, repaired and polished, we’d soon have our “Dreamcatcher” looking spotless and ready for the next outing.
Adjusting to life back in Wales sort of just happens naturally. If only we could meet family, have that long-awaited get together or a meal out – we long for those days again.
Is it just me, or do you find that time really does fly when you’re away?
It’s funny how the long, lazy days of Summer Campervan travels are quickly over. Instead, replaced with dark nights, non-stop rain and dreary faces! Gosh, don’t people look glum again or is it the “v” word that’s the problem?
Whatever the reason, it’s hard to believe that another year is nearly over. How did we suddenly find ourselves coming home to Wales to Christmas decorations gracing the neighbourhood?
Perhaps it’s just that Christmas is getting ridiculously early each year. Then again, maybe people are just trying to occupy their minds with anything other than the dreaded virus.
What never fails to surprise me is the fact that nothing changes. Why we think it would – I don’t know!
Isn’t it odd that when we’re away from home I imagine some strange metamorphosis taking place in our absence.
It’s as if I have the house up in a sort of cloud! Up there with our house are our friends and relatives, along with our home town. Following just behind comes Wales, then Britain – all there in my bubble. Hovering, waiting for us to return.
Then with Summer Campervan travels at an end, we arrive back to our “tiny house”, finding everything is just as we left it!
I don’t know if I’ve mentioned it in a previous blog – my memory doesn’t reach that far back! Two years ago, we downsized our large family home. We found ourselves selling up, to swap the over-indulgent 4 bedrooms, 3 toilets and 3 living rooms for a more sedate lifestyle choice.
It was a move to get away from consumerism – the house full of “stuff”, including an attic of more “stuff”. Boxes stored away for years and never looked at.
The result, is our small but perfectly adequate home. Perfect for low-maintenance too and despite us loving motorhome and Campervan travels, it’s feels good to be home from time to time.
Now more than ever, we’re glad to have a house as well as a Campervan. As we come to the end of another full lockdown here in Wales, we hope we’ll be able to get away within Wales at some point soon.
As I write, England is entering a second lockdown. Europe is experiencing huge increases in the virus and countries are bringing in even tougher new measures to try and combat the spread.
We won’t be able to leave Wales once our lockdown ends, the Welsh rules don’t allow it, not that we’d really want to travel now given the worsening situation.
Instead, we are looking forward – hopeful that the vaccine trials bring good news soon. Now more than ever, we need hope, but we know things will get better.
With the New Year coming ever closer, comes a new beginning, fresh ideas and most of all the gratitude for the life we had before covid.
How we must learn to appreciate, enjoy and grasp life again more than ever. Goodness are we ready!
For most of us, the thought of having our Motorhome or Campervan stolen is the stuff of nightmares. Even worse still is when it happens from your own driveway. With that in mind, our list of Top 9 Tips for extra motorhome security is a simple one.
Making use of items already in the van to deter those thieves is easier than you think. In other words – making it difficult for anyone to steal or break into the van, without going to too much added expense or inconvenience.
So without further ado – here’s our list of Top 9 Tips For Extra Motorhome Security!
If you drive face into a parking space on the drive, it makes it more difficult to manoeuvre afterwards.
In other words – reversing in a hurry is more tricky than driving straight out of the driveway.
Also, an added trick is to park on ramps placed behind the wheels – making for an extra obstacle to contend with for any would-be thieves.
Nowadays, many motorhomes have swivel front seats. Simply turn the seats around to face the habitation area, rather than the forward driving position.
The extra time it takes for a thief to scramble both seats around, may just be enough to put them off altogether or at least disturb them.
In addition, if you have a dining table that moves, position it in a way that leaves no space between the table and the seats. That way, it makes it more difficult to walk from the cab to the habitation side.
If you can park another vehicle behind the motorhome, all the better. Block it in or park behind gates to make moving it more difficult.
Another alternative is to put some large plant pots in front of it! Anything that needs moving first will help put a barrier between the thief and the van.
Why not keep the Campervan on SORN if you’re not going to be using it in a while? In other words, putting the van on SORN is a good idea for security as well as saving on vehicle tax.
After all, if a thief makes a hasty getaway, any police on patrol doing vehicle checks, would instantly know an untaxed vehicle is on the road. Hopefully pulling the driver over to investigate in the process and catching them in the act.
If you can, park the motorhome in a way that entry is only through one door.
This could be by parking against a wall, hedge or building, so that access to all the doors is difficult.
If that’s not possible, try strapping the two cab doors together, which is another quick fix.
In some A-Class motorhomes, the pull down bed over the cab is also a really good security feature!
Simply pulling it down into place, usually leaves no way of sitting in the driver seat at the same time. This makes it a puzzler for the thief and a handy security trick in the process.
Instead of neatly closing all those Campervan cupboards, drawers and doors – why not leave them all open?
Yes – The last thing any thief wants is the unexpected – noise and hassle!
Having to close all the open cupboards to stop things flying around the van won’t be an option for a thief – remember just make it difficult!
If you have cab blinds use them! Close the blinds or pop on the Silver Screens to keep visibility out the windscreen to nil!
That means – driving off into the sunset might not be quite as simple as planned.
Simply disconnecting or isolating the cab vehicle battery suddenly makes the motorhome pretty undesirable to any would-be thief.
If you’re not using your van for a while, this may help secure your prized possession.
Finally our Top 9 tips for extra Motorhome security is no substitute for other security products!
Above all, ensuring factory fitted devices and other additional fitments along with expert advice is essential.
At the end of the day, making the Campervan or Motorhome as secure as possible is vital in deterring those would-be thieves.
Last but not least – if we can all help prevent the theft of our own home on wheels then it’s worth it!
Don’t you just love a hot Summer night, those romantic moonlit serenades sleeping under the stars? It’s going so well, that is until the long-awaited trip away is disturbed by pests in your motorhome!
It seems like an idyllic opportunity to soothe away the stresses of life but soon the dream becomes a nightmare. All of a sudden, there’s a strange rustle in the ground. A buzz in the air or even worse, a hiss in the undergrowth!
Well, I have to say, we’ve had our fair share of pests in the motorhome over the years. Not only that, but we’ve also heard a few tales of even weirder creatures sharing the inside of the Campervan.
So much so, that now, nothing would surprise us, more importantly, we try and prepare for every eventuality!
So, without further ado, here’s our list of those most familiar motorhome pests. Along with some rather strange creatures that we’ve shared our home on wheels with over the last couple of decades!
Love them or loathe them, wherever we are in the world, these you just can’t avoid! From the tiny, just about see them type to the giant variety that carry a crumb the size of a loaf of bread!
Not only that, but they love climbing too! The bigger the obstacle the better, so the motorhome is just the perfect ladder to add to their fun.
So, how do you stop them? This is so difficult, once they get inside the van they just don’t want to leave. On our trip round Australia, we had ants accompanying us for a few thousand miles!!
Eventually, after trying every deterrent known to ants, we realised the only place left was underneath the van. How simple could that be! It turned out some dried mud in the wheel arches proved an ideal home!
The solution – a trip to the car wash to hose under the Campervan and hey presto! The ants were gone for good!
As with most pests, prevention is better than cure! Checking the ground where we park helps. Sometimes a circle of ant powder on the ground around each tyre is the only solution.
Despite an array of anti-mosquito devices – fly screens, citrus candles, burning coils, insect repellent and diffuser. These little pests still make an appearance in the motorhome.
You know the sound, buzzing round your ear hole at 3am. Soon disappearing out of sight as soon as you pop the light on to investigate. Why do they blend into the decor so well? We’ve wasted so many hours hunting down the pest in the motorhome that’s the mosquito!
Yet, all our efforts usually end in vain, only for the annoying culprit to make an appearance the next morning! After a disturbed night in the van, waiting for that next buzz to fly on by.
Oh heck – these just drive you insane! Landing on you and your food. Flying round the inside of the motorhome with no clue on how to fly back outside.
Yes, you open every door and window, frantically trying to direct the pest back out into the fresh air. The fly just isn’t having any of it.
Europe can be bad, but it’s nothing compared to the Aussie outback. Here, the humble fly is you’re new best friend. I always remember being asked if we’d “got the hang of the Aussie wave yet”?
We soon knew all too well just what the Aussie wave meant. Goodness, did we put it into good use!
These massive things with a hard shell and wings are enough to make even the most hardy Campervan traveller yelp.
Even worse is when they head straight for you! Duck and dive becomes the new game of play before frantic arm waving. Then gasps of horror and finally the exit door saves the day.
I never thought we’d come victim to a cockroach invasion! How wrong I was though, yet strangely when it happened, I stayed relatively calm. Spying the huge invader sat right there in front of me, I could barely believe the cheek of it!
After removing the offending article from the clothes cupboard in our Aussie van, we set about disinfecting and pest control. Ensuring the pest with a nest was never to return!
They attach themselves to wing mirrors, find their way in from tree branches above or crawl in from the ground.
Whichever entrance they choose, they somehow find a way into the motorhome when you least expect it. Always remember to check those shoes too! Yikes!
I remember seeing a huge Huntsman Spider on the ground by Nigel’s foot. As big as my hand but rather beautiful at the same time. Then again, I wouldn’t want to see it under my bed covers that’s for sure!