Western Europe

March - June, 2008

It was time for the Big Trip!  After five years running the Haytor Hotel, it is now our time for a major holiday.  What else are motor homes for?  The plan is general; down to the Algarve and Southern Spain for a bit of warmth, then follow the Mediterranean around the Spanish coast back into France and down into Italy.  Then, when it got a bit hot for the dogs we'd go north, through Austria, Switzerland, Germany (and perhaps, we had initially wondered, Scandinavia) before heading home through Holland and Belgium.

Click the map on the right to check our route.

Click Here to See Our Route

 

France - West Coast

The first night was spent in Le Touquet, an old haunt of ours from when we took day-trips (aka booze cruises) from London.  We hoped the hailstones which greeted us were not an omen!  But as we spent the next couple of days travelling through Normandy the weather, though cold, was generally bright.  Quickly crossing Brittany (a holiday in itself, we are told) we stopped on the Île de Ré for one night followed by two in Arcachon, south of Bordeaux.  Our last stop in France was in a stormy Biarritz - although apparently the UK fared much worse that day.

Only two mishaps to report; a gas leak in the van (fixed by a very nice engineer in Normandy) and Steve losing a crown (fixed by an equally nice dentist in the Gironde!)

  Waiting for the Ferry in Dover Le Touquet, on the Northern Channel Coast The Harbour at Honfleur, in Normandy
Caen, Lower Normandy - Where Phil Had Been at College (30 Years Previously) Le Mont St Michel in Normandy The Ile de Re, South of Brittany
Arcachon, South of Bordeaux A Stormy Day in Biarritz A Stormy Day in Biarritz

 

Spain - the North and West

The weather was still grey in Spain's Basque coast, but when we headed south towards Portugal the weather noticeably improved.  In fact, when we got to the beautiful walled city of Cáceres we decided to stay an extra day to enjoy the sunshine.   Zarautz, near San Sebastian Zarautz, near San Sebastian Caceres Old Town
Caceres Old Town Caceres Old Town Caceres Old Town

 

Southern Portugal

We left Spain at Badajoz, and made our first Portuguese stop at the historical city of Évora.  We then continued west until we once more hit the Atlantic Ocean at the resort of Vila Nova de Milafontes.  Our third night in Portugal found us at the far south west corner of Europe - Cabo de São Vicente, on the Algarve.  For the next couple of months we'd be heading east, but first we diverted slightly north to Ourique.  This is where our friends Jean and Tony (like us, ex-hoteliers from Torquay) had built their dream home.  We spent a great day being shown some of the beautiful bits of the western Algarve that we'd never have got to in the motorhome.  Easter was spent near Albufeira, at a campsite at the smaller resort of Armação de Péra.  Our final stop in Portugal was in the small town of Fuzeta.   The Roman Ruins at Evora The Main Square in Evora Vila Nova de Milfontes
Cabo de Sao Vicente Cabo de Sao Vicente Jean and Tony's House in Ourique
Lunch in Lagos with Jean and Tony Beach on the Outskirts of Lagos Armação de Péra
Phil Relaxing at Armação de Péra Campsite on Easter Day The Fishing Port of Olhao The Beach at Fuzeta
The Village of Cacela Velha    

 

Spain - the Southwest

After crossing back into Spain, we headed directly to Seville.  This was Steve's fourth visit, as one of his aunts (Anne) is married to a Spanish man (Francisco).  This meant that he has a lot of family members living in the city.  On the day we arrived, they all came out and visited us at our campsite at nearby Dos Hermanos.  After a family lunch the following day (and largely for Phil's benefit, as he had never visited the city before), we were taken on a whirlwind tour of Seville by horse and carriage.

We then headed due south, in fact to the most southerly point in mainland Europe.  We liked the town of Tarifa, which has a beach much loved by kite and wind surfers and views across to nearby Morocco.

  Steve's Cousins Irene and Cynthia Steve's Spanish Family (and Phil!) Steve in Photobooth Picture with Julia and Fernando
Steve's Cousin Irene, with Boyfriend Abedael Phil with Steve's Aunt Anne and Uncle Francisco Steve's Cousin Cynthia with Children Julia, Fernando and Christian
Phil and Steve with Anne and Francisco in Horse and Carriage In the Placa d'Espana On Tarifa Beach, Looking Towards Campsite
Looking Towards Tarifa Town The Most Southerly Point on Mainland Europe Looking Towards the Town of Tarifa
A Square in Tarifa An Alley in Tarifa  

 

Gibraltar

Technically the van (with the dogs) stayed in Spain, but we crossed the border and spent a couple of hours in Gibraltar.  We had a pub lunch at 'The Angry Friar' (Fish and Chips, and a Ploughman's) and shopped in Morrison's for treacle tarts, clotted cream and Australian Chardonnay!   The Van (with Dogs) Parked Across the Border from Gibraltar The Main Street in Gibraltar The Pub in Gibraltar Where We Had a Pub Lunch!

 

Back into South and East Spain

We decided to avoid the over-development of Marbella and the rest of the Costa del Sol.  Instead we headed inland, into the mountains.  Our first destination was the town of Ronda.  Centred on the Puente Nuevo bridge which spans a deep gorge, it has a spectacular location.  It also has a lovely old town (La Ciudad) where we wandered through the alleyways.  Next was two nights near Órgiva in the Alpujarra mountains, south of Granada (which we decided to save for another holiday).

Back to the coast, and this time it was the Mediterranean; first San José (in a national park near Almeria) then Puerto de Marzarron, in Murcia. The campsite in the latter saw our first accident when we caught the corner of the van on a water-tap, damaging both (and having to pay the owners of the site €150).  Then on again into Valenciana, past the skyscrapers of Benidorm on the Costa Blanca to the slightly more low-key resorts of Jávea and Benicàssim.  The final region we visited before returning to France was Catalunya, where we stopped at the resorts of Cambrils (nice) and Pineda de Mar (grotty).

  A Mirador on the Way to Ronda Ronda The Puente Nuevo
Panorama Showing Ronda Bridge
View from Ronda
At a Cafe in Ronda At the Campsite near Orgiva in the Alpujarra Mountains Beach at Los Escullos, Near San Jose
Beach at Los Escullos, Near San Jose Puerto de Mazarron Javea
Benicassim Phil in Cambrils  

 

Southern France

We took the narrow winding coast road to cross from Spain to France, and stopped a few kilometres from the border at the small fishing town of Port Vendres. The rough guide promised the neighbouring town of Collioure to be "Achingly Picturesque"  and - even in the rain - the guide was spot on.  Then we went inland, and having both enjoyed the book "Narrow Dog to Carcassonne" we had to visit this medieval town.  Back to Sete on the coast again before crossing from Languedoc into Provence and to Saintes-Marie-de-la-Mar, the capital of the Camargue.

On the way to our next halt at Avignon, we stopped at Arles to see the roman amphitheatre.  Although Avignon itself is famous partly for being the home to Popes in the middle ages, it is probably better known because of the French nursery rhyme 'Sur le pont d'Avignon'.  Our next lunch stop was a beautiful hilltop village called Les Baux.  Just down from the village, we visited a former underground quarry where an amazing experience was created by projecting Van Gogh pictures onto the walls and playing atmospheric music.  Overnight was spent in the Luberon hills, in the town of Apt.  Before leaving on Saturday morning we visited the lively weekly market.  As on the previous day, we stoped at a picturesque Provencal village - this time called Moustière Sainte Marie - for lunch.  Our final destination for the day was Les Salles sur Verdon on the Lac de Sainte Croix, the end of Les Gorges du Verdon which is the largest gorge in Europe.

Our last inland stop before returning to the coast was Aix-en-Provence, a city Phil had visited as a student thirty years previously.  Although a lot busier than he remembered, the fountains - seemingly on every corner - were all still there.  Then back to the Mediterranean and the port of La Ciotat, just east of Marseilles. We took a boat trip from here and spent an afternoon visiting the spectacular coves and cliffs known as 'Les Calanques'. Next day we moved on to the Giens Peninsular (Presqu'île de Giens) and the port of La Tour Fondue.  We also visited nearby Hyères including the beautiful Parc Sainte-Claire, perched at the top of the town. In Cavalaire-sur-Mer we met up with our friends from Torquay (and fellow motor-homers) Paul and Jo, and we continued on with them to Port Grimaud.  The massive campsite was situated right on the beach, and allowed us to make a trip across the bay by ferry to the infamous Saint Tropez.  We also travelled inland - this time by a road train - to the pretty village of Grimaud, where we climbed up to the ruined mediaeval chateau.

Our last campsite in France was in Antibes, which was convenient for visiting nearby Cannes (which was preparing for the film festival the following week).  Unfortunately the weather on the afternoon we spent in Antibes itself wasn't great.  The same was true the next day when we passed through (being unable to find a parking place) the principality of Monaco, on the way to the Italian border.

  Port Vendres Walking near Port Vendres Collioure
Panorama of Collioure
Collioure The Campsite at Collioure Argeles
The Entrance to the Cite of Carcassonne Inside the Cite of Carcassonne The Cite of Carcassonne at Night
The Coast, near Sete Saintes Maries de la Mer Saintes Maries de la Mer
Saintes Maries de la Mer The Roman Amphitheatre at Arles The Centre of Arles
The River at Avignon The Pope's Palace
Ferry Across the River Rhone Across the 'Valley of Hell' towards Les Baux Sound & Light Installation in a Former Quarry
Sound & Light Installation in a Former Quarry In Les Baux In Les Baux
Saturday Morning Market in Apt The Village of Moustiere Sainte Marie Looking Up to a Chapel Above the Village of Moustiere Sainte Marie
The Lac de Saint Croix The Boys Swimming in the Lac de Sainte Croix The Lac de Sainte Croix
Panorama of Les Gorges du Verdon Steve Admiring Les Gorges du Verdon
Cours Mirabeau in Aix-en-Provence The Port in La Ciotat The Boat that Took to Visit Les Calanques
A Cove in Les Calanques The Cliffs of Les Calanques The Port of Cassis from the Sea
Steve on the Boat Les Calanques Les Calanques
Les Calanques Les Calanques The Port at La Tour Fondue
The Parc Sainte Claire in Hyères The Parc Sainte Claire in Hyères In Cavalaire-sur-Mer with Paul and Jo
Playing Snowballs in the Campsite with the Fluffy Seeds from the Trees On Board the Ferry to Saint Tropez
En Route to Saint Tropez Saint Tropez Harbour Saint Tropez Town
Walking Back to the Campsite in Port Grimaud 'Le Petit Train' Which Took Us to Grimaud In Grimaud
View Over the Gulf of Saint Tropez from the Chateau Above Grimaud Phil in Cannes Steve in Cannes
Antibes on a Windy Afternoon Monaco  

 

Italy

Our first stop in Italy was in the coastal resort of Albenga, which had a nice (and un-touristy) old town.  Travelling south along the Mediterranean coast, we then spent a night at the port of Portovenere with its picturesque harbour.  Then on to the medieval walled town of Lucca, stopping on the way to join the tourist hordes in nearby Pisa.  Next we went to Siena where the annual horse races around 'Il Campo' (the main square) take place.  We decided not to stay where the van was parked (in the middle of a traffic roundabout) and moved on instead to San Gimignamo, a hilltop town.  Despite the weather, we were impressed by the many medieval towers.  The rain continued as we drove south out of Tuscany to the lakeside town of Bolsena in Lazio.  Our next destination was also on a lake - Bracciano - which is just north of Rome.  The town's castle was where Tom Cruise got married.  It was also just a few kilometres away from the village of Bassano Romana, where long-time friends Rich and Zena have a beautiful house.  Although Rich was away working in the UK, Zena was the consummate host - even allowing Benson & Toby to enjoy the pool!

Heading north again, we spent a couple of nights in Assisi - famous as the birthplace of St Francis, the patron saint of animals.  Then it was a scenic drive across to the Adriatic coast, and the resort of Riccione.  This was just a one-night stop, as was Commaccio in the delta of the River Po (although between the two we called in briefly at the independant republic of San Marino to pick up a fridge magnet - we collect one in each country we pass through).  We did however stop for two nights in a beach-front site in Cavallino as it was well-placed for us to visit Venice, just across the lagoon.  Leaving the sea - perhaps for some weeks - we travelled west to Peschiera, on Lake Garda.  The drive up the east side of the lake was very picturesque and enjoyable.  Our last night in Italy was spent just a few kilometres south of the Brenner Pass, which forms the border with Austria.

  On the Campsite in Albenga The Old Town in Albenga Portovenere
The Harbour at Portvenere The Leaning Tower of Pisa Pisa
A Piazza in Lucca Phil in Lucca "Il Campo" in Siena
Benson on an Escalator in Siena San Gimignano San Gimignano
San Gimignano The Lake at Bolsena With Zena with her Hazelnut Trees
Rich and Zena's Terrace in Bassano Romano Benson & Toby Enjoying Rich & Zena's Pool  
Bassano Romano Sunset Panorama
Lago di Bracciano
Walking the Dogs, with Assisi in the Background Steve in Assisi The Campsite in Assisi
The Beach at Riccione Approaching Venice The Bridge of Sighs
St Mark's Square On a Gondola A Crowded Canal
Lake Garda Sunset over Lake Garda The Town of Peschiera del Garda
Vipiteno, near the Austrian Border    

 

Austria

We drove to Innsbruck and then turned west.  Our one night in Austria was in the Tyrolean town of Imst.   Walking in the Austrian Tyrol    

 

Liechtenstein

We spent even less time in the tiny independent country of Liechtenstein - barely long enough to buy the fridge magnet in Vaduz, the capital.   Vaduz, Capital of Liechtenstein    

 

Switzerland

Across the Rhine and we were in Switzerland.  Our first campsite was stunningly located on the shore of Walensee, in the town of Murg.  Unfortunately the poor weather which had started in the Italian Alps followed us up to Zürich, but at least we could look forward to spending the weekend with long-term friends Sandra and Albi (and their boys Tim and Gabriel) who live there.  Although we had visited before in 1997, they took us to places we hadn't visited the previous time.  They also made sure we were well-fed, including treating us to a proper Swiss fondue.  Thanks for everything!  Our last night in Switzerland was spent in Eschenz, overlooking the Untersee and Lake Constance.  On the way there from Zürich we had stopped at the spectacular Rheinfall falls and at the mediaeval town of Stein am Rhein.   Walensee Albi & the Boys and a Street Pianist Overlooking Zurich Old Town
By Lake Zurich Inside Zurich Station Eating a Fondue
On a Hill Overlooking Zurich Rheinfall Phil at Rheinfall
Steve and the Boys at Rheinfall Stein am Rhein Stein am Rhein
Campsite at Eschenz, Overlooking the Untersee    

 

Germany

Crossing into Germany at Konstanz, our first stop was Titisee.  Phil thought that he had camped in this lakeside resort in the Black Forest some forty five years earlier, with his parents.  In any case, the dogs enjoyed the walks around the lake (and the boat ride back!)  We saw more more of the Black Forest as we drove north on the picturesque 'Schwarzwaldhochstrasse', including a brief stop at what was billed as 'Germany's Highest Waterfall'.  Our camp for the next two nights was by the river Neckar in the town of Neckargemünd, convenient for visiting nearby (and justifiably well-visited) Heidelberg.  Then on to a place where Phil had lived for six months in 1990 - Frankfurt am Main.  As well as exploring old haunts (including taking a round-trip on an old tram called the 'Ebblewei-Express) we met up with Susanne, an old friend from those days.  Although generally heading north, we first took a quick diversion west to drive up the Rhine for a few hours, including a stop at Lorelei where a mythical women was supposed to have lured sailors to their deaths with her singing.  We survived, and went north-east again to spend a night in a site in a place called Kirchheim.  Another day clocking up the kilometres on the autobahns saw us having another one-night stop, this time in a small riverside town called Winsen in Lower Saxony.

The next day we saw the sea again, for the first time in three weeks.  This was not the Adriatic but the Baltic, and we stayed a couple of nights in a beach-side campsite near the much-restored hanseatic port of Wismar.  This was in one of the regions which had made up the former East Germany, and was also the furthest north we would reach on this trip - having decided to miss out Scandinavia, and start the return journey to the UK.  So we retraced our steps for a couple of hours until we reached Hamburg, a city we had both been to before.  The reasons for our earlier visits had been to see our friend Ralf, and we met up again twice during this stay when he picked us up from our campsite on the River Elbe to take us to some of his favourite restaurants.  Thanks again!  Our final two-night stop in Germany was actually a recommendation of Ralf's.  It was the pleasant town of Münster, where we had a stroll followed by 'Kaffee und Kuchen'.

  Walking Around the Lake at Titisee Taking a Boat Across the Lake The Van in the Campsite Seen from the Lake
Germany's Highest Waterfall in the Black Forest View from the Black Forest Highway (Schwarzwaldhochstrasse) Heidelberg from a Bridge over the Neckar
Heidelberg Marktplatz, with Castle Above View over Heidelberg Heidelberg Castle ("Schloss")
Steve Checking Out a 'Doer-Upper' The Frankfurt Skyline from the River Main The 'Ebblwei-Express'
On Board the Ebblwei-Express Phil with Susanne  
On Top of the Mainturm In Front of the Alte Oper
The Rhine, from Lorelei Relaxing by the River in Winsen The Boys in the Baltic Sea
By the Baltic Sea The Campsite Even Provided a Doggy Shower! Canal in Wismar
Wismar Marktplatz With Ralf by the River Elbe Münster

 

Holland

Just one two-night stop in Holland, and we chose the city of Maastricht in the very south of the country, close to the borders with both Belgium and Germany.  Perfect for shopping!   The Marketplace in Maastricht The River in Maastricht  

 

Belgium

Again a one-nighter, and the Belgian city we chose - Antwerp - presented us with beautiful blue skies and a lovely park (conveniently close to the campsite) in which to walk the dogs.  When we took a tram into the city itself, we found that we had arrived on the day they celebrated Gay Pride!   Domein Hertogen Park in Antwerp Domein Hertogen Park in Antwerp Belgian Beer in Leopoldplaats
Antwerp Cathedral Antwerp Cathedral Grote Markt in Antwerp

 

Back to Northern France

Arriving back at the aire in Le Touquet did not quite mean the end of the trip, but it did mark the completion of the vast anti-clockwise circuit around mainland western Europe.  It wasn't even our last stop in France as, because of health restrictions relating to the dogs, we spent a night in Calais before catching a ferry back to Dover the next morning.   By the Creek, back in Le Touquet In the Sand Dunes at Le Touquet A Pizza in Le Touquet
Viewing the Ferries Arriving at and Leaving Calais Walking on the Riverside Path in Calais Calais Docks
Calais Sunset The Ferry Terminal in Calais On the Ferry

 

Back Home

A short stop was made in London to briefly visit Steve's Dad (who wasn't very well) and our friend Carmen.  Then a couple of nights in Weymouth on the south coast, in Dorset.   Carmen in her Garden with the Boys Walking Above Chesil Beach Phil by Weymouth Harbour

 

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