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.
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!)
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.|
|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.|
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.
|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!|
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).
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
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.
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.
|We drove to Innsbruck and then turned west. Our one night in Austria was in the Tyrolean town of Imst.|
|We spent even less time in the tiny independent country of Liechtenstein - barely long enough to buy the fridge magnet in Vaduz, the capital.|
|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.|
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'.
|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!|
|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!|
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.|
|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.|
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