|2013 Five Countries Tour|
Summary We had never toured Provence before or Italy and I had read much about the Italian Lakes but had never been anywhere near them in any of our travels. So for 2013 I worked out a rough schedule for a circular trip through France, Italy, Austria, Germany and Luxembourg taking in these two areas. I did do some research as to places of interest where we might visit but the only other preparation we did was to buy a Channel Tunnel ticket using Tescos vouchers, Red Penant travel insurance from the Caravan Club and an ACSI discount card. Armed with these, some maps and a sat nav we set off on the 24th April deciding where we would stop as we went along.
The return journey from Coquelles totaled exactly 2,300 miles and used 507 litres of fuel at an average price of 1.36 Euros per litre. This gave an average consumption of 20.6 miles per gallon. We used 10 campsites and 9 aires/stellplatz at an average cost of 15.60 Euros per night. The trip was notable for the poor weather encountered for much of the time. While pleasant enough, I was not overly impressed with coastal Provence or Italy and Lake Garda and won't be rushing back anytime soon.
Our favourite place of the trip - Difficult to call but I liked Besigheim, Germany and
Days 1 to 17 - outward through France to Provence and Italy
Days 18 to 25 - Italy and Lake Garda
Days 26 to 29 - To Austria and Camping Natterer See
Days 30 to 37 - north through Germany
Days 37 to 45 - Luxembourg and homeward through Belgium to Gravelines France
Day 1 - The morning of the 24th April dawned bright and fine and after walking the dog and loading up a few last minute items we pulled out of the driveway at about 10a.m which allowed plenty of time to make the journey to catch our Channel Tunnel train. We hadn’t gone the first mile when I could not remember picking up our ACSI card off the desk at home. Cursing we swiftly returned, but a search of the house failed to find it and not wishing any further delays we set out again hoping it would turn up somewhere in the motorhome, it did! On digging out my money to pay the Dartford crossing toll, Wendy found it in my wallet. More cursing at yet another senior moment, even though I was somewhat relieved. Apart from this, the journey to Folkstone was uneventful. Traffic was light, the sun was shining and we made up time arriving in time to catch an earlier train than scheduled,. Arriving in France at about 1530 hours we set of for St Omer along the D943 heading for the Aire at Arques which was 30 miles away. The sat nav was spot on and we found the aire without any real difficulty and settled in for the night beside a lake along with a number of other motorhomes.
Arques Aire - A pleasant spot beside a lake and adjacent the municipal campsite. Only the quiet hum of a factory across the other side of the lake and the occasional rumble of a train passing by on the nearby railway line broke the silence. I enjoyed an evening stroll with the dog along the footpaths around the lake. There was plenty of water birds about and I saw the first swallows of the year skimming along the water’s surface scooping up the insect life. A fee of 3 euros for the night was collected in the evening.
Day 2 – Up early and took the dog out around the lake, plenty of wild life about and I saw what I think was two very nervous Coypu. We left at 0900 hours only to find our way restricted by a weight limit. That will teach me to ignore the sat navs longer route. We eventually found our way safely to the D943 and headed for Bethune, Arras Cambrai and onto Reims and Epernay. On route we stopped at Cabaret Rouge, one of the large WW 1 British cemeteries on Vimy Ridge. We did not use the toll roads which with stops, took 7 hours to drive the 187 miles to our night stop at the aire in the village of Mareuil sur Ay. In retrospect it would have been better to have taken the auto route between St Omer and Cambrai as this section was the most tedious. We arrived just in the nick of time to obtain one of the eight places alongside the Marne canal because we were almost immediately followed in by further motorhomes and the aire was full just half an hour after our arrival. It being a fine sunny hot day the picnicking area alongside the canal was busy.
Mareuil sur Ay Aire – A very pleasant, free aire alongside the Marne canal and adjacent to the pleasant village square and handy for the local shops. Parking is in between trees and can be a bit tight for larger motorhomes.
Day 3 – The day dawned cloudy with the occasional spits of rain. After walking the dog we set off on what we hoped would be a shorter day’s drive. The forecast for the next few days was not good and it was not long before it was raining hard. Nevertheless we maintained a good pace still avoiding the toll roads and heading towards Dijon via Chalons, St Dizier, Chaumont and Langres. We had an early lunch in a layby and hoped for a break in the weather so we could have a look round the fortified town of Langres. We had no such luck, so we settle for a bit of retail therapy instead at a supermarket and then headed for the municipal campsite of Villegusien Le Lac about 11 miles further south of Langres and just off the D674. Arriving in pouring rain at about 1430 hours 133 miles after setting out that morning, we found a pleasant, open, unmanned site complete with small swimming pool, restaurant and water and electric on every pitch. A notice stated reception would open at 1800 hours. We found ourselves a pitch and settled down for the rest of the day. The ACSI price 12.90 euros for the night. A Bargain!.
Camping Villegusien Le Lac – a small sloping site with some shade, grass pitches only, 16 amp CEE hookups and water points on each hook up bollard. The restaurant and bar opened in the evening and seemed to enjoy a good local trade as well as servicing the campers. It is a short walk to the large lake where there are picnic tables with views across the lake.
Day 4 – The rain didn’t abate and carried on all night and to make our life more miserable a bad leak from one of our skylights developed. There wasn’t much that could immediately be done and fortunately it was above the sink so the incoming water went straight down the drain. Planning the day's route, I had much difficulty finding a route to Annecy through the Jura mountains. The town of Gex near Geneva came up as a restricted zone for my 6.5 ton vehicle and, if I wanted to stay out of Switzerland to avoid buying a vignette, there seemed no way of avoiding it. Remembering my mistake of not trusting my sat nav earlier on, I opted for a toll free route via Dijon, the D996 and D1083 to Bourg en Bresse then into the Jura to Nantua on the D979. It was still raining hard when we pulled out of the site heading for Annecy. It never stopped raining all day and as we climbed into the mountains of the Jura, this turned to snow. We called it a day at Nantua stopping on a lovely aire by the lake side which was surrounded by pine covered mountains which by now were draped in snow. Fortunately, the snow eventually turned to sleet and finally stopped at about 1930hrs. The day’s journey was just over 140 miles which left only a short run of about 50 miles to Annecy for the next day.
Nantua Aire – Is right beside a lake within easy walking distance of town. All 10 places offer fine views across the lake towards the mountains on the far shore. Behind is a railway line which is not very noisy and more mountains. The infrequent trains just seemed to glide past. Although peaceful while we were there, on a fine summers evening I can imagine the area being quite popular and noisy. The cost per night was signed as being 7 euros but no one came for payment, perhaps because it was too early in the season or the weather was too bad?
Day 5 – The morning arrived dry and most of the snow had melted overnight. Only traces remained on the higher ground. We were not in any hurry so I climbed up on the roof and ran some sealant around the leaking sky light, hopefully this fixed it. We had a coffee, and paid a visit to the free services but there was no water. Either it was turned off or the tap was mal functioning. Finally we left for Annecy still keeping to the D roads. the D1084 and D1508, even though on route I noticed a 6 ton limit through one of the small villages which I had no choice but to ignore. After a 50 mile scenic drive we arrived at Camping Europa just after noon. The site, which is 5 miles outside Annecy, had only opened the day before and we were the first arrival of the season. Annecy had also had a lot of rain and we were shown to one of the firmer pitches by the cheerful owner and we settled in for a 3 night stay. Although the remainder of the day remained cloudy and dry, we were content to relax and read after 5 days on the road.
Day 6 – Another overcast showery day with not a breath of wind to blow the clouds away. These hung low over the mountain slopes leaving the peaks exposed and only occasionally did they drift higher to obscure these. However, we did manage a walk into the nearby village of Duingt and back without getting too wet. By the time we had finished lunch it was raining harder so we had another relaxing afternoon with our feet up reading and dozing hoping for better weather the next day.
Day 7 – A damp, dismal, misty day dawned, I donned the wet weather gear and took the dog down to the lake side. We decided to have the morning in, an early lunch and hope the weather would improve. It did, and after lunch we walked the 2 miles along the lake side path into Saint Joroiz. By the time we got there the skies had totally cleared, the sun was out and the temperature soared. After a brief look around we return along the cycleway. It turned out to be a very pleasant walk. For the remainder of the day we sat in the sunshine and prepared for the next day's departure.
Camping Europa – A large level site on the west side of the lake 5 miles south of the hustle and bustle of Annecy. Located just off the main road between Saint Jorioz.and Duingt, both of which are within walking distance, it offered good sized pitches and an ideal rest stop after several days of driving. The facilities were modern and clean although there is no motorhome service point. There is also a swimming pool and restaurant although the latter was not open this early in the season. There is easy access to the cycleway through the site's rear gate and bicycles can be hired on site.
Day 8 – The sun was shining as we retraced our route back to Annecy heading for Aix Les Bains, Chambery, Grenoble and Sisteron. Our first planned stop was at a Carrefour to top up with groceries but we had forgotten it was Mayday and no supermarkets were open. We refuelled at Chambery and bought a couple of sandwiches at the same garage for lunch after which we took a wrong turn, our first mistake of the trip which fortunately we managed to correct with not too much difficulty. The error was bought about by a careless placing of a waypoint on the sat nav map. This can lead to all sorts of confusion unless you actually are prepared to drive through it. We stopped and deleted the waypoint and had lunch at the same time. This solved the problem and we soon found our way back to our route. The drive between Chambery and Grenoble was very tedious and slow with many 30kph speed limits enforced by speed humps and in retrospect this section is best done on the autoroute. Around Grenoble we encountered a very heavy mixed shower of hail, sleet and rain. This did not bode well for the trip through the mountains to Sisteron on the D1075 but we need not have worried. The visibility improved as we drove along and the road was excellent even with all its twists and turns. With the temperature rising all the time, it proved quite a tiring trip and 154 miles after leaving Camping Europa we called it a day and night stopped on the aire in Laragne Monteglin.
Laragne Monteglin aire – Very poor services but very handy for town and quiet. A footpath runs adjacent alongside a river, one way leads into town the other, a handy dog walk.
Day 9 – We had no firm plans other than to head for Cannes via Digne les Bains after which we would make a decision as to which route to take dependant on weather. The day dawn fine and by the time we reached Digne Les Bains, after having paid a visit to the Intermarche in Laragne, the sun was well and truly out. We had an early lunch and, with wall to wall blue sky, made the decision to take the D952 to Riez and the D953 along the north side of the Gorges du Verdun. What a spectacular drive, but not for the faint hearted or those without a head for heights. The road narrows and twists and turns almost immediately after leaving the “The Route Napoleon,” the N85 and seemed to climb ever higher with each hair pin bend. Riez looked a pleasant town to visit but the streets were very narrow and our objective was the Gorges du Verdun. The approach to the gorge starts just after passing around Moustiers-Ste-Marie, a village that appeared to literally cling to the mountain side. Here the road really narrowed and started to climb to the highest col of 1082 metres. It offered spectacular views of the gorge and the lake with sheer road side drops, some in excess of 800 metres, with little to no protection at the roads edges. At one point I was horrified to meet an oncoming tourist coach and to come across a narrow arched tunnel with no height or width markings and a blind exit. How the coach got up there I have no idea. I pulled to the side of the entrance to the tunnel and watched several cars pass through and weighed up my options. It looked do-able. I definitely did not want to retrace our route back so there was no alternative. We inched our way through and there was a great sense of relief when we emerge unscathed. Later on I was to find the height was actually 4.1 meters to the top of the arch but I have no idea of how narrow it was. I was glad it was off season and we tackled this route between noon and 1500hrs when most using the route would be lunching. I wouldn’t want to do it again in a hurry but it was well worth making the effort just the once. We now know it is do-able in a 6.5 ton 8 metre motorhome in spite of the blind bends and narrow width of the road. The light traffic helped and we made good time and arrived at Castellane at about 1430 hours at the end of the gorge which is about 60 miles from where we had turned off the “Route Napoleon”. It was really too early to stop so we decide to press on for Cannes a further 50 miles away. Grasse was a nightmare to drive through but it was well signed and the sat nav helped greatly.We had chosen Camping Les Cigales to the south of Cannes at La Napoule for a brief stay and we arrived at about 1700hrs. The site was quite full and we were advised that there were no ACSI pitches for my 8 meter motorhome left and the rate per night for two people with 6 amp electric would be 30.90 euros and this was with a 25 percent ACSI discount! After a sharp intake of breath and a promise that there might be an ACSI pitch free the next day we accepted this. Of course one never did become free!
Day 10 – Walked to the sea front where there are some nice beaches and beach side cafes and restaurants. We lingered a while surveying the scene and then walked into La Napoule. We ended up getting lost trying to find a route over or round the golf course and the many water courses and marinas in the area. In the end we had to retrace our steps and finished up walking nearly 9 miles before we arrived back at the campsite. We put our feet up, or rather I did for the rest of the day and enjoyed the sunshine.
Day 11 – Walked to the local Casino hypermarket and commercial centre which took about 20 minutes. Tomorrow is Sunday and we needed to stock up a bit, it also gave us a good opportunity to browse. So often when just shopping on route, it is a quick dash in and out just for essentials. Suitably stocked up we had a good lunch with a half bottle of wine in their very nice self service restaurant and then wandered back to site to laze around in the sunshine. The tan is slowly coming back!
Camping Les Cigales – A small urban, level site just to the south of Cannes. Pitches come in three sizes and are shaded and most are marked by hedges. Whilst the service blocks and swimming pool were clean and well maintained we felt the pitches were a little neglected. Those allocated to ACSI at off peak rates were in our opinion not the best and were the least desirable. There is an onsite snack bar and the good WiFi is free but only available in the reception area. The sea front and sandy beach are about three quarters of a mile away and the surrounding area with its marinas and waterside walks is very pleasant. The area grows on you and the shortcomings of the pitches were soon forgotten. As an off peak ACSI site I cannot recommend it but if you are prepared to pay the higher rates, you may well enjoy this site.
Day 12 – A leisurely start. Today we move on but not far, only 40 miles along the coast road to Port Grimaud near St Tropez. The coast road, the D559, twists and turns around the red rocky mountainside and it is slow going made more so because on a Sunday it was very busy with fanatical cyclists torturing themselves up and down the steep inclines. They were quicker than we could drive! The route from Cannes to St Raphael is very scenic but there are not too many stopping places for a motorhome to take it all in. It was on entering the outskirts of St Raphael we hit a snag, a 3.5 ton limit on our route and we had to follow the Poids Lourds route and got hopeless lost even after I had stopped and reset the sat nav. It was far more demanding a drive through this urban area and on to Frejus than ever it was around the Gorges du Verdon! We eventually manage to get back on route along the coast road heading for St Maxime and Port Grimaud. The stretch of coast from Frejus to Port Grimaud is not as scenic as that encountered to St Raphael or as mountainous and we made much better time arriving at Camping a La Plage at about 1300hrs just as it started raining. We selected a pitch close to the beach and settled in. Although the rain stopped fairly quickly the rest of the day remained dull and grey.
Day 13 – The weather remained much the same as the day before, sunny periods and a midday shower. We went nowhere, a day for relaxing and getting to know the site.
Day 14 – A cloudy day dawned and we walked along the adjacent cycleway into Port Grimaud and had a good two course lunch with a drink each for 48 euros in this pretty place. On this visit we made a point of noting the times and costs of the ferry service to St Tropez which we are proposing to undertake tomorrow.
Day 15 – A hot sunny day and after a 30 minute walk we arrived at the Port Grimaud ferry terminal with time to spare to buy our 11.50 euro return tickets for the 1100 hours ferry to St Tropez. This took just over half an hour to cross the bay and we spent 4 hours there before catching the ferry back at 1530 hours. In that time we had lunch in a harbour front restaurant, admired the luxury boats in the harbour, wandered around the old town streets window shopping and enjoyed a short coastal walk which ended up with a visit to the impressive local cemetery. St Tropez was not at all how we imagined it to be. Yes it was a given to expect the luxury boats and the expensive boutiques but the town had an old world charm which we did not expect. It was an enjoyable day out.
Day 16 - A lazy day spent chatting to neighbours and planning our touring for the next few days. We have decided to head for Italy tomorrow and spend the weekend on an Italian Riviera site before setting out for Lake Garda. We are hoping there will be a better pitch choice at a Lake Garda site if we arrive in the week rather than a weekend.
Camping de La Plage – A rather unkempt looking site on the beach although while we were there workers started tidying up the site which marginally improved it. The site overlooks the bay of St Tropez and is in between two ACSI sites, Camping Des Mures and Camping Les Prairies de La Mer. Des Mures also offers open pitching but closer to the busy main road, Les Prairies is very shady but both are tidier sides. La Plage’s prime advantage is its position and the availability of open pitches giving plenty of opportunity to obtain a sunny pitch rather than be buried under trees. There is an onsite supermarket, restaurant and WiFi is available but is not free and the internet access is poor. This is not an ACSI site and is therefore expensive compared to the two adjacent sites in the discount periods.
Day 17 – We returned along the busy D559 coast road to Frejus to then take the mountain route, the DN7, to Cannes. From Cannes we then took the autoroute towards Nice. The intention was to drive through Nice and along the scenic Corniche Moyenne, the D6007, past Monaco to Menton before re-joining the autoroute at the Italian border. The traffic in Frejus and Cannes was very heavy and there were queues to leave the autoroute at the Nice exit. We also noticed there was a 3.5 ton limit on the roads in Nice so we reluctantly stayed on the autoroute to the border and all the way to our destination of Albenga where we had a choice of three ACSI sites. We stopped three times on the autoroute, once at a view point overlooking Cannes for lunch and at two garages to try and fill our LPG bottles. In both garages I could not get a seal with the gas gun on my adapter even with the help of an assistant at the second garage. Later, on close inspection of my LPG adapter I noticed the rubber washer was broken. This seemed the likely cause of the leak? I had a tap washer in my spares kit which was a close but not a tight fit and will try a refill our empty bottle on our next journey. After a 125 mile drive at a cost of about 24 euros in tolls we chose Camping Delfino, a site sandwiched between the coastal main road and railway line.
Day 18 – A dull start to the day when we set off to walk the mile to the old town of Albenga but the sun soon came out to give a pleasant day. We stopped on the way to pick up a few groceries just in case they were closed on the way back. The narrow streets of the old town are traffic free and are a magnet for tourist especially the area around the old church and the baptism tower, the latter built around 421AD by the first Christian Roman emperor Constantine. After coffee in a local café and a wander around we returned to site to spend the rest of the day sitting in the sunshine. In the evening I watched the FA cup final on one of the ITV channels we could receive with our Tracvision R4 dome antenna. Satellite TV reception has been variable on the Riviera because there is insufficient fade margin to cope with poor weather. Clear skies are essential for good reception with a small dish. Terrestial digital TV reception of both French and Italian TV has been good and some of the programs can be watched in English by selecting the appropriate audio channel and of course you do not need to fully understand the language to watch weather forecasts. Over night, as well as the occasional train passing, the thump, thump from a beach disco could clearly be heard until the early hours of the morning
Day 19 – In spite of the noise from the disco and the trains which ruin an otherwise good site we have decided to stick to plan and stay until the Monday and enjoy a quiet sunny Sunday on site. Hopefully Sunday night will be quieter! It was.
Camping Delfino - A quick inspection revealed most pitches were located under artificial canvas shades supported by iron work too low to allow my motorhome beneath. I estimate most were about 3 meters high. However to the rear of the site was a nice open grassy area where larger vehicles could pitch in the sunshine. It is unfortunately close to the railway line which is used regularly even overnight and the pitches can be noisy There were less trains on the Saturday and Sunday nights, either that or I did not hear them all! However there is a Discotheque about half a mile away and on Saturday night from 2100 hours until the early hours of Sunday morning the sound of the base notes was very irritating. This and the railway ruins an otherwise good site which also has a small restaurant and shop. Toilet facilities are clean however there is no hot water except in the showers which were coin operated.
Day 20 – We left at 0930 hours taking the coast road for the first 21 miles to Savona to look at more of the Italian Riviera. There were certainly better beach areas than Albenga and we drove through some lovely resort towns on this stretch of coastline. At Savona we took the toll roads for the next 215 miles for a cost of just 18.30 euros. At one of the Autostrada garages, I again tried to fill up my LPG tank only to be denied with the explanation that it was illegal to use the pump for cooking gas. It also seems all LPG pumps are not self service in Italy. I was advised to try a garage off the autostrada where perhaps the rules would be less strict! This I did with success. My attempt at fixing my adapter failed but not only did the attendant fill my tank he also fixed the adapter producing a new rubber washer which was a perfect fit. We were well pleased with this service. In the future I will be carrying some spare washers.
The last 30 miles were undertaken off the autostrada and we arrived at Camping La Rooca near Bardolino at about 1600hrs. Yet again if you wanted to use your ACSI discount card the available pitches were restricted to the small, uneven, or darn right inaccessible ones and I really struggled to get round the site and onto the small pitch which was also only available for two nights. Being somewhat weary we settled for this and initially vowed to move on. However on looking around there were ample larger pitches available at the other end of the site but not at the ACSI rate. We decided to move in the morning to one of these larger pitches rather than move site because La Rocca’s facilities were good and so was the location.
Day 21 – I still could not get on the first pitch we chose, it was plenty big enough but I just could not get to it due to the narrowness of the approach and the trees on the corners of the turns. In the end we had to settle for a corner pitch, number 232, which was much easier to access. We settled in and then walked the 1½ miles along the pretty lake side to Bardolino where we had lunch and then returned to site. Unlike Albenga, which had a working feel to it, Bardolino was very much a pleasant tourist town with plenty of cafes and restaurants in which to pass the time in the sunshine. We did find a butchers among the touristy shops and bought some steak and prepared pork schnitzel. Once back at site we had a couple of hours rest then walked the mile in the opposite direction to Garda for a brief look round. Here we had an ice cream, took a few pictures, noted ferry times and costs to Sirmione and strolled back to site and watched the sunset over a snack and a glass or two of wine.
Day 22 – A late start because there were no suitable ferries for us to Sirmione until 1239 hours. The fast ferries do not take dogs and the only other suitable morning ferry was at 0900 hours which was far too early. We left at 1100 hours giving ourselves plenty of time to walk just over the mile to Garda to buy tickets and have something to eat or drink before the ferry’s departure. Even with a concession for the wheelchair, the return fare came to nearly 35 euros, of which 11.80 euros was for the dog. The journey across the lake took an hour and we spent 3 ½ hours looking around this very touristy town which even in May was very busy. We just made it back to site before a thunder storm rolled in. Although the rain did not persist all evening it was a very wet night.
Day 23 – We awoke to torrential rain which lasted all day. Apart from walking the dog along the front in full wet weather gear, we went nowhere. This gave us plenty of time to plan for our next move.In the evening I noticed water on the floor and again discovered one of the sky lights was leaking. My previous attempt at fixing this had not solved the problem. I took some photos and email these with a complaint to RS Motorhomes.
Camping La Rocca - A large sloping full facility site located on both sides of the road. The lakeside area is the touring area, statics are located on the terraced hillside across the main road as is the swimming pool and sports facilities and both areas are linked via an underpass. We found driving around the touring area very tricky due to the trees which line the narrow avenues. Three sizes of pitches are available and the 50 allocated to the ACSI discount scheme are the smaller less accessible ones. Nevertheless they were in much demand. There is an onsite supermarket but we thought it poorly stocked. There are two facility blocks, the one by the ACSI pitches looks the newer and is excellent whilst the one at the opposite end of the site near the super pitches is slightly more jaded. The lakeside cycleway runs past the front of the site and can be accessed via side gates. Bardolino’s center is about 1 ½ miles away and Garda slightly closer at one mile. Lakeside cafes and restaurants are closer still. WiFi is available and 5 hours access costs 4 euros.
Day 24 – The rain eased in the night but grew in intensity at dawn. The weather all over Europe looked bad so there was little point in hurrying on elsewhere but we needed to restock with groceries so had decided to move on to the other side of the lake to Camping Baia Verde via a shopping centre, a total trip of about 50 miles. In trying to access the onsite motorhome service point I again encountered a tight turn and grazed the bottom of the rear mud guard on a rock. No serious damage but hurt pride and there is a bit of patching up to be done when we get home. I abandoned the attempt to reach the service point and decided to go to a Sosta I had seen about half a mile away. Here we emptied our waste and refilled our main water tank and then headed for the shopping centre near Affi. It was a large complex but at first sight height barriers limited access. We have even encountered height barriers at the entrance to garages, they appear to be a bit of a problem in Italy especially if you are over 3 meters high. However we did find a way in and a parking place and restocked with groceries and then headed for Baia Verde arriving at about 1330 hours. It had stopped raining by the time we arrived but the pitches, all on grass, were very wet. However some had gravel tracks designed to park the car next to a caravan and we were advised to park on one of these. This we did and settled in for what remained of the rest of the day. The sun eventually came out and we dried everything out in it’s warmth finishing the day on a lazy note.
Day 25 – The sun was out and we walked the ¾ mile to the lakeside along the cycleway from the site and had a coffee in the sunshine at a café overlooking the marina and lake. The view was spectacular. We then set out to walk into town but it was over a steep hill and we had not come with enough battery power to tackle this journey so we admired the views from the height we did reach and then returned to the marina where we had lunch before returning to site to laze in the sunshine. The weather didn’t last and it started raining as the sun was setting. It continued most of the night.
Camping Baia Verde – A level grassy ACSI site, good sized serviced pitches with good access, excellent clean facilities, swimming pool, restaurant, small shop and MV service point. We found the local area a little limiting and considered this site better for those with their own transport. Be careful when arriving and leaving the site, there are some very narrow awkward roads in the area.
Day 26 – It was still raining when we left the site to head north up the western shore of Lake Garda to Riva and the A22 autostrada north to Austria. The weather was miserable and the views were obviously going to be disappointing. As expected low cloud and rain reduced visibility considerably, it was not a good day. We also had a stressful start. In trying to get back to the main road we found ourselves on roads no wider than the motorhome with a nasty drop on one side and sheer rocky walls on the other. Thankfully, the only time we met an oncoming vehicle was at a passing place. After some stressful driving we made the main road and headed north up the side of the lake. The western side of the lake is far more built up than the east side and the road was very busy for such a poor Sunday morning. I knew there were tunnels on the route and was concerned about their height and it wasn’t long before I saw the first sign indicating no trucks and a height limit of 3.6 meters. This was doable but didn’t leave a lot of clearance. There were in fact many tunnels of varying heights, lengths and widths, some lit, others not and some lined others just bare rocky sides. I found the rocky unlit tunnels the most stressful especially when the height sign at the entrance indicated the height was in fact only 3.5 meters. With a vehicle height of 3.4 meters, this did not leave much margin for error. At one point I had to stop at the entrance to one of these to allow an oncoming motorhome emerging from the darkness to squeeze past! It was with some relief we reached Riva and the autostrada unscathed about 45 miles later. I cannot recommend doing this trip in a motorhome, I would certainly not do it again especially as we encountered so few stopping places.
The weather didn’t improve and over lunch in a service area we debated what to do. I had thought of travelling to Austria via the Resia Pass but didn’t fancy that route in the bad weather and going down the old Brenner Pass didn’t much appeal either. We decided to night stop early at the Autocamp in Vipiteno and hope the weather improved for the journey down the old Brenner Pass the next day. The cost of the 110 mile trip on the autostrada for my class 6 vehicle was just 12.6 euros.
Autocamp Vipiteno – Located just off the autostrada as part of the Autoporto, this hard standing large stopover area is for both caravans and motorhomes. It is an excellent night halt for 13 euros which includes 3 amp electricity, water points, MV service area and free toilets, showers and a small shop located in an adjacent building. The restaurant was closed during our visit, this appeared to be permanent.
Day 27 – It had continued raining overnight but had stopped by 0800hrs and showed signs of clearing and being a better day. We packed up, but when I started the engine, a fault light appeared with the advice to have the engine checked. I called IVECO customer services for help, they gave me a number to call for technical assistance. The upshot was I needed to effect a callout with customer services because computer diagnostic were needed to check to really see what the problem was. In spite of it being a public holiday, 2 hours after seeking help, IVECO breakdown service attended under the warranty and cleared the fault. Because of the language difficulty I was not totally clear what the problem had been. The technician seemed a little unsure of himself and the best I could gather was it was an electrical problem possibly caused by poor engine battery performance rather than a serious fault? This I doubted but better safe than sorry and in the time we waited for help the weather cleared.
With the problem sorted and the all clear given to continue our journey we had lunch and set off for the Brenner old pass road keeping off the autostrada. Being a public holiday and a finer day, the roads were busy especially with motorbikers seeking the thrill of riding the pass. We had no problem using the old pass road, the B182, which was well signed, in fact it was easy after our experiences of travelling up the western side of Lake Garda and the Gorge du Verdun. There is a 3.5 ton lorry and trailer ban on it but as I understood it, it did not apply to motorhomes and the road is certainly plenty wide enough for comfortable driving. We passed traffic police twice with our 6.5 ton vehicle and were not stopped and a couple of hours after leaving the Autocamp we were at the entrance of Camping Natterer See. It was busy but there were still some good pitches available. I quickly selected a large serviced pitch for 2 euros a night more than the ACSI rate and we settled in to enjoy the sunshine before trying out their restaurant. We had an enjoyable meal, so much so we will use the restaurant again before leaving.
Day28 – A cloudy day but it did not matter as we intended to get the bus into Innsbruck. However on checking the bus out it was not wheelchair friendly and it would have required too much effort to use it so we did not go. Instead we walked the 1-1/2 miles into Natters where we did a bit of shopping in what few shops there are there to tide us over our stay. The site shop was not well stocked and specifically did not stock any vegetables or meat. We bought meat from a delli but we did not find any vegetables. In the late afternoon it started raining and continued most of the night.
Day 29 – The weather improved as the morning wore on. The forecast is not good for the next few days with snow expected at quite low levels. We do not want to be stuck on the wrong side of the mountains so we plan to move on tomorrow. After a lazy start, we had a good lunch in the onsite restaurant and then had a short walk along one of the trails which led to Natters. We decided Fussen, Germany will be our next destination and hopefully we will be able to negotiate the Fern Pass before the anticipated snow arrives.
In the evening we had a pleasant surprise. On paying the bill for our stay I mentioned that we would have stayed longer had the buses been wheelchair friendly which they were not. A knock on the door revealed one of the site staff and during the conversation that followed, it turned out this had been misunderstood and interpreted that the driver had been unfriendly and not offered to help!! The matter was soon cleared up. I stressed it had been my decision not to use the buses and that even with the drivers help it would have been a struggle but we were still presented with a bottle of wine for the inconvenience. We both thought this a nice gesture.
Camping Natterer See – A superb well run terraced campsite with a mix of pitch sizes some serviced. Rurally located 1-1/2 miles from the village of Natters by the side of a lake and with views to snow capped mountains, the site is equipped with modern state of the art facilities and has a good restaurant. In our opinion, this must be one of the best sites in Austria. The only draw back we found was the on site shop was poorly stocked and the nearest shops in Natters were also limited in what they provided. There is free bus service into Innsbruck but this was not wheelchair friendly so for us the site had its limitations. For those who like hiking there is an abundance of trails near the site and there is also an adjacent fishing lake.
Day 30 – We left for Fussen at about 0945hrs taking the B182 into Innsbruck and picking up the B174 and B171 for Telfs where we took the Fern Pass into Germany. The weather improved as the day wore on, the pass was very busy but we made reasonable time and arrived at the Stellplatz (Camper stop) just outside Fussen just before 1300hrs. After lunch we visited the adjacent Aldi’s to top up our groceries and then walked the mile into the old town of Fussen for a quick look around, a bit more shopping, and then returned for our evening meal. We also called into the local tourist office to find out more about visiting the renowned castle of Neuschwanstein which we plan to undertake tomorrow.
Day 31- After about a 3 mile drive, we arrived at the car park for the castles at about 1000 hours on a grey day. There was only one other motorhome parked so we had plenty of choice as to where to park for the convenience of disembarking a disabled passenger. A visit to the ticket office soon established it was not worth paying to visit either of the two castles, access for a wheelchair user was very limited. We decided to walk up to the Neuschwanstein to see if we could obtain a better view. It was very steep slog and we soon flattened the drive motor batteries but we did make it as far as the horse drawn carriages go and even there the view was very limited. To go further was out of the question, the road was even steeper for the final 10 minute walk. In truth a visit to either of the castles at this location for a non ambulant person is out of the question because of the difficult access to both castles and the amount of steps once inside. We pottered around the location, had lunch of a soup and a roll and return to the Stellplatz. By late afternoon it was snowing hard and very cold but it did not lay at the lower levels. At least we could receive UK television programs.
Fussen Wohnmobile Stellplatz – A large popular Stellplatz which was nearly full on both nights we stayed there. The basic cost for a good sized marked pitch was 13 euros, coin in the slot metered electricity and water were extra. Showers and toilets are also available, both were kept clean, showers were coin in the slot. Adjacent is an Aldi, Lidl, cafes and bread shops. We thought this an excellent night stop and, as some have reported, did not find the bus depot behind the site too noisy.
Day 32 – Another grey day dawned but by the time we were ready to leave it had brightened up. It remained cloudy but dry until well into the evening when there was a short shower. We set out along the nearby lake side and then took the good country roads as far as Kempten where we joined the A7 north to Ulm followed by the A8 to Stuttgart and then branching off onto the A81 for Heilbronn. Our only objective was to cover half the distance to Koblenz and then find somewhere for a night stop. At about the halfway point we left the A81 shortly after rounding Stuttgart to take the B27 route along the Neckar valley to Heilbronn and found a quiet Stellplatz in Besigheim. What a gem of an old town we chanced upon! It is within easy walking distance of the Stellplatz and dates back to the 14th century. Pearched on top of a hill, it’s narrow streets are lined with many brightly painted timbered framed buildings, many with window boxes of flowers and, surprise, surprise, just off the main square, is a bright red UK post office telephone box! The town is twinned with Newton Abbott so we guessed this had to have something to do with it being there. We returned via Lidls, which is also not far from the Stellplatz, to pick up a few groceries.
Besigheim Stellplatz – A small Stellplatz with 8 pitches, some with metered electricity. It is co-located with a mini golf and a small café. The basic charge per night was 5 euros, water from the borne and coin operated metered electricity were extra. Lidl, Aldi and the old town are within easy walking distance.
Day 33 - We woke to another grey morning and light rain. We set off up the Neckar valley and the B27 to Heilbronne where we joined the A6 for Mannheim then the A61 for Koblenz. The rain got heavier as the day progressed and it was raining hard as we pulled of onto the B9, the road which runs alongside the west bank of the Rhine to Koblenz. At Oberwesel we pulled into Camping Schonburgblick and got the last riverside pitch and settled down to watch the Monaco Grand Prix and Britains Got Talent for the rest of a very wet day.
Day 34 – Walked into Oberwesel, nothing spectacular but the sun began to make an appearance and it was getting quite warm. We had lunch outside the van sitting in the sun on the river bank watching the river boats chug along against the strong current. In the afternoon I walked the steep path up to the Schonburg Schloss. The museum was unfortunately closed but the castle grounds were open and free and the views were superb. Back to BGT in the evening and a nice bottle of Riesling.
Camping Schonburgblick – A small river side site overlooked by Schonburg Schloss and just over half a mile from the centre of Oberwesel. Facilities are basic but clean and there is the option to pay for all these or just pay to park a motorhome without electric or the use of toilet facilities. A small retail park which includes a Lidl is a short walk away.
Day 35 – A misty day dawned but by the time we were ready to set off the skies had cleared and there was not a cloud in the sky as we motored alongside the Rhine to Koblenz passing through St Goar, Boppard.and then Koblenz to take the B49 which runs alongside the Mosel. The intention was to find a nice site by the river to chill out for the afternoon in the sunshine. After an early lunch and with the afternoon approaching, frustration started to set in along with disagreement over which side of the Mosel presented the best stopping opportunity. Wendy had not slept well the night before and was adamant she did not want anywhere near the railway line which of course runs alongside the Mosel for most of the way to Trier. I disobeyed my sat nav and, in an attempt to oblige and get further away from the railway line, I crossed the Mosel at the next bridge to enter the small town of Treis Karden. Big mistake, 3.5 ton limit and narrow one way streets. We ended up on a road taking us out of the Mosel valley but in doing so noticed a campsite just outside of town. By now I had enough and decided I was in no frame of mind to drive any further so turned around at the first opportunity and parked up outside Camping Mosel Boating Centre which by now had closed for lunch. I walked the short distance into town with the dog, found a cash point, withdrew some money and returned by which time I had calmed down a bit. We then had a drink in a café in the sunshine by the marina waiting for the site to open. Once pitched, we sat in the sunshine until the clouds gathered and a thunder storm ended the day. There was still some noise from the railway line which was on the opposite bank of the river.
Camping Mosel Boating Centre – A large, level well managed site on an island in the Mosel. Water points on each grass pitch with 16 amp electricity points charged at 50 cents a kilowatt, Good clean facilities and a good motorhome service point but overall expensive at 27.50 euros for the night plus 2 euros for the 4 Kw of electricity I used. The railway was on the opposite bank but the frequent trains were clearly audible especially when the occasional goods train rumbled by. There seemed no escaping them.
Day 36 – We awoke to rain and the forecast was not good for the next three days. Rain was likely to last all day so we just decided to drive on along the Mosel and find a cheaper spot to hunker down for the day. It was raining even harder when we arrived in Cochem but we did not stop, it seemed pointless to wander around in the wet. A few miles further on, 25 miles after setting out, we spotted what looked like a good Stellplatz near Neef. It wasn’t until we had pitched and leveled up that we noticed the rail tunnel emerging up on the hillside at the back of the site. We had lunch and noticed the railway seemed a little quieter than expected, possibly because it was above the site, so we decided to stay anyway for the cost of 8 euros per night including 10 amp electricity. The rain finally relented late in the afternoon and I walked the dog into Neef. Every other building was either a restaurant or a “Weingut”
Neef Stellplatz - A pleasant spot on the banks of the Mosel on the outside of a bend which gave great views of the river in either direction. In the distance, upstream is a weir and lock opposite the far end of the village of Neef and in the other direction downstream, the distant church spires and houses of another village before the next bend in the river. Behind, on steep slopes, out of which emerged the railway line, were the well manicured vinyards of Neef. In spite of the heavy rain, the ground was firm. Electicity was included in the 8 euro per night fee which was collected in the evening. There was a good service point on this large Stellplatz with an honesty box for payment for its use. The village of Neef was a short walk away.
Day 37 – It was a brighter day, some blue sky and occasional sunshine. We were not sure what to do as we set off after visiting the services. We stopped at Urzig for a coffee and there decided to see if we could find parking at Bernkastel Klues for lunch and perhaps then drive into Luxembourg. We were both beginning to tire of short stops, the same riverside scenery and poor weather. We had visited Bernkastel before so had a rough idea of what to expect. On entering the town, I spotted motorhomes parked across the other side of the river from the old town and headed across the bridge to it. There was plenty of parking space available. The first hour was free and thereafter 1.20 euros an hour. I put a couple of hours on the ticket and we headed off into the old town for lunch. After a good two course meal and coffee for 37 euros and a quick visit to the local supermarket we set off for Camping Gritt near Diekirch in Luxembourg via Bitburg and Echternach arriving at just after 1700hrs. The site was much busier than on our previous visits. There looked to be many more statics and the choice of pitches was limited because of this and, after all the rain, some of those free were not useable. However we found a good, fairly solid pitch at the rear of the site between the two toilet blocks and settled in. We planned a few days stay in an area we had visited three times before.
Day 38 – Another wet day. In the morning I walked to the local Cactus commercial centre which is less than half a mile away and topped up with groceries. Thankfully the rain was light but by the time we had lunch it had stopped and I set off for Diekirch to find the vets and make an appointment to validate our dog’s passport. After a little difficult I found it which was just as well because the vet operated on an appointment only basis. It rained again on the walk back and it was then I discovered I had lost my waterproof over trousers. They had fallen out of their holder of my rucksack and I never did find them. The skies cleared in the evening and thankfully the weather forecast was for an improving situation.
Day 39 – We paid another visit to the commercial centre in the morning. The sun was out by the time we had completed our shopping and after lunch we had an enjoyable 1-1/2 mile walk through the countryside along the riverside cycleway into Ettlebruck where we passed some time away people watching from a pavement café in the towns main square before making the return journey and chilling out for the rest of the day.
Day 40 – A glorious sunny day from dawn to dusk in which we caught up with the household chores and just chilled out with a BBQ in the evening.
Day 41- A cloudy start as we set off on the 1-1/2 mile walk into Diekirch to visit the WW2 National Military Museum. I was a little disappointed with this our second visit to this museum. On our first visit I recall it as being more devoted to local events and stories, it now appears to have become a “National Musuem” and whilst still very good, I missed the local touch. It is not a very wheelchair friendly building but even so we spent a couple of hours in the museum after which we emerged into sunshine to have a snack lunch and a drink for 15 euros in the market square of Diekirch. We then visited Camping La Sure which is only a half mile away from the centre of Diekirch. La Sure also has a Motorhome stop over area with electricity for 12 euros a night. We felt both sites were less secure and they also did not have the ambience of Camping Grit. Whilst we would shun the main site, the motorhome stop over hedged pitches with an associated good service area was good value for a couple of nights.
Day 42 – Another blue sky day dawned and it was a pleasant walk along the river side to the Vets for our dog’s check up and passport clearance. I took our own medication and the Vet’s fee was 25 euros. I returned to site for lunch and then we did some last minute shopping at the local Lidls before relaxing in the sun and readying the van for the journey to the channel coast.
Camping Gritt - This was not our first visit to this site and there have been many changes since we last stopped by in July 2006. The most obvious was the old toilet blocks have been replaced by two new state of the art ones making a great improvement to the site as there are now showers in both blocks. The smaller block in the middle of the site has a communal shower changing area, the main block showers are individual private cubicles. The main block was not quite complete. The showers, toilets, washing machine and dryer were all operational but dish washing facilities, external lighting and grassing of the area around the block were still to be completed. There were also more statics on site than previously and the whole area has undergone further development without affecting the rural charm of this site. A new modern bridge across the river to the site replaces the old one and more pathways and cycle paths have been added. The new pathways offer a short cut, a 10 minute walk, to what is now the Cactus Commercial Centre (previously just a supermarket) and a Lidl. Unfortunately there is still no motorhome service point. Public transport is less than a mile away, a bus route runs past the site on the opposite bank of the river and there is a railway station in both Ettlebruck and Diekirch both about 1-1/2 miles away.
Day 43 – We set off in the sunshine through the Ardennes to Bastogne and Namur and then on to Bruxelles, Brugges and our final destination 235 miles away which was the aire at Gravelines. The first part of the journey through the wooded hills of the Ardennes was very scenic but there after, first along the N4 from Namur and then the autoroutes were fast and boring. At least we had some CDs to play to relieve the bordom. The traffic around Bruxelles was heavy but we still made good time and arriving mid afternoon we found one space available overlooking the small boat harbour for the cost of 6 euros per night.
Day 44 – We had some last minute shopping to do and found everything we wanted in a large “Super U” which can be seen across the other side of the harbour from the Gravelines Aire so we did not have to travel far especially as fuel was also available at the same place. We were back on the aire by lunch time after which we had a stroll round the small town of Gravelines and some of the ramparts of the old fortifications which surround it. We finished the day sitting in the sunshine chatting to fellow motorhome owners.
Day 45 – We were both awake early and ready to roll by 0730 so decided we had time to visit the services and dump our waste rather than carry it home. The route to the services, which are not co-locate with the aire, is well signed and we found it without any problems. It was well constructed, clean and easy to use. We dumped all our waste and set off for the Tunnel. The route back to the A16 is poorly signed and with a road closure we found ourselves making “U turns” to stay on route. It was a good job we had plenty of time and even with these hic ups we arrived in plenty of time to first go through pet passport control and then check in. The automatic check in recognises the vehicle registration and ask you to confirm who you are. On confirmation we were then given a choice of trains, on selecting the earlier one, the ticket to hang in the windscreen is printed out and the barrier opens. A simple system. Thereafter we went through, French and UK customs and a gas check all without problems and were directed to the appropriate lane for boarding. The train was 20 minutes late leaving but we were on the M20 heading for London and home just after 0900hrs. The sun came with us and the drive home was uneventful.
Gravelines Aire – The number of spaces have been increased to about 20 since we were last here 2 years ago. You can now park on the harbour side as well as the other side of the road. The cost is 6 euro per night payable by card only at a meter. There are no services, these are located about a mile away but there are directions on how to get to these and the way is well signed. It is a short walk into town where there are plenty of banks, cafes, restaurants and an assortment of small shops. Across the other side of the harbour there is a Lidl and slightly further away a large Super U supermarket.
Further photos can be seen in the photo gallery of the trip here
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