|Dates:||27 Jun 2017 - 4 Oct 2017|
|Duration:||3 months, 1 week|
Follow us on our journey through Europe in "Nigel" our trusty converted transit.
Celebrating the end of the trip
So we've reached the end of our trip, it's been an amazing three months of adventure. We've seen a lot, been to some fantastic places, met some great people and driven on some incredible roads. All up we've done just over 6,000 miles and without any major incidents, something we are very thankful for. Living out of a van certainly has its challenges but has also been really rewarding. Huge thank you to Jarvis, Tom, Jane and Richard, Richard and Judit and everyone who helped us with the van. Special thanks to Steve & Judy who we met and stayed with at several points along the way, without them we wouldn't have been able to stretch our meagre budget this far. Thanks to everyone we stayed with and letting us use your bathroom, we really appreciate it.
Until next time
(Edit: We've arrived in Bury St Ed's safely)
Nathan & Harriette
Stopped for a bite to eat and a coffee overlooking Burgos. Still quite a bit of driving to do.
The stars of the van and the moon in the sky.
Our last night on the continent after an amazing trip. Once again we are in the middle of nowhere, an old monastery and picnic area not far from the main highway but miles from any town. The moon is exceptionally bright tonight which was helpful as we drove around through the trees trying to find somewhere level to park. A bit spooky as we are the only ones here except for what sounds like wild dogs in the distance somewhere. Absolutely knackered after a long day of travelling, we are resigned to just snack on crisps and cheese before getting into bed.
Back on board 🚐
Heading north someway tonight, ferry from Bilbao tomorrow.
Watching the sunset over the Medina
Our last full day in Morocco, again wandering about the medina ticking off a few sights that we had missed first time around. Decided to check out the famous tanneries and we were a bit disappointed at the lack of colour. Everyone hassles you and tries to get you into their shop or charge you for the privilege of using their viewing terrace, and then give you the hard sell on some leather jackets or some such. We wandered the Jewish quarter and checked out the kings palace gate (not allowed inside) tried to get into one of the oldest libraries in the world (also not allowed inside) and had lunch at a favourite cafe. After a rest during the hottest part of the day, we headed back out to watch the sunset from some palace ruins atop a hill overlooking the old town. The views of the medina were great and as the sun was setting turning everything a burnt orange, it dawned on us that the sun was also setting on our trip.
Back in Fez - some of the local delights
It's safe to say that my first visit to Fez and the hectic medina was a real shock to the system. The sights, sounds, smells and people were all so full on that I was walking around with my hands in my pockets clutching my valuables and my head was spinning like a top. This time around I knew what to expect, which made perusing the shops and taking in the medina a more pleasant experience.
Volubilis - ancient roman ruins
Walked from Moulay Idriss to Volubilis, the ruins of a roman city, some 2000 years old. These ruins are significant as they are the farthest reach of the Roman Empire into Africa. The tile mosaics are incredibly well preserved and are still bright with colour, really amazing to see.
Moulay Idriss - view from our bathroom
Morocco - day six. Got on the train back from the coast to Moulay Idriss. A really cool little town close by to some roman ruins that we are planning on checking out tomorrow. The place we are staying thanks to Judy & Steve is incredibly nice, overlooking the town with a terrace on every level and a different view from each window. Was really special watching the sun set behind the medina whilst a special call to prayer was being sung from the mosque. My stomach is still giving me grief which is the only real dampener of the trip, hoping maybe some drugs can sort me out.
Went for a walk to the beach.
Walked along the coast to an incredibly nice and nearly deserted beach. The hike back was pretty hard going as the wind had picked up and was right in our faces, blowing sand into our eyes. Morocco has been pretty eye opening so far, it's the most far out place I've ever been and still taking some getting used to. Unfortunately I appear to have gotten a bit of a stomach bug which is not so much fun, hoping it goes away soon.
Asilah - enjoying the afternoon on the terrace.
After four and a half hours on the train we made it out to the coast to Asilah. It's a much more sensible 26° out here and there's the smell of the sea in the air. The town itself is very pretty, it's famous for its murals and artwork, we've yet to fully explore it but we are here for four days so should be able to check it all out. The medina is very different from the chaos that is the medina in Fez, so quiet and calm in comparison. Looking forward to having a couple of days lounging around and going for strolls, letting my neck take a rest, after it was swivelling around every which way the last couple of days.
On the train out to the coast.
A long journey, thankfully in an air conditioned carriage.
Explored the medina some more yesterday.
Morocco - Watching all the swifts that have just come back from Europe
After a pretty cruisey couple of weeks in Spain and Portugal, feeling very overstimulated in Fez. The sights, sounds and smells are pretty overwhelming. One man who was very friendly, asked where we were from and said that Harriette was very beautiful, he offered me 1000 camels for her, I told him I'd have to think about it. In the city till Monday then heading to the coast.
Off to Morocco! 🇲🇦
Nice view of San Lorenzo monastery this morning
Hiding from the thunderstorm ⛈
We've reached our spot to stay tonight, up in the forest above Escorial. The sky was very ominous as we arrived and although we haven't had the downpour like we experienced in Italy, thunder is cracking above our heads leaving us cowering in the van.
The cathedral in the old town of Avila
Stopped for a look at Avila on route to our destination today. A well preserved medieval city, somewhat let down by the busy traffic that drives through the cobbled streets.
Finally found a spot.
Feeling deflated after driving for four and a half hours and our spot being invaded by wasps, we drove on in search of a place to stay. As the sun is going down and we were driving along another long, deserted road, it felt like we were driving further and further into the wilderness. Luckily our map has saved us once again as we arrived at a swimming hole and BBQ area on the outskirts of a small town. We knew that we would have to cover some big miles in order to get to Madrid on Saturday, so now with the big day behind the wheel behind us, we're settling down for our favourite meal; Pesto pasta and a glass of Rioja to go with. 🍝 🍷
This was going to be our place to stay for the night. An old medieval town with a castle that has been partially restored. We arrived quite late and there was only a handful of people at the entrance, wandering around the empty streets in the fading light was quite strange, it felt like we were on a movie set for a spaghetti western (or maybe a paella western). The only people who live there are caretakers and we met only one. The views from the lookout tower at the top of the castle are stunning and it looked like a really promising place to stay, but as we got back to the van, clouds of wasps were swarming and we decided to move on.
Stopped for lunch in the actual middle of nowhere. Big driving day today.
Coimbra - much nicer than the coast.
Woke this morning hoping to see some clear blue sky and the sand dunes turned gold from the early morning sun. Unfortunately the sea fog had returned, perhaps even worse this time, making the town feel very eerie and making everything a fraction damp. So we set off inland heading in the direction of Madrid, Coimbra was recommended by The Lonely Planet guide so we've stopped in for a night. It took us a little longer than we'd like to get here, as our phones have run out of data but upon recharge, haven't begun to work again. Most frustrating. Luckily for us, being in a progressive university city in Europe means free wifi. So we are sitting in the park by the river watching the sun go down, after a few glasses of vinho verde, downloading the maps required to get us to Madrid on Saturday. May not be able to do any updates until then.
Didn't look like this in the brochures.
Drove out of Porto and went south along the coast to a spot by the beach. From the photos I saw it looked lovely, white sandy dunes and clear blue water. Unfortunately today there is a persistent Nor-Westerly bringing with it some pea-soup sea fog. Apparently it's quite common for this to happen at this time of year, which is annoying because it's made the stunning coastline look rather more like the Suffolk coastline, and that's never a good thing.
Love the blue painted tiles on all the facades in Porto.
Coffee mission and a wander this morning, before heading further south this afternoon.
Spent the day enjoying the sights and sounds of Porto. A really cool city that is up there with one of our favourites, loads of great little shops, cafes and bars, lovely buildings (especially like the painted tiles) and a river running through the middle. We have a great spot to camp pretty close to the centre of town with great views across the river, and somehow it's free. We have had a full day of eating and drinking but have managed not to blow the budget out too much. Tomorrow we've got a trip to the market and another part of town to explore, before heading off in the afternoon.
🇵🇹 Portugal! - doing the dishes as the sun sets
Arrived in Portugal this morning after a quick drive across the border. Stopped in a town called Caminha as we saw there was a flea market on. Wandered the cobbled streets in the sunshine, admiring the colourful painted tiles on all the houses, then we settled at a bar to watch the Arsenal v Chelsea match. We've driven a bit further along the coast and will head into Porto tomorrow morning.
Enjoying more of the Spanish coast and the delicious seafood - Cambados
Days so slow, almost in reverse.
Another very cruisey day, drove a little further south along the coast to another beach spot. Spent the afternoon watching the windsurfers and bodyboarders try a few moves on the small waves. There is a surf school nearby where you can hire boards, if the conditions are any good tomorrow morning I might get out for a paddle. Been almost 2 years now since I've had a surf, missing that salty stoked feeling.
Glued to the coast.
After all the driving we did yesterday we decided that it would be nice to not go too far, but find a nice spot to camp for the night. Using the maps I downloaded from a Spanish campervan blog months ago has been an absolute godsend. Many of these places we wouldn't have found otherwise, or known they were a good place to stay overnight. The spot we are at now is amazing, right behind a beautiful white sandy beach with next to nobody on it. Another great feature of staying by beaches is that many of them have showers, which is nice when you haven't had one for a few days.
Stopped by a waterfall for lunch.
Faro de Fisterra
After leaving Santiago, we drove pretty much directly west out to Fisterra, which is about as far west as you can go. Recommended to visit by a friend, we have a great spot looking out to the lighthouse which is slowly disappearing from view in the sea fog. We've now done over 5,000 miles on the road and with only a couple of weeks remaining in our trip, we are amazed at how much we've been able to fit in. We'll start to make our way south before getting to Portugal on the weekend most likely.
Inside the impressive cathedral - Santiago De Compostela
Today we drove 200 and something kilometres and into Galicia at last, arriving in the capital around 11 o'clock. We both really enjoyed Santiago, getting lost amongst the many tight winding streets, but always finding our way back to a familiar building or statue. Being the end of the Camino trail there are plenty of hikers around with their poles and zip-off trousers, but as it's also a university town, there are loads of cool wine bars where the students hang out. After a bit of a wander and a quick coffee in the market, we looked around for a spot to lunch. Harriette received an email with a new editing job on offer that pays well, so we thought, "to hell with the budget! Let's treat ourselves!" So we went to A Curtidoría, a lovely restaurant recently awarded a Michelin star. Of course the only reason we actually dared step foot inside was their menu de dia for only €13.00 including wine! The food was delicious, although I did somewhat regret not ordering the arroz con leche (rice pudding), as my desert looked more like something that should be in the Tate Modern rather than on my plate.
Great sunset from where we are staying tonight. Currently on a mozzie killing mission.
Luarca - This place was for sale, a real doer-upper.
After we had a quick look around in Cudillero, we drove a little further along the coast to Luarca. Another town that our research told us would be worth a stop at. Still very pretty but a bit bigger and not quite as run down as some of the smaller towns we've been to. The seagulls even catch their own fish for lunch! Probably the first time I'd ever seen that, didn't know they had it in them. We wandered around aimlessly, as we usually do, before deciding on a nice looking cafe for a coffee. The place we chose was a real winner so we decided to go back for a glass of wine at lunchtime! When in Rome as they say. The sun then broke through the clouds so we walked to the beach for a picnic and watched the massive swell batter the rocks in the bay. Nice to do a couple of short days driving as we'll have to cover quite a few miles over the next few days.
Another town highlighted online on a list of best coastal towns to visit in northern Spain. Another supposedly "best kept secret" that turned out to not be secret at all. It seems that there is some correlation between writing a travel blog proclaiming the cute town you stayed at (courtesy of Asturias Tourism and Visa 🤔) as "a best kept secret", and the place blowing up as the next honeypot town with coach parking. Nevertheless it is very pretty, I think had the sun been shining it would've lived up to the hype.
Oviedo - statue of Woody Allen
Cruised into Oviedo for a bit of a taste of cosmopolitan Spain. Not known as a tourist hotspot but more for its university, gastronomy and nightlife it sounded worthwhile to us. Harriette had done some research and found a cafe that had a good reputation, so we popped in for a quick coffee. Very cheap and miles better than anything we've had in Spain prior, we decided we would go back for lunch. We arrived at 1:45 thinking that lunch service would be well and truly under way, but the place was empty. But of course the locals all began to arrive toward 3 o'clock for their lunch. Crazy Spaniards, someone really should tell them that this is far too late to be eating lunch.
Senda del Cares
After yesterday's deluge forcing us to remain huddled in the van, it was nice to wake up and see some blue sky. We had hoped the weather would clear, so we could walk along the Senda del Cares route, along the rio Cares. The walk itself is relatively easy without any real steep sections, although there are some dark tunnels that you have to just about crawl through, mindful not to bump your head. The info we found online said that you have to be comfortable with heights on this walk and passing people in some places can be a little scary. You'll be happily walking along for half an hour or so, enjoying the scenery when you realise that the sound of the river below is now rather distant. You shuffle towards the edge of the track and looking down, realise the river is now 150ft below you at the bottom of the sheer cliff your standing on. 😅 Hair raising stuff.
Tonight we're staying just by the town of Burón before making our way to Oviedo tomorrow.
Mountains in the mist.
The fiesta last night turned out to be a bit of a fizzer. As we arrived the town was buzzing with people, we were advised not to stay in the designated camping area as there would be loud music going late. "No problem" we said thinking it would only be till 1 in the morning or so, "yes they play music until about 8am". So off we went to another nice little spot further down the road, after dinner we made our way back into town about 10pm or so. After hanging out at the bar with a few of the locals, we thought we should go and check out the band that were supposed to be playing in the sports centre. At 11:30 they still hadn't started! There was about 10 people standing in the giant sports centre underneath a fog of stale cigarette smoke. With various obscure 80's hits blasting from the PA system, It didn't look like it was going to get started anytime soon and growing tired of waiting, we bailed.
Turns out this trip isn't an endless parade of sunshine, beer and beaches. Today we are huddled in the van looking out the window at the miserable weather outside. Makes me glad I'm not one of those poor people hiking the Camino trail. We are pretty cozy, under the covers with the kettle on and a good book in hand.
Back in a national park, would you believe it.
After the excitement of the parade in llanes we had a meal at one of the crowded restaurants in town and had some thinking to do. Stay the night in llanes, in a horrible truck stop car park and go out and enjoy the festivities, or get back on the road into the heart of Los Picos de Europa national park for the weekend. Knowing that tomorrow rain was forecast all throughout northern Spain, not fancying a 2 hour mountain drive in the wet conditions we made the decision to leave. Turns out there's a fiesta going on here too! So now we have a great spot to stay with a view of a lake and some magnificent jagged peaks, and don't have to miss out on the festivities.
Went into Llanes (pronounced "Janice") to see the last of the four fiestas held throughout summer in the area. We couldn't find much information about the fiesta itself, only that it was in honour of a virgin, or something religious anyway. We picked up a program but couldn't figure out what the events were, or even where they might be held. We decided just to follow everyone else and ended up crowding down the Main Street, it was clear there would be a parade of some kind. The sound of drums and bagpipes coming from around the bend confirmed this and slowly, a very long procession of men, women and children (including babies asleep in their strollers) all in the traditional garb, strolled through town chanting and singing things we couldn't understand. At the end of the procession the idol of the virgin was brought through town and a series of loud explosions signalled it was time for lunch.
El Capricio - one of Gaudí's few works outside of Barcelona
Comillas was the next stop on our drive down the coast. Quite possibly the prettiest town we have been to on our travels. There's a nice beach, a large gothic palace, a very ornate university building, a very cool building designed by Gaudí and lots of cobbled streets with very pretty houses and gardens. It's obviously a wealthy town, the houses and gardens are all quite large, but look original and well kept. It's a striking difference compared with some of the run down towns we've been through.
The church at Santillana del Mar
This town was on a list of "15 best kept secret medieval villages in northern Spain". It certainly isn't a well kept secret. Unfortunately like many other well preserved medieval towns, it has succumb to tour buses full of selfie-stick wielding OAP's, with their t-shirts that say "keep calm and carry on" and New York baseball caps. They shuffle impossibly slowly down the Main Street gazing into the windows of all the shops selling souvenirs, trying to decide which novelty key ring or leather bracelet to buy for the kids back home. We had a quick look around before moving on.
Arrived at the spot we'd picked to camp just after 6, only to realise that the road down to the beach and parking spot had been chained off. The only parking available was in a tiny spot next to the road that was way off being level. As there was a car parked in a spot we thought looked good, we were waiting for them to leave so we could jump in, only for a German-super-dope-surf-crew to rock up and fill in all the spots. They immediately started cracking the beers and the older couple returning from the beach to their camper, thinking they'd probably found a lovely quiet spot with a cracking view, did not look impressed. Meanwhile I had hiked down the road to fetch some rocks that looked vaguely ramp shaped to try and level the van out. This proved difficult as the rocks wouldn't stay put, sliding about all over the place in the soft mud. After ten (more like five if I'm being honest) frustrating minutes, covered in mud and sweat, I had the wheel up on my carefully placed rocks and the van somewhat level. Only then as I was standing back admiring my handy work, the older couple decided they didn't like their new neighbours and left, leaving their spot, the best spot, for us. I looked on in disbelief as they drove past shaking their heads. The French couple looking on found the whole thing most amusing.
San Juan Gaztelugatxeko
Has recently been made famous as it appears in season 7 of Game of Thrones. Lots of people walking across the stone bridge and up the 241 steps to reach the church. You can ring the bell three times for good luck and make a wish. A near constant ringing today, bet the locals love that.
The little Spanish I have practiced hasn't really come in handy thus far, as in Spain they all speak different dialects in the corresponding region. In the basque region every word seems to have the letter "x" (no idea what it's supposed to sound like) and sounds completely different from what we were hearing in Catelonia. Haven't had too much trouble ordering beer and wine though so not really worried.
I do like to be beside the seaside.
Spent the day in Getaria today, a really cool little fishing village on the Basque coast. I left Harriette to check out the Cristobal Balenciaga museum in the morning whilst I walked around the village, watching the fishing boats come in and out of the harbour. We both couldn't wait to get to the coast and try some of the famous seafood from the region, so today we decided to splash out and enjoy ourselves. The "Menu de dia" of the place we chose was only 18 euros for three courses and a bottle of wine, and the fish was delicious. So nice to be able to have a quality sit down meal without breaking the bank. The afternoon was spent on the Flisch cliffs walking down to basque in the sun (see what I did there) and watch the waves roll in.
Lovely hike this morning.
Went on a short three hour hike into the forest of the Urbasa national park to see the magical blue pools that I'd heard about. Started off cloudy but the sun started peeking out and by the time we reached the waterfall, the sunlight was shining through the leaves, turning the forest bright green and the water a spectacular blue. The water looked so tempting to jump in but there is strictly no swimming. Understandable, if a little disappointing, especially as I haven't had a proper shower in six or maybe seven days...
Next up - hitting the coast
End of a long and rather boring day of driving.
We've gone from Catalonia, through Aragon and right across Navarre just about to the border of Basque Country. It's a welcome change to be around some greenery after driving for miles through the flat desert plains of northern Spain. Miles of straight roads with only a few run down old towns in between. We've had to fill up the van twice in the last two days, but luckily for us diesel is very cheap in Spain. Tomorrow we'll head north up to the coast and hopefully find a nice beach for a swim.
Stopping for lunch in a town called Alquézar, in the Aragon region. Another big driving day today, a further 200km to get to our destination. Spain was described to us as "not that long - but it's very fat". We've been to the eastern most point in Spain, now we are heading as far west as we can get.
Change of plans.
We were up late last night still trying to organise ourselves for a day in Barcelona. What we came to realise was that just staying in the city stop campsite for 24 hours, visiting the Sagrada Familia and using the metro was going to push our tight budget well into the red. It was also the feeling that trying to rush around and cram in as much as possible, fighting the Saturday crowds was not going to do make for an enjoyable experience. So we have decided to leave visiting Barcelona for another trip, this trip isn't about visiting major cities, wining, dining and partying into the night, we are trying to keep the pace pretty slow and stay off the beaten track.
So here we are again on the road less traveled, stopping for lunch at La Baronia de Sant Oisme, an old medieval watch tower in the middle of nowhere. It's been a huge drive this morning, we are intending to make our way up to Basque Country and the Galician coast for ten days or so, so we knew there would be at least a couple of big days driving. We'll carry on for a bit further before hopefully stopping for the night near an old church that looks to be in incredible surrounds.
Another night on the Costa Brava.
Made our way down to Roses in the morning to pay a visit to Max and Mr Barr. Had a nice lunch and a swim at the beach before we got back on the road again, aiming to get about halfway to Barcelona. We've ended up in a random carpark behind one of these awful tourist towns that stretch for mile after mile on the coast, "Las Vegas by the sea". After being let down twice by our not-so-trusty camperstop app, we were starting to think we might be driving into the night to find somewhere suitable to stay. Luckily for us a friendly Belgian man, seeing the look on our faces when we realised that all the spaces were taken, said we could park in front of him, so we decided we might as well stay here the night.
Tomorrow - Barcelona
Soaking up a bit of history.
Spain - day two. Last night we had a rather restless sleep as the van was being rocked to and fro by the wind. Woke up to find that the warm and rather pleasant southerly had turned and was now a fierce northerly bringing with it squalls of rain and strong gusts. We had wondered how we were going to fill the day the night before but decided that the nearby Sant Pere de Rodes Monastery looked worth a visit. Its worth the price of admission just to go in and have a look, but you also get a complementary audio guide, giving you a glimpse into the amazing buildings history, dating back to the 10th century when it was first built. You can also hike up to the ruins of a castle that overlooked the monastery, built right atop the mountain giving incredible panoramic views of the Costa Brava.
We were all set to stay overnight in one of the car parks just underneath the monastery, which had great views down onto the towns below. However after returning from our hike I had a bit of a look around and started to feel as though we might inadvertently be parked in the local degenerate hang out spot. An alarming amount of broken glass from car windows, graffiti everywhere (not the good kind) and behind every bush it appeared people had used it as a toilet. 🤢 So we've moved on to a spot further down the road that seems a much better bet. After reading about the Catalan's disdain for foreign tourists, and getting a pretty frosty reception at the cafe this morning, I've peeled the big white GB sticker off the back of the van in a bid to be slightly more discreet.
First day in Spain
Bit of a mixed bag. Started off with a long drive across the border to a pretty town called Sant Llorenç for lunch. From my research earlier it appeared to be in lush surrounds with a few swimming spots, but it turned out to be incredibly dry and the stagnant pools that were clinging on where the river once was weren't very inviting, so we headed for the coast. As we are visiting a friend in Roses on Friday, we headed that direction but aimed for somewhere a little more picturesque, after a hot hour behind the wheel we ended up in Cadaqués, a nice looking town on the Costa Brava. All the houses are painted white with blue doors and windows, looks a bit like Greece. Supposedly it's a lovely sleepy little place in the off season, it's also where Salvador Dali used to reside in his later years - there's a statue of him on the beach. However as it is the last week in August, the place was rammed - many sunburnt brits, lunatics on scooters and general tourist chaos across the beach and boulevards. After a quick swim, trying not to swallow any salt water or cigarette butts, we decided we'd had enough, picked up some cheap beer and drove out to Cap de Creus, a windswept rocky headland that has fantastic views, and a bar/restaurant by the lighthouse. The road was very narrow and treacherous, and when we reached the end we were extremely exasperated to find that it was heaving out here also. We somehow managed to find a level spot to park the van and walked up to the bar to watch the sun set over the mountains (pictured). It was a lovely end to the day and the view was really something, once the sun had set, the majority of the selfie-taking hordes climbed back in their rental cars and zoomed off back to town, leaving us in relative quiet, aside the howling 50 knot gale outside.
¡Hola España! 🇪🇸
Lunch in a pretty little town that we hoped would have swimming in the river, but much like yesterday it was only about knee deep and pretty stagnant.
Found a great waterfall! - natures shower.
Last day in France.
So we've made our way south again getting close to the Spanish border. We find ourselves back in the Pyrenees but this time in the Pyrenees of Catalonia. Still huge mountains everywhere you look, the main difference is just how much drier it is this Far East. As it once again above thirty degrees, we picked a place that was nice and shady and close to a water source. Picking a short trail that wound up through the forest, along the river to a waterfall called Cascade Dietrich. However as we are now into the tail end of summer and this area has seen little rainfall, its less of a cascade and more of a trickle. Slightly disappointing as we had visions of standing beside a raging torrent being cooled by the mist splashing up from the rocks. As it stands we have our feet in about 4 inches of semi stagnant water, swatting away the flies.
Tomorrow the adventure continues into Espańa!
Back on the road
We didn't travel far today after leaving the campsite in the morning. We had been told to avoid the coast between the Narbonne and the Spanish border as it was described to us as being hideously crowded and not worth the hassle. As it is another scorcher today, (the mercury getting up to 34°) we decided that we would need to be near some water to cool off. After doing a bit of research last night into "wild swimming in France" google turned up a list of good spots to have a dip. So here we are in Lagrasse, a very pretty little town on the L'Orbieu river. It's so pretty in fact that it's been voted into the top 100 most beautiful towns in France. After a spot of lunch we are sitting on the banks of the river, reading our books underneath the shade of the elm trees, lovely.
Today was spent wandering around the Cite de Carcassone, making the decision to get up early and beat the worst of the crowds. Walking inside the walled city is impressive but it was worth the €9.00 to walk around the ramparts which offer fantastic views.
Markets, Castles & Paper Mills.
Watching the storm roll through.
Last two days have been spent just ambling about, going on walks and stopping in towns and super marche's. We'll be at "The End Of The World" for the next 4 days. A google search turns up quite a few places with the same name. We'll be at the one in the south of France.
Once again we have ventured off the beaten track, going as far as possible up Gorge de Le Frau. Yesterday was spent driving around the countryside stopping at Foix and purchasing a block of cheese from the market. The bloke was chatting away to us in French, giving us a tasting of the various cheeses he had on offer, all of them delicious. We thought "mmm that's tasty yeah lop us off a big hunk of that please", he cuts a big wedge out, wraps it up and plonks it on the scale. "€17.00 sil vous plait" 🤦♂️oops.
Wiggly roads & waterfalls
After checking out the market in St Girons yesterday and picking up some supplies for the weekend, we headed back into the mountains of the national park. Yay! More mountains! The weather last night however was miserable! As we climbed higher on yet another narrow mountain pass, the clouds came in and completely soaked the landscape, hikers returning to their cars where we parked were sodden but seemingly in good spirits. As we had arrived late in the afternoon in a literal cloud of rain with zero visibility, we had no idea of the beautiful surrounds we would wake up to. The air was deliciously fresh, the forest was lush and green, and the sky was a perfect pale blue. Ideal conditions for a hike and a huge improvement from the day before. There are so many trails to choose from in the area, ranging from an hour or so amble, up to full on route marches over to Spain and back. We decided on a 3.5 hour round trip to Cascade d'Ars. A lovely walk up though the forest in the gorge until you come to a huge waterfall with lots of spots to have a dip and eat your lunch on the sun baked rocks. Hugely popular today with lots of people going up and down the trail, but we managed to beat the rush. Nothing planned for the afternoon, other than a stroll around the town we are parked by, another great spot we found just by chance.
Stopped in St Girons to check out the market.
Up early this morning to get back on the road. Last night we watched the clouds come rolling in over the mountains and up the valley until we were completely engulfed by them. Made for a chilly night so we stayed in bed and watched a movie on Harriette's laptop. This morning the weather at the top had cleared, the water in the lake had turned a deep blue colour and was like a mirror reflecting the peaks behind.
We'll be doing a bit of a zig zag on the map as we head into Spain at the end of the month and driving right the way across to Galicia.
Can't keep us away from the mountains.
So after yesterday's kerfuffle with the gps, today we managed to get our bearings and head up to the spot we had originally looked for. And boy was it worth it, 2193m above sea level and the views down the valley are something else. We parked right by the edge of the man made lake and went for a hike up and around the other end, hard going at this altitude but worth it. It's so nice to feel the cool breeze on your face and breathe the clean fresh air, especially when you know that down at sea level it's 30 degrees and horribly muggy.
Back on the road and back in the mountains.
We said Au Revoir to the gang at Aux Vignaux and got back on the road to the Pyrenees. Our phones had been playing up a bit and our gps had glitched and sent us in a direction completely different from where we were supposed to be going. Worked out quite well in the end as we have this spot pretty much all to ourselves and the view from up here is stunning.
Doing what I do best according to Harriette.
We've arrived in a lovely little corner of rural southern France. We've had a tour of the house and substantial gardens, and discovered many lovely shady spots to sit and read. Today is a religious holiday in France so we're off to the local market to see what we can find.
Cider & crepes
Leaving the lovely views and quiet countryside of the farm we stayed at last night, we got on the road down to Toulouse. A city described in the lonely planet guide as "vibrant" and "buzzing". Unfortunately being there on a Sunday in August, everything was closed. We made the most of the lovely weather, sitting in the park for a picnic lunch before milling about the old town with the other tourists. Free entry into Le Capitole was a bonus which filled our culture quota for the day, before making our way along the canal back to where we were parked.
After last nights blissful slumber on the quiet farm, we thought maybe staying at a vineyard/farm again tonight might be nice. When we arrived however we were told that they don't allow campers and asked where we got their address from. I explained using sign language that we'd got their address from our camperstop book, which was met with a puzzled look, a shrug of the shoulders and "that book is wrong". Plan B it is then, the spot we're at now isn't half as nice but it's free so that's always a plus.
Nothing like waking up to a different view each morning.
Hiking up hills on hot days.
Stayed the night at a Camperstop in the town of Florac. Funny little town that has seen better days, like many of the towns in the Cevennes national park. We don't have much of an agenda other than to gradually head in the direction of Aux Vignaux. I'm very much enjoying taking our time, taking in the scenery, doing less miles and eating more croissants.
Entering the Cevennes National Park.
We must have taken a wrong turn somewhere because we seem to have ended up back in the Scottish highlands. Passing over Col De Finiels, just by Mont Lozere, the fields have turned purple with heather, the forests are all pine, it's raining, windy and only 8 degrees!
Pont du Diable
Yesterday we walked through a chestnut forest and around the rim of an ancient volcano overlooking the town of Jaujac. We stayed overnight in a town called Thueyts (not sure how you pronounce that one properly) and this morning went and checked out the Pont du Diable or "Devils bridge". From the lookout there is a view of the giants causeway, not as impressive as the one in Ireland but quite cool nonetheless. There are lots of interesting rock formations, unfortunately I'm not a geologist so i can't really go into much more detail than that. Today we'll be heading down into the Cevenne national park and staying somewhere near the town of Florac.
The typical lunch spread. French bread is the best.
We've left Saou and are making our way southwest, stopping anywhere that looks nice. We had to stay another night to get some replacement mirror glass ordered in, thanks to a French white van man.
Hiking above the clouds.
Finding more swimming holes.
Tropical Jazz @ Le Fontaine Minerale
We'll be in a little town called Saou (pronounced "soo") for a few days. Not much activity has been planned as it is still too hot, hopefully beginning to cool down from Monday.
Swimming in the lake near Le Lauzet-Ubaye.
According to the news, Europe is in the middle of a heatwave currently, with many predicting that it is in a drought cycle. Temperatures are up to 10 degrees hotter on average, places like Rome and Sicily reaching around 45 degrees. Thankfully it hasn't gotten quite that hot where we have been, but for over a week it has been consistently into the mid 30's and hardly cooling down at night. It can be hard to escape when you are traveling in a van, so our only recourse has been to seek out water for a swim to cool ourselves down. People say "but you are from Australia, you must be used to this!" This is when I must explain that I'm actually from Tasmania, which is hardly ever this hot, and I'm also half delicate pommy. So it's in my genes to complain about the weather.
Arrivederci Italy! Bonjour France 🇫🇷
Breakfast at 2751m, I love the mountains.
Sometimes the best spot is the most obvious.
Slow day today which is always good. We are now pretty close to the French border, after only a short day of driving. We've got a lovely spot right by a lake with great views of the mountains. At over 1500m of altitude it is noticeably cooler than down in the Cuneo region, hopefully this will allow us to get a proper nights sleep. Tomorrow - France.
Quite the day yesterday spent touring around the province of Cuneo in the Piemonte region. Grapes for as far as the eye can see! Tried to go and visit a couple of castles but they were both closed on Tuesdays, a bit unfortunate but not a total loss. The highlight of the day was getting an impromptu wine tasting from Elio Sandri, owner of Cascina Disa vineyard, producers of the famous Barolo wine. Despite not having booked a tour, Elio dropped what he was doing and spent an hour from his day taking us through the barrel rooms and letting us taste all the wines, including the 2011 reserve, which he described as "The Ferrari". His English was quite limited but he managed to describe the winemaking process and facts about the region pretty clearly, what stood out was his passion and love for winemaking, a real character.
We've just woken up from a rather fitful sleep in the relentless mugginess of the European summer. Today we will be making our way further west, towards the alps and the French border. It's supposed to get to 37 degrees. 🌞🔥😅💀
A big thank you to Steve & Judy for finding us a place to stay and treating us for a couple of nights.
Finding swimming holes
Long travel day today, took our time in the morning, going for a swim in the swimming hole which we had all to ourselves. We finally had to bite the bullet and take the autostrada as 3 hours on the Italian mountain roads was going to be too much to manage, for us and for the van. 11.40 in tolls later, we arrived at the spot we had picked out from our Camperstop book. A vineyard/farm near a place called Asti. From the photos it looked really nice and supposedly had toilets, showers etc. As it turned out there were no toilets or showers, just plague like amounts of flies and mosquitoes. After sticking it out for an hour or so and being eaten alive by the mozzies, we had to bail. Judy & Steve invited us to come and stay with them, so we drove a further 20 minutes down the road to a beautiful rustic biodynamic farm near Alba. It's a beautiful spot and a big upgrade from where we were going to be so we are most thankful.
Getting away from the coast
We made the decision to head back towards the mountains where we figured it will be less crowded, and hopefully a little cooler. Tonight we've ended up in a place called Farini, back in the Emilia-Romagna region. It's not particularly note worthy, but the drive here was fairly exciting. Setting the GPS to avoid tolls in Italy means driving on some of the worst roads you will find. Miles of up and down narrow, windy roads with poorly mended potholes, huge cracks with grass growing through, off camber corners and not seeing another car for what seems like hours because they're all on the motorways. There also never seems to be road works going on anywhere at anytime, which sort of explains the condition of the tarmac.
Picture is the local swimming hole we are parked near. It was only about waist deep in most parts and with a rocky bottom, but must be the only good swimming spot for miles as it was heaving when we arrived.
Decided to stay another night and check out Portovenere.
After a very restless night plagued by the heat and mosquitoes I was awake to see the sunrise over the mountains which was quite special. We had a slow start to the day before walking down the path from where we are parked into the town. The bay was full of super yachts and cruise ships, a real rich mans playground. The town itself is a complete tourist trap, pretty streets, but the only thing to do is spend money on overpriced gelato and crappy souvenirs. We didn't stay for long. Once again we had consigned ourselves to walking back up the steep hill in the hottest part of the day. Our legs felt like lead and we made very slow progress, pausing at every bit of shade to recover. You would think we might have learned from yesterday's endeavour. It was a great relief to reach the Refugio for a much needed beer and a seat under the shade of the grapevines. We had heard good things so we booked a table for dinner. The scene was chaotic as the casually dressed staff shouted at each other and the customers dogs chased the pigs around the tables. The food was pretty good, with huge helpings we are full to the point of bursting, hopefully a better nights rest lies ahead.
Our view from the back doors tonight.
Probably up there with one of the best views we've had. We are way up above Portovenere on Monte Muzzerone, parked underneath an old fort. We've now been on the road for a whole month and have driven over 2,000 miles, we've also come 4 euros under our monthly budget!
After leaving Lucca early this morning, the clouds had closed in and a look at the forecast suggested a high of only 24 and cloudy on the coast. We were a bit disappointed at first, but shouldn't have worried, as soon enough the sun had come out and the temperature had shot up well into the 30's. We had decided the night before that another swim would be nice and we liked the look of a very small and secluded beach on the Ligurian coast near a town called Montemarcello. Most of the coastline between Lucca and the Cinque Terre is taken up by awful hotels and beaches that you have to pay to go to, which as an Australian, is abhorrent to me. Luckily the beach we had picked had minimal people on it, as it is only accessible by walking the trail down the hill. It was easy enough going down, but was an absolute slog in the late afternoon heat on the way back. It turned out to be a great pick however, as the water was lovely, that classic turquoise blue of the Mediterranean.
Pictured is me, scaling the steep section onto the beach that has been the victim of a large landslide fairly recently. I'm smiling at this point but soon after the picture was taken, we were both grimacing, red in the face, sweaty and exhausted.
Today we explored the ancient walled city of Lucca.
We arrived just before lunchtime after an amazing drive on ss12, a very twisty, up and down road that takes you from the Provence of Emilia-Romagna, up into the mountains and down the other side into Toscana. Lucca itself is very pretty with lots of lovely buildings and gardens. Walking or cycling around the city atop the centuries old wall, taking in the views, is a must if you visit. Many of the amazing buildings you can go into and learn about the history, for a small charge of course. A charge we are not willing to pay, no matter how small, as our shoestring budget is better spent on craft beer, prosecco and pizza.
What a fantastic city. After the hectic parade of tourists on lake Garda, we were really after a change of pace, and Modena delivered just what the doctor ordered. Hardly a tourist in sight! We probably only saw two or three obvious tourists with cameras around the neck, and whilst we checked out the Palazzo Communale, we were the only people in there! (We are fully aware of the irony of trying to avoid tourists despite being them ourselves). It's a great city for foodies, we were inspired to visit after it was featured in one of our favourite tv shows, Master of None. Although our budget didn't allow us to go to all the top restaurants and bars in town (there are many), we were able to pack a lot of tasty delights in without breaking the bank. Highlight of the day was our tour of Acetaia Villa San Donnino, one of the oldest and original makers of Modena Balsamic vinegar. Not just the stuff you can buy on the shelf but the certified "Modena black gold" which you can only get directly from them and runs up to 200 euros for 100mls of the really good stuff. Great on ice cream would you believe.
We started our last day by the lake with a short ride into Desenzano, another tourist town by Lake Garda, although without the character of Malcesine but still with 50% of the German population on holiday. Wandered a market, took a walk up to the Castello which had some lovely views, and managed to find a good coffee spot after our first attempt was a bit of a fail. Gathered some supplies for lunch and dinner then made our way back to the beach for a swim. It seems to me that the further south you go by the lake, it gets a little more seedy and sad. Gone are the olive trees and the lovely sail boats and hydrofoils racing around. Suddenly the beaches have nightclubs on them and are overrun with cretins in powerboats parked about 4ft from the shore. At least they still have the creepy old men in budgie smugglers, who have spent so long in the sun, their skin more closely resembles the leather from the knock off Louis Vuitton bags they sell at the market.
Made our way south to Desenzano at the bottom of Lake Garda.
We arrived at our camp spot just in the nick-of-time, as fellow campers scrambled to bring in their awnings and chairs before the heavens opened. The weather so far in Italy has been very hot and humid, overnight temperatures of 22 degrees and high humidity makes sleeping in the van pretty uncomfortable. It also makes for perfect thunderstorm conditions and we were treated to an immense one last night. Lightning lit up the sky all around like bright white fireworks and booms of thunder so close they shook the van.
Walking the medieval streets of Malcesine.
Spent the night in a nice campsite underneath some olive trees. The climate around lake Garda is close to that of the Mediterranean, stinking hot! Ideal for growing olives and attracting German tourists apparently.
On the schedule for this afternoon, a refreshing dip in the lake.
Lake Garda 🌞🔥🌞
Quick stop for coffee and a snack before making our way further south to Lake Garda.
What a week in a truly special place. As I listen to the pitter patter of the rain on the roof and the distant rumblings of the thunder storm that has passed through, the struggle to get out from under the covers and get back on the road is very real. We've enjoyed some great hiking, white water rafting, fantastic food and drink and some famous Italian hospitality. A taster for what these mountains have to offer, leaving us with an appetite for more.
The week in numbers: 50.6 Km's walked (31 miles) 538 floors of elevation climbed from a minimum height of 1264m above sea level. Highest elevation 2,658m above sea level. I think even Sir Edmund would be pretty pleased with that effort.
Sunday's don't get much better than this.
Started off slowly, the usual breakfast and coffee routine. Later a short walk down the street to a lovely cafe for Sunday lunch from the grill. Home for an afternoon siesta. Then for dinner a 45 minute hike up the hill and through the forest to get to Malga Alta, a beautiful dairy farm/bar & restaurant that you can only get to by foot. At 1548m the views across the valley are absolutely stunning and the food, Bellissimo! Such great hospitality, although the language barrier was a slight challenge, we were well looked after. 10/10 experience 👌🏽
Lago Di Caprioli
Arrived to the house in the Dolomites where we'll be staying for the next week. After a frenetic couple of weeks, going through countries and cities at a blistering pace, we are really looking forward to stopping for a week and enjoying ourselves.
Stopped for lunch in Bolzano. Got some cheese from the market and had a wander around. Lovely spot.
Not a bad view to wake up to.
🇮🇹 Now we're in Italy!
We've got a great spot above the Mecca of Italian cycling - Corvara. Opening the back doors we are faced with the looming peaks of the Dolomites of the Alta Badia region. Avoiding the autostrada from Austria meant driving on some pretty windy and narrow roads, not the most fun in a 3.5 tonne van, next time I'll be sure to take the Porsche.
First we went and checked out the Bergisel Olympic ski facility, an impressive structure designed by Zaha Hadid. So we arrive and it's 2.60 just to park for an hour. It then cost me an additional 1 euro to use the toilet. A toilet which had no seat, toilet paper so thin it was molecularly closer to air than to paper, and no water or hand drying facilities. Not a great start. We walked a loop around to a panoramic viewpoint (not that special) then to the entrance of the ski slope, which costs 9.50 each for the two minute ride to the top and no option to walk the 320 steps for less. We decided to give that a miss. 1/10 for the whole experience, would not recommend it if you're ever in Innsbruck.
We then spent the rest of the morning wandering in the city stopping for some coffee and cake (pictured). Seems like a cool city that's set up to cater for enthusiasts of mountain sports. There is a great public transport system that can take you from the city centre all the way up to the highest peak in the valley, unfortunately the low clouds meant there were no spectacular views to be had so we didn't bother. Overall pretty cool but would be better visiting in the winter on a ski trip I reckon.
Made it to Austria. We are parked up in a great spot, with an awesome view and the sound of the goats bells ringing around the hills. Overlooking a town called Schwaz, 28kms from Innsbruck, where we will head tomorrow.
Watched a few of the locals at Munich's infamous inner city surf spot. Looked pretty fun, and gnarly (that means scary for those who aren't familiar with the term). Very cool city with plenty of culture and cool spots but with fewer tourists than other cities we've been to. The Bavarians have it pretty sorted, a love for football, and a healthy balanced diet; sausages, bread and beer, which is all acceptable to consume before midday. Next stop, Austria.
🇩🇪 Place to stay with a cool backdrop.
Stopping in Pilsen for coffee and to pick up some supplies (beer) before continuing towards Munich.
We got up early and drove to Prague, eventually finding our way into the city after several wrong turns on the confusing spaghetti of roadways. Camped at a campsite on an island in the river, about a 30min walk to the city centre. We spent the day hiking around the city, battling the enormous crowds to take in the beautiful architecture. By the time we got back to camp we had taken over 25,000 steps, climbed over 26 stories and walked 17.3kms. We sampled a couple of the local beers which were delicious, and very cheap but after a long day of walking in the sun and perhaps not drinking enough H2O we were both feeling rather worse for wear last night.
Long drive towards the border in some torrential downpours. We were a bit reluctant to get back on the road after a few nice days of relaxing and not having to drive anywhere. We've stopped short of actually crossing the border into the Czech Republic, as we'll be getting up early to drive to Prague.
Picture is the view from where we are parked for the night, original plan didn't pan out, which happens from time to time. So we rolled the dice, picked a spot on the map close by that looked promising, which turned out to be much better. Love it when that happens.
Today's setting for lunch
We took a short drive to Sonnenburg and had a delicious lunch at a real hidden gem of a spot called "baa-see" (pronounced "barzee"). Tucked away at the very end of a paved road in the middle of the forest, you have to be directed by someone who knows the way as there is virtually no signage. It was good having a couple of German speakers with us to translate the menu, although you couldn't go far wrong as it was mostly wild pork and selections of beer.
Went for a wee cycle along the river.
We have done about 1000 miles of driving to this point, haven't showered since we left and are very much looking forward to a few days in one place. Staying in a very peaceful little hamlet called Ortwig, gives us a chance to relax and catch up on a bit of reading. Planning on going for a cycle to Poland, which shouldn't be too much of an undertaking as you could probably throw a stone across the border from where we are.
Pictured is Hope, the friendly Australian Shepherd.
Yesterday's excursion to Sanssouci palace.
The former home of Frederick the Great, it is known as Germany's version of Versailles. The original palace isn't nearly as impressive as the summer residence pictured, situated right at the far end of the park. Built around ten years after the first palace, Frederick or "Freddy" as he was known by his mates, intended to move into the Neue Palace but decided upon completion that it was too ostentatious and instead used it as the guest house. To give you an idea of just how enormous the grounds are, there are over 70km of paths connecting all the gardens and buildings.
Tonight's camp spot, by a steam railway in a town called Gernrode.
Stopped for a quick hike in the Harz national park.
Nice to get into nature after sitting in the car for most of the day, the only sounds to be heard were that of our footsteps on the ground, the chirping of the birds, and in the distance, a high end sports bike at around 10,000 rpm. Turned out to be a pretty long day behind the wheel today, but after yesterday's white knuckle affair on the autobahn I was pretty happy to enjoy some of Germany's excellent B roads. The roads through the national park could best be described as "a motorcyclists dream". Mile after mile of super smooth wide tarmac that ribbons its way through the beautiful forest with hardly any traffic. The barriers on the bends are even painted red and white, with signs every so often to remind the riders that no this isn't actually the Nurburgring, could you please stick to the correct side of the road even though it must be very tempting to hit the apex on every sweeping S bend.
Lunch in a lovely spot overlooking the town of Hamlin. Supposedly where the story of the pied piper originates from. Looks nice from up here.
Mainly a travel day today, continuing to make our way east towards Berlin and the Polish border. Changed the setting on the GPS to avoid motorways, making for a more picturesque and relaxed journey.
Coffee & Castles When you are mostly free camping it's easy to justify spending 10 Euro on a couple of cappuccinos and a tasty German pastry.
🇩🇪 The chef going to work in the kitchen. Tonight we're staying in a place called Hamm. Not particularly noteworthy but it's nice and quiet, and on our route headed east. My first time on German motorways getting here, which was certainly eye opening. Everyone drives super close to the car in front and it seems that the speed limit of 130km/h is more of just a rough guideline. In Nigel the van, whose top speed is 110 going downhill, there was a few hair raising moments to say the least 😅 Think we'll take the scenic route tomorrow.
🇧🇪 Le Tour! Drove into Verviers in the morning to watch the pre race parade, picked up a few souvenirs that were thrown (at high velocity) in our direction. Would've had a lot more if it wasn't for a small child and his mother who were just about throwing themselves to the ground to catch a sticker or a keyring. Then a quick drive and a cycle to watch the race go by at a better vantage point. Behind a long sweeping bend we heard the cheers from around the corner and before you knew it the peloton comes past a blur of Technicolour Lycra and then they are gone. Very exciting, Harriette could hardly contain herself. Currently having a bite to eat in a nice spot by a weir before making our way into Germany this afternoon.
Had a nice day in Utrecht, admiring the parks and architecture, taste testing some local meats at the market. In the interest of time we made our way south into Belgium via the expressways. The photo is of the Blegny-mine, we are staying in the car park along with about fifteen other campers and some television crews, which are here covering The Tour de France.
Left the hustle and bustle of Amsterdam to head south. Stopping in Utrecht for some delicious coffee and a look around.
Spent the day wandering the streets of Amsterdam. Just recently voted No. 3 "Most liveable city in the world" I can see why; great public transport, everybody cycles, friendly people, a bit of something for everyone. You just have to avoid the city centre where the hordes of tourists swarm. I think the best way to explore a new city is to just walk around aimlessly, taking turns where you fancy, perhaps coming across a few hidden gems.
🇳🇱 Made it to The Netherlands, staying about 20kms out from Amsterdam. Not the best spot but it's free and we've been driving for over 2 hours so will have to do for the night.
Pink sky at night, sailors delight? I certainly hope that's the case. Staying the night in Harwich, ferry to the hook of holland in the morning.
🇬🇧 Finished adding final touches to the van in preparation for next weeks departure. Nervous excitement building.
|Dates:||27 Jun 2017 - 4 Oct 2017|
|Duration:||3 months, 1 week|
Follow us on our journey through Europe in "Nigel" our trusty converted transit.