Walking & Camping in the Écrins Mountains of France

A hill walker’s paradise, the Écrins Mountains has an abundance of wildflowers, charming mountain villages and traditional houses, beautiful wall-painted sundials and so much more.  It is fair to say it is one of my favourite parts of France.  The mountains of the Écrins National Park top 4,000 m and, with no roads crossing the central peaks, accessing the unsurpassed mountain walking, the prettiest villages and flower-rich Alpine meadows often involves driving on minor roads that wind steeply up deep-cut valleys.

Below are some of my favourite walks in the Écrins, although I hope to return and discover more soon.  The walks follow an anti-clockwise route around the central mountains, starting with the western valleys.  The campsites we stayed at are listed at the end of the post.

La-Chapellle-en-Valgaudemar

La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar is a small attractive village  that nestles among the mountains and is reached from the N85 north of Gap.  We stayed overnight at the campsite and woke to low cloud shrouding the mountains but it was dry as we set off walking from the village up the hillside to Les Portes.

The steep narrow path isn’t long [we were walking for about 45 minutes] but it crams in everything you would expect from a mountain walk into that short space.  You will walk through green Alpine meadows, lush woodland and areas of rocky scree, see plenty of colourful wild flowers and have views across the valley and to higher mountains.  It was early June when we visited and we identified many varieties of orchids as well as cranesbill, cowslips, globe flowers, tiny pansies and tall erect white asphodels.

At Portes des Oules we stood on the bridge looking down on the gushing waterfall as it rushed down a narrow gorge.  The pretty hamlet at Portes des Oules has some houses with thatched roofs, their tall chimneys jutting into the sky, apparently to help prevent fires.

Embrun and The Foret Domaniale de Mont Guillaume

Turning left in Gap we took the road towards Embrun and found a pitch at Camping la Vieille Ferme which is conveniently located for the impressive rock-perched town.  As dark descended, scops owls flew through the warm air, the quiet broken by their haunting calls.

We enjoyed a wonderful 14 km walk from here.  After walking into the town and enjoying the views, admiring the old town and having coffee in one of the many cafes, we climbed the hillside along a narrow road and track towards Calayère.  As we walked swallowtail butterflies followed us from flower to flower and a cuckoo called from the woodland.  We climbed higher on the minor road to Le Chateau de Calayère where we rested and watched a couple of donkeys in a field and drank in the mountain panorama.

A delightful green lane surrounded by flower meadows took us into the La forêt domaniale de Mont-Guillaume where we picked up a steep narrow path back down the hill.  In the afternoon heat the shady woodland was welcome as we followed the stream back to Embrun.

Mont Dauphin and the Marmots

Between Embrun and Briançon and below Mont Dauphin there is a marmot community and whenever we pass this way we stop to see these charming animals.  Although being so accessible they are willing to tolerate humans to some extent, we try and treat them with respect and not cause alarm.

After dawdling along the short trail around the marmot area we drove up to the fortified town of Mont Dauphin which sits above the gorge with craggy escarpments on three sides.  We crossed two moats and walked through the immense and complex defensive walls into the walled village.  Built by Vauban at the end of the 17th century this is a remarkably well preserved group of buildings.  The grid of streets are lined with pretty houses and from the walls the views along the valley are spectacular.

On a previous visit to Mont Dauphin we were camping near Guillestre and enjoyed a memorable walk from there that followed a stunning and airy path below the fortified village but high above the river.

Vallouise

Turn off the main road between Embrun and Briançon at L’Argentière-la-Bessée and follow the valley road for about 10 km to Vallouise.  We have fond memories of the campsite at Vallouise when it was a municipal site.  Now part of a chain it has lost some of the rustic charm it had but the village of Vallouise, with gorgeous houses, many decorated with ornate sundials and a central square, is still delightful.  The village is named in homage to Louis XI, remembering that in the 15th century he briefly stopped the persecution of local people.  There are lovely walks from the village but you might want to drive further up the valley for some spectacular mountain walking.

Pre de Madame Carle and the Glacier Noir path

It is a further 22 km or so from Vallouise to the end of the road and the large car park at Pre de Madame Carle but well worth the drive.  From here there are a number of fantastic walks including the Glacier Noir.  If you are looking for isolation, a bit of excitement and stunning scenery then this is your path.

At first the path zig-zags uphill but eventually you reach the narrow lateral moraine ridge that climbs steadily upwards on the north side of the glacier.  We felt privileged to have this fantastic and airy route to ourselves.  The path varies in width but is never more than a metre wide and sometimes narrower and the rock and gravel moraine slopes steeply down to the glacier on one side, while the other slope is grassier and less steep; this latter direction is the way to fall!

We walked among a dramatic landscape with dark crags around us and plenty of snow.  The tranquility was only broken by the sound of occasional falling rocks.  As we climbed higher we could hear the waterfalls at the head of the glacier.  These thundered loudly periodically as if a sluice gate was being opened and closed.  At first glance this appears to be a bleak and desolate landscape, but look closely and you will see tiny flowers surviving in the rocky moraine.  I found a cluster of tiny forget-me-nots, bright pink primula and azaleas bushes which were not yet in flower.  Marmots pottered confidently on the path in front of us, flicking their tails and moving quickly and easily on the steep terrain.  Chamois crossed our paths and sat watching us from the banks of snow.  This was heavenly.

Col du Lauteret

We have driven over the Col du Lauteret [2,057 m] on the splendid road among snow-capped mountains a number of times but only once stopped for a walk.  From the col, the well-marked Sentier des Crevasses takes walkers straight into the high mountains as it traverses the valley side.  This path is abundant with wild flowers, alpine choughs circle overhead and vultures soar.  On the hillsides we heard the piercing alarm call of marmots and stopping to look we eventually spotted them on the hillside.  The views from the narrow but easy to follow path across to the immense La Meije are spectacular.

Walking as far as the Belvedere viewpoint is easy.  Beyond here the hillside becomes steeper and the rock more unstable.

Les Terraces, Chazelet, the Combe de Martignare and Notre Dame de la Roche chapel

Some of my favourite walks in the Écrins were completed from La Grave.  This attractive village, beyond the Col du Lauteret, huddles along the steep-sided valley below La Meije.  Its stone buildings and steep narrow streets ooze character.  The Romanche river runs along the valley below the village and it is surrounded by stunning Alpine scenery.  In the winter this is a popular skiing area.

A 12 km walk took us from La Grave to Les Terraces on a steep uphill path.  Les Terraces is a quiet village perched high on the mountainside, where stone houses with balconies have an enviable view.  Continuing on towards another sleepy village, Chazelet, we stopped to take in the views at the Oratoire de Chazelet, a stone shrine.  The summit of La Meije was peeking out of the cloud, below us was to La Grave and I looked up at the circling griffon vultures knowing I wasn’t brave enough to walk far along the ‘walk of faith’ or Le Perchoir that has been built like a gang-plank from the sheer rock face.  Chazelet is another picturesque village whose busiest season is winter.  From the village we carried on to Les Plagnes and the Combe de Martignare that was a stunning sea of white with narcissi.  Picking up a path back to Chazelet we descended the mountainside to the valley on a steep zig-zag path via the precariously sited Notre Dame de la Roche chapel.

Through mountain villages to L’Aiguillon at 2095m

The mountain villages of the Écrins are beautiful places to explore.  Once again from La Grave we set off for Ventelon and on to Les Hieres.  Beyond these villages the road became a track and we had excellent views looking up the valley.  We reached the stone houses of Hameau de Valfoide where nothing disturbed the tranquility except a hare that lolloped across the lane in front of us.

After passing the Torrent le Maurian we were on a path that was initially steep until it reached grassland full of pheasant’s eyes daffodils and butterflies.  It wasn’t far from here to the bench at L’Aiguillon at 2,095 m.  We sat enjoying the views to La Meije, high enough to still be in the clouds, and below us in the valley was La Grave.  We descended through more flower-rich meadows full of bird song, giving a wide berth to the large dog guarding the sheep [there are lots of signs about how to deal with these dogs].  Joining a road we walked back up hill to Lac du Pontet, a small mountain lake and followed a stream down to Villar d’Arene that is just off the main road.  Here we found a cafe and enjoyed beers and ice-cream in a sunny square before crossing the Romanche and walking through lovely fragrant larch forest where the ground was soft underfoot with a carpet of pine needles.  The path took us over a shoulder and then onto a track back to the campsite.

Le Bourg d’Arud, Venosc and Lac Lauvitel

Below the skiing resort of Les Deux Alpes and in the north of the Écrins is the village of Venosc.  From the nearby campsite we spent a lovely day on another perfect Alpine walk.

It is worth taking time to explore Venosc, a delightful village that has a cable car up to Les Deux Alpes and is packed with shops selling crafts and bijou cafes.

From Venosc, we took a path that followed a clear river through woodland to the hamlet of La Danchère.  Here we took the right-hand path up to Lac Lauvitel and into a floral paradise; there were so many wild flowers it was impossible to stop at them all.  The stony path was relentlessly steep and at one cascade we had to scramble over a plug of snow.  In the hot weather this was tiring work but worth it for the reward when we emerged at the blue lake surrounded by craggy mountains.  Around us was an amazing natural rock garden that we wandered through to a meadow and the lakeside.

We descended on what would have been the left-hand path from La Danchère.  This was equally steep!

Well done if you have kept reading this far, as I have saved my favourite walk to the last!

La Berarde and Refuge du Chatelleret at 2,232 m

The mountain village of La Berarde is about 20 km further along the narrow road from Venosc and is the end of the road.  La Berarde is a small village with a couple of cafes and shops.  We parked the Blue Bus here and under a cloudless sky walked 11 km to the Refuge du Chatelleret at 2,232 m and back.

The route starts steeply with zig-zags rising gently up the valley on a sandy path through low shrubs.  As we climbed higher the path became stonier and there was less vegetation.  We encountered lots of marmots, a few groups of chamois and so many butterflies.

Climbing steadily it took some time to reach the refuge, high in the valley and huddled underneath the massive of La Meije.  In early June the refuge wasn’t open but the guardian was busy getting it ready for the summer season.  The beauty of this valley is breathtaking.  We sat in solitude, surrounded by craggy mountains and with magnificent views down the u-shaped valley to the twin peaks above La Berarde.  Sitting in the sunshine we noticed a strange rainbow streak in the sky above one of these peaks.  This was a cloud iridescence that lasted for about 30 minutes, moving and changing shape and fragmenting.  An amazing phenomena I have never seen before.  The descent was the same way and just as lovely the other way round.  We stopped to refresh our feet in the cold water of the river on the way.  What a fantastic hike and a great end to our time in the Écrins.

Although many walks are well-marked, we took walking maps and the Cicerone guide to Écrins National Park to help with planning and completing our walks.

Campsites in the Écrins

Les Melezes Municipal Camping, La Chapelle-en-Valgaudemar This grassy site has some trees and the ground is fairly hard.  The facilities are clean & the water hot.  The village is small with some shops but no bakery.  Lovely walks from the site.
Camping Vieille Ferme, Embrun A Dutch-run site near to a lovely town.  Some trees for shade but mostly sunny and marked grassy pitches.  Clean facilities and warm water.
Camping La Meije, La Grave A steep walk from the beautiful village & by the river,  this is a grassy site with trees, clean facilities and flowers.  The site is well maintained & has good views.  The showers are roomy with very hot water, the wash up undercover.  An all round excellent site.
Huttopia Vallouise Campsite This large rambling site has great views.  It is dotted with permanent erected tents & chalets.  The new toilet blocks are good and it has a pleasant reception area.  There are bakeries in the village.
Le Champ du Moulin Camping, Le Bourg d-Arud near Venosc The site has marked pitches, good views, a friendly welcome and a small shop where they sell morning bread.  Facilities are in the basement & are clean and warm & the showers are hot & roomy.  There is also a drying room.

Nine Campsites for a perfect campervan tour of Brittany

The pretty harbour in Audierne

We spent three weeks touring Brittany in north-west France in August this year.  We wouldn’t normally choose to travel during school holidays and August but, of course, nothing is normal in 2020.  I’m kicking myself that we didn’t travel to France in early July but at that time we thought we could continue with our plan to go in September for the autumn.  As it became increasingly clear that the situation was only going to get worse we bought our ferry date forward and we are so glad we did.

We opted to stay at campsites, rather than aires, on this trip.  All but two of the sites listed below are around the beautiful coast and I think all of them were three star sites.  Including local tourist taxes, the sites cost from €18 [ACSI discount rate as the season ended equivalent to £16.03] to €27.17 [£24.20] a night for high season and compared to the UK campsites these prices seemed reasonable.  We didn’t go swimming but most of the campsites had a swimming pool, the sanitary blocks were open at all of them, hand sanitiser was widely available but not all the sites had soap for good hand washing.

The coast of Brittany is spectacular and we enjoyed walking and cycling along its cliffs and coves.  Inland Brittany is a rural idyll dotted with pretty walled towns that are perfect for exploring.

Here is the list of where we stayed with my comments.  You will notice I appreciate a good hot shower!

Campsite nameCommentsCost per night
Camping de L’Esperance, TrebeurdenLevel grassy site by a road, reasonable pitches but long cable needed.  Facilities kept very clean, showers only warm but roomy and a good flow.  Bread available and there is a lovely 8 km walk around the nearby island.€24.80
Camping Tourony, TregastelLarge pine trees for shade over pitches of various sizes that are not necessarily level and some hedging.  Showers are jets of hot water and a little cramped.  Short walk to lovely beach, pretty bay and harbour and other longer walks.€25.60
Camping du Vougot, Plouguerneau, FinisterePeaceful site with very large pitches marked by trees and hedges.  A friendly and helpful welcome and maps for walks and local cycle routes.  Only 4 showers, so sometimes there was an evening queue but hot water & clean.  Lovely beach nearby and indoor pool on the site. €23.50
Les Bruyeres Camping, CrozonAmong trees and good size pitches, large pool but slightly unkempt air, showers standard and okay.€26.60
Camping LocronanTerraced site with views on the edge of the old beautiful town of Locronan where there are bars, cafes and shops.  Modern facilities block with hot and roomy showers and older block, both kept clean.  A friendly welcome and information on local walks around the town and to the nearby woods.  Indoor pool on the site.€27.17
Camping Kersiny Plage near AudiernTerraced site with some sea views, on a fantastic coastal cycle route in both directions.  The facilities are dated, basic and fairly open to the elements but the showers are hot.  Bread available at the friendly reception.€21.30
Camping Le Kervastard, Beg Meil, FouesnantSmall site with ACSI low season discount. Close to the town, beaches and a nature reserve. Pitches are hedged and large, the clean facilities have hot showers only spoilt by the short burst of water between button presses.  Friendly welcome at reception, bread available and small grocery shop and bars and restaurants nearby. €18.00
Camping Domaine du Roc, Le Roc St Andre near PloermelSmall cramped site by the canal and small village, no bread on site but bakery and shop nearby.  The facilities are scruffy and showers only lukewarm.  The site has a swimming pool and is popular with groups. Great flat cycling along the canal to pretty towns.€19.50
Camping Des Chevrets, St Coulomb near St MaloLarge site with good-sized marked grassy pitches.  Two beaches and headlands a short walk away and some sea views.  The showers were roomy but the temperature of the water varied somewhat and I wouldn’t call them super-clean. Pizzas available from the snack bar and a pleasant beach-side bar and restaurant. Plenty of walks from the site in all directions. This site is expensive in high season but great value with the ACSI card.€18.00

2017 Campsites through France, Italy to Greece

Greece (98)

We spent a month driving through France and then touring Greece.  Here are the campsites we stayed at until our dream trip was cut tragically short.

 

Campsite name Comments
Pont a Mousson Aire, France Busy aire by river Moselle and pleasant town, full even in April, shops nearby, toilets and shower until 20.00
Les Cent Vignes Municipal Site, Beaune, France Tidy site with hard-standing near the town centre, facilities clean, showers warm, hot water for wash-up, water on pitch and 6 amps.
Le Bourget du Lac aire near Chambery, France Marked pitches, next to campsite, no EHU, can use campsite facilities, open views
Camping Du Bourg, Digne les Bains, France Good views, chalets, friendly welcome, showers have very hot water but shower head hopeless!  Facilities clean but basic, 10 mins walk to town
Camping Val Fleuri, Cagnes sur Mer, France Marked good-sized pitches, pool, 4 km from sea, facilities clean & modern & showers hot, although push button.  Bread brought to pitch in the morning.
Campeggio dei Fiori, Pietra Ligure, Italy 800 m from the sea but peaceful.  Marked pitches, hot water, showers small, 15 mins walk to shops
Le Fonti, Cervarezza Terme, Italy Large site with lots of bungalows, pitch had spectacular views over the valley, sanitary blocks modern with doors, friendly welcome, roomy hot showers & hot water in sinks
Camper Club Mutina, Modena, Italy Well laid out sosta with some grass & trees, clean facilities & good hot showers, 30 mins cycle ride to centre & given a map at reception
Camping Village Mar Y Sierra, Stacciola near Mondolfo, Italy Terraced site & shaded pitches, lovely views across a valley to a pretty Italian town, peaceful.  Facilities clean & modern, showers cramped but hot, adjustable & continuous
Camping Acrogiai, Riza, Greece Had a pitch facing the sea, lots of statics, right on beach, pitch sloped, facilities clean & spacious, water lukewarm, 2 small yapping dogs run around freely!
Camping Apollon, Delphi, Greece Terraced site with stunning views across the bay.  English spoken at reception, bread, marked pitches with some trees, hot water for wash-up & showers, clean facilities, good
Afrodites Waters, Ancient Corinth Very friendly welcome and given fruit & honey.  Small gravel site with marked pitches but little space, 2 toilets & shower & wash-up, water lukewarm, 10 mins walk to Ancient Corinth
Nicholas II, Epidavros On the seafront and under trees, facilities shabby but clean, water only lukewarm for wash up but very hot for showers
Camping Apollon, Delphi As good as the first time!
Camping Sikia, Kato Gatzea, Pelion Peninsular Simply the best campsite.  Friendly owners, beautiful facilities, peaceful coastal location with lovely views from pitches, great walking from the site, lovely bistro.

Sedan: Add it to your wish list

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The massive fortification in Sedan

For anyone with a campervan, motorhome or a caravan there are two good reasons for visiting Sedan in northern France.  Firstly for around €9 a night you can stay at the Camping Municipal de la Prairie.  This municipal site is easy to find and is pleasantly placed by the river Meuse, with moorings for boats alongside the site and an open aspect that helps it feel more rural than urban.  We were greeted warmly by the member of staff who gave us a map of the town and told us enthusiastically about the castle and told us we could pitch where we liked on the grassy site.  The ground is a little uneven but nothing the levelling blocks couldn’t deal with.  The sanitary facilities were not the most up-to-date but were clean and the showers were good and hot and we don’t need much more than that and you can’t expect much more for the price.

Sedan is handily placed for us to reach our ferry at Zeebrugge but we arrived with enough time to visit the second reason to visit Sedan.  It has what is claimed to be the largest medieval fortified castle in Europe.

It is about a 15 minutes’ walk to the castle from the campsite and it is as magnificent and immense as you could hope, with an impressive curtain wall around the castle and courtyard and lovely views over the town from the corner bastions and the ramparts.  We explored the dark corners, alleys and stairwells that were designed to confuse the enemy and from the information boards learnt how the castle had grown over time.  I was particularly fascinated by the view into the interior of a round tower that had been enlarged over the years and seeing the interactive scale model of the castle in 1870 during the Franco-Prussian First Battle of Sedan.  The Second Battle of Sedan was in May 1940 during the German invasion of France.

After exploring the castle, we strolled around the town that has a history of cloth-making; some think that upholstery from Sedan gave the Sedan chair its name.  We found narrow streets and charming shops, lovely botanical gardens and bridges over the river Meuse.  Sedan also has an open and covered market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings.

 

La Villes-aux-Dames and Tours

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La Ville-aux-Dames mural on one of the schools

In 1974 the good people of La Ville-aux-Dames near to the city of Tours in France decided [very appropriately] to give only women’s names to their streets and roads.  I loved finding La Ville-aux-Dames [the town of women] but didn’t expect the town to have taken the female theme to such amazing heights.  Even on the lovely campsite, Les Acacias in La Ville-aux-Dames all the chalets are named after women; you can stay in Edith Piaf, Maria Callas and others.  Taking a stroll around the local area I found not only are the roads named after women, the local schools are too; as well as Avenue Jeanne d’Arc, Square Mary Queen of Scots and Rue Colette I found École élémentaire Marie Curie.  Some names were less well known to me and had me checking them out; Gabrielle d’Estrées advised Henry IV and had three children by him and I learnt that Anna de Noailles wrote three novels and poetry.

The mural in the photograph above is on one of the local schools and has images of nine French women;  Marie Curie, George Sands, Colette, Lucie Aubrac [history teacher and resistance member] and Berthe Monsit [impressionist painter] and others.  I was delighted to think that all the children who attend this school will know who these women are and what they achieved, adding a bit of balance to the male-dominated history my own schooling involved.  Just walking around the streets was an education.

The name is testimony to the abbey for nuns that was here and it is said the name La Ville-aux-Dames comes from the old name for the area, Villa Dominarum, the Latin for ladies town.  Surrounded by excellent agricultural land the local people produced milk for Tours and the inhabitants became known as ‘Caillons’ after their curd cheese.  In November La Ville-aux-Dames’ Marche des Caillons, a sponsored walk, attracts over 400 people.  Today the inhabitants of La Ville-aux-Dames call themselves Gynepolitains from the Greek words for women and town.

The campsite proved to be fantastic for visiting the lovely city of Tours.  On the confluence of the Rivers Loire and Cher we had no expectations of this city and so its beauty and charm was a surprise.  We cycled the seven kilometres in to Tours along the Loire cycle route and chaining up the bikes pottered around fairly aimlessly.  We knew of no ‘must see’ sight so we were free to just wander and admire with no pressure.

Starting at the cathedral we had coffee and cake in a lovely cafe and then followed lively streets to the old city.  Here there are pretty squares surrounded by 15th century timber-framed houses with amazing narrow extensions on the back for staircases; these looked very Disney-esque and heath robinson.

In the big market hall we explored the lovely stalls and bought fresh vegetables and local cheese and yogurt for our evening meal.  We ate at a cheap and cheerful burger and kebab cafe in a lively square and finished up with sweet peppermint tea.  Walking back to our bikes by the River Loire I fell in love with the elegant fountain [below] in the Place Anatole in front of the library.

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Beautiful and vibrant Tours

Campsites during our trip to Croatia, Italy & France

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The lovely campsite at Le Poet-Celard

During our trip through Germany and Austria to Croatia [with occasional excursions in to Slovenia] and on to Italy and France we stayed on 37 campsites.  Each site has some notes about our experience of the site:

Campsite name Number of nights Comments Cost
Camping Freizeitzentrum, Sagemuhle, Trippstadt, Germany 1 Large site by a small lake with bar & restaurant, lovely clean faclities, very hot water & indoor wash up, grassy pitches on well drained soil & open site, very good bread rolls £19.50
Hofgut Hopfenburg, Munsingen, Germany 2 Open site above the town with hard-standing walking from site in woodland, facilites excelletn, clean, warm, very hot showers, indoor wash-up, drying room, fresh bread, great site for €15.  For a fuller review read here. £15.00
Alpencamping Mark Weer Austria 2 Green site with grass & trees & friendly welcome, walking & cycling, clean facilities, good hot showers, bread rolls & lots of info £17.00
Camping Goldeck Seeboden, Austria 1 Grassy terraced site with clean facilities, building work going on & entrance steep, facilities dingy & cold but warm water, air of neglect £19.00
Camp Slapic, Duga Resa near Karlovac, Croatia 3 Nicely laid out site with open & shady pitches by river, English spoken at reception, lovely modern facilities, bar & restaurant, walking & cycling & railway station 5 mins away £19.00
Camp Marina Lozovac Sibenik, Croatia 2 Small site with marked pitches & some shade, clean facilities, roomy shower/wet rooms & hot water that runs continuous 2 kms from national park & excursions from site £15.00
Autocamp Peros Zaton Nin, Croatia 1 Small site, friendly welcome, grassy with trees, facilities basic but the water is hot & showers fine, peaceful, a few kms to Nin a lovely old town £17.00
Bluesun Camp Paklenica Starigrad, Croatia 4 Large site by the sea with bungalows & chalets, stony ground, level & pine trees for shade, modern facilities & good hot showers with no push buttons & roomy cubicles near the town £17.00
Hostel Plitvice Rastoke Camperstop, Slunj, Croatia 1 Car park with fantastic views over the river gorge to the town and EHU. £15.00
Camp Slapic, Duga Resa near Karlovac 1 Different pitch, the site now has bread in restaurant £19.00
Vugec Plac Camper Stop Samabor, Croatia 2 Small site for 4 vans, flat & grassy with 1 bathroom & sitting area / itchen & pool, all new & clean, hedged & gated in peaceful area with open views, good hot shower, friendly owner £20.00
Terme Olimia Camping Podcetrtek, Slovenia 1 Clean facilities, shaded pitches, aquapark not open so fairly peaceful but some road noise £17.00
Camping Terme Ptuj Slovenia 1 Grassy site, pitches in circular areas, busy with group from Netherlands, good hot showers £19.00
Camping Amarin Rovinj Istria, Croatia 2 A large grassy sloping site with trees, facilities basic but clean & hot water, fresh bread & shop water taxi & bus to Rovinj £17.00
Motovun Motorhome Parking Motovun, Croatia 1 Sloped gravel parking area for 12 vans, some trees only 1 shower & 1 toilet per sex, good hot showers & water by pitch £25.00
Camping Park Lijak Active Sempas near Nova Gorica, Slovenia 1 Grassy site with views of hills, friendly welcome, facilities modern & clean, water in showers only just warm enough, €5 tourist tax £17.00
Belvedere Pineta Campng Village Grado Italy 3 Large site by lagoon in pine woods, good size pitches, cycling routes from the site, no toilet seats or toilet paper, €17 on ACSI (we used some free camping cheques) good hot showers, supermarket, restaurant & bleach, wi-fi €5 a day £0.00
Lago 3 Comuni Alesso, Italy 2 Small site with pleasant bar, small pitches, showers push button & barely warm but facilities clean by a lake & mountain views £21.00
Sosta Barcis, Italy 1 Level car park by lake & cycling from site, small town with some shops, toilets nearby & water & electric on pitch, some music noise until 01.30 it was Saturday £14.00
Camping Lago Arsie, Italy 2 Level grassy site by lake with shop & restaurant, good size pitches, very little shade, helpful reception, showers hot but showerheads a burst of water rather than a shower, facilities modern £19.00
Camping Valle Verde Predazzo, Italy 3 Excellent & peaceful site in mountain valley, given a map of 10 local walks & cycle routes, facilities clean, toilet paper & paper towels, good hot showers £19.00
La Sosta, ponte di Legno, Italy 1 Car park on the edge of the mountain town with cafe & hook up, slight gradient, toilet with cafe, water on pitch £15.00
Camping Presanella Temu, Italy 1 Lovely views from this grassy site, clean facilities, cycle route from site, free wi-fi, hot showers but no heating in facilities £28.00
Camping Covelo, Iseo, Italy 4 Small site between lake & railway line, cramped pitches, friendly & helpful staff, good hot showers & clean facilities, near to town, extra €2 for lakeside £19.00
Montgenevre Aire, France 1 Large gravel aire with views over the village & mountains at 1,859 metres £13.00
Le Glandasse, Die, France 2 Large friendly site by the river popular with Dutch, marked pitches, showers small & push button, clean & almost warm enough, no toilet paper £13.00
Champ la Chevre, Lus-la-Croix-Haute, France 1 Sloping site with few level pitches but open views to the mountains & by village, indoor pool, good hot showers & clean facilities £15.00
Les Chapelains, Saillans, France 2 Small site by a town, friendly welcome, marked pitches, facilities open & showers only lukewarm & push button £15.00
Les Clorinthes, Crest, France 1 Level site with trees, friendly welcome & near to the town, facilities clean, showers push button & could be warmer £17.00
Le Couspeau Camping, le-Poet-Celard, france 2 Terraced site with wide open views across to hills, friendly welcome, 5 hrs of free wi-fi, all facilities, peaceful location, modern facilities & good hot showers, restaurant & bar £15.00
Camping de Mars, Cordelle, France 1 Overlooking the Loire, peaceful spot, facilities a bit dated & showers tepid, friendly rabbit, paid with free camping cheques so only paid tourist tax £1.10
Couleurs du Monde, Montrichard, France 1 Level site next to supermarket & 1 km from Montrichard & the Cher River, wrist bands obligatory, facilities clean but water tepid, popular with English £15.00
Les Acaacias Camping, Tours, France 2 Level site with some road noise, friendly & helpful welcome, good facilities, showers roomy & warm enough, 7 kms cycle route to Tours £17.00
Camping Les Plages de Loire, Rochefort-sur-Loire, France 1 Flat site by small town between Le Louet & Loire, facilities mixed, showers have been updated but were not very warm & push button, wash up is somewhat grim, pitches marked but narrow £13.00
Les Paludiers, Batz-sur-Mer, Le Croisic, France 2 Large rambling site with marked pitches, some very sloped, showers were roomy with sinks & warm enough in good weather, helpful reception £17.00
Municipal Campsite Corlay, France 1 Grassy area by play ground with hook up for 4 vans, toilets, basins and showers that were hot & good but a bit scruffy, no one came to be paid £0.00
Riva Bella, Ouistreham, France 2 Flat site near town & supermarkets with indoor pool but also peaceful corners, modern facilities, roomy showers with wash basins that had warm water £17.00
Camping La Fontaine des Clercs, Montreuil, France 1 The pleasant aire was full so we used this terraced site with some small pitches & dated facilties, free wi-fi, showers tepid but very hot water in sinks, popular & busy £19.90

Life in the day of a travel writer

06.22.2018 Batz sur Mer and Le Croisic (4).JPG
The beautiful bay at Batz sur Mer

 

Is being a travel writer non-stop glamour, always in business class on the plane and being wined and dined at the launch of a new hotel?  Well it isn’t like that for this campervan travel writer and I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I only write about my travels because I enjoy sharing the wonderful places I have visited and want to inspire others.  Each trip I make is a real trip that we have paid for ourselves and are trips that anyone with a ‘van could make.  I am not interested in writing about luxury tours that I wouldn’t make if someone else wasn’t paying.  I guess if you are a travel writer or editor invited on to press trips for the PR then your days might be glamour-packed but for the travel writer without a commission this is a long way from reality.  First and foremost the trips we follow in our campervan are our holidays, the payment I get for writing about it is a bonus that comes after the event.  Below might give you some idea about how much work it takes to create an article.

The work starts even before you pack a bag

Research – This can start months before we set off on a trip.  I read travel books and articles, watch TV programmes and follow other travel bloggers and sometimes a story or a place grabs me and sparks off an idea for a trip that I will run with.  Sitting at my laptop I research exciting places to visit in an area, stories that might interest readers, campsites and walking or cycling routes.  I will also look at ideas for the best photographs of the area.  This is generally internet research but I also read guide books and walking guides to learn from other people’s travels and find out about places we might enjoy visiting.

The weather – As I said these are real holidays and trips and so we get all sorts of weather but travel magazines want to see blue sky and sunshine.  In the days leading up to a trip or THE important venue during the trip I check the weather forecast obsessively – a dull day means I have to be more creative with my photography and rain plays havoc with photographs and my camera.  Magazines require good quality and colourful photographs that will inspire readers and my writing is nothing without good photographs to illustrate the words.

We arrive

Being there – This is the holiday, the easy [thanks to the planning] and certainly the most enjoyable part.  We are there and visiting the place of interest or following the walk I have planned.  At this point I am truly on holiday, as with no commission in my pocket I have no idea if an editor will buy my story.  I am in the moment and appreciating and absorbing the colours, smells and feel of a place while also taking hundreds of photographs and cursing street furniture, signs and other visitors that get in the way.  Of course I am still a writer and so I am always on the look [or listen] out for that extra something that will help make a place come alive for readers.

That evening

Sifting the photographs – I try and sort through my photographs while the day is still fresh in my head, deciding which are worth working on and which didn’t come out as I hoped.  I am a writer not a photographer and make no claim of expertise in this area.  By going through the photographs immediately I can check their quality and if they are all a disaster we might have chance to go back for a second try.

Edit the best of the photographs – Using Photoshop I try and do this on the same day, otherwise I end up with a backlog of hundreds of photographs to edit.  This can take hours!  Sometimes Mr BOTRA reads to me while I edit 🙂

Writing up notes about the things I have seen – I am a bit old fashioned here and always write my notes in long-hand in a journal at first, the pen and paper experience seems to help me to think.  I will type up these notes either that day or later and use these notes as a framework for a story.  I note down smells and sounds, as well as what we have seen and snippets of conversations that I liked, all this helps to bring the place back to me once I start writing.  I also need to keep notes of the cost of campsites and entrance fees as these are often required by magazines.

Back-up photographs and notes – I am terrified of the photographs I have worked so hard to get going missing and so I am a bit obsessive about backing up.  Photographs are left on the SD card and as well as the laptop are copied to a pen drive and a hard drive, just in case the camera and / or the laptop goes missing or gives up the ghost.

File away useful leaflets and information – I also keep leaflets from venues and for walks so that back home I can check the correct name and spelling and maybe opening times, rather than just rely on the internet.

More backing up – If wifi is available I will upload the best photographs to the web as well as the obsessive back-up procedure.  Sometimes campsite wifi can be very slow.

Back at home

The writing and editing and writing and editing …. I don’t normally start writing my articles until I am home, although ideas will have been meandering around my brain during the trip and added to my notes.  This is not a nine-to-five job for me and so I have the luxury to be able to be a slow writer and generally spend around two weeks on a 2,000 word article, constantly checking facts, seeking the right words to describe a place and adding the reference information.

Choosing photographs – From the hundreds of photographs I have taken this gradually has to be whittled down to the 30 photographs that I think would look best in a glossy magazine.  This can be a painful as well as a time consuming process.

If you still want to have a go at being a travel writer I can highly recommend it and there is some useful guidance here.

In contrast

At the end of our trip around Croatia, Italy and France we had a few day in Brittany that won’t appear in any of my travel articles.  We were meeting friends and socialising in the the lovely resorts of Batz-sur-Mer and Le Croisic and later in the pretty inland town of Corlay in Brittany.  It was these few rest days that inspired me to write about the work involved in being a travel writer, as the down time I had made me realise how much free time I have when I’m not doing all of the above!

 

Two months campervan trip to Croatia, Italy & France: what did it cost?

05.05.2018 Krka National Park (1).JPG
Krka National Park in Croatia

On our long foray to the European mainland we spent just over two months from April to June travelling around Europe in our campervan.  I always monitor the spending of our trips.  Sp how did the spending go?  For various reasons this trip was certainly more expensive than our autumn trip to Spain and Portugal.  Here is the breakdown in sterling:

  • Diesel – £610 (Croatia is quite a long way and we travelled over 4,200 miles)
  • Supermarket shopping – £956 (we did stock up on wine)
  • Cafes, restaurants & ice-creams – £467
  • Campsites – £983 (for 64 nights)
  • Tolls, bus & train fares & parking – £218
  • Entrance fees – £279 (including about £100 for the Krka National Park excursion)
  • Miscellaneous – £115 [maps, campsite washing machines, occasional wifi & bits of kit]
  • Ferry [return Hull to Zeebrugge] – £489
  • TOTAL – £4,117 – average [without the ferry] £55 / day [this is £11 a day more than our autumn trip to Spain and Portugal]

We had travelled a long way to Croatia and to some extent this affected our spending.  We paid almost €110 for the two of us an excursion in a minibus around Krka National Park.  This tour [organised through Camp Marina] meant that we saw more than we would have and for us it was well worth it.  We used some toll motorways in Croatia and bought vignettes for Austria and Slovenia.

Not surprisingly the cheapest country we stayed in was France with some nights of free camping and plenty of ACSI sites that are reasonably priced.  Campsites are notoriously expensive in Italy but we stayed on some very good sostas to keep our costs down.

We had a fantastic trip and we both loved visiting Croatia but to stay within budget during our retirement a trip this costly isn’t something we can do every year.

 

 

 

Doorways & windows around Europe: some ramblings

 

 

Looking through my photographs from recent trips in our campervan one theme stands out.  I have to acknowledge that I can’t help myself; I am always taking photographs of doors and windows.  You might ask how many photographs of doorways and windows one travel writer needs and the answer is clearly an infinite number.  Wherever I am, either at home in Salford and Manchester or in a new village or city, I look for the detail in doorways and check out buildings above the shops to see the windows and the details on the buildings.  This got me thinking, what is it about doors and windows that appeals to me.  I am certainly drawn to an unusual and beautiful doorway and window and I am a real sucker for shutters and stained glass.  But is it just the aesthetics of the doors and windows themselves or is it something more?  Windows and doors are portals to an inner world that is often private.  Am I secretly longing to know what is behind the openings or am I more interested in what might emerge from those doors and windows?

The Romans had a god for many things, including doorways.  Janus, usually shown as a two-faced god, looks to the future and the past and was also the god of beginnings endings and transitions; the Romans understood the lure and significance of the doorway.    Doors, although often beautiful, are closed; they act as the border between the open street and private space.  A closed door has potential but what is hidden beyond may be good and exciting or it may be evil.  The locked door is a familiar metaphor in many tales; we have to get beyond these closed doors to reach something we are seeking.  A locked door is both a temptation into the unknown and a barrier to access; knocking on an unfamiliar door is always daunting.   Doors have the duality of Janus, being closed and open, locked and unlocked, positive and negative and these contradictions are intriguing.

In contrast, windows are transparent, we can see inside and out through the glass.  Windows are also a public stage for beautiful objects; in our 80-year old flat we have wide windowsills and we use these to display favourite objects, a single ornament and an ancient inherited plant in a pot.  By placing these at the public face of the house we are sharing them with the wider world.  Windows are the eyes of the house and the items in the window give a glimpse behind those eyes.

Standing and staring out of a window is a way to travel to other places without moving from home.  Our flat has lots of windows that let the morning and evening sun flood in to the rooms and from these windows I watch the outside world, creating stories in my head.  Whenever we arrive somewhere new the first thing I do [before I check out the interior] is go to the windows and look at the view; I think this is me getting my bearings in a new place, finding out where the sun rises and who I can see and be seen by.  Looking up in a new city I like to imagine myself standing at some of the beautiful windows I see; I wonder how life in this street looks from above and what it would be like to live there.  For me windows only represent the positive; openings to different perspectives and portals for fresh air and sunlight.

The photographs in this post are really just a small selection from my collection of doorways and windows.  The evidence of my addiction is right before your eyes!

 

Top tips for campsites and stop overs when you are abroad

09.14 Vila Praia de Ancora campsite
Idyllic Portuguese campsite

Prompted by a fellow Devon ‘van owner I have given some thought to the baffling array of guides out there for motorhomers to use, buy or download to help you find a campsite in mainland Europe.  Very few motorhomers have unlimited amounts of space to store numerous guides and unlimited amounts of money to purchase them so how do you choose what to spend your hard-earned on?  When travelling we generally plan on a day-by-day basis and out-of-season and in more remote areas you can’t always rely on just coming across somewhere suitable to stay [either a campsite or wild camping pitch] without a bit of planning.  Below is a guide to the resources we have found most useful when we travel abroad.  Each guide or app has its plus points as well as its limitations.

Guides, apps and websites

ACSI card scheme – This is great value for out-of-season touring (from September to June) and this is our first port of call when we are looking for a campsite so that we can get maximum value from it.  You pay for the card and books and campsites in the scheme charge either €11, €13, €15, €17 or €19 per night for two adults with electric.  The card scheme has 1,541 campsites in France in 2018 and just 26 in Portugal, so its usefulness will depend where you are going.  In France municipal sites [see below] can be cheaper than the ACSI sites but in Italy [331 campsites], where campsites are expensive, the ACSI card can contribute a significant saving to your holiday.

Caravan and Motorhome Club Guides – We have these guides for all of Europe and they are sold with a good discount for members.  The entries and campsite reviews are from members and can be quirky and brief.  We like to read between the lines of these reviews and do find these books of assistance, even though the information is not always up-to-date.

The ACSI App – In addition to the ACSI card book we have this app on our phones.  This has a wider selection of campsites than those in the discount card scheme as it contains all campsites inspected by ACSI and is regularly updated.  If you have WiFi or data the ACSI website is also a great resource particularly for the camper’s reviews as well as the information about sites.

All the Aires – We carry this if we are travelling in a country it is available for; the books are fairly comprehensive and kept as up-to-date as a book can be and give an honest review of each aire, its facilities, its outlook and how comfortable it is.

Camperstop App – It is worth paying the €5.49 / year for this app which is invaluable for both campsites and aires / stop overs.  The app has photographs and reviews of sites which can really help in deciding where to go. The app knows your location and this is handy when we arrive at a campsite or stop over that we don’t like the look of as it can tell us where our nearest options are.

In France we will look for municipal campsites in small towns as these are generally good value and near to the town centre for [the essential] bakeries and bars.

Others have recommended Search for Sites and I’ve tried it out and it looks helpful but this isn’t something we have used much.

Home-based research & recommendations

In addition to the above we will research areas we are fairly certain we will be going to, particularly national parks and mountain areas where there are often few campsites and we are looking for the best situation for walking.  This might be Google searches, Rough Guide / Lonely Planet information, some Cicerone Guides include campsites and we sometimes ask a question about an area on a motorhome forum or Facebook page where there are generous well-travelled people with a wide range of knowledge.

You also can’t beat personal recommendations from other campers you meet on the way and these have sometimes taken us to interesting places that we never expected to visit when we set off.

To book or not & the one house rule

We generally travel with only a rough plan and are not interested in tying ourselves down by booking campsites when we are abroad.  We have never found this necessary, even when we have been away in July and August so long as we are flexible enough to move on if a site is full [see the house rule below].

Our house rule is to start looking for somewhere for the night by around 17.00.  This is just because we did get caught out in Mecklenburg in northern Germany on one trip.  There were plenty of campsites around the Mecklenburg lakes and none of them were full as it was only June.  The mistake we made was to be too busy enjoying a lovely sunny evening and leaving looking for a campsite until after 18.00 and German campsites don’t keep the evening hours that are common in southern Europe [and even Poland where we had just come from].  At each campsite we arrived at reception was closed and the barriers were down.  We eventually got a pitch on a site that we could drive in to but we didn’t have the key for the toilets and had to hang around for another camper to show up to use them, which was somewhat disconcerting for other campers!