50 Campervan Nights in Germany & the Netherlands: Is Everything More Expensive in 2022?

On social media sites I have read posts from fellow campers who have experienced price rises on their trips to mainland Europe this year. Everyone’s holiday experience is different but I was prompted to compare our spending during our 50 days travelling around Germany and the Netherlands in May and June against previous trips. As I say, everyone spends their money in their own way and so comparisons are hard but we are fairly consistent in what we buy. As usual on this trip we stayed on campsites and stellplatz, making as much use of our ACSI card as we could; we consciously didn’t drive as far as we might have done in the past and we are two wine-drinking vegetarians who mostly cycle and walk all day. We have a budget for our trips but, apart from the diesel, didn’t actively cut back on our holiday spending as we were so excited to be back in mainland Europe! Below is the detail of what we spent and my thoughts on increases.

Diesel €429 / £369

Of course, diesel prices have increased over the last few years but we only drove around 2,000 km while we were away on this trip [we could have travelled that far in Scotland]. We were never in a rush and this slow travel approach kept our diesel costs down. Also, our Renault Master likes being in mainland Europe and gave us its best mpg ever at around 39 mpg!

Supermarkets €664 / £571

The cost of food in Germany and the Netherlands varied compared to the UK for individual items but overall we spent about the same as we would have had we been at home. We are both vegetarian and have a weakness for delicious German veggie frankfurters, garlicy vegetable spreads and German beer so stocked up on these. We do take teabags with us!

Including the two dozen bottles of beer and half-a-dozen bottles of German wine we returned home with, our supermarket spending was the equivalent of €13.28 / day and 20% of our spending. Looking back at previous trips comparison is complicated. Last time we were in Europe was 2020 in France and we spent an average of €18.87 / day but we did return home with around two dozen bottles of wine. In 2018 in Spain we averaged €12.05 / day and also came home with a similar amount of wine. From these figures I would say that food and drink has increased a little but no more than in the UK.

Cafes, ice-creams and eating out €616 / £530

Wow! That is a lot of treats but it is one of those things I am loathe to give up. Stopping for coffee or beer and cake at a German cafe or bar is a fun part of our holiday experience and it looks like we did this loads. If we were trying to save money we could definitely have cut down on this. This amount is about 30% more than we would spend at home but this has nothing to do with it being more expensive than the UK. We just couldn’t resist the lure of a cafe and it soon mounts up. We had some lunches out, lots of ice-creams, some beers, plenty of coffees with cake but didn’t have an evening meal that wasn’t cooked in our campervan and this is something we would normally do. Given this, the €12.32 / day we spent is quite a staggering amount and appears to represent increased cost in Germany and the Netherlands as we have never spent anything like this amount in the past.

Overnights €1,137 / £997

It is a couple of years since we have travelled in mainland Europe and we certainly noticed how the cost of campsites has increased, as it has in the UK. Even making as much use as we could of our ACSI card this was a big chunk of our holiday spending, averaging about £20 / night and 32% of our spending. Even the stellplatz we used were around €15 a night and others could save lots of money if you sought out free stellplatz with no EHU and used your own facilities.

We use campsites for a number of reasons and the first one is that I love being on campsites! I enjoy meeting people, nipping out to collect the morning bread rolls for breakfast and I am happy going out cycling or walking for the day feeling confident that the Blue Bus is safe. That said, we do like to find a quiet and isolated pitch! What has changed me is Covid-19. We appear to have been extremely lucky and neither of us have suffered from Covid-19 but we could have caught it while we were away and quickly become too poorly to travel. Being ill in the ‘van isn’t a lot of fun and with no solar panel my anxiety levels would have been sky high without at least having EHU if we had to isolate in the ‘van for a week!

In 2020 in France we averaged €17.61 / night during August. The cost has probably gone up there too but German campsites have always been more expensive than France.

It would be hard to average £20 / night using campsites in the UK in 2022 and the reasonable cost of overnights is a big plus for travelling in the EU.

Trains, buses and ferries €210 / £180

We just missed the bargain €9 a month rail travel tickets in Germany as by the time these were available we had no plans to catch more trains. C’est la vie! The trains got us into cities, we crossed the Elbe on numerous ferries and used the Edam to Amsterdam bus service. We rarely had to pay for parking and train fares were generally cheaper than the UK.

Entrance fees €113 / £97

We were exploring so we paid to go into a few places as we travelled around. Prices for castles and museums were similar or less than in the UK.

Miscellaneous €143 / £122

This covers occasional wi-fi, washing machines and a few gifts for folk back home. Wi-fi availability in German was patchy, some campsites provided it, some didn’t, sometimes it was excellent and sometimes it was only just better than dial-up!

DFDS Newcastle to IJmuiden ferry return fare for two and a campervan with all meals £705.

When we first stopped working the nine-to-five jobs in 2017 we budgeted to travel across to mainland Europe twice a year. This was when the ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge cost about £500. This 40% increase in the cost of the ferry means that in 2022 we decided to only travel by ferry once during the year as our savings, while resilient enough, are feeling a stretch as everything increases in price

The cost of the DFDS ferry seems reasonable compared to the cost of our Brittany Ferries Portsmouth to St Malo trip in 2020, which cost £864 in high season!

Total cost of our 50-day trip – £3,551 / £71 per day

At £71 / day you can’t call our Germany and Netherlands trip a cheap holiday. Our August Brittany trip in 2020 cost us £84 / day but this was partly due to the ferry and wine stocks. A more similar length trip of 50 nights in Spain in 2018 cost us about £500 less. On this trip we spent £3,084 [approximately £60 / day] and given that the Portsmouth to Bilbao ferry was around £200 more than our DFDS ferry that seems like good value.

Inflation is here and doesn’t look like it is going away in the short term but the enjoyment we get from travelling around mainland Europe makes the cost worthwhile and I know we are lucky to be able to afford it.

The River Elbe in Germany

This year we explored the River Elbe from Dresden in the south-east of Germany to Cuxhaven in the north. Following this long river in our campervan turned out to be a fantastic way to be both focused and relaxed on a trip. We explored so many attractive towns and cities and spent days cycling and walking through glorious nature reserves. The Elbe took us to parts of Germany we might not otherwise have reached and broadened my knowledge about this fascinating country.

I first travelled along the banks of the River Elbe in 1992. We arrived on the overnight train from Köln, changing in Dresden for a train to Prague. While our six-year old son charmed the other passengers in our compartment, shyly accepting sweets and drinks, I was enchanted by the river. The railway line follows the Elbe through the rugged narrow gorge of the Sächsische Schweiz, it was magical and I knew I would return. Roll forward a few years and our summer holiday began with a ferry from Harwich to Hamburg. This time I was on [rather than alongside] the River Elbe and I stood on deck as we chugged along the wide river into the massive port of Hamburg. This has to be up there as one of the best ferry trips I have ever taken, it is a shame it no longer exists.

The River Elbe is 1,094 km long. It rises in the Czechia mountains that border Poland, winds through Czechia until it eventually settles on heading north and crossing the border into Germany. After Dresden and Meissen, the Elbe flows across the North German plain towards the North Sea. The cities of Wittenberg, Dessau and Magdeburg sit on the Elbe before you reach Hamburg. And yet, it is the pasture and marshes of the Elbe’s floodplain that characterise the river through much of its German journey.

For the most part the Elbe was either in the DDR [German Democratic Republic or East Germany] or formed the border between the DDR and West Germany from the end of the Second World War until 1989. The legacy of this is lush riverbanks of wildflower meadows, farmland and wetland wildlife reserves with dykes to try and stop flooding. These dykes are often well away from the river, giving it space to flood naturally while still [hopefully] protecting villages.

When I learnt that the Elbe [like many / most German rivers] has a cycle path alongside it, I bought the guidebooks and started planning. In 2020 [BC – Before Covid-19] I had a pile of guides and maps and notes galore from my research for a trip from the source of the Elbe to Cuxhaven and the North Sea. Of course, that didn’t happen and in this AC [After Covid-19] world and taking into account the high cost of diesel following the Russian invasion and war in Ukraine the trip became something simpler. We concentrated on the section of the Elbe from Dresden to Cuxhaven, saving a considerable amount in diesel.

We used the Bikeline Elbe Cycle Route Part One and Two guidebooks in English. Cicerone now produce an Elbe Cycle Path guide that I am sure is excellent. I also got hold of useful brochures from this website. In many places the cycle route runs on both sides of the river and this, and the many ferries [see the end of the post for more on ferries], made circular day rides easy to plan. We travelled up and down the Elbe for about four weeks, often only driving about 50 km between campsites. You could do the trip more quickly!

Maybe it was because we weren’t in a rush, or the flat landscape or the rural areas with less urban stop-start driving but our campervan gave us the best mileage per litre of diesel we have ever got from it [the equivalent of about 39mpg]. Maybe with about 65,000 miles on the clock our Renault Master is just run in! Either way, we only filled up four times in our whole seven-week trip and one of those was just to take advantage of slightly cheaper diesel!

The cycling was really the highlight of the Elbe and I would recommend the river to anyone who enjoys pedaling through flat green countryside, stopping in pretty towns and villages for a beer or an ice-cream. Below are brief overviews about some of the wonderful places we visited as inspiration for anyone considering a trip to Germany as well as a section about the Elbe ferries at the end. This previous post has the list of campsites we used.

Dresden

This city has changed since 1992 when the Frauenkirche was still a pile of rubble and the pedestrianised Prager Strasse a wide Soviet showpiece boulevard. Don’t miss the transformed Prager Strasse and a walk around the roof-top terrace of the late Baroque Zwinger Palace.

Meissen

Meissen is delightful and I should never have left visiting it for so long. The view of the town from the Elbe is spectacular, the streets are attractive and if you like up-market window shopping or sipping a glass of local wine in a pretty square then this is the place for you!

Mühlberg & surroundings

This sleepy little town surprised me. Mühlberg has a magnificent convent church, a pink town hall and other inviting corners along its cobbled streets. Our campsite pitch was idyllic and from Mühlberg we cycled up and down stream through a rural area that was packed with wildlife.

Torgau

Celebrated as the place where American and Russian forces met at the end of the Second World War this is an exceptionally attractive town with a striking castle and a big square that is perfect for people watching. The only thing that spoilt our visit was the heartbreaking sight of magnificent brown bears that are kept in the enclosed moat.

Wittenberg

Internationally known for its association with the Protestant reformation, Wittenberg is lovely enough to visit whether the activities of Martin Luther in 1517 interest you or not. The main streets, lined with open water channels that were once part of the Medieval water system, take you to a handsome square and the town has a ring of parks.

Wörlitz Park

On a sunny day a visit to the fairytale gardens of Wörlitz Park are hard to beat. Rowing boats slide under elegant wooden bridges, a flat-bottomed ferry crosses the lake from a kneeling Venus statue. Across lawns you catch glimpses of follies and peacocks potter around the Gothic House. I am not sure if it is real!

Oranienbaum

In the 17th century the Princess of Orange-Nassau chose to put her summer palace near to Wörlitz and insisted the village name be changed to Oranienbaum.  Orange trees line the garden walks and the palace faces a square with a metal orange tree sculpture.  Beyond this House of Orange symbolism there is an Chinese garden with a pagoda and a charming tea house. 

Dessau

The Bauhaus art school was a radical movement that combined art, crafts and technology in 1920s Germany. The Bauhaus Building in Dessau is an icon of modern architecture and the innovative Master’s Houses, that can also be visited, are inspiring. I was thrilled to be there.

Magdeburg

The city of Magdeburg is lively and energetic with many fine sights. For me the most inspiring was the last building the architect Hundertwasser designed, Die Grüne Zitadelle. Taking a tour around this amazing unsymmetrical structure with lush garden roofs is an opportunity to see a different future for city housing.

Around Jerichow

North of Magdeburg we spent a few days cycling through the woodland and flower-rich wetland meadows between Jerichow and Burg. Jerichow has a large and impressive brick-built monastery and the town of Burg retains some of its medieval fortified walls.

Tangermünde

We only spent a morning in Tangermünde but could easily have stayed longer. This historic town on the banks of the Elbe was at its height in the 15th century when it was a member of the Hanseatic League. Numerous brick Gothic buildings tell the story of the town’s wealth, along with the almost entirely preserved city walls and fortified gates. I want to return and stay in one of the town’s pretty timber-framed houses on its cobbled streets.

Havelberg & Werben

We cycled to the quaint town of Werben from Havelberg [on the River Havel where it joins the Elbe], taking the ferry across the Elbe. Werben celebrates its storks and has plenty of them. I felt privileged to get the chance to look down on tiny chicks in a stork’s nest from Werben’s gatehouse and tower.

Dömitz

The town of Dömitz has large star-shaped 17th century fort. The elbow-shaped defensive entrance tunnel proved useful for shelter in a hail storm. We watched the hail bounce off the cobbles while staying dry. From the fort’s remaining bastions there are views of the Elbe and the new road bridge. When the sun returned Dömitz was also the place to try DDR softeis [ice-cream].

Hitzacker

The picturesque island town of Hitzacker has a long history of tourism and it is still a popular place to visit with a car park big enough for motorhomes and an overnight parking area too. The small touristy town of timber-framed houses has plenty of places to eat and some interesting independent shops.

Around Lauenburg

We stayed a few nights on a campsite between Bleckede and Lauenburg and enjoyed some glorious days of cycling. In a country full of attractive towns, Lauenburg, strung along the bank of the Elbe, stands out for being particularly delightful. The countryside is green and dotted with handsome farmhouses and tidy villages. We were lucky enough to watch a barge being carried up the massive boat lift at Scharnebeck too.

Hamburg

The Elbe is a busy shipping waterway by the time it reaches Hamburg, which might be my favourite German city [although there is lots of competition]. I find the huge container port fascinating, the city’s energy addictive and the number of beautiful historic sights captivating. We arrived by ferry from Finkenwerder and walked through the Old Elbe Tunnel under the river. If you’ve never been, put Hamburg on your list!

Stade

Across the Elbe from Hamburg is an area called the Altes Land. This large fruit-growing area is both wealthy and scenic. We cycled around the numerous orchards and spent a day in the town of Stade, pottering around the historic centre and visiting the open air museum learning about the symbolism of the decorative features on local buildings.

Cuxhaven

Cuxhaven is the end of the road for the River Elbe. Here the wide river is busy with shipping as it flows into the North Sea. Cuxhaven is a fishing town and seaside resort. Along the coast the sandy beaches are vast and you can hire a strandkorb, a covered seat for two, for protection from the wind.

Bridges and ferries

All of the Elbe ferries we used carried bikes and passengers, even the small ones, while larger ferries carried a few cars too. We paid between €3 and €5 to cross the river, the price seeming to have nothing to do with the width of the river!

Many Elbe bridges were destroyed during the Second World War by retreating German troops. With no need or desire to re-establish those connections across the Iron Curtain during the Cold War there are still a relative small number of bridges across the Elbe. Another factor is that the Elbe regularly floods and bridges need to be long enough to span the floodplain and have an elevation that can cope with high water. This makes them expensive to build!

At Neu Darchau, which found itself in West Germany after the Second World War, we came across a campaign to stop a new bridge across the Elbe. On the opposite bank is Darchau, which was in the DDR. The re-connection of the two villages when Tanja, the local ferry made the first trip in 1989, is remembered and celebrated.  At the ferry slipway we read about the ferry, admired the lovingly-made model Tanja, and learnt why these small communities see no need for a proposed massive bridge across this green section of the Middle Elbe Reserve.

Tried & Tested: 21 German & Netherlands Campsites

In May and June 2022 we spent seven weeks touring Germany and The Netherlands. We caught the DFDS ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden and explored at a slow pace, staying at 21 different places during our trip for up to four nights. We made good use of our ACSI low season discount card.

Campsite nameComments
Germany
Wilsumer Berge, WilsumThis is a large grassy site surrounded by trees.  It is mostly level but some pitches can be slightly uneven.  The facilities are cleaned regularly & the five minute showers are roomy & hot.  The free wifi is good and the site is peaceful.  The check-in process seemed a bit long winded & the automatic barrier wouldn’t recognise our number plate.  We stayed here on the way there and back & walked through the forest to the nearby village.  It was about £25/night in May and a couple of £s more in June.
Camping Bambi, Bosingfeld, ExtertalAn extremely peaceful & green site with marked pitches.  We had a view over a pond from our pitch and there was lots of birdsong here.  No bread is available & the facilities are dated but clean with hot showers & indoor wash up sinks.  There are walks and cycle routes from the site.  The ACSI price includes 4 kw/day of electric which was enough for us in summer and the site is around £15 / night with an ACSI card.
Wohnmobilpark Stadtbad Okeraue, WolfenbüttelThis is a level & nicely laid out parking area with clear pitches.  On arrival you need to book in at the sports centre.  There is some road noise but trees do screen it.  The facilities are 2 toilets & 2 showers for each sex and these are clean with hot showers.  A pitch costs about £12.50 a night.
Campingplatz Barleber See near MagdeburgThis large site is by a lake with a number of camping fields, no defined pitches & a long cable might be needed.  There is some road noise.  The facilities are clean but the showers a bit hit & miss for temperature.  No bread was available when we visited.  There is good cycling from the site & the railway station for Magdeburg is about 2kms away.  The site cost around £20 a night in May.
Heide-Camp Schlaitz near BitterfeldThis is another large campsite where long electric leads are needed.  We received a friendly welcome in German & bread was available daily.  The facilities are clean with hot continuous & adjustable showers but just 1 hook to hang your clothes & the shower heads are at chest height (we got used to this)!  The cycling and walking from the site are fantastic.  It cost around £17 a night in May.
Rast-und Campingplatz Marina MühlbergSituated on a small lake and on the Elbe Radweg (so plenty of cycling options) this is a grassy & fairly level site with facilities reached by a flight of steps.  If you can’t manage the steps there are a few hard-standing pitches on the same level as the toilets.  No English was spoken at reception.  The facilities are clean & modern & the showers hot, adjustable & roomy.  The site is by a small town with a convent church, a supermarket and bakery and cost about £20 a night.
Campingplatz Rehbocktal, MeissenThis green & tranquil site with marked out pitches was a big hit with us.  English was spoken at the friendly reception, bread was available & the facilities were clean with hot adjustable showers.  The site is on the Elbe Radweg and just 4kms from beautiful Meissen  This was the most expensive campsite we stayed at, costing about £27.50 a night but still our favourite.
Camping Am Grossen Lausiger Teich, PretzschThis large site is by a small lake and has mostly marked out pitches.  The showers were cramped with poor lighting, were €1 for four minutes & were hot.  The rural site has plenty of walking and cycling options.  We paid around £22 / night which includes approx £3 for 3.5kw of metered electric.  
Wörlitz Park car parkThere is a stellplatz at Wörlitz with EHU but that gets busy & is around €15 so we opted to have our own space on the large level car park for €5 for 24 hours.  There are toilets from 07.00 until 19.00 and the car park was quiet and is very near to the beautiful park.
Campingplatz Magdeburg, SchönebeckWe stayed here for a night during a holiday weekend and so didn’t see it at its best & had a small cramped pitch.  The campsite is by the Elbe and there are some lovely pitches with views.  The showers are €1 each & are hot but you don’t have much room.  The electric is metered & the owners are friendly but don’t speak much English.  To get hot water at the washing up sinks you have to pay 50c.  The site has a small bar and is about 2kms from the centre of the town in an industrial area.  This cost around £21.50 / night.
La Porte Wohnmobilstellplatze BertingenThis newly developed 50 place camping area is in trees & by a hotel.  The site has new modern facilities & self-service touch-screen check in (available in English).  The check-in machine gives you a card that is used to access all the facilities (EHU, toilet emptying, water, showers) & updates to show what you have spent.  We had some difficulties figuring out how to use this for the showers but eventually got there and had excellent hot showers.  We saved money by switching the shower off while we lathered up & this way could shower for around 30c.  The automatic system went wrong somewhere & didn’t charge us for extras & so it was good value at just the basic €15 / night!
Campinginsel HavelbergWhile reception is lovely, the rest of this site is slightly rundown.  It is near to the town with reasonable sized pitches that are marked.  The facilities are also scruffy but we appreciated the good hot showers that are adjustable, continuous & spacious & have a sink.  The site is near the river & has a small cafe at reception where bread is available.  With the tourist tax we paid almost £27 a night.
Wasser-Wander-Zentrum DömitzA small & pleasantly arranged site with some marked pitches that slope a little, 4 bathrooms & additional toilets.  The showers are temperature adjustable, hot & clean.  The site is near to the large fort & by the town.  With showers & metered electric this cost around £22/night.
Camping Elbeling, BleckedeA prettily laid out rural and grassy site that is Dutch run, this is a well organised campsite with morning bread & a restaurant.  The facilities are kept clean but the showers were only just warm enough for me & cost 50c for 2 mins, so if you have long hair you need lots of 50c pieces!  It is on Elbe cycle path and there is plenty of good cycling.  With an ACSI card this was about £19/night.
Freizeit-Camp-Nordheide, Garlstorf (west of Luneburg)A large woodland campsite that is geared up for transit overnights.  It has a large sanitary block that is dated but functional with good hot continuous showers.  Toilet paper is on a large roll outside the cubicles.  With an ACSI card this site cost around £15.50 / night.
Camping Nesshof, GuderhandviertelThis rustic and green farmhouse site has bushes & trees around the narrow, somewhat cramped pitches.  The showers are dated but very hot & adjustable.  Bread is available & the site sells local apple juice & a few other food items.  The site is just 5kms from the train station for Hamburg & on the Elbe Radweg so there is plenty of good cycling in the area.  Around £21/night.
Beckman Camping, Nordholz near CuxhavenAn ACSI discount card site with marked pitches, clean & modern facilities & indoor wash up.  It is by an airport & planes took off during the daytime.  Fresh bread is available at the snack bar.  The push button showers were only just warm but the facilities were clean.  The site was around £17/night.
Campingplatz am Königssee, ZetelA busy site by a lake, the reasonable-sized pitches are grassy & some were marked with hedges.  Tokens give a four minute shower which were good & hot in clean & modern facilities.  Reception was friendly although no English was spoken.  No bread was on sale & there are no nearby shops.  Excellent cycling in the area.  The site was around £17 / night.
Campsite nameComments
Netherlands
Camping ‘t Oppertje, LelystadThe pitches are laid out in small groups on this campsite with central facilities that are clean, with roomy showers for five minutes that are just warm enough.  There are trees and bushes and lots of sparrows & geese on the site.  Free wifi that is fast is provided.  Fantastic cycling from the site around the nature reserve & into Lelystad.  With an ACSI card this cost about £20/night.
Camping de Kolibrie near AlkmaarA large rural site with unmarked pitches mostly arranged around the edge of fields.  The free wifi was good.  The facilities are clean & it cost 50c for a four minute shower in a roomy cubicle but the water was only just warm enough.  Bread is available at reception every day.  There is good cycling in the area including to Alkmaar and the coast.  With an ACSI card this cost under £19/night.
Camping Strandbad, EdamThis is a large popular and crowded site on the Markermeer.  Tokens provided timed showers that were variable, the block near reception was better & cleaner with hotter water.  There is access to the beach & the site has a bar & restaurant.  Edam is a delightful town & is about 15 minutes walk away.  Regular buses to Amsterdam leave from the bus station  This site cost around £20/night with an ACSI card.

Ride: Cycle The World

Some of my time in Lock Down One was spent writing about two impressive European cycle rides for a new DK Eyewitness book, Ride: Cycle The World. Writing about two very different cycle routes took me back to trips to stunning inland Spain and historic Germany. Austria and Hungary. I hope my contribution inspires others to pack a saddle bag and pedal into the distance.

Ride: Cycle The World came out in April 2021 and features 100 amazing cycle routes from across the globe, 32 of them in Europe. This is the book that could inspire you to grab your bike and cycle some ups and down from the south of Wales to the north or around the dramatic Applecross Peninsular. Maybe Paris to the magical tidal island of Mont St-Michel appeals to you or just packing a couple of t-shirts, shorts and sun cream for some summer cycling between the island of Croatia that sit in the turquoise-blue Adriatic. Further afield the epic rides featured include Bolivia’s infamous Death Road and island hopping in Japan.

Each contributor has written about what they know. The 1,228 km Danube Cycle Route from the source in Germany to Hungary’s Budapest is a classic ride that takes cyclists through five memorable countries and three capital cities, connecting a diversity of peoples and landscapes.  It can be completed in one long ride or [like us] in sections. A largely traffic-free cycle path, this is a perfect bikepacking trip for beginners; you are always pedalling downstream and the river’s banks burst with significant and fascinating places making the really tough part fitting everything in! Popular with Germans and worldwide there will always be another cyclist to chat to over a beer or a coffee and share riding adventures. Should you be unlucky and have a breakdown, there is always a passing experienced cyclist with a better tool kit than you!

My second route was a shorter but equally wonderful cycle ride through inland Spain. At 129 km you could cycle the Ojos Negros Via Verde downhill and in a day if you are in a rush but I prefer the less hurried uphill version. Climbing steadily inland from lush Valencian orange groves through changing scenery and charming small towns, the Ojos Negros take the cyclist to Teruel, a World Heritage Site. The via verde or greenway follows a disused railway line and is pleasurable leisurely cycling through attractive off-the-beaten-track Spain. Teruel is the place to immerse yourself in Aragon’s Mudéjar Art. This elegant fusion of Islamic art and European-Christian styles flourished from the 12th to 17th centuries and is characterized by intricate geometric patterns of terracotta bricks and glazed tiles. Teruel has three outstanding Mudéjar towers and the Cathedral’s decorative wooden ceiling is the Sistine chapel of Mudéjar art.

A fantastic book to buy for yourself if you’re looking for inspiration for your first bikepacking adventure, this is also the perfect gift for any intrepid cyclist in your life. As well as descriptions of each ride, maps and practical information the book includes tips for the best places to eat and not-to-be-missed highlights and practical guides to help you choose a bike and the kit you need.

Campsites during our trip to Croatia, Italy & France

06.15.2018 Le Poet Celard (3).JPG
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

Most German campsites are excellent but some are more excellent than others

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The Swabian Alb biosphere near Münsingen is perfect for cycling

We rarely plan much when it comes to our trips around Europe, so much depends on what we want to do, how we feel and the weather.  And so we rolled in to Hofgut Hopfenburg campsite near to the pretty town of Münsingen in Baden-Württemberg and south of Ulm expecting little more than a comfortable place to overnight.  We received a friendly welcome and I left reception with a local cycling map and information about the nearby Swabian Alb biosphere, a local nature reserve.  This looked promising so we decided to stay and explore.

The campsite is terraced and so pitches have a view across the town to the gentle green hills beyond.  The facilities are excellent with good hot showers, indoor washing up area [you remember how important I think that is] and were clean and modern.  Wonderful fresh bread was available every day and the campsite runs a small shop selling local products.  As well as touring pitches the site has a collection of wooden Romany caravans, yurts, tipis and some chalets so visitors have a choice of accommodation.  While we were staying a wedding was held in the garden.

If you are using this marvellous campsite as a stop-over there is a nature reserve accessible from the site where you can stretch your legs for an hour or so after a day of driving.  This hillside reserve with meadows, woodland and an arboretum has views over the town and is also a pretty walk in to Münsingen.

For around 100 years [until 2005] the undulating meadows and woodland to the east of Münsingen were used as a military training ground.  Initially by the German army and after 1945 by the French army who, in particular, used the area for tank manoeuvres.  Inaccessible to the public the area in some ways stood still and the wildlife was protected, although always at risk of being blown up.  Today this area is once again accessible and managed to protect the wildlife, although visitors need to stick to the paths because of the risk of un-exploded ordnance.

We began at the Biosphere Centre in the old military barracks which are surprisingly charming buildings.  As well as the information centre there is an art gallery here but as we cycled around most of the buildings appeared to be empty.  The Biosphere Centre has headphones with an English tour and we learnt a lot about the wildlife, geology, culture and the management of the area.

The tarmac paths around the reserve are perfect for cycling and are all way-marked and numbered.  The area is fairly flat with only small hills to conquer and cycling is just the right pace to enjoy this landscape.  On a sunny weekday there were few people around and we were happy cycling on these traffic-free routes lined with trees rich with blossom.  In the fields are large herds of sheep that are managed to maintain the diversity of plants in the grassland and kestrels and buzzards hunted over the fields.

On a hilltop is the abandoned village of Gruorn.  The villagers were forced from their homes to make way for the military training in 1939 and the houses were used for practice.  Today the church and old school house have been restored and both can be visited.  The schoolhouse has a museum about the village and a cafe.  The churchyard is attractive and colourful with flowers and we sat in the sunshine enjoying a beer before continuing back to the excellent campsite.

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Part of the old military barracks

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

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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!

 

Art in Berlin

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Graffiti art at Teufelberg

You can’t swing a Bratwurst without hitting an art gallery in Berlin and so it was only right that some of our time in Berlin was spent visiting just a couple of the many galleries in the city.  The art scene in Berlin is diverse and vibrant; apparently there are 440 galleries across the city so perhaps there is something for everyone.  We picked out just two places to visit on our long weekend and the two we visited couldn’t have been more different.

The Gemäldegalerie has a collection of European painting ranging from the 13th to 18th century on permanent display; including paintings by Jan van Eyck, Pieter Bruegel, Albrecht Dürer, Raphael, Titian, Caravaggio, Peter Paul Rubens and Rembrandt.  Housed in a 1980s building in the Kulturforum, the building is a simple design and the purpose designed galleries are well proportioned and light, laid out in a slightly confusing but entertaining pattern that visitors can weave around.  We spent an enjoyable few hours in the hushed and academic atmosphere of this amazing gallery.

The painting that made the biggest impression on me was Pieter Bruegel’s Netherlandish Proverbs.  This is an illustration of about 112 different 16th century Flemish proverbs and idioms.  The painting is lively and human, in contrast to much of the religious art in the gallery, and this is perhaps why it spoke to me.  It is also humorous and reveals something of the past with illustrations of sayings such as, ‘one shears sheep, the other shears pigs’ [meaning one has advantages, the other has none] and proverbs I want to introduce to my vocabulary such as, ‘the herring does not fry here’ [it’s not going according to plan].  There are others we still use modified versions of today, such as ‘to sit between two stools in the ashes’ [to be indecisive] and ‘to try to kill two flies with one stroke’ [to be efficient].

Almost everything in Berlin reveals many layers of history as soon as you scratch the surface.  Our second gallery was on top of a hill in the Grunewald [green forest] that lies around Berlin.  This is no ordinary hill; Teufelsberg is a 80 metre high mound that was created from the rubble removed from the bomb sites of Berlin after the second world war.  The hill was in what was the British sector of Berlin after the war and in the 1960s it became the site of an Anglo-American listening station topped with radomes.  After almost 30-years of listening to the DDR the station fell in to disuse after the fall of the Berlin wall.  The hill was bought by a developer but planning permission for the hotels and apartments was not forthcoming and the abandoned buildings of the listening station remain and can be visited to see the graffiti art that uses the inside and outside walls of the crumbling buildings as a canvas.  For a €7 entrance fee visitors can wander freely around the jumble of buildings [at their own risk] and admire the huge art works and stand at gaping holes in the buildings to enjoy the view over Berlin and the forest.

After spending a few hours at Teufelsberg we followed the maze of footpaths through the Grunewald to the banks of the lake, as no trip to Germany is complete without a woodland walk.  With no signposts or compass we had to resort to using the sun and asking for help to navigate our way through the dense forest.

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The view from the Teufelsberg

 

Berlin without the campervan

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Bebelplatz in central Berlin brilliant with lights

Wow!  We have just enjoyed a few fun-packed days in Berlin with friends.  We walked miles, exploring the wonderful city and the surrounding forests, finding new sights, revisiting old favourites and marvelling at the changes in the city since our last visit eleven years ago.  We found culture [more of this in a later post], multiple layers of history and good food and beer.

We had timed our visit to coincide with the Reunification Day celebrations and public holiday.  We were also there during the Festival of Lights which is held over ten-days in October and uses some of  Berlin’s spectacular landmarks and buildings as a canvas for light and video films.  As well as the buildings, there are boats that are decked with lights making circuits around the river.  The festival makes wandering the streets on a fine evening even more awesome; we stood in the Pariser Platz and watched the key events in Berlin’s history drawn across the magnificent facade of the Brandenburg Gate and joined the crowds to watch an amazing and ever-changing selection of colourful pictures projected on to the cathedral.

I hadn’t taken a tripod as we were travelling with hand luggage only and so my photographs of the light show are not perfect but give an impression of the vibrant and imaginative lighting that transforms a building into something quite distinct.  The building is both a canvas for the light-art and enhances the images, while the light show alters the relationship between the people and the buildings, making people stop and look up, the bustle of the daytime stilled.

This link will take you to stunning photographs of previous years [the festival is in its eleventh year], as well as tips for taking great pics of the night-time scenes.

 

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The Berliner Dom alongside the Fernsehturm in Alexanderplatz during the Festival of Lights