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A European road trip in a campervan
A European road trip in a campervan.
Spain in time for Easter.
The campervan was packed. Once our son finished school, we were ready for Portsmouth. France was an overnight ferry away. Our ultimate destination; Spain in time for Easter. Our first European road trip in a campervan.
Inspired by European travel tales from returning customers. Finally, 2018 was the year for our own plans. Having a school age child and tourist business limited our options. Easter seemed our best choice for taking a long trip. INSET teacher training gave us valuable extra travel time. Stretching our holiday tantalising close to 3 weeks!
Winter was spent planning.
Over ambition produced too many routes. Consequently we booked nothing more than our Channel crossings. This offered us freedom to follow the weather. To stay longer if we found somewhere wonderful. Quickly escape if it wasn’t.
Considering crossing the Channel, my head said Eurotunnel. Cheap, quick and plentiful. Our 8 year old had other ideas. Keen to sleep on a ship, we booked the ferry. Intent to squeeze every possible hour from the school holidays. We chose the tunnel on our return.
Our ferry didn’t depart until 11pm. Plenty of time to get from Bath to Portsmouth. Once aboard, our boy was content with a quick walk around deck before bed. Just as well, we disembarked in Caen at 7.30am.
Skipping breakfast, we headed straight to the campervan. We intended to stop at the first boulangerie for croissants. But, before we knew it we were out of town and away. We didn’t stop until well into the Loire region. And it was still only 10.30am!
First Night on a French Aire.
The destination for our first night in the camper was near Bordeaux. The journey was estimated at 6 hours. Leaving us time to explore when we got there. It actually took 8 hours. Pit stops and a lunchtime snooze all added up. Camp
site reviews around Bordeaux in March mentioned “dirty”, “noisy” and “expensive”. Luckily, France has an amazing network of Aires. These are over-night spots for motorhomes or campervans. (internal link)
We opted for a beachside Aire at Lege Cap Ferret. A small peninsula about half an hour south of Bordeaux. You can stop at this forest carpark between September and June. It’s free and there are public toilets. Once the sun had set, the last few cars disappeared. Leaving us alone with the sound of the Atlantic.
Playing in the forest and messing about on the beach was welcome. But it was still March. Despite gaining an hour crossing the channel. The night drew in reasonably early. We were happy for the shelter of our campervan. A home cooked bolognese from the fridge took care of our evening meal. Then snuggled down with a movie on Netflix. Mobile routers rock.
It’s worth noting that we refuelled near here. The first since leaving Bath. We didn’t refuel again until reaching the Mediterranean.
Crossing the Pyrenees.
With sunrise, we spied on early morning surfers. Excitedly running off down the boardwalks. We were excited too. Tonight we would be sleeping in Spain. We were heading for Pamplona, rooted in the foothills of the Pyrenees. It’s known for the infamous annual bull running festival.
We had read a lot about Pamplona. Yet, what we weren’t prepared for was El Cierzo. The freezing wind which blows through the region.
Deciding to stay at the central motorhome stop-over, we were walking distance from Pamplona Old Town.
It was basically a carpark with security cameras. The police station was just around the corner. Reviews were favourable and it felt safe. Despite being a bit noisy. The service station next door had clean, accessible toilets. Nevertheless, we were pleased we’d packed our own.
This leg of our European road trip was relatively short. By early afternoon we were standing on the medieval city walls. The mountain view felt like a scene from Lord of the Rings. There was a great buzz about the city. As dusk drew in the streets grew busier. Unfortunately El Cierzo blew even colder. Time to dive into one of the invitingly dark tapas bars. Unfortunately, they weren’t quite so inviting to an eight year old. An experience to save for another journey perhaps?
The Road to the Mediterranean.
Before bed we needed to decide on tomorrows destination. The Atlantic Ocean was throwing the worst storms it could muster at Portugal. The West and South coasts weren’t much better. Luckily, there was calm on Costa de Valencia. We gave up on reaching Granada. Plumbing for where the sun was shining and temperatures rising.
Up early and the Mediterranean calling, we didn’t hang around. The road continued along the foothills of the Pyrenees. At Zaragoza we broke away to head south.
We traveled on through the stark mountainous landscape. Teruel’s Moorish architecture caught our eye. It’s towers and terracotta tiled roofs were certainly attractive. But, the snow on the ground kept us moving.
Our excitement grew as the road began to descend. It was quite dramatic. After hours of straight road, we suddenly began to curve and swoop. As we lost altitude the temperature rose. The land turned green. Blossom bloomed everywhere.
In search of Spring, we had left Britain frozen by the Beast from the East. Three days later we had found it. On reaching the coast it was a very respectable 23ºC. Palm trees lined the roads and we were wearing shades!
Our campsite was to the south of Valencia. It had the best bus links into the city.
Surprisingly, the satnav led us straight through the centre. I am so glad it did. It showed me you could drive this vw camper anywhere. High enough to have presence and great visibility. Yet small enough to squeeze on through!
Camping Coll Vert was a bit of a disappointment. We were squashed into a small pitch, surrounded by motorhomes. Our red VW with strawberry bellows stood out.
The site had definitely seen better days. Frustratingly for our boy, the play areas were locked.
The morning bus had us into Valencia in good time. Our plan was to get to the centre. Visit the central market and old town. Grab lunch then head to L’Oceanogràfic oceanarium.
However, the bus passed the oceanarium first. Then followed the amazing Turia Gardens. They were created from the old bed of the river Turia. Left dried-up after it’s diversion during the 1950’s. One play ground after another sailed past. This was too much for our eight year old. He demanded to be off the bus. It was actually quite a relief to use our legs again. The climate was wonderful. Although, we hadn’t anticipated just how far we were from the city centre. The park is 9km long! The complaint, “Can we get off the bus?”. Changed to, “Can we get back on?”.
Once reached, the central market was a delight. Full of locals at every corner bar. The produce was fresh and plentiful. We came away with so much food. It was difficult not to indulge. We had a leisurely meal in the sunshine, just outside the market. Valencia is famous for paella. But, the locals weren’t eating it. So, neither did we. Our highlight was sautéed fresh globe artichokes. Delicious.
Wandering back, barriers were being erected everywhere. Easter was less than a week away. We guessed it must be Semana Santa celebrations. The Oceanarium closed, was a hive of activity. It was the finishing line of the Valencia Marathon. The atmosphere was fantastic. Unfortunately its route messed with our bus. One sailed passed without stopping. The rest disappeared. It got dark, we were tired. So far, Spanish drivers seemed quite relaxed. Not now, with everyone trying to get home at once. The city descended into chaos. Everyone hit their horns….For well over an hour!
It was at this point our boy burst into tears. He’d concluded we were going to die waiting for the number 25 bus! Hailing a cab, I saved my family from certain death.
In Search of the Perfect Beach.
Next morning we were ready to find a beach. The CamperContact app showed us a few hopeful places. The first was at Cullera, which also boasted a castle. A clutch more sites further south also looked interesting. We took the slow road. Our European road trip continued. This time, at a more relaxed pace.
The approach to Cullera was very scenic. It held lots of promise. However, the road swung away from the coast. It brought us back into a rather bustling resort town.
We climbed up to Cullera Castle. Which perched on top of the town. The view of the coast between Valencia and Denia was fantastic. The distant mountain, Montgó Massif dominated the skyline. Cullera didn’t grab us much. It’s unregulated Motorhome site, was was rough. Don’t get me wrong. I love a bit of off-grid wild camping. This however, was far from a remote deserted cove. We moved on.
We’d read about Camping Azul, further down the coast. It sounded laid back and relaxed. Hidden behind a maze of back roads and orange groves, it was right on the beach. There wasn’t much English spoken at reception. Yet, the welcome was warm. They invited us to look around before deciding to stay. It was a small site with a cool beach bar. The wash block was modern and spotlessly clean. We found a lovely pitch. Just steps away from the dunes and sea. Very happy bunnies, we settled in.
As a rule, we had intended to keep moving. However, this place was nice. And, we wanted to rest. We were right on top of Easter. Concerned how busy it may get, we decided to stay put.
Having the beach so close was fantastic. The sea was cold by Mediterranean standards. Yet, similar to UK waters during Summer. The boy and I came prepared with wetsuits. We weren’t alone. On windy days the bay was alive with kite surfers. Temperatures kept rising. Clocks went forward and the days stretched out.
We quickly fell into a nice routine. We drank our morning coffee, sitting at the bench on top of the dunes. Our boy combed the beach for exotic shells. Sandcastle building followed breakfast. Wetsuits donned and a bit of body boarding. Long lunches, then strolls along the shore. We cooked in the campervan mostly. Its huge fridge enabled us to stock up.
Standard tourist activities followed. Day trips to neighbouring towns. Or, off into the mountains to explore castles. Taking the campervan on trips wasn’t a chore. It fit in any car park. Including those underground. In fact, it was properly useful. You could pop back with groceries. The fridge alleviating worries about storing perishables. You could make lunch, if needed. It even worked as a changing room with spare clothes. Useful, if you get drenched in a downpour. As happened to us in Denia.
Its funny. While planning, we became excited about experiencing Semana Santa. The Spanish Easter celebrations. However, when we got to it, enthusiasm wained. We agreed to leave religion parades to the believers.
The Slow Road Home a tale of two Catalonian Cities.
With Easter over, our European road trip continued. But, it somehow felt different. Even though we had 6 more nights. We were now heading home. Northward bound along the coast, Catalonia beaconed.
It took us a while to get started. Still, once onto the highway we were soon near Tarragona. Famous for its Roman ruins. Unfortunately, Tarragona didn’t have a city stop. We stayed on the outskirts. Public transport links were poor. Nevertheless, an early night equals an early start. We were in the city for breakfast. Tarragona was a real highlight of the trip. If we could have stayed closer, we would have stayed longer. Roman remains were everywhere and access was cheap. We explored subterranean catacombs, towers and an amazing amphitheatre. The old town was packed with interest. Shops, cafes and a museum of modern art. Another wonderful lunch. Then, back home to the van. We were on our way to Barcelona.
It was thrilling to watch Barcelona reveal itself. The road descended. The city laid itself out before us. It was huge! By the time we reached the City Stop, I was bubbling with excitement. The site was a large sunny yard. Funky street art dominated the perimeter walls. The metro train rumbled under foot. Showers, kitchen and lounge shared a building with security. Every type of live-in vehicles were parked up. Vintage trucks. Campervans and motorhomes. Huge RVs. Coaches mingled with street food carts. Hungover musicians hung-out by their tour bus.
The metro station was right by the secure compound. Quick and easy access to the city.
Big fans of Gaudi, we booked tickets for the Sagrada Família. The artist’s unique cathedral. Even unfinished, it was truly amazing. We stayed two nights in the Barcelona. It really wasn’t enough. But we were running out of time. All too soon, we were back in our wheels. On our way to Costa Brava.
The Last Hurrah for our European Road Trip.
Three nights left. On Sunday evening we would catch the Eurotunnel. Our last planned night in Spain was a personal pilgrimage. My parents favourite campsite, Kim’s Camping. Sandwiched between the villages Calella-de-Palafrugell and Llafranc. Back in the day, this was home to artists. Most notably Salvador Dali. His studio, nearby is now a museum.
Tomorrows weather looked good and we were in walking country. An amazing beachside restaurant distracted us for the afternoon. Consequently, dictating a two day dash across France. Starting in the morning.
Was it all Worth it?
So, all things considered. Was the European road trip in a campervan worth the effort? Did we argue? Wouldn’t it have been easier to fly somewhere? Would we do it again?
Hell yes! To all of the above.
Admittedly, a campervan road trip is’t a particularly cheap holiday.
Yet, neither is it another forgettable fortnight in the sun.
It was a true adventure, packed with experiences. The journey was fascinating. Watching the landscape transform and the people change. The camper. The one constant throughout the trip became our home. A wonderful comfort blanket, wherever we roamed. Traveling independently overland, helps you feel connect to a place. Something, stepping off a plane never will.
Would we do a European road trip in a campervan again?
We’re already planning our Italian Escapade!