We are so lucky we got out and about a lot in 2019 because this year lockdown has been a big blow to our new retired lifestyle, motor-homing around Europe.
We both retired from our jobs in 2018, having decided to downsize, put some money away, and buy a converted Ducato van. We are now experienced motorhome travellers, with a smaller home, with inadequate rooms for all the kids, but with enough parking to store both our vehicles instead!
After reshaping our new home, with builders and loads of cups of tea, we made 2019 our year to get out and about travelling. We started out in March, reaching John O’Groats on the NC500 tour, testing the lifestyle, then drove down to the Lizard (visiting family) and the Wye valley at Easter, before taking off on 22 May from our home on the east coast of Norfolk, for our big 9 week adventure to Germany, Austria, and beyond.
Ten years ago we’d bought a holiday apartment in the beautiful Salzkammergut lakes district of the Austrian Alps. We reckoned it would be a good central European base for travel, and its excess income from rentals, in euros, would pay for our accommodation, travel and food shopping costs whilst in Europe and it worked perfectly; we didn’t once need to touch our sparse English pension income as we got rentals that summer when not there!
So, we set off at midday for Dover, sailed away on the 5:30 ferry, and were comfortably settled on our first French ‘aire’ moho site in Calais, before dark, stressfree! Our ‘SearchForSites’ app would be our guide to foreign stopovers, and this first one was great, costing us just €8 for the night with ehu (electric hook up) and waste facilities, in a safe gated site with green hedges.
The plan was to drive fast and far across Belgium into Germany with one stop at a lake campsite near the autobahn, before exploring the ‘Romantische Strasse’ in Bavaria. This signposted trail takes tourists along a route beside a pretty river, and visits many lovely medieval towns like Dinkelbuhl and Nordlingen. Happily there are special motorhome parking areas near town centres, for free or a few euros; it’s all very welcoming.
We hit our first snag approaching the Austrian border when our turbo charger broke down! A warning light blinked at us alarmingly, so off to our ‘Gosau Apartment’ we limped! Luckily we reached safety to deal with the problem there. It was fixed at the local Fiat dealer close by with a spot of welding, thanks to our RAC service, in one hour for €115 – phew!
However, the weather in our mountainous area was atrocious, so we changed our plans, and headed south to a beautiful Carinthia lakeside camp site at Millstattersee for several nights, enjoying the sensation of swimming in clean soft water, under the hot sun, which was a delight. At dusk each evening the sunsets across the lake and over snowy mountains were stunning, as we sat with other campers in our chairs on the lawn by the beach, with bottles of cheap local wine!
Lake Bled beyond, on our way to the Med through Slovenia, was unforgettable, too, with its turquoise water, island church and the hilltop castle, explored by cycling round the lake from the campsite. Further south, the pretty Istrian towns of Novigrad and Rabat were where we spent nearly a fortnight in smart, almost full campsites in pine woods and an olive grove beside the blue sea under the hot sun.
We returned to Gosau, via several other pretty Austrian lakeside campsites, all the time using the ACSI discount card scheme at all campsites, for another scorching week, before heading off west through the Alps. One exciting stop-over night was on a ‘stellplatz’ at Schwaz beside the incredibly full and fast flowing river Inn (melting snow), before heading up and along a steep single track road over a mountain pass, in a thunder and lightning storm, where we suffered another van misdemeanour on the way down the other side – the brake pads had burnt out!
We hobbled through swish Switzerland next day, where the Swiss €200/hour labour fee scared us stiff, to escape on a bridge over the Rhine to stop in Germany at Bad Säckingen for the brakes to be replaced a day later. You should see the old wooden roofed bridge there, built in 1500s, it’s beautiful. We swam in the Rhine there, and the Loire later!
We crossed into France near Les Vosges, where we fed storks at our table on the campsite, and stayed on aires beside huge chateaux on the Loire, and on a farm beside the Seine near Rouen, before reaching Fecamp on the Channel, when we turned inland to visit the Somme from Albert, where we paid our respects to my great, great uncle Sidney.
Home was a short drive from there, so before the rush of French holidaymakers hit the campsites in August, we went home, and after catching up with our 4 children, family and good friends, were able to inspect our trip statistics: 62 nights away (49 in van, 13 in Gosau); 3,284 miles; 445 litres of diesel = €608; Tolls, vignettes and tunnels = €140; Accommodation on sites, aires = €734; Food & miscellaneous (groceries, museums, meals/drinks out) = €1,254; Holiday spend = €3,589.
Pleased with the results we headed off again in October! With our euro coffers replenished, we were hungry for more! This time we went south via the ferry to Bilbao for six weeks exploring northern Spain, Portugal and the Algarve, and along to Cadiz, for more sunshine and new adventures! That made it 12 countries including Scotland, England and a bit of Wales, in the year!
One year on, it’s May again, and we’re waiting to be welcomed in France, as we are signed up with the ‘France Passion’ scheme, giving us free stays on 6,000+ farms, vineyards, etc. Having re-joined ACSI’s campsites discount scheme, and loving stays on those aires, we’re planning on staying several months exploring old towns, lazy rivers and lakesides, as long as the holiday home income this summer will keep us going! In Austria, skiing was good before lockdown, and with the new summer season getting ready, post Coronavirus, their holiday accommodation is opening up again from 29 May, so it’s encouraging.