I am writing my recollections of our 2002 trip as we sit in lockdown during the 2020 coronovirus pandemic. As we look into an uncertain future certainly in the short term, we don’t know when we might be able to take a campervan trip in this country, let alone abroad. However, a trip in your own vehicle with ferry travel rather than taking a plane may be a possibility in the not too distant future. So I hope my recollections of this trip may prove inspiring to those of you itching to get behind the wheel to explore new horizons.
In 2002 a perfect campervan trip opportunity presented itself to us. My old school friend Nicola was living in Milan and had rented an apartment in Santa Margherita, a small Mediterranean port to the south east of Genoa. Emma and Jack were aged 11 and 9 at the time, still happy to sleep up in the roof and excited by the prospect of a European trip.
We planned a fortnight’s holiday to take in a long weekend in Santa Margherita. Apart from booking our cross channel ferry, that was as much planning as we did as usual. A Rough Guide and a European road atlas accompanied us and we planned our route day by day, stopping at places of interest described in the Rough Guide or signposted along our route. We relied on spotting signs to campsites at the allotted time each day, which sometimes worked well but could be tedious if we were all tired and fractious after a long drive.
Our route largely followed the one Andrew and I had taken in 1989, down the East of France, but crossing right through Switzerland on this occasion via the St Bernard Pass. Roughly speaking we did Dover – Dunkerque – St Quentin (camped) – Reims – Chaumont (camped) – Besancon – Yverdon (camped) – St Bernard Pass – (camped somewhere between here and Santa Margarita) and then to Santa Margarita for three nights.
Nicola’s husband was astounded when we arrived, firstly that we had travelled all the way in our little old camper and secondly that four of us had eaten, drank and slept in that small space. Santa Margarita was delightful although dressed in our usual camping attire, we felt somewhat underdressed alongside the stylish Italians. We were unaccustomed to having to pay to go on the beach, and managed to cause offence by sitting on somebody else’s sunbed. After a day on the beach we took the bus to neighbouring Porto Fino, an exclusive resort frequented by the rich and famous with massive yachts in the harbour. We were lucky to witness a religious festival on the Saturday evening which we followed with a walk through the town for ice cream at midnight which was a real treat for the children and remains memorable to them to this day.
Our return journey took in Lake Maggiore (camped) – Brig (camped) – the Furka Railway( camped) – Schwyz (camped) where we witnessed the unusual customs of Swiss national day- the Vosges mountains (camped) – Nancy and back up to the channel with an overnight stop in a French campsite en route.
Looking back, it seems a lot of travelling with the children as young as they were. I asked them their recollections of the trip. Jack recalled the contrast of the impeccable Swiss roads to the terrible ones as soon as you crossed the border to Italy . Emma recalls seeing a car overtake a car that was already overtaking a lorry on a bend – we knew we were in Italy! Jack recalls being a scruffy kid in a really high-brow town, and being squashed in the camper cooking a meal as the rain lashed down outside high in the mountains. Emma enjoyed the parade in Santa Margherita and the late night ice creams but was disappointed that the man dressed up as a polar bear in the tunnels in the Rhone glacier was no longer there, as he had been when we visited in 1989 and our parents before us in the 1950’s.
This itinerary gives you a good idea of what you can cover in a fortnight, even with young children in tow. Doing the trip now with the advantage of mobile internet and sat nav would make it much easier I don’t doubt, but it would take away some of the excitement and adventure of not really knowing where you might end up each night.