When our daughter Emma announced the exciting news that she was to be spending the summer in Switzerland, our holiday plans were made!
We would take the camper down through France or Germany, exploring along the way as we love to do, in order to spend few days with her.
Emma has been actively involved in Girl Guiding since the age of eight and as an adult she continues to be a Brownie and Rainbow leader. This year she has achieved a long-held ambition to be a programme volunteer at one of the Girl Guide World Centres, namely “Our Chalet” in Adelboden, Switzerland.
Our trip took us down to Dover from Nottingham, across to Calais, down through France and into Switzerland for three days at Our Chalet. We then spent a little longer in Switzerland, before passing very briefly through Lichtenstein and on into Austria. After this we started to head back north, into Germany. After a few days in Germany, the final push up north took us briefly into the Netherlands before ending our trip with a night near the Belgian coast. Fourteen nights, 2300 miles and eight countries – not bad for a thirty nine year old camper!
I recently read the following in the Guardian travel supplement, “The best road trips have few set plans. They’re about the thrill of discovery, of not knowing what comes next. Forget detailed itineraries that look like a shopping list. As Kerouac said, ‘There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep rolling under the stars’”. That is exactly our approach to our trips, whether they be up to Scotland, across in Derbyshire or Shropshire, or further afield in Europe or America (that one was minus camper of course). So for this trip, we knew we would be spending some time in Adelboden, and Andy was keen to see the Zilletal railway in Austria. Other than that we has no plans, no bookings and armed with a European road atlas (out of date – not a good move) and a few Rough Guides and Lonely Planet guides off we went.
Along the way we visited world war one battlefield sites around Verdun, including Fort de Vaux, Fort Souville, Fleurey village and the Ossuarie de Douaumont
the stunning Chapel Notre Dame de Haut in Ronchamp, designed by Le Corbusier
the fortified town of Belfort
the town of Brienz adjacent to the stunning turquoise waters of Brienzer See.
Whilst with Emma we walked to the breathtaking Enstigen falls and on up to the Enstigen Alp where the cows and calves were enjoying summer on the high pasture whilst the cheese makers were living up in their summer huts and providing cool drinks for weary walkers
made an early start to benefit from the half price fare for catching the first train on the amazingly steep Brienzer Rothorn cog railway, with fantastic walks from the top with views over to the Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau.
visited the pretty town of Thun , with its charming buildings, parks and castles with the river and lake of sparkling turquoise
After we left Emma we visited the town of Kandersteg in the adjacent valley
took the exciting toll road hewn out of the rock up into the Gasterntal valley where we did another walk in a stunning location surrounded by towering peaks and silver water falls cascading from the rocks
took the camper over the vertiginous passes at Grimsel and Furka, where we were down to second for much of the uphill with an open road ahead and a tailback behind
found a beautiful side valley near the Zillertal, by virtue of taking a wrong turning where we did a lovely walk where we met not a soul, all in a verdant valley with high peaks in distant view
made up for the disappointment of the Zillertalbahn steam train not running on the day we visited ( a downside to vague planning) by a ride on the Achensee Cog Railway.
strolled around he beautiful town of Landberg am Lech, visiting the churches to view their elaborate interiors as well as seeking a cool refuge from the heat of the day.
spent a couple of days in the city of Cologne visiting the cathedral, the old town and sampling the local beer “kolsch” in the city’s famous beer halls.
spent our last night in the Belgian coastal town of Koksijde, which was not an especially nice place but we did get a lovely meal there accompanied by some fine Belgian beer.
The advent of Google maps since our last European trip in 2002 has certainly made travelling in Europe much easier. Looking for campsites is a doddle compared to our previous trips when we would just look out for campsite signs as we travelled, sometimes spending a long time at the end of the day in search of a place to rest for the night.
On this trip there were some quite unremarkable campsites, although this is not a great consequence as we spend very little time on a site – a decent shower, clean toilets and a flat pitch is as fine by for us.
We did spend our first night just on one of the “Aire” resting places on a French motorway – fine as you have toilets and water close to hand but the coming and going of lorries through the night can be somewhat disturbing.
Equally there were some lovely sites where it seemed a shame to be moving on quite so soon.
This municipal campsite in France “Camping Municipale de Domremy” in the birthplace of Joan of Arc was delightful, and only €12 per night. There was just one other motorhome there and the amenities were immaculate.
At first sight, this site on the edge of the town of Burgdorf was unremarkable until you took a few paces to the river bank.
The Rendez -vous campsite in Kandersteg was busy but in a stunning location with a plethora of walks from your (sliding) door.
Given our late arrival at the large Tennsee Alpen caravan park, we had a spectacular mountain view from our pitch, the facilities were luxurious, and the site had a really well stocked shop, as well as an onsite bar and restaurant.
Our site in Cologne was great for ease of getting in to the city, but sadly rather noisy due to the proximity of the road bridge over the Rhine which appeared to emit a low pitched rhythmic hum even in the middle of the night when there was no traffic. An added bonus was the adjacent bar and restaurant the Poller Fischerhaus which has been in existence since 1904, and provided a relaxing venue for an early evening drink. The food looked and smelt good too.
On our travels I think we saw only about 5 other bay window campers. T25’s were much more in evidence, including at the Cologne campsite where a T25 meet was to take place on the weekend as we left.
We spotted one split parked at the roadside in Switzerland and this interesting split pickup ladder truck on display in the showroom of a VW dealership in Germany.
When we have taken such trips in the past we have always had the VW wave from other drivers of air-cooled VW’s. On this trip particularly as we drove over the magnificent mountain passes in Switzerland, we had a wave from the drivers of all other classic cars, of which there were many given we did this part of the trip on a Sunday.
I very much hope this account inspires other camper drivers to take an exciting trip in their camper. Driving and staying in an old VW may not be the most comfortable or economical way to do it, but it is certainly a lot of fun and it attracts so many friendly conversations and waves. Everybody, it seems, loves an old VW.