Bilbao to Perpignan 414 miles 6 hrs
Arrived in a very wet Bilbao on time, sailed through border control and headed for Perpignan relying on my trusty TomTom to get me to a site I had found on a POI while we were crossing.
An uneventful drive and by the time we arrived in Perpignan we were in brilliant sunshine and the temp was 37C.
The site was called Ma Prairie. On arrival we were given a map with vacant pitches marked and told to go and choose one and then let them know. All the pitches are set amongst trees so there’s plenty of shade and a feeling of space. The site has a pool, restaurant and bar and facilities were clean and adequate. All in all a pleasant site. Cost for one night – 20 euros.
In the evening we planned our route for the next day and ended up completely changing our overall basic route – it was clear that there was no point in going to Millau and then back to the coast to Marseilles, just for the sake of driving though Monaco, so we scrapped the idea and decided to aim for Privas after Millau instead. The joys of not pre-booking!
Perpignan to Millau 144 miles 2.15 hrs
Millau to Privas 160 miles 4.30 hrs
A bright start to the day with temperatures in the low 30s.
This was one of only 2 planned activities for the trip – a visit to the Millau bridge. A gentle drive saw us arrive in Millau around 11am. A quick walk around and snapping some shots of the distant bridge then it was up to he bridge itself. On the way we rounded a bend on a climb up the mountain to be confronted by at least 50 or 60 hawks or eagles hovering in the thermals. An absolutely incredible sight! So a quick stop at the side of the road and out with the camera. I’ll post a couple of pics up in a separate post and hopefully someone will be able to identify them.
Next stop the services on the north side of the bridge to get some shots of this impressive structure. By 1pm we were ready to head for Privas, avoiding toll roads on the way. If ever you want to see some truly amazing scenery in France then head north from the Millau bridge and turn of at J39 and set your sat nav to Privas. I never realised how mountainous the region is. A word of warning though – the roads are narrow, twisty and blind. 4 and a half hours to do 160 miles says it all really!
The site I’d chosen (at random on my Tomtom) was called Ardeche Camping. Another pleasant site where once again I was given a map and told to go and choose a pitch and let them know. Again all facilities were clean and fit for purpose. There was also a bar, restaurant and swimming pool on site.
Day 10 Luxembourg to Nurburgring 97 miles 1.5 hrs Nurburgring to Adinkerke 280 miles 5 hrs
Another must for our trip – a visit to the nurburgring in Germany. Easy enough to find by TomTom and easy enough to drive to. You do have to pay more attention to your rear view mirror though on the motorways when the speed limit disappears, some cars don’t half appear out of nowhere and fly past at 3 figure speeds.
We arrived at the circuit a little after nine, got lost at the entrance and ended up driving into one of the garage areas. I knew something was wrong when I saw all the supercars, somehow my Mondeo seemed out of place!
We found a car park across the road and then found the info centre. Should have seen the look on the woman’s face when I asked if we were allowed to look around! Not sure how long they’ve been doing them but they now have organised tours around the circuit that last about an hour and cost 6 euros each. We were shown the pit lane, the winners’ podium, press centre, back of the pitlane and a secret drivers tunnel from the hotel. All in all, worth the 6 euros. Oh yes and it rained, the first we’d seen since Bilbao.
That done we headed off for Adinkerke, a leisurely drive through the German countryside (mile after mile of forest) then via Brussels and Brugge to Adinkerke. We went into De Panne to find a hotel (65 euros) then strolled along the sea front in the evening sunshine and a spot of food.
Day 11 Adinkerke to Rotterdam port via Pearyweg 150 miles 3.5 hrs I imagine most people would head for Rotterdam via Brugges taking the main route offered up by a satnav, but I’d spotted an alternative that looked more fun, hence the ‘via Pearyweg’. This route takes you right to the coast, through a toll tunnel then “island hopping” along the coast across long bridges to Rotterdam. Pity it was chucking it down though or the views would have been great.
We arrived at the port a little after 2pm. Check in was at 3pm and boarding at 5pm. All went smoothly and we were settled on board by 5.30pm – what a change from Portsmouth!
This is a brief outline of my recent trip into Europe (23/8/2008 – 2/9/2008).
Some of you may find it odd or indeed plain madness to do so much driving in such a short time, but that was what the holiday was all about – the driving and the freedom of having no plans other than ferry crossings booked at the start and finish, everything in between was a big unknown.
Some of the distances do seem great, but two of us shared the driving. Why tents and not my caravan? There is no way we could have done this distance with a caravan and we certainly wouldn’t have seen some of the sights as you just couldn’t get a caravan safely along some of the roads we went on.
All in all we covered 2595 road miles in 12 days, including one day at sea.
Would I do it again – most definitely!
Anyway, hope you enjoy it. . . .
Day 1 Hull to Portsmouth 261 miles, 5hrs
We were booked on the 9pm ferry to Bilbao. As it was a bank holiday weekend I was a little concerned with traffic delays so figured it could take anything between 5 and 7 hours to get there. I also (wrongly) assumed that boarding would start around 5pm as it does at Rotterdam.
So off we set at 10am, didn’t get held up once and arrived in Portsmouth at 3pm! I decided to check out how to get to the ferry and then go into Portsmouth for a couple of hours to eat and stretch the legs but I got stuck in the one-way system and suddenly found myself at the check in gates, along with 2 other vehicles. Anyway as there was only a couple of hours to boarding (or so we thought we pulled up at barrier 1 next to the other two vehicles at barrier 2.
By the time 4.30pm arrived I realised we wouldn’t be boarding so soon and with the lane behind me and next to me solid we weren’t going anywhere. Finally at 5pm two women came along and promptly opened lanes 2 and 3! God knows why when all the traffic was queuing in lanes 1 and 2 so there was total chaos as everyone in lane 1 tried to move across to lanes 2 and 3.
Anyway we get through and end up at the holding area at the front of one of the lanes. After a bite to eat and a coffee it was sit in the car until something happened. As you know this is really boring so you take notice when something happens, so we watched the immigration and police in their hi-viz vests walking around. Big mistake! It soon became obvious that we were the object of their attention and one was never far away from the car for the next 3 hours. 8pm arrives and finally loading begins, or so we thought. Surprise surprise my lane was last to move and yes you guessed it I was pulled over by immigration and grilled for 20 minutes on where I was going and why etc. then it was off to queue again! Finally boarded the ferry at 9.15pm!
I’m afraid I will never use Portsmouth again. It was absolute chaos, the facilities were poor and no information seemed to be available to let you know what was happening.
Not a good start to the holiday!
Day 2 All at sea
I’d heard a lot about the notorious Bay of Biscay and even seen clips on Utube, but the weather was great. In fact we spent the entire time on the helicopter deck whale watching (saw a few too!) and apparently it was so calm the captain turned one of his engines off because he didn’t need it to maintain his speed!
After our marathon yesterday we decided to give the car another day off. The mist hung around until midday and combined with the heat humidity was up at 70% according to the weather thingy at the campsite.
However once it cleared we were back up to 30C and sunny. We had a lazy day, strolled into Lucerne and decided to buy a watch – well it is Switzerland after all! Remember I said you could change money at any bank or post office? Not quite true. I’d worked out that we would get a better rate exchanging sterling for francs rather than euros, so off to the post office. However they only change euros not any other currency to francs, you must go to a bank or special bureau for all other currencies.
Day 9 Lucerne to Luxembourg 300 miles 4.2 hrs
Not much mist about this morning and again we were in for a hot day.
I’d noticed the previous night that every thing felt damp in the tent. When we took them down the outer skins were soaking on both sides, which meant packing them wet. Nothing had escaped the damp and the sleeping bags and clothes in the tents had suffered too. Presumably a combination of the lakes, mountains and heat cause the high humidity which is a real problem for tenters. Not sure how caravans cope with it all?
Before we set off a quick trawl on the internet finds a hotel near Luxembourg airport for £50 for 1 night – sorted!
An uneventful start to the journey, out the north side of Switzerland into France. Then about 30 miles past the border French customs are stopping traffic in both directions. He seemed happy enough when I said we’d come from Switzerland and let us go. Bizarre!
The sun followed us to Luxembourg but the dark clouds kept trying to get a hold. Temperature down to 25C. We got to the hotel about 1pm so decided to drive into Luxembourg and do a spot of shopping etc. Mistake – nearly all the shops are shut on a Sunday, but thankfully the roads were quiet as my TomTom was really struggling to keep up with lane changes and turns etc. Last minute lane changes and sudden turns would have caused me serious problems if it had been busy.
With no shops we decided on a small tour of the locality and went up to Larochette, a sleep little town with a castle, not a lot else to say about Luxembourg really. A pleasant enough country, very green with lots of forest areas.
Day 12 Hull to home 20 miles 0.5 hrs
Another calm crossing and we arrived in Hull on time. Unloading commenced on time and we were away from the port by 8am and home by 8.30am!
Total road miles 2,595.
Privas to Lucerne 346 miles 6 hrs
Temperatures once again in the 30s. Thank goodness for air con in the car! A simple enough drive today into Switzerland, crossing near Geneva. A quick word about vignettes. All cars must have one to get into the country, they last from 1 Jan to 31 Dec so can be used more than once if you go back in the same year. I nearly bought one of these before going to allegedly avoid delays at the border but refused to pay £5 admin charge for a £20 ticket! In fact it took about 30secs for me to hand over my money and stick the thing on the car (I didn’t even have to get out to go and buy it as the lady who stopped me had a roll of them) and then drive into Switzerland. So take note – buy one at the border it will save you money and won’t cost you any time! I must confess the drive to Lucerne was really boring. Mile after mile of flat, straight roads and dull scenery. Where were all the mountains? Wrong end of Switzerland it would seem. But at least it would be cooler surely? Wrong again. We arrived at Lucerne in 30 degree heat.
Our campsite this time was Lido Lucerne, again plucked off the TomTom, just 300yds from the shores of Lake Lucerne. This time we were shown to row of pitches and given a choice, so we picked the only shaded one! We were stopping here for 4 nights to use it as a base for exploring the Alps. Once again we paid £20 per night. The site has a small shop, bar and restaurant with a limited menu. Plenty of showers and toilets which were always immaculate. Interestingly arrival time was really busy between 5pm and 9pm, especially for motorhomes. A word of warning – the site like to cram em in so don’t expect much room between units. We were lucky as we were in tents so never got any neighbours directly next to us. Also they seemed to give the British the worst pitches, at least that’s what it looked like to me. Oh and it can be a bit noisy at night too. Every morning was the reverse of the night before with a mass exodus of units hat had come in the night before, so I presume it is a popular stop over site between Germany and Italy?
A rest day for the car today, so we take a leisurely stroll along the lake shore into Lucerne. It’s about a half hour walk. Currency – Switzerland has its own – the Swiss franc. However a lot of the big shops will take euros but you suffer on the exchange rate. Before we went we got £100 of francs (roughly 2 to the pound) but these nearly all went on the campsite fee. At the site we were told you can change currency at any bank or post office. We changed some euros to francs at the main post office no problem and hit the shops.
The seasoned travellers amongst you will know that Switzerland must be one of the most expensive countries in Europe to live in. I couldn’t believe the prices for everyday items.
I’d brought my Vodafone mobile broadband stick, but at £10 a day hadn’t used it. A quick enquiry at the site and for 5 francs (£2.50) I got access to their wireless network for a total of 24 online hours which had to be used within 3 months of first logging on!
Day 7 Davos, Livigno, Bormio, Tirano, Benaduz, Mesocca (via St Bernadino Pass), Lucerne 423 miles 13 hrs
Today was the big one – driving the roads from Top Gear! I’ve listed towns we went through in order to give an idea of the route we took.
We set at 7.30am with the lake and surrounding area shrouded in mist. 50 odd miles up the road and the mist showed no sign of clearing so we were getting worried that we’d picked the wrong day to drive. Eventually the skies cleared and we were back in sunshine and that 30 degree heat, I still couldn’t believe that Switzerland would be so hot! As we climbed through the alps the views were amazing, as were the roads. We crossed the border into Italy via a one way tunnel where we were hit for a 10 euro toll charge on the Italian side.
As I mentioned in another post we bought diesel for 95 cents a litre in Livigno, then headed back up into the mountains for more bendy roads with views to die for. Clear blue skies, snow capped mountains, crystal clear lakes – absolutely stunning.
A spot of lunch in Dormio (1 Top Gear road out of the way) then a loop north to Benaduz to get above the St Bernadino Pass, then aim for Mesocca avoiding the tunnel and going over the pass. What fun! Really tight hairpins, one after the other until you suddenly get to the top and find a crystal clear lake sitting there, with a convenient café next to it. Nearly 7000ft up and it’s still high 20s and sunny!
The road down was a lot easier, longer corners and less severe drops, then back onto the main road, head south and pick up the road north to the St Gotthard tunnel – biggest mistake of the whole trip so far. We were stuck here in a jam for an hour and a half! What started as a 10 hour trip plus 2 hour of stops ended up as a thirteen hour marathon, eventually arriving back at Lucerne at 8.30pm.