20th July - 11th August
We have called this holiday “the big trip”, as it was the furthest we had ventured in the caravan and the most number of nights in one holiday. When this trip was in the planning stage we were hoping to be away for five weeks taking in Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland and Italy but in the end we could only manage three weeks; as a consequence we had to take the shorter route to get there and back; France to Italy via the Mont Blanc tunnel and the return trip was via Switzerland and France.
The first campsite was Stud Farm, Westerham; we stayed here for two nights so we could visit Carol’s Dad the day before his birthday, as we would be on our way to France on his actual birthday and it was a convenient place between where we live, where he lives and the Channel Tunnel. We won’t stay there again for a variety of reasons. One of them was access from the M25 wasn’t the best route when towing a caravan - the Sat-Nav that we had then wasn’t a dedicated camper-caravanner model - but I am not 100% convinced that it would have made any difference. Looking at the reviews for this site, they aren’t glowing!
On Monday we left the site at Westerham at about 9:30 and went to Tesco at Sevenoaks to top up with diesel then made our way to Eurotunnel. While I was driving, I went to overtake a medium sized van, I took us up to about 65mph (yes I know that I shouldn’t have been exceeding the speed limit but it was unintentional) and with the speed and the airflow from the van our caravan started to snake - the worst that has ever happened to me!
We got to Eurotunnel at about 11:15 for a 12:20 crossing, So this gave us some time to go to the terminal building for a comfort break and a drink and try and meet up with Carol's colleague but before we could do so we were called for our train, so we hurried back to the car to drive round to the final waiting area. Whilst we were waiting, Carol's friend texted her and we managed to meet up at about 12:15. We waited and waited in the heat (it was very, very hot, about 33ºC). Then there was an announcement made over the tannoy to say that there was a technical problem and a cancellation which meant we were on the 14:00 train so we arrived in France at 15:30 local time. Then there was a delay getting off the train as a vehicle had broken down. We got to our site around 18:00, much later than we would have liked.
The site was Camping vivier aux Carpes at Seraucourt-le-Grand, a very lovely site with very nice showers etc, in a nice setting. After setting up the caravan and having something to eat we went for a walk into the town, which is quite quaint, then we went back to the campsite for a drink at the bar.
Tuesday morning we set off again for another campsite in Burgundy, “Lac du Panthier” at Vandenesse-en-Auxois, for a two night stay which gave us an opportunity to recuperate after two days travelling and to see some of the area. Camping Lac du Panthier is a good site located in the beautiful rolling Burgundy countryside with a large lake across the road from the site where you can swim safely and sail. The site has a good quality restaurant.
On Wednesday morning about 02:00 it started to rain so hard it woke me up, just as well because that meant that I could shut the roof vents and save us from getting wet!
We paid a visit to Dijon and on our way there I became transfixed by the wonderful Château in a village called Commarin. While we were in Dijon we visited the shop of the famous Moutarde Maille, which has been made since 1747. The shop is situated on Rue de la Liberté.
Dijon has many half timbered buildings which is very typical of this region and the Cathedral has a very interesting roof with multicoloured tiles of yellow, blue, red and green in geometric patterns. We had a picnic lunch in the lovely Jardin Darcy.
Journey from Lac du Panthier to Gran Paradiso:
The route is 265 miles, mainly by autoroute A6 and A40 via the Mont Blanc tunnel.
A stop at Aire de Passy-Mt Blanc is well worth it just for the stunning views. Once in Italy you take the SR47 and SR 23. As we approached the area where Gran Paradiso campsite is located Carol was driving. We realised that the site was going to be up a steep ascent, so we pulled in and I took over the driving. The road climbed up the mountain via a series of very tight, hairpin bends! I towed our (quite large) caravan carefully up to the site, to the amazement of the owners Dr. Franco and his wife Adriana who couldn’t quite believe we had done so! They publicise the site as being suitable for caravans, but to most Italians that seems to mean something quite small!
We were shown to our pitch and a team of people materialised to help manouvre us into position, only to be amazed again as we started up the motor mover and expertly located the van on the pitch!
In the morning we went down to the local village, Valsavarenche, to have a look around. There wasn’t much in the village, so we moved on to Introd, which is the nearest town, located at the foot of the mountain.
First we stopped off in a small Bar-Brasserie called L’Adret and had a drink each and used the facilities, which were very good with beautiful wooden doors of good quality. Then we walked further down into the village, taking photos as we went, to get to the little supermarket but it ended up being further than we had thought. I walked back to pick up the car and drove back to the others, only to find that the shop we were looking for was just a hundred yards away. We popped in to buy a few provisions including something to cook on the Cadac for lunch. Then we topped up with diesel at a tended service station! It was very expensive, of course.
After our visit to Introd we made our way back to the campsite and had some lunch, followed by a walk around the site taking photos of the waterfall and admiring the views. After that Laurence and I went for a walk out of the campsite to take some photos of the mountainside. This campsite is set in a wonderful location high up a mountain at an altitude of 1,820 metres.
This was a day of contrasts - we started up on a cool mountainside with 13ºC at 09:00 at the Campeggio Gran Paradiso and ended the day by lake Garda with temperatures of 32ºC at 22:30 at the Campeggio San Francesco!
We had a slow start to the day and at 08:00 it was 27ºC. We breakfasted sitting outside the caravan. We then went to the mini market to buy provisions including plenty of water. Sitting by the caravan, Alexander did a painting, Laurence spent some time on his iPad and I worked on my computer.
We then went down to sit by the lake in the shade of the trees and there was a slight cool breeze from the lake. After a while Alexander and I went for a swim in the lake and the water was quite warm although the bottom is quite rocky so we could have done with something on our feet. The water stays shallow for a long time so you don't get out of your depth too quickly.
For lunch we went to the on site restaurant and had a superb meal. After lunch we went back to the lakeside then later on we went to the shop and brought some footwear for use when in the water. Alexander, Carol and I had a very nice afternoon swim.
On this day we went to Verona and the day started off a lot cooler with the threat of some showers. As we drove to Verona there was the odd drop of rain. Verona is only about a 40-minute drive from San Francesco. We soon found an underground car park in the centre of the city and a nice one at that (although a bit pricy, as we found out when we got back after a full day and discovered that it had cost us €16). Within a short distance of the car park we walked though the Portoni della Bra (archway) and shortly after was the magnificent Roman arena. We took a few photos from the outside and then paid to go in (€6 x2 & €4.5 x2).
When we got inside Alexander and I spent a long time taking photos. Carol and Laurence did a disappearing act on us, going off to explore the remainder of the arena.
We left San Francesco campsite at 10.10 for a site nearer Venice. We stopped for a break at about 11.30 for about 45 minutes.
What a most interesting day! We set off in the general direction of Venice only to end up in the ferry lido where the coaches drop off hoards of tourists to catch the ferry to Venice, Carol was convinced that we probably needed to do the same but on one suitable for cars. I was not sure so I asked her if she could check with someone where we should be going, she came back with some answers, so we set off in the direction that we wanted (away from the ferries!).
We drove for mile upon mile and then we eventually we found the campsite called Camping Miramare, so we pulled up at the reception to book in. However, we discovered that there are two sites called Miramare in the area surrounding Venice and we were at the wrong one! The very helpful lady told us where the other site was but it was too far and we'd had enough by then! Fortunately they had space and she kindly rang the other site to cancel for us. Turns out they had not taken a deposit, the site we had arrived at was quieter and cheaper and very near to the place for boats into Venice!! The total trip from Camping San Francesco to Camping Miramare (including our interesting detour) was 134 miles.
From the campsite we got the 09:20 free bus to the ferry terminal. You can get tickets from the reception. By 09:30 we had boarded the ferry to Venice, it was a lovely sunny day. On board, in the shade, it was cool with a slight breeze. By 10:05 we were approaching the ferry port to disembark. Once off the ferry the heat hit us. At 11:00 we were standing in the shade of St Marco and were able to see the astrological clock strike the hour – the statues have hammers and hit a large bell.
We sat down at a table for refreshments at a nice looking cafe with some gentlemen playing live music. When the waiter brought us the menu he also brought a card explaining the prices for the music. It was €6 each for the entertainment, plus the cost of the drinks on top – wow, too expensive for us so we got up and walked away!
For lunch we came across a cafe in a back street that was reasonably priced and we all had a pasta dish of some description.
After lunch we had a ride on a river bus, a much cheaper way to travel along the Grand Canal than using one of the gondolas!
We took the 17:45 boat back from Venice to Punta Sabbioni, which took 40 minutes. The boat was quite busy due to people travelling home from the city centre after work.
We spent this day visiting the islands of Burano and Murano. We got the 09:50 bus but when we got to the ferry terminal we must have just missed the ferry, so we had some refreshments at the cafe. The ferry tickets we bought on Wednesday were also valid for today.
We boarded the ferry at 10:28 and set sail, it was nice and cool on board under cover with shade and a slight breeze. At 10:38 the first stop was Treporti, then two minutes later were off again. We got off the ferry at Burano at 10.52.
Burano has nice cool shady lanes. We had some refreshments at a cafe. After taking some photos we stopped for lunch at 12:30 at Restaurant Galuppi, just a short walk from Piazza Baldassare Galuppi named after the Italian composer who was born on the island. I had grilled sardines, Carol had spaghetti carbonara and Alexander had a pizza.
We travelled on to Murano, arriving at 14:30 and went into a cafe for a breather, drinks and ices. We then went into a glassworks to wait for a demonstration. Davide, who has 25-years’ experience as a glass worker, gave us a wonderful glass-blowing demonstration. In about ten minutes he made a vase and a prancing horse.
Our ferry for the return journey departed at 16:53 and we arrived back at 17:55.
We spent the day sitting around outside the caravan, the boys were on their laptops and Alexander spent some of the time colour washing his scrap book and putting in some post cards he had bought.
In the afternoon Carol and I went to the supermarket to get some provisions. While we were in town I got 20 litres of diesel as it seemed to be so expensive compared to French supermarkets or what I thought I had seen in Italy earlier, so I bought a small amount in the hope I could fill right up somewhere cheaper. But that backfired on me as just before we got on the motorway I had to top up and it was even more expensive (at a similar price to back home, so not too bad really). I think that it is a bit of a mind game when you see a price higher than at home it does seem steep especially when you should be able to get it cheaper.
We left Camping Village Miramare, Venice, at 08.50 and headed for Camping Morretto in Switzerland. The temperature was 26 degrees.
At 10:15 we stopped for diesel at and again at 11:20 for drinks and snacks. Resuming our journey at 12.05, Carol took over driving, giving me a chance to rest. We then stopped for lunch at about 13:15, resuming at 14.00. By 14.50 we needed another comfort break and I resumed driving. At 17:10 we stopped at the Swiss boarder and bought the vignettes. These enable vehicles to use the Swiss motorways and are valid for one year. It is expensive if you are only using them for one day, but we wanted to travel this way and had factored the cost into the cost of the trip. You need a vignette for both the car and caravan.
We arrived at Camping Morretto near Lake Lugano about 18:15. When we were shown to our pitch and shown the electric point I said “oh dear”, as it was a European fitting, however the site owner said we could borrow one of his adapters (I had forgotten to pack mine).
The sun was setting behind the mountain on the opposite side of the valley to us. We ate at the on site restaurant - Carol and I both had the pasta ragù and it was absolutely superb! I had a tiramisu, which was different to what I was expecting, but nice all the same. Laurence and I both had a very nice local beer and he ended up a little giggly. By 21:00 the light was fading quite fast and the temperature was dropping and it was a lot cooler, but it is still quite warm.
The site at Camping Morretto is on a slope and requires a ramp, blocks and chocks.
Today’s total mileage was 272.
After one night at the lovely camping Moretto we had a shorter journey today to get to Colmar in Alsace, to a campsite called ClairVacances. We set off at 08.45, with a temperature of 23 degrees.
We were held up for quite a while due to an accident. At 11:05 we entered the Gotthardtunnel. This is single carriageway and is 17km (11 miles) long. It seemed a little disconcerting to have traffic going in both directions within the same tunnel, compared to Mont Blanc which has a bore for each way.
A little while later, we needed a break and pulled in at some services. At first I was impressed as it was well laid out and a man was directing the traffic. However, although these services were quite large there were not any spaces available for us so we had to move on. After driving for another 40 minutes we found a large services and stopped for lunch at 12:20, resuming again after fuelling at 13:40.
We arrived at Camping ClairVacances at 15.30. Once we were shown to our pitch it took about 50 minuets to set up electric, fresh water, waste water, gas, and toilet.
Today’s total mileage was 201.
Today we visited Parc zoologique et botanique in Mulhouse.
Happy birthday to my sister from Colmar!
Today we visited the ancient town of Colmar with many medieval buildings and shop signs of interest. We had our elevenses at Brasserie Schwendi, named after the fountain adjacent. We then took more photos and had a picnic lunch of baguette with cheese.
Then yet more photos and a look around before we had to return to the car as our parking was coming to an end but also the sky was getting dark and thunder could be heard, so we made our way back to the campsite.
We sat in the caravan doing bits and bobs; in the end the rain didn't come to much. We had tea then got ready to go out again back to Colmar to take some more photos and have some treats in a café: beer for Laurence and I, hot chocolate for Carol, Alexander had a drink of grenadine syrup.
Carol and I had a tart each to eat and Alexander a scoop of mango sorbet.
At 02:00 I awoke to hear rain so went around and closed the skylights; fortunately it did not rain too hard, although it was thundery by 02.15 it had stopped. Then at 04:25 it was raining again but harder this time so I had to take the skylights off vent as it was getting in!
We left ClairVacances at 09.40 with a temperature of 19 degrees and some precipitation. We stopped for coffee and toilets at 10:45 and then resumed at 11:05. After a further 51 miles I pulled up by a parked coach. It just seemed as if its passengers were walking all over the place in a daydream, not looking at us. I think they were Italian or Spanish. As I stopped, one lady was quite happy to stand right next to the front of the caravan and stare into it, which made me a little cross, I thought it was rude.
Shortly after our break we entered a péage motorway and the traffic and road Surface improved. We stopped for lunch at 12:20 at a nice aire called Aire De Petite Hambach and resumed at 13:10. The temperature now had risen to 25°C. Carol took the driving seat after lunch.
Earlier this morning the sat nav took us off the motorway; I think it was because I had it set up for limited speed, so we turn around, and rejoined the motorway then a few miles later there was a traffic jam for some road works and I was in the wrong lane so I had to come off and then rejoin further up. We had to negotiate Strasbourg and there were more road works, which slowed us down even more.
We stopped for a tea break at a service station that looked as though it has just been refurbished. It was quiet when we parked up but when we returned there were a few Chinese or Japanese tourists looking into our caravan as though they had never seen one before! This was at Aire Reims Champagne Sud.
We arrived at Camping au Bord de l'Aisne at 17:25 and were set up by 18:40. Our total mileage today was 290.
This morning when we woke up it was so cold that I put the heating on before we got out of bed! We went into Reims and had our elevenses at a place called L'Apostrophe, 59 Place Drouet-d'Eiron. It is quite posh inside and Alexander had an interesting drink, a Monachino.
Then we went to photograph the Arch Port du Mars. We had a picnic lunch in the park and afterwards we had a little wander around Reims. We went to the tourist office by the Cathedral to use the toilets and to buy some Biscuits Roses de Reims, but they didn't have what we wanted. They told us where we could get them from just a short walk away. The Maison Fossier shop is at 25 Cours Jean-Baptiste Langlet, 51100 Reims. The Biscuits Roses are a local speciality and are great for making desserts with.
We stopped for a tea break at our favourite Boulanger, Pâtissier, Glacier, Chocolatier called Waïda on 5 Place Drouet-d'Eiron. I had the most delicious ice cream, 3 boules, one each of lavande, cassis, noix de coco at €7:25.
It was time to leave Camping au Bord de l'Aisne and set off for Campsite les Erables at Calais. We arrived quite late in the afternoon but with sufficient time to get the caravan set up. The sun was shining and the view across towards Dover was magnificent. We trotted off to Carrefour at Cité Europe (our first visit there) and stocked up on copious amounts of wine!
We woke to a cold, misty morning with a much poorer view across the Channel. Having packed up, we headed off to Eurotunnel feeling a bit glum as the holiday was now over. However, we still treasure lovely memories of a fantastic family holiday.
Check out the Gallery 2013 page for the photographs!
The outward-bound journey we stayed at the following campsites:
Stud Farm, (CL)
368 Main Road, Westerham, Kent,
South East. TN16 2HN
Camping Du Vivier Aux Carpes
10 rue Charles Voyeux 02790 Seraucourt-le-Grand, (Picardie) France
Camping Lac du Panthier
Lac du Panthier Vandenesse-en-Auxois, (Burgundy) France
Camping Gran Paradiso
Loc Plan de la Pesse m.1820 Valsavarenche (Aosta vally) Italy
Campeggio San Francesco
Strada Vicinale San Francesco
25015 Brescia (Lombardia) Italy
Punta Sabbioni, Province of Venice, Italy
The Return journey we stayed at the following campsites:
Via Moretto 3 6944 Cureglia Switzerland
D1, route de Herrlisheim 68127 Sainte-Croix-en-Plaine
Camping au Bord de l'Aisne
14 Rue des Godins, 02190 Guignicourt, (Picardie) France
Campsite les Erables Calais
17 rue du Château d'eau 62179 Escalles
Distances between sties
Although the distances might seem short, when towing we look at the distance and work on 50 miles per hour so 250 miles will be 5 hours’ driving plus.
Stud Farm to
Camping Du Vivier Aux Carpes (Miles 219)
Camping Du Vivier Aux Carpes to
Camping Lac du Panthier (Miles 243)
Camping Lac du Panthier to
Camping Gran Paradiso (Miles 265)
Camping Gran Paradiso to
Campeggio San Francesco (Miles 213)
Campeggio San Francesco to
Camping Miramare (Miles 127)
Camping Miramare to
Camping Moretto (Miles 248)
Camping Moretto to
Camping Clair Vacances (Miles 200)
Camping Clair Vacances to
Camping au Bord de l'Aisne (Miles 285)
Camping au Bord de l'Aisne to
Camp site les Erables Calais (Miles 186)