Family Road-trip around Europe in Mabel the Campervan!

Hi de hi! I’m home and back in Mam Cymru HQ, after two amazing weeks campervanning in Europe with my husband Gareth and our five-year-old daughter Elsi! I’m refreshed and relaxed and half a stone heavier, but before ‘real life’ takes over again, I thought I’d share some of our highlights with you and include some tips, that may be useful for those of you planning your own camping adventures in the future!

Planning!

I started planning our road – trip last September, after returning from another amazing camping road trip around Brittany. Our ‘wish list’ for this trip was to visit several countries in one go, to sample various cultures and see as much as we could, and more importantly, to give Elsi as many good and memorable experiences as possible. I wanted to visit Venice and Gareth wanted to visit Chamonix, so I purchased a large road atlas and started planning the best route.

Route & Campsites!

1 – Sail from Harwich to Hook of Holland

Holand because the Calais jungle was headlining at the time, so I decided to avoid it. I booked an overnight crossing so we didn’t waste any valuable ‘holiday’ time.

2 – Drive from Harwich to Eclaron

Eclaron is in France, and more or less half way to Chamonix and it’s in the Champagne region! It’s also a popular place with cyclists as it has a large flat and scenic lake. Cycle 40km around the lake and return to the campsite to drink chmpagne – a perfect start to the holiday!

We stayed for two nights at the Yelloh Village campsite. We had stayed at five of these family friendly campsites in Brittany last year and the facilities were fantastic, this one wasn’t as contemporary but it was still really good and Elsi loved it and made a new friend called Moses, (this always happens when you camp with the kids – love it!) they spent the second evening bug hunting and making bug hotels! Brilliant fun!

3 – Drive from Eclaron to Chamonix

Amazing scenery with snow-capped mountains! If you are camping in Chamonix be aware that you can’t book any campsites in advance! As a control freak, this took me out of my comfort zone but I knew everyone was in the same boat! I just made a list of the three campsites and postcodes so I was partially in control! We were fortunate to get into my number 1 choice – Camping de la Mer de Glace – and stayed there for two nights.

From here we cycled and walked into town along the glacier waters and through the flat woodlands and pretty back streets. The town was equally pretty and the snow -capped mountains made it all very magical – it is a ski resort so I’d love to go back! The dress code here was lycra!

4 – Drive from Chamonix to Lake Garda

Through the Mont Blanc Tunnel (at a cost of £50!). I booked Weekend Camping Village for three nights, a fantastic campsite which overlooks the lake and has a brilliant ‘kids club’ and fantastic facilities including a stunning lake view restaurant, quiet hammock corner where you can just look over the lake and chill out, and a gorgeous palm tree lined pool with jacuzzis for Mums and water slides for kids, which Elsi and Gareth went on at least a 1,000 times (I was forced to go on it once as Elsi had a complete melt down and refused to stop crying at until I went down! It was easier to give in and make a fool of myself!).

This campsite was best place we stayed according to Elsi and Gareth and it was worth the steep £70 a night! The location is good too as you can walk down to the lake. We walked around the pretty shop lined streets along the lake and relaxed, swam and paddle boarded in the stunning clear waters.

5 – Drive from Lake Garda to Venice

We stopped in Verona en route to see Juliet’s balcony and a few other attractions that inspired Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Verona is worth a pit stop but it was the busiest place we went, especially the shopping district with it’s marble floors and designer shops – Italian high streets are packed with designer shops sitting amongst tacky tourist shops, which I found bizarre!

In Venice, we stayed at Camping Rialto for two nights, it had basic amenities but the main attraction was it’s price – £27 a night, compared to a £300 hotel – no brainer! Also, it’s location – a 10 minute and £3 bus ride from the center of Venice – and the bus stop was directly across the street and run every 20 minutes!

I had been warned about Venice – Expensive, overcrowded, smelly, buggy…In terms of expense, it’s as cheap or expensive as you want it to be! You can walk in and around Venice for free or splash out on a private boat ride which takes anything from 5 – 20 minutes and costs £60 – £100, or you can do what we did, catch the water taxi which is £15 a day for adults and free for children and can be used all day.

Overcrowded? Not really and nothing compared to Verona or the Royal Welsh Showground! Yes, there were lots of people there but apart from when you want to take a photo on the Rialto Bridge, you don’t have to push or queue for anything else. Smelly? I did have wafts of the smelly canals when we were sitting at the riverside pizzeria near the Rialto Bridge, but it wasn’t too bad! Buggy? Like everywhere else we went, you do get mosquitos but they were not that bad!

Beautiful? Stunning? Romantic? Yes! Yes! Yes! I loved it! Elsi loved the buildings and shops, the boats and the ice cream and Gareth thought it was ‘nice’ and it was good to tick of the list – but he was missing the mountains! I would highly recommend it though, it’s unique and a feast for the eyes!

6 – Drive from Venice to St Moritz

Back into the mountains and the most beautiful and dramatic landscapes as we approached the swiss alps. We stayed at TCS Campsite for two nights, which is the closest campsite to the town. We walked and cycled along the path into town and again it has great views. Good clean facilities and a small park. Everyone in Switzerland is active, so you have to join in and run, jog, walk, climb, cycle etc even on the campsite itself – but be warned, do not cycle around the lake, we were told off by local for doing this! It’s just for walkers and runners, cyclists have to hike along to the higher tree lined paths!

St Moritz is pretty, but there’s not really that much to do. It’s worth walking up to the shops, but the first shop you see on top of the hill is Louis Vuitton and that really sets the tone for things to come! The people here are rich but they were also the least friendly of all the people we met on our holiday, what does that tell you about money?!

7 – Drive from St Moritz to Davos

Amazingly beautiful scenery again as you drive through the alps and past the cows with their bells – it’s basically like the Milka and Alpen adverts! The most dramatic roads I’ve seen, as if you’re driving up a windy never-ending rollercoaster. When planning the trip, I decided to treat us to two nights at the Intercontinental Hotel in Davos – a luxury hilltop hotel with a spa and great views, before we continued to camp in Bavaria and Holland and then return home!

The hotel was lovely, and after 11 nights and 12 days in the van, it was nice to have a bit more space and Mabel needed a rest after all those big mountains! Davos was a lovely town, Gareth loved it. The hotel gave us free passes for all the cable cars and public transport which saved us over £150 in two days! We took advantage and went on the cable car up the Jakobshorn mountain (2,590m) – a popular ski resort and full of mountain bikers – Gareth was envious!

At the summit restaurant, I spotted a Welsh flag and soon realised that we were surrounded by South Walians! They were here to see the Cardiff Devils Ice Hockey game against Davos in the ice rink tonight! No way! Needless to say, we tagged along and Elsi loved it! She was screaming ‘Let’s go Devils’ at the top of her voice! Sadly, they lost 10 – 1!

Little did we know that night that this would be the end of our holiday! Bavaria and Holland were not meant to be as Mabel decided she’d had enough, she was knackered! She refused to play ball and after a call to the AA and spending a long 6 hours at the Mercedes Benz garage, the AA informed us that the van would have to be towed home, probably for a new clutch! Mabel is still in Davos, we’re expecting her home next week!

We can’t complain, we had an amazing two-week holiday, we’d seen so much and did everything we wanted to do. We had nothing planned from here onwards and we were offered free cancellation at the final two campsites and the return ferry has been refunded! The AA organised and paid for a hotel in Zurich, flights home to Birmingham and a hire car from Birmingham to home! Saving us around £2,000! Phew!

Highlights!

Digital Detox – Turning my phone off outside the house and not switching it on until we were back in the country was the best decision I made. It meant that I could really relax, sleep better and most importantly, devote 100% of my time to my family.

Chamonix’s Snow Capped Mountains – It’s the first place that’s ever made me cry!

Paragliding Chamonix – Watching my husband paragliding down the mountains and alongside Mont Blanc was so exciting!

Houses – Chamonix – If I ever become rich, and it’s looking very unlikely! I would buy a picture -perfect house in Chamonix! They are so enchanting, huge wooden chalets with the most amazing carvings and hand painted window frames – and the best views!

Gondola Ride Venice – I loved it, despite the £100 price tag.

Swiss Alps – Breath taking, the most dramatic landcsapes I’ve seen, despite it pushing poor Mable to her limits!

Elsi’s First Flight! – This was not part of the plan but I’ll never forget her excited little face when she got onto the aeroplane and her excitement as we took off – she’s an adrenalin junkie like her Dad so being nervous or scared is not o her radar!

Dislikes

Cost! Everything on the holiday was more expensive than I’d predicted due to the awful exchange rate of 1.04 euros to the pound – campsites were around £30 – £35 per night, basic meals out were anywhere between £40 – £50 for just one course and without alcohol and supermarkets were also expensive – Elsi loves ham and it basically worked out at a £1 per slice! Switserland was the most expensive place –  3 x pizzas, 1 x coke, 1 prosecco and an apple juice was £97! If this isn’t jaw dropping enough – the 2 – hour taxi ride from Davos to the airport in Zurich was £500! Ouch! (The AA will be paying us back! Pheeeew!)

Mosquitos! The French ones liked my legs and ankles and the Italians liked my eyes and arms and also Gareth’s bottom! Fortunately, they didn’t like Elsi at all!

Tolls – As we we’re in Mabel, we decided to stick to the quickest routes as she’s thirsty and drives a little slower than younger vehicles. As a result, we had to stick to the toll roads and we probably spent the best part of £200 on tolls throughout – but it would have cost more in fuel! Avoid these if you can!

Tips!

1 – Start planning it NOW!

2 – Breakdown cover!

3 – Spread the cost and book and pay for one element of the holiday each month – makes it more exciting too!

4 – Research the best activities/ attractions and make a wish list of what you’d like to see each day so you make the most of your time.

5 – Take food and drinks with you as it’ll be cheaper and you need plenty of snacks for the kids, especially on long journeys!

6 – Toilet – If you are in a van and you don’t have a toilet – a portable toilet for around £30 is well worth the investment, especially if you have a lot of driving to do! It’s not just for the kids!

7 – DVD players with headphones are a life saver on long journeys!

8 – One bag rule! My husband insists we only have one bag each for all our stuff and a separate bag for swimming stuff so that’s always ready to go! It’s worth sticking to it as you only have so much space and clutter causes stress! (I obviously have the biggest bag!)

9 – Sat Nav – My best investment – Switch it on and off you go! (Saves a lot of arguing!)

10 – See point 1! Do it! In my opinion, camping is the best way to see the world your way with the people you love the most. We’re already discussing ideas for 2018!

Happy Camping!

By Heulwen Davies, Mam Cymru.

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