Friday 28th - Sunday 30th August 2020
Although we were back in the UK, we weren't ready to be stuck at home at home just yet!
After a quick trip to the barbers, we packed up the van with fresh clothes and fresh food, and headed to Hereford Rowing Club to meet up with our Motorhomer.com friends.
We had a wonderful evening enjoying socially distanced catch ups and were excited to wake up the next morning and install our new Victron Energy Multi Plus Inverter Charger- HUGE Thank Yous to Alpha Batteries for helping us with these big beauties!
It was such a soggy weekend, that Steve and the "men folk" had great fun watching (and helping) larger motorhomes get on and off the next field!
HOWEVER, all did not go according to plan. As I was making our morning cuppa, I found shredded biscuit packages, tiny little poops AND WORST OF ALL; evidence that something had been at my custard!!! The evidence was conclusive, we had an uninvited guest!
Friday 21st - Sunday 23rd August 2020
We have an uninvited guest!
After almost 6 months off school, we are excited to make the most of our last weekend of the holidays! So it's off to Hereford to meet up with the www.motorhomer.com crew.
As we left Milton Keynes it started to rain, and it didn't really stop until we returned! We spent quite a lot of time watching and pushing the larger vans get on and off the meeting fields.
Steve was very excited to meet up with Phil so they could install the new Victron Multi Plus Inverter Charger. I need to take a moment to say a HUGE Thank you to Alpha Batteries for supplying the new unit, what an incredible beast it is!
On Saturday morning we woke up and discovered that something had been nibbling at our nuts and chewing on our custard cartons!! After a bit of an investigation we discovered that we must have a mouse - or maybe a whole family of mice??? What a
Friday 21st - Sunday 23rd August 2020
Woooh the wind!!!
After a week at home, we were all keen to get out on the road again! Swapping Sunny Spain for Stratford-Upon-Avon seemed like a wonderful idea - and we were right!
The racecourse at Stratford-Upon-Avon is a regular location for www.Motorhomer.com meets. We've been attending Motorhomer meets since December 2016 and have made some incredible friendships over the years. The boys have practically grown up with the other children who are regulars at these events.
Over the weekend we explored Stratford, celebrated Tylor's 12th Birthday, and the big boys got to test drive a VERY expensive electric bike - NO we will not be "investing in one".
Wednesday 12th August 2020
We woke up nice and early and started our day with a shower. When we are travelling we keep our washing basket, a couple of footballs, maybe a big 5L bottle of water or two at least 5 dressing gowns and anything else that can roll about as we travel in our shower, so it always feels like a lot of work before we even turn the water on. The Kontiki does have a great shower, nice a spacious and a large hot water tank, so it was well worth the effort.
After our shower we got out of the van to explore. The aire was a pretty, nondescript carpark with no signs close to a supermarket and a boulangerie - so hurrah Croissants and Pastries for breakfast! We were soon on the road and headed North.
We were expecting huge crowds of Brits to be queueing for the Euro Tunnel, but were very wrong. I don't think we have ever seen the terminal and loading areas so quiet. We arrived slightly ahead of our planned departure time, and were moved to an earlier crossing. We drove off the train and in to the Kent countryside at 10.35 and were home at Radford Towers by lunch time.
What an incredible trip; we loved exploring Spain and France, learning how to travel during a pandemic, and enjoying the wonderful sunshine. But once you decide it's time to leave, arriving home is the best feeling.
Aire at Nouvion, Somme, Hauts-de-France, France, 80860
What3Words link: https://w3w.co/competitive.flexes.motivational
Monday 10th - Tuesday 11th August 2020
Well, that day didn't end where we expected!
We woke up on Monday morning with a clear plan to track west(ish) exploring several sites recommended by our YouTube Community. From there the "plan" (it was a very loose plan) was to head north(ish) before returning to the UK at the end of the month. But we woke to news, alerts, messages and even phone calls from family and friends warning that France was about to be LOCKED DOWN. As a family we were relatively comfortable that we were no higher at risk in France as we would be in the UK. We had no problems with social distancing, mask wearing or hand hygiene, but we were concerned that if new Quarantine rules were imposed, the boys would miss the start of the new school year.
So, we evolved our plan - again. Rather than heading west, we would start to drive north back towards Calais. In 2015 we had fallen in love with a family owned Chateau and campsite. Just over 3 hours north of Camping Ardèche, Chateau Le Grange Fort would be a lovely stop off along the route. So we set off.
Driving north Steve and I were still discussing options. What about heading to The Netherlands, and taking the ferry home? What about exploring north in to Scandinavia? If we head to a "low risk country", and on our last day drive directly back to EuroTunnel without stopping, would we still need to quarantine when we arrive? But as we talked through all our options, it became clear that at some point, all countries could be deemed high risk, and 2 weeks quarantine would seriously impact the boy's return to school.
The British Government seemed to be making announcements on Wednesday or Thursday afternoons to be implemented in the early hours of Saturday morning. Would it be the same for France? Or would any new announcements be similar to Spain? Announced and implemented with immediate effect? As we wound our way north we became resigned to the realisation that this was no longer the mid-point of our trip, and infact this was the last few days. Although we were pretty sure we had enough time for one more stop, as we approached the pull off junction for Le Grange Fort we didn't stop. I picked up my laptop logged on to our EuroTunnel account and brought our crossing forwards.
I would love to say that the journey north was uneventful, and mostly it was until we hit Paris. Approaching from the South, we have only ever turned right and travelled easterly around the périphérique (outer ringroad). But Google Maps flashed up with a "YOU CAN SAVE 5 MINS BY CHANGING ROUTES" message. We had been driving for 6 hours at this point and blindly followed the newly suggested route. If you only take 1 thing from following our adventures, please let it be this. NEVER HEAD AROUND THE WEST SIDE OF THE PERIPHERIQUE IN ANYTHING TALLER THAN A CAR. The ring road is partial tunnel, and by partial, I mean several huge chunks. The height limit is 2m and there is no clear, obvious route above ground. Our 5 minute saving cost us over 90 minutes in additional driving time. AND the worst thing about this debacle; at some point in the past we had both known this! Urgh
After 10 hours driving, mainly on toll roads we pulled up in the dark at a quiet, unmarked aire just south of Calais and went to sleep. If you would like a hack for saving money at tolls - click the link below and watch our latest adventure.
Chateau Le Grange Fort: https://www.lagrangefort.eu/?lang=en
What3Words link: https://w3w.co/grained.icicle.length
Aire at Nouvion, Somme, Hauts-de-France, France, 80860
What3Words link: https://w3w.co/competitive.flexes.motivational
Sunday 9th - Monday 10th August 2020
Huge THANK YOU to "Bad Neck" for this recommendation
When we first arrived in France we had put a request out to our YouTube community to give us recommendations for their favourite places to visit. "Bad Neck" strongly recommended Camping Ardèche, part of the Camping Domaine Les Ranchisses group, and as this was the "mid-point" of our 6 week trip, we decided to push the boat out and explore a new area of France.
Nestled along the banks of the Ruisseau des Chabasses and surrounded by ancient woodland, the pitches at Camping Ardèche are spacious and have wonderful natural shade. We pitched up quickly, and all the boys went off to explore the swimming pools while I stayed back to knock up a chilli for dinner.
Everything about this site oozed 5* loveliness. The toilets blocks were beautiful, spacious and cleaned every hour. The Swimming pools were large and clean with a couple of slides. There was an adult only pool, a wellbeing spa, a 5* restaurant and a snack bar. Even the onsite shop was stocked with high quality local products (as well as the usual loo rolls and toilet chemicals!). For a few hours we were able to escape the the growing sense of unease that BBC & FCO alerts kept pinging to our phones.
After a fab dinner of chilli and salad, as the boys were washing up the dinner plates, the sky grew dark and within 5 minutes the heavens opened. What a downpour! George, Harry and I had a wonderful time dancing in the rain before turning in for an early night.
Knowing that each night cost €100, we decided to stay one night and see how we felt before committing to a second night. I had hoped we would get a chance to "mess about" on the river on one of the many canoes and paddle boards available. But we woke up to even more alerts and notifications. The tone of news from the UK was changing again. Covid-19 numbers in France seem to be spiralling out of control and the UK press were speculating that France would soon be returning to the "Do Not Travel List".
It was an easy decision to leave in the morning, but where exactly should we head to? Track West along a route of sites recommended by our community, or start tracking North to get ahead of the impending quarantine rules?
What3Words : https://w3w.co/tickle.tall.primes
Friday 7th August - Sunday 9th August
Our kind of heaven!
Since arriving in the South of France we were becoming more and more aware of the sheer numbers of other people who were also in the South of France. As we pulled out of Montpellier Plage we decided it was time to get away from the crowds and head an hour inland.
Camping Municipal Le Grillon is small campsite owned by the local village. It was small, quiet and perfect. The site had really generous pitches all with lots of natural shade. There was a snack bar and gourmet restaurant onsite, and lovely pool big enough for 17 people to enjoy safely.
When we talked to the boys about why they loved this site so much, it came down to the small size and "community" feel. They made friends with french children who were also staying at the site. They went swimming, played table tennis, climbed the climbing frames and hung out with other tweens and teens. On the big sites, the children and young adults often gravitate in to "packs" that it's difficult to join when we are only onsite for a day or 2.
The toilet blocks were clean; solid 3 star facilities and absolutely adequate for what we needed.
On our second night at the site, Steve and I went for a romantic meal in the restaurant - it was exquisite. Absolutely delicious local produce cooked and presented in a classic French style.
For just €30 per night, Camping Municipal le Grillon was our favourite site of the 2020 Summer Trip.
Camping Municipal le Grillon:
Friday 7th August - Saturday 8th August
Osssh, it's gettting too "People-y"
After a couple of days of relaxing on small quirky aires, we decided it was time to change gear again. Before we left Les Peupliers we picked a beautiful looking campsite with a glorious pool and stunning beachside location. Unfortunately, as we were finding more and more in the South of France, the site we picked was full. Sooo, we shrugged our shoulders and continued along the coast towards Montpellier.
Between the city of Montpellier and the Mediterranean Sea is a series of ponds (small lakes) and a spit of land called "Palavas-les-flots". The Palavas-les-flots had 3 campsites dotted along it, all had swimming pools and on paper looked more than good enough to us. When we arrived at the first one reception was closed and we were told to come back in an hour. So we moved on to the next one.
Camping Montpellier Plage was a solid 3 star site. There were a couple of fast food restaurants/take outs, a couple of shops and a nice enough pool area. The toilet and shower facilities were good, totally in line with 3*s. BUT it was huge and dusty and so so busy. Everything about the site was fine, but we didn't fall in love with it, so we moved on the next morning.
Camping Montpellier Plage : http://www.camping-montpellier-plage.com/
95 Avenue Saint-Maurice,
34250 Palavas-les-Flots, France
+33 4 67 68 00 91
Wednesday 5th August - Friday 7th August
After the hustle and bustle of Camping Florida & The Mouth, it was time to slow the pace (and the budget) right down. We made the most of our last morning on the campsite, with the boys fitting in one last swim. Before we left the campsite we had spent some time researching our next destination. We found a lovely looking aire, about 2 hours up the coast, with a pool and nice looking bar. BUT, when we arrived it was full, AND the pool was close due to "Covid".
The beauty of travelling the way we do is that we can change our plans and adapt to new recommendations. Usually it works out really well for us, but sometimes it makes life a little more complicated. After the first aire was full, we tried a campsite just a few minutes up the road. This was also full. Actually, technically there was one pitch left, but it was small and awkward and a long way from the site amenities. This whole area was incredibly busy, so we decided to push on and find somewhere else.
Aire de camping car Les Canoës is aprox 1.5km from the sea and nestled on the bank of the Herault river. It's a quirky place with lovely pitches with plenty of natural shade. Dotted around the site are several water features, a table tennis table and a lovely communal sun lounge which would be fabulous in non-covid times. The toilet facilities were basic but perfectly adequate, especially when you consider we only paid €15 for the night.
We all slept well and even George caught up on some of the sleep he missed during our late night at the funfair. When we woke in the morning, nobody really had a huge appetite for moving too far. Looking on Google Maps Steve spotted another aire, less than 200m away that also had it's own pool. So we packed up and moved on.
Les Peupliers turned out to be more than an aire. It was a campsite with a Motorhome Aire near the entrance. We arrived and pitched up in the first free motorhome space and the site manager arrived on a golf buggy to take €12 for the night! Steve and I were both surprised that the price was so low for such a great location with access to the pool. Within 20 mins of arriving we were pitched up and ready to hang out at the pool. It turns out that the pool was only really for use by the Campsite visitors - D'oh! After a couple of minutes of confusion, rather than move to the main site, we offered to pay the difference and just access the pool. The lovely lady at reception decided that was unnecessary and we spent a couple of hours swimming. As soon as the pool started to get busy we left so the campsite people could enjoy what they had paid for.
These two aires proved to be the perfect "slow down and chill" stops!
Aire de camping car Les Canoës: https://www.campinglescanoes.com/
Les Peupliers - http://www.lespeupliersdelatama.fr/
Monday 3rd August - Wednesday 5th August
Time to push the boat out and have some fun!
So what exactly does €90 per night get you? Well, at Camping Village Florida & The Mouth it gets you gorgeous pools, a water park, a spa, evening entertainment, boutique shops, a couple of restaurants, an airstream take away pizza parlour, access to a pristine beach AND it's all dressed up as a 1950s American Theme Park Experience!
The campsite itself was fabulous, the only downside were the crowds. At this point, the Covid-19 numbers in France were still low, and while we didn't come across many British, German or Dutch campers (as we usually do), there were many many French people enjoying a staycation. France is much busier than Spain was, AND there was very little respect for masks or social distancing.
The evening entertainment was provided by a professional Animation Team. The theme for the first night was The Greatest Showman, with some dubious notes and eye popping dancing. BUT the Michael Jackson tribute act on our second night was brilliant! MJ's make-up was spectacular. After the MJ show we took a 10 minute walk to the Fairground just up the road. It was a late night, especially for George, but we had so much fun!
Sunday 2nd August - Monday 3rd August
Wow! What a stunning location!
Our next stop as we tracked towards the Mediterranean was at UNESCO World Heritage site; Carcassonne! Carcassonne is a hilltop town in southern France's Languedoc area famous for it's medieval citadel; La Cite.
Arriving in the late afternoon, we decided to park up in an aire instead of paying for a campsite with a range of facilities we would not have time to use. There are two aire's in Carcassone, one with and one without services. We picked the one with Services and arrived at a glorious automated aire. As we pulled on to the site we immediately paid €15 in to a barrier machine. The machine issued a ticket with a unique code that we would need to exit and also access 15 mins of water - perfect for topping up the tanks before we left!
That evening we took a stroll down the river and through a park in to the main "new" town. By "new" we mean that this part of the city dates back to the middle ages rather than ancient medieval times! There were plenty of perfect "wand" sticks, so George and Harry zapped and cast spells as they ducked and weaved around trees. The area was also prime hunting ground for Pokemon! In town we found a Moroccan restaurant where George earned the nickname "Kebab Destroyer" (Thanks AutoDub for the name - it really is perfect for him).
The next morning we were up and ready to explore La Cite, and so was the whole of the rest of Southern France. We had planned to explore the inner city streets but the crowds were huge and very few people seemed concerned with masks or social distancing. Instead, we walked around the inner lices discovering numerous watchtowers between the double walled fortifications. The first walls were built in Gallo-Roman times, with major additions being made in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Automated Aire: Aire de camping car Carcassonne
Saturday 1st - Sunday 2nd August
Bonjour Tout Le Monde!
On our very first morning in France we woke up with our heads literally in the clouds! The Pyrenees were shrouded in mist as we set out down the mountain to our first stop at an aire in Saint Jean Pied de Port. Costing just €9 for 24 hours we parked up, plugged in and headed in to the town to explore the ancient streets.
Translated, Pied de Port means "Foot of the Pass". And Saint Jean Pied de Port is a popular starting point for the French Way Camino Francés, which weaves through the Pyrenees across northern Spain to shrine of the apostle Saint James the Great in the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Although the town itself was a little busy, we had a lovely couple of hours wandering through the medieval streets, soaking up the atmosphere of modern day pilgrims on their own personal journeys.
When we returned to the van a Fanta Orange incident saw Steve and Harry head off to find a launderette, while I cleaned the van and Eddie and George played table tennis at the table next to our pitch!
What a perfect stop in an incredible location!
Aire: Fronton de Saint Jean Pied de Port
Thursday 30th July - Saturday 1st August.
Watch this adventure here
With the UK Government's sudden announcement that Spain has been placed back on the "All but essential travel" list, we decided to head to France to enjoy at least 2 weeks exploring a country we only ever really drive through. We decided to avoid the Covid-19 hotspots in both Aragon and Catalunya regions by tracking up to the East side of the Pyrenees mountains 10 hours away!
We broke up the journey by spending the night at Camping Cuenca. Arriving at around 6pm in the evening, the boys all headed off to the pool (complete with it's own cave) for a lovely swim! This campsite has the most beautiful toilet block we have seen so far on this trip - in fact, only the loos at Camping Krk in Croatia are more beautiful!
The next morning we set off early and tracked North West towards France. I chose an incredible point to cross the border based primarily on the outline of the road snaking up on the map (don't tell Steve, he thinks I did loads of research!). My instincts were right though, with that many hairpin bends and switch backs, the aire at the top had incredible views. Steve got some pretty amazing drone footage and an early morning time lapse video of sun rising over the misty mountains.
Tuesday 28th - Thursday 30th July
Watch this adventure here
Villaricos has one of the prettiest marinas I've seen in Spain, and our great friends The Howards, own a glorious villa just across the road! We arrived early afternoon on Tuesday and the boys immediately hit the pool while the "Grown Ups" (snigger - right), caught up over a beer or two. We decided to BBQ for lunch and Graham and Sue rustled up a feast fit for an army - which is good as between us we have 6 children (3 of whom at teenagers)!!!
After spending most of the day in the pool we moved the motorhome to the closest campsite we could find. We had hoped to wild camp at one of the nearby beach spots, but it was just too hot. Our big boys sleep "uptop" in the bed over the cab, and this area is always at least 5* hotter than the rest of the van, and in 32* temps, they would have really complained without aircon. Moan free kids = happy holidays! So we moved the van to a campsite called Cuevas Mar
Cuevas Mar felt quite tired, and the pitches were pretty tight and dusty. Many had shade sheets hanging above the pitches, but not hanging high enough to get our van under. Eventually we found a pitch that was long enough and Steve shimmied us in. Within 45 mins we had all showered and were ready to head in to the village for dinner at Lucky Bar. Although all the food was good the Moussaka and Calamari were amazing! I had actually been craving Calamari since arriving in Spain.
We had planned to head to the beach on Wednesday morning, but a series of late nights had caught up with little George and we had a slow start to the morning. We arrived at the Howards around lunch time and knocked up sandwiches from yesterdays BBQ leftovers - top top lunch! We all spent much of the rest of the afternoon in the pool.
For dinner Sue made the most amazing paellas, 1 fully seafood, and one chicken and chorizo. Oh my goodness, thinking back on them now is making me hungry again. Mmmmm
A couple of days before we arrived in Villaricos the UK Government removed Spain from the "Safe to Travel" list. Graham runs his own business, and so the Howards had decided to cut short their holidays to ensue he could return to work on time. If you haven't read our previous blog posts, this is why we skipped Benidorm and rushed down the coast so quickly. Anyway, as you can imagine, we were receiving messages, phone calls, texts and also being tagged in posts all about the Government's revised advice. AND we were already signed up to the FCO travel alert emails, because that seemed a sensible precaution before we left. Although the revised travel advice only applied to future travel, and the FCO were not advising anyone already in Spain to return home we faced a tough decision. Another factor impacting our decision was the mutterings that France was considering closing the Spanish boarder.
So, in an epic Plot Twist; we decided to head to France!