We had the white one, it is a VW T26 camper with a Hillside Leisure Birchover conversion.
It was small enough
We tried it out for two weeks in Scotland in April, when it was cold windy and dark. We then took it to Norfolk for 10 days in the heat of summer. Great tests both for seeing how well it worked in different conditions. Both were great.
So the big continental trip beckoned.
Ferry booked, camper booked. Michelle provided a certificate of hire, roadside assist was VW as it was still under warranty, headlight deflector, and normal triangles and high viz required and the GB sign was already on the number plates.
We only live 7 miles away from TFT so I collected the van by bicycle and loaded our stuff at home.
We crossed overnight from Portsmouth to St Malo. The plan was to travel to Northern Spain for 21 days to come home on the Bilbao to Portsmouth ferry.
We arrived in France to unseasonably summer temperatures which rose to 33-35 degrees each day. Bit hot but we coped. Would have loved air con but understand why it doesn’t come with the van. We compensated in the evenings with a little electric fan before we remembered the van has a diesel driven fan too. The rest of the time we do as the continentals do and find shade. Seemed to work. But it was lovely to relax in the sun. It cooled off to the mid 20’s after a week
Three weeks is the slow way to see France, we have spent many years around most of the tourist hot spots, so happy to just soak up the ambience of the beautiful country and its consumables. We love mountains and Europe has some spectacular ones, with some which are part of Tour de France legend. I love cycling but these are miles too big for my old legs.
Gwyneth is a brilliant navigator and holiday planner. She finds the routes, works out places to visit and when (French shops and attractions close for lunch!) where to get food and somewhere to sleep at night. And get us to our end point just in time. I do the donkey work of driving, cooking, transforming the van for its required use (roof, bed making, hooking up. Etc.) It works well for us.
To be a great navigator/holiday planner Don’t depend on a satnav. Buy a Michelin book map, this map has campsites marked and most importantly it has a green line next to pretty roads. It has symbols to tell you good places to stay and viewpoints. There are also maps showing village fleuri, Beaux village etc. for extra inspiration. Drop into Tourist offices to collect information on local attractions of which there are huge numbers. This will enable you to track your way through rural France on their prettiest roads, lovely little villages and savour their local markets. The satnav does help, we used it to show where we were, and guide us via some of the more remote places. Clever little thing. Just don’t let it take you the fastest way. The variations are now endless. If you love mountains go to the Ardennes, Alps and Pyrenees. If you like rivers Loire, Dordogne and the Tarn, if you like the sea, the med and the Atlantic are all beautiful. And that is just France. Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland. How long have you got?
We don’t book anything except the ferry and vehicle. Then we are free to travel as much or little as we like. Weather dependent, something we fancy on route. We haven’t come a cropper yet. In fact nothing even close. And the campervan beats the motorbike or car hands down making the risks reduce dramatically. You are so independent.
Do I need to speak French? Well it is always nice to engage people in their own language. Even it is only effusive please’s and thank you’s. The main feeling is that you are very welcome in France. They like you to come. But do try to practice some French on them, it is appreciated.
Am I welcome in France/ Europe? The main sign that you are welcome is that their campsites particularly ‘camping municipals’ are right in their village hearts. Imagine that in England. Depending on your expectations, we found the campsite facilities perfectly good enough for our needs.
What worked for us?
Bedding 4 single duvets 2 below for added luxury and one each to suit individual tastes. The two below have a fitted sheet over. This gives the option of using one of the under ones for extra warmth if it gets cold at night. A 1350 wide single duvet fits the bed perfectly as does the double fitted sheet. You can of course use sleeping bags.
Packing the bedding . Behind back seat top shelf. Roll each piece of bedding, strap with no return straps. Put each in stuff bag. Keeps it all clean and tidy. Only takes 5 minutes to pack.
Outdoor cooking. Two trangias (one gas, one meth’s) from my tent camping kit. I take two washing up bowls slotted into each other. The lower one has all the cutlery and utensils and the upper with plates cooker and cups. Very handy and compact.
Indoor cooking sauté pan, steamer, all with lids. Increases capacity of two rings to cook more things separately. Steamed veg is nice anyway.
Our own tables – smaller and more movable around the van to give space for cooking etc. and can be used outside. Chairs to suit your tastes of course.
Music – Bose mini soundlink and ipod/phone. Long battery life for both can charge via 12v plug during travel or plug in when hooked up. Great quality a proper touch of luxury.
Storage. Bedding upper rear shelf; cases, cables etc under this shelf, hanging cupboard as designed; underseat for incidental kit, food, cool box wine etc. Fridge is wonderful after tent camping; other cupboards for food, wash kit, cooking pots, fridge door brilliant for cups, glasses, washing up liquid, cooking oil etc. all very handy
Secure storage of documents – over bed shelf is out of reach when the roof is down. Just remember to empty it before closing roof for the last time!
Night clothes hanging – we use a couple of s hooks from the roof hang down loops to hang up our clothes at night. This saves seat space for other things.
Hooks from the head rest posts. Gives you somewhere to hang hand bag, shopping bags etc
Security at night. We use a carabiner clip to hang the car keys over the sliding door to the strut. We can then centrally lock at night and unlock in the morning.
I made a store using a hanging shoe rack to pick up odds and sods plus shoes which hung off the back of the front seat. Cheap and effective.
Raising the roof. Make sure a door is open to give the volume of air in the roof to enter or escape.
Gale force winds. If really windy, we closed the roof during the night.
Keeping the floor clean. We use a floor rag. It works for wiping your feet/shoes on entry and is easy to shake out and wash when dirty. Useful also for washing the floor whilst standing outside.
Was it a good holiday? Absolutely yes. Just look at the places we went. Few are one the ‘tourist trail’
How could it have been anything else? Away from it all in a welcoming, constantly changing interesting place. No pressures to get anywhere or do anything. Fully independent with a bed you know and what you eat and drink in your control.
Would we do it again? Yes, no question. It is already booked.
Jerry and Gwyneth