Today we set off in Bluey on our Euro- trip. With a week’s worth of food, an OK bed (still needs improvement!) A nice big drum of drinking water, a working shower, and our very cute dog with her pet passport!
I am always too relaxed with time, and Pato is always very anxious but this means that between us we usually find a good balance. Today my relaxed nature meant we got to the train after check in had closed (this wasn’t helped by very busy rush hour traffic). The Eurotunnel check in staff were great and put us on the next train without any extra cost to us. We had read that they would do this up to 2 hours after your departure time but couldn’t believe it! On the UK end of the tunnel there were no pet checks. The journey went smoothly and 35minutes later we were in Calais!
As we’d had to work during the day it was a late crossing. Pato had planned around this and found a stop through a website near Reims in France around 4hours from Calais. We got there and the stop didn’t exist, luckily for us France is full of Aires along the motorways which are small parking areas with toilets. At these stops you *can* park overnight. Note that Aires are a luxury and not a right so you can sleep there but do so relatively discreetly.
We were very grateful for the Aires in France throughout our trip, clean toilets, picnic benches, and a lot of them even have nice little grassy areas big enough for Milly to be off her lead a bit. Some of them also provide drinking water although we only came across one of these, but it meant we could fill up out water drums!
We slept OK but still need to improve on the bed set up. Keep waking up with sore backs! Today we headed towards Les Houches as that would be the location of our first walk. Our first task was to find dog food (we left Milly’s food behind- whoops!) this wasn’t too difficult as we found a Carrefour. We split up the journey by stopping in Dijon (pretty little town where Dijon mustard comes from), then carried on till we found a lake in Foret d’Orient where we had a nice walk, followed by a picnic of tinned meat and wraps.
We decided to give the website a second chance having found a place to stop for the night and we headed to find it. This time it appeared to be the perfect spot…however a block of flats had started being built right on top of it. Luckily we found a pretty Aire 30 minutes from the start of the walk and decided to sleep there near Les Granges de Passy. Pato tried out the shower and had a refreshing wash (this time the shower worked!)
After a night of pouring rain and distant thunder disturbing us it was time to head to Les Houches and our walk! It began with a cable car ride (Milly wasn’t sure about this!) We were incredibly lucky, the weather was beautiful (especially on the way back) and the paths were remarkably quiet. I was a little nervous as this was my first walk with new walking boots…risky! It was a beautiful route and Milly frolicked and bounced about off the lead for most of the walk, apart from when we met the occasional cows, the big bells around their necks alerting us to their presence in plenty of time. There were some spectacular views, and the walk although relatively long was very doable. **See more here**
After finishing our walk we headed to find Rendezvous campsite in Kandersteg, Switzerland. The location for our next walk. On our way we kept noticing the lack of tolls on the motorways and Pato had noticed most cars had vignettes stuck to their windscreens, after a bit of research we stopped and had to buy a vignette at a petrol station for 40 Swiss Francs (they only sell vignettes valid for 12months).
We’d been using the Met office app to check the weather and it was incredibly lucky that we’d decided to risk carrying on with our planned walks. It had warned of severe rain and storms everyday; all we got on day 3 was hot sunshine and the odd cloud!
We found the campsite; unimpressed by what we got for the price but happy that it was right next door to the cable car that would lead us to the start of walk 2 the following morning. It really is a stunning location, surrounded by beautiful mountains, with clean well maintained facilities. However at a cost of 44 Swiss Franc (Around 37€ for one night..and a further 1 Swiss Franc per 3minutes of shower!). Switzerland is an expensive Country, and this is no exception.
We set up camp, got out our table and chairs out and enjoyed a cold beer and some dinner of rice and a tin of food! The weather stayed clear and we slept well finally!
The cable car that would take us to the start of our walk opened at 8am and we made sure we were ready and waiting. But not before enjoying our first hot showers in 4 days! After getting to the top there is a 1km walk down to Oeschinensee lake. The view from the lake could easily be the most beautiful view we’ve seen. Amazingly we were the only people at the lake apart from a lone fisherman out on the lake in a rowing boat. When planning our walk we’d read about how busy the lake gets so we felt lucky! Milly enjoyed a swim and a nose dive before we continued on the walk. **See more here**
It was a truly beautiful walk, climbing up through farm land, and some pretty little houses, high up above the lake and around it. It was a struggle as blisters had well and truly developed on my feet thanks to the new boots! (Ouch) but it was SO worth it. Again, apart from some livestock during the ascent, and some goats taking refuge in some shade on the mountain side Milly was free for the rest of the walk!
We finished the walk and got back to Bluey feeling tired as the two walks in a row caught up with us a little. Milly settled down to sleep while we drove towards Italy for our third and final walk in two days time.
Neither of us are particularly confident with overnight parking away from campsites (we are working on this!), this wasn’t helped by being in new countries with different languages. As we drove towards Italy we found a town on google maps a couple of hours drive away called Winterthur and headed for there to find somewhere to park for the night. We couldn’t find anywhere we felt comfortable parking so ended up at another campsite. We had mixed emotions about this; it was Switzerland which meant it was expensive (31€) and we were unhappy at our lack of confidence… However it was run by a lovely friendly family and it was super clean and very welcoming. We sat down and enjoyed a well earned beer with another tinned dinner. The rain came that night and hit Bluey hard which meant it was another disturbed nights sleep for us.
Today was dedicated to driving to Italy and enjoying the scenery along the way. There was a nice forest walk near the campsite so we stretched our legs and had a little explore before heading off.
We drove all the way to Cortina d’Ampezzo in Italy (a town close to the location of our third walk) via the mountain roads due to motorway tunnel closures. It took an extra 3hours making it a 7 hour drive for Pato, but boy the views were worth it! We had regular photo stops along the way and were blown away by the new scenery. We drove through Austria to get there and discovered refreshingly cheap diesel but had to get yet another vignette as they work on a similar system to Switzerland. Although this one was far cheaper at around 8€ for a 10 day pass.
The weather was turning and when the Dolomites first came into sight they looked striking and moody before thick grey cloud swirled in to hide them from us!
We used iOverlander (an app Pato found) to find somewhere to park for the night. The coordinates took us to a big abandoned building with a grassy/rocky patch of land next to it a few kilometres from Cortina. A German motorhome was already parked up which instilled us with confidence to sleep there. Happy with our spot we decided to head to Cortina and find some real food after 5 days of eating from tins! With full tummies we happily headed off to explore the area and find the start of the walk for the morning. On the road we saw deer and a fox and its baby. Very cute! We headed back to our parking spot for the night happy we knew where we were going in the morning.
We had a very disturbed night as the moody cloud turned into a heavy rain storm, but the excitement of the *big* final walk gave us the energy to get going! We parked for free at the car park and easily found the path up to the beginning of the walk. I am not going to lie, putting my walking boots on wasn’t pleasant..! Just a few minutes into the walk and we heard sounds like an eagle overhead so we looked to the sky to try and spot the source of the noise, we couldn’t see anything. Then from the corner of our eyes we saw something moving on some near by rocks! Our first Alpine Marmots!! They were VERY cute!! We also saw some deer, and Ibex.
The walk was yet again at a stunning location, we’d decided we wanted this walk to be a *proper* walk as it was the last one of the trip. We got to the half way point and using the map decided to double the length of the circuit, it would now take us up and over one of the cols between 2 dolomites. I was aware the weather was meant to turn bad at 4pm but we figured we had plenty of time. The walk was amazing, but it was a challenge! There was a lot of steep climbing, and when we got to a via-ferrata chunk that was too steep to do with Milly and without gear we had to extend the walk yet further.
The weather forecast had been accurate this time….. The first flash of lightning light up the sky above us at 4pm… I can’t say I am a fan of thunder and lightning (unless I’m safely tucked up in Bluey or at home), so this wasn’t pleasant. Milly wasn’t enjoying it too much either and we had to fish her out from cowering in some bushes. As the storm got closer, and the rain got heavier we got quicker! Cutting paths, we even tried to take a short cut that was a bad idea! Somehow the fear was infectious and had affected Pato too.
We got down from the top in record time! Practically dragging the dog and with Pata’s feet in pieces (adrenaline is a wild thing!).
We got back to Bluey soaked to the bone after almost 20km and 8 hours walking with a poor traumatised dog! We dried off a bit and headed straight for a hotel we’d booked. (Very glad we’d chosen to do that!) It was a nice traditional Austrian hotel called Hotel Reither Hof (85€ with half board) in a small town called Reith bei Seefeld. We knew what to expect having booked the cheapest hotel we could find on booking.com and it met our expectations; although dated it was clean and comfortable.
We made it in time for some hot food, it was a little strange as there was no menu, the food was just brought out and put in front of us! Although we were so tired it was nice not to have to make any decisions! They made me an omelette as I couldn’t eat the main meal. We had very cheap wine and beer and collapsed into bed. Milly was also relieved to be out of the van! She had sore paws from all the rough terrain.
Up to day 7 was meticulously planned by Pato to fit the three walks in and get to their locations in good time. From this point on we had a more relaxed itinerary with some ideas and the only aim being to get to Calais for our train on day 8! We decided to head to Germany to see Neuschwanstein Castle and explore the black forest a little.
Taking a dog from the UK requires you to get your dog treated for tapeworm between 1-5 days before returning back to the UK. We were lucky, as Pata realised it needed to be done today, she found a vet in a town near the motorway and we diverted. The vet was very friendly and we got it sorted within 10minutes and for 17€.
We continued to Neuschwanstein Castle. It was incredibly pretty but an utter tourist trap! We decided not to stop as the place was swarming with tourists, extortionate parking costs and people trying to sell tacky souvenirs. We did get some nice photos from other points in the road so weren’t too disappointed. We then picked a point in the Black Forest that was close to the French border for finding an Aire for the night called Baden-Baden, stopping to take photos of pretty towns and villages on the way. Germany was a nightmare for driving, there were so many closed or blocked off roads and no warnings. Google didn’t know about them all and we spent a lot of time trying to navigate around these closed roads. It was frustrating and took up a lot of time. We made it to Baden-Baden feeling tired and a little stressed. We had a walk around and decided we wanted to head into France and find somewhere to cook and sleep.
We ended up at an Aire that was our least favourite; it was raised above the motorway so felt very close to the road, had pretty grotty toilets, and was full of lorries, but needs must. We cooked another stogy meal from a tin and headed to bed having decided we were close enough to Bruges to see the city on our way to Calais for our train!
We had a good nights sleep but chose to wake up early and get moving to make the most of our last day. We made it to Bruges and the best route meant driving through Luxembourg. There we found the cheapest diesel of the whole trip! Due to road works there were big hold ups so we diverted through Brussels, an interesting city to drive through but not one that made us want to go and visit.
We got to Bruges, such a beautiful old town that took our breath away. Pata had always wanted to go there, ‘In Bruges’ being one of her favourite films! It was very odd to be standing in the square! Sadly the stress of the drive meant Pato couldn’t enjoy the town as he should. We walked about and could feel the rain coming so hurried around to get nice photos. There were lots of places to eat, but with a tight time limit and the rain getting worse we decided to head towards Calais and have a picnic in sunnier France. We’d have to put Bruges on our list of cities to visit again!
We got some nice French bread and cheese and decided we’d find an Aire outside of Calais its self for our picnic. This was a bit of a disaster and we ended up driving a long way out of the city before finding one! As Calais is close to two other major cities the Aires are fewer and further between in that area. By the time we found an Aire we were both pretty annoyed! But we had a nice picnic and a siesta. We decided to change our train as we found an earlier crossing for a £3 admin fee.
However when we got to the train terminal in Calais we discovered there were delays due to an incident earlier in the day. We checked Milly in with no problems at the pet check in, and spent an hour queueing to get through security and customs, again no problem other than it being busy due to the delays.
We got to the terminal and saw our estimated departure time was 2 hours late. We made the most of this; got in the back of the van and put a film on. It was lovely. Luckily they cleared the backlog quickly and we arrived back in the UK only 35minutes behind schedule.
The trip had come to an end. What a week!
2500 miles of driving, 7 days of eating *Van* food of tinned meats/sauces and rice for dinner and tinned fish and wraps for lunch! Dealing with tolls, vignettes, countries that speak 5 different languages depending on region! Thunder storms, breathtaking views and some very sore feet!
Driving in Europe Tips:
>Aires – There is no written rule that says you can stay overnight at Aires but it is tolerated across France, but do respect that.
>Tolls – There are a lot of tolls and it does cut down a lot of time but do budget a good 150-200€ if you plan on using the toll roads.
>The biggest supermarkets are called Carrefour and they are dotted about the country; they are fairly priced and have everything you need (including Gluten free goods).
>You must buy a vignette sticker for your vehicle if driving through Switzerland. It’s an expensive 40 Swiss Francs when only driving there for a few days however you face heavy fines if you don’t have one. This system replaces tolls, and the motorway is littered with cameras checking you out!
>You can buy the vignette from any petrol station.
>Fill up your tank of fuel before going into Switzerland.
>Everything is expensive!
>Could talk to people in french or German!
>Cheap for fuel.
>Cheap for food!
>10 day vignette available as well as the yearly vignette for locals.
>Beautifull mountains too.
>Surprisingly good at gluten free pasta/pizza trip advisor = helpful!
>Saw lots of good car parks for overnight parking if you are confident enough!
>Expensive for fuel.
>SO cheap for fuel!
>Not so easy to find decent gluten free food.
>Again nice looking places to overnight park but we were too chicken!