The night before we were due to leave our home town of Derby for the continent felt like a bit of a none event really considering the places we had on the agenda. We woke up Friday 18th on the morning of our departure and it was a similar situation. An element of anxiety was the underlying emotion, and we tried to make sure we hadn’t forgotten anything import for our journey, or for the house which would be largely unattended for the duration of our travels.
We left late morning which was slightly later than we anticipated, and visited the local refuse site to get rid of a couple of bags of rubbish we didn’t want festering at home, which delayed us further. From there headed for the M1 via the A50, but found ourselves stuck in heavy traffic due to roadworks around the Junction 24. As a result no momentum was really gained until early afternoon when we broke free for a relatively trouble free drive down south .
Our intention was to visit Canterbury in the afternoon and stay at the park and ride overnight before leaving to get our 11am ferry on Saturday morning. The van was running perfectly so we pulled off at Thurrock services mid afternoon. This brought back memories as this was the very place we stayed after we broke down last year.
As we continued, it soon became apparent that we were not going to have any meaningful time at the city of Canterbury, so we chose to head straight for the ferry port and see if we could get an earlier crossing. The answer was yes, but we did have to pay for the £45 for the privilege. We had to wait over an hour to board and departure was just after 6pm, but at least we could make some progress once in France putting us well ahead of schedule.
The one and a half hour crossing saw us land at approx 8.30pm with the time difference and we travelled until 11pm. This put us at an aire near Laon approximately two hours drive away from the first camp site of our holiday in Troyes. We were a little aprihensive about stopping at an aire, as we had heard some scare stories relating to people being robbed. How common this is I’m unsure, but we found one that was well lit with CCTV cameras. I found myself listening for sounds that weren’t there during the night so didn’t sleep quite as well as I should have.
The following morning we woke early and I checked the paddle board, accessories and boot box which were were all present and intact. Phew. Maybe just an urban myth?. We decided to have a croissant and coffee for breakfast at the service station out of convenience. The day was going to be another fine one by the looks of it with blue sky all round. We filtered onto the motorway in high spirits knowing we were well ahead of schedule, with just over an hours worth of driving to be done before we arrived at our first campsite in Troyes.
A excursion abroad for Mandy and myself was always on the cards in the campervan. It was just a case of when. I had been working on increasing the reliability of the vehicle since i purchased it back in 2015 as it had clearly been neglected by the previous owners. This included the replacement lots of worn parts, various upgrades, and some pretty hefty bills to accompany an engine change last year. The engine replacement was the one thing I knew I needed to have before I even thought about tackling the major climbs of the Alps which was a destination we knew we would be heading for. That said, after the engine upgrade early last year, I was hit by gearbox issues which dashed our chance of getting abroad right at the last minute.
So fast forward to May 2018, and we were in a much better place. The gearbox had been reconditioned by a specialist, and the engine was feeling really strong. We were all set to go! Most of the planning in terms of locations had been organised for the 2017 trip. Our original intention back then was to go into Switzerland straight after our second stop in France at Lake Annecey. However, we this year we modified the route due to an event our friends made us aware of in Italy called the Bugaloo International VW show. This happened to fall on the first weekend of our travels, in which case we were ideally situated on the boarder of France half a days drive from the VW event. The last week of the four week excursion was unplanned which gave us some flexibility on our way back to the UK.
It took a couple of hours to get to the municipal campsite from the aire at Urvillers which saw us arriving midday. I got the impression prior to arriving at the campsite that it was a lot larger and less well maintained. However it seems pretty tidy, and there were plenty of trees to offer shade. Something we felt may come in handy as it was hot and set to get hotter. Originally we found a spot surrounded by large trees. We were just about to set the van up, but decided to scope the site for something that may offer a better combination of sun for the solar panels, and shade for us. This didn’t take long. The site seemed very relaxed about pitches, with no real designation, just electric points dotted around.
We parked the van and headed to reception on foot to let them know where we had settled for the next couple of days. They explained we didn’t need to let them know the pitch specifics, justice pass on our registration plate details and a contact in case of emergency. Payment would be made on leaving the site but they did keep one of or passports as security which is pretty common. They also offered discount via Camping Card (CC) which meant it would cost us a maximum of €19. This would include electric, but we are hoping to do the whole month using solar for the fridge and electronic devices just to prove our independence.
It didn’t take long to get the van set up. After a day and a half’s travelling, and the sun beating down I decided I needed a beer. We had been informed there was an Aldi just outside the entrance to the campsite.
I will leave the rest of that day to your imagination, but suffice to say I was extremely relaxed to the point of being horizontal. Mandy, tried to read her book, but always reminds me the following morning just how annoying I become after a beverage or two 🙂 .
Sunday started off a little blurry eyed for myself, but it didn’t take long for a spring to enter my step when I realized that this was our first full day of our Euro trip that didn’t involve any driving. I’m embarrassed to say that I hadn’t really researched Troyes as a place to visit. It was really just a convenient mid way point to break the journey up from Calais to Annecey. We always intended to have a days wander around the town, but I didn’t realize just how beautiful it was going to be.
It took approximately 20 minutes to walk the main road from our campsite to the town. The sun was strong even at mid morning, and the heat rose steadily until we decided that as nice as the town was, it was becoming hot to the point of uncomfortable. It was a really nice treat for us to find such a gem of a place so early on in our adventure, especially when neither Mandy or myself ad any real incline just how nice Troyes was.
The remainder of Sunday was spent with plenty of ice cold coke, and water (no beer for me 🙁 ) , flitting between the shade and the sun in manageable chunks.
We woke early on Monday morning, had a shower and packed the van. We planned to leave at 8am, but this slipped a little so we didn’t really get underway until nearly 9am. Or next destination was Lake Annecey which we had seen our friends visit previously. This was all the inspiration we needed as it looked stunning.
We woke early on Monday morning, had a shower and packed the van. We planned to leave at 8am, but this slipped a little so we didn’t really get underway until nearly 9am. Our next destination was Lake Annecy which we had seen our friends visit previously. This was all the inspiration we needed as it looked stunning if their social media photos were anything to go by . The journey from Troyes to Annecey was going to be one of the longer ones of the holiday, covering a distance of approximately 430km and taking the best part of 5 hours so we knew we were in for a bit of a slog. As we set of from the municipal site we could tell that we were in for another stunning day. The sun was out and it was already getting warm. A few miles onto the motorway toll a fog encompassed us, but we were soon above it as we climbed a gentle incline leaving the soft clouds settling in the fields.
Our journey continued unhindered by traffic, with brilliant sunshine and the camper seemed to gliding effortlessly on the smooth French roads. We stopped around the mid way point at an aire to have a bite to eat and snack consisting of roast beef and mustard salad cobs (remnants of Saturday evenings cob cooked meat).
We chose to travel via toll roads so that we could reduce time between locations, but even so the travel from that point on became increasingly steep in parts as we entered the Alps. The vista was breathtaking in parts, with long elevated sections of road, and longer tunnels. We finally dropped towards the lake and skirted it for a few kilometers until we found our campsite. Although the drive was nice, I felt I had probably reach the limits of acceptable time at the wheel an hour or so before we reached the campsite, so I was just wanting to park the van and cracked open a beer.
We had requested a lake side view when booking Annecy so after checking in we left reception and started to navigated to our pitch. I’ll be honest there was an element of tension as I was directed past the road we should have turned down, and leveling the van became a bigger issue than it should have been. I guess I’ll have to take the responsibility for my short temper, but an hour later the van was set up and we were enjoying an amazing view across the lake. My paddle board was stored on the roof of my van, but it was soon off, inflated and out I went.
Day two at Annecey started sunny but became increasingly overcast and unsettled and eventually rain and thunder arrived. We were happy to chill in the van and watch some of the downloaded Netflix content we had on our tablet. We were monitoring our friends, Debs and Marks travels as they departed for Calais from their home town in Leicester as we had agree to meet up for one night at Annecey just before moving into Italy. An oil leak on their campervan a couple of weeks previously had been fixed by a garage, so they had been on tender hooks as to weather or not they would actually have it back in time. However, oil had started to leak again so the whole trip for them was hanging in the balance. They took the decision to carry on, but monitored the oil at regular intervals. With this worry they decided to simplify their schedule with one stop in Troyes, and an earlier visit to Annecey. After the rain cleared we took a walk along the lake to stretch our legs
Day three was very warm from the start, and this would prove to be the case for some time to come. I couldn’t resist more time on the paddle board, and the lake was a pleasant temperature to swim in. The elevated terrain around the lake meant it was perfect for parascending and a steady stream of daredevils ascended across the lake, landing close to our campsite. Booking for this activity, along with mountain bike hire, and boat hire could all be done close to the entrance / reception. I thought about booking, but in the four days we were staying, I felt there was more than enough to do without paying for activities. Later on Debs and Mark arrived, but couldn’t be allocated a pitch next to use due to a booking error. Their initial disappointment soon subsided when they realized their allocated pitch was every bit as good, as it was also right on the lakes edge. As the sun began to disappear behind the mountains and day became dusk, bats began to dart around catching insects. We wandered over to Mark and Debs to share opinions on Troyes, find out more about their mechanical woes on the way (This was certainly something that I could sympathize with, due to my gearbox issues in 2017), and what their plans were for the rest of her holiday once we go our separate ways after the VW Bugaloo. After a few beers and an open water swim it was time to retire.
Our fourth and final day at Annecey was a combination of swimming, paddle boarding, drinking 😉 and socializing with Mark and Debs. Tomorrow we would depart for Torino, Italy, so we made sure most of the packing was done ready for the morning. Paddle board and associated equipment was secured back on the roof, chairs tables etc were in the boot box, and the mat and awning were rolled up and retracted . We loved Annecy and we would be sad so leave, but the holiday was in its infancy, and we still had lots to look forward to.
After an amazing few days at Annecy the schedule dictated we had to move on. It was always going to be difficult to leave knowing there were still lots more to see and do, but the parting was made easier by the fact we were heading to a VW event at Vignarello in Italy. Our friends Debs and Mark were leaving for the same destination, and knowing they had sprung an oil leak after leaving the UK, it made sense to travel together. There was hardly a cloud in the sky as we departed the camp site, but a gentle breese with the windows down, and amazing views as we followed our friends into the amazing mountains vista. We needed to stop for supplies before the next camp as we were almost sure we wouldn’t have access to groceries locally whilst at the event. If we did it would most likely cost a premium so we wanted to be prepared. Approximately 20km en route was a supermarket in Alberville where we stocked up for the weekend.
Our friends were going back to Annecy a week or so later, and wanted to take to the lake with their dog Oscar on their return. An inflatable Kayak looked like it was going to offer a solution, and packed away relatively compactly, so they wanted to have a stop at Decathlon. This only took an hour or so, but they decided to have a think about the options, and possibly collect one on the way back to Annecy if they were confident it would tick the box.
We set off for the final destination just before midday. The temperature had already started to climb, and even with the windows fully down doing 100kmh, it was a becoming slightly uncomfortable. The mountains on either side of the roads offered some distraction to the heat, but it was temporary. The route was riddled with tolls, and we saw our holiday saving depleted substantially by one after the next. The most expensive was €58, but the 11km tunnel needed paying for some way. It was an amazing feat of engineering by any stretch of the imagination, but both Mandy and I felt slightly quuzy after entering daylight on the other side. Maybe it was due to us having the windows down and breathing in the fumes of the other vehicles in the tunnel, or the lighting. Either way it’s odd we both felt slightly under the weather.
Anyways, we entered Italy and the plan was to stop just after the boarder for a mid point refreshment break combined with an opportunity to attach the dog guard to separate Oscar from the driver / passenger seat. Something that is apparently regulation in Italy. We had a toilet break and Mark checked the rear of his van to see how much oil the van had deposited. Things didn’t look good. It seemed to be leaking by the buckets.
After close inspection it appeared to be water, but the adoption of coolant meant It could have been something terminal. We removed the contents of the rear of the van to have a look in the engine compartment, but nothing obvious from the top. We could identify the general area the coolant was leaking from, but photos with our mobile phone showed it was close to a jubilee clip. We got a wok pan underneath to catch as much coolant as possible, and a bread bag clamp to cut off as much water from the hose when it was removed for surgery. The hope was that the minimum amount of hose would be needed to be amputated to provide a fix. This proved to be the case, and a pair of scissors from our cutlery draw made a neat cut, and the remaining good hose was attached to the inlet, and clamped in place. This proved to be an acceptable fix, and as it turned out the oil leak had reduced substantially since Debs and Mark left the UK. Win win 🙂
As we approached our destination I became more in need of a rest as the ETA slipped. Even though we knew the distance to Tornaco from Annecy, the temperature had been silly hot. Numorous toll roads had made a big dent in our budget, but we’re here now in Italy, and arrived at the Bugaloo VW festival by the lake just before 7pm. Great
The Bugaloo meeting weekend was a fantastic mix of music, festivities and socializing, all in a very relaxed surrounding by the lake
The last day at the Bugaloo started with a couple of strong coffees by the lake in Tornaco. After breakfast and a wave goodbye to our friends Debs and Mark, we headed to the entrance for the ‘Cultural Drive’, which was a procession of classic VWs though a 15km route of the surrounding Italian landscape. I attached a camera to my roof to record some footage, dropping back from time to time to capture as many vehicles as possible.
We stopped in Tornaco to snap a few photos when they parked up for a guided tour of the museum. But we had to peel off just after midday for our next destination Venice.