Today marks 50 days since we started our travels! We are definitely in our stride now, and I am pleased to report that we are having a wonderful time. What’s it like ? How does it work ? I hear you ask. I would have liked to have known the answer myself before we started! Well it turns out that travelling in a motorhome in Europe is fairly stress free on the whole, once you’ve learned a few things and got familiar with the ropes.
Overnight parking spot types
Aires are great, they allow you to stay in an authorised parking spot, fill up with fresh water, discharge your waste water and sometimes hook up to mains electricity. Some also have WiFi.
Aires can be free or paid for, municipal or private. If it’s paid for then it’s usually around 5-12 euros. Aires provide a steady stream of motorhomers visiting an area, which is good for the local economy as they spend in shops, cafes and restaurants. In addition, the season here doesn’t start until June, and as motorhomers travel all year round we generate income in those quieter months too. Everyone says not to stay on motorway aires, as there is a much higher likelihood of break-ins. Usually Aires have a limited duration, so you can stay 1-2 days. I am guessing this is so it cannot get monopolised by people who may get too comfortable. In France these are known as Aires; in Germany – Stellplatz, in Italy – Sostas; in Portugal and Spain – Autocaravanas. We don’t have them in the UK. The key thing about aires is that they are more of a transit spot, you are not allowed to get your table and chairs out or put your awning out – as this would constitute camping. Having said that, the location often means you are next to or near a lovely place to spend time, like one place we stayed on the edge of a park with fountains, contemporary sculptures and a picturesque river. The setting varies enormously, and all are very different to one another.
Campsites can also be municipal or private, small or large, and are usually paid for, although we’ve stayed at a very pleasant free one, albeit with limited services. They have all the basic services and tend to be on the more expensive side, so far we’ve paid around 20 euros per night off-season in Portugal. Campsites often have semi-permanent residents, who are over-wintering or use it as a weekend bolt-hole. They often have good services and facilities like a swimming pool, a mini-market, and various other bits and bobs. You can make yourself at home and on your pitch you can get all your furniture out and put the awning out. One of our best experiences so far has been at an Eco-campsite, where all the electricity was solar-generated and the water came from a deep borehole and was so pure it only needed a tiny bit of extra filtration. The place was very beautiful, and owned by a Dutch family who were so welcoming that we wanted to stay for ages, but the weather was appalling so there was no point in staying. On the whole it’s not really our style to stay in large campsites, we prefer the smaller ones, but they can be useful where other options are limited.
Free camping (also known as wild camping) is the practice of using unnofficial parking spots to camp on for a short time. They are often next to the beach, a river or lake, or the local municipal swimming pool or sports ground, or in a car park in the centre or edge of a town or village. Off-season it’s easy to find one of these, but I wonder if it’s harder in-season when space is at more of a premium. In some places on the South coast of Spain for example, some spots become so popular – with some campers spending months there, that motorhomes have been banned and the local police enforce it with fines sometimes. When the season starts, there is less tolerance. Again, usually it’s not the done thing to put the awning out and spread out, but you can use your discretion on this one if you’re in a remote spot or there’s tons of space.
Farms and vineyards
Often farms and vineyards welcome motorhomes, usually offering wine or olive oil with no obligation to buy. We are at one as I write, in the Douro region of Portugal, and it’s fantastic. The owners are very welcoming and there is a pool we can use. They’ve also let us fill up with water. We have been to a really interesting tour of the vineyard by the owner, taking in the wine cellar and an excellent olive oil, red wine, and port tasting. Tim has bought a very nice bottle of the local port, which seems like rather a good deal to me!
How it works
Firstly we don’t book ahead. We just arrive at a place we want to stay, there is usually enough space as we’re off season, but most of the time it’s no big deal to move on if there is no room. We usually stay one night then move on. If there’s a lot to see and we like the place, we’ll spend 2 nights. Apart from at the finca in the Algarve, the maximum we’ve stayed anywhere is 3 nights. That’s for a place we really like. It’s nice to have some days where you don’t travel, and have time to do other stuff (like write this blog).
We have a loose itinerary and know what direction we want to go in (which at the moment is North through Portugal towards Northern Spain), but we plan where to stay only a day in advance, or sometimes even on the day. I use an app called Park4Night, which is a peer-to-peer map of all the places you can stay in any given area. Anyone can add a place and then others rank each place and there is a star rating out of 5. It’s usually fairly reliable, although most comments are in French so I rely on Google Translate a lot which can be hilarious sometimes. There are other apps and directories, but that’s the one that seems to have the most entries and is generally easy to use.
Most days we do a bit of research around the next spot, the destination and the route, which takes up a chunk of our time. It’s safe to say that the route-finding and navigating are probably the most challenging part of our travels, followed by decision making about where to go. Google is great on the whole, but it doesn’t know we’re in a large, heavy vehicle so it often tries to send us up impossibly steep or narrow roads (or both!), which means we then have to revise our route on the hoof. We have also discovered that our Elf doesn’t like cobbled roads as she struggles to grip the road if it’s steep. Now we assess the quality, width and pitch of the road we’re turning into beforehand to avoid mishaps. The ever-narrowing road is our nemesis, but so far this has not materialised.
Our first 50 days in numbers:
- We have stayed at 27 places
- 16 places were paid for (anything between 4.50 and 23 euros per night)
- 15 places we stayed one night, 7 places we stayed 2 nights and 5 places we stayed 2+ nights
- Odometer reading: 8533 miles
- Total distance travelled: 2500 miles
- Daily average: 50 miles
So there you have it, and heres to another 50 days and more !