After fantastic visits to Greece and Albania we began heading relatively quickly through the Balkans toward France, where we would attend our neighbours’ wedding in Les Eyzies and fly to a family wedding in the US.
Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina
Because we spent extra time in Albania meeting up with new Worldschooling friends, we had just two days in Montenegro, including an overnight stop in Kotor. To us, the atmosphere in the old walled city was too touristy even after the cruise ship passengers and bus tours left in the evening but we enjoyed the views as we drove around the fjord. We had planned to take a route from Montenegro directly into Croatia, but while browsing Google Maps for attractions on the way we spotted the photos of the old city of Mostar in Bosnia and Herzegovina and decided to make a quick diversion.
In fact, we didn’t end up liking the touristy atmosphere in Mostar but we enjoyed visiting a new country that we didn’t have many pre-conceived ideas about. We stayed in a small campsite by a river which was good value (€15 per night for our motorhome with no extra charge for children, €0.75 for a glass of wine at the cafe) and very friendly – Gary watched a football game while chatting to the owners and we enjoyed meeting other campers. While we had hoped to explore the country more, the weather forecast showed several days of heavy rain so instead we decided to head to Croatia where we had made contact with another motorhoming family. We spent several days parked next to Toni and Martin while our kids had a fantastic time playing in the two motorhomes.
After a few days it was time to leave to see our friends John & Kellie who were also in Croatia – we had connected online and through video calls after buying our motorhome from the same dealer but this would be our first in-person meet-up. The kids were inseparable so we convinced Toni and family to come along to our new campsite! We all had a great time parked up together – playing, cooking, drinking ice coffee, paddleboarding and sharing many meals and conversations. We also took the opportunity to try a peka (food roasted under a bell on an open fire) and visit a dentist in Split which was very easy and inexpensive. In Split, we enjoyed meeting up with another Worldschooling family for the day and walking around the Palace.
Finally, we planned visits to Plitvice lakes and to Slapovi Zrmanja waterfall, which had been recommended to us by a family we met in the campsite in Bosnia. After getting a lot of advice on Plitvice from John and Kelly and Toni and Martin, we decided to visit in the late afternoon. Reduced priced tickets are offered for entry after 4pm and because we only planned to spend a half day in the park this was a better option for us than paying full-price to enter at 7am. Before the park closed, we managed to walk a loop of the Lower Lakes, which cannot be missed due to panoramic high altitude views across the lakes as you set off down the trail, and to also have a magical few minutes at the Upper Lakes, where at the end of the day we were the only people in sight (we did route B on the diagram except we walked a short segment of the upper lakes from P2. This includes an electric boat ride across the lake and a “panoramic train” which is actually just a bus on a non-scenic road.
We found Croatia to be expensive as a motorhoming country: wild camping is banned, most campsites seem to be pricy commercial operations rather than small family-run sites, and we paid quite a bit more for restaurant meals than we did in Greece and Albania (this may be partly because we love all the interesting mezze in Greece so we often ordered many appetizers when eating out which is less expensive than a main course). To cut camping costs in Croatia we used an ASCI card for an off-season discount.
After sadly saying goodbye to our friends, we continued our fast track back to France – speeding through Slovenia where we visited Škocjan Caves – a massive underground cavern which made us feel like characters in Lord of the Rings – and the clear blue Soča River. Then we crossed out of the Balkans into Austria.
Once we finished our amazing visit to Greece in April and May (read our blog here), we decided to take a land route to France via Albania.
Taking it easy
After more than 5,500 km of driving and 6 weeks of wild camping, we were all tired, Janice had a sinus infection, and the motorhome was flashing an oil change light. We were a bit unsure of entering Albania but decided to go ahead. For our first night, we picked a campsite just across the border where we hoped we could have long hot showers and plan the rest of our route – perhaps we would drive quickly through Albania!? We had seen some pretty pictures but had also heard horror stories about the rough roads and driving and we weren’t sure how much we would enjoy Albania in a 7.4m motorhome.
After a border crossing and an easy drive, we arrived at Camping Gjirokastër . It is a small family-run campsite which cost €12pn for the three of us. We were immediately welcomed into the restaurant garden by the friendly owner and offered free glasses of chilled white wine, along with a plate of cheese and olives. We relaxed in the shady garden for the rest of the day, eating fresh fruit sprinkled with cinnamon offered to us by restaurant and catching up on some work and homeschooling. In the evening, Amelia played with the owner’s daughters and the children of other campers. After a delicious dinner (huge mezze platters with enough leftovers for lunch), we decided to stay another day.
The next morning, the owner helped us arrange an oil change for the motorhome. We had the oil, so the local mechanic billed us just €5 for labour! The labour for our last oil change in Norway cost €150 so we were happy to pay this and give a tip. We also picked up an Albanian SIM card because our roaming data did not cover Albania. Some Albanian SIMs have good roaming in the Western Balkans so if you also going to Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina it is worth checking the roaming policy when you purchase. While our campsite did not have a pool, there was a pool at a restaurant/bar within walking distance – unfortunately, it was closed when we visited but it looked nice.
We also paid a brief visit to the town of Gjirokastër. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was filled with souvenir shops and tour groups. However, when we arrived at the castle around 9am no tour groups had arrived yet so we had it almost to ourselves. We walked down a dim passageway lined with cannons and then began to explore various rooms, including a pitch-black prison cell (amazingly creepy). We also explored the top of the castle which had beautiful views of the town.
After a couple of days, Janice’s sinus infection had cleared up and we were all feeling refreshed. We had arranged to meet with another traveling family that we connected with on the Worldschooling Facebook group; Hayley and family were staying in Sarandë but invited us to meet them on the beach at Ksamil (touristy but very pretty). We passed many sheep and goats in the road as we headed to our next campsite, Ksamil Caravan Camping . It had a gorgeous shaded communal area where campers gathered to cook, eat, and chat and the owner greeted us with tall cups of frothy ice coffee and a cold chocolate for Amelia. Albania is one of the only countries where we link to our Park4Night sites – they were all really special and welcoming! Amelia had a wonderful time playing with a baby in the campsite and then meeting with our new Worldschooling friends. She and Hayley’s daughter were immediately inseparable, so we decided to meet again the next day in Sarandë, where we parked in a hotel’s parking lot for a small fee. Tourist season had not yet started so the waterfront promenade was not busy, and we enjoyed a dip in the hotel pool to cool off when we got home.
Next, we decided to drive up the coastline and over the stunning Llogara Pass. Because of the threat of severe weather, we completed this drive faster than planned (no overnight stops) and we decided to push on to Tirana where we planned to meet another Worldschooling family. We ended up on a narrow side road which was pretty but we were glad to re-join the main highway. However after only a few minutes we heard a noise and pulled over to discover that we had a puncture – the first time this had happened in our motorhome. We stopped to change our tyre as quickly as possible due to approaching rain, but we couldn’t get the vehicle jacked up high enough. A car stopped to tell us that there was a tyre shop just down the road and then offered Gary a ride there because our tyre was too flat to drive. The shop was closed on Sunday, so they phoned the owner and arranged for him to come to us to change our tyre. This proved difficult as we had been supplied with the wrong spare rim when we purchased the motorhome but he still charged us only €20 to switch the rim on our tyres and get us on the road again! In the meantime, more strangers stopped by to check that we were OK and even offered to buy us sodas in a nearby restaurant or help with anything else we needed!
After an hour or so of delay, we arrived on the outskirts of Tirana to meet with Rina and family. They gave us some recommendations in the city to add to the recommendations we had gathered from Hayley and family and from the Roadschool Europe Facebook group. We stayed in a city paid parking lot which was noisy but made a good base to explore Tirana. There was a Chinese restaurant just around the corner which had been recommended by Rina and the next day we visited the Bunk’Art 2 museum (interesting but too intense for young kids – we skipped some parts) and walked around the city, including Skanderbeg Square, a large playground, and a bookstore with a fantastic selection of English activity books. Hayley had recommended Dajti Adventure Park but as it was closed and as we had recently visited another adventure park, we went to Altitude Trampoline Park instead which Amelia absolutely loved.
Next, we went to the Lagoon of Patok and stayed at the Bella Vita restaurant with private cabanas for meals over the lagoon. Parking is free if you have a meal. We had seafood, vegetables, and extremely delicious cornbread which is a specialty of the region. This meal was €20 for the three of us.
The Shala River
We then headed to what became our favorite place to stay in Albania: Ledi’s Place Restaurant . There is no charge to stay if you buy a meal and it is run by a wonderful family. There is a beautiful shady garden/restaurant where you can sit all day. Amelia loved playing with their baby bunny, and they also had dogs, kittens, geese, and a free-roaming pony. They even give you a free breakfast of pancakes and coffee. We stayed two nights at Ledi’s Place while we visited the Shala River.
We found the website of a Shala River tour company and contacted the owner who said he had been in Tirana, but he would run a tour the next day for us and arrange to pick us up from Ledi’s Place in his car because the road was rough for our motorhome. He even stopped by that night to meet us and buy us a drink. Later, he sent us a WhatsApp saying that just in case he personally couldn’t collect us, he would send us a picture of the vehicle. We went to stand by the road the next morning at 7:30am, and soon enough the vehicle in his picture arrived. It was quite full of other people – all very well dressed! We were surprised they were going on a river tour. Then a bunch of children climbed on and as we started to drop off the passengers at many stops, including at school, we realized that we were on the public minibus. Still, we were quite happy with this arrangement. We then arrived at the lake where the company owner said that because water levels were low, we would not be able to go all the way up the Shala River, but we would have a good view of it and could have lunch at a restaurant and swim.
However, we were disappointed when we arrived at the restaurant, that although it was a peaceful family-run bed and breakfast, it was not on the famously beautiful shallow clear river that we had seen in photos. We arrived around 10am and didn’t want to spend all day there without seeing the higher part of the river. So, we talked to the owner of the bed and breakfast and after a delicious early lunch she arranged for a small skiff to take us upriver. We thought about asking for a discount from the original company but decided in the end that the price for transport to the bed and breakfast was reasonable so we didn’t really mind (we did point out that he should include the small boat in his tour when water levels are low as the shallower areas of the river are the most beautiful).
Next, we decided to head to the Albanian alps, where we hoped to go hiking and meet up with a family that we met in the campsite where we stayed on our first night in Albania. We stayed at Boga Alpine Resort (there was a slightly tight turn into a gate but we made it and it saved us from driving the steep and winding road up to Theth). The campsite is pretty – already in the mountains with good views and pleasantly cool temperatures – and can arrange for transport to Theth for hiking (we didn’t find that we wanted to spend time in Theth, which is more like a collection of guest houses than a town).
The cost of round-trip transport from the campsite to Theth in a local taxi was €50, including an hour’s drive up the mountain and the driver stopping wherever requested and waiting all day) or €80 to get as close as possible to the Blue Eye of Theth in a 4WD vehicle (this makes it easier and more pleasant to hike to the Blue Eye of Theth – which, rather than being a spring like the Blue Eye near Gjirokastër, is a blue pool at the base of a waterfall). While the transport/tour was more expensive than most things we paid for in Albania, the driver was a nice man who lived next to the campsite and we were out all day (9am-5pm) with lots of stops. Some were suggested by our driver and Amelia had many ideas from watching a video by the Five World Explorers – a Worldschooling family that she loves following. In some cases in Albania, particularly for tours, we knew we were paying more than the “local” rate but we were happy to pay what was asked. Otherwise, a smaller vehicle could easily drive all the way to Theth – the road was paved this year and we could even have made it in our 7.4 m motorhome but with difficulty!
Finally we went to Shkodër and met with a third Worldschooling family – Irene and Andy and their daughter. As a welcome surprise, Hayley and family were also in town! We all met for lunch at a restaurant recommended by one of the owners of Ledi’s Place, the girls bonded over the Math Tango app, and Andy taught the kids some acrobatics in a park. We also discovered that Andy’s mother wrote the brilliant math curriculum that we use with Amelia – RightStart Math. Hayley’s family had to prepare for an early start (taking a boat across Lake Komani to Valbone National Park – another route to visit mountains and clear streams of the Albanian Alps) but we had for dinner with Irene’s family and decided to meet for breakfast the next day!
We had found overnight parking in a paid lot next to an abandoned mansion but we were parked in an extremely tight space with a Rolls Royce just inches away. When it was time for us to leave, we gratefully accepted Andy’s offer to help us reverse out of the parking lot without hitting anything next to us or behind us!
We could have easily stayed longer in Albania and heard good things about hotprings, river rafting, and Lake Ohrid, because we had weddings to attend later in the summer we reluctantly left Albania and moved on to Montenegro.
Janice visited Greece in 2006 and had always wanted to return with Gary & Amelia. We expected Greece to be a highlight of our travels in Europe, it was and still surpassed our expectations. Other countries on the land route to Greece also became favourites – see our upcoming post. Also see our Practicalities of Travelling in Greece blog.
We arrived in Greece via a ferry from Italy. Our first stop was:
Lefkada is a stunning island that you can access by bridge from the mainland. It is filled with lush green mountains, stunning white cliffs, and hazy blue sea stretching into the distance. After spending a few days exploring Lefkada, we stayed the night and had a delicious meal at a small tavern.
The Peloponnese is a fantastic location for motorhome travel with a great density of interesting places to visit and camp. Our time in Peloponnese began with visiting Eva and family in a small village near Patras. We felt privileged to join in the Greek Orthodox easter celebrations, including the candle-lit procession on Holy Friday, the lighting of the eternal flame at midnight on Holy Saturday, the battle of red easter eggs in the early hours of Sunday morning, and the celebrations on Sunday afternoon. The small village where children played in the square while adults chatted in the café under an ancient plane tree was peaceful and relaxing.
Next we explored the “fingers” of Peloponnese. Some of our highlight were:
Ancient Olympia (site of the first Olympics)
Hiking to the castle by Voidokilia beach
The Mani Peninsula, including tiny mountain towns like Kampos and Thalamus, the ghost town of Vathia, and the hike to the lighthouse for sunset.
Mystras monastery and the beautiful mountains in the area. On the way, we passed briefly through Sparti (site of ancient Sparta).
Elafonisos island and nearby beaches
Monemvasia (a small island town linked to the mainland by a causeway)
Epidaurus (ancient theatre where you can hear a coin drop from any seat!)
Within the city, we enjoyed the acropolis and its incredible museum, the small but fun Museum of Illusions – Gary took Amelia inside while Janice wandered the interesting neighbourhood nearby (filled with used bookshops), the Xplore Centre – a small but well-designed science museum and play area in a mall, and a delicious lunch. Outside the city, Amelia loved the Adventure Park and we enjoyed the Temple of Poseidon, Delphi, and the hot springs at Thermopylae.
On the way north:
At Mount Olympus, we did a nice short hike from the Monastery of Saint Dionysios to the Cave of Dionysios of Olympus.
Next, we visited the incredible Meteora monasteries – while we had planned to stay for sunset, the temperature reached 34°C (93°F) so we quickly moved on to the mountains near Metsovo, where we experienced refreshing temperatures and even a thunderstorm and hail.
For our final stop when we visited Greece, we explored the spectacular Vikos gorge, where we particularly enjoyed stopping at the bridge over the beautiful Voidomatis river and the towns of Papingo and Micro Papingo.
Greece quickly became one of our favourite countries on our route. And we also appreciated that the route back from Greece introduced us to our next country: Albania.
A blog that focuses on the day-to-day practicalities of travelling in Greece (see similar guides to France and Norway).
Once again on this trip we felt fortunate to find guidance and inspiration from motorhome blogs in planning our travels in Greece. In particular, we followed many recommendations from our friends Frenchy Le Van and The Chouters & Bijou.
When to visit: We were in Greece in April and May and found spring to be a perfect time to visit. The weather was warm enough for outdoor activities, everything we wanted to visit was open but uncrowded, we were able to wild-camp everywhere (including areas which would be far too busy in summer), and we experienced an incredible Greek Orthodox easter. We had some high temperatures from mid-May onward but found relief from the heat in high altitude areas. We could see that summer would be extremely hot and crowded and we have been told that winter can be rainy and cold. Autumn may be another good time to visit.
How to arrive: We arrived via ferry from Italy. Anek ferry line provides “Camping on Deck” on some routes to Greece but we did not experience this as we chose the Grimaldi ferry line to Igoumenitsa. Our motorhome had to be parked next to the trucks in the cargo hold (often with inches to spare) so be prepared to manoeuvre in tight spaces; the deckhands did a good job of guiding us into and out of our parking. We sat in the lounge and brought our own food rather than eating at the restaurant. It is also possible to book a cabin – we noted that you may need to leave your cabin up to 1.5 hrs before arrival in port so it wasn’t worth it on our journey. We returned from Greece via Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia which was a fantastic trip, well worth doing in its own right – see our upcoming post.
Where to go: We visited Lefkada, Peloponnese, Athens and its surroundings, Pelion, Meteora, Vikos Gorge, and Mount Olympus. We highly recommend them all but found Peloponnese to be the easiest place for motorhome travel because of its incredible concentration of interesting sites and off-season wild camping in a small area. Our map shows our our route (click to make the map full-screen and then scroll to Greece).
Where we stayed:
We exclusively wild-camped in Greece (it seemed that this would be much more difficult in high season). Park4Night was very helpful in finding sites. When staying in busier locations, we were careful to “park” only – we did not get out levelling blocks, chairs, tables, or anything else that would be considered camping (while parking overnight is acceptable in many areas, camping may not be allowed). An ASCI card is an option for discounted campsite stays in the off-season – a physical book and card must be ordered and posted, though some sites may accept a digital copy of the card which can be obtained after purchase.
Our motorhome is 3.2m tall so we had to watch out for balconies that stick out over the road, especially when driving through small villages. Also be careful of the olive trees on the side of the road; there are often thick branches hidden right behind the leaves which ‘screech’ down the side of the motorhome when you move over to let another car pass.
Food: Greek food was a highlight of our trip and we ate out much more than usual – luckily prices were relatively affordable. Some of our favourites were from restaurants which allowed us to stay the night after having a meal. We also enjoyed the bakeries – savoury pastries filled with spinach or other greens or cheese made an excellent breakfast or lunch.
Groceries: We shopped at Lidl and other large supermarkets such as AB Vassilopoulos. Some of our staples were halloumi cheese, other Greek cheeses such as truffle goat cheese, hummus, beet and yogurt dip, Greek yogurt, and honey.
Water: Water is widely available at no cost; we found all of it to be drinkable.
Dumping: We were told about a few options: bring an extra cassette, pay a fee to empty at campsites, ask at petrol stations if you can dump into their toilets, or dump into public toilets on toll roads (we heard mixed advice on whether toilet chemicals are OK for septic systems). We found finding dumping options somewhat more challenging than in other countries but manageable without staying on campsites (we had a single cassette but moved most days – sometimes specifically in order to find a dumping option). Grey water emptying facilities are also not common so grey water is often emptied into drains or slowly onto the ground so it dries – but be careful not to empty where any grease or soap in the grey water could damage the environment or create a hazard.
Diesel and LPG: We found them to be available as needed.
Public bathrooms: Available on toll roads. Cafes are also inexpensive and nice to visit.
Laundry: We used laundromats from Park4Night – some were coin operated and others required that we dropped off our clothes – sometimes for 24 hrs. While we found enough availability of laundromats, for convenience we recommend bringing some extra clothes or quick-dry items.
Historic sites: we visited from 6pm-8pm when the sites were cooler and not as busy. In April and May, we often had them to ourselves. See our upcoming itinerary post for favourites.
Internet: Our data SIM from Tiekom worked throughout Greece. It provides 300GB per month; meaning we have to worry about running out of mobile data. This MotorhomeFun thread contains all the details as well as reviews from other motorhomers.
Educational Materials: Amelia listened to the wonderful National Geographic Kids Podcast series “Greeking Out” as well as enjoying the “Wings of Olympus” series (by the author of some of her other favourite series – Heartwood Hotel and Magical Animal Adoption Agency). She also took an Outschool class on Greek mythology, calling in from the foothills of Mount Olympus, and watched videos such as this one available from TedEd.
Our favourites in Greece: Greek Orthodox easter with new friends, running on the track at ancient Olympia, singing at Epidaurus, incredible food, beautiful scenery, great wild camping, and meeting with roadschooling, worldschooling, and other families.
After a second Christmas in France, we decided to spend the winter with family and friends in the Cayman Islands. On the way, we stopped in Florida to visit friends.
From France, we flew into Miami and drove to Marco Island, where we had a wonderful boat trip with our friend, Karen, and her family. Next, we visited Heather and family on the beautiful Sanibel Island. Amelia loved riding their beautiful white pony, Firefly, and we all enjoyed the CROW Clinic where Heather is the head wildlife veterinarian, the Shell Museum, beaches, shells and boating, and the beautiful nature reserves and bike paths. Unfortunately we all got COVID-19 so we had to leave too soon – we spent 10 days in isolation at an Airbnb on Pine Island watching movies, drinking orange juice, and relaxing on the sunny deck. Once recovered, we went to Tampa to spend time with our friends Rachel, Rob, Mimi and Evie. The kids especially enjoyed Mote Marine Lab , a manatee viewing area which was near where we stayed, and the playground at St. Pete pier. We then headed north and stayed in a beautiful lakeside Airbnb. Free kayaks were provided and the weather had turned chilly so we enjoyed the cosy house & fireplace. On a sunny day we kayaked the Ichetucknee River. We’ve heard the Ichetucknee can be too busy in summer but it was absolutely spectacular out of season: crystal clear water, cypress trees covered in Spanish moss, herons, ibis, and woodpeckers, hundreds of turtles and we were surrounded by manatees. Definitely a highlight of our time in Florida.
We arrived in Cayman and spent a wonderful two months with family and friends – celebrating Pop and Wendy’s wedding and revisiting many of our favourite places. Our time ended too soon, but we wanted to get back to Europe for the spring.
When we returned to France, we spent a few days in Paris where we enjoyed staying near the Bassin de la Villette: this is a walkable area within easy reach of other areas by metro. We enjoyed pastries along the canal and a day at Disneyland Paris. Amelia finally got to climb the Eiffel Tower (a first for all of us). We took a train to Les Eyzies, where we had left the motorhome, and quickly set off for Greece – driving through many miles of snow on our way to southern France. The French Riviera is absolutely stunning but difficult for motorhome travel: many parking areas and wild camp sites have reviews about vehicle break-ins, so we found it difficult to feel confident leaving the motorhome to hike. We enjoyed visiting the Falaises de Cassis observation deck (near Parc National Des Calanques) and staying at France Passion sites such as Domaine Saint Jean de l’Arbousier during our quick visit.
It was only a flying visit to Italy, but we found time to make a quick visit to Rome, Lucca, and Pisa. We were able to meet up with friends Linda and Steven (The Chouters & Bijou) while they took a break from motorhoming to walk the Via Francigena pilgrim path, Gary’s friend from South Africa, Paul, who was working in Genoa and our friends from Cayman, Doug and Laura, who are growing olives and other produce in southern Italy. But after just two weeks, it was time to take the ferry to Greece – however our motorhome garage full of delicious Italian food and wine, and with plans to return one day.
This is a compilation of other blog posts (see here and here) that focuses on the day-to-day practicalities of travelling in France.
Where we stayed:
France-Passion: We stayed primarily at France-Passion sites – over 2,000 farms, vineyards, etc. that allow you to park for free in exchange for looking at their products if they have anything for sale – there is no obligation but we never walked away empty handed. We bought red, white and rose wine, champagne, grape and apple juice, goat cheese, pasta, gingerbread, jam, eggs, and vegetables. All the sites we tried were open and welcoming: www.france-passion.com. An annual subscription is approximately €30.
Aires:These are free or paid parking areas provided by the towns and cities. They often include wastewater dumping, blackwater dumping, paid electricity, freshwater, and sometimes bathrooms. We found them through the Park4Night app (can be used offline after subscribing and downloading a regional map). All of the aires we visited were open for parking, but a few had services shut off for the winter, especially high in the French Alps. We did not stay at motorway aires; they are not generally recommended for staying the night but do have services (gasoline/petrol/diesel, blackwater dumping, picnic tables, restaurants, etc.).
Wild Camping:Wild camping is legal in France (with some conditions and limitations) but with a big motorhome and a small child we didn’t want to risk having to move in the night, so we were cautious in selecting a spot. We found it difficult to be sure that we would feel comfortable with a site based only on online reviews but if we found a site that looked good we used Park4Night to check if there were any reviews for the area (for example, one of our favourite sites was a quiet stretch of road on the banks of the Rhine, where we wild camped for two nights at what was originally planned to be a lunch spot; it looked like it would be OK to stay and we confirmed on Park4Night that other people had stayed without any problems).
Campsites:These range from 1-4 stars depending on the facilities available and can also be found on Park4night. We stayed in a few campsites at the beginning of our trip and then stopped using them when we had figured other solutions for internet, laundry, and dumping waste. Many campsites close for winter.
Water and electricity are available on some France-Passion sites (indicated in the guidebook). Otherwise we used Park4Night to find aires – often stopping en route to a France-Passion site rather than staying the night if they had paid parking or were busy.
Our most essential navigation tip for motorhomes is to set your GPS for the size of your vehicle – so you are not directed toward low tunnels, weak bridges, or very narrow village roads. Unfortunately, this is not possible in Google Maps. Our inbuilt motorhome GPS has this feature and when it stopped working during the trip we switched to the CoPilot app. The app works offline on a cell phone and we have found it mostly reliable though it has directed us toward a few small streets; if something doesn’t look right, we do not follow it. We see fewer problems when we use the ‘easiest route’ rather than ‘fastest route’ setting. We used Google Maps to find bakeries, grocery stores, etc. and downloaded offline maps of each region so we can use it without an internet connection. Tip: If the search results appear limited, search for the foreign language word, such as boulangerie instead of bakery.
Priorité à droite: The French highway code states that a when two drivers approach an intersection from different roads, the driver on the left is required to yield, unless directed otherwise by signage. This means that a driver pulling onto a road from the right could have right-of-way. In practice, there seem to be signs overruling priorité à droite almost everywhere – but we have seen some villages where it is in place. This article from The Local explains it quite well.
Tolls (Péage):It has always been possible for us to pay tolls by credit card however tolls, in general, can be expensive – one 7km tunnel cost us 17 euros! (as the toll is based on the size of the vehicle). We mostly set our GPS to avoid toll roads and we have seen some beautiful country and villages (and also some terrifying narrow village streets and one-lane roads).
Large chain grocery stores (such as Intermarché, Carrefour, SuperU and E.Leclerc) tend to be located on the outskirts of towns and cities and have parking lots large enough for our motorhome. We have found most of the staples we need (sometimes only after googling “what is X called in France” or “where can I buy X in France” (e.g. baking powder is called levure chimique or levure alsacienne, peanut butter is usually in the organic (bio) aisle). The stores often have a petrol station.
We learned that if you are looking high quality products in super- or hyper-markets it helps to look for the AOP (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) or the old AOC (Appellation d’Origine Protégée) label – this is a protection for products produced in specific regions using traditional methods. We also picked up lots of delicious cheeses which were marked down to two euros because they were nearing their expiration
The best food we bought came from France-Passion sites, speciality stores (e.g. bread – boulangerie, pastries – patisserie, cheese – fromagerie, goat cheese – chèvrerie, etc.) and local markets. Market days can be searched for on this site (select “chercher un marché” (search for a market) “autour de moi” (around me).
Picard is a French chain which offers good quality frozen food. We would plan to buy a couple of items and end up with a bag full of frozen goodies, including salmon, international foods such as falafels, and surprisingly good French favourites such as gougères (pastry puffs). Amelia loved the strawberry banana popsicles.
Laundry: We have some heavy clothes like jeans that take too long to air dry. We struggled to find places with washers and dryers other than campsites until we noticed the washers and dryers which are available in the parking lots of many grocery stores. These can be found on this website (search “a proximite” – nearby – and be sure to find a “laverie” – not a photobooth).
Homewares: Grocery stores have some housewares and we also visited Ikea when stocking our motorhome.
Clothing/Outdoors: Decathlon was a useful stop for hiking boots and warm clothes.
Money: We make all of our payments using a Revolut card. Revolt is an online bank and will do currency conversions at the Interbank rate. You also get a virtual card (that you can link to Google Pay or your Apple Wallet) for free that can be used for online shopping. You can fund your Revolt account by charging your current credit or debit card.
LPG: Our heater and stove run on LPG gas (called GPL in France). We also used gas designated as GPLc with no problems. Sites supplying LPG can be found on: www.mylpg.eu
Internet: We purchased a sim card from a provider called Free and use it in a mifi device (which provides wifi for our motorhome). For €20 per month, the Free sim gives us 210 GB per month in France (and 25 GB per month while roaming). We purchased the sim from a kiosk (bourne) inside a tobacconist shop. You will need to put an address in France. From what we understand, there is no contract but we have not yet cancelled. Update April 2022: We found that the 25 GB per month outside of France was not sufficient and so have switched to Tiekom.com based in Spain. They offer 300 GB per month for a monthly €40. We have encountered no issues. We learnt about it here and Camino was very helpful. You have to have the SIM card mailed to you and the package must be signed for.
Translations: we use Google Translate and downloaded the French dictionary so we can use it offline. The camera mode (point it at text to translate) has also been very helpful. If you are connected to the internet, Google Translate can perform a real-time voice/dictation translation. Update May 2021: DeepL – is much better at high quality translations
Covid: We used https://reopen.europa.eu/ for information on requirements for crossing borders and this site to search for places offering covid tests in France (in case we needed to get tested before crossing a border). We use The Local for French news in English.
Attractions: We visited many farms and vineyards via France-Passion and we also enjoyed visiting some of the villages designated as the most beautiful villages in France (“Les Plus Beaux Villages de France”). They might be crowded during the summer; during the off-season they have been perfect. We have also – by chance – found ourselves following some driving routes such as the “Route du Grande Alpes” – there are many of these routes promoted by local tourist offices. Information on walking/hiking paths can be found on www.sentiers-en-france.eu.
After an incredible Scandinavian summer, at the beginning of October we arrived back in France. While we had spent 6 months in France previously, we knew that there was much more that we wanted to explore in the motorhome. First, however, we spent a few days in a gite (guest house) at a horseback riding stable where we could relax while Amelia took riding lessons. She was also excited to cook some treats in a bigger kitchen with an oven, including homemade strawberry granola bars for the next stage of our trip.
After our break, we visited Monet’s house and garden in Giverny. The garden has been planted with an incredible array of seasonal flowers so that it bursts with colour throughout the spring, summer, and autumn. We were lucky to visit on a sunny afternoon in mid-October and we had the Water Lily Pond to ourselves for a few minutes at the end of the day. It was magical in a way that such heavily visited destinations seldom can be.
We then began exploring the coast following a list of suggestions sent to us by our Les Eyzies friend and neighbour Antoine, who is originally from Normandy. Our first stop was the Alabaster Coast where white chalk cliffs stretch from Dieppe to Étretat. We explored the beautiful small town of Veules-les-Roses and wild camped with incredible sunset views. Our next stop was the busy port of Honfleur, where we shared a motorhome aire with 180 motorhomes (Amelia carefully counted them and noted the countries that they had come from), rode the merry-go-round, and had crepes and hot (and very alcoholic!) cider spiked with calvados. Then we visited France’s smallest port, Port Racine, enjoying the beautiful country views on the Cotentin peninsula. Throughout Normandy, we stayed at France Passion sites to stock up on local products: apples, apple cider, apple juice, calvados, and fresh cheese.
As we continued through the countryside, Mont Saint-Michel appeared in distance like fantastic fairy-tale castle floating in the sea. Much like Carcassonne, it is more alluring from a distance (the interior is filled with tourist shops) but we still enjoyed a walk around the ramparts. We then returned in the evening to see it surrounded by water and to catch a glimpse of the city by lamplight. As we returned to our shuttle bus, we were hit by the first bands of rain from a terrific storm. That evening, the motorhome rocked wildly and branches broke in the wind but we escaped without any damage. Our final stops in Normandy were more sombre. We visited the Bayeux Tapestry – woven almost one thousand years ago and showing scenes from the battle of Hastings in life-like detail – and the D-Day beaches along with the Normandy American Cemetery, where white crosses marking the graves stretch as far as you can see.
It was then time to move on to Brittany. Our first stop was a big campsite with many activities – a treat for Amelia and still very quiet because it was not yet school holidays. Over three days, Amelia spent about 12 hours in the heated indoor pool/waterpark and she rode the ziplines and tried the tree climbing adventure course. This was good practice for a bigger tree climbing course, the Forêt Adrénaline Carnac, which was one of Amelia’s highlights in Brittany. We all also enjoyed the rose granite coast (another screen-saver bucket list item!), the misty and mossy Huelgoat forest, the mystical standing stones around Carnac, and a smaller site where it was possible to walk amongst standing stones without a guide – another magical experience.
Amelia was keen to celebrate Halloween/trick-or-treat, but because trick-or-treat is not a typical French custom, we decided to visit the Broceliande forest for the Celtic festival of Samhain. This included a witches’ market and a fire show. Finally, we stopped in Nantes to shop in a Mexican market and see the city’s incredible steam-punk machines, such as a carousel of fantastical sea creatures and a 12 m / 39 ft tall animatronic elephant.
When we arrived back in France, we had also posted on Worldschooling and French home education Facebook groups so that we could find some playdates for Amelia. Our first visit was with Tracy and her family in Normandy: Amelia had a wonderful time exploring a corn-field jungle and jumping on the trampoline with a welcoming group of English-speaking children. Next, we were happy to be invited to visit the “Traveling Twins” family – Amelia loved meeting their girls and we enjoyed chatting about traveling and worldschooling with Anja and Nick. As we left Brittany, we squeezed in our last visit with Kat, Mark, and kids. Mark cooked up a delicious South African potjie, we chatted and laughed late into the night, and decided to stay an extra day! Our last stop was a France Passion to pick up some cognac and then we arrived back “home” in Les Eyzies in our friends’ little cottage where we have spent so much time.
We were very happy to visit with our friends and catch up on their news and we settled in to enjoy our second French Noël (Christmas), this time without a lockdown. We picked holly in the forest and enjoyed having a fire, a Christmas tree decorated with homemade ornaments, and lots of meals involving melted cheese. Amelia was able to take riding lessons (group lessons in French but the owner speaks English) at the beautiful Ferme Des Eymaries and a wonderful art class with a group of English-speaking children, where she was very happy to catch up with her friend Lauren. Independently, Amelia practiced her new passion of gymnastics – learning from videos, our neighbour Agnès, and even an online Outschool class.
At the beginning of December, we were treated to our first snowfall in Les Eyzies – the snow only lasted a few hours but it transformed our familiar landscapes into a winter wonderland. We visited local markets in Le Bugue and St Cyprien (full of olives, oranges, and seafood) and Christmas markets in Sarlat (Mexican-themed with ice-skating!) and Bordeaux (we saw beautiful Christmas lights and tasted delicious aligot). Near Bordeaux, we also hiked on the Dune du Pilat (the tallest sand dune in Europe). We had a wonderful time feasting, toasting, and celebrating Christmas eve with our neighbours Antoine, Peter, Agnès – and of course their dogs Happy and Topsy. For the new year, we are visiting Cayman, and then we will see what the future brings – perhaps Italy and Greece in the footsteps of our friends The Chouters & Bijou and Frenchy Le Van.
After leaving Norway, we had only a few weeks before we needed to be back in France. Due to our particular visa situation, we can spend unlimited time in France but only 90 days in any 180-day period in the rest of the Schengen Zone.
As we drove through Sweden, we immediately fell in love with the forests and lakes – like Norway, it is a wild camping paradise. At our first lunch stop, we plunged from a dock into a sun-warmed lake, enjoying a peaceful end to the summer. We also camped at beautiful Lake Fegen, a site we bookmarked from a photo by Frenchy Le Van when we were only dreaming of visiting Scandinavia. During a few days of rainy weather, we visited Ikea to pick up some cosy new furnishing for the motorhome (during our travels we had read about hygge) and ate some Swedish meatballs and veggie meatballs with delicious lingonberry jam and gravy. As we mentioned in our last blog, Amelia had also been looking forward to eating Swedish banana pizza. We found a highly-rated pizza takeaway and ordered a banana pizza (it also had chicken, peanuts, and curry powder) and a kabab pizza (cooked and then topped with a pile of french fries). The banana pizza was surprisingly good – though Amelia gave it 3 out 10 stars because it “tasted like bananas”. She loved the “french fry pizza” and rated it 10 out of 10! Amelia’s highlight however was Sweden’s unbelievable playgrounds: we wish every country with the resources would follow Sweden’s example. For Gary, we stopped at Öckerö, an island port which he sailed from 24 years ago in the Tall Ships Races. The ship he sailed, Hawila, had been sold but we soon tracked her down near Copenhagen. We decided to continue on to Denmark and promised Amelia more playgrounds.
When we reached Denmark, we able to tour Hawila and learn about the plans for her future. Then we visited Copenhagen and enjoyed the Reffen street food market and its fantastic array of international foods – especially a taste of home with some sweet fried plantains! With some advice from our friend Jane and her sister, we made a circle of Zeeland and some of the surrounding islands, enjoying the quaint thatched cottages and the beautiful late summer light, spotting wild ponies in Dovns Klint, and taking as many opportunities as possible to eat fish with remoulade sauce. We also tried Smørrebrød (Danish open-faced sandwiches) – picking some up for a picnic at a park that Amelia didn’t want to leave. We soon learned that despite being what we would consider “sandwiches” they are not finger food! Nonetheless they were delicious. Denmark also has great playgrounds, though some seem to be aimed at slightly younger children than the playgrounds we visited in Sweden. Amelia’s favourite playground activity was navigating the model traffic circles and roads in Copenhagen parks – important for teaching children traffic rules in a country where they cycle from a young age. She also loved the fabulous playground in Kolding which had a full track with moon cars, free paddle boats, and many play structures. On a playground next to one of our campsites, Amelia heard another child speaking English and Spanish and immediately ran over to meet her. We started chatting to the family and they invited us to visit them. We spent a couple of fun days together – eating delicious Spanish food cooked by Elvira, trying the town children’s sport of crab racing, and marvelling at Kjeld’s Lego collection – before it was time for us to move on.
By that time, our time in the Schengen Zone was nearly done so we headed back through Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium with very few stops – just a few playgrounds, some shopping for international foods in Germany, and one last stop for Belgian ‘frites’.
Our second month in Norway was even more awe-inspiring than the first. After meeting with Linda and Steven from The Chouters, we continued north on the Kystriksveien (Coastal Highway/FV 17) coastal route. This is a 630km scenic route which is more beautiful but slower than the E6 highway: there are six ferry crossings on the main route and many more possible crossings to additional islands.
As we headed north along the route, we began to cross incredible lunar landscapes and, on a ferry, we entered the Arctic Circle (and brought out our Cayman Islands flag). Linda and Steven recommended a wild camping site that overlooked Svartisen Glacier and Amelia picked wild blueberries and raspberries. We also saw the Saltstraumen maelstrom, where some of the world’s strongest tidal currents form whirlpools when the tide rushes in and out of the fjord.
We parked by a beach just outside Bodø. Soon other motorhomes arrived and Amelia met some French children and played with them in the golden evening light. While the kids played, the parents told us about their experiences in the Lofoten Islands, particularly the Reinebringen hike, and we shared Vin de Noix (fortified walnut wine) and Vin de Sureau (fortified elderflower wine) that we made in France. We also chatted with a couple from the Netherlands who also had a Weinberg motorhome. Amelia became interested in spotting license plates during our travels and mentioned to them that she had noticed their “NL” license plates. We were touched when they left us a bag of treats and a sweet note from the “NL Weinsberg” before driving off early the next morning.
The next day, we drove into Bodø where it is possible to catch a ferry to the Lofoten Islands. There was a forecast for sunny weather the next morning, followed by a week of rain, so we decided to catch a night ferry to Moskenes, near the western tip of the Lofoten Islands. It was our roughest ferry crossing yet and we were glad to see an incredible wall of jagged mountains as we approached the islands in the twilight. We drove to the town of “Å” a few miles away and stayed in a parking lot which was filled with motorhomes from all over Europe. The next day, we woke up early and set off to hike Reinebringen while it was still sunny. It was a difficult hike up 1,560 steps but the views from the top were truly spectacular. We felt as if we had stepped into one of computer screen saver photos that had tempted us before we had even started our travels.
Next, we stopped in the town of Reine and found it very touristy – even late in the summer and in a Covid year with no cruise ships or tour buses. A cold rain began to fall the next day so we took the opportunity to visit a glassblowing shop that had been recommended by our friends at Frenchy Le Van – it was a perfect day to watch amazing glass blowing demonstrations by a roaring furnace.
We then began driving back through the chain of islands toward the mainland, following recommendations from the wonderfully comprehensive Motoroamers blog – they even have an eBook on the Lofoten Islands. We found the islands to be much less busy once we left Reine and particularly enjoyed the 815 route – a quiet road with spectacular granite boulders and spiky mountains. Next, we drove through Andoya and took an evening ferry to Senya – following even more scenic routes. We did not find these islands to be quite as stunning as the Lofoten Islands (almost an impossible act to follow) but if the Lofoten Islands were too busy we thought they would be preferable! We agreed that we loved the lack of crowds and the sense of discovery and exploration that we found in Norway; the popular places are popular for a reason but many areas that are off the beaten track are just as spectacular. Too soon, it was time to head south. We found a small friendly campsite and settled in for a couple of days to celebrate Gary’s birthday – including his first ‘polar plunge’ within the Arctic Circle.
Given that the Kystriksveien which we took on the way north is a scenic route and the E6 is an inland highway, we had low expectations for the drive south. However, the northern portion of the E6 was surprisingly scenic. We would still pick the coastal highway if we were only driving one way in Norway but we enjoyed seeing granite domes, fjords, forest, and high plateau – including reindeer by the Arctic Circle Centre and musk ox habitat near Hjerkin.
On our way to the Lofoten Islands, we took a route near the coast and missed several highly recommended scenic routes and sites, planning to see them on our way south. First, we visited Briksdalbreen Glacier. The surrounding area is also spectacular, with rivers and lakes coloured a shocking blue by ‘rock flour’ – rocks which have been pulverized to dust by the movement of the glacier and which are suspended in the water. We then drove more incredible scenic routes, including Trollstigen (a dramatic mountain road with a 10% grade and eleven hairpin bends), Dalsnibba Utsiktspunkt (literally jaw-dropping scenery which we viewed through gaps in the mist), Gamle Strynefjellsveg (landscapes from another planet with guard stones lining the road like teeth), and the Flåm scenic route (where we were fortunate to see flaming autumn foliage reflected in the dark water).
We left Norway by way of Moss, near Oslo, where we visited Gary’s old friends Bernhard and Olaug – spending some wonderful time together and joining them for a typically Norwegian taco dinner . It was sad to say goodbye to Bernhard and Olaug and leave Norway after two months of wonderful travels but at the same time we were excited to enter our next country: Sweden, where Amelia was looking forward to trying banana pizza – you’ll find her review in our next blog 😊
Because of the uncertainty of travel during COVID-19, we did very little itinerary planning before we arrived in Norway. We were lucky to find some extremely helpful and comprehensive motorhome blogs to help us get up to speed…e.g.
AutoPASS: be sure to order an electronic tag for both AutoPass and AutoPASS Ferry when you are starting to plan your trip so that you can have the tag mailed to you. If this isn’t possible, you can still register online: normally, you will still benefit from the AutoPASS discount when your license plate is scanned.
When to visit: we arrived at the middle of July and left at the middle of September – perfect for outside activities, hiking and picking berries. We felt lucky to stay for the beginning of autumn: attractions were quieter in late August (after Norwegian schools re-opened) and in September, trees were turning orange and red near Flåm. Spring would be an interesting time to visit to see rushing waterfalls, the last of the snow, and the arrival of thousands of puffins, though road conditions and hikes could be more challenging. In winter, there are opportunities for skiing, visiting ice caves, and seeing the northern lights.
Tourist Offices: we found excellent informational materials (including a booklet/magazine for each region) in the various tourism offices along our route. A number of the offices offered free Wi-Fi.
Scenic routes: early in our trip, we picked up a booklet on the stunning Norwegian Scenic Routes . We then prioritized these drives and travelled 14 of the 18 routes: see our itinerary posts above. The scenery is literally jaw-dropping while driving and we snapped hundreds of pictures out the window but you cannot truly appreciate the scale, the colours, and the sensations until you are outside your vehicle. We recommended getting out as often as possible, whether it is to hike or just to stand by the road soaking in the smell of salt or seaweed from the fjords, the sound of bells on wandering sheep, the colour of the fjords or the size of the mountains.
Groceries: we brought a lot of food with us that we had purchased at a discount store in Germany and found that we were able to buy anything else we needed in Norwegian groceries stores ( for a description of the various stores see this post from Life in Norway). Generally we shopped at Coop (in their larger “Extra” or “Mega” stores) or Kiwi. Bunnpris and REMA 1000 are discount stores but we didn’t always find the prices low enough to justify the more limited selection.
Food: popular snack foods include hotdogs, svele pancakes (folded in half to make a sandwich with brown cheese and butter or butter and sugar; often served on ferries), waffles, and tacos (a Friday-night favourite; we love tacos and we were happy to be able to buy taco ingredients – though only ‘Old El Paso’ style brands). In addition, we also enjoyed eating salmon and wild berries, and apples and plums from the many orchards on the side of the fjords. We snacked on spring rolls and churros while exploring Trondheim but otherwise we didn’t eat out in Norway.
Where to stay: we found this link to be a helpful summary of rules for parking (vs camping) in Norway. We used Park4Night and spent most of our nights wild camping. It is also possible to find your own sites. Marinas are also a good option for paid sites with facilities; many campsites seemed crowded and expensive but we enjoyed staying at Oldevatn Camping which offered free boats to explore a glacial lake.
Diesel prices: Diesel pricing baffled us (and a lot of other motorhomers too). We drove past one station in the morning and the price was NOK14.49/litre and when we drove past again after lunch it was NOK17.49/litre (50 litres would be €15 more expensive!) From what we could gather, diesel prices are generally cheapest on Sundays and first thing on Monday mornings.
Propane: It is true that LPG/GPL is not as widely available as in countries such as France but we found that we would drive past a pump twice a week. We would fill up when we could instead of when we needed to. It also appeared that filling ‘foreign’ gas bottles was possible. Both Park4Night and MyLPG helped us find filling stations.
Dumping/water etc: there are many options on Park4Night.
Laundry: we only found laundry facilities at campsites and marinas. Some will let you use the facilities without an overnight stay.
KID bank account: There were 2 occasions when we needed to make a wire transfer (to pay AutoPASS until we changed to charging a credit card and to pay a parking ticket). Both times the SWIFT payment/wire failed. It appears that this happened because a KID (“kundeidentifikasjon” or customer identification) is needed. You need to request the details of the bank account for non-KID payments.
Internet: Norway has excellent cell phone coverage so it is easiest to use data rather than depending on campsite Wi-Fi (often poor signal strength) or free Wi-Fi. If you are looking for free Wi-Fi, grocery stores, gas stations, and tourist offices seemed to be the best places to check.
Public bathrooms: abundant and very clean. Many had stunning views or were uniquely designed.
Swimming pools: due to cool weather when we visited, the warm indoor public swimming pools were a highlight for our daughter. She loved them so much that we visited about one pool per week. Depending on the size of the facility, they may have waterslides, diving boards, climbing walls, and even whirlpools and wave pools. These are public pools not luxury spas, but for adults, there may be designated lanes for lap swimming, jacuzzis, steam rooms, and saunas. Two favourites: Lustrabadet and Atlanterhaven but the smaller pools (in nearly every large town) are also fun and generally less expensive.
Hiking: we did some amazing hiking in Norway, including the extremely popular hikes of Preikestolen/Pulpit Rock and Reinebringen. If you search for “hikes in Norway” you will see many challenging 10 to 12 hour hikes but during our trip we naturally came across many easier family-friendly opportunities e.g. a short walks to Briksdalsbreen Glacier and Torghatten.
Our favourites in Norway:
First of all, the incredible scenery. The fjord region was how we imagined Norway – but more spectacular – and we were surprised by the variety of the landscapes even within this region. The inner fjords, far from the sea, are classic ‘fjordland’ with dramatic views around every bend in the road. We especially loved seeing the different coloured water – ranging from ice-blue glacier melt to dark black reflecting the autumn leaves. The outer fjords, near the ocean, are lower – but they have incredible sea cliffs (such as Hornalen) and bird islands (such as Runde). The “top” Norway places truly are stunning: Preikestolen, Lofoten islands, Geiranger fjord, Trollstigen, and Flåm scenic lookout. We were lucky to see them in an unusual year when they were not too busy. Otherwise, they would be best off season or there are many other uncrowded and spectacular areas to explore. Some of our other favourites: amazing wild camping; hiking – particularly Reinebringen; picking wild blueberries and raspberries in the forests and along the edges of the fjords; glacial rivers and lakes; fjord horses; wild reindeer near the Arctic Circle Centre; drinks on a floating dock in Trondheim; and swimming in the fjords, including a “polar plunge” in the Arctic Circle.
And Amelia loved the swimming pools and making friends with other children at wild camps and campsites.
We couldn’t possibly recommend a Norway road-trip more highly.