The Balkans

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.

Cheers!_15c_a_glass_of_wine

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.

Croatia

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.

Plitvice_Lakes_National_Park

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.

Slovenia

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.

Albania

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.

camping_gjirokaster

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.

Gjirokastër Castle

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.

The coast

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.

Flat tyre

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!

Tirana

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.

bella_vita

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

ledi's_place

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.

shala_river

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).

Albanian Alps

narrow-roads

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).

blue_eye_of_theth

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!

Shkodër

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!

rolls_royce

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.

Greece

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

lefkada
visited_greece

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.

Peloponnese

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!)

Athens

optical_illusion
visited_greece

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. 

voisomatis_river
visited_greece

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.

Practicalities of Travelling in Greece

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.

Getting there:

temple_of_poseidon

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.

greece_map

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.

Driving:

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:

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/Electricity/Dumping:

Water: Water is widely available at no cost; we found all of it to be drinkable.

dump_station

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.

General:

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. 

Winter with family and friends

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.

florida_lake_and_manatees

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.

bassin_de_la_villette

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.

Practicalities of Travelling in France:

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:

Practicalities of Travelling in France

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/Electricity/Dumping:

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.

Driving:

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.

Practicalities of Travelling in France

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).

Food:

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.

General:

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.

Practicalities of Travelling in France

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.

Practicalities of Travelling in France

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.