Andrew RobinsonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Andrew Robinson
You may remember reading part one of our adventure, as my partner Ellie and I, new to the hobby of motorcaravanning, decided that we wanted to spent six weeks gently exploring Europe in a campervan. Sounds lovely, doesn't it? Two extra challenges were that we had a strict budget and that we also had Harry on board, our seven-month old son.
We had already experienced the highs and lows of this lifestyle, and of parenting in the confines of a campervan, our Mazda Bongo Friendee. Day six of our European adventure saw us driving past endless vineyards in northern Italy, before we finally found a lovely hillside campsite in the Barolo area of Piedmont. After a relaxing evening chatting to another British family and watching the setting sun, we turned in with thoughts of where the following day's drive might take us.
We decided to continue heading east which took us to Milan and a site near the San Siro stadium, home of AC Milan. We parked our trusty, bargain Mazda Bongo Friendee on a decent pitch next to a lovely Dutch couple, who informed us that the campsite was full of heavy metal fans attending a concert at the nearby stadium. Oh no! We had visions of late-night axe throwing contests and cider-fuelled mayhem, but the rockers couldn't have been better behaved as they quietly returned to their tents.
The following day our new Dutch friends gave Harry a little teddy bear and urged us to head for one of their favourite campsites at Punta Sabbioni, near Venice. However, their recommendation was a little too far for us to drive in a day, so we headed for Lake Garda, finding a picturesque stopover right next to the lake at Desenzano del Garda.
With the lake so enticing and the weather hot, we were in our swimming costumes within minutes and straight into the water for a dip. Swimming in the cooling waters of Lake Garda followed by an al fresco beer and barbecue on our portable Cadac stove was a perfect end to the day.
But at €30 a night, we couldn't afford to linger too long at this campsite, so the following day we packed up and headed off again – only, for once, this time we knew our destination before we set off!
The Dutch couple's tip turned out to be a winner, especially for Harry. In fact, the Camping Mose site at Punta Sabbioni was so lovely we stayed three nights, allowing us to properly relax for the first time since leaving the ferry.
The big plus points of this campsite were the brand new shower blocks, the campsite bar (a huge glass of wine was just €1) and the sandy beach, just a short pram push away. The wartime pillboxes dotting the landscape can be explored and it's a wildlife haven.
Though Harry wasn't yet talking, it was clear he was loving the beach life. At Punta Sabbioni he got his first sight of a real beach and wasted no time in grabbing a handful of sand and shoving it straight into his mouth before we could stop him! He also dipped his toes into the sea (the Adriatic), another first for him.
Our three days at Camping Mose Punta Sabbioni gave us a chance to wash our clothes in the on-site washing machine – one of those mod cons that you really miss when on the road. It was a lovely break and we were sad to leave this campsite. Perhaps we ought to have stayed a couple more days, but we were eager to explore.
Day 12 saw us leave Italy and enter Slovenia. We had been hoping to spend a few days exploring Croatia, but in my haste to comply with the law in Slovenia I had already bought a vignette toll sticker, so we reluctantly decided to drop Croatia from our plans.
For some reason, I had a vague notion that Slovenia was going to be a value for money country where we could settle for a few days and relax, enjoying the beautiful countryside. We soon found out that it wasn't so cheap, but it was certainly scenic.
Our first experience of a Slovenian campsite wasn't a particularly good one. In fact it was little more than an overgrown field next to a shallow swamp full of noisy frogs and annoying flies – and at nearly €30 a night it was a bit too pricey.
We couldn't find shade – the sun canopy was too cumbersome to put up for one night – and probably we ought to have packed up and hopped into the air conditioned campervan long before the sun came up the following day. Instead, we had to spend over half an hour packing away numerous pieces of kit as the thermometer hit around 40 degrees.
Though Harry was safely shaded beneath a parasol and in front of a small electric fan, we decided that Slovenia was just too hot for family fun. It was time to head north where it would be cooler. Thankfully, we found lots more lovely things to see and do in Slovenia as we made our way towards the Julian Alps.
After visiting the atmospheric and wonderfully chilly Škocjan Caves, a World Heritage site with huge chambers and a subterranean river, we drove to two must-see lakes, Bled and Bohinj, which are just a short drive apart.
Our route took us up the Soča valley, which followed the fast-flowing and captivating blue-green Soča river to the Vršič Pass. The climb and descent involves many hairpin bends and some wonderful views. It is a drive to take slowly, especially for those in ageing 'vans – I'm pleased to report that our 16-year old Mazda Bongo Friendee, which we bought for £7000, made it up and over the big Alpine hills with no complaints.
We found the campsite near Bohinj almost as disappointing and overpriced as the previous one near the Škocjan Caves. However, the lakeside setting was idyllic with its dramatic backdrop of big mountains. And we did have a fun time, especially when we saw a wild mouse sneaking into a German man's old fashioned canvas tent! It was an ideal spot for watching people – and rodents – if nothing else.
After three nights in Slovenia, we decided to cross the border into Austria. We had made it to the end of the second leg of our adventure. With France, Italy and Slovenia behind us, it was time to see what Austria and Germany had to offer.