France – Turenne & Collonges-La-Rouge

We serviced and left the pretty hilltop aire in Dampniat, heading across country.  The weather had turned and we no longer enjoyed wonderfully clear blue skies, but a dull, thick greyness now permeated everything, blocking out the light.  A light drizzle occasionally fell, obscuring our view as much as the lack of light did, making it a fairly miserable, grey day for sight-seeing and photography.  But we persisted with our plan, and next to see was Turenne.

Turenne (village square)

Turenne (village streets)

Turenne is bastide village, one built in a circular plan on a domed hill, historically providing both prestige and security for the residents. We arrived on the outskirts and slowly inched our way down a tight lane into the town’s aire, amazed to see a huge 9m long Concorde parked up already, with no idea of how he manged to turn himself into the site. We weren’t staying so parked at the back of the aire, away from the free electricity points, and walked into the town.  The sky was a uniform blankness, an off-white sheet of featureless cloud.  Even with the lack of light on this overcast day, the first square we reached, less than a minute from the aire, was simply beautiful.  The town’s white stone mixed with a pale hanging mist gave an ethereal quality to the buildings, and they oozed class and eminence.

Turenne (Az in narrow street)

Turenne (n wandering the streets)

We walked along narrow streets lined with colour-giving hanging baskets, all neatly tended even this late in the year. It was so tranquil, out of season, casually wandering and envisioning the lives of those who had passed through these gates in ancient times, and similarly imagining what it must be like to live in this village today.  Turenne had very difficult and tight access for cars and would certainly be hard to cycle to and from. We continued uphill to reach the main castle, passing many private homes and gîtes for hire, some with tiny swimming pools.  Several balconies offered expansive views down over the valley and the lower portions of the town.  The view was mostly shrouded in low-lying mist, but the occasional stray breath of wind would momentarily clear the obstruction and allow us a look.

Turenne (view of valley below)

Collonges-la-rouge (approaching village)

Collonges-la-rouge (N in village)

We returned to the aire and carefully headed on, ready for our next stop at nearby Collonges-la-Rouge.  This was yet another place with the designation of ‘Beau Village’ and we soon felt it richly deserved its classification.  There was a dedicated motorhome aire on the outskirts, and we walked in from there, slightly unsure if we needed to pay.  Our approach offered an overview of the town from a distance, and of several route options we could take.  The dark red sandstone of all of the buildings in the well-preserved small town was almost burgundy in colour.  Sadly, it cast a deeper pastel shade than normal under dull, blank skies and although we were sure we weren’t seeing it at its best, the intricate narrow streets full of many bespoke quaint homes and local artisan businesses was still a delight to see.

Collonges-la-rouge (church exterior)

Collonges-la-rouge (church interior)

Collonges-la-rouge (Az under arch)

The village can historically be traced to the 8th century CE, but has had a rather chequered history. It profited and grew from the custom of pilgrims passing through the nearby pilgrimage site of Rocamadour, but the French revolution caused the destruction of key priory buildings.  It underwent a brief economic recovery in the 19th century until dwindling population numbers led the village to becoming not much more than a stone quarry.  Only in the early 20th century did villagers create a movement that eventually secured the classification of the village as an important historic monument.  Collonges-la-Rouge was the founding member of the ‘Les Plus Beaux Villages de France’ association, a brainchild of the mayor, and has since become one of the most visited places in the region.

Collonges-la-rouge (leafy streets)

Collonges-la-rouge (central towers)

Collonges-la-rouge (n walking the centre))

The village was like a perfect film set; each twist of the pathway, every turn of a street corner, brought a new vista of beauty and interest even on this, the dullest of days.  Red and yellow-leafed ivy hung off the high sandstone walls in beautiful cascading curtains, adding a softening aged grandeur.  Most of the village’s commerce was closed, but we passed one restaurant whose vents were expelling the most wonderful aromas.  We had read that the sandstone is known to glow brightly under a warm sun and we vowed to revisit at a future time to experience this.  Collonges-la-Rouge had a tight, compact centre and we completed various loops to ensure we’d walked every possible path and seen all the key buildings from all angles, absorbing the sights as much as we could during our all too brief visit.

Domaine du Chirac (duck house camper)

Domaine du Chirac (With our purchase)

We planned to overnight stop at a nearby farm­, but it proved difficult to find as the co-ordinates listed on their website led only to the centre of the nearby village of Brivezac.  We eventually found Domaine du Chirac on Google maps and plotted our own route, only we headed up and over the mountain on single track farm roads, rather than around on proper roads.  We would have faced trouble had we met another vehicle on the way, but thankfully we didn’t.  This was a France Passion business, a local wine producer, and we were able to both park up for the night and enjoy a wine tasting.  Their specialty was rich, sweet white wine, which isn’t a particular favourite, but we enjoyed the tasting session and learning a little of the history of their business.  We purchased a bottle to serve as a sweet aperitif at our upcoming Christmas festivities, before settling in surrounded by geese, donkeys and farm dogs.

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France – Dampniat & Brive-la-Gaillarde

We moved on from our visit to Saint-Robert to reach the rural heights of the village of Dampniat.  We had a worrying moment on our arrival, as pulling up at the aire we faced a chain across with INTERDIT in bold letters.  We soon worked out that this was only closing off the large area of the aire on the right, with the opposite smaller side, only large enough for three motorhomes, still available for us to use.  It seemed they were in the dubious process of marking the larger area into specific individual bays, as if the French pay any heed to them when parking.

Dampniat (village at sunset)

Dampniat (n watching sunset)

All services, including free electricity, were happily on hand, so we parked up in the corner, plugged in and relaxed with our heating blasting.  It was set to drop to -2C overnight, so we were glad to have the hook-up, and at our favourite price – thanks, Dampniat.  We had a stroll around the small settlements on the nearby hills before dinner, enjoying great views out over rolling countryside turned red under the setting sun.  The roads were empty the entire walk and only the odd dog barking penetrated the rural silence.  But when the sun went down, it was like a heavy cloak of impenetrable blackness descended everywhere, unlike any we had seen, or more accurately not seen, in a long time.

Dampniat - benny in aire

Dampniat - readyy for cycle

We awoke to face a bitterly cold morning, with a light frost on the grass outside.  The view across to the village of Dampniat was lit with a bright sun-rising redness, similar to the previous night’s sunset.  The sky was clear of any cloud cover and held the potential for a sunny dry day, so we proceeded with our plan to finally utilise our bikes and cycle down into the nearby centre of Brive-la-Gaillarde, the main town in this region of villages.  We wrapped up warm and set off, downhill through villages and forests.  It was a steep descent, passing by lots of houses but very few vehicles, until we reached the valley floor near the town and the traffic increased massively.  By then, we were rewarded with the use of dedicated cycle lanes so cars were not an issue as we made our way along to the centre of Brive.

Brive-la-Gaillarde (cental buildings)

Brive-la-Gaillarde (town hall)

We headed straight for the heart of the medieval centre, picking out the tall church tower we could see all the way in.  It sat in a small square, lined by very pretty red-leafed trees that contrasted with the church’s stone. This local yellow sandstone dominated most of the historic centre, with many key buildings being built from it.  The stone lit up to glow when in direct sun.  Away from the tiny, medieval streets, the town centre was bustling with busy shoppers, and we had to be slow and careful picking our way through pedestrians.  We watched long, colourful runs of Christmas lights being put up by men in a cherry-picker, the road through to the central square having been closed to vehicles to allow them to work. Seasonal markets were in the process of being set up, and all felt very festive.

Brive-la-Gaillarde (church square)

Brive-la-Gaillarde (pretty parkland)

Brive-la-Gaillarde (low river)

Beautiful stone high-ceilinged townhouses, each with a private gated front garden, lined the grand streets on the peripheral of the medieval centre. We passed them as we looped around the centre, dodging down many small side streets to get a quick impression of the town.  It looked pretty, lively, full to bursting with interesting corners and modern conveniences.  We found the tourist office by the bus-station and collected a few local maps, before heading across to the park that sat adjacent to the river.  It was a neat, leafy park, but the river had the appearance of having been abandoned, forgotten, or at least not particularly celebrated by the town.  The town centre seemed to have turned its back on it, and it looked rather forlorn, with many weeds and a low volume of flowing water.

Brive-la-Gaillarde (Az in park)

Brive-la-Gaillarde (n relaxing in park)

Brive-la-Gaillarde (leaving town)

We had been dreading the cycle back home, so we mooched about, putting off the long hill climb off for as long as possible.  We’d not cycled for a while, and were unsure how our legs would react to the protracted rise.  Instead of returning by the same road we had descended, we found an off-road cycle path that followed the river out of town in the general direction (east) we needed, rolling though beautiful forest trails.  We had a few sharp climbs on the route, and each time we thought that we were into the climb, but we kept being given a fast, exciting downhill that we couldn’t allow ourselves to fully enjoy with the ever-nagging reminder that we were giving away hard-gained metres that we would have to climb all over again.  But the path was fantastic, flowing along fast beside the river.

Brive-la-Gaillarde (riverside cycle)

Brive-la-Gaillarde (river paths)

Brive-la-Gaillarde (hill climb return)

Rather than a gently rising 11km road back up to Dampniat we now, approaching from a different direction, faced a much shorter and sharper 4km long rise, with hairpins and spectacular views.  We rolled up it slowly, but in relative comfort, quite happy our legs and lungs were still able to respond to the occasion.  When we arrived back in Dampniat we were left wondering what we’d been so worried about, and enjoyed the last few hundred metres downhill back to the aire.  We passed a fun afternoon completing charcoal drawings of each other’s facial features, each attempt allowed a maximum of five minutes on the stopwatch.  We’ll not share the results, but it is fair to say that not all the sketches were equally successful.  We passed another quiet night in the aire, relaxing in the warmth and comfort of Benny.

 

France – Ségur-le-Chateau & Saint-Robert

Leaving Uzerche, we felt there were so many choices of where to head next.  We still had a few weeks spare before our house-sitting commitment, and we were geographically close, less than a day’s drive away.  It was time to slow down our progress and concentrate on a more detailed exploration of the surrounding area.  After much debate and deliberation, we headed off west, to visit a few of the nearby Beaux Villages a France.  Our first stop was then to be the village of Ségur-le-Chateau.

Segur-le-Chateau (river frontage)

Segur-le-Chateau (river panorama)

The day was reasonably bright as we headed west, across small country roads.  The village was not looking too promising on first arrival, as the streets approaching the centre were all dull grey and crumbling walls, and the similarly plainly decorated church was surrounded by busy scaffolding.  But once we reached the main heart of the village and parked up by the trickling river, we could appreciate what had earned the village its coveted status.  The prime setting on the curve of the river was quite exceptional, with picture-postcard timber and stone buildings tumbling out over the flowing waters and the tall ruin of an historic castle on the hill behind.  What remained of the castle’s huge stone walls was awash with thick ivy, hanging loosely off the face, offering a look of aged grandeur.

Segur-le-Chateau (village streets)

Segur-le-Chateau (main road through)

After a brief appreciation of the view, we entered what we thought was a small tourist office, but turned out to be the Mairie. The gentleman working there, who may have even been the village mayor, immediately took us under his wing, located a key to the closed tourist office and gained us access to lots of leaflets, maps and useful local information.  One of the local maps had a recommended walking route around the village, so with no other plans, we took off to follow this.  We didn’t abide by it fully, spurring off to see other corners as they caught our interest, but it offered a general structure to our wanderings.  A steep cobbled path led up the side of the church and almost instantly into open countryside with views over the village, before looping back around and back to the centre.

Segur-le-Chateau (riverside view)

Segur-le-Chateau (timber buildings)

Some buildings have been recently renovated, their stone cleaned and everything looking neat, but the village still has a long way to go to bring the overall ambience up to the same exacting standard.  But should they try achieving that perfect look, they may end up losing something of that ramshackle wonderfulness.  The intangible feeling of real lived-in untidiness, worn timber and stone permeated with depths of history and time, could potentially be swept away with too much polishing of the village.  But without continued investment and growth, it may have a limited future as a viable town for locals, beyond the influx of seasonal tourism. It’s a fine balancing act, and sits well beyond my paygrade to adequately advise upon. We returned to Benny with these thoughts tumbling through our minds.

Saint Robert (church from square)

Saint Robert (church interior)

We slowly squeezed between the high mountainside rock and a bulging stone house to leave Ségur-le-Chateau, then drove on small, empty roads to reach Saint-Robert, a short drive south.  It was another in the long line of 100 designated French Beaux Villages we hoped to visit.  There was a large aire on the outskirts of the village that we could have stayed at, but later decided against.  We parked up there in the spacious parking, beside only one other motorhome, and walked the short way to the village centre.  Saint-Robert was predominantly built from warmer stone, and felt neater and better kept, rather than the quirky, tumbling-ruin feel of Ségur-le-chateau.  Both villages had their obvious charms, but in very different ways, with Saint-Robert feeling just a little classier, being more homogenised in material and colour.

Saint Robert (church gardens)

Saint Robert (stone and timber)

We first gravitated to the Romanesque church, part of a Benedictine monastery built by the followers of the eponymous St. Robert, positioned as the central focus of the village square.  We had a short look inside, noting the different stone finishes on various levels, simple and effective as decoration. We enjoyed the wonderful views from the church gardens down to the valley far below, marvelling at the setting.  We wandered the main streets in all directions, ensuring we saw each alcove, square and point of interest, viewing the village from all available angles.  There were a few large chateaus on the edges of the village, hidden away behind tall walls.  Centrally, there were a proliferation of gites for hire, and it seemed that much of the population must be temporary visitors in peak times.

Saint Robert (ivy chateau)

Saint Robert (archways and walls)

We returned to the aire in Saint Robert for lunch, where we considered stopping over for the night, but instead decided to make a further move, closer to the next places of our interest.  So we drove off east to locate our new aire, near to the hillside village of Dampniat, to set up our next few days of exploration and sight-seeing in the region.

France – Limoges & Uzerche

Limoges and Uzerche

We left the leafy aire in St. Priest Taurion to head for Limoges on roads that were empty on a bright November morning.  There was a biting chill in the air early on, around 5 or 6 degs, but the day warmed up after a few cold hours to a scorching 22 degrees, feeling even hotter under the direct sun.  Limoges was a place we knew nothing of, and were again, as in Ghent, very happily surprised.  We parked easily in a large free car-park on the riverside, only a few hundred metres from the historic centre. The river was beautifully lit in the morning sun, and was being actively used, with runners everywhere along the banks and rowers skimming silently across its calm surface.  The city had a real energy about it, even on this, a lazy Saturday morning.  The bright, crisp November day and the tree-lined river paths were both perfect for exercising, and it was great to see so many out enjoying the city as we sauntered by.

Limoges (catherdal on approach)

Limoges (river view)

We walked along the northern riverbank of the Vienne and crossed at the historic Pont Saint-Étienne, dodging runners coming from all directions as we took in the view.  The bridge was constructed in the thirteenth century to assist pilgrims reaching the town’s cathedral, an important place of pilgrimage on the extensive route leading all the way to Santiago de Compostela.  We slowly wandered along the leafy paths of the opposite bank, with views across to the high-sited historic centre and the Jardins d’Évêché that surround the cathedral.  We crossed the Vienne again on the Pont Neuf, the new bridge, and climbed a set of long steps up through the high walls to the gardens.  The historic quarter was almost empty of others, which was rather surprising considering the warm, clear day and the obvious beauty of the surrounding gardens, but we certainly weren’t complaining about having it all to ourselves.

Limoges (Fine Arts gallery)

Limoges (cathedral from garden)

The Musée des Beaux Arts was the first building we approached, fronted by colourful flowerbeds with spiral trees and a circular fountain.  The museum, a former episcopal palace, was closed when we visited, but houses a large collection of enamel sculptures and Egyptian artefacts. The backdrop of the Cathédrale Saint-Étienne was ever-present in our view, so we approached, passing the large-windowed Orangerie and the formal vegetable gardens.  There were many exceptionally pretty trees close to the cathedral, each twisted and bent into sculptural poses.  Began in 1273 CE, the cathedral has been consistently added to over the past six centuries, but has retained its balanced and unified Gothic style throughout.  The interior was all white stone, unadorned, quite cold and stark.

Limoges (cathedral gardens)

Limoges (Nicky by cathedral)

Limoges (cathedral entrance)

The historic cathedral quarter was quite compact, all together in one small corner of the city, so easy to visit.  From there we walked into the more modernised centre, with boutique cafés and stores, along with the expected presence of established international brands.  But beyond the partial standardisation, we walked along neat cobbled streets lined with neatly manicured medieval timber buildings, and through a vibrant city market in full voice.  A nearby internal covered market selling fish and meats complimented the external farmers’ market with its cheeses, vegetables, cakes and breads.  Small stone plazas had traditional cafés spilling out into them, many busy with customers enjoying rest after their shopping sprees.  Limoges was pulling off tranquil, relaxing and lively all at once.

Limoges (central streets)

Limoges (train station)

It was safe to say we fell for the easy beauty of Limoges.  The stunning river setting with the number of people we saw living life outdoors, the medieval streets lined with cafés and eateries, the busy food markets and its plentiful gathering of other pretty stores all made Limoges seem like it could be the ideal base for us.  It has an international airport served by Belfast, Birmingham, East Midlands and Stansted, so after our visit Limoges gained our coveted seal of approval and jumped into contention for the possible positioning of our future French pied-a-terre.  Early days, but anywhere within an hour of here could potentially become our new base.  With that in mind, our next move was to explore the smaller villages in the nearby hills and see what other as yet unknown delights we could uncover.

Uzerche (riverbank walks)

Uzerche (Benny parked in aire)

Uzerche (town view from aire)

With one eye on the nearby countryside and a constant vigilant consideration for the region, we drove south to the nearby mountain town of Uzerche.  We first visited a SuperU, completing laundry whilst we shopped, before continuing to the town’s free aire at an old railway station on the banks of the passing river Vienne.  We decided to leave the exploration of the town until the following day, so we spent the night relaxing around the aire, enjoying the view of the old town across the river.  Unfortunately we had chosen poorly when parking, positioning Benny underneath an overhanging tree.  When the rains begin during the night, we were bombarded with large drips and falling fragments of tree, pattering and bouncing loudly on our roof, so our night’s sleep was not all we’d hoped for.

Uzerche (az approaching church)

Uzerche (view from the church)

But the morning brought a bright, clear and still day, so with a spring in our step we set off along the river bank.  The path was deep with fallen leaves and we childishly kicked our way along.  We crossed a pedestrian bridge, hoping to find a way up into town, but turned out we had to walk all the way back on the opposite bank as all the stone steps we could see from the aire were within private gardens.  We followed the road up through the winding streets to reach the top of the town, where the tall church dominated the small central square.  There was a plaza to the front with far-reaching views out over the river and the rest of the town.  We spent a moment enjoying the vista and the sun on our faces, delighting in such great weather.  We returned to the aire, by way of a boulangerie, to eat lunch.

Uzerche (town view from river)

Uzerche (n on leafy walks)

After eating, we had hoped to complete a signed 5km walking route named for Simone de Beauvoir, but only 1km into the walk we found a bridge was closed for remedial works, so we could not progress.  With no clear option, we returned the same direction, only this time on a lower path, set between the trees right on the river’s edge. We passed a kayaking centre with a white-water course marked out with hanging poles, the opposite bank covered with sit-on kayaks, stacked high.  We decided to stay a second night in the aire, moving over a few places to ensure we didn’t have to endure another night of noisy drips. We enjoyed a lazy afternoon, with a visit from a local farmer in a small van selling his freshly grown wares our only distraction.  We had shopped recently so bought only a few pears as a token gesture for his efforts, feeling a little sorry for him as we were the only motorhome customers left in the aire today.

Back in France and heading south

A quick run south heading through the north-east corner of France to the centre, taking in the Champagne Region countryside, with rural stopovers near Bourges, in La Martineche and at St. Priest Taurion.

We left the comfortable campsite in Ypres and headed south into France, skirting around Lille and beyond.  We also bypassed Soissons as we stayed away from all motorways, instead enjoying the wonderful countryside views. We had been greatly favoured by the weather, with the crisp autumn days framing the copper and lime-coloured trees within a deep blue frame.  Everywhere we looked was a stunning vista of gently rolling hills, each lit up with the full autumnal spectrum of beautiful leaves and grasses.  It was a simple pleasure to spend our days rolling through such countryside, and the miles and hours passed by quickly with the constant beauty acting as a welcome distraction.

Champion Daniel (evening view)

Champion Daniel (benny looking over vines)

Our first day in France was quite a long drive for us, especially on backroads, and we finally decided to call our day to an end at Champion Daniel, a small family-run Champagne producer south-west of Reims, near the village of Montmirail.  We first went in to chat to the proprietor, and they were happy to have us stay.  For our €7 we were provided with electric hook-up, water and Wi-Fi, along with a tasting of one of their champagnes, with no obligation to buy.  That night, under a blanket of darkness and stars, we had our DSLR camera and tripod out, along with the new addition to Benny, a telescope, one we had borrowed from Nicky’s Dad for use at our upcoming house-sits.  We wrapped up warm and spent time examining and photographing the clear, crisp night sky, with a focus on the bright gibbous moon.

Champion Daniel (tree sunrise)

Champion Daniel (low mist over vines)

The next morning we awoke early to a visual treat; low rolling mist was resting in the valley, over the vines adjacent to where we were parked, and mixed with the redness of the newly-rising sun the vista was simply spectacular.  After many minutes of appreciating the spectacle, we said our goodbyes to the owners and their very friendly cocker spaniel before getting back to the open road. We quickly drove south, stopping only briefly for lunch on the banks of the Loire river.  We bypassed by the main city of Bourges, missing their historic cathedral, on the easy-flowing ring-road, stopping to overnight further south in St. Amand Montrond, a large free aire near a lovely lake.  There we had a lovely 4km evening stroll around the lake shore, enjoying both the setting sun and rising moon bright in the clear sky.

St Amand Montrond (benny in aire)

St Amand Montrond (lakeside walk)

Continuing southwards, we stopped in the village of Genouillac to stretch our legs and have a look around.  We had been looking on-line at a few very nice properties near here and wanted to get a personal feel for the region.  Although the countryside and villages were very pretty, we felt it was still a little too north and too far from an international airport to be in serious contention to serve as our fixed French base.  So we continued deep into the Creuse countryside to La Martineche, where we parked at a rural museum in honour of Martin Nadaud, a celebrated local craftsman.  We found out later it had closed for the season just two days before, so we couldn’t visit the museum, but the aire was still available, free and empty, so we availed ourselves of their hospitality and settled in.

La Martineche (museum grounds)

La Martineche (picnic red)

Our first night we sat out at one of their picnic tables and enjoyed a few glasses of red as we soaked up the autumnal countryside view. It would have been serenely peaceful except for a passing horde of scrambler motorcyclists tearing up the roads nearby, but after a deafening few moments they were gone and the wonderful silence again prevailed. We had noticed signs depicting a local circular walk of around 10km, through forest trails and over the local dales.  We decided to follow it the next morning, as a running route.  Nicky had not run in years, since back surgery forced her to give up competing in triathlon, but on this occasion she was feeling up for a Fartlek-style walk-run around the route.  We could walk when necessary, run when we wished; either way a lovely few hours out in the countryside.

La Martineche (forest trail runs)

La Martineche (nicky on trail run)

La Martineche (soubrebost church)

The morning was bright and clear but started bitterly cold, and we overdressed, unsure both of the weather and how much running we’d actually do.  But as the rising sun finally penetrated the valley over the neighbouring hills, it turned the day into a scorcher, reaching 23 degrees.  Together, smiling, we ran well over half the distance, loving the colourful forest trails and revitalising clear air, although we ended up carrying most of our layers for the duration.  The path was a little over 10Km in total; it roamed over undulating hills, into tall forests and through ancient stone-built villages, where we visited churches and other historic points of interest.  We relaxed on the grass back in the aire, sun-bathing in the warming glow of the afternoon sun as we ate lunch, before moving off down the road once again.

La Martineche (countryside run)

La Martineche (nicky trail running)

St Prient Taurion (trainline bridge)

We decided to move a little closer to the main city of Limoges, a place we hoped to see next, so we sauntered down the mountain to stop at nearby St. Priest Taurion.  We parked there in another quiet, free aire with all necessary services, set by the river and overlooked by a stone arched bridge carrying a train-line.  The local boulangerie was less than a minute’s walk away, so we had all we needed for a relaxing stay within easy reach.  We had an ambling walk along the riverside, and a quick explore of the town, before retiring for the night.  The next morning Nicky was struggling to comfortably walk, her first run in many years having its stiffening revenge on her legs. So we spent an additional lazy day relaxing in the winter sunshine, where Nicky preoccupied herself with photography down on the pretty banks of the river.

St Prient Taurion (benny park spot in aire)

St Prient Taurion (riverside walk)

St Prient Taurion (lightly flowing river)

As we ended up spending two nights in St. Priest Taurion, we were well rested before finally moving on to explore the regional capital city of Limoges, less than twenty minutes’ drive away.  The morning had delivered yet another bright and clear winter day, and we were looking forward to spending our time exploring the regional capital under such rich blue skies.  We rolled out of town, sad to be leaving such a relaxing spot, but feeling ready for more light adventures.

Belgium – Ypres (Ieper)

We left a very busy Bruges to the milling tourist hordes and continued on our way, this time heading south.  We overnighted in a functional aire in the village of Aartrijke, parked next to a lorry trailer and some recycling bins.  From there we drove along quieter roads to reach Ypres ( Ieper ) near to the border with France. We had pre-booked a night in the central Ypres campsite, €15 with electricity and all services, and situated only five minutes from the historic town.  We checked in and parked up, finding ourselves directly opposite Benny’s virtual twin, a same aged Benimar Mileo 202, driven by a British couple from Preston whom we later chatted to about our subsequent travels.

Ypres (approaching the Menin Gate)

Ypres (menin gate lion)

It was an easy walk from the site to the town’s tall stone walls, and from there to the Menenpoort, the Menin Gate.  Each night at 8pm, rain or shine, a short service is held and the Last Post is played in remembrance of all those lost in both the World Wars.  We spent some time reading the names on the Menin Gate memorial, its walls inscribed with over 54000 names of soldiers fallen in nearby battles.  We checked the register for mention of my late great-uncle, but his name was not listed, so he must be commemorated elsewhere on the Western front.  From there we walked up through the gate to visit the top of the town walls, following the easy paths and enjoying the elevated view of St. Jacob’s Church and the nearby rooftops of Ypres.  Rain was threatening, but it kindly held off for now.

Ypres (searching the names)

Ypres (menin gate side from walls)

Ypres (Groenpark lakes)

We descended a flight of stone steps and followed the cobbled roads around to reach the centre. The Main Square was an immediate ‘wow’ moment, seeing for the first time the enormous clock tower of the gothic Town Hall and the In Flanders Field museum building, with the tall stone towers of Cathédrale Saint-Martin visible behind.  We had known little about the town of Ypres, thinking it mainly a centre for cemeteries and commemoration, so we were very surprised and impressed.  We walked slowly around the square, squeezing around parked cars and through archways, before visiting the cathedral.  We spent a few moments looking inside, watching the coloured light streaming from the stained glass dance across the white stone and the statue-filled alcoves of the tower’s interior.

Ypres (City hall and museum)

Ypres (St Martins cathedral
Ypres (Flanders museum)

We walked through the back streets of the town and joined the paths along the top of the walls circling town and the furthest point.  From there we walked back slowly, on leafy paths scattered with interesting defensive runs, seeing the foundations of circular towers and pill-box artillery points.  On our right we could look out over Groenpark lakes, watching the sun flicker on the calm water overhung with willows.  We had the occasional ten seconds of raindrops that threatened to dampen our day, but they never fully materialised, with the bright sun winning through after each failed attempt.  The wall-top path would have returned us to the Menin Gate, but instead we cut down a flight of hidden stone steps to follow a timber decked path around to a pedestrian bridge that led us back to our campsite.

Ypres (city hall building)

Ypres (cathedral side)

Ypres (cathedral interior)

After an early dinner, we returned to visit the town in virtual darkness, around 7pm.  We planned a gentle town walk before returning to the Menin Gate for the anticipated 8pm recital. We were slightly astonished to see a long row of buses parked up nearby and a milling crowd three or four people deep already standing expectantly at the ropes, an hour early, awaiting the Last Post being played.  Sunday night, it turned out, was the most popular time for visits to the Menin Gate, and with it being half-term as well, there were more than a few British school parties in attendance.  We first walked through the crowds and into the town centre again, enjoying seeing the Gothic buildings and flowing fountain beautifully lit up at night, alongside the large Halloween decorations that lit up each street and many shops.

Ypres (central square at night)

Ypres (town hall fountains)

We arrived back to the Menin Gate around 7.45pm and joined the expectant crowd, now many hundreds in number.  The event began when three members of the local Fire Brigade, the organisation tasked with performing the Last Post each night, stood and played their bugles.  A row of young cadets in grey uniforms nervously lined up behind them.  A small choir, singing a cappella and all with identical red buffs on, provided a beautiful rendition of Abide with Me as several commemorative wreaths were laid on one wall of the Menin Gate.  Laurence Binyon’s famous fourth stanza from “For the Fallen” was solemnly read out to the stilled crowd.  This was followed by a minute of thoughtful silence, broken finally by the elongated notes of the final emotive portion of the ever-moving Last Post.

Ypres (Menin gate at night)

Ypres (cadets at Menin gate)

Ypres (Menin gate reflection)

The recital was complete and the crowds began to disperse, with an earnest, contemplative mood now hanging in the air.  The streets outside the walls were pitch black, the darkness being revoked only by the glow of the Menin Gate, an apt metaphor for the sacrifices of those serving men and women it stands to represent, and remember.  We carefully walked back to the campsite with the aid of head torches, the voices and words ringing in our thoughts.  Lest we Forget.

Belgium – Bruges (Brugges)

Belgium – Bruges (Brugges)

We left the busy central aire in beautiful Ghent quite early, just as the arriving tourist buses were beginning to build up near us.  We fought the morning traffic out of the city, finally heading northwest in the direction of our next Belgian city-break target – Bruges. We arrived from the south and reached the wide ring road adjacent to the canal, circling the historic centre.  The road was lined with ample parking spaces and we parked up easily and freely on the side of the canal, only a few minutes’ walk away from the centre.  We happily mused how this was the simplest and most stress-free parking for a city visit we’d so far found on our travels; an auspicious start.

Bruges (approaching the centre)

Bruges (central canals)
We walked back along the canal and through the Gentpoort, our nearest city gate, to approach the centre.  Bruges was known to us predominantly through the movie In Bruges, a very dark, almost surreal, black comedy with Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.  We hoped our short time in the city would pan out rather differently than theirs did.  There were few people around and we, prematurely, thought Bruges must not be visited much in late October, out of season.  How very wrong this first impression was to be.  Arriving quite early had drawn us into experiencing a false sense of the town.  We had a lovely hour or so of quiet wandering, but by 11am the centre was transformed into a swirling mass of bodies all vying for space on the narrow streets and jostling to take that perfect photograph.

Bruges (market square carriages)

Bruges (Belfry)

We arrived by way of Koningin Astridpark, a neat park with a simple pond.  We reached the main Market square with the sun rising brightly behind the Belfry, lighting up the decorative façades of the surrounding buildings.  We made our way into the foyer of the museum at the central tourist office, where we played a while with the interactive touchscreen tables, looking up information about Bruges.  We found a small shop nearby and purchased a few postcards and stamps.  With no particular plan, we walked away from the main centre, the streets immediately empty, and found solace in the back streets of the residential areas north of the town.  It was comprised of a more standard, simple, Dutch-like domestic architecture with canal paths and crow-step gable frontages.

Bruges (provincial hall)

Bruges (market square statue)

Bruges (market square flags)

Everything changed in the time we had walked north and returned; the peaceful stillness was shattered.  On our arrival back in the central square, we were constantly being passed by large sullen groups being quickly led by guides to the next important site of interest.  More tourists rolled past, sat inside open carriages drawn by snorting horses.  We stood out of the way, in the corner of the market square, stunned by the sudden influx of people and noise. Nearby, packed boats carried yet more sightseers along the now-busy canals, floating noisily under numerous stone bridges, all passengers with phones in hand.  The beautiful, historic town was all but invisible under the cloud of bodies here to see it. We could only imagine what it must be like to visit in the dizzy heights of the summer months.

Bruges (typical facades)

Bruges (belfy view)

Leaving the square in search of quieter areas, we walked towards the Concert Hall, along a frenzied shop-lined avenue. From here we cut across small alleys to Oud Sint Jan, a council building, surprised at how each side street was almost entirely empty when the main thoroughfares where jam-packed with visitors.  It was like no-one thought to walk anywhere other than where everyone else was, as if being part of the crowd was the only acceptable behaviour.  With avoidance futile, we re-joined the masses at the covered market, then under an archway bridge to the square behind.  The Burgplatz, close by the main Marktplatz, was the highlight of the centre for us, with its 14th century City Hall dominating the impressively decorated façades.  There had been a wedding inside, the bridal party now having to time their group photos between the lines of passing tourists keen to visit the foyer of the City Hall.

Bruges (decorative archway link)

Bruges (outside city hall)

We had a brief look inside the City Hall, before crossing the square to visit the Basilica of the Holy Blood, snug in the corner.  Climbing the complex statue-heavy staircase, we reached the small gothic chapel and took a seat to relax for a moment.  A large gold altarpiece framed with complex painted frescoes behind gave the chapel a glow, and the quality of light from the side stained-glass windows was wonderful.  The sermon pulpit was a topless copper globe of the world, with a lid and cross above that made it look like a giant pumpkin.  A queue to the right allowed visitors to the chapel the possibility of, by way of a generous donation, touching a phial that purportedly contained some blood extracted from Jesus Christ.  Many were willing to queue and each pilgrim was patiently given as much personal time as they wished for their devotional visit, all the while being watched closely by a silent but ever-vigilant priest.

Bruges (basilica of the holy blood)

Bruges (holy blood chapel)

We ate our packed lunch on a bench back in the main market square, overlooking the domineering 83-metre high Belfry tower. The queue to climb the tower starts behind the square, up a flight of steps to the rear of the tower, and yet we could see the tail end of the patiently waiting patrons through the ground level archway.  It must have been a long time coming, and a tight squeeze at the top, but on such a clear, blue sky day it may just have been worth the wait.  We reflected on the profound difference a multitude of visitors made to the experience, and how circular and selfish was our wish that we could experience Bruges without the crowds; a thought no doubt shared by most of the other visitors.  It was undoubtedly beautiful and interesting, but has become a mobbed, defenseless casualty of its own beauty and marketing success.

Bruges (church street view)

Bruges (churches and canals)

Bruges (canalside buildings)

Perhaps we had made a mistake in visiting Bruges directly after Ghent.  We inevitably drew comparisons, and after the wide and plentiful beauty of Ghent, Bruges felt a little small, quaint and twee rather than grandly impressive, and more affected by the success of its rampant tourism.  The shops and restaurants, beautiful as they were, appeared to be geared towards separating tourists from their money, rather than serving local commerce.  It felt unauthentic as a living, bustling city, more of a Disney version of a perfect medieval town, recreated solely for visitors, not built for local lives.  It was still achingly beautiful in many ways, but being overrun by tourists, us included of course, made it lose something intangible, its living spirit or the low eventful buzz of a city fully lived-in by busy, invested residents, not one overrun by snapping day-trippers.

Belgium – Ghent (Gent)

Exploring Ghent (Gent)

Leaving Chris and Peter’s hospitality in Antwerp, we next drove to Ghent (or Gent, locally), taking a long time to escape the clutches of the Antwerp traffic jams.  We were just beginning to believe ourselves safe and clear when we next fell into the sticky web of Ghent’s own traffic issues.  We slowly made our way to the busy mixed car-park near the centre, the free aire noted in CamperContact.  We parked in the end bay of the long bus parking spaces, as the main motorhome row at the canal side was already full of other motorhomes, interspersed with the odd small car.   There were three vans in the bus spaces already so we didn’t feel out of place.  We both had thumping headaches when we arrived, likely from dehydration, so we had a short canal-side walk to taste fresh air and clear our minds.

Ghent (rowing lake by aire)

Ghent (st bavo cathedral)

We passed a quiet night in Benny, with the intention of spending all of the following day exploring the city.  We rose early and made our way towards the medieval centre, around 3km away.  Ghent is now a young and hip university town, lively, artistic and buzzing with students at all times of the day, but it was once a very important port and trade city, specialising in wool production.  Since its birth in 630 CE until the late Middle Ages, Ghent was second in size only to Paris, with wealthy merchant families driving growth, until the city lost all royal privileges in 1540 after their refusal to pay taxes was violently quashed.  The industrial revolution and the 1913 World Fair boosted Ghent’s far-reaching ambitions again, but these were brutally curtailed by war, until their stylish rebirth in the late 20th century.

Ghent (castle gerald the devil)

Ghent (belfry)

We passed by the neo-classical Opera on the way to the centre, seeing it from a beautifully decorated wrought-iron bandstand in a plaza paved with stone and inset with giant bronze leaves.  After threading along a few narrow, twisting streets, we popped out right by the domineering 13th century Gothic castle of Gerald the Devil.  Set on the river’s edge, the building had seen life as a seminary, school, monastery, mental asylum, prison and, more recently, as a fire station.  We walked around its walls, away from the adjacent cathedral, crossing a bridge behind to then approach the cathedral square from the opposite corner.  The view as we entered the square was breath-taking.

Ghent (city pavillion)

Ghent (cathedral and park)

Ghent (city streets)

We looked inside the cathedral briefly, before making our way to the opposite Belfry.  Construction began on the Belfry in 1313, the city’s monument and symbol of dogged independence. The tower, topped with a dragon-shaped weather vane, accommodates a 54-bell carillon that rings out loud around the city.  Behind the Belfry sits the new City Pavilion, a modern covered external space utilised for local events. From here we walked north, passing lots of notable and impressive buildings, where we ran into many busy markets around St. Jacob’s Vlasmarkt, distinctly separated in adjacent squares into bric-a-brac stalls, food stalls and clothing stalls.  The streets were filled with busy buyers and loud sellers touting their wares.  We weaved through the crowds, enjoying the lively ambiance.

Ghent (river view)

Ghent (castle of the counts)

As we were walking in Gravensteen, past the circular-planned Castle of the Counts, we encountered some grave danger.  We were loudly ‘rarrrred’ at continuously by a long line of primary school children, scarily transformed into various monsters or superheroes by their Halloween costumes and elaborate make-up.  The haunting effect of their roars was somewhat lessened by them being steered past us in neat pairs, hand-in-hand, led by their jolly witch teacher.  We cut across a residential area to reach the banks of the river Coupure and followed it back to a small bridge that led over in the direction of the aire; it was time for some lunch and a few hours of restful downtime.

Ghent (central station)

Ghent (central streets)

Ghent (church tower)

We began again afresh in the late afternoon, looking to glimpse a few more areas we had missed on our first outing.  First we visited the Station Gent-Sint-Pieters to briefly examine the architecture, before walking through Citadel Park, on gravel paths under the hanging branches heavy with autumn leaves.  The park sits on high ground and was massively fortified in the 16th century, although the protective walls have now been mostly removed.  The original reason was because the low-lying wetlands surrounding the city were very vulnerable to deliberate flooding, a weak point in the city defences, so this was a fall-back position should the city face attack. There were small ponds and stone grottos within the park, almost hidden within mounds of discarded copper leaves and camouflaging trees.

Ghent (park grotto)

Ghent (abbey church)

Ghent (abbey gardens)

We walked to St. Peter’s Church, a 13th century Romanesque building converted into a Baroque church in the 17th century.  The huge square in front looked spacious and bare, and after examination we realised that it was because all parking for the area had been moved underground, below the plaza. We wandered through to the rear gardens, which had a small herb garden and neat rows of red-leafed vines.  We sniffed their sage and curry plants, and ran our hands through lavender as we passed by the ancient foundation ruins of a previous part of the abbey.  It was peaceful, an oasis away from the buzz of the city streets, and we spent long moments soaking up the silence.

Ghent (new library)

Ghent (cathedral and tram)

Ghent (Graslei corner)

We next wandered along the banks of the river Schelde, back in the direction of the centre.  We passed the prominent BookTower and the Vooriut Arts Centre before reaching the very horizontally-layered city library building. We enjoyed a short rest inside before taking in the view, over the historic centre, from the rear terrace walkway.  We revisted the Belfry and the City Pavillon as we passed, before continuing to see St. Nicholas’ Church.  The streets were throbbing with pedestrians, cyclists and trams, and crossing the busy road was an exercise in vigilance and caution.  We crossed St. Martin’s bridge and descended steps to view the decorative façades of the Graslei buildings, lining the riverside walk.  There were large gangs of students relaxing all around, beers in hand and chatting loudly.  There was a happy, friendly Friday afternoon vibe in the air.

Ghent (Graslei view with bridge)

Ghent (nicky on st michaels bridge)

Ghent (guildhall facades)

We took our fill of the view, then decided a reward was in order for our efforts.  We relaxed with Belgian beers at an outside table near Grasbrug bridge, soaking in the view and enjoying a dose of people-watching.  We could see along the river Leie, looking at the Korenlei quay set opposite the famous 12th century Graslei guildhall façades.  A female busker played a piccolo and pan pipes nearby; familiar, ancient tunes that provided a suitably soothing backdrop as we sipped our tasty beers.  The clear blue skies had departed and it was a little drizzly, but we sat and enjoyed our beers regardless, the rain not dampening our enthusiasm for the view. I dropped our €1 change (from €10) into the busker’s bowl, who never once opened her eyes to acknowledge my donation, so lost in the moment and music was she.  That made her playing even more moving and special.

Ghent (cathedral view)

Ghent (cathedral bell)

Ghent (beers with a view)

We walked our socks off in Ghent; we covered 9km in the morning, returning for some lunch and downtime in Benny, before completing a further 9km in the late afternoon.  The turn of each corner revealed something new; buildings, sounds, colours, people, music, as we revelled in the tight-knit beauty and artistic depth of the historic centre.  We had not planned or researched Ghent before our arrival, and were happy we had not, as being fully prepared with expectations of grandeur may have lessened its impact on us; we were dazzled.  The impressive buildings just seemed to keep coming, and we were amazed to discover on our second outing that we had missed some portions of main centre, but this had allowed us to happily continue our discovery of new streets and different vistas.  We loved our time exploring the city of Ghent; it’s well worth a visit.

A & N x

 

 

Belgium – Antwerp (with Chris & Peter)

Rolling off the ferry in Holland, with a quick overnight stop before heading into Belgium.  Our first stop was on the outskirts of Antwerp to meet up with Chris & Peter, a motorhoming couple who invited us for dinner, before a quick city explore.

We began this trip in the same place as our previous Scandinavian tour ended – in the carpark of the Bricklayers Arms, near Harwich port.  We had a tasty meal in the pub, our final fling with good British grub before re-joining the continent and relying on our own home cooking.  The next morning, facing an early start, we packed up and drove the final few miles to catch our 8am ferry to the Hook of Holland.  The crossing was uneventful and passed by quickly.  Off the ferry, we drove through stuttering rush-hour traffic to finally pass around Rotterdam, before cutting south to reach a quiet, parkland aire at Oud-Beijerland where we overnighted.  We walked through the park in the morning, glad to see the area well used, with runners, cyclists, dog walkers and trainers, and even a grass-munching horse.

Antwerp (garden walks)

From Holland, we moved quickly on into Belgium.  We had received a kind invitation from Peter and Chris, fellow Motorhomers and followers of our travel blog.  They were in the early stages of planning a long Scandinavian trip, similar to our recent travels, and wished to pick our brains on various aspects of the experience.  We were happy to be able to share with them what meagre knowledge we had accumulated.  We first called into a nearby leafy aire in Brasschaat for a few minutes to examine its available services, before making our way to their address.  After a short dilemma with local road signs seemingly denying us entrance, we found Chris and Peter’s home and parked up on their drive, a little nervous to be meeting, effectively, total strangers. Our initial fears were soon assuaged as we were warmly greeted by this lovely Belgian couple and immediately treated as their honoured house guests.

Antwerp (formal gardens)

Antwerp (the Orangery)

We relaxed into their beautiful home as we all completed full introductions over cups of Yorkshire tea accompanied by Belgian chocolate.  After tea, we drove to a nearby park and casually walked well-worn paths sprinkled with a thin covering of fallen leaves, through long avenues of tall late-autumnal trees.  The low buzz of traffic on a nearby road mixed with the crisp crunch of our feet on the multi-coloured dried leaves.  Our conversations continued as we wandered under cloud-filled skies filled with a hanging, constant threat of rain. Thankfully, the day remained dry for our walk and the sun even made a brief appearance as we reached the central Orangery building, brick-built with high arched windows. Its formal gardens were filled with neat planted beds of various plants and vegetables, many still in colourful bloom.  Some volunteers were tending the vegetable beds, preparing them for the coming winter.

Antwerp (Belgian beers)

Antwerp (complementary cheeses)

Antwerp (at the dinner table)
We were treated to local Belgium beers as aperitifs, accompanied by tasty savoury snacks and more lively travel-orientated chat, from all parties.  We were then beckoned to the dinner table for yummy mushroom soup followed by a tasting table of cheeses and complementary local beers, a social, sharing meal that enhanced our interaction over the table.  We talked long and late into the evening, swapping stories, before saying our goodnights and retiring to Benny for some welcome sleep.  In the morning we returned to enjoy breakfast with Chris (Peter unfortunately had to leave for work early), where we received detailed instructions for a flying visit into nearby Antwerp.  The city was currently in the midst of major traffic issues due to construction works for a new tunnel.  We caught a local bus, about a half hour journey to the end of the line, close to Antwerp Central train station.  Due to the extensive works and subsequent road closures, all further progress towards the historic centre had to be on foot.

Antwerp (Central Station)

Antwerp (inside central station)

The day was cool and overcast, with a muted grey sky that seemed bright but somehow sucked all the colour out of the city’s buildings.  Everything looked pale, lime-washed, devoid of deep shades or shadows, and the ever-present expectation of a deluge following us with each step.  We first visited Antwerp Central, a huge style-defying building (Neo-Classicism, Baroque, Rococo, Art Deco?) constructed in the early years of the 20th century.  From there we wandered towards the historic centre, only stopping off briefly to purchase a new pair of walking shoes for Nicky.  We passed a statue of Rubens in a lovely square before reaching the Cathedral and the large market square in the heart of Antwerp.

Antwerp (Rubens square)

Antwerp (notre dame cathedral)

Antwerp (statue and cathedral)

We passed a very pleasant few hours wandering the main sights.  We walked to the cruise ship terminal, surprised to see such a large ship in dock.  We passed Antwerp’s medieval fortress, Het Steen, built to defend the port.  It was previously a prison and barracks, but now houses a museum.  We passed the 16th century red-brick and sandstone Butcher’s Hall, built by the oldest Guild in Antwerp, now also a museum.  We spotted luminous Segway tours and numerous groups of cruise ship passengers having guided city walking tours.  We ate our lunch sitting in a raised, covered bandstand in Groenplaats square, people-watching and enjoying a fine view of Notre Dame Cathedral.

Antwerp (castle)

Antwerp (nickys new shoes)

We walked south out of the main medieval centre, to visit a few more key sights on our way home.  We passed the MoMu, the Mode Fashion Museum in Theodoor van Rijswijck plaats before crossing over to visit the small Botanic Gardens.  We wandered through the plants, although little was in bloom on this grey October day.  From there we reached the covered plaza outside the modern municipal theatre.  The square was filled with active groups of skate-boarding teenagers and chatting students, relaxing under the nominal cover provided by the extended brise soleil.

Antwerp (market square facade)

Antwerp (view from cruise ship terminal)

Antwerp (city streets)

We caught the same bus back, passing near to Zaha Hadid’s impressive Port House building on our route home. But, three quarters of the way back the driver stopped and insisted we all got off, much to the chagrin and confusion of local passengers, and us.  Rather than the uncertainty of waiting for another bus, we walked the final mile and a half back, with the threatened rains finally catching us up on the very last stretch. We arrived back rather drenched to collect Benny and to say our final goodbyes to our lovely host Chris, before we headed off through more busy traffic to overnight in the city of Ghent, in anticipation of our next Belgian city break.

Antwerp (small botanic grdens)

Antwerp (theatre)
A huge thank you to Chris and Peter for their open, friendly and very welcoming hospitality and we wish you both fine weather and smooth roads for all your upcoming travels. We look forward to having the opportunity to follow your travels, and we hope someday to return your kind invitation and genial hospitality, once we are settled and have a place we can once again call home, wherever that may be.

A & N x

6 months touring Scandinavia in our motorhome – how much did it cost?

6 months touring Scandinavia in our motorhome – how much did it cost?  A look at our spending, activity and overnights stats by month and by country. 

So, our 2017 Scandi trip; it wasn’t quite six months, but close – We had a total of 170 days away, from late-April until mid-October.  We left the UK via Harwich to Hook of Holland and travelled through the Netherlands to Germany before reaching our first Scandinavian country, Denmark.  A month there (to the day) and we ferried over to southern Norway to drive a wiggly route by fjords, mountains and tunnels to reach Trondheim, where we headed east to Sweden.  We crossed to the Baltic coast before turning north to eventually reach Juoksengi and our midnight time-travelling Arctic Circle Swim. From here, a straight run north to Tromso was followed by a visit to the Vesteralen and Lofoten islands, before turning sharply south all the way to Oslo.  We crossed back to Sweden and, via many lakes, we reached Stockholm then followed the coast to Malmö and back into Denmark.  A few further weeks exploring then led us back into northern Germany and the Netherlands, before heading home by the same route.

Our route map (sketch)

SCANDI TOUR - Route map sketch

Our Scandi trip overview in key figures:

Length of trip – 170 days
Countries visited – 6  (Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland)
Overall expenditure – €5419.37
Average daily cost – €31.88
Miles driven – 9087 ( Aaron – 4452 [49%], Nicky – 4635 [51%] )
Miles per gallon – 31.3
Cost per mile – €0.17p
Distance cycled – 596km
Distance walked – 619km
WorkAways undertaken – 4
Time-travelling swims – 1
Scandi Skinny dips – 16

Our Trip costs by category

EXPENDITURE - Scandinavia Tour-FINAL.xlsx

The above image outlines our spending for this trip.  With the distance driven (9087 miles), it is of little surprise that diesel for Benny (29%) has been the biggest expense we encountered, closely followed by food shops (inc. booze) at 27%. The next largest cost, at 18%, has been our campsite fees, with many more stops in ASCI campsites than on previous trips.  Transport costs also featured highly, at 12%, as driving through Norway brought with it the necessity of many ferry journeys and also 953 NOK (billed so far) of road tolls.  Several bridges between neighbouring Danish islands also carry a hefty cost.

Our trip costs by country (with daily averages)

EXPENDITURE - Scandinavia Tour-FINAL.xlsx

Note: Germany and Finland costs are not indicative of travel in those countries as both were transition countries where we filled up with diesel and undertook large food shops.

Our trip costs by month, with accommodation, exercise & driving stats

EXPENDITURE - Scandinavia Tour-FINAL.xlsx

Our Accommodation / Stopover synopsis

We stayed in free aires where we could, but on this trip we were a lot more inclined to slip into the comfortable ease of a campsite when the opportunity arose.  Certain key places demanded it (Råbjerg Mile, Flåm, Melkevoll Bretun) but others we chose over available nearby free stops as we were passing during ASCI-applicable dates. We still only paid for around one third of our nights away, the rest being either wild camps or free aires.  Our take on the difference may be specific to us, but we only rate it as a true wild camp if we have found it ourselves without the CamperContact app (or similar).

EXPENDITURE - Scandinavia Tour-FINAL.xlsx

Accommodation pie chart – percentage of stays in each type of overnight stop

Almost two-thirds of our overnight stops were free (65%, or 111 out of 170 nights), with the remaining stays averaging out at a cost of €5.63 per night.  (a €957.07 total spend).

In summary, for the entire trip, from when we left home to our return all those months later, we spent a grand total of €5419.37, for an average daily cost of €31.88.  At current exchange rates that means the entire 170-day trip cost us around £4825.00, or, simply speaking, under £5000 all-in, which is much less than we had expected after all the horror tales of scandalous Scandinavian prices.  Back in our salaried years, we had on occasion spent more than that on a special two week holiday, so to be able to experience over 24 weeks of such varied, interesting and fun travel for a similar amount – bargain.