Leaving Bivouac behind we skirted around the top of Lake Geneva, heading for Montreaux. Once past Martigny you start to climb towards the world famous ski resort of Chamonix. The weather was perfect and the snow peaked alps were almost dream-like. Originally we were going to dip into Italy but decided to head straight back into France due to time constraints.
We stopped briefly at the summit of Col de la Forclaz to buy some essentials (Swiss chocolate) before crossing into France. No doubt the chalet laden villages would look familiar from countless movie scenes but it just doesn’t compare to actually being there.
Bienvenue en France
Our next stop was the town of Clermont-Ferrand, France the only reason being it was a good half way point to Oradour; our destination the next day. After settling into the hotel, we decided to take a stroll and find something to eat.
After exploring the city centre we decided on Restaurant L’Odevie. It had a really funky modern feel; great food; friendly staff and some pretty interesting artwork.
After a comfortable night’s sleep, we awoke to another glorious sunny morning and set off for Oradour-Sur-Glane. The village was the scene of a brutal massacre by German SS troops en-route to the Normandy beaches in June 1944.
642 men, women and children were murdered and the village razed to the ground in a few hours in what was claimed to be a reprisal for increased partisan activity in the area. On the orders of French President Charles de Gaulle it remains a permanent memorial.
It’s hard to describe the feeling you get walking around the village; imaging the people that lived and died there. It’s something I will never forget.
As the temperature was approaching 30 degrees C, we decided to take a walk into new Oradour for some lunch then onto our next destination, Confolens.
We had pre-booked Camping des Ribières through Pitchup and couldn’t have been more pleased. Riverside camping, free fishing & canoeing and a 5 minute walk into town, all for under €20 per night!
After a quick canoe trip up river (and a bottle of Prosecco – sipped riverside on our inflatable sofa) we decided to walk into Confolens to explore.
Unfortunately, we missed the Festival de Folklore but town was very pretty and serene with lots to see and do.
We would loved to have stayed in Confolens for longer but our ferry was booked for early Saturday morning (a mere 700 miles from Confolens!).
All in all, an amazing (if rather expensive) week of touring. Sleeping in a van has it’s challenges but it’s all part of the adventure. We’ve already started thinking of our next road trip – Germany, Poland or maybe even Denmark – but one thing is for sure we’re going to retire the van and get a proper camper.
The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.
With our trusty 18 year old mini-van all packed and sofa bed in place we were ready to roll. On this Adventure before Dementia road trip we drove across France to Switzerland, then through the Alps back to France. We were going to visit Italy but time was tight so we’ll save that for next time.
After a 5 hour drive from Devon, we arrived at our first stop, Dover in Kent. Spending the night in Dover was to save time for the early ferry departure the next morning at 07:30 AM.
Craig pre-booked our favorite campsite Hawthorn Park, and we arrived early enough to set up and fit in a visit to the near-by Lantern pub.
The Lantern is a lovely old pub, built in the 17th Century. It’s what they call an olde worlde pub – low ceilings, black beams and a fire. Perfect.
Dover is a really busy port so it’s advisable to show up at least an hour before departure. Though we were an hour early, we still had to wait another hour before boarding due to the enormous queues of traffic.
There are a number of ferry companies that use various ports to go across to Europe, or you could go via the Channel Tunnel, which is faster but more expensive than the ferry. Personally, I would rather be on top of the water than underneath it.
The ferry cost us around £130 round-trip (cost is dependent on vehicle size/number of passengers). Ferries are huge with plenty of restaurants, bars, seating areas and a shop. Our favorite part is standing on the observation deck and watching the white cliffs disappear into the distance.
Driving in Europe
Each country has it’s own regulations so it’s best to check before you leave. You’ll need beam benders (they drive on the right-hand side of the road) for your headlights. France requires that you carry 2 unused alcohol breathalyser tests (so you will need 3 in total); high vis vests; traffic warning triangle and a first aid kit.
Switzerland requires that you carry snow chains at certain times of the year. If you forget anything, you can purchase most of the items from the information desk on-board.
It takes about an hour and a half to cross the Chanel and about 20 mins to de-board. After landing in Calais we drove 7 hours to a campsite north of Lausanne, Switzerland. European roads are excellent, clearly signed and we didn’t run into any traffic problems. Even the roadside toilets are free and spotless.
The downside of driving in France is the tolls. I was shocked at how expensive they were (cheapest toll was around €1.60 with the most expensive being €34). You can pay either cash or with debit/credit card at the toll booth.
They charge you for the distance travelled on any particular stretch. You could avoid tolls by taking the back roads but we only had a week so we didn’t want to waste time going out of our way.
Bienvenue en Suisse
I was getting really excited as we approached the Swiss border – I was looking forward to a stamp in my passport – but we were unceremoniously waved right through by the border guard without having to stop.
Switzerland is part of the EEA (not the EU) so they do not use the Euro- they have their own currency, CHF (Swiss francs).
You will need to purchase a toll sticker (vignette); we paid for 40 CHF (francs) for ours and bought it from the first petrol station we came across. There weren’t any other tolls, thank goodness.
Switzerland is everything I imagined it would be – stunning. The Alps are an amazing backdrop on the approach to Lausanne. Our final destination was Le Bivouac campsite which is about a 10 minute drive from Vevey on Lake Geneva.
We used Pitchup to book the campsites and paid a small deposit to hold it and then the balance when we arrived. It cost around £17 a night and was well worth it. The site was lovely, nestled in the hills and surrounded by forest- a real rural idyll.
The campsite was clean, had good facilities (poolside restaurant/bar/patio area) and friendly staff. Thankfully, their English was a lot better than our French so communication wasn’t a problem, although it did take me 10 minutes to order a white coffee, but we got there in the end.
Two things I noticed: you have to push a button on the floor underneath a sink to turn the water on and the constant clanging of bells – which for some reason all the cows wear. Oh, and they don’t seem to keep their milk in the fridge; they sell it off the shelf (the people, not the cows!!)
One of our excursions was to Chaplin’s World. Craig only agreed to go because I wanted to and wasn’t a huge fan of Charlie Chaplin but that changed after our visit. It was really good value for money; 25 francs each, including parking.
We started our visit in the Chaplin Manor house. There was something really special about walking around his former home, seeing the family pictures, his desk and memorabilia.
The house has a gorgeous stone terrace across the rear of the property and offers a breathtaking view of the Alps across the expanse of green lawn and gardens.
They had quite a few wax displays throughout the manor-Albert Einstein washing his hands in the loo and Chaplin about to get into a bath.
After the Manor House we moved onto the movie theatre where they show you a short documentary film about his life. After the movie finishes the screen lifts up and you walk through to the studio part of the tour.
Here you will find replicas of the sets of his movies and more wax figures including Michael Jackson, who was apparently was a huge fan of Chaplin and based his moon walks on Chaplin’s dance routine in Modern Times.
The gift shop was a bit expensive but you can find some really nice quality and unique gifts. We had lunch at the Tramp restaurant which we found a bit pricey – 50 francs for both of us for lunch (chicken salad and a burger) but the staff were really friendly and the food was excellent.
All in all we spent about 3 hours there, although I could have stayed longer. I did fancy a walk around the grounds but it’s was about 30 degrees so we gave it a miss.
From Chaplin’s World we headed to a small cemetery, in Vevey, where Charlie and his wife Oona are buried. Incidentally James Mason is buried there as well, but we didn’t find that out till after our visit.
On the way to the cemetery we were pulled over for a roadside check. The police checked our documents, tyres and questioned us a bit – and laughed when we told him we were sleeping in our van. It was a bit intimating as there were loads of cops and they sort of surround your car but all in all they were very nice.
We finished the day off with a visit to Lake Geneva for a dip and then back to our campsite for the night.
A very enjoyable two days in Switzerland and we were ready for the next stage-Part 2 of the Adventure before Dementia road trip – a drive through the Alps over to France …
A tramp, a gentleman, a poet, a dreamer, a lonely fellow, always hopeful of romance and adventure -Charlie Chaplin
I turned 53 this year, no idea how the hell that happened but it did. My oldest daughter is getting married on 8th September (which is incidentally 8 years to the day that we arrived in England) and my youngest daughter turned 19 this year and is starting school to become a makeup artist.
Craig and I have been planning for years now to move to the north of England as we were hoping to buy some land and build our dream house now that the kids are sorted, we can afford to be a little selfish.
Adventure before Dementia
We’ve started thinking more about our future and what our retirement will look like. Do we really want to be tied down with a mortgage or would we rather rent a small place and buy a newer, bigger camper van and have more road trips? We’re leaning towards the road trips, as a matter of fact we want to have as many ‘Adventures before Dementia’ before we are too old to enjoy them or remember them!
We are huge fans of driving holidays, as a matter of fact we love them. You get to see more and stray off the beaten path whenever and wherever you fancy. The best part is they are relatively cheap.
We haven’t yet bought a camper but we do have our trusty mini van and, after removing the backs seats and adding a sofa bed – voila! you have a camper albeit a budget one.
We hadn’t been to Europe since 2014 so we were long overdue for another adventure. So after some initial planning and pre-booking our campsites we are off! We may even splash out a couple of nights and stay at a hotel or B&B.
The last time we went over, we headed to Belgium, across Luxembourg and into Germany. This year we decided to head drive across France to Switzerland, and then back to France via the Alps. We are only going for a week so it will be a bit of a whirlwind tour – but it’ll be amazing nonetheless.