Where To Go In A Motorhome In July and August ......

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Thursday 20 June 2019

Where To Go In A Motorhome In July and August ......

Recently I had a friend contact me with this question and it got Dan and I thinking about our own experiences over the last 5 Summers of motorhome touring, what we've learnt and what we'd recommend.  My friend wrote to me saying that she'd been trawling our blog because her and her partner were hitting the road in a couple of weeks and so were looking for inspiration, particularly for getting to the mountains.  She said also that this was going to be her first trip in the motorhome in the busier Summer months and she was a bit nervous about touring during the school holidays, so would welcome any thoughts we'd have. My friend had been doing her research about which roads in France might be the busiest but she was also concerned about how full the motorhome Aires would get, so she was wondering what our experience had been.  She'd planned to tour in France, maybe follow a little of the Tour de France but wanted to know more about Switzerland as a Summer motorhome option as we've written so much about our Summers in the Alps.  So as it's very soon to be officially Summer (tomorrow) I thought I'd share Dan and my thoughts here as well as reply to my friend in case it's helpful for anyone else..... And it's time for us to also have some ideas of our own!!

In no particular order our experience, thoughts and suggestions.....

1) Availability in Motorhome Aires
From our 5 summers on tour, the main thing we've learnt is, and it may sound too simple, but it's the going that's the most important part by a long way. Whatever obstacles you encounter you will certainly overcome them when they arise.  I could very much understand my friend's concerns as I was very nervous when we first set out and it's only after the last few years of experience that I've relaxed (in this area of my life at least ;-) !!). Looking back on our adventures over 5 years now, we used to worry about so many things and very thankfully, many have never happened (yet) and even if they did a solution, however unexpected, has always presented itself just when we needed it.   And several things we never even imagined did happen and again we managed and the challenge became part of the adventure.  Through some of the things we thought were 'going wrong' or 'not to plan', we met the most amazing people (and were reminded of the kindness of strangers, like when we broke down in Italy and even today we're not where we 'planned' to be and yet some very friendly neighbours knocked on the door and shared their lunch with us!), ended up in even better places than we'd planned and/or got some really enriching experience.  Full motorhome aires, busy roads etc. you just go and see.  

One of the best things about motorhoming is the fact that where ever you end up, you've got your home with you!

From our experience, if an aire is full, you can always park nearby, especially in France.  This is what we were told when we pulled up in our first aire on our very first night in Besancon, France in 2014, and it was full.  We've done it a lot, and if there are people monitoring the aire, they seem to understand you did your best.  Or just pull up somewhere safely, sleep and move on the next morning. France is very tolerant of MH's and as long as it doesn't explicitly say 'non', people don't mind you parking in our experience. In that respect it is very different to in the UK, where the attitude seems to be stay on a campsite or otherwise you'll get the police knocking on your door.  

There are websites and leaflets (in some Tourist Offices or camper shops) about what is tolerated and what is not in different countries. From our experience, just don't put the deckchairs and BBQ out :) Or, if that doesn't seem right, ask a hotel, shop or something similar.  Even ask the local tourist office or police station.  Last night, for example, we slept in a bike shop car park. It was the only place with good shade so we asked and they said fine for one night. We just kept the road side windows closed until the shop had shut as we had in Spain (https://n332.es/2015/05/28/motorhomes-parking-or-camping/)

There are some aires which do enforce a maximum 24, 48 or 72 hour stay.  This tends to be those in the most popular places.  For example in Lake Annecy they had local monitors come round each morning and record the number plates and move anyone on who'd stayed more than the 48 hours.  We've been told it's not just for fairness but also to protect the local campsite owners. Aires are technically for those travelling through and for anyone wanting to stay in an area for a holiday or to really 'camp', they're asked to support the local campsites. We've met people however who say that if they do want to stay in a particular area and then find several aires (either on campercontact.com  park4night.com or have one of the many aires guidebooks) and then move between them every few days.  

One of the reasons we really like the mountains is because it's more remote and we haven't encountered any restrictions or problems about there not being enough place.  We've actually found ourselves actively being welcomed to stay longer by tourist offices in some places.  

2) Mountains and TdF. 
From our countless drives over mountain passes in the Alps and Pyrenees I'd suggest driving up early or late. Most roads are fine most of the way, especially TdF biggies like Galibier which is great surface and two lanes all the way both sides, but the majority still have a few short pinch points / narrow sections that would be a hassle to encounter a MH coming the other way.  And in the Summer months there can also be a lot of motorbike traffic and we've experienced on many many occasions that they take quite a lot more risks and come over onto the other side of the road when descending.  Not all motorbikers of course, but from our experience, it's been a lot and some times the near accidents we've witnessed have been very frightening. We usually like to linger somewhere nice until early evening and then drive up/down as the case may be on empty roads.  

Also the weather can be very hot, even at altitude and the advice we've had from several people is to drive in the coolest parts of the day to avoid the engine overworking.  Our first mountain road in Homer, our first 11 year old motorhome, was up to Grimentz in Switzerland and it struggled as we went up in the heat of the day.  The engine fan was on continuously, we stopped several times, and even when we arrived it was on for a good time afterwards.  We're just mindful of this, even in our latest MH which is newer and has a much bigger engine, 3L as opposed to 1.9L.

Although we've tackled a lot of the Tour de France climbs, it's never been at the time that the Tour has passed by.  If you do try and see some of 'Le Tour' we understand the roads are busy 24/7 and people go and wait on the big climbs early.  I guess it depends how much you want to see it in action. I've heard it's a spectacle but we have never had the urge ourselves so can't comment from experience.  I know fellow motorhomers who have and say they really enjoyed the atmosphere.

3) Summer Recommendations:

If you want a stunning mountain route I'd recommend the Grand Tour of Switzerland, the Route des Grande Alpes or the Route Des Cols Pyrenees in France. 

You know we love Switzerland and particularly Val d'Anniviers and the place across the valley called Anzere. Switzerland gets a bad rap with Motorhomers as expensive, but it needn't be. There are free places and, if not, hotels often let us stay in their car parks. Sometimes we paid 10 Swiss Francs, sometimes not. We know some people see paying a single pound as a an affront, but personally we've generally gotten more comfortable paying a little for parking now and then in order to go to the places we want to go to.  

We've written about it more fully in previous posts but it's often the less known places that can provide some amazing adventures.  Like the Liberty Pass in Anzere and Val d'Anniviers which offers many attractions, cable cars, pools etc for free in return for a small 'tourist tax' (3 swiss francs per person).  Or many of the high Cols (mountain passes) allow you to stay for free and they can be a base / starting point for some great high level walks. 

The Grand Tour of Switzerland route has great roads and countless good places to hike or cycle from. There are passes you can sleep on for free and when you need services pay a campsite to use theirs (normally 5 - 10 euros / swiss francs).  There are some Swiss Canton's where overnighting is not allowed.  In Switzerland, as with anywhere really, we find it's best to ask a Tourist Office or Local Town Offices.  In Switzerland, it's often the most popular places that enforce a non-overnight rule like St Mortiz or Davos etc as they want people to use and pay for the campsites and we've heard people do get moved on in the night. Yet other areas are really relaxed and welcome the extra tourist trade.  Again, on many occasions we've asked restaurants, ski lift stations etc even in areas where overnighting isn't so widely tolerated by the authorities because then you are parked on 'private property' with the permission of the owner.  If anyone wants specific place names, please get in touch or scan the blog posts for our routes. 

Or another recommendation is to try the Route des Grande Alpes in France. Also incredible, running down from Geneva to Nice.  Or the Route des Cols in the Pyrenees.  And once again France is on the whole a lot more tolerant than Switzerland towards MHs.   One thing to say is that we've found some parts of these routes can be very busy in July and August with all sorts of traffic - cars, motorbikes, roadbikes, classic cars, motorhomes etc.  So if we're cycling these Cols we set off early and if we're driving them again we set off early or late evening.  Mostly to avoid the traffic at pinch points but also so we can actually relax more and enjoy the scenery. 

We've had some brief stops in Northern Italy and Austria in July and August, and again we've not found it difficult to find somewhere to stay.  These are areas we're hoping to explore more this year or next.

4) Summer Heat 
One consideration when planning touring in the Summer months is the heat.  None of our motorhomes had aircon.  We're very lucky that our current MH does have cab aircon which makes driving in the heat much more pleasurable.  We like the mountains not just because of the stunning scenery but because we can have comfortable temperatures.  Spain, Italy, Southern France, even some more Northern places in France, is just too hot for us in the Summer.  Even in Switzerland last year in the valleys, it was too hot - we had a roasting 24 hours in Glarus where the temperate was in the mid-30Cs. It's not always possible to park in the shade and very quickly we find the MH becomes a green house.  Esther likes it warmer than Dan but even so there is a limit.  We also have furry passengers on board and it's not fair for them.  We have to be mindful of where we park and for how long we're gone.  Regardless of the dogs, even the MH can get too hot.  During our first few days on tour in 2014 in Besancon we met a long-term touring couple who'd installed loads of fans and ventilation points, designed their own silver screens, added extra fans for their fridge etc because they warned us of the MH getting too hot.  And ours did.  When we arrived we had working lighting around our roof lights, and then after leaving Besancon we discovered we just had 4 blobs of melted plastic where the lights had been!

The mountains can have more unsettled weather but usually at high altitude during the Summer months of July and August it's still a nice 20-25C.  And we appreciate the cooler evening temperatures for sleeping as otherwise Dan in particular melts away overnight ;-)  If there's a spell of bad weather forecasted then we plan to move to somewhere lower down in the valleys or to a different valley as often the different mountain regions have their own little micro-climates and it can be fine weather somewhere not so far away.

We've got other fellow motorhomers who like to go to places like Norway and Sweden for example as again it's very beautiful, very tolerant towards MHs, not busy on the roads as they are such huge countries but much less populated and the temperatures are good without being 'too hot'.  Like Switzerland, we've been told that although it has the reputation of being very expensive, it's really about how you travel that will determine the budget required.  We've had a couple of fantastic cycle tours in Scandinavia in the past and it's on our list to go back there.     

Hope sharing these thoughts helps and again otherwise please leave a comment or get in touch ...... 

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