After a successful trip to Spain and the French Alps over the winter in our Auto-trail Chieftain motor home, my husband and I are now in Vassiliki on the island of Lefkada (Lefkas) in the Ionian group of islands in Greece. This is a trip we have dreamed of doing as we have been coming to ‘Vass’ for many years staying in one of the hotels spending our time windsurfing, running and cycling. Vass is a famous place for windsurfing and many people return to it year after year, as we have done. We have often talked to motor homers on the campsite here (Camping Vassiliki Beach) about their journey and how they cope with the fairly basic facilities and the heat in July and August.
Well, here we are for the first time in our motor home and we plan to stay until the 1st September, having arrived on the 7th June. We have always enjoyed reading articles in MMM and have taken advice from them about routes, stop-overs etc. So once again I thought I would share our experiences of getting here as it a very interesting and very ‘do-able’ journey. I take no credit for the route, however as we followed a mostly non-toll route recommended by Russell, ‘The Swift Kontiki Kid’ (www.swift-kontiki.co.uk)
We left home in Cheshire on the 29th May and travelled down to Folkestone going through the tunnel late afternoon. (Thanks once again to supermarket vouchers making this way of crossing the channel very inexpensive). We travelled towards Dunkirk and then south on the A25 to stay over night at a campsite in Bergues, Camping Vauban. This was a small site with limited facilities but fine for a one night stop; Bergues itself is a quaint French town although we didn’t have time to explore it.
We carried on south the next day on the A25 towards Lille and then headed into Belgium via Tournai, Mons, Charleroi, Namur and Arlon. This was very easy to navigate on non-toll roads and in a large TAG axle motor home. We were just a bit surprised at the state of the Belgian motorways; terrible surface full of potholes, poor signage and lack of safety features such as crash barriers and over grown side and middle verges. Clearly the Belgian authorities spend very little on road maintenance or development, the difference between French roads and these was very significant. Be ready for this!
As planned we crossed the border into Luxembourg with an almost empty fuel tank. We filled up with diesel here as it is considerably cheaper than anywhere else in Europe. Then we travelled back into France and headed for Metz where we stopped at Metz Plage Municipal Campsite on the banks of the River Moselle. This is a very nice site overlooking the river; there is also an aire adjacent and we wondered why you would stop there when the campsite next door is so accessible. But we soon realised why when they charged us 27 Euros for one night!
Metz is a lovely town with lots to explore and we said we would definitely return. We had time to have a run through the country park, have a traditional Lorraine region meal (there’s a lot more than quiche) and walk around the town in the evening. The next morning was wet and dreary unfortunately as we set off on the next stage of our journey. Well eventually we did, as we had a significant issue actually getting out of Metz. There were lots of road works and diversions in the town, most not suitable for our large motor home and we had to turn around several times as we came to roads which were too narrow, bridges too low and back streets with tight turns and poor access. In desperation we followed signs for St Avold, not on our planned itinerary but it got us out of the town. We were actually planning to head for Chateau-Salins and we did get to it eventually and then onto Sarrebourg, Phalsbourg, Molsheim, Obernai, Colmar and Mulhouse to the Swiss border at Basel. Up to this point we had paid only a small amount on tolls for a small stretch of the A4 to avoid Saverne, as recommended by Russell, our Kontiki Kid guide!
We paid for our Swiss 10 day toll pass (32.5 Swiss Francs, £22) at the border but then managed to get ourselves on the wrong motorway heading for Germany instead of Lucerne in Switzerland. Don’t know how we managed this but we did a U-turn and went back to Basel and this time we picked up the A2 and signs for Lucerne. It was raining heavily by now but once on the way to Lucerne we had no problems with the route and we easily found the campsite where we stayed overnight (TCS Camping Lucerne-Howe). It was a very wet night so although we were right by Lake Lucerne we never saw it or any views of the surrounding mountains!
We set off the next morning back to the A2 motorway a short distance away travelling south towards the Gottard Tunnel and Italy. The views over the lake and mountains were still shrouded in grey mist and we wondered when we would see some better weather. We queued for about an hour to enter the Gottard Tunnel, clearly past tragic experience has lead to very strict controls over the amount of vehicles entering the tunnel. But on leaving the tunnel there it was at last, the sun and clear blue skies with spectacular views.
On crossing the border into Italy, we picked up the Italian toll motorway and we stayed on this all the way to Lake Garda. The Kontiki Kid had recommended we did this and it was the right thing to do, not too expensive (about 20 Euros) and avoided any navigation around towns or cities. Italian driving and motorway behaviour is interesting to witness to say the least!
We arrived at Bella Italia campsite in Peschiera Del Garda just off the A4 motorway and on the south shore of Lake Garda at about 3pm. A massive, family orientated campsite with an efficient checking in process but small, unlevel pitches. We tried three pitches before we were happy to set up our motor home and considerable persistence with the camp managers to ensure we had an appropriate pitch for our large motor home. Our pitch was near the lake with a lovely view but no water supply, not too much of a hardship for the four nights we stayed there. Peschiera Del Garda is a lovely town and we enjoyed visiting it but the campsite was very busy and so if we went again we would either book in advance or try another site (Camping Butterfly looked very nice – much smaller and less packed).
It rained again on our last night at Bella Italia; this meant our pitch was muddy and we had difficulty getting off. It is on occasions like this that you really value the campsite community that exists everywhere we have been. As we struggled to get traction and my effort to push our 5 tonne TAG axle motor home off the pitch was making little impact, several fellow campers of all nationalities rushed over to help. With the combined efforts of about ten people pushing, my husband drove the vehicle off the pitch and with lots of thanks in every language I could manage we were on our way.
It was an easy drive on the motorway to Venice (10.20 Euros) and the port was well sign posted. We arrived in plenty of time to catch our 6pm ferry to Igoumenitsa in Greece with Anek Lines. We had planned to spend some time in Venice but once on the port we decided to stay there as vehicles were already beginning to line up and they started to load at 3pm. We had booked camping on deck and were lucky to be directed to a place at the side of the deck and next to an opening with a view out to sea. As the ferry left the port we watched Venice go by and although we had not actually gone into the city we were able to see many of the sights from the deck. We cooked our evening meal in the motor home (electric hook up is provided), watched a DVD and settled down to a good night’s sleep.
The next morning we made use of the showers on board and then spent our day reading, watching the dolphins swim along side and enjoying a very smooth and relaxing crossing. We arrived in Igoumenitsa at 10pm and we were very quickly unloaded. The ferry was continuing to Patras so many stayed on board and others were queuing on the port to embark. We had planned to stay overnight on the port car park as we didn’t want to drive in Greece for the first time in the dark or arrive at the campsite in Vassiliki very late. So we parked up and closed up, putting our heads down for a fairly comfortable night’s sleep. Most other folk were waiting for an early morning ferry so when we opened the blinds we were the only ones left. We set off for the island of Lefkas and enjoyed the last part of our journey on relatively quiet roads. The route is well signed but it is straightforward anyway, passing by Preveza airport and through the underwater tunnel (8Euros toll charge), and across the bridge to Lefkada Town, south to Vassiliki, a journey we had done many times but not in our motor home!
The campsite in Vassiliki had only been open a few weeks and the owners were still getting it ready. We were able to choose our pitch as not many other campers had arrived yet but our first job was to cut back the trees so that we could actually get on the pitch! We have been here for 3 weeks now and have our pitch set up, mainly living outside in the lovely Greek warmth and sunshine. We have met up with friends from previous years and made new friends which being on the campsite enables you to do so easily. We have been windsurfing, cycling, running and exploring the surrounding area as we have our motorbike with us. We are planning to take the motorbike across to the island of Cephalonia on the ferry for a day. If you don’t windsurf or cycle, there is not a lot to do here except enjoy the sunshine, the very friendly Greek hospitality, the relaxed pace of life. the Greek salad, fruit, local bread, souvlaki etc. etc. We love it here and we would recommend both the journey and the experience. We will definitely be doing this trip again!
Lesley & Melvyn Cole