Camping in Switzerland and the South of France
There’s a reason we tend not to make reservations. The plan was to spend two days getting down to the South of France, spend a week there and spend two days coming back. Only that last part ended up being true. (see the map at the bottom of the post for our route).
The reason for this vacation was that DutchBoy had Thursday and Friday the 21st and 22nd of May off because of Hemelvaart (which sounds cooler than Ascension Day) and Monday the 1st of June off because of Pinksteren (also cooler sounding than Pentecost), so by taking 5 days vacation you actually get almost two weeks off. And the reason for the South of France was that we wanted warm.
Well, warm we got. We actually left on Friday the 22nd because, well, just because. And because we’re us and Google said it was only two hours more, we decided to go through Germany, Switzerland and Italy on the way down and do the boring route up through France on the way up. And of course, being us, we didn’t exactly leave first thing in the morning on Friday, so when evening rolled around, Sprocket was uncharacteristically refusing to fall asleep in the car and we knew there was a Formula 1 near Heidelberg ’cause we’d stayed there last year, so we stopped and slept fairly early.
Saturday dawned very, very warm. And after breakfast and a stop at a supermarket, it was late morning, heading towards noon, and our car doesn’t have aircon (since in this climate it’s rarely needed). But that day was it ever needed. We were melting in our seats, and all around pretty miserable. We got into Switzerland (after paying €30 for a pass to use their freeways for the year!), and immediately saw signs warning of a traffic jam on our proposed route. We detoured, thinking nothing is worse than being stuck with an unhappy toddler in a traffic jam while melting. On the detour, we stopped for lunch and read the weather forecast, which told us it would be just as hot (31°) for the weekend. We started thinking about spending a few days camping in Switzerland. Out came our little book of small campgrounds and we decided to stay at an organic farm. We called, they laughed a bit when DutchBoy asked if they had room and said yes, so we headed there.
Well, the reason they laughed was that there were no other campers, and in fact they’d just mowed a bit so we could camp there. Later in the season they mowed more of the orchard, which I thought would have been better, as we were a little close to their house for my taste, although it was convenient for facilities. It was a lovely, lovely environment though, quiet and warm and just beautiful. The hills shimmered with buttercups, interrupted by daisies, and during the day mostly what you heard was the ringing of cowbells. Idyllic. And it really did look like a Ricola commercial. We mostly hung out there and ran after Sprocket as he tried to go in the cow farm and all sorts of interesting places. Sprocket loved it, since he loves being outdoors.
Monday morning we were off, thinking the weather would break during the day. It didn’t, and we had a hot but lovely ride through Interlaken, with the idea that we would stop by a lake to cool off and let Sprocket run about. But we actually had trouble finding a place to do that since the landscape was carved by glaciers, meaning that at most places the lakes are bordered by steep cliffs. Plus we took the wrong side of the lake. But we eventually found a little lakeside park and stopped and rested for a bit. I even went in to my waist. Sprocket of course just wanted to run around and made friends with all our neighbours, even helping himself to their cookies, something we weren’t thrilled with. But it doesn’t help that the girls in question were charmed and insisted that he could have them.
After we cooled off a bit, we stopped in Bern for a nice dinner of Rösti. We had a very charming waitress, who even spoke some Dutch! Then to spend the night in Thonon-les-Bains. On Tuesday morning, we set off to see the town and wandered about a bit.
Just as we drove off, the promised rain finally started, making it lovely and cool driving. Sprocket slept a long time through windy mountain roads. We took the Mont Blanc tunnel, though perhaps if we’d known that it would be €30 we might have planned a different route. It is quite the tunnel, and they are very concerned about safety – after reading the linked Wikipedia article, I understand why.
Then into Italy. We stopped in the first town, found a playground and let Sprocket run around for a bit, playing with some Brazilian-Italian boys. Then we pressed on. It became apparent that we wouldn’t make a campground in France that night, so we decided to stay in Cuneo, and found a cute little hotel with a nice big bed. Sprocket, who had been sleeping in the car, woke up for some gelato and then went back to sleep.
At breakfast on Wednesday morning, there was a group of Irish bikers on their way to the Moto GP race near Florence. I was jealous of their trip, though not the destination – I miss motorcycle travel like you wouldn’t believe but I don’t think I really want to go to those big Moto events. I realized why as I listened to the Irish guys talk to the guy who worked in the hotel – he had a 1945 Moto Guzzi in the back parking lot, so he and the guys had a lovely technical conversation about the bike and as I listened I realized that I’m just not interested in the technical stuff or talking about bikes or looking at all sorts of bikes, I just want to ride. And ride and ride. Alas. It’s the one thing I knew I’d really miss when I decided to have kids, but at least I know it’s not over forever.
Anyway, we got underway after breakfast and headed through more windy mountain roads to our final destination, the South of France, only 3 or 4 days after we thought we’d be there. The first campground we checked out was nice, but had no room for Sprocket to run around, so we kept looking. The weather was back to hot, so when we found a nice nearly empty campground in a forest with a playground up the road, we took it. There were too many trees for sun, but after days of heat, it was nice to be cool, though still warm enough that being outside was lovely. Of course, it wasn’t until after we set up that we found out about the only downside of the campground, the mosquitos. I, of course, am a mosquito magnet, so this made me a bit unhappy, but not unhappy enough to move. And we bought some citronella candles and natural bug spray, and that helped quite a bit.
Thursday, we pretty much stayed around the campground all day. Friday, we headed for the beach at Antibes – we found a nice little pocket of beach that wasn’t too crowded and Sprocket really enjoyed playing in the sand and the water. I had to go for a little swim even though it was a little chilly. DutchBoy would have nothing to do with it.
Saturday, we headed for Monoco, parking the car at a park-and-ride and taking the train. Monaco was a new country for all of us, bringing my total of visited countries to 36, DutchBoy’s to 34 and Sprocket’s to 15 – you can see the lists here or look under the new lists link in the top menu bar. You start to get an idea of the wealth of the place as you walk from the train station and see the gleaming rolling walkways, like in an airport, heading into the centre. The whole place is spotlessly clean and looks lovely. There are also more public restrooms (free I might add) than I’ve seen just about anywhere else. We headed for the palace and the old city and then found what is probably the most valuable (in terms of land value) playground Sprocket will ever play on, halfway down the cliff under the palace and looking over a bay and many, many yachts. Our plan had been to then have dinner in Nice so we passed up the Monaco restaurants, which in retrospect was a mistake, since it got too late to go to Nice and by the time we got back to La Colle, Sprocket was in meltdown mode and we couldn’t find a place to do takeout. We ended up with the most expensive takeway ever from a very nice restaurant, but at least it was delicious.
Sunday morning, we packed up and got on the road, making the time we wanted to. Not a very exciting day, driving on toll highways and stopping periodically at reststops to let Sprocket run around. We made it to Châlon-sur-Saone and looked in vain for a nice restaurant, before settling for a chain grill restaurant with mediocre food. Sigh. Monday morning, we wasted some time finding a Carrefour to stock up on some French stuff before getting on the road. I’ve been in the Netherlands too long, I was completely overwhelmed by the size and selection of the place. Then pretty boring driving, again with stops at reststops and a dinner of frites and fried stuff in Belgium before making it home at around 10 pm.
Next time, if we’re going to go so far, maybe we’ll go for longer, or avoid “scenic routes”. Spending a lot of time in the car isn’t so fun. But otherwise, we had a great time, as we usually do whenever we go away – we just love travelling.
For photos from the trip, with commentary, click here or on the photo below:
And the map of our trip: