Ever since we got back from our epic road trip through Europe I have wanted to tell you about it. But describing an adventure that took in 2,000 miles, three countries, 17 days and countless meals, experiences and stop-offs was a bit of a daunting task and one I have to confess I’ve been putting off.
Now I’m actually doing it I’ve realised that there’s far too much for one blog post, unless you’re up for a bit of War and Peace on a Saturday, so I’m turning it into a little series. Don’t worry, it won’t go on forever, but this way you can have a few bite-sized pieces rather than the whole lot in one go. So without further ado, here’s Part 1 – England to Tuscany.
If you follow me on social media, you’ll have seen the flurry of photos, Insta-snaps and tweets that documented our first epic trip in the camper van. Over 17 days we planned to drive through France, into Italy and to Tuscany where we would spend a week back at Tenuta Chiudendone, the gorgeous agriturismo I discovered last year for Mr M’s birthday.
I won’t give you chapter and verse of every single little bit, but here’s the breakdown of how we planned the route. We wanted to make sure we had time to get stuff in rather than ploughing through Europe, so while we could have got to Tuscany far quicker, we wouldn’t have had half as much fun.
Monday night – drive to Folkestone and stay over
Tuesday – Eurotunnel to France then drive to Epernay to drink champagne and make merry
Wednesday – drive to Beaune, Burgundy to drink all the wine
Thursday – drive to Chamonix to see the mountains
Friday – drive into Italy, stopping in Genoa
Saturday – drive to Tuscany, via Cinque Terre, ready to spend a week relaxing
So far, so good. We set off on Monday night and settled into the Holiday Inn (dogs included!) ready for an early start the next morning. I won’t bore you with details of every bit of driving and every tiny stop off, but more of the edited highlights. That way, if you ever fancy doing something similar it might inspire you on places to stop.
First stop was Epernay, right in the heart of Champagne country. After a lovely lazy picnic of French cheese and wine, we wandered from our campsite into town for our tasting at one of the many champagne houses, Georges Cartier. Lucky for us, they even let dogs in, so we spent a few hours learning all things bubbles and going on a tour of their cellar, pooches and all. It’s probably the only place our mutts will ever be given water out of a champagne bucket!
After the tasting, we found ourselves a typical little French brasserie where we dined on steak and red wine before tottering back to the riverside campsite for some sleep.
The next day it was back on the road to the land of Burgundy wine. Instead of heading for Dijon we went to nearby Beaune, a pretty walled town which is definitely all about the wine. Again, after getting set up (which I’m happy to say in a camper van takes around 11 minutes) we headed into town with the dogs to continue our booze-focused tour of France.
Unlike Epernay, we hadn’t pre-booked a tasting but it proved easier than I could have imagined to just wander into a wine ‘cave’ and sort one out. We happened on ‘Patriarche’, who welcomed us and our four-legged friends with open arms, letting us go on a bargain self-guided tour through the cellars while tasting some of their different wines.
Another tasting done, another meal in a pretty little restaurant on the square washed down with plenty of local wine and another early-ish night ready to hit the road the next day.
The next stop was Chamonix – the first place I ever went skiing and somewhere Mr M and I have been meaning to return to in the summer for years. Despite the small matter of two flat tyres on our poor friend’s car, we got it all sorted and made it to Chamonix in time to take in the mountain views and beautiful walk into town.
While we only had a few hours in Chamonix, I reckon you could easily go back for days, hiking, canoeing, taking in the spectacular scenery. Instead, we had ourselves a nice walk then found a restaurant in the pretty town to try some Alpine food before moving on to warmer climes. Steak, bone marrow, cheese. We had the lot.
The Italian Riviera and Cinque Terre
The next day we crossed the border and headed to Genoa, right on the Italian Riviera. Tired from all the previous nights’ shenanigans, we had a night at the campsite and prepared for the next day where we’d decided to pack a helluva lot in. We originally planned to drive to Tuscany for a week in our lovely villa, but once I spotted that the Italian Riviera – perfect spot to teach our pooch to swim – was en route, along with a place that’s been on my list for a long, long time, Cinque Terre, we had a busy day ahead.
We started with a trip to Sestri Levante, just down the coast from Genoa, where after nearly a year we finally persuaded Brandy to swim in the sea with us. From there we headed to La Spezia, the biggest place to access Cinque Terre, a UNESCO world heritage site. We boarded a train for one of the five villages, Manarola and took in the view (despite the shit weather) before heading off to Tuscany. (Not, of course, before I managed to slip my way down a flight of stairs in epic fashion).
And that, my friends, is the first leg of our epic European trip. I feel like this blog post is far too brief to do any of it justice, but hopefully it will give you a taster of what we did, the crazy experiences we had, and the distance we covered.
Next instalment – our week in Tuscany 😉