Self-drive holiday: Wonderful Europe in a motorhome without a plan is written by Eva Jørgensen.
The start of our adventurous self-drive holiday
In the early summer of 2017, we sat - for God knows what time - immersed in a dreamy conversation about how wonderful it could be to have the opportunity to travel around and experience the world. We both had good jobs, but instead spent all our energy on these, and when we finally had time off, the garden had to be weeded, the gutter cleaned or the lawn mower inspected. We actually never really had time off. But we decided to get it.
From dream to reality - the freedom of self-drive holidays
All three children had moved away from home, which meant we had a large half-empty house with garden that we never had time to enjoy. It dawned on us that we were actually only living for the annual summer vacation and the individual extended weekends, where we could sneak in to go abroad. Travels that gave us new input and renewed energy, but that we longed for as soon as they were over.
That day we looked at each other and decided to sell the house. To take the plunge and make dream come true. Barely a year later, exactly April 9, 2018, we sat smiling and free like birds in our newly purchased older Hymer motorhome and were on our way out on the adventure of our lives. Our philosophy was - and is - that we drive without a definite route and take the experiences as they come. That is the advantage of traveling in a motorhome.
We also drive around tourist destinations, because we want to see the pristine Europe. The Europe where ordinary Europeans live. And that Europe is absolutely wonderful.
Of course, we have also plotted a few places on the map that we would like to see. Either because they historically mean a lot, because friends and family have advised us to see them, or because they are architectural masterpieces. Such as the Millau Viaduct - also called the Millau Bridge - in the south France, which was one of the first points on the map.
Millau Valley in France - an unforgettable sight
The adult reader will immediately stumble upon the difference between the Millau Viaduct and the Millau Valley. A difference we were also made aware of since we forgot to turn on toll roads on the gps. The impressive Millau viaduct is a toll road, and if you opt out of that kind, you will be led down into the valley under the bridge. What a great detour to get on!
Under the bridge at the bottom of the valley runs the river Tarn. Its clear water, small waterfalls and green banks are pure honey for the soul and down there in the valley nothing is heard but silence. An old railway runs along the river. It testifies that there was once a very small busy community before the bridge was built.
The small town is still there, and although the town is no longer buzzing with life, it is definitely worth a visit. The nearby houses are carved into the rocks and the residents even have their own church. Beautiful as hell.
After enjoying the valley, we drove over the bridge. If you are into architecture, this cable-stayed bridge is an absolute masterpiece. It is the world's highest road bridge, which at its highest point stands on pillars 246 meters above the ground. Even though the bridge is as big as it is, it has nevertheless managed to build it so that the construction looks feathery and in no way spoils the surrounding nature.
A life of 10 square meters - self-drive holiday in a motorhome
When we left Denmark almost two years ago, we did not even know how long we would be away. When people asked us, we just said "indefinitely", and some actually predicted that we would return after a few weeks. To them, it seemed unrealistic that we as a couple could live so close to each other for long periods of time.
Of course, it has also been a challenge to replace a two-storey house with a motorhome of 10 square meters. This means that we have automatically become minimalists, that we do not surround ourselves with unnecessary effects, and that we have learned to value small things to a much greater degree than before.
To our great surprise, life in a motorhome has also meant that we have learned a lot of new things about each other, but also that we have become even closer together. We have simply had to. Where would we each go if we became enemies? We depend on being able to communicate at a proper level.
Communication is also important in relation to other people. Before we drive into a new country, we learn a number basal glosses, so we can commit. It opens a lot of doors that a conventional English-speaking tourist is not presented with. A kindness and a friendliness which has given us many good experiences; often our visits to different places are based on recommendations or stories from the locals in the area.
Chapelle Saint-Michel d'Épinal in eastern France
One of these experiences with locals we had when we drove through the French city of Épinal in our motorhome. Here we spotted a stunning Gothic cemetery and had to stop by to look at it. With great admiration and awe, we walked around the small roads between small and large mausoleums, granite and marble tombs and beautifully decorated tombstones. There was a very special atmosphere we have never experienced in any cemetery before.
Suddenly the little gray-haired church servant came walking towards us at a brisk pace. At first we thought we had broken a rule that one should not just walk into a French cemetery. However, that was not the case. She just wanted to inquire about our errand. We told her we were overwhelmed by the beauty of the cemetery and we were even allowed to take pictures for our blog. She enjoyed practicing her English and told us the story of the cemetery.
It was founded in 1477, which means that some of the beautiful tombs are well over 500 years old. We marveled that the tombs were still adorned with flowers and figurines and were told that many of the tombs were inherited or were simply paid for all the way into eternity. However, no new graves were dug because the site had been vacated. This is easy to see when looking at how close the graves are.
After walking around the cemetery for a little over an hour, we continued into the town of Épinal itself. A pretty beautiful French city with a lot to look at. The Saint-Maurice Basilica, the medieval castle and the Roman House among others. We visited the Basilica, but were mostly in town to have some lunch. There is also plenty of opportunity for this in Épinal.
If you choose to visit the city, you can appropriately do so on 9 September and go to the city wall at five in the morning. It is said that Napoleon's ghost walks on the wall every year at this time, when in 1811 he gave his first and only speech to the inhabitants of Épinal.
Drive-yourself vacation without planning anything
When you have the privilege of being 100 percent master of your own life, of being able to talk to whoever you want and to be able to stop where you want, you find places and experiences that you have never heard of almost daily.
If you talk to the local tanker, the waitress at the small café or simply the elderly couple who sit and enjoy the sun on the bench, they often have a lot of good advice on what to see in the area. Things not necessarily mentioned in the travel brochures.
Not only are these sights and places often far more beautiful than the usual tourist places, we often get a story, a legend or some locally known facts along the way. That kind of thing is worth gold.
On our way through Italy we did stay in the town of Capaccio and here we were recommended to visit the nearby town of Paestum. It is said that there was to be a beautiful excavation of a city from Roman times, so we set off.
Paestum in Southern Italy
The excavation was not just beautiful, but actually overwhelmingly beautiful. It turned out that it was the excavation of the city of Poseidonia from 600 years before Christ. A city in honor of the Greek sea god Poseidon.
In addition to, among other things, excavations of ordinary houses, an amphitheater and some stunningly beautiful mosaic floors, the ruins consist of three extremely well-preserved temples. The temples belong to the goddesses Hera and Athena. It is believed that the queen Hera of the gods had two temples, but that in one of them Zeus, Poseidon and other gods were also worshiped.
Walking around between the giant pillars is truly an experience. It is not difficult to imagine the life that must have been in and around the temples. The prayers and sacrifices that have taken place to throw success and fertility over family growth, fishing, warfare, learning and much more. In many places in the 25-hectare area, you walk on the original roads, just as both the city wall and the round lookout towers can still be seen.
In fact, only about 5 percent of Poseidonia has been excavated. The remaining 95 percent is on private land, which in Italy can not just be claimed.
Next to the excavation is a large museum with stories and artifacts from the area. Even we were not there though, for the heat and a few hours of walking among temples and houses had resulted in sore feet and the urge for something cold to drink.
A journey of formation that just continues
One of the goals of our trip around the motorhome has been to put the pickiness we had more or less in the past to the test. To taste local regional dishes, order things from the menu that we do not know what is and thus also expand our horizons on that front. It has, to our great surprise, brought us far more joys than sorrows. Often we have almost been able to taste how the chef has stood in the kitchen and poured all his love directly into the pots.
Among other things, we have been overwhelmed by the amazing Spanish farmer's dish Ropa Vieja, which is a chickpea stew with long-simmered beef stern, vegetables and a lot of spices. Absolute pampering for the taste buds.
We also mashed ourselves in the 'Maultaschen' when we visited it German by Öhringen. It is a local dish from the Swabian region and consists of square 'bags' of pasta dough filled with a mixture of meat, spinach, onions and herbs.
However, we most often get the best experiences when we enter a restaurant without expectations, which does not look out of the world, but still manages to surprise us positively. It can be the interior that is beautiful or different, the menu that offers more than expected or the food that is exceptionally good. Sometimes it's even a combination of it all. We like good food that tastes of pride for the subject.
Ristorante L'Angolo Verde in Italy
In it Italian by Palmi we had a really wow experience. We had ended up at a small campsite by the beach, and one evening we did not really bother to cook. We had been told that there was a pizzeria nearby, and you never go wrong with Italian pizza.
The restaurant was so much more than a pizzeria. From the outside it did not look like anything, but the waiter followed us out into a wonderful backyard with marble figurines, small lawns, tables covered with azure tablecloths and a wonderful atmosphere. The chairs were still made of plastic, but that didn't matter anymore. The restaurant had no menu. The waiter instead focused on our wishes and taste buds, after which the kitchen prepared the food based on it.
At first we were a little skeptical, but when our plates came in and we tasted the first mouthful, all our skepticism disappeared. The food was sitting right in the cupboard. We were served 'casarecce', which are small twisted pieces of pasta, in a tomato sauce with shrimp, cherry tomatoes and a bit of spinach. Well seasoned, prepared with fresh ingredients and in perfect portion size.
Usually we do not drink that much wine, but we were gripped by the cozy atmosphere and ordered a bottle of the house. In a wine cooler we were served a bottle without a label on it. It was produced by a local winemaker and again we were pleasantly surprised. A fresh and light white wine that pearled a little on the tongue and matched the food perfectly.
Everything at Ristorante L'Angolo Verde simply went up in a higher unit, even though we had just thought that all we needed was a pizza. That kind of can actually make one completely happy.
Try the undiscovered Europe
So yes, it is possible to drive out into the blue in Europe and find the hundreds of places and experiences that no one really talks about. It just requires finding them. We have put the conventional form of travel on the shelf and have left without a definite plan. What we experience makes us both happy and grateful.
Imagine being allowed to sit with your coffee mug in your hands and enjoy the morning on a bench in a small Greek port or experience the clouds that lie between Alps as smoke rings over the mountain peaks. In such moments, one finds that the undiscovered Europe is by no means an illusion.
We could all indulge in trying to travel without a plan - with or without a motorhome. Not necessarily for months and years, but at least for a few weeks. To book a ticket to a place you do not really know. Rent a car, a couple of scooters or bicycles and drive out into the blue. Turn off when you see something interesting. Talk to the locals. Book overnight stays directly with the providers who sign with it. Enjoy the freedom and give yourself time to soak it all up. That kind of gives a lot and different adventures.
Have a good self-drive holiday in a motorhome with or without a plan! If you want a self-drive holiday within Denmark's borders, there are plenty of tips in ours theme about Denmark.
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