Mike and Holly’s Road Trip

Ferry from Dover to Calais

This is the personal blog page where we will share some notes about the places we visit and the walks we do for our friends and family who are interested in where we go and have gone on our road trip through Europe. There are also some grid references to various free camp spots we stayed in throughout Europe and the Balkans too.

Enjoy! H&M x

Click on the buttons below to skip to a country of your choice!

6 month overview video

France

We watched the sunrise and light up the Dover Cliffs on the ferry to Calais. Upon arrival at Dover we had our Covid passes on our phones checked but not the ‘engagement-sur-l-honneur’ document which they said you must have. We also got our passports stamped so we have visual proof of entry.

Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord, France

Château de Chambord is the biggest chateau in the Loire Valley. We are passing through to get to the south of Spain whilst the weather is still bad ‘up north’. We will be driving further south towards the border near San Sebastian over the next few days. Overnight Free Camp Location at Château de Chambord: 47.6171981,1.51454,16.48

Ustaritz, France
Ustaritz, France

We have had engine trouble! Well, the engine oil cap fell off and oil leaked everywhere. We have been to a garage and they led us to a scrapyard, who couldn’t help us. We then went to Peugeot who were not helpful considering we have a Peugeot Boxer. However, Citreon were amazing, as were Norauto. When travelling in a van it’s good to know that the European (and better) version of Halfords is Norauto. Overnight Free Camp Location at Uztariz: 43.386605,-1.4941218,16.96

Basque Country, Spain
Basque Country, Spain

Top of page ↑

Spain

Our travel video for Flight Free UK

We have made it into Spain. There were no checks at the border near San Sebastian. We decided to head up the hill near Hondarribia to Jaizkibel. The views were beautiful and so we went for a walk and had lunch. It then started to rain, so we took that as a hint to continue our journey south. Overnight Free Camp Location at Jaizkibel: 43.3531357,-1.8424644. We were asked to make a film about our trip to Spain to promote travelling on the ground instead of flying, you can find out more about the company here.

Salamanca
Salamanca, Spain

We had a lot of driving today crossing the vast emptiness of midland Spain, which looks like one of the centre of the concrete industry. We finally got to the beautiful UNESCO city of Salamanca. This roman bridge was declared an Artistic Historic Monument in 1931 and was the main road into the city until 1973. Overnight Free Camp Location at Salamanca: 40.9596571,-5.6753829

Mogarraz in the Parque natural de Las Batuecas-Sierra de Francia, Spain
Mogarraz in the Parque natural de Las Batuecas-Sierra de Francia, Spain

Camino Del Agua is the woodland walk that we did today. It is a circular route through the Parque natural de Las Batuecas-Sierra de Francia and finishes at the beautiful village of Mogarraz. It is quite a popular walk full of little bridges, glens and bird life. This village has unique architecture and the square had a really nice atmosphere which we would recommend visiting. You can see the route for the walk we did on AllTrails here. Overnight Free Camp Location at Alberca: 40.4889649,-6.1169799

View from Peña Carbonera 1505m, Spain
View from Peña Carbonera 1505m, Spain

The image above is from our Puerto Del Portillo, Peña Huevo (1414m) Peña Carbonera (1505m) Walk. This has been one of the best walks of the trip so far with amazing views and we saw águila real (golden eagles), buitres negro (vultures) and cabra montés (mountain goats). We have a great little park spot so will be staying in this area for a while as it is also pretty quiet. Overnight Free Camp Location at Batuecas: 40.4572106,-6.1364564

pine processionary caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa)
Pine processionary caterpillar (Thaumetopoea pityocampa), Spain

On the walk today we saw a few of these caterpillar trails. They were touching head to bum in a row of about nearly two meters. A little bit of research shows that these are all following the pheromones of one female and are heading into the ground to cocoon themselves.

portugal wild camp spot near lake
Portugal wild camp spot near lake

Top of page ↑

Portugal

Today we drive to Portugal just north of Badajoz. There were no border checks on the back road we took in. We then travelled through Alentejo to a lakeside where there was a bar called ‘Bar da barragem do Caia’ which was open and had sunset views. We saw another campervan parked down by the lakeside and so we joined them and then decided to walk back up to the bar for another beer.  Overnight Free Camp Location at Barragem do Caia: 39.0058751,-7.1405687

Herdade Paço Do Conde
Herdade Paço Do Conde Winery, Portugal

Today we visited a winery which now features on the website I am working with, CamperGuru, a cool new site listing loads of great camp spots. We parked up by the lakeside and listened to the birds for the evening. We also tasted some of their olive oil in their tasting barrel room, and brought a bottle. 

Park up spot along the Guadiana river
Park up spot along the Guadiana river

We have spent a few days following the Guadiana river through Alentejo, which happens to also be the Spanish / Portuguese border. The Parque Natural do Vale do Guadiana is where they have reintroduced the Lynx, unfortunately we didn’t see any even though we did find a cool park up spot in the middle of nowhere down a track, just down the road from Mertola. Overnight Free Camp Location near Mertola: 37.623659, -7.664010

Guadiana river in the background
Guadiana river in the background

As we get into the Algarve region, we explored the small town of Alcoutim which has toilets and showers at the marina. It is a small marina where the boats can moor up for free away from the Algarve coastline and they had a great cafe with our favourite treat, Pasteis de Nata. Overnight Free Camp Location in Alcoutim: 37.4683443,-7.4723328

Overnight Free Camp Location near Alcoutim: 37.4227384,-7.4555543

Top of page ↑

Spain (again)

We are back in Spain now and are exploring the Costa de Luz, the coast of light, however it is more like the Costa de viento, the coast of wind. There are a variety of places along here where some the motorhomes just do not move on, it is full of German, Dutch and Spanish vans who look like they live here full time. Rota seems to be the Benidorm for motorhomes.. I wont bother sharing the link to this place as we didn’t stay long and wouldn’t recommend it.

There are however some cool spots, which are choca-block again with full-time vanners, who don’t move on. So we did spend a night in a quiet woodland near the Parque Nacional de Donana, but decided to move on the next day. The coast here is too close to the industrial area of Huelva which pollutes the estuary.

Views across to Gibraltar and Morocco
Views across to Gibraltar and Morocco

The wind which was scheduled for the week has made us head inland over the top of Gibraltar into the Parque Natural Los Alcornocales. Here we found a beautiful little walk through the Cork and Gall Oak woodlands following a stream with views through the mountain range and vultures overhead. It was peaceful here, but we have been inland for a while so needed to head to the coast. We found a cool park up which is one of our favourite so far, just outside Gibraltar, not far from the drug smuggling area of La Linea. Overnight Free Camp Location at Parque Natural Los Alcornocales: 36.2273115,-5.5862262.

Parque Nacional Sierra de las Nieves
Parque Nacional Sierra de las Nieves

After a few days enjoying the sunshine with some yoga on the beach, a bit of sea swimming, only a little, then we decided to head inland to the Parque Nacional Sierra de las Nieves. We walked up 1778m and in the morning woke up to a frozen ice land. The drive up to this spot was 8km on track and we were just hoping the road wasn’t icy. Mike ran down and I followed in the van. All was absolutely fine.  Overnight Free Camp Location at Parque Nacional Sierra de las Nieves: 36.6903393,-5.0463962.

Puente Nuevo bridge in Ronda
Puente Nuevo bridge in Ronda

We then went to Ronda. It is a mountain town which is home to the birth of bull fighting, which is not why we went in the slightest, however I wanted to see this bridge. The Puente Nuevo bridge is crosses a gorge over about 300 feet.

The Sierra Nevada

The Sierra Nevada mountain range is Spain
The Sierra Nevada view from La Boca de la Pescá 1518m

We spent three days in this beautiful national park. I have wanted to visit the Sierra Nevada for a while now as it is where you can find some of the biggest mountains in Spain. One of the walks we did was up Cerro del Trevenque (2083 m). We also did a circular route up La Boca de la Pescá at 1518m. Overnight Free Camp Location at Sierra Nevada: 37.0635514,-3.5585236.

Sierra Nevada Cerro del Trevenque 2083 m
Cerro del Trevenque (2083 m)

We then headed to the coast for a few days where we visited Almeria and had a brake pad change, then overnight at beachside town of Roquetas de Mar. Overnight Free Camp Location at Roquetas de Mar: 36.80440897142173, -2.576065098369255.

Carboneras
Carboneras

Then we went over to the quiet cove of Carboneras where we went for a swim, walked up the Torre del Rayo and explored the ‘Templo Hippie de Miguel Ángel’ before heading inland to the Sierra Espuña National Park.

Templo Hippie de Miguel Ángel
Templo Hippie de Miguel Ángel

Top of page ↑

Sierra Espuña

La Santa, just outside Totana
La Santa, just outside Totana

I have been to the Sierra Espuña, just outside Mercia, once before with Julia (read the article here) and really wanted to go back with Mike. We stayed in the carpark at La Santa monastery which had an amazing cafe with great coffee! There were loads of walks and bike tracks around and we spent 3 nights here just exploring the mountains and the small village of Aledo.

Some of the CamperGuru team
Some of the CamperGuru team

After leaving the mountains we met up with the CamperGuru team who we are working with to help create an awesome website for cool and unique spots to sleep for campervanners. After this we stayed along the coastline at Santa Pola as there was good signal, good weather and the 6 nations was on!

Cala del Faro de Santa Pola
Cala del Faro de Santa Pola

We bypassed Alicante and headed up into the mountains above Benidorm to a free campsite outside the small mountain village of Castell de Castells. Here we did a couple of walks through the olive groves and up into the mountaintops. Then we stayed at a campsite in Campbell which is going to feature on CamperGuru. Will post the link here when it is live.

Castell de Castells olive groves
Castell de Castells olive groves

We were going to head to Valencia for the Fallas Fesival however the Sahara sandstorm came over and now there is just a storm and it is raining so we couldn’t see any fireworks so just headed to a monastery in the hills above Valencia to sit it out.

Monserrat Mountain Range outside of Barcelona
Monserrat Mountain Range outside of Barcelona

The weather has turned and so we have decided to drive up the coast to go hiking in the Monserrat Mountain Range near Barcelona. Now, instead of heading inland at Tarragona towards the Pyrenees we are going to take the ferry to Italy for the better weather. We will take the Barcelona to Civitavecchia ferry with Grimaldi Lines. Our tickets have a cabin which I think will be useful for the 20 hour, overnight journey.

Top of page ↑

Italy

Riserva Naturale Regionale Montagne della Duchessa
Riserva Naturale Regionale Montagne della Duchessa

When we arrived we headed inland to the mountainous national park after visiting some thermal pools.

Cusano Mutri, Province of Benevento
Cusano Mutri, Province of Benevento

We drove to Cusano Mutri in the Province of Benevento as we didn’t want to drive the coastline between Rome and Naples. We found this beautiful mountain top village and an easy park up spot. We were shown around the village by an 83 year old man who spoke no English and then had amazing pizza at Millenium Pizzaria.

Pompeii
Pompeii

We then drove to Pompeii which was really interesting. We stayed at a campsite we found on CamperGuru as we didn’t want to risk free parking as we heard stories about van break ins around the Naples area.

Port of Acciaroli
Port of Acciaroli

We then decided to drive the other side of the Cilento and Vallo di Diano National Park in the province of Salerno along the coastline. Probably wouldn’t advise this route unless you are in a VW T5 as this is probably the worst road we have been on! We did find some cool ports and beaches but the road was pretty tricky and falling away down the cliff at some points.

Alberobello trulli Unesco World Heritage Site
Alberobello trulli Unesco World Heritage Site

We visited the Alberobello Trulli houses which is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. I am so pleased we came here off season as it was pretty quiet, I would hate to visit in the peak season, you wouldn’t be able to move!

Puglia Sunset
Puglia Sunset

We spent some time in Puglia exploring the olive groves and beaches. We parked up one night on the west coast and watched a beautiful sunset as bats danced around our heads. After a few days exploring this area we took the ferry from Brindisi to Igoumenitsa.

Top of page ↑

Greece

Exploring the islands off Lefkada
Exploring the islands off Lefkada

From Igoumenitsa we took a few days to get to meet our friends on the island of Lefkada. We were based in the Town of Lefkada which makes a great place to stay to mountain bike, go out on the water, and hike. After this we went to Vikos Gorge  Pindus Mountains of north-western Greece. Eripus is the region and there were many bridges built between the villages of Zagori.

Pindus Mountains
Pindus Mountains

There are 45 bridges throughout this region connecting all 46 hidden villages, apparently paid for by a wealthy resident or a nearby monastery the local priest to help the locals go about their business and the goods to be imported.

Pindos Mountains Bridge
Pindos Mountains Bridge

Top of page ↑

Albania

From the mountains we headed further north into Albania. At the border of Kakavia we were asked for our passports and the vehicle ownership document, which we showed the V5C which seemed to suffice. Our first port of call was to pick up a sim card from Vodafone in Gjirokaster. We got 30gb for 2000 Leke which is about £13. The secret tip I will now share with you is to download the My Vodafone AL app to get an extra free 10gb.

Permet Hot Springs
Permet Hot Springs

From the UNESCO town of Gjirokaster, and after visiting the castle, which was amazing, we headed into the moutains to the Lengarica Canyon and to stay in a meadow at Permet Hot Springs. There were about five other vans and a few stray dogs which we fed. There was only one walk which was an eight mile circular route along and over the canyon which was pretty cool.

We drove to Vlore and then to Berat, which was okay but probably wouldn’t go back there because Vlore had loads of building work going on and it actually was really smelly, which I wouldn’t normally mind but this was pretty intense, the beaches were full of litter and the stray dogs looked in such poor condition. Berat castle was nice to look around and we had lunch at this highly recommended place, Temi, which turned out to be pretty average. The highlight to the few days in that area was a trip to Apollonia. It is a really preserved archaeological site which is really easy to get to in a van. The information boards are in English, French and Albanian.

Apollonia
Apollonia

We spent then a few days at Buona Vila near the Shkumbin river which flows down from the city of Elbasan. It is near the Divjaka-Karavasta National Park which is great for wildlife but also full of litter that has flowed down from the mountain villages and from the city.

Top of page ↑

Buona Vila
Buona Vila

Here at Buona Vila we made some amazing friends, Serge, Haffsa and Luca were a French/German/Moroccan family travelling in their amazing van and we really got to know them well and had a right laugh. One evening together we had a bonfire with marshmallows and in the distance we saw another bonfire, which turned out to be a cabin on fire, whether it was deliberate or not who can say, but Mike did see car headlights drive down that dead end track about 20 minutes before we saw the fire..

Syri i Ciklopit
Syri i Ciklopit

The Syri i Ciklopit cave near Tirana was amazing. There was a great place to park at a restaurant where we had dessert and a drink before heading further north. The walk to the cave takes about 45 minutes and the restaurant owner asks if you need a guide, we didn’t, it’s only one track, but his son will try and follow you and get money from you to use him as a guide, but with a firm ‘no’ he backed off. The cave was one of the most amazing caves I’ve been in, remember to take a head torch!

We thought about heading into the mountains from here up to Ulza Regional Nature Park and beyond, but as we got to a park up we found on Park4Night we weren’t 100% convinced. We went in for a drink and then decided to turn around as the weather was due to come in with a whole load of rain. We then drove further north to near Shëngjin.

Bar Ledh, Kune Shëngjin
Bar Ledh, Kune Shëngjin

This next location is where we have done something which has changed our life. At Mario’s Bar Ledh, near Kune Beach, near Shëngjin we adopted a stray dog, Alba. You can read about that story in full here.

Alba
Alba

We then spent a few days at Thethi National Park which was beautiful. The drive up was pretty steep and took a fair amount of time. I managed to use my Water to Go refillable filter bottle here as there were rivers and waterfalls all around.

Thethi National Park
Thethi National Park

There was some beautiful wildlife in the national park, birds of prey, wild horses and lots of amphibians.

Wildlife of Thethi National Park
Wildlife of Thethi National Park

We then stayed around Shkoder until Alba, our newly adopted dog, could get her next jab. We stayed on a campsite, which you can find out more on CamperGuru, here, which was right on the lakeside.

View from Lake Shkoder Campsite
View from Lake Shkoder Campsite

Top of page ↑

Montenegro

Pavlova Strana Viewpoint
Pavlova Strana Viewpoint

We drove into Montenegro and were pulled over at the border, but no asked to open the van, they just asked us some questions about where we were going and what the trip was for. We then drove along the edge of Skadar Lake National Park. Which is the same place as Shokder, just spelt differently.

Rijeka
Rijeka

We parked up at a dock near this cute little village and met a Spanish couple who were lovely, they had two dogs and so Alba made some new friends. We were asked to not sleep at that spot so we just pulled up to the roadside in this village and then back back to the spot the next day.

From here we had to head back to Podgorica as I had to fly back to launch my new children’s book ‘Chesnut and Daphne‘. We had a wonderful wedding with Guy and Sophie and Mike had a fun time travelling with Callum too. Top of page ↑

We’re back in action!

We had a fab time at home and seeing all our friends – congratulations to Guy and Sophie on their beautiful wedding in Devon. The boys went for a morning swim in their OddBalls budge smugglers!

Guy and Sophie pre-wedding swim at Tunnels Beach, Ilfracombe, Devon
Guy and Sophie pre-wedding swim at Tunnels Beach, Ilfracombe, Devon

Back in Montenegro we went to stay with Mike’s brother, Stephen for a few days to check out his new cabin in the hills above Kotor. He is also writing a blog which can be read here.

Kotor Cabin in the Woods, Montenegro
Kotor Cabin in the Woods, Montenegro

After visiting the cabin we went down the coast to Budva Old Town where we had a lovely meal within the walls of one of the oldest urban towns on the Adriatic.

Top of page ↑

Budva Old Town Marina

After exploring on foot Budva Old Town we drove further along the coast for a really quiet overnight spot on Luchina Beach at Petrovac, then we headed north to Biogradska Gora National Park.

nose horned viper
nose horned viper, Vipera ammodytes

It was €3 each to enter the park and then if you want to stay overnight in the carpark it is €22 which is quite expensive for the fact you are still in the Balkans, but we paid it, had a hot shower and the use of the toilets (squat toilets!) Here we did two walks, one around the lake, we went off course a little and saw a beautiful nose horned viper (Vipera ammodytes)! The second walk took us through the trees up to Bendovac. Grid reference for where we slept: 42.8963608,19.6010097. Top of page ↑

Biogradska Gora
Biogradska Gora

Durmitor National Park – this is probably one of our favourite places so far. We spent about 4 or 5 days here. We hiked to the foot of the tallest mountain, Bobotov Kuk. We didn’t go up as there was still snow and this was Alba’s first proper mountain day. There are so many cool places to park here, either at the abandoned ski lift or up on the Prevoj Sedlo mountain pass.

at the foot of Bobotov Kuk, Montenegro

CROATIA

After our visit to the mountains we decided to head back down towards the coast and go into Croatia back to the Prevlaka Peninsula. Here we met our friends Rob and Rabia and their dog they adopted from Albania, Gaia. We also made some new friends, Charlie and Tasha who have a great Youtube channel, you can check it out here.

Top of page ↑

We stayed here about a week or so. I will be uploading a full vanlife in Croatia blog soon. Watch this space.

SLOVENIA

Top of page ↑

We came into Slovenia from the south, just north of Karlovac, and headed for a night at Zuzemberk, we then found a climbing book in an Iglu shop in the capital. After this we went to scout out some climbing at a mountain side place called Creta, then to explore some castles, and north up to Logarska Dolina where we stayed for about one week before heading west towards Italy.

NORTH ITALY

Top of page ↑

We entered Italy at Kranjska Gora and then explored the area and took a cable car from Camprosso and hiked to the amazing Cima Del Cacciatore. From here we went to Sella Nevea and up into the mountains on one of the narrowest and steepest roads we have done yet, give or take.

There are quite a few different footpaths up here depending what sort of walk you want to go on, including some via ferrata sections.

Top of page ↑

We are now 6 months into our trip and below is a video overview of some of the things we have been up to.

We got into Tarvisio and found a nice park up just on the edge of town. In town there were lots of choices of places to eat. I tried to practice my Italian but the waitress just spoke to me in German, I think she just assumed I was another german tourist, to be fair to her, there were no other UK vans. In fact, on the whole trip so far, we have only seen about 4 other UK vans. 

One thought on “Mike and Holly’s Road Trip

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: