Route Napoléon

We moved south through France, and started to climb into the foothills of the Alps. We kept seeing Route Napoléon signs everywhere. After about 3 days, we looked it up: It’s the path Napoléon took in 1815 on his way back from exile in Elba, to retake control of France before his final defeat at Waterloo. Nowadays it’s perhaps as famous as a favourite route for thrill-seeking bikers. We saw a few, or more often heard them roaring up from behind to overtake. I had sore eyes so Bev drove 3 days in a row through the worst/best of it! Hairpins bends, stunning views, bikers and more. No small challenge when we’re still getting used to a 3.5 tonne, 6m long van, so hats off to Bev.

We set ourselves another challenge on the way – could we do 3 nights in a row wild camping? We had fresh water, emptied the waste and the loo. We had solar power to charge the leisure battery. We had plenty of propane. We even bought an inverter from Costarama (like the French B&Q) so we could run a few small 240V things like the laptop charger.

First night, we stopped at Lac de Petichet. Very quiet, still early in the season. I did a quick music video, to give prospective venues an idea of what they were letting themselves in for 😉

A nice wander at Sisteron, then a more basic/less glamourous stop-over at Dignes, with lots of campers in a row by the river, but at least the pizza was good!

Castellane was a highlight, we stopped for a coffee/beer and florentines in the sun by the square. Our camp for the 3rd night was a few miles past the town on Route Napoléon, off the road down a track. Very quiet, very scenic.

It was all going really well so we carried on and spent a fourth night camping for free by a park above the town of La Rouret.

We turned off Route Napoléon just before Cannes, heading east to Italy. We considered another wild camping stop overlooking Monaco but it was a grey and windy day, wouldn’t have been much of a view. So, we rolled on to Italia via the toll road, to a town called Ventimiglia and a paid-for campsite.

Ghent, Luxembourg, France

We got to Ghent on a Friday afternoon, and found the campsite close to the city centre. Big site, well organised and very helpful staff at check-in gave us a map and relevant details. The dogs were sleepy and happy to laze around so we thought we’d have a night out and check out some of the music bars. I took the guitar, just in case I got a chance to play a tune for whoever does the gig bookings – slim chance I know, but it was early evening and ‘shy bairns’ and all that. There was a bus into town, but we walked anyway, 30-40 mins through a big sports park. First stop Missy Sippy – really cool blues and americana bar near the centre. Had a few strong Belgian beers and a chat with the owners – really friendly but nothing doing gig wise. Maybe on our way back through Belgium in August. There is a big festival in July in Ghent, and the bar does its own ‘festival in a festival’ – looks great.

Some nice sights around the city. We liked it!

Next stop the Hot Club of Gent, a jazz haunt – liked the ‘no talking during the performances’ sign. Asked the lad behind the bar about rootsy blues gigs but he’s more into the ‘nightlife’ he says. On to Trefpunt. Again a nice bar, very strong beers, some local characters in. It has a venue attached and its own mini festival in July.

Stopped in at another bar on the wander back, for an 8.5% Charles Quint ale. Slept well!

On, down to Luxembourg, through snow and the dashboard showing -2° outside. Cheap diesel in Luxembourg – always worth filling up! Nice scenery, reminded us of the English Lakes. Stayed 2 nights in Enscherange but didn’t wander far. Toasty in the van though, got some jobs done, Bev sorting the bedroom curtains.

Back into France, started to head South, working out best way to get into Italy. Probably not over the mountain passes, given the amount of snow. A couple of nice stops on the way, including Arbois (home of Louis Pasteur) and Lac de Madine. Stayed at a nice site at Cerveyrieu and set up the dog stroller for a hike up to the cascade. Pretty tough going at times, uphill on cobbles and down a track blocked by a fallen tree, but we made it! Great views. I learned about ‘lavoirs’ which are a common sight in rural France – public areas for washing clothes, fed by streams or piped water. Apparently, there are over 17,000 of them, most in disrepair, some restored to their former glory, before launderettes and washing machines.

First proper ‘wild’ camp

As our house was all packed up into storage, we’d slept in the new van every night since we got it but sleeping in the street outside your own home hardly counts as wild camping! Our definition would be: camping somewhere for free, with little or no facilities, just what you have with you. We set off 9th April and spent our first night at Bev’s auntie’s near Bedford – still doesn’t count! But it did mean we only had a short drive to the channel tunnel, via the Dartford Bridge. Short delay with the tunnel this time – fire safety alarms weren’t working properly on one train, so we had to drive in a big loop and get on another one. Still a pretty smooth operation, friendly staff and no real concerns tackling it with the bigger vehicle.

We didn’t drive too far into France that day. Bev found a Park4Night site outside Bergues, about 10km south of the beaches of Dunkirk. It’s basically just a car-park in the forest, by some running trails, dog-walks and fishing ponds. Slightly nervy as we got ready for the night, with those stories of wrong-uns gassing people in their campervans and robbing them in my mind. But another van turned up, and assuming they weren’t the wrong-uns, I thought we’d probably be ok.

It was great. Lovely, peaceful, wildlife all around and we had absolutely everything we needed in the van.

In the morning, we had an opportunity to try out Bev’s folding bike – She rode ahead to find a patisserie. I followed with the dog stroller, so Marra could climb in when he’d had enough of walking. He can only go so far these days, poor old lad!

Looking forward to more nights like this!