Welcome to the July edition of the newsletter.
June has been busy, busy, busy, with three tours out. Colin and Sue took the first ever Idyllic France Tour, Ian and Linda took the Provence & Ardeche Tour and Wendy and I ventured off to the Swiss & Austrian Alps. We have full tour reports on the last two of these (with Sue's report on the French tour being saved for next month's edition).
With all three tours safely at home the reviews are starting to come through, and you can see these on the reviews page of our website.
We also have a little bit of news about the new brochure and website updates. As usual we have another great one-pot recipe and the motorhome/travel tips this month is about low amperage on continental sites.
New brochure and website updates
Our new brochure is now ready to go and we will be putting a PDF version up on the website in the next week or so. We will also be putting the full tour itineraries up on the website for the whole world to see.
Up until now, the 2023 schedule has only been available to you as newsletter readers, with just a few days left for first dibs before things go live.
Swiss & Austrian Alps Tour Review
Just for fun this year we decided to have two of our tours leave on exactly the same day. So on the night before travel we took over a campsite in Kent with 24 motorhomes - and then made sure we had the right customers at each tour briefing!
Our mass exodus started the following morning and despite all the fuss with the ferries earlier in the year, we all embarked safely and made it across the channel in good time. First stop for the Alps tour was a warm evening in the Champagne region followed by another warmer evening in the Burgundy region (where most of us had boeuf bourguignon for supper). So far so good.
On Day 3 we arrived at the Alps with a few days spent in the distinctive Swiss capital, Bern. Bern is famous for its astrological clock, covered walkways, cobbled streets and its very own bear pit. It is less famous for what we would call the River Aare run. On sunny days, people travel from miles around to throw themselves into the river and then let it carry them downstream for miles until they arrive at the city. They then get out, walk back along the river path and do it again, and again. Thousands of people do this creating a human flotilla. With the weather at 30 degrees plus, this was too much for our group to ignore so most of us joined the throng and jumped in for a mile-long ride downstream.
Next stop was on the Austrian, Swiss, Lichtenstein border where we experienced our first proper Alpine town. With the weather still in the 30s we were happy for the free lido at the campsite to cool off after a day in the town, mainly eating cake.
The next stage of the tour took us into the Inn Valley around Innsbruck. Here the scenery is simply stunning with mountains towering over us on all sides. Many of our guests chose to spend a day or two in the city, venturing 3000m above sea level on the cable car. We had a lot of very active customers on this tour with may embarking on epic walks and bike rides up and down the mountains and even flying down the mountain bike runs. Amazingly the weather was still giving us 30 degree sunshine in the day and only the odd highly dramatic thunderstorm by night (best time to have one).
We continued our journey through the valley with our next stop at the foot of Austria's highest mountain, the Grossglockner. Rather than burn out our brakes on the 3600m climb, we hired a coach and took a day trip. We have been up the Grossglockner three times but we have never seen it like this before. With perfectly clear skies we had a truly unforgettable experience winding our way up and back again over the course of the day. The trip was made more memorable by our local bus driver. He was from Essex!
That evening we all sat in the garden restaurant at our campsite and had a wonderful local meal that completely capped a wonderful day in the mountains.
In the morning some of the group ventured into Salzburg, the city made famous by the Sound of Music and Mozart. The city is dominated by the castle on the hill and boasts some amazing architecture along with loads of movie locations. We topped out at 36 degrees, leaving us absolutely exhausted. Other members of the group opted for a more sedate trip to picture-postcard Zell am See, with a boat trip across the lake and the Alps as a backdrop.
We started the journey home after this with a stop-over in Bavaria, on the Romantic Road. After that we drove through the Black Forest (yes we had the gateau) and then stayed for a couple of nights in Strasbourg - probably the prettiest city in France. Another boiling hot day allowed guests to walk, cycle, tram and boat their way around the city for a lazy day prior to the final drive through the Champagne region and home.
Provence and the Ardeche Tour Review
Whilst Wendy and I were enjoying the heat in the Alps, Ian and Linda were busy with their tour down to Provence & The Ardeche. This is an 'inland' tour focusing on the rivers, hills, mountains and un-spoilt hilltop towns and Medieval villages of the region (rather than the glitzy coastline).
All of our tours start in the UK and therefore we always have a couple of days of travelling to get where we are going. We try to pick interesting places to stop on the way, and this group took a particular liking to Chalon-sur-Saone in Burgundy. The heart of the town is quintessentially French, with narrow cobbled streets, oversized churches and plenty of great restaurants and bars.
Our first stop in the Ardeche was at the very centre of the region close to the famous Pont d'Arc where the river has carved out a giant arch in the limestone cliff. Temperatures were getting close to 40 degrees at this point (a bit too hot really) with many guests ambling around the local market in Vallon Pont d'Arc. Our campsite here goes straight onto the river allowing guests to cool down a little bit.
Next stop was the historic city of Avignon with its famous (half a) bridge. It will be nice when they finish it although as they started it in 1177 it is unlikely that they ever will. Avignon is also home to the impressive papal palaces that tower over the large open squares. It is a great city to wander around and most guests spent a full two days in the centre. Some discovered the local covered markets where you can buy locally produced food and wine.
There was a change of pace as the tour headed for the open plains and mountain ridges of the Luberon. Ian and Linda organised a breakfast at the campsite with amazing views over the area. The local town (exact location is a secret) is probably the prettiest in France! The groups visit coincided with the midsummer celebrations in the town, making it even more special.
Next stop was a stunning drive through the peaks and gorges of the Haute Alps. The driving here is fantastic and not too scary with really good quality two-way roads. There are plenty of hairpins and climbs and the views are amazing. Our stop was close to Sisteron where our guests were able to saunter in the pretty hilltop towns and take lazy strolls along the wide river.
It is probably worth mentioning the lavender at this point, which is full bloom at this time of year. Provence is famed for the production and it is growing in fields all over the region. It is usually over on the eastern side that you get the best of it.
As an unexpected treat, there was also the start of a Vespa rally leaving from Sisteron. 150 scooters all taking off for a series of time trials made for an interesting spectacle!
After the mountains, it was back up to the Ardeche to our lovely campsite on the confluence of two rivers, nestling in the valley. Our wonderful campsite owners offered us a complimentary drink and brief presentation about the campsite and the area that all the guests enjoyed. This was followed by an impromptu group meal before two glorious days of sightseeing.
A particular highlight was the sleepy town of Crest, with a magnificent tower overlooking the valley. It's the sort of place where you can sit and have a coffee and a meal while you watch the world go by.
It was then a couple of days of driving as the group headed back up to Calais.
Worth noting that despite all the problems with P&O earlier this year, all of our tours groups were able to get on the ferry of their choice on the way out and the way back with no problems or hold-ups.
Coq au Van (the amusingly titled recipe feature)
600g of sausage, good quality and Italian
50g of red onion, diced
50g of garlic, finely sliced
120g of chorizo
1 pinch of chilli flakes
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1 tbsp of tomato purée
200ml of white wine
1 tin of chickpeas
400g of tinned plum tomatoes
150ml of water
100ml of extra virgin olive oil, good quality
To begin, add the oil to a heavy-based pan (preferably a cast iron one) and place over a medium heat – it will look like an excessive amount of oil at this stage but don't worry, it will play an important part in the sauce later on Once hot, add the sausages and allow to colour. Remove from the pan and set aside once golden Add the onion and garlic and season with a little salt – this will help to sweat the vegetables, rather than colour them. Gently cook for 7–10 minutes Cut the chorizo into long slices and add to the onion and garlic, along with the chilli flakes, paprika and tomato puree. Cook out for a further 7–10 minutes – at this point, the oil should be a bright red colour Add the wine, bring to a rapid boil and allow to reduce by half. Add the tinned tomatoes, tinned chickpeas (including the liquid in the tin) and water. Return the sausages to the pan and reduce the liquid by half At this stage, the sauce should be thick and glossy from the olive oil. Set aside to rest for 5 minutes Meanwhile, freshly grate the Parmesan, lemon zest and garlic clove together. Chop the parsley and pick the basil leaves Add the parsley to the ragù and stir. Squeeze in half of the lemon (without the zest) and place the ragù in the centre of the table. Splash over a final touch of olive oil and sprinkle liberally with the garlic, lemon and Parmesan mixture. Grind over a twist of black pepper and eat with fresh focaccia and red wine. Sit back and enjoy the life you have for five peaceful minutes!
This month's tips are on understanding the lower amperage used on continental campsites.
In the UK, most campsites provide you with 16 amps of electricity through your hookup cable. This allows you to use electricity in your van in the same way that you do at home. On the continent it is more common to come across 6 and 10 amp connections.
What this means is that if you plug too many things in at the same time, you will trip the electric hookup point on the campsite. This is a pain as often you have to go and get the campsite people to come and switch it back on again.
There is some clever maths you can do to work out how many electrical items you can have on at the same time but here are a few guidelines:
Your water/heating system in the van will use a lot of electricity if you have it on either "Elec 2" or "boost". Use the lower "Elec 1" setting instead.
Hairdryers use a lot of electricity (not a problem for me) and so do kettles (big problem for me). Get low wattage (travel) versions rather than using household version of these items and do not put them both on at the same time.
Your lights, TV and fridge do not use much electricity so these will not overload the electrics.
Keep in touch
Please feel free to contact us at any time. When we are away, calls will bounce to our mobiles at no expense to yourself.