This year we expected most of Europe to be some what overrun with British campers, following what seems to be a rather large uptake of both British and Europeans taking up the very fabulous hobby of life on the open road.
On a tour of Southern Spain a couple of Winters’ back, we couldn’t believe the sheer number of campers filling the Costa’s where campsites were full to the brim. Even private camper stops were overflowing on to the side roads, most being booked up until the end of the Winter season, giving no option for those without a booking to just park up wherever and however they could. There was us, not even realising that you could book on some camper stops!!
Glancing through the pages of Social Media, the increase in camper or motorhome ownership seems to be at an all time high. There are so many reasons to pack up the day job and turn to buying that dream van and begin those travels which so many have craved for so long.
With so many Facebook groups having sprung up in recent years, thousands of followers and a complete range of topics amounting to a mass of information overload, it had seemed that most of Great Britain had taken the plunge into the world of vanlife, motorhomes and campervans!
Venturing across the Channel back in May for the start of a Summer tour of Italy, we couldn’t help but envisage a mass of GB number plates attached to a varying selection of vans coming in all shapes, sizes and configurations.
It started out promising enough, as we parked up on one of our favourite Aires at Brugges, we counted several GB stickers, proudly attached to an array of vans, more than some past years put together, we remarked! This was it, or so we thought, the new found Europe for our fellow British camper enthusiasts, we were now not alone!
Travelling on through Germany and the trail became less and less, although a 3 day stop at the biggest off road overland truck show in the world, The Abenteuer & Allrad proved a little more promising, with the discovery of a couple of dozen British enthusiasts, mainly 4×4 owners and potential buyers of the big truck market parking up amongst the incredible overland vehicles descending on Bad Kissingen for the duration of the show.
As our Sprinter wheels drove on through the neighbouring countries of Switzerland, Austria and Liechtenstein into our main destination of Italy, we had all but lost sight of the fellow GB stickers and instead found ourselves alone trailing the great roads of our European partners.
Despite a 9 week trip covering many of the great tourist hotspots of Northern Italy, including the Lakes of Como, Maggiore, Iseo and Garda and over to some of the incredible, iconic cities such as Verona, Milan, Venice and Padova then through idyllic wine routes North to the dramatic Alpine Mountain towns of the Dolomites, we were amazed to be a rather rare commodity in terms of country of origin.
So, this has got us thinking and even made us slightly puzzled, if the social media pages are correct and so many camper mad enthusiasts have taken up the pastime, just where is everyone going in their vans? Or is it actually more of a reality, that most people don’t venture too far from home, maybe choosing to stay in Britain or perhaps travel a short distance to France in the early days of buying that first van.
Or, is Spain the Summer hotspot as well as the Winter getaway? Has the traditional British holidaymaker made the transition into the motorhome world instead of flying down to the Spanish coast or maybe even bought a campervan as an alternative to the holiday apartment purchase, so favoured in the past?
Whatever the reason for having a lack of British company on our Summer travels, for those lovely British people that we did encounter, mainly around the busier tourist towns of Lake Garda, it was certainly a pleasure to exchange notes and hear of their own travels across the amazing European countries that we are so fortunate to be able to enjoy.
Whilst there may have been a shortage in our fellow countrymen to exchange conversation with, we certainly met some wonderful people from other various nationalities, ranging from Australians, Germans, Dutch and Italians, we always find that people are so friendly, interesting and welcoming.
One of our first stops in Germany saw us being welcomed by our neighbours, an elderly German couple providing us with a selection of cold meats to try with our lunch time snack. With language barriers being broken down by polite gestures and a mix of broken English and the odd German school book word, we got by and enjoyed a pleasant short spell of time in their company.
On another occasion after a day hiking in the glacial valleys North of Lake Garda, we parked up at a welcome overnight wild camping spot alongside a small lake, where we were soon joined by a young German couple in their VW camper. As the previous occupants ready built campfire was lit, we had a memorable evening under the stars, talking to the small hours over a few beers in the warm glow of the embers whilst the conversation flowed thanks to their near perfect English.
Later on in our trip we accidentally got talking to an Australian couple, enjoying a really interesting conversation and even recommending them to try our local Welsh mountain bike trails and campsites for their visit to the UK, which was their next destination. A week or so later, sure enough, they had ventured up to North Wales and experienced our local area including the forest trails that we’d suggested and a lovely campsite overlooking the majestic Moel Siabod moutain peak, thankful for the exchanges of our Instagram profiles to capture the moment.
Finally, on one of our last Stellplatz stops at a German vineyard, our fellow neighbours, already sat out under their awning to protect them from the intense Summer sun, invited us over to sample the wine that they’d just bought from the local vineyard co-operative. Happily supplying us with the local tipple and exchanging tales of adventures that they soon hope to have, crossing to Canada in their own camper. Language, as we so often find, is no barrier among those with the same interests and ambition for travel in the van.
Last but not least, we did engage in a very lovely conversation with an English lady at Gravelines, our last Aire before the morning ferry from Calais. Talking for some time about the joys of camper travel and our joint love of this amazing way of seeing the world, we’d come full circle and once again found a fellow Brit abroad enjoying the delights of Europe and all it has to offer!