Our Grand Tour through France, Switzerland & Italy

This story happened on: 05/06/2024

So, what do you do when you buy a new motorhome; you immediately set off on a 2,300-mile trip through France, Switzerland and Italy! 

We divided our route into ‘transit’ stops and longer stays.  

Day 1 – 2: 

We left Burnham-on-Crouch at 3am and managed to catch an early ferry into Calais arriving around 9.30am (French time).

·      Calais to Troyes (France) – our first transit stop was at a site called ‘Camping de l’Epine aux Moines’ - Camping Aux Rives Du Lac – very pleasant campsite off the beaten track and overlooking a lake just outside the town of Geraudot (nr Aube). Whilst not a 5* site, the facilities were clean and adequate; the staff friendly; and the site well laid out with trees and landscaping.  To note, in June we found that many of the restaurants and bars around sites were not open.  However, having pre-loaded our van with essentials and a meal for the first night, we were able to pitch our van quickly and enjoy a quiet and pleasant evening and an early night ready for the next leg of our journey.

·      Troyes to Lucerne (Switzerland) – our second transit stop was TCS Camping Buochs Vierwaldstattersee -  In expected Swiss fashion, this is a very organised and well-run site.  Facilities are clean and tidy and quite large.   That said, located on the central swiss plateau in the area between the wooded and rolling Jura Mountains and the Alps, the site didn’t have the alpine character that we would have hoped for.   It appears to be a very popular site and there appeared to be an attitude of ‘pack ‘em in’!  However, as an overnight stop with easy access to the A2, it was fine.

Day 3: 

We made an early start from Camping Buochs with a view to getting over the Alps and into Italy as soon as possible.  We learned a good lesson at this point.  There are no easy ‘short cuts’ across the Alps!  On a whim, we decided to try and cross at the Simplon Pass as recommended to us by many people and sources.  However, changing our route at this point was problematic as we had entered Switzerland through Basel and taken the A2 down to  Buochs.  The logical onward journey would take us on the A2 and  through the Gotthard Pass. 

Aiming to go via the Simplon Pass would have involved a cross-country journey on smaller national roads to pick up the A9.  Lesson learned:  when planning to cross Switzerland, think about your point of entry into the country as this will determine the main road that you need to take and, subsequently, will affect your decision about where you pass through the Alps. 

We set our satnavs for our destination and, in spite of an attempt to take us across country towards the Simplon Pass, I am glad to say, it ignored our request to go via the Simplon Pass and directed us to the Gotthard Pass.  Meandering ever higher into the Alps, we realised that there was a long delay on the motor-way ahead.  Satnav picked up the old Gotthard Pass road and took us off the motorway. All well and good until we made a mistake at a small roundabout.  I think we should have realised that we had made a big mistake when it soon became obvious that the road we had taken was quite small with very little traffic going in either direction.    Taken in by the breath-taking scenery, we continued ever upwards, at times looking down into cavernous valleys and gorges and with the alpine peaks appearing ever closer and at eye level on the horizon.   At one point, we had to cross a piece of road that had subsided down the mountainside with makeshift roadworks in progress (not a workman in sight) and a traffic light.    We gingerly edged our way across the subsided section - really nerve-wracking and not for the faint hearted!  Continuing up another mile or so, and having not seen a single vehicle or person, we were fortunate to come across a couple of men working in what looked like a small farm.  I wound my window down and with no hesitation the men both gesticulated wildly to us to turn back!  The road ahead was closed!  We were lucky that we were able to perform a tricky reversing manoeuvre and return back down the mountain.  Later, we found out that the route we were on would have taken us through the FURKA PASS which, at around 7950 ft, is one of the highest in the Alps.  Although nerve-wracking, part of me would have liked to have continued.  We were not far from the top and I imagine the scenery would have been even more spectacular.  Maybe that is something for us to do another time in a car rather than a 7.5metre motorhome! 

Back on the main road, we entered into Italy via the Gotthard Pass which, in itself, is spectacular.  Banks of snow 10ft high or more on either side of the road; glaciers; alpine peaks within a stone’s throw; we were on top of the world.  At least, though, the roads were wide, there was plenty of traffic going both ways and one feels there is safety in numbers. 

Passing through from Switzerland to Italy there is an almost instant change in the quality of roads and the culture of the people. After the organisation of Switzerland, Italy was full of hustle, bustle, traffic and potholes. 

We made our way down  the east side of Lake Maggiore, briefly touching  Lake Lugano and entering Italy somewhere near Luino.  Our satnav took us down to the bottom end of Lake Maggiore , across to Gozzano and then up the east side of Lake Orta (possibly the smallest of the lakes).  In retrospect, it would have been quicker to have taken the road via Locarno, down the west side of  Maggiore and on to Omegna (which sits at the top of Lake Orta).  Lesson learned:  Satnavs don’t know everything. 

·      Lucerne to Lake Orta (Italy) – Camping Punta di Crabbia.  A family run business located on the shore of Lake Orta.    It is quite an old fashioned site although the facilities are adequate and clean.  6amp hook up provided but no need for a continental adapter.   Pitch access can be awkward, especially if you want a pitch with a lake-view.  And there are lots of trees which, if the sun is shining, can be a godsend but are a bit of a nuisance if the sun doesn’t come out!  Our hosts were amazing  and what the site lacked in facilities, it made up for with its atmosphere, friendliness and beauty. 

We stayed in Punta di Crabbia for 3 nights.  Omegna, at the top of the lake, is a pretty lakeside town with lots of shops and restaurants and well worth a visit.  The site runs a shuttle service to Omegna for a small fee making it a really easy visit. 

The site benefits from its own private ‘beach’ on the lake.  This is an attractive area with grass and easy access to swim.  The walk down from the site is short but steep and, again, the staff were kind enough to ferry our friend down in their electric buggy at no charge (and rushed down to pick her up again when it started to rain).  Amazing service! 

Day 7: 

Leaving Punta di Crabbia, we headed further south picking up the A26 and passing through fairly flat and built up countryside between Milan and Turin.  Then on towards Genoa and the coast road towards La Spezia.   This road is literally carved out of the hillsides.  Tunnel after tunnel (after tunnel) make it quite tedious with the occasional glimpse of the lovely countryside and the sea. 

·      Lake Orta to Aqua Dolce in Levanto – a small town near the Cinque Terre villages.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have the opportunity to visit any of the Cinque Terre villages but they appear to be well worth a visit if you can. 

Levanto is quite a nice little seaside town in the Liguria province and just 20 miles or so up the coast from La Spezia.   Located in the Cinque Terre National Park, the site is attractive with lots of trees and brilliantly located for walking to the town and beach.     Finding the site took us through the town but you will be pleased to know that the streets easily accommodated our 7.5metre van. The facilities are good and the site is well run with friendly staff.  The only downside is, perhaps, access to some of the pitches as the site is arranged over several tiers and turning into them can be quite tight.  Hook up was 10amp but, again, no need for a continental adapter. 

The town seems to be a real Italian resort ie not many foreigners evident.  The beach is nice but mainly taken up by private areas where you pay a fee (23euros per day for 2 people) for sunbeds and a parasol.  There are plenty of restaurants and shops and, amongst other things, there is a big swimming pool located by the beach.  Going along the promenade, you can pick up a cycle/walking route through disused railway tunnels which will take you to the pretty villages of Fremura and Bonassola. 

We were lucky enough to be able to meet up with relatives who were staying near La Spezia so we benefited from a guided tour of the countryside of the area and a great meal in an agriturismo restaurant renowned for its ravioli.  If you are able to hire a car, it is well worth spending some time exploring this area.  Not only to see the Cinque Terre villages but also to see the amazing scenery further away from the coast. 

Day 11: 

Having spent 8 days in Italy, our plan was to head back to France and, specifically, to the Dordogne.  We left Levanto and wound our way back up to the A26 (hairpin bends abound!).  And then, through the many tunnels, passed Genoa and Alessandria before picking up the E70 across to Turin.   From Turin, we continued onto the SS24 route and entered France at Claviere. 

This area – Claviere, Montgenevre -  to Val des Pres and then onwards to Briancon is possibly the prettiest mountain scenery we have ever seen.  Yes, there are plenty of winding roads and hairpin bends but not the hair-raising ascents that we experienced coming through the Alps from Switzerland.  The mountain meadows were full of amazing wildflowers; the snow topped mountains glittered in front of us; the amazing valleys spread out below us in a stunning and breath-taking panorama.  This area really is a paradise.  However, I digress…. 

·      Levanto to Val Des Pres (France) – Camping Huttopia La Claree.  To find this site you have to come off the main roads and there are a couple of villages that, had there been more traffic, might have caused a problem for a 7.5metre van.   However, once we found the site, nestled at 4000ft above sea-level and surrounded by mountains on all sides and set within a wooded area, we were not disappointed.  As a transit site, we only spent one night there and, be warned, there are not many restaurants around unless you have a car and are happy to drive.  We recommend that you go to a supermarket  (good range of options at Susa en route from Turin) and pick up something for your supper.  

The site is part of a large French chain of campsites – HUTTOPIA.  It was well organised, very clean, tidy and a spacious site.  It appears to be a favourite for those who like to hike into the mountains and want to ‘get back to nature’.   The site has a heated pool which was a bonus.  Having pitched our van, we were able to have a lovely meal eaten in the wilderness and then an early night – an amazingly dark and silent night high up in the Alps! 

Day 12: 

Having spent most of our holiday in mountainous countryside, and having experienced winding, meandering roads and sharp hair-pin bends on a daily basis, we were looking forward to a slightly less mountainous route.  As mentioned above, from Val-des-Pres we went via Briancon through the Alps, up passed Chambery and round Lyon, picking up the A89 towards Clermont-Ferrand for our second transit stop on this journey leg.   Of course, this journey goes across the Massif Centrale which, although not as majestic as the Alps, does rise to around 6000 ft!  The scenery is wonderful. High rolling hills and plateaus.  Roads, as always in France, were in good condition and easy to use.   At around 260 miles, this was one of the longest journeys we made in a day but, having made good time, we arrived in Clermont Ferrand at around mid-afternoon. 

The site is located in an area called Royat – a village to the west of Clermont which is accessed through a built up area.  Although we had to navigate some of the town, we did not experience any problems with the size of our vehicle and found the site easily. 

·      Val des Pres to Camping Huttopia Royat (Clermont Ferrand).   This is another of the Huttopia sites and we quickly discovered that the quality of the facilities and the management of the sites is of a consistent good quality in all their locations. 

Although very close to Royat the town, the site is set apart within a lovely wooded area.  Pitches were easy to access and facilities good and including a heated pool.   Something to note, all Huttopia sites appear to have 16 amp electricity hook up which was a bonus.   The only downside is that food wasn’t available on site (as mentioned before, we found that most sites have some sort of restaurant but only open during July and August).  So, feeling weary and not wanting to bother with taxis or our bikes, we resorted to a MacDonalds via UberEats!!  Not something that I would recommend.  

Day 14: 

For the final part of our holiday, we travelled across France from Royat to Sarlat-le-Caneda in the Dordogne region.  Picking up the A89 again, we had an easy but long day travelling across countryside that changed from high hills to a more Cotswold rolling type scenery.  France really is a beautiful and diverse country! 

·      Clermont Ferrand to Sarlat –  Camping Huttopia Sarlat – our final site and, once again, part of the Huttopia chain.  Located just outside the town of Sarlat but within easy walking distance to the town centre, the site is set within a beautiful wooded area with stunning trees and views across the tree tops in the valley.   We had 5 nights here and spent some time exploring the picturesque and historic town of Sarlat as well as visiting nearly Domme.  Unfortunately, it rained for 3 of the 4 days we stayed here and, as motor-home readers will know, without easy to use transport, it can be a challenge getting about in any weather, let alone torrential rain. 

As you will have guessed, the site was well run and provided great facilities including an outdoor pool and a kiddies pool, a tennis court and a small indoor pool as well as a bar that was open during reception opening times.  No proper food available although a pizza van is available during weekend evenings.  However, given it’s proximity to the town, finding restaurants was very easy. 

The only negative about our pitch was the lack of grass.  The hardstanding provided turned to mud in the rain and we found it hard keeping the inside of our vans clean.  However, staff were friendly and helpful (offering a lift to our friend as she couldn’t make the walk into town, and picking her up again later).  Huttopia really does have a winning formula. 

Day 18: 

After 4 days/5 nights of mostly torrential rain, we were ready to move on towards, hopefully, sunnier climes in the Loire Valley.  The final part of our tour doesn’t really count when it comes to a Motorhome Travel Diary but it was so delightful, I feel it shouldn’t be missed out. 

We left Sarlat and took our satnav’s recommended route.  I should point out at this stage that we were, in fact, using google maps on our phones.   The reason for this was a malfunction with our proper satnav.   Google maps is an excellent app but, over the course of the 3 weeks we were away, we realised its limitations.  It has a tendency, even when asked to use toll roads, to take you the route as the crow flies.  This involved many minor roads and cross country routes.  Fortunately,  even the smaller French roads are well made and easy to navigate with our vans but, note to self, don’t use this function in the UK where small roads really are small!! 

The journey from Sarlat to Tours took about 3 hours.  We finished our journey in a small town called Montbazon just south of Tours.  The hotel -  La Tortiniere – is an amazing fairy tale chateau overlooking the river Indre (a tributary of the Loire).  Philippa and I had stayed here about 15 years ago and, although under different ownership, it still retained the magic and luxury that we remembered.  We spent the last 2 nights of our tour in super-king beds with soft down pillows, brilliant white sheets and fluffy bath towels in ensuite bathrooms.   Not cheap!  But what a way to end our exciting adventure. 

Day 20: 

Our last day and final journey in our vans.  Montbazon to Calais took about 4 hours with a few rest stops but we managed to get an earlier ferry and arrived back in the UK just in time for rush hour!  Inevitably, it took forever to get through the Dartford Crossing but, finally, we arrived back safe and sound during the early evening.  Nice to be back in our own beds! 

Comments from the Driver: 

Philippa is a nervous driver at the best of times so I take the lead when it comes to driving the motorhome.  That said, Philippa does her best to support me by organising sites; supplying me with coffee as we go along; ensuring there is food and a nice drink at the end of each day; and navigating when the satnav takes us astray.  For any longer trips we undertake, we always try to limit the amount of driving done in one day with the aim of arriving at our transit sites no later than 3pm.  This gives us time to pitch the van and relax with a drink. 

As this was our first trip abroad in a motor-home, we took advice from many quarters and heard horror stories about ‘reverse polarity’ and extra fees for ‘tripping’ the site.  My advice is to not look too much into this!  We were scared witless about sites with 4amp electricity and, consequently, took an extra 16kg gas bottle to ensure that we had plenty of fuel for cooking etc.  Without exception, all sites used the standard 3pin plug that motor-homes use, and with the exception of the first Italian site (La Crabbia) which was 6 amp, all the sites had 10 or 16amp hook up.  So, we worried for nothing and took extra weight (16kg) that we could ill afford. 

We took far too many clothes!  I think this is something that we’ll always do but, honestly, we could have left half of them at home.  All the sites had good laundry facilities too.   We were also advised that men should not wear long swim-shorts in French pools.  I suspect this relates to public swimming baths as I can assure you, without exception, all men were wearing swim-shorts in all of the pools throughout France. 

If you’re worried about the site facilities, without exception, we found the facilities to be as good as, or better than, anything we have experienced in the UK.  If you are booking in advance, you’ll usually get a feel for the type of site you are going to.   I guess really cheap sites (or Aires where you can stay for free) won’t have great facilities but if you’re paying 30-40 euros a night, I bet the showers and loos will be pretty good.   

If you’re new to motor-homing, you’ll soon realise that, once you’ve pitched your van you won’t want to move it again, let alone travel into a town and try and park it!  So, when you research the places, you wish to go, think about the location of the site.  Our transit sites mentioned above were all quite remote.  This didn’t matter for one night and the only recommendation we have is to be prepared in case there are no easily reached restaurants.  On the other hand, we ensured that the other sites were close to small towns, the beach, lake or river, and easily accessible by bike or walking.  Do your research!  Google Earth is useful too if you want to check access and locations.  It enabled us to actually ‘travel’ the roads through Levanto to check if we would have any problems with the size of our van and it stopped us from making a huge mistake by booking into a site that was located up a hill through windy village streets. 

The whole journey was a joy (albeit the weather wasn’t always on our side), and apart from our diversion via the Furka pass and turning around on a one width road high up in the snow at 7,969ft, driving abroad was straightforward and easy.[JM1]     That said, we didn’t get complacent.  We ensured that we had all of the necessary items required in individual countries (high-viz vest, breathalysers, triangles etc etc) and we were mindful of not overloading our van.  We used toll roads mostly – our entire trip cost around 375 euros in toll charges – but, if you are at all nervous about driving abroad, using the toll roads is the easier option.   Generally, though, all the roads we used were rubbish free and in good condition unlike our poor English roads.  The French roads particularly are amazing. Even the small, cross-country routes are easy to navigate and drive and going off piste occasionally does give you an opportunity to see the countryside properly. 

Approaching a toll station becomes a bit of an art after a few times.  Get your passenger to be prepared – slow down; wing mirror in; approach nice and slow; get the right lane (don’t use the ‘e-tag’ only lanes!!); get as close as possible and……… simply swipe your card on the contactless pad!!  Simple!! 

So, finally, a bit about our Bailey Adamo 75-4T series motorhome. 

Philippa and I recently part-exchanged our Elddis 185 for a new Bailey, primarily because of the layout and garage. Knowing, that when my wife gets up early in the morning, she can close off the bedroom and relax in the lounge without disturbing me, is a godsend for her. That and a large fridge were her requests, whereas, I wanted a fixed table (to do be able to work using our onboard wifi), an automatic gearbox and a large garage. The Adamo 75-4T has a huge garage which is also accessible through the rear bedroom. We keep our Raleigh folding electric bikes in there, rather than putting them on a rear bike rack. With a separate toilet and separate shower, the Adamo is very well appointed and comfortable and, I have to say, the Ford chassis was extremely comfortable and the engine and automatic gearbox work like a dream. We also have a drive away awning, so when the grandchildren come, we can use that for extra sleeping. Overall, it is a fantastic motorhome for us.  Mac Hilton at Cranham , Hatfield Peverell, Essex certainly helped us in choosing our Bailey motorhome ,and with parting with quite sizeable sum as well!   But this is a comfortable, powerful motorhome and it made driving in the Alps a pleasure and touring across Europe easy.  Now for the next tour…… 

Jamie & Philippa McMullan

Google map showing location of Burnham-on-Crouch, UK

DavidKlyne commented on 06/07/2024 20:58

Commented on 06/07/2024 20:58

 Sounds and interesting trip. Any chance you could add some photos? 

Have to say that when we have travelled to Italy we have tended to go via Germany and Austria, although we did once use the Tunnel de Frejus.

Obviously this is your first contribution to Club Together, can I point out that if you seek advice our discussion section has some very experienced contributors should you need advice on future trips.


Bakers2 commented on 09/07/2024 19:18

Commented on 09/07/2024 19:18

Sounds like a lovely trip.

Can I say that having our motorhome never meant we didn't use it to explore an area. It's great to use all your own facilities when exploring laughing. As my dear OH says if white van man can we can 😂..

Sadly we don't have a motorhome at present, but 🤞

Woman sitting in camping chair by Wastwater in the Lake District with her two dogs and picnic blanket

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