Les Plus Beaux Villages de France – Part 1

Les Plus Beaux Villages de France – Part 1

Travelling opens up our horizons and our experiences as we move out of our own country comfort zones and into a different culture that has history, tales of love and war and unique community values ingrained into its fibres.

Every country has its own complex jigsaw creating a cultural canvas that gives us the privilege of stepping onto its land, walking through its labyrinth of villages, towns and regions, to understand its music – from its heart and its deepest soul. And France is one place where that soul is so freely expressed. Ghosts of past eras guard their secrets in the ancient walls where their homes are honoured and more importantly preserved for future generations.

Les Plus Beaux Villages de France is an association that officially launched on 6 March 1982 and was the vision of Charles Ceyrac.  There are currently 157 villages throughout France (including the island of Corsica) which have the enviable label of being one of the most beautiful villages in France and this body offers the community a chance to conserve their heritage.

It wasn’t until we began to travel full time in March 2016 that we stumbled upon this gorgeous collection of places with awareness of their role in French culture. Without much structure, we started to visit places, not because they were on the list necessarily, just because they looked or sounded beautiful.  And yet it was with woeful realisation that we had only actually visited a mere 15  of 157 village and a large majority of those were in Provence, during our three months there last year.  Shame on us!  From that moment on, we committed to exploring more of these delicate delights and knitting together our own French cultural experience by meandering our way through the countryside.  This blog and the many more to come over time, I’m sure, is a short insight to those we visited and the routes we took, with the hope that perhaps you too may decide to continue your cultural education en France.

 

Part 1 – Occitane in Autumn

Autumn is a great season at the best of times, although in the oak forests of Occitaine in south of France, you will be treated to a canopy of colour. Every shade along the spectrum from brown, green, red, gold, orange and yellow.  In fact the colours we have seen this week make Joseph’s Techni-coloured Dream Coat pale into insignificance.

Our mission this week was to explore the area east of Cahors – covering the Lot, Tarn et Garonne, Tarn and Aveyron regions and what a treat we were in for.  We started our route from Toulouse and we took just over five days, taking a pretty relaxed pace.  If you click the markers on this interactive map below, you will see the villages we visited.

 

St-Cirq Lapopie

Hidden in the depths of the Parc Naturel Régional des Causses de Quercy, our route took us through some wonderful scenery. Meandering through the forests, we felt as though we were being transported into our very own private Narnia. We became one with the oaks; leaves falling like snow, covering the ground with a golden carpet. And yet after thirty minutes we were suddenly left speechless and breathless as we reached the junction for St-Cirq Lapopie.

With the village to our left, the river to our right – we saw emerge from behind the trees, a village perched high above the valley floor – dominating the sky line with the grace of an eagle. This Medieval village dates back to 13th Century where history of family feuds is evidenced by the three different castles looking for supremacy against one another. Sat 300 metres above the Lot valley, this lofty village commands a view to the hills beyond and is master of all it purveys.

Within its protective embrace, St-Cirq Lapopie has 13 listed buildings and is a homage to the artisans who crafted their wares; from button makers, wood turners and skinners. Climbing up from the valley floor to the height of the castles’ towers, we got a real sense of medieval tunes played out through the ages. And today on a crisp, autumn day, the chimneys puffing out their smoke left us with a feeling that we had gone back in time.  No tourists to cloud our view, only cobbled streets that took us in-between the houses that have so many ancient scars and stories to tell.

This is a completely 3D experience; we approached the town from the river beneath, and looking up to the skies there was a perspective of grandeur; then within the walls we smelt the bygone era of artisans and felt like Alice in Wonderland, and then on the road back down to the river, we saw the village stretch out like one of those concertina Birthday cards giving us a totally different view of the multiple layers of streets and rooftops, framed by the Lot valley beneath us.  What a ‘wow’ this place was and a magical experience.

Camping

There’s two camping opportunities; both an Aire and an official Campsite, both just down the hill from the village. We stayed at the Aire on the river’s edge and for €7 with free services.  We had a grand position along the river Lot, staring across the banks at houses carved into the gorge walls and the distant sound of the weir as the river made its way through the valley.   A short walk along the river’s edge brought us to a mill and lock on this navigable river and soon the prospect of a stretching climb to the village heart.  (44.47017 1.67893).

 

Najac

After a couple of nights, sitting out a weather front in nearby Monteils, we headed off to Najac, a completely unique village nestled in the Aveyron valley. The drive to it gave us glimpses of what we would experience, although we were not ready for this village’s mystery. In the distance a castle silhouette caught our eye, although we were brought back into the present moment, by the distraction of the  most enthralling oak-lined road to this village kingdom.

Parking at the foot of the castle hill, we diligently climbed through the woods.  As we reached the church and castle, we were most definitely impressed.  And rightly so as this has royal heritage, as one of the many chateaux royeaux in the area, demonstrating the Royal control of Najac back in 13th Century.  It’s said that the dungeon here was where the Knights of the Templar were imprisoned. Sadly the fortress was closed when we visited, although it is still an incredible sight with its fairy-tale turrets that look to the valley below.

As we continued our walk through the old village, we couldn’t help thinking that we’d climbed all this way for just this tiny hamlet and – don’t get me wrong, it was lovely and certainly very quaint with its ancient architecture, although we felt a little underwhelmed at this point. And then the walk continues – just up one street.  There are no others – just one street and soon we came to appreciate the unique status of this plus beau village.  The whole place is just on one street along an entire rocky ridge.  With the church and chateau one end and the town square and fountain at the other, this 0.6km long village is like nothing else we’ve ever seen. The cobble streets gives a feel of Dickensian England yet with its typical French shutters we were left in no doubt which side of the Channel we were stood.

Highly coloured shutters and facias rewarded our continued walk, with stone and wooden structures that give it such an authentic feel. Suddenly the love for this village oozed from within us. A respect for the way the residents perched their existence in the most of unlikely places and yet thrived for over seven hundred years. It was like a movie set and to appreciate it without the buzz of the crowd on this cold yet stunningly beautiful, blue sky day was a honour. Najac is a delight.

Camping

We stayed at a free Aire in Monteils about 20 minutes away (44.26702 1.99721), although there are two options in Najac itself, on the valley floor:

Camping Paisserou (44.2206 1.9693) which has river frontage pitches for €16 except for July and August when the price rises to €27.

Najac Aire (44.22137 1.96741) opposite the municipal swimming pool, an old tennis court has been converted into an Aire where you can park for access to the village for €2 for 2hrs or €6 for 24hrs with facilities.

 

 

Bruniquel

After an overnight stop in Saint Antonin Noble Val, which in itself is worth a visit for its canals and ancient buildings, we took the Aveyron Gorge route, which was very special. If you’ve ever been through the Gorges de Verdun, then this is a second-cousin twice removed, with the same hallmark narrow roads, craggy outcrops and stunning valley floor views – just a little shorter. If your vehicle is under 3m tall and less than 3.5T then traversing this road is very easy, if not a little caution needed.  The other side of the gorge, Bruniquel was waiting for us; a bastide, which is a fortified village common to this region of France.

As we walked up from the car park, we had a welcoming view of the village’s hub – a clock tower that proudly sits at the gateway. With this as a welcome we wandered around the outer edges of Bruniquel, marvelling at the deep red Virginia Creeper clinging to the old walls and the radiant yellow maple trees.  Ancient portals signal the outer reaches and soon we found ourselves weaving back into the sanctuary of the bastide’s embrace towards the gardens and chateaux. Again out of season the museums were all closed, although to walk through the streets of this tiny village is almost enough to sense the feuding cousins that split the chateau into two.  This is a small and compact village with charm and delight.

Camping

There is a dedicated camper parking area with water facilities two minutes from the village, although Saint Antonin is so close with its Aire, that this is a perfect stopping point.  (44.152091 1.75128).  Alternatively you could motor further onwards to Puycelsi another 30 minutes drive away, where there is parking available. (43.99426 1.713816).

 

Puycelsi

Rising up from the valley floor our eyes fell upon Puycelsi and although some way in the distance, we just knew it was going to be something special. We were so excited to explore this one and I can’t quite tell you why;, it was a just a feeling in the depths of my stomach – like a butterfly had been released.  After an overnight stop in the parking area at the bottom on the village, we woke with anticipation. Sadly an early morning mist had descended and shrouded the whole area in an eery, white blanket. Somehow this made our whole exploration that bit more intriguing and atmospheric. The 800m thick ramparts, on the face of it, seem to be unwelcoming although that soon altered when we walked around the rampart walls. We imagined what the view beneath the four cornered bastide might look like as it stretched invisibly in front of us over the Grésigne Forest and Vère Valley.

Unlike the other villages, the buildings seemed to have been steam-cleaned, they were so pristine. The love and tender care that radiated from the bricks gave this village a really energetic feel. Children laughed in the small school playground and the mist still clung to the buildings like a child being prised from its mother’s arms.  Although as it turned out – it hadn’t always been this way – even up until recently as the history books told us.

Wandering through the alleyways of this charming village, the mist didn’t change how the homes gathered around us in comforting embrace. Puycelsi had such a lovely feel about it – we felt immediately integrated into it. Its 13th century history of sieges and survival of four major epidemics made the village resilient and its strength grew. It was only after World War 2 when the houses were abandoned and fell into disrepair that Puycelsi lost its courageous hold. Although it didn’t take long for people to gather and put a concerted effort into renovating this prosperous and ancient village and hence the love we felt in the walls of each home.

Puycelsi, with its fortress reputation, defensive walls and resolute spirit is written into every cobblestone, into every brick and every rafter – its medieval tale is one that will now be held as a legacy in this stunningly restored village.

Camping

There is a car park just in the shadow of the towering ramparts, attached to the Tourist Information, where camping overnight was permitted – see Bruniquel for co-ordinates.  We had a sheltered and quiet night there and once the mist had cleared by lunchtime, the views were incredible.

 

Castelnau de Montmiral

 

The final village on our list for the week was a short drive down the road from Puycelsi.  Through beautiful autumnal agricultural land, where the shadows extended like long fingers towards the horizon, Castelnau soon appeared above the Vère river valley with the residue of mist curling around its turrets.

Castelnau de Montmiral is another bastide and dates back to 1222.  Yet it is not the towering village ramparts that struck us most; the first thing that we saw was the monument on the hill – a Virgin Mary standing gracefully at the village entrance, enticing us into the bosom of the community.

This, unlike the others has no chateau, as this was destroyed by war.  Yet what it lacked in victorious castle splendour it made up for in its village square, which had us spinning round in awe as we took in the medieval architecture, archways and central fountain.  It is said that the pillar of one of the buildings was used to tether adulterous women, thieves  and animals before they were sacrificed. We could almost  imagine the sound of the villagers’ heckles when we stood still for a while, as their voices echo around the square.

One final wonderment that we couldn’t miss was inside the church.  Whilst the walls needed a bit of TLC, the beautiful blue ceiling  was pretty impressive with its magnetic portrait of religious design. Although we moved deeper into the church to seek out the small ante-room where the famous 14th Century Reliquary jewelled cross, once owned by the Counts of Armagnac, is kept safely. Whilst it is behind protective gates, it is an incredible sight with its sparkling jewels.

The final draw of Castelnau is not found in the streets, nor the timber framed walls of the ancient buildings.  No you must look to the sky and watch for the clouds of Red Kites and Storks that encircle the village on the day’s thermals. It was a truly magnificent sight – there must have been 30 birds just floating in the sky, playing not hunting and it was a sight to behold.

Camping

There is a car park dedicated to Motorhomes at the side of the village, although it’s not very level for overnight. So we headed out of the village where we had a couple of options; there were two France Passion sites en route to Gaillac although our ‘home’ for the evening was actually just beyond the town along the river Tarn, at Lac de Bellevue (43.861818 1.818547).  This was a great spot close to the lake with full facilities.  A perfect end to a perfect week.

 

And so there is our autumn extravaganza around the most colourful, atmospheric region. A tour that allowed us to rub shoulders with ancient ghosts, battle scars and charming streets that old legends have now made into modern homes.  The protection of Les plus beaux villages de France allows their history to be honoured and never be forgotten.  Our visit was made even more special by the autumn colours and no crowds.  Whilst there were no shops or cafes open we were happy to not share these special places with anyone else.

From this point forward, our exploration of these charming and characterful villages will continue – may not be tomorrow or next week, although rest assured our French education will expand in the future of our Motoroaming Adventures.

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Gallery

Simple Solutions

Simple Solutions

So here’s the thing. When you’re travelling Europe and it’s hot, we tend to head towards the coast to cool off and drink in the amazing views that inevitably the sea gifts.  As romantic and lovely as it sounds though, that strategy brings with it some challenges, namely salt and sand.  Sand I guess we can live with – get the hoover out and bosh, it’s gone.  The salt is a bit more tricky, as it’s a silent enemy that plays mischievously with your van and implements.  For a few days or so, that’s no major issue, although over a prolonged period, it could be more troublesome, as we found out this week.

After visiting some of the most amazing coastline on the Peloponnese, followed by a stay on the island of Crete, which is famous for its northerly winds, we started to experience some difficulties with our fly screen. Albeit an intermittent problem, a problem none the less. Now on a day to day basis that doesn’t sound too much of a challenge, except when someone turns up the thermostat and starts to melt you.  Open windows and vents just don’t satisfy the insatiable need for heat relief – you got to get that door open. ‘So just open the door’, I hear you scream!  Well you could be right, although then there’s that delicate balance between airflow and mosquitos!  We value our sleep far too much to risk having the door open without that little netted barrier.

So what’s a girl to do?  Well you call in the services of your very own DIY Superhero, aka Myles.  I had a fancy that our sticky screen was due to the onslaught of salt, brought in on the afternoon Greek winds.  Over five weeks that salt had accumulated and built up on the flyscreen fibres and just clogged it up.  Well that was my theory anyway.  And given that Myles loves fixing things, what better a challenge than to get him to solve our little predicament – and quickly.

After a bit of research that brought up no immediate solutions, Myles took off said door and saw no evidence for our sticky issue and so he turned to his old faithful!  WD40 – the cure-all juice.  No traveller should be without it.  So with a bit of a spray in the mechanisms and a bit of a dab on the horizontal guide strings – hey presto it works a treat.  I think we probably need a bit of warm soapy water to just finish off the job and make it a smooth operation, although so far, so good.

So if you’re ever having problems with your screen, check that there’s no sand in the bottom track and then work the material with either some warm water, or in our case WD40 and see if that makes its movement smoother.  Be mindful if you’re camping a lot by the coast that salt will have an impact on your entire vehicle and not just the fly screen.  Whilst salt may not be your particular issue, it’s worth checking it out before the costly journey to your dealer.  It’s been an interesting lesson for us.

Quick update on 10 June, whilst the WD40 certainly helped, it was still causing us some problems.  So out came the soapy, warm water and hey presto.  Problem is now well and truly resolved.  Keep it Simple!

Kx

Travellers’ Challenges – gift giving

Travellers’ Challenges – gift giving

Travelling in any form has its joy, delight and its own fair share of challenges, as we are finding out as we enter month 18 of our full-time, nomadic lifestyle.  Although to every challenge there is always a creative solution that often provides a far better outcome.  This first report in our Travellers’ Challenge series offers an alternative view of gift giving when you’re living life on the road.

As a proverbial giver and people-pleaser, one of my greatest joys is presenting gifts to people.   I love finding, choosing and giving meaningful presents that show people how they matter to me.  So you can imagine how this aspect of my personality has been seriously challenged as we continue to commit to our lives travelling around Europe in our motorhome.  Both getting gifts to my loved ones back ‘home’ and finding gestures of kindness for fellow travellers that we connect with along the way, is tricky.  After all when you are living in a small home, have a weight and space consideration or are moving around a lot with perhaps just a backpack or small camper, having any more ‘stuff’ than is absolutely necessary is just not practical, despite the gratification it creates.  Consider the added fact that with umpteen culturally diverse local shops enticing you with their handmade wears, it’s so hard to resist their goodies as you know how impractical it is to package things up and send them home.

So what’s a ‘giving sort of girl’ to do with this conundrum?

Well three things strike me as I write about this travelling challenge.  First is how to use your imagination to make lovely gestures to your loved ones.  Second is making use of the internet and the third is being inspired by the creativity of others you meet along the way and being motivated by their gifting perspectives.

Imagination and creativity

Travel has been one of my greatest teachers and no more do I look to the commerciality of gift giving – practicalities guide me to seek out my inspiration from nature and ‘out of the box’ resources. One of the skills I am fortunate enough to have is being creative and using my imagination to conjure up gifts that come from the heart and that are made with love.  A long time ago I learnt that giving is not about price or volume, it’s thinking about someone and finding a way to expresses your love. We gave up buying presents for annual celebrations years ago as it is so easy to get caught up in the marketing trap that invites us to spend money on meaningless gifts because we are conditioned into think that is the right thing to do.

Travelling has taught me otherwise.

So now I use my creativity to look at gift ideas in a different way;

  • Good Luck Charm

    As a child, one of my dad’s friends told me that whenever you are walking along a pebble beach, look out for stones that have a hole going all the way through, as this comes with good luck blessings.  So now beach combing takes on a whole new perspective for me as I search for said stone with said hole.  Then add a bit of unwanted ribbon cut from one of my tops, hey presto I have an instant SAFE TRAVEL and GOOD FORTUNE charm.

  • The beach has so many sources of inspiration for me.  When I lived in a house, I used to pick flat stones, varnish and paint them with meaningful words for my recipient.  These days without the room for varnish and paint, I use my Sharpie pens to write messages of love on small stones, which carries the same sentiment.

 

  • Pruning wild rosemary and making it into a little bouquet can be as lovely a gift as a shop bought bunch of flowers that will die within a week.  Rosemary has so many healthy properties that it comes with two-fold advantage.

 

  • Colouring book wrapping

    I use my Art Therapy Colouring book and my Sharpies to give me my sheets of wrapping paper.  I’ve even been know to decorate the paper that protects my morning bread from the bakery to cover my gifts.

  • Although I’m very careful where and how, sometimes a little bunch of wild flowers can be a lovely gesture.  We were in Greece for May Day, where the tradition is to pick wild flowers and make them into a wreath or bouquet.  And so I got up early and found such an array of brightly coloured, spring flowers for my dashboard and our convoying friends and it gave me so much joy to do it.
  • Food is a great way to show appreciation or gratitude.  Even in the smallest of kitchens, baking, juicing or cooking up a meal for someone can be a beautiful gift that is wrapped with time and love.  We met a guy who shared some wine with us a couple of weeks back and in return, the next day, he had made us some beautiful flapjacks.  Thanks Colin, wherever you are.

 

  • Pebble Art from Spain

    Back to the beach – make it a sandy one this time – why not draw messages in the sand and then take a photo?  You can either leave the messages for someone you are travelling with to read, or email or WhatsApp the photo to a friend who is back home.  Alternatively, make a heart with pebbles and stones and fire this over to them instead.  They will be so happy that you have thought about them in this way.

 

 

The internet is a great ‘gifting’ resource

These days, being remote doesn’t have to mean that gifts can be sent in time for celebrations.  In fact it is such an easy way to remind people that you are thinking of them.  Shopping and sending creations remotely can be done so effortlessly these days; with a bit of a signal, the press of a few buttons and hey presto; gift chosen, purchased and sent.  Here’s some of the ways we send gifts remotely;

  • I love taking creative photos, whether with my Samsung phone or my DSLR Camera.  I then use a Photo Editing App – Pixlr to add text or to create a collage that I then email to friends to convey our happy times together.
  • I love to upload photos into eCard websites such as Funky Pigeon or my favourite is Moonpig so I can send personalised love through the post for Anniversaries and Birthdays.  And Snapfish to create photo albums of memories for special occasions.
  • I also use the web for gift and flower deliveries just to let people know I’m thinking of them or for saying thank you.  Big stores, such as Marks and Spencer or John Lewis are great resources for our UK friends or Amazon for UK and worldwide deliveries.  Liberty Trading is also great for different gift ideas that you can send from afar.  (See the side bar for a link to their site.)

 

  • I have started to use on-line florists, Bloom&Wild who are a letterbox flower delivery company and they are fabulous.  Really lovely, organic flowers and bouquets, suiting all budgets.  And ordering can be pretty much ‘next day’ in case you’ve forgotten that all-important date because you’re too busy having fun or in the midst of travelling.

 

Other’s inspirations

Isn’t it interesting how you sometimes remember a place for its crystal blue waters and crashing waves and other times it stays in your mind because of the people you meet and their gestures of kindness.

  • Sarah’s Mats

    One such memory is of Belpech, France with the Pyrenees as our backdrop, where we met Sarah and Keith.  After a delightful evening with them, Sarah gifted us these gorgeous table mats that she had made by hand, whilst on her travels.  She used scraps of material that she collected along the way and made blankets, bedcovers and placemats.  Such an inspiration if you have that skill.

 

  • Andi’s Canvas

    Another friend Andrea, made this amazing picture from stones she had picked up from the beach and stuck to a canvas that she bought from a Chinese Shop in Spain.  This now travels with us everywhere.

 

 

  • Magazine Flower

    Penny, who we met in Dénia, Spain used old magazines that she no longer needed to make these beautiful paper flowers.  What a lovely and creative gift that leaves you with such warm memories of a time, place and people.

 

 

 

So you can travel, stay in touch with loved ones and give gifts of love – it’s just about looking at presents and sharing differently and without the commercial edge and expectation.  And the best bit?  Making something, crafting something with your own fair hand gives the giver so much joy and pleasure; so everyone’s a winner.  There are so many resources at our fingertips, so much simplicity – we just need to see giving to others in a new light and boom! From a Traveller’s Challenge to a creative solution; a gift from your heart to theirs that will have so much more meaning and value.

Happy gifting travellers. Kx

 

Full years accounts

Full years accounts

Well, a year has passed and what fun we’ve had. 13K plus miles, 10 countries and adventure galore. We have compiled a full years accounts split into two 6 month sections for your information. In the second 6 months we budgeted monthly for all the annual costs that are incurred such as Insurance, Road Tax, Services etc…

Here are some notes for your guidance if you wish to budget for a full year away or just for comparison

  1. All our furniture is in storage so you can deduct this if you don’t need storage.
  2. The insurance cost reflects our ‘full-time’ status. If you only go away for 9 months you can slice £600 off that.
  3. Entertainment includes, DVD boxsets, Scooter hire, Gorge walks, Castle visits etc..
  4. Repairs include bits for a sliding shelf, fibreglass kit, 2 front tyres,shoe racks,
  5. We ate out mostly at lunchtime. The evening category is mostly meals out at christmas visiting friends
  6. Capital items include a mini drill, panniers and bike bits for the electric bikes, new table, table cloth, heater for the awning.
  7. Wifi/Mifi. As bloggers we are heavy users of internet. This cost can be significantly reduced if you’re just picking up emails
  8. The Cafe amount surprised me but if you go to a cafe once a fortnight and spend €10 it all adds up

 

Here the link to our 1st 12 months full-timing expenses 12 months expenses

 

Top 20 Motorhome Essentials for Ladies

Top 20 Motorhome Essentials for Ladies

This one is for you motorhoming ladies out there!  I make no apology for the potentially perceived sexist nature of this Blog.  There are just some purchases for our motorhome that just need to be left to us girls.  Now don’t get me wrong the practical ‘boy’ things are so essential to the smooth running of our ‘homes’, although sometimes the female touch can make living our lives on wheels, for any length of time, just that little bit softer and more comfortable.

I’ve been inspired by a friend to write this Blog.  She and her husband have just bought a new MH and she asked about any tips we had for things they needed to buy and, she added in brackets (especially things for girlies).  So boom, a new blog was born as I set fingers to keyboard, offering my essential shopping list for the female traveller, following our 11 months full-timing in Scoobie.  And here are the Top 20 Entries, in no particular order….

1. Packing Cubes

This is an essential purchase for the easy organisation of clothes in cupboards or in underneath storage.  After 6 weeks in New Zealand, I had to have a weekly routine of tidying up our clothing cupboards, which after an initial burst of super-organisation, invariably ended up getting messing when you’re trying to look for something at the bottom of the pile.  These different sized cubes are brilliant for packing more clothes into a small space and keeping certain items all in together.  I’m all for reducing the amount of noise and hassle in our lives and these have been a godsend – even Myles agrees with this purchase.  Purchase from Amazon through by clicking here.

2. Tupperware

Timeless Tupperware 

I have to admit to being a tupperware fan and have been for many years – I think I must just be from that generation where tupperware parties were all the rage for me as a young bride.  So it made so much sense for these to migrate into Scoobie’s kitchen.  Just so much easier to store food stuff, keep it dry and easily reach it.  It’s a bit of a no-brainer for the cost of the items.

 

3. Kitchen organisers

Adjustable cupboard dividers

Staying with the kitchen theme, I use two other essential organisers that just make life so much easier, in what can be some hard to reach places of our MH cupboards.  Again we learnt this from New Zealand, and whilst for 6 weeks I could live with struggling with how things were organised, in my full-time home on wheels, such a compromise was not on the cards.  So I bought adjustable, plastic dividers that you can get from Amazon and then cut or snap them to the size you want.  I use them for dividing up my glasses and mugs to stop them rattling.

 

Plastic condiment trays

And for the tins and condiments, I bought various sizes of plastic storage containers, which allow me to pull out the drawers to get to the ‘not often used’ items at the back, without having to stand on anyone’s shoulders.  It is so much easier to see what you’ve got hidden at the back and makes it easy to clean out too. You can view these here.

4. Colour soak sheets

Our friends over at Follow our motorhome are responsible for a couple of times on this list and this is the first of them.  Whilst you’re living on the road, getting to a washing machine can be a bit of a luxury and so doing two or three loads when you find one, can be a ball’s ache.  So with these colour soak sheets, you can put your whites and colours in the same machine without the danger of your whites becoming grey or pink (thanks to your red shirt!)  You can get these from supermarkets for very little money.

5. Hairdryers, straighteners and make up. 

I might not be very popular with this paradoxical non-entry to our Top 20.  These items are ones NOT to include on your essential list. They take up too much space, weight and are rarely used.  So why pack them?  I had a lady ask me about the practicalities of living away from home for so long and how you go about finding a hairdresser.  Now I’ve long been someone who has always bothered about how my hair looks, almost as if it defined me in some way.  Just ask my mum, she’ll tell you how many times I cried after her hairdressing episodes.  Now I’ve moved beyond that and simply let my hair grow and when I wash it, it dries naturally and then simply tie it up, back or put some sort of clip in it. Being a nomad doesn’t mean you let go of your appearance, although it matters less when you’re travelling. Although I still like to look nice, having my hair tied back doesn’t make me look like a hobo. Same goes for make up. I use the odd bit of mascara and lip gloss and that’s it.  I use coconut oil for a multitude of jobs, such as moisturiser or make-up remover, if I wear it, so all my expensive creams and potions don’t need an appearance in our bathroom cabinet either.  Go on – try living without these items.  Be naturally beautiful just the way you are.  Now doesn’t that sound like a familiar advert!

6. Colouring in books

Colouring in or Art Therapy as it is called these days, is the latest craze.  And it’s true that it is a great time consumer that keeps you very grounded and is such a relaxing activity.  All you need is a few, good quality, fine tipped pens and an Adult Colouring in Book.  Takes you right back to your childhood.  And why not!

7. Scented candles or tea lights

I’m one for smells, nice smells that is.  I’m a bit like a bloodhound that can pick up a scent of something that others don’t smell.  So for me, an essential entry on my Top 20 list is to have nice smelling candles, organic of course, so you are limiting the toxins you are breathing in.  We live in such a small space, especially with integrated kitchens and the close proximity of the bathroom, that having a smell diffuser mechanism is crucial.  So I always make a little room for a smelly candle and tea lights to ward off evil smells and it creates a lovely, cosy ambiance too.

8.  A plastic table cloth for outside table

One thing we have learnt from watching how others do things is, how quickly the Dutch in particular, make their pitch home.  Within minutes of arriving their carpets are down, their tables out, table clothes on and a little pot of flowers.  We love how they make their outside space part of their home and we very quickly adopted the same approach.  So when we’re not wild camping, we get out our table cloth and make it really feel like home. And it’s so much easier to keep clean and scratch-free.

9. Get a Fiamma carpet for outside

Thanks to some other lovely, life-time friends we made, Julie and Philip, we came to learn what a difference having a good quality outside carpet can make.  Again the whole ‘outside living’ becomes very much part of your life and so to have something that you can step out on that is soft underfoot and reduces the mess you bring into the van from beaches, forests and gravel pitches really does make all the difference.  Thanks guys for your inspiration – our Fiamma carpet is a lovely addition to our essential’s list.  For more info, click here!

10. Colour theme then accessorise

Lime green collapsable accessories 

Now this might sound really girlie, although the way I see it – if this is going to be my home, then I want it to look and feel nice and aesthetics are important to me.  So find a colour you like that works in the van and see if you can accessorise to match or contrast with it.  Our brown interior lent itself to lime green, so I have a number of items that bring this out and make it feel like a really cosy home.  Now my obsessional nature could go a bit mad with this, so to manage my tendencies, I decided to make the bedroom feel like a different room – so chose a different colour.  This way Scoobie feels more spacious because the colours are different, creating a definite ‘room’.  Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen would be proud! (These collapsable items can be viewed by clicking here.)

11. Cheap washing tablets

I’ve been brought up as a cost-conscious lass and I’m always looking for efficient ways to manage our budget, whilst not being too anal about it.  So when we started to adopt using cheap washing tablets for our toilet, rather than blue fluid or tablets, my thrifty personality gleamed with delight.  A quick visit to one of our cheap supermarket friends out there will provide you with a much longer supply of resources and it smells so much nicer too.  As you know by know, my nose picks up any scent, so having a nice smelling toilet is important and if I can do that under budget at the same time – everyone’s a winner!

12. Back rests 

Seat Back Rests

This is another great entry from our Follow your Motorhome buddies – thanks guys.  Both of us have back issues and the difference these cheap back rests have made to our driving and lounging experience, even to the somewhat skeptical Myles, is really quite amazing.  They cost us €2.99 from one of the many Chinese Shops you get in Spain, although I think Lidl and Aldi do them sometimes too.  Here’s Amazon’s link.

 

13. Non-negotiable Essentials

When you’re weighing up what to sell, store or give away or indeed pack into your motorhome for a trip, do not compromise on items that are important in your life.  Two of my non-negotiables were my Juicer and NutriBullet.  Now granted I did buy a lighter juicer than my deluxe version I had back in UK, so I guess there was a compromise made, although as someone who loves a healthy living, these had to have space.  And, I wouldn’t be without them.  Of course if your non-negotiable is an outdoor umbrella, you might need to rethink, although I’m sure you get the general idea!

14.  A handheld electric blender

Whilst my NutriBullet doubles up as a soup maker and whizzer, if I didn’t have this, then one of my kitchen essentials would be a handheld blender.  They are easy to store, light, cheap and such a good all-round tool for blending, chopping and mixing.  A great kitchen aid.

15. Shoe rack for garage doors

This may seem more like one for the boys than girls, although you’ll see the up-side…. Myles got so fed up with the plastic boxes we stored our shoes in, that we bought two 12 shoe Shoe Rack which are attached to the inside of each garage door.  This has created more space and better organisation in his garage and creates more opportunities for my shoes.  It does seem that I have commandeered much of the space available on both racks!!

16. Wine carriers for storing bottles

Another one for us thrifty searchers.  We use these for our under-seat storage (read Bar!) and they are great for storing our copious amounts of cheaper European wine and it stops them clinking whilst we’re travelling, more importantly.   What a great Travel Hack.

17. Top Sheet for your bed

Bed-dressing

It’s worth investing in an additional top sheet for your bed, especially if you have a duvet.  Our duvet is tailor-made for our curved, end-bed and getting the little sucker in and out of the duvet cover in a small space, is tricky.  So I reduce the noise level and instead of changing this every week or two, instead I have a top sheet that I change regularly instead.  That way I only have to strip and wash the duvet once a month.  In addition it becomes an extra layer when it’s cold out there and in one of my ‘hot flushes’ – yes I know they’ve come early – then we have an easy ‘get this quilt off me’ solution without Myles freezing his whatsits off.  In summer when my hot flushes merge with the temperatures of southern Europe, then the quilt gets packed away under the bed and we have our ‘summer’ bedding already on hand.  Same if you’ve got sleeping bags for the kids – just make your life, or whoever mostly does the washing, easier with this travel hack.

18. Vacuum Storage bags

Vacuum bags

These bags have been great for us, both in terms of packing things away in our storage unit and also for us on the road.  We have some additional blankets for visiting family/friends and of course when we need to store our quilt away, then we need these ‘squish-down to nothing’ bags to pop underneath the bed and keep them dust free.  These have been invaluable.  Click here to review or purchasing these little goodies.

19. Gas lighter

What a fab little idea this is.  For no pennies at all, get yourself a mini gas lighter so that if you loose your matches, if they get wet or even worse your stove igniter stops working, you have an alternative.  Such a great little tool.

20.  Hand-held hoover

And my final entry is the good old hoover.  If like us you have carpets in your van, then keeping on top of the dust and grime that is so easily trodden in from outside, (even with your super-duper Fiamma carpet), then a hoover is vital.  Whilst a dust-pan and brush will suffice pro-tem it’s not a great long-term solution.  We bought a Dyson DC34, which gives us long-life without electric and just needs juicing up when we’re on a campsite.  We use it every day, and wouldn’t be without it.   Again, click here to view this product, there are of course plenty of others available on the market.

So there we have it ladies, (or gents reading on behalf of your good ladies).  I’m sure if you talk to others they will have a completely different set of essentials so it is, of course, a subjective topic.  Although seeing as I was asked for my perspective, here it is.  Take it, leave it, assess it against your needs and use it to help you make a list of your very own. As you notice, these Top Tips are all about how things look, smell and feel to make our lives and those we choose to travel with, more comfortable.   Living in a van is a stunning way of life, although it needs organising, it needs solutions for easy, noise-free living that will make everyone’s day-to-day so much easier.  That way you can concentrate on having fun.

Travel well and safely.  Karenx

No pressure in the kitchen tap

No pressure in the kitchen tap

When the old adage bites you in the bum cos you just plain forgot it… K.I.S.S.  Keep it Simple Stupid is a wonderful little thing ( I’ll call it a thing cos I’ve forgot the proprer word) that helps you to not over complicate things. Unfortunately if you forget it then you waste a lot of time when you needn’t have done. Oh well, I got there in the end….