Travelling to Morocco by Motorhome

Travelling to Morocco by Motorhome

In our Travelling to Morocco by Motorhome series of posts, we take an in-depth look at everything to do with bringing your motorhome to and touring around this fascinating north African country. In this first blog we focus on what you need to do before you come and how to arrive smoothly in Morocco by Motorhome.  There are a lot of reports about where to sail from, and whilst everyone’s experiences are, for sure, valid and personal, we wanted to share our practical tips based on our journey in February 2020. Our aim is to quell those raging doubts and fears and give you both the knowledge and confidence to make this epic journey to Morocco by motorhome.

 

Part 1. What to do before travelling to Morocco by Motorhome

Whilst you may be like us and enjoy winging it – there are some destinations that really need some fore-thought. Morocco is one of them and Norway another. For Morocco, plenty of preparation is required. In part because it’s a different continent and the requirements are different to a majority of Europe. And also because, for many of us Moroccan newbies, it has a feel of taking us out of our comfort zone. Travelling with huge anxiety is not a great mix and so we must do some homework to make sure that our experiences are positive and fulfilling and not fear-making. 

We hope that this section might allay some apprehension as you begin to dream and think about taking your motorhome to Morocco.

 

1. Check out your Insurance and Breakdown cover – Green Card

Morocco is not often covered under standard UK motorhome insurance policies –  European firms may be different.  So your first step is to enquire about your particular company’s terms and conditions.  If they do allow for you to travel to Morocco in your motorhome, then you may require a Green Card which gives you Fully Comprehensive cover during your stay in the country. Sometimes these are offered free and others charge.

Comfort Insurance charged us £20 as an admin charge and then £22.40 per week of our travel through Morocco. 

If your company doesn’t cover Morocco even with a Green Card, then don’t give up. Speak to HIC Herts Insurance. They  offer a bolt-on cover and Green Card, so if your van is under £40,000 in value, then talk to them.

It’s worth mentioning whilst talking about Green Cards and Insurance, that you can get Third Party cover at the Port which is around 90€ so this is an option.

You also need to have a conversation with your Insurance company, if you have Breakdown Cover included in your policy. Or of course, call your Breakdown agents if you have separate cover. Just check what your cover is for visiting Morocco. With Comfort we are covered for breakdowns although DAS, our recovery company is not present here in Morocco. So their instructions are to arrange and pay for any mechanical issues whilst in the country and then make a claim for a reimbursement when we are in EU or back in UK.

 

2. Check your Travel/Health Insurance

If you already have Travel Insurance, then check that Morocco is covered, because whether you are travelling in the Brexit transition or not, the EHIC card is not useable here. As we travel full-time, we needed to secure our cover whilst out of our home country, and most UK companies will not therefore instigate cover.  So we sought the best deal from those that will cover you whilst you are already travelling. The quote ranged from £113.20 to £355.80 for two people without and pre-existing conditions. We chose True Traveller as they had the lowest quote for us for our one month road-trip. Make sure you choose the European Cover and not Worldwide, as Morocco is covered under the EU countries. The other insurer options are:

                                              World Nomads      True Traveller    Worldwide Insurance

 

3. Internet/Apps/Telephones 

Talk to your telephone supplier as their coverage and packages don’t cover Morocco and you will be charged crazy prices for calls and data, as it comes under International Rates. You will need to buy a Moroccan SIM card for calls and data, so you will need them to unlock your phone (you can do this online with most companies). Whilst some campsites have wifi, it’s not always great, like anywhere and whilst you are out travelling, you will want to have connectivity.

Our advice is to make sure you have off-line versions of the apps you use most often. Before you leave Spain for Morocco, make sure you have downloaded all the Moroccan maps for your maps.me app, if you have it.  Also we use Park4Night for wild camping and so bought the off-line version for £8.42 per year, and the Search for  Sites app for campsites for £5.99 per year. 

 

4. Documentation to take with you

Like with travel to most countries, you will need:

  • Passports and copies in case you loose them
  • V5 – in Morocco this is known as the Carte de Gris – the grey card
  • Your MOT certificate as it is reported that sometimes Police wish to check this
  • Hard copies of your Travel/Health Insurance and your Vehicle Insurance
  • Your Green Card

                                             

5. Plans for maximising your LPG

Because Morocco doesn’t have any LPG as we have heard, you will need to judge the use of gas carefully, especially if you are coming for over a month or more.  So think about options for conserving your gas. Obviously campsites will give you access to EHU, although from a cooking perspective and for wild camping, then may be you will need to look at other gas saving approaches. Some visitors have told us that they have been able to buy Red Moroccan gas bottles for 50MAD and swapped them in for 20MAD and this has got them through a 10 week road-trip.

We invested in a Remoska which is a fabulous electric oven that cooks pretty much anything, in about an hour, just like a normal oven.  It even works off the inverter whilst you are driving and is a great gas saving resource. 

Others have reported buying small, low wattage, two-ring hot plates and electric kettles. However you choose to conserve gas, it is certainly worth thinking ahead for this. 

 

6. Maps/Reference books

There’s a ton of blogs out there about Morocco from motorhomers and overlanders. Some you buy and some are free on the web. It’s definitely worth researching and having a read. We bought the book by Chris Scott called Morocco Overland, which offers lots of off-road tips if you are travelling with a 4×4, which also has great info on how to travel to Morocco by motorhome.  Whist the latest edition is 2017 and some of his information is out of date, there’s a load of really helpful tips in there.

One of which is to buy paper maps of Morocco. Given that whilst travelling in Morocco you need to buy a data SIM to stay connected to internet that apps like Google Maps feed off, hard copies can be essential.  So we bought two maps based on recommendations; the Reise Know-How 1:1 Mill and the Michelin Map. 

 

7. Stuff to take with you – and NOT!

In terms of stock-piling before you go, unlike our trip to Norway, Morocco doesn’t have the same price issue. Although these are the items we did buy;

 

  • the wine we like in boxes for easy storage
  • some chicken for the freezer
  • a few tins of staples that create the meals we enjoy.
  • we heard that crisps and nibbly bits are expensive so have plenty of these
  • Hand Sanitiser to keep carry around with you for their public toilets
  • a shawl for me walking through towns or mosques.
  • some long sleeved shirts and a head scarf to ensure my attire was appropriate for visiting towns and mosques
  • two tyre repair canisters in case of a puncture.  Although we would recommend you investing in TyrePal or a similar  notification system that gauges the pressure of your tyres and advises you of potential punctures or deflating issues.

And a final point – DO NOT TAKE YOUR DRONE WITH YOU. Either leave it at home or leave it with someone you trust as they are illegal in Morocco and if you van is search and your DRONE found it will be confiscated.  

 

Part  2 – Travelling to Morocco in your Motorhome

So armed with the results of all your research, you are now ready for the exciting bit – the travelling to Morocco. In this section we offer you a detailed and step-by-step account of the whole ferry and Custom’s procedure. I am driven to write this because of the plethora of reports out there and to share exactly what happens when you leave Spain and arrive in  Tangier Med (as of 6 February 2020).  So much of my EXCITYSCARED feelings were because of some of the horror stories we had heard about getting through Customs and what was to be expected. Now I have been through it, I felt it was really important to share how it was for us and give you top tips for navigating it smoothly.

 

1. Choosing which port to sail from

There are plenty of Spanish ports to sail to Morocco from along the south coast – you can even choose to go from Sète in southern France, Italy or Barcelona. As long as you are prepared for very long sailings of up to 60 hours. For the purposes of this blog, let’s stick with Spanish ports for ease;

  • Barcelona to Tangier Med; offers two ferry companies and up to 5 sailings per week and is up to 32 hrs sailing time
  • Almería to Nador or Melilla;  offers 7 sailings a week to Nador & 8 weekly sailings to Melilla taking around 5-7 hrs
  • Motril to Nador, Tangier Med or Melilla; for Nador there are 4 sailings per week, Melilla 6 sailings per week lasting aound 4-5 hrs and Tangier Med 7 times per week and is up to 8hrs
  • Malaga to Melilla; offers 14 per week sailings of between 4-6.30 hrs. You can also go to Tangier Med although only once a week
  • Tarifa to Tangier offers two companies who sail 11 times per day and 36 times per week. The sailing is just 1hr
  • Algeciras to Cueta and Tangier Med, offering 8 sailings per day and is about a 90 minute crossing.

Nador and Melilla are smaller ports that encounter less traffic and so their Custom’s processes tend to be swifter, according to Morocco lover and author Chris Scott.  And Tangier City has the reputation for being a nightmare as you have to drive through the city. And Cueta is a Spanish enclave so you have to drive a mile or so before hitting the Customs areas.

Algeciras to Tangier Med is the most popular crossing route and this was the one we chose. We stayed overnight just across from the port in a free car park, joined by four other vans. You may be approached by a man who says you can pay some money, although he is not an official car park attendant and whatever money you give lines only his pocket – you are not obliged to pay anything.

 

2. Buying your ferry tokens

There are plenty of Ticket Kiosks around the city, although the one that is pretty well famous these days is ‘Carlos’ from Agencie de Viajes on the Zone Commercial, just a mile out of Algeciras city. The coordinates for the Agency are  (36.17932 -5.44126). Whilst it is said that ‘Carlos’ no longer works there, there is  a toothless old man with a  kind  smile who greets you with a hand-shake and a Spanish kiss, looking like he owns the place. So whether it is him or not, for the purposes of this, the Agency is known as ‘Carlos’.

You must travel to ‘Carlos’ and buy the tickets face to face, there is no online facility. You can park your van in the parking area opposite and you are able to stay here for the night for free too. You have a Carrefour and Lidl within walking  distance and you are about 15 minutes driving time to the port.

Make sure you take cash with you as no credit card payments are accepted. If you don’t have a chance to get any before hand, there is a Santander in the main street opposite the Agency, although you will be charged 7€ transaction fee. You will be offered two ferry firms – FRS offers just three sailings per day for 180€ or Transmediterranea that offers six crossings for 200€. The latter has the better record and we chose this because of the timings, which start at 0800. You then get a pack with your tickets, Immigration Entry Card and a free gift of wine and biscuits. And that’s it – all done in under 10 minutes. 

Top Tips for your tickets

1. Take the early sailing.  Given the reputation for ferry delays and Customs Checks in Tangier Med, we chose the early morning sailing. Our thinking was, get on the first ferry and there will be no impact for backlog from previous ferry delays. Also when arriving in Morocco, there’s only one boat load of vehicles to deal with, so the process should be more efficient. You also guarantee landing in Morocco in the light, which if this is your first time and you have any apprehension, is sensible. 

2. You don’t book a specific sailing. You receive a printed token and take it with you to the Check-in, at least one hour before your desired ferry departure. We are guessing that if the boat’s capacity has been reached you will be put on the next departing ferry.

3. Take enough cash to exchange into Dirhams. Whilst the Agency doesn’t have a lot of cash to exchange, you will be able to get a small amount of Dirhams. The rate was 10.20 MAD to the Euro, which was slightly less than at the port, which offered us 10.36 MAD to the Euro.  Although I thought it was useful to have cash just in case. You can only get this cash  as part of your ferry ticket transaction.

4. Don’t worry about not speaking Spanish. The admin team speak French and English, although old man ‘Carlos’, if it is him – the god of Morocco tickets – does not. Hand signals worked pretty well. He doesn’t work behind the desk though so don’t worry – his admin team area great. 

5. Complete your Immigration Entry Card before boarding the ferry. This will save you time and stress when queuing up to get your passport stamped. Completion notes are in the next section. 

6. Keep all your documents and tickets together. I know it might sound a patronising tip, although in the stress that inevitably comes with ferry embarkation, arriving in a new country and not knowing what is expected, having everything in one envelope keeps your sanity in check. And I talk from experience and Myles will back me up for sure. 

 

3. Completing your Immigration Card

Whilst I may risk insulting your intelligence, I do want to go through the completion of the Immigration Form that you will receive from ‘Carlos’. I know it sounds ridiculous, although I spent a bit of time working out and researching all the categories I had to fill in. And because I didn’t want to risk getting it wrong and causing unnecessary delays, making sure the details were right felt important. So to save you that stress, here are sections and their interpretation.

  • C.I.N  This is a National Identity Card number and only needs completing if you have been to Morocco before and had your Passport stamped. You will find this number on the stamp, written in ink. If this is your first time to Morocco, then leave this blank.
  • Composteur No. This is some sort of validation number and we left this blank and it caused no issues.
  • Nom. Your Surname goes here.
  • Prenom.  Your first name.
  • Nom de Jeune Fille. This is your maiden name ladies.
  • Date et Lieu de Naissance. Date and place of Birth as in your Passport.
  • Nationalite. Nationality goes here.
  • Pays de Residence Habituelle. Put your country of normal residence here, ie where you live most of the time.
  • Profession. Your job or retired.
  • Passeport No. Passport number here.
  • Date de Delivrance. This is your Passport Issue Date.
  • Provenance. Where you are travelling from – so the Spanish or French port you are sailing from to Morocco.
  • Destination. The Moroccan port you are sailing in to.
  • Adresse au Maroc. Give the address of the first campsite you will be staying at or something like Hotel Fez.
  • Motif Principal du Voyage. What is the reason for your visit to Morocco? So holiday will do fine.

 

If you make a mistake on the forms that Carlos gives you, you can get blank ones on board the ferry.

 

4. Boarding the ferry

We recommend getting to the ferry at least 90 minutes before the ferry is due to depart. This way you can be sure to get your chosen sailing. Follow the signs for Puerto through Algeciras and then at the port, the signposts for Tangier Med.  You will then take these steps for boarding your ferry.

  • Check-in 1. Hand over your token from ‘Carlos’ and your Passports. You will be guided to park up in a line.
  • Check-in 2. One hour before the ferry sails, you are guided to another kiosk where once again you hand over your token and Passports. In return you receive a Boarding Pass per passenger. You then proceed to another parking lane.
  • Check-in 3. Five minutes later as you head for the embarkation parking, where a ferry officinado will check your Boarding Passes.
  • Final Check-in.  Another officinado will approach the van and take one of your Boarding Passes and leave you with a copy. And that’s it. You wait for the lorries to embark and then it’s your turn. Chances are that you will go up to the top deck, which means if you have a big bottom like Scoobie, it might be a very tight clearance.  Although there was no scrapping for us thankfully.
  • Park where indicated and turn off your gas.

The whole process was very simple and we only left 45 minutes late, which given the reports from others, was nothing at all. Now the final bit you need to do before grabbing a coffee, is to queue up to get your Passports stamped and hand in your Immigration Form. Each boat will probably have a different location, although it is likely to be by the cafe area.  You will now be in possession of a mighty fine stamp in the back of your Passport. 

Do bear in mind that the ferries are functional. It is only a 90 minute crossing so they are ‘no frills’. There are not enough seats for all the passengers – our boat was only 2/3 full! And be warned that the cafe is very basic. So either bring your own water, coffee or breakfast, or wait until you are the other side. The toilets though are clean and have paper. 

In terms of the question over whether dogs are allowed on board –  we found nothing definitive. There is a No Dogs sign although we saw two passengers both with dogs on deck. So make of it what you will. I would attempt taking your dog with you until someone says you can’t.

Check out our gallery by clicking below.

 

5. Disembarking the ferry and getting through Customs

Now this is the bit that I think, in all reality, I was dreading the most. That moment in time where the horror stories of chaos, money-greedy touts and stress would ensue. So I was prepared and mindful of what could happen next. Although I was also keen to see how the process worked in practice given all that I had read. So here is the most up-to-date information about how the disembarkation from Tangier Med looks like (based on February 2020 arrival.)

  • Getting off the ferry. This did take a while as it does often with all ferries, so nothing major to report here. Even our low-slung rear made it off the boat without incident. So far so good.
  • Passport Check. We were guided by an official to have our Passports checked, which he gave a rudimentary check for the stamp on the back page and he waved us off. Still doing well.
  • A long drive to Customs. You then, most disconcertedly follow the EXIT signs for what seems like ages. It feels like you are heading out of the port and it left me wondering if we missed something. We finally saw the signs for the D16.  We headed for the lane marked ‘Our vehicle is not registered in Morocco‘ and waited.
  • D16 – Vehicle Import and Export form. This is the vital piece of paper you need to show that you and your vehicle will be leaving the country. I had read that this could be completed on-line although this is no longer the case. The Customs’ Police do it all for you. So sit tight until you are asked to drive to a holding area. Within 15 minutes our V5 (Carte de Gris) and Myles’ Passport were collected and taken to the Kiosk. We had a little panic at this point, as Myles is not the Registered Owner on the V5, that’s me. So we wondered whether the discrepancy would cause a delay.  Thankfully it didn’t and we were on our way. The D16 is a small Credit Card sized card that you must keep safely as you will be asked for it on your return journey. It’s good to see that things have progressed with these official procedures.
  • Another Border Control Check.  Once D16 and Passport are firmly back in your grasp, it is wagons roll. Well as far as 100m where there  is another Border Control Check. That takes seconds and you are on your way.
  • Money and Insurance.  The final step in the process is to drive a further 100m where there are some cabins on your left-hand side. Here you buy your 3rd Party Insurance if you don’t already have your Green Card and exchange your money. There are lots of cabins to choose from although they are not all occupied. So I chose the one that had a name I recognised. They are all kosher and there are no touts milling around putting on the pressure.  The attendants speak English too, so if your French is minimal, then you don’t need to worry.  They give you a receipt for your money and that’s that! You are good to go. I strongly recommend that you do the money  exchange, because if you head off south on the A4 motorway, it is a Toll Road and you will need cash to pay.

 

So our verdict of the Customs’ process? Easy as anything and nothing to worry about at all. From getting off the boat to hitting the road having got our D16 and our money was a mere 65 minutes. So my ‘catch the early ferry’ strategy seemed to work really well and I highly recommend it, to keep you and your family sane. 

Check out our gallery below.

 

Conclusion

So there we have it, in a rather large nutshell. Our entry into Morocco. Armed with plans, preparation and some conflicting information, I am pleased to report that it all went incredibly smoothly. I’m sure on another day it could have been different although I am convinced that taking that first crossing made a huge difference to our whole experience. So I hope this detail helps you, if you are thinking about travelling to Morocco by motorhome or are about to do it imminently. As always, if you have any questions just drop us an email at themotoroaming@gmail.com

 

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Which is best? Spain to Italy – Road or Ferry?

Which is best? Spain to Italy – Road or Ferry?

The Age-old Conundrum – Road or Ferry? 

Europe’s shores are calling; adventure, culture and a rich tapestry of beautiful scenery awaits. And where better to explore than the delights of Spain and Italy. Whilst perhaps close in their language root, distance between these two European siblings is great.  So how is it best to experience these two great nations? How can you best dance between the joys of Spain’s Tapas and Flamenco to Italy’s Gelato and rock villages?

On our travels since March 2016 we have visited both countries and indulged ourselves in their beauty for months at a time. Although the thought of trying to get to each one easefully can be a tricky conundrum for us travellers. Do you go by road or by ferry? 

We’ve done both routes and feel that with both experiences under our belt, it’s a good time to share our journeys, the cost comparisons and offer these up to you. Hopefully as a result you can then make your own personal choices. 

 

The Road Route

The road route to and from Spain to Italy is surely a beautiful one. Flirting with the edge of the Pyrenees at one side of the continent, through the southern regions of France’s Riviera and skipping into Italy’s Riviera cousin. With such sights along the route as Carcassonne, the Camargue and Provence’s coastal delights it makes the road-trip an easy temptation. And who could resist the joys of baguettes, the regional Pastis and a croissant or two? Crossing the border into Italy gives you a plethora of seaside resorts to enjoy or the tourist magnet of the Cinque Terre, Portofino and Pisa. And so your Italian adventure can begin. 

With that in mind, let’s look at the stats and costs of choosing this route.

 

  1. It is approx 800 miles from Civitavecchia in Italy to Barcelona in Catalonia.
  2. That’s a rough cost of £140.00 for diesel, based on 0.17p per mile for a 3.5T motorhome.
  3. The Tolls through eastern Italy and France can add up depending on how many diversions you take for sightseeing. Allow around £130 for Tolls depending on the class of vehicle you are driving.
  4. There are potentially two Weighing Station possibilities, both on the France/Italy border and at Perpignan as you head to/from Spain. Whilst we have never been stopped, there are regular stories about campers being taken to the weighing station en route from Spain into France. If you want to avoid this, then the coastal route from Collioure to Roses is an alternative. This will take you an extra hour and an additional 20 miles.
  5. Depending on your travel philosophy and how many hours/miles you are willing to do in a day, it will take between 3-5 days.
  6. Meals/drinks for those days need to be built into the cost analysis together with campsites, Aires or services.

 

Advantages of the Road Option

  • It gives you the chance to explore en route if you don’t know the area.
  • Avoids potentially stormy seas of the ferry crossing.
  • You can be flexible when you make your journey.

 

Disadvantages of the Road Option

  • Much of the most direct route requires Tolls, many of which are nigh on impossible to avoid, can be tricky to navigate and can add to your stress, time and mileage. And the costs do add up. 
  • You need to build in the wear and tear on your vehicle, tyres in particular.
  • There is a risk of being stopped at the Borders for weight checks. 
  • Places to stay alongside the motorway are limited and not recommended so a diversion into the towns are required, adding further to time, mileage and costs.
  • If you are travelling in the winter heading from Italy to Spain for some sunshine, then most of the campsites will be shut, so you are reliant on Aires, wild camping and Sostas.
  • You are at the mercy of bad weather conditions and accidents. 
  • The road quality in the north-west regions of Italy are particularly low quality.
  • You have the Genoa issue to navigate following the collapse of the bridge in August 2018 that carries the main arterial motorway. 
  • If you are travelling in winter, then weather conditions and potentially snow around the Pyrenees are a factor to consider. Also in Italy, from 15 November, winter tyres are recommended and snow chains are compulsory so, if like us, you only have snow socks for your summer tyres, then the ferry is a strong contender.

 

Total cost for Road = minimum of £300 excluding campsites, Aire fees and the wear and tear apportionment.

 

The Ferry Route

From Baracelona to Civitavecchia, just north of Rome is a 20 hour sailing leaving at night between 2000 and 2300 respectively. So for 7 hours of the journey you are asleep. The boats are cruise ship size vessels from Grimaldi Lines and whilst not the quality of a cruise liner, it does what it says on the tin.  The boats for summer trips have a swimming pool and sun loungers and for other season, a Well-being centre, restaurants and bars. With plenty of cabins available you have your own private space and toilet/shower facilities. Or you can choose a reclining seat in a private lounge. 

Here are the costs for the ferry option;

 

  1. Based on an April 2017 from Barcelona the cost was £356.00 and a November 2019 sailing from Civitavecchia was £349.00. Both ferries included a cabin and were booked online with Directferries which was a lot cheaper than going direct to Grimaldi Lines.
  2. There is also a route from Genoa and Savona to Barcelona obviously depending which part of Italy you are travelling from or to and they are slightly cheaper by about £50. So it might make more sense to take this ferry if you are in the northern regions of Italy than to drive down to Civitavecchia. 
  3. Prices are based on the size of your vehicle <6m and from 6m-9m. 
  4. Allow for Breakfast, Lunch and refreshments whilst on board, prices of which average £17pp for the trip.
  5. You can reserve a reclining seat for £5 or a cabin for £80. Bear in mind that if you pay for a cabin when onboard, it will cost you  £10 more than if you reserve it on line. 

 

Advantages of the Ferry

  • It is much quicker than the 3-5 days it takes to drive. With the overnight boat, 2/3rds of your journey is done by the time morning arrives.
  • It saves on the wear and tear of your vehicle. The 800 miles direct route by road accounts for around 5% of your tyres’ lifespan. So this does need to be built in, mentally at least.
  • With a night time schedule, no accommodation the night before is required, so you can travel directly to the ferry, ensuring you check in 120 minutes before the sailing. 
  • If you order a cabin you can have unlimited showers with piping hot water! 
  • Dogs are allowed on the ferry, with either Kennels or Pet Friendly cabins. 

 

Disadvantages of the Ferry

  • The weather is unpredictable, so stormy seas are a factor https://www.instagram.com/ especially during the winter, causing potential sea-sickness if you are prone.
  • The food quality is not great and is expensive.
  • If it is busy then embarkation and disembarkation can take time.
  • The schedule is always open to disruption from operational issues. Although unless it is cancelled you are still across the Mediterranean within 24 hours. 
  • It’s never a great quality sleep on a boat. 
  • On exiting the ferry, a wrong turn could have you in Barcelona’s Low Emission Zone, which without a sticker could be an expensive fine. Although sticking to the outer ring road is not in the city zone. 
  • If you time your crossing over a half-term, there is a risk of school children crossing to or returning from a trip to Rome or Barcelona. This happened to us on our first crossing in March 2017 and it was not pleasant given their teachers were all sitting in the bar having a fine old time.

 

Total cost for the ferry = £385.00 with no additional extras

 

Conclusions

A significant part of our decision about the ferry versus the road is about time rather than costs. As you can see there’s not a huge amount in it, once you factor in the Road Option’s hidden and unexpected costs. For us the speed and efficiency of the ferry far outweighs the road. We all know that travel is tiring and to cut off potentially 3 days travel time is worth doing, in our book. Although of course it is a personal choice based on your individual circumstances and also where your start or end point is in Italy. 

If you have no time constraints and the seasons are in your favour, then the road has some huge sightseeing benefits. For autumn and winter, then the ferry is far more appealing. The choice is yours!  

We hope that this has been helpful in working through the options for you with some stats and facts. 

 

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All Things Norway Series

All Things Norway Series

Norway – a land of dreams

 

After an epic seven weeks in Norway and a total of five months in Scandinavia during the summer of 2019, we have gathered a whole heap of information and experience. Whilst by no means a ‘completed journey’ as Norway is huge, for sure our massive journey has given us an incredible perspective of this country. From Tromso in the north, through the Lofoten Isles and across 8 of the 18 Most Scenic Routes in Norway like the Trollstigen and Geiranger Passes you will have your senses exercised with a daily workout.

And if Norway is on your Bucket List, then there is some planning to do beforehand. We are not great planners these days. We love to just wing it a lot of the time, although Norway is one country we needed to do a lot of thinking about, preparation and planning. And because of this we felt drawn to write a series of comprehensive blogs that detail our experiences. So many people are worried about the cost, the mileage and what they can do in the short time available. Well we have addressed all of these issues and pulled together the facts, the all-important websites you need and free to download Shopping Lists that will help you stock up on the right items before you come.

So look no further; All you need to get your Norway trip kick started is here. Check out these 3 Comprehensive Guides for:

  • Travel routes to Norway
  • Information on how to make the ferries cheaper
  • Toll Road essentials
  • How to camp when you get there
  • The essentials for driving around Norway
  • How to shop savvy for food, diesel and alcohol
  • A fully interactive map of our route, overnight stop co-ordinates
  • A list of our Wow moments and Trip Highlights

 

With these Guides, you will be informed, prepared and mindful – each with a host of practical tips and direct links to websites for further information relative to your trip parameters. Now your Norway Road Trip can go from dream to reality. Click on the three images below to get access to each of these comprehensive guides. For any more information, do drop us an email by clicking here

 

All Things Travel focuses on everything you need to do BEFORE you leave home. Preparation is the Mother of Skill as they say, and this is so true for a trip to Norway. From planning your route, buying food essentials and Ferry and Toll planning, this blog has essential information for both getting there and getting around with ease on your tyres and on your pocket. 

 

All Things Shopping helps to manage your budget whilst travelling in Norway. For sure it lives up to its reputation on expensive, just read about our ‘beer purchase experience’. Although there are ways to manage on a budget. We have included a FREE to download Pre-departure Shopping List so you load up with only the right essentials and share our Shopping Savvy tips once you are there.   

 

All Things Wow shares our Top 10 sights included in our 2019 tour of Norway. It really does seem crazy to think that there are only 10, although seriously, every day there is a wow to be had, so these our our MEGA wow’s that need to be built into your itinerary if you can.  We have our fully interactive route map included in this blog, which gives you every twist and turn in our route as well as the co-ordinates for our ‘homes’ along the way. 

 

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Motorhome Highlights in Norway

Motorhome Highlights in Norway

Motorhome highlights in Norway

After four months touring Scandinavia, here are our Motorhome highlights in Norway.

Simon Cowell may well have the X Factor nailed, although Norway seriously wins the Wow Factor. As the sixth largest country in Europe (although technically not in the EU) and the second longest coastline in the world, opportunity for wowing is pretty hot. In this third of our All Things Norway series, we focus our energy on sharing some of the wows we experienced on our seven week tour in 2019.  Come with us as we take you on a sensory journey that will have you reaching for the road-map.

 

Our Interactive Route Map

As we launch into what might be an overwhelming onslaught of oohs and ahhs, we thought we would initiate this blog with our Interactive Route Map. A massive map that shows every little nook and cranny we drove on, the off-the-beaten track routes we followed to avoid the masses and every single wild spot and campsite we stayed on during our seven weeks. Click below for a comprehensive and intimate peak into of every inch of our tour. 

 

I know it seems a bit crazy that in an art gallery as incredible as Norway that we only have 10 Wows. Although when, around every bend, you will have a sharp intake of breath and perhaps even have a leaky eye moment or two, then narrowing it down to 10 feels somehow appropriate. So here they are our best bits:

1. Abisko entry to Norway

After nearly five weeks in the sumptuous Sweden, climbing right up through its central spine, we entered into Norway from the Abisko National Park. After Sweden’s forested kingdom, Abisko gave us a gentle introduction to what we were about to experience. Imagine it being like the warm-up routine for a Michael Jackson concert. It’s a tough gig although someone has to do it right? 

After the plentiful border crossings we have navigated since we left England in March 2016, this is by far the most dramatic and stunning drive EVER. With glacial blue waters of the Torneträsk Lake to the magnificent mountains that interlace the valley like a group of giants lining up for a caber tossing competition. If you have the chance to enter Norway at this northern point, we highly  recommend it. 

By taking this route, you also get to experience Narvik’s World War 2 memorials. Just over the border crossing is one of Narvik’s 6 remembrance sites which, if you value enhancing your World War knowledge are worth visiting.  

Check out our gallery by clicking below.

 

2. Northern territory – Tromsø

Whilst we decided against going to Norway’s most northerly point at Nordkapp, a personal situation back in England graced us with the opportunity to explore the area around Tromsø. Troms is an area of mountain beauty and coastal brilliance as fjords weave their way up to Norway’s northern most city. This region is fabulous to explore both during the summer and winter. Summer with its Midnight Sun and the winter with its Northern Lights. Mountains still sprinkled with snow as the everlasting days slowly melts the white crystals. Fjords full of dolphins elegantly gliding in its waters and an outdoor playground that gives you a chance to hike, paraglide and cycle to your heart’s content. 

Tromsø is a wonderful city – and despite being compact and bijou, it’s perfect for learning about the world of Artic exploration over the centuries. 

Taking the back roads rather than the arterial E6, you wind your way around endless peninsula that hug the sides of mountains like a limpet. Places to wild camp, with Norway’s Freedom to Roam policy are  limitless, as you see quiet pull-ins for a peaceful night’s sleep. Views to take your breath away and miles of scenery that leaves you speechless. 

​Check out our gallery by clicking below.

 

3. Senja – Norway’s second largest island

Now this might sound like a secondary position although when you realise that Norway has 50,000 islands, being the second largest is not to be sneezed at. We knew nothing about Senja and had done absolutely no research. So our virginal eyes just drank in the rugged beauty that this jewel in Norway’s crown had to offer. 

Known as Norway in Miniature, Senja is a complete delight that will have you running out of adjectives. With one of Norway’s 18 Most Scenic Routes  threading itself on the western fringes of the island, this alone is good reason to visit. The Route 87 is a stunning way to take in the joys of Senja as you snake around its pathway, taking in Troll museums, staggeringly beautiful views and Viewing Platforms that leave you standing in awe. Our visit coincided with orchid season; I have never seen so many pink, purple and white blossoms lining the roads like daisies. They grow with the freedom gifted to them by this alpine-like air. Authentic fishing villages survive thanks to their community spirit as they cling to the summer’s abundance before the winter’s harsh conditions arrive. And the Ånderdalen National Park offers trekking in abundance as pathways over the mountain give you mountain goat status. Tramping through the snow-covered glaciers, you can loose yourself in an area that is as close to heaven as it is to the sea and you share it with no-one.

If you asked us to choose between the iconic Lofoten Islands and Senja, we would choose the latter with ease. Senja has all the beauty without the crowds and commerciality. Just natural beauty tucked away in a corner of Norway that is unexposed to tourists. And let’s hope it stays that way. For Senja inspirations just check out this gallery. If you’re not wow’d, then I have failed as a photographer. Check out the gallery below and let me know what you think. 

 

4. Andøya and Puffin Island

As we finally headed our way south, we decided to follow another one of Norway’s Most Scenic routes. Andøya is an odd island compared to it siblings. It has a ridge of mountains and then a plateau of flat land that, in comparison could almost be described, dare I say it as boring! Not a word you might expect to use in the same sentence as Norway, although there we go, I said it! Catching the ferry from Grylleford on Senja, we arrived at this slightly desolate island with doubts. The fishing industry at Andenes has an almost imperial feel to it with its factories waiting to welcome you. Stilted Fishermans’ huts define the town that is like the outback. I expected to see tumbleweed blowing down the deserted yet characterful colonial buildings. The Artic Terns, who have made this rich haven their home, nest in the waste ground opposite and you walk by at your peril. At least wear a hat  if you want to photograph these high pitched screechers. 

Although you come to Andøya for two reasons. One is to travel the 30 mile (51km) Scenic Route that takes you from the barren land of the north, around the mountains to the cloudberry landscape of the south. Passing by the Space Centre from where 1,2000 rockets have been launched for scientific purposes, your interested will be piqued to explore this northern facility that has been involved with NASA missions. 

The second reason is for a 158m tall island called Bleiksøya. This conical shaped isle has surfaced the water’s ceiling from deep beneath the sea on the edge of a sea abyss. This deep trench of water, so close to the land, gives rich pickings for fisherman, nature lovers and wildlife. Each working together to protect this region of abundance. As a result Andøya is THE place to come for Safari’s to get up close and personal to 80,000 puffins, sea eagles and a plethora of whales. For a mere 450NOK you can take a rib out with Sea Safari Andenes and get so close to these amazing birds and watch as the eagles swoop for their next meal. It is one of the most memorable moments of our Norway tour. 

Check out our Safari video footage.

 

5. Lofoten Isles

If researching this iconic destination doesn’t have you reaching for your route planning app, then nothing will. The marketing behind Norway’s quintessential archipelago is pitch perfect. Classic photos and dreamy descriptions will without doubt stir the excitement deep in your belly. And although I am pleased we explored the islands, our seven days was, generally speaking, an underwhelming experience. It is beautiful, with its traditional fishermens’ robus, islands connected by architecturally beautiful bridges that defy gravity and an inspiring palate of fjord colours. Although for us, with its relentless crowds (in July – what were we thinking,) and the commercial hue, coloured our experience. Too many people meant no parking for the iconic walks. Too many vehicles made narrow roads busy and difficult to navigate and an infrastructure, that for campers is solely lacking. We absolutely recommend visiting, although time it carefully to optimise your experience. For your FREE copy of our Lofoten Ebook, just click the image below.  

 

6. Engabreen Glacier – west coast

​We tend not to do too much planning when we go to a place as this just feeds our – or should I say my insatiable greed for experiencing every pin I have saved. So it wasn’t until the last moment  that we decided to take a fellow traveller’s recommendation and drive the Scenic Route Fv17 from Bodø south. Hugging the coast this road is beyond beautiful and armed with your Autopass Ferry Discount card taking the ferries that link the fingers of this rugged fjord designed coastline is an adventure all by itself. In fact so beautiful was it, that we had to turn off the road as we felt emotionally drained by the almost incessant beauty. I know, it’s a pretty good problem to have right? Although we were a bit wowed out at this point. Not before though we had visited Norway’s second largest glacier.  Did you know that Norway has around 1,600 glaciers? So second place, like Senja isn’t a bad position to hold. 

The Engabreen, an arm of Svartisen Glacier is pretty spectacular. In part because it is one of the most easily accessible glaciers in Norway and can be seen from the road. And because it is the lowest lying glacier on the European continent with its close proximity to sea-level. Parking up at the Holand Tourist Information office, a short cycle down hill brings you to a ferry that takes you across the Holandfjord to the low lying shores in front of Engabreen. A walk or cycle then gives you the option of looking lovingly at this frozen beauty from a distance, or parking up your bikes and hiking through the boulder debris. This puts you almost in spitting distance of the icy fingers that are ever inching towards to the sea. This is an incredible experience and highly recommended activity. The ferry is just 200NOK per person (£18 return) and an additional 80NOK (£8) for bicycles. 

Check out our gallery below

 

7. Atlantic Ocean Highway and Bud

I mentioned this route more out of necessity than for desire. We have always been great believers in presenting our travels as they are and not sugar coating our experiences. That does no-one any good. 

So here’s the thing! Myles had wanted to visit the Atlantic Ocean Highway since we decided to hit the road in 2016. So anticipation and expectations were high. Although we are sad to report that like a Tour de France cycle race it was over in a flash. Yet again, we found Norway’s marketing to have excelled itself and we were left seriously wanting. 

After paying the only Toll Booth fee in Norway just outside Kristiansund, we followed the Highway signs  like excited children. And we were soon there. The architectural brilliance of the bridge that writhes like a snake was there. Arching in all its magnificence. We stopped off at a couple of viewing points which allowed us to see the Highway from the northern side although it was not  the drive we anticipated. Just one bridge makes up this experience and we felt sorely let down by the 3 mile iconic drive. No thrill, no awestruck state that we were promised 

So our deflated souls floated further south into the nurturing arms of the gorgeous coastal fishing village of Bud. Now this was a wow. 20 minutes drive away we sought solace from this wonderful place that gave us authentic Norwegian life, WW2 memorials and an archipelago vibe. No disappointment here and without doubt the best bit of this underwhelming scenic highway ‘hot spot.’ Well done Bud, you get our vote. Perversely we are incredibly thankful to the Atlantic Highway, as had we not set our course for this point, we would have missed BUD.  

Check out our gallery below.

 

8. Trollstigen Pass and Geiranger fjord

After disappointment hung around us like a bad smell, we hoped that our sixth Scenic Highway route would restore our faith in Norwegian beauty. Surely the Trollstigen Pass would bring us back home to the thrill and love for travel that we have developed. And we are pleased to say that is it a big fat YES. We were surprisingly nervous about doing the trip – and not because of the road itself as after all we have driven Stelvio in our camper! Our nervousness was born out of our disappointment of the Lofoten Isles the Atlantic Ocean Highway. I am always reminded about the role disappointment has in our happiness and yet we had fallen foul of its destructive ways.

The Trollstigen was a joy. And not just because of its driving challenge. It is so much more than just a road – the whole Route 63 is a driving experience that stretches for 56 miles from Andalsnes to Langvatnet. The route takes you up through the Trollstigen switchbacks, across a ferry and then across to Geiranger, one of the most famous and longest fjord in Norway. The whole stretch is an incredible experience with plenty to see and do along the way.   

The Trollstigen was built in 1936 and has 11 switchbacks, carved up through a collection of mountain giants reaching heights of 1600m. With waterfalls and viewing points, this is just one part of the Trollstigen to Geiranger Scenic Route that will take you on a diverse driving experience over the course of 2 hours. Or, if like us you would prefer to savour both experiences with an overnight stay, then why not wild camp at a whole host of areas, sheltered by the shadows of the mountains.

The viewing platforms that overhang the valley are a must to breathe in the full perspective of this road as you see it snake up through the granite giants. Test your nerve as you look out with only fresh air beneath your feet. And then repeat the journey as you head towards Geiranger after the short ferry ride that transports you to part two of your road-trip.  A further 11 switchbacks that take you down to one of the most visited places in Norway – certainly by cruise liners. Your vehicle will complain – not in voice, although in smell. That tell-tale sign of overworked brakes will remind you that a steady pace and a cautious drive will reward you with the best experience. As you see the cruise ships in the harbour, you realise you have arrived at an iconic destination. Resisting a stop to admire the view is futile. Head for the Norsk Fjordsenter where you can climb down alongside the Storefossen and be enveloped in the thundering sound of the crashing waterfall as it makes its rendezvous with the fjord.  Salt meets snow-melt. A truly magnificent combination where Mother Nature’s forces collide in some gentle yet poignant battle. 

The views further up as you climb like a rollercoaster ride are just amazing. More snaking roads that constantly give you sneaky peaks over the fjord way below you. And the upside is that fewer tourists drive this section of the road, so your course is easier than the caravan of coaches on the northern side.  Your final destination will be at the junction with Route 15 at Langvatnet.  You will breathe a sigh, not out of relief that you made it; a sigh of complete satisfaction. A road that is a challenge for sure, although very, very doable. Having driven the Transfagarasan and Transalpin in Romania and Italy’s Stelvio Pass, we have to say that Norway’s Route 63 was much easier and far less challenging. So you have to put this on your Norway Road-trip list. And is definitely on our Wow List.

 

9. Gamle Strynefjellsvegen route 258 

I love looking a maps and searching out the off the beaten track routes. And after a restful night’s sleep and en route to rendezvous with friends, I navigated us on a back road that avoided the main road – as is my want. Little did I realised that this was yet another of Norway’s Most Scenic Routes – the Old Strynefjellsvegen.

Now this road comes with its own challenges as 75% is not tarmac, although we have driven worse major roads in Italy, if we’re honest. There is no driving fast on this road – not just because you can’t, more importantly because you won’t want to. For me this was THE most spectacular road we drove in Norway. It was like being in a completely different Universe. 

Trying to find the right words to describe this land is really tough. Again despite the weather, which was dull and overcast, this road was actually enhanced by the conditions. The grey mountains sombre in their majesty whilst the unbelievably ice-blue waters were set off against the shadows making this road all the more dramatic. It’s the same blue that we saw when we visited the Ice Hotel in Sweden. Almost from another world and a colour that seems almost impossible to create on an artist’s palette.

And then there was the rainbow. Oh wow this was just so magical. I was stunned into silence and that takes a lot. This road, in all its rawness and simplicity was beyond beautiful, for me. It had a ‘The world that time forgot’ feel to it and I half expected to see dinosaurs roaming the glaciers it was that primal. We saw no more than half a dozen vehicles on this road and I would definitely come back here to wild camp – as it was out of this world for sure. 

Check out our gallery below

 

10. Sognefjord Glacier – Jostedalsbreen National Park

Our final wow for this 2019 trip is the drive up to Sognefjord Glacier. The largest of all the ice maidens in Norway.

Although before we talk about that, let me tempt you with the approach road to Sognefjord, which is magnificent in itself. The 724 Route up through the Oldevatnet valley to Briksdalen, with iconic and moody mountain views will take your breath away. Although this no-through road is a little narrow, there are passing places as you navigate the plethora of coaches that bomb up and down this idyllic valley.

And as you hug the edge of the fjord, with its crystal clear waters, the sight ahead is captivating. The sharp lines of the mountain edges pierce the sky whilst it cradles the blue-white glacier which draws you towards it as if on autopilot. 

There’s both a campsite at Briksdalen and plenty of parking areas for day visitors. At 250NOK per night for a camper plus two people (which equates to around £26), you have unbridled access to this giant of all glaciers. There’s a fabulous walk for about 1.5 miles which whilst marginally uphill, can be mastered thanks to the tourist tram. If walking isn’t great for you or you have a disability, then for a mere 230NOK (£20) return or 115NOK one way (£11) the Troll’s Tram takes your weary bones closer to the glacier viewing point so that you too can enjoy its glacial glory. Otherwise the walk is a sensory delight. First up you have the Kleivafossen waterfall, which full of glacial melt thunders over the edge releasing 100 litres of water per second. Can you imagine the sound? It’s so loud you can not talk nor hear your heart beat. And whether it is a rainy day or sunny, it matters not a jot, as you will get wet as the spray from this thunderous beast unleashes its full power to the rocks below. It’s Norway’s version of Niagra Falls and you can stand right in front of it and get a free and pure shower. 

The glacier, some 10 minutes on, is not quite touchable, although certainly is spitting distance. And if you listen clearly, perhaps you can hear the sound as it creaks and groans with its miniscule movement. It’s a magnificent moment that somehow is difficult to capture in words alone and is a place that I could have stayed for hours just sat quietly in the heart of Mother Nature’s storybook and art gallery. This is most definitely a Norway WOW factor and must go on your list to visit.

 

Practical Tips for Norway Exploration

Before we leave you, I feel it is important to share our tips for making Norway a memorable experience, for all the right reasons. With its distance and expense many people are put off venturing to this northern land, although with the right strategy, it is more than doable. 

  1. As you plan for your trip, be clear what time you have available and what is achievable. If you only have a short time for your visit, then stick to the southern and central regions. The distances, both to get to and around Norway are vast and so being realistic is important.
  2. Access to Norway depends a great deal on the time you have. If you have an unlimited length of time, then accessing the northern regions is well worth the travel time, entering at Abisko. If time is limited then a ferry from Denmark makes Norway more accessible. For more information on routes to Norway check out our comprehensive All Things Travel blog here.
  3. Ferries are a major lifeline for Norway and avoiding them is futile. So you will need to consider an Autopass Ferry Discount Card. This will save you up to 50% on your ferries which is not to be sneezed at.
  4. Toll roads are everywhere and the system is quite complicated as each toll road is owned by a different company. There is only one Toll Booth, the rest are payable electronically. So you will need to register with EPC or Autopass who collect the toll fees. Registration is easy, although your notification for payment will take approximately 2 months to come through, so don’t be alarmed.
  5. Think carefully about the time of year you visit. Norway has a short summer season from June to September. Whilst it does offer you long days and the Midnight sun up above the Artic Circle, it is the major tourist season. From the beginning of July for six weeks, the local schools are on holiday so beware of the crowds at tourist hotspots.
  6. Any time from September to May the weather will be unpredictable – and we’re talking snow here. In 2019 the weather closed in early with snow in many areas mid September. So if you are travelling with your camper/RV or a car, it will need to have winter tyres, snow chains or snow socks.
  7. Norway’s summers are an interesting beast. Whilst it has been known to have heatwaves like in 2018, the weather patterns are generally not quite so hot and sunny. It can be cold, murky and inclement although if you get clear days, the scenery is absolutely magnificent. So come with the right mindset – this is not a beach-hot destination.
  8. Norway has a reputation for being expensive. Our experience was a pleasant surprise. Whilst certainly one of the most expensive countries we have been to, it wasn’t as bad as we expected. And there are ways around food expenses – check out our All things Shopping blog here where we share some tip shopping tips to keep your bills low.
  9. If travelling by camper and you want to bring some supplies with you (especially alcohol) be careful about Customs checks on the southern borders and ferry ports from Denmark. They are known to strip search incoming vans. So either ration your drinking to the EU Duty Free limits, take the Sweden route at Svinesundbrua or pay Norway’s extortionate prices. 

 

From its northern territories to the heart of the central glacier giants, Norway will tease you like a tantalising temptress and will leave you wanting more. And more we shall demand, on another spellbinding trip in the next five years. Until then, we leave you with the images and story that makes Norway such a unique European experience, filling you with an expectation of a sensory explosion should you make your way to this magnificent land.

 

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Our two other blogs in the All Things Norway Series

9 Surprises of Slovenia

9 Surprises of Slovenia

Slovenia may be a relatively new country that has emerged from the rubble of the Yugoslavia Federation although as a tourist destination it packs a serious punch. 

In June 1991, Slovenia became the first republic to make the split and become an independent sovereign state. In 2004 it entered Nato and the EU, and from this point, this gentle and endearing country has grown as a serious contender for tourists’ affections. 

Bordered by Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia stands out amongst its neigbours. Dominated by the Julian Alps it competes admirably when it comes to winter sports, alpine scenery and dramatic gorges cut by the ice blue waters of the Soča river.  And then there are its iconic views; the unforgettable Lake Bled with its island church, the Postojna Caves with its unique underground train ride and ancient Predjama, the largest cave castle in the world. And that’s before we mention is exquisite wine producing vineyards and charming coastline along the Adriatic Sea. 

And yet it is Slovenia’s hidden gems that makes it so memorable for us and why we felt compelled to write this blog and share our little discoveries.  Follow our visual tour will give you incentive to come visit this subtle powerhouse destination and seek out the magnificence of this gentle giant, soaring its way up through the world tourist ranks. Check  out our Interactive Route Map below to see our routes, POI and overnight stopovers from our last two visits. 

Surprise 1 – Kranjska Gora

I have never thought of Slovenia as a winter sport nation and yet on its northerly fringes you will find their ski-resort Mecca. Kranjska is a charming alpine village at the foot of the Julian Alps that tower above you. With ski-slopes, ski-jumps and toboggan runs this really is a resort that is putting Slovenia on the winter sport’s map. Even during the summer, the resort is used as a training ground for countries around the world. The sporting season aside, Kranjska with its mountain range offers hikers fabulous walks that will stretch the calves and cycle rides along the old railway that takes you across the border into Italy. If a less active set up is more your scene, then you can use Kranjska as a base for exploring Lubljana, Lake Bled, the Vrsic Pass and Bovec, all reachable by bus. 

Travel Tips

  • For more bus information click here.
  • For camping stay at the Aire alongside the ski resort for €15 payable with the Easypark App
  • For a great meal go to Gostilna Viktor Pizzeria.

Check out our Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 2 – Soca Valley

With its source deep in the throat of the Julian Alps, the Soca river with its ice blue water courses its way creatively through the valley. Carving deep crevices and gorges, the Soca Valley will delight those looking for a secret summer swim or perhaps even provide the thrill of some serious white water rafting in the spring season. The photographer in you will cry in delight as the valley navigates and snakes its way to Gulf of Trieste in Italy’s north east corner. If you toodle just down the valley to Kanal ob Soči, during steamy summer days you will see the young children jumping off the cliff into the inviting river below. It has so many different faces that driving from the Vrsic Pass following the river’s flow will give you such a great experience all on its own.

Travel Tips

  • Travel across the Vrsic Pass, route 206 from Kranjska which picks up the Soča river at Bovec. 
  • Stop off at the Russian Chapel that commemorates those Russian soldiers who died building the Pass.
  • Catch the bus if you don’t want to drive the pass in your car or camper.

Check out our Video and Photo Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 3 – Bovec

Ljubljana and Lake Bled are obvious choices for a trip to Slovenia. And whilst they are undeniably beautiful they are tourist traps. The off-the-beaten-track alternative is to visit Bovec. This charming mountain village is nestled in the Alps and is the gateway to the Soča Valley. It can shout proudly about its own ski resort although it is its war memorials that are the greatest surprise. At the Tourist Office in the characterful old town, you can pick up a map with all the Great War references in the area. Most notable are the Ravelnik outdoor museum which you can wander around as if the war ended yesterday, almost smelling the gunshots and sweat from the men in the trenches. The War Cemetery is a sobering visit and seeing the Fortress that played an important role in the Austro-Hungarian arm of the war, will fill in your War education jigsaw. 

And if nature is your thing, then a hike to the Slap Virje waterfall will appeal to all your senses or a cycle down to the valley floor where the Soča masters its way through the rocks and pebbles. Bovec is a super place to explore. 

Travel Tips

  • There are a number of basic campsites in Bovec or the Aire at the Ski Resort has full services and facilities and a stunning backdrop. 
  • Visit the Tourist Info for a map of the War Memorials in the area.
  • Book your kayak and rafting experience from the many companies in the town.

Check out our Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 4 – Bohinj

Lake Bled with its iconic island church and castle are understandable draws when visiting Slovenia, although for a more authentic and more intimate exploration, head 30 minutes into the mountains to Bohinj. Here you will find fewer tourists and earthy campsites that give you full permission to soak up the silence of Mother Nature. This is a true haven and a delight to visit as an alternative to Bled.

Travel Tips

  • We stayed at Camp Bohinj, which is an earthy and rustic site hidden in the forest with lakeside access. 
  • Bring your camera and your kayak.

Surprise 5 – Vintgar Gorge

Tick off Bled for sure although don’t leave without visiting the Vintgar Gorge, just under 2 miles away (3km). A bus shuttle will take you there for 5€ or you can cycle the route if you have a bit of power! Vintgar is a return trip of 3 miles (5km) and for a 10€ entrance fee you will wind your way through the deeply carved gorge on well built and safe boardwalks. The twists and turns of the river finally crescendo over the each in a spectacular waterfall making this a charming walk if you’re in the area.

Travel Tips

Surprise 6 – Postojna Caves

My surprise of the caves were two-fold. Firstly as caves go this is one of the most spectacular we have ever seen. For sheer wow, it’s a must visit. With the train that takes you deep into the mountains and then a two mile walk through chambers created by Mother Nature in an artistic masterpiece. Stalagtites dripping from the ceiling and stalagmites rising from the floor with a texture like marble. Van Gough would have, I’m sure, been proud of the artistic talent displayed down here without any single intervention by man nor beast. This is one place that absolutely needs to be experienced and the train itself that carries into the heart of the mountains is an event all of its own. Resembling a Ghost Train at a Fun Fair, you trundle through the mountains by a living gallery of underground sculptures. 

The second surprise of the caves were the crowds. Wow, we were part of a colony of ants, or so it seemed. Despite getting there for the fist train of the day, there were hundreds of people already gathered, jostling for position at the entrance as if they were about to miss the January sales. More and more we realise that the whole ‘shoulder season’ really is diluted these days as on our misty  and murky  October visit, at least 30 coaches were already in the car park lined up  in wait for the return of their charges.

Travel tips

  • Get to the caves for the 1000am train and arrive at the entrance so that you can get as far forward on the train as a possible. This way there is less crowd management required. 
  • Booking tickets on line is not necessary – so don’t worry if it says there are no tickets available. You can purchase at the Ticket Office just before the train entrance. It costs €25.80 per person for just the caves or €35.70 for a combination ticket for the castle’s inclusion.
  • Take layers and warm clothing as it is very cool down in the belly of the caves. Also sturdy shoes are necessary as it is quite damp on the walk ways. There’s little danger of slipping, although decent footwear is appropriate.
  • And whilst you are in the area, why not drive just just over 5 miles (9km) to see the world’s largest cave Castle of Predjama. Not a huge amount of parking available, although if you go early or later in the day it is doable with a camper.

Check out our Video and Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 7 – Ljubljana

We’re not great city people on the whole, although always visit because all sides of travel need to be explored. And we are so glad, on this occasion that we pushed past our city prejudice. Ljubljana is a clean, compact and charming city that oozes a chill-out command. With its castle views across the northern landscape to its Triple Bridge linking the medieval old town with its new suburbs, we adored this city. We only had a couple of hours here as we were meeting friends although we saw enough to be endeared to the cityscape. From that point on  we vowed to give all cities a chance because they may surprise you.

Travel Tips

  • If you are travelling in a camper, stay outside of the city and travel in by bus. We stayed 20 mins  north of the city at a pub camperstop – Gostilna Pri Kovaču (46.031321 14.604002). There is a bus right outside the pub that takes you into the city. 
  • 3-5 hours is enough to get a good feel for Ljubljana.

Check out our Video and city Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise 8 – Slovene Riviera

We have never given any thought to Slovenia’s coastline. With it giant competition either side, Croatia and Italy often seem to be far more of an attraction. Although what an incredible visit for the week it was. With Slovenia’s major port Koper at one end and Piran on the southern edge, you have a delightful coastline with nooks, crannies and rugged shoreline to play with. Harbours and street cafés, cycle and walking paths and nature reserves, this region is sublime. And Piran and Izola are just incredible medieval towns that has history and iconic Venetian beauty carved into their mortar. Back in from the coastline, the mountains are dominated by vineyards and olive groves and well worth a little diversion. It was such a delight and one place I would happily return for a bit of RnR. For our full post about the area with detailed Trip Guides, click here

Travel tips

  • Out of season is great in the Riviera, although even in October, when the weather is typically gorgeous, locals will all come out for the weekend. So bear this in mind.
  • For camping options, there is nothing at all in Piran. So we recommend staying in Izola which is halfway  between Piran and Koper and then use the cycle path that takes you from north to south effortlessly, to explore. We stayed at a Parking Area run by EasyParking and cost €11.30 per night payable with the app. Or you can pay €10 at the machine as long as you have coins. 

Check out our Gallery by clicking below.

Surprise  9 – Slovenia’s wine

Who would have thought that Slovenia would be a great wine producer. Well the vineyards may be new to the global wine stage, they are definitely worth trying. With fabulous soil and karst landscape it makes for outstanding wineries, which in the south particularly are seriously beginning to compete with established brands with their Italian neighbours. We particularly enjoyed the family run vineyard Saksida in Nova Goricia which has a fabulous selection of wines at reasonable prices.  They also offer a wonderful campsite and 5* restaurant open at weekends.

Also further south in the Slovene Riviera there is a fabulous wine tasting experience at Marezige Vinska Fontana. Up in the hills behind the coast you can, for €8 buy a glass (that you keep) and 3 tokens that allow you to choose from four wine fountains. It is home to the Refošk Wine, well known in this region.

 

Practicalities of visiting Slovenia

  • The diversity of the country is enormous and deserves plenty of time exploring. Be mindful of the season you visit. Early spring and late autumn the weather becomes unpredictable and, in the mountains you will often see plummeting temperatures and snow. This may impact on some of the mountain passes and you may need winter tyres or snow socks at the very least. 
  • The currency of Slovenia is Euro.
  • There is generally very good English spoken in the main resorts, although as with every country a few phrases of Slovene will be appreciated. Try these; Havla – thank you. Dober dan – a formal hello.  Govoriš angleško – do you speak English? Lahko dobim račun, prosim – can I have the bill please? Bye – Adijo 
  • Although travelling around the country without going on the motorways is doable, sometimes it’s just easier to hop on for a quicker journey – especially if your time is short. So you will need a vignette which you can buy at most Petrol Stations. It costs just €15 for 7 days. 
  • Take cash, as whilst credit cards are accepted, many restaurants will only take payment in cash. 
  • Download the app EasyPark so you can easily pay your parking charges for either car or camper. 
  • If you are travelling in your camper, please respect their no wild camping rules. There are plenty of campsites and Aire options and although they may be more basic than western Europe, they make perfectly good bases for exploration. 
  • If you are flying, Lubljana’s Joze Pucnik Airport is your main hub which is accessible from all over Europe, many destinations of which offer cheap fares. It is 16 miles (26km) north west of the capital so transportation will be required. A taxi to the city starts from €20.

 

Final thoughts

Slovenia is an undiscovered marvel and we realise that we haven’t even scratched the surface. Although if you love nature, outdoor life, World War History, wines, coastline and stunning mountain scenery then Slovenia will not disappoint. For a gentle nation with a diverse landscape that packs a powerful punch, Slovenia will delight and surprise in equal measure. 

 

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Travel’s Lessons – Joys and Shadows

Travel’s Lessons – Joys and Shadows

The effects of traumatic events last much longer than the headlines

Travel is the greatest educator, inspirer and leveller. There is nothing I have experienced in my fifty years on planet Earth that has given me so much in such little time.

Travel is like a bag of Pick and Mix sweets that someone might select for you; so many different varieties from the melty fudge candy and sweet marshmallow to the dreaded coffee-centred chocolate and chewy toffee crunch that threatens to break your teeth.

After a year of magnificent travel experiences which gifted us exploration in five new European countries, our wanderlust has been satisfied beyond expectation. From the far west of Portugal’s beautiful beaches that caressed our faces with salty breezes, to the charm of Denmark’s surprising hidden depths. Sweden’s sumptuous authentic character had us engaged in a love affair of extreme passion and Norway’s majestic masterpiece blew our tiny little minds. And what of Czechia with its plethora of castles and softly curvaceous landscape?

Amongst our exploratory joys, we have hit travel walls, suffered from blogging burn out and harboured physical injuries. We have navigated a return to UK from Europe’s most northerly junction for a family funeral and had battles with tennants who are not paying their rent. I say this not out of any need for sympathy, just by way of offering a balanced perspective of this life on the road, seen as the dream and yet just the glorious mixture that is life.

And in this mixture of all sorts, we’ve learnt to travel to please ourselves, to rest when we need it and to increasingly find our stillness within a life dominated by movement. We have become aware of travel’s infectious magnetism that fuels our desires and entices us to do more. Yet we are more mindful of heeding our inner-selves’ need for reflection and stillness rather than feeding our insatiable and needy egos. 

In ego’s midst, our hunger paled into insignificance this week, as travel revealed its true face beyond the mask of pretty vistas and cascading waterfalls. A humbling lesson that teaches us about life – beyond the dream of ticking one country off at a time. A peek into the shadows of reality – a perspective of people’s lives that may pique the interest of the world’s media for a nanosecond then fades into global obscurity. A glimpse into real life, one breath at a time.

On 24t August 2016, a small village in Lazio, Italy became the epicentre for a 6.2 magnitude earthquake; tectonic plates rubbing together in a frenzied attack beneath the surface of the earth. Amatrice surrendered to the full force of Mother Nature’s wrath and surrounding regions within a 50 mile radius suffered a matching fate. At 3.36am clocks stopped, cars halted and life was held in suspended animation as earth took over the reigns. Homes crumbled, around 300 lives were lost and 4000 people were made instantly homeless. Within a heart-beat the future fell apart from that moment in time. Italy was in mourning.

Communities rallied to rescue and salvage, whilst red zones warned of impending doom. Homes razed to the floor with rubble and exposed wires the only evidence of their postal address.  Quintessential regions of Italy stripped of their identity in the blink of an eye.

And how cruel fate is, that just three months later, a second 6.5 magnitude quake shook the area with additional force, attempting to battle with the communities’ resolve; a secondary blow to assert domination over our fragile lives. This was the largest seismic event in over thirty years. Oct 30th 2016, we felt the ripples of the 6.40am earth rumblings 100 miles west on the Tuscany coast, above Rome. little did we know the story that preloaded this chapter in Italy’s fragile tale.

In some bizarre twist of fortune, no one died. Perversely, thanks to the impact of August’s quake, many people in vulnerable property had already been made homeless and saved from a more traumatic conclusion. Yet the impact of this second shake of Mother Nature’s dice had actually a more severe affect on the hope that still lingered from August. Whole villages devastated by the twin quake effect, communities looking like war zones and road links severed leaving farms and towns isolated from each other.

Our brush with this drama initiated when we felt the disconcerting rumbles in our camper. Everyone rushing out to seek answers to the mysterious movement of the earth. Even the Italians were bemused. And then the local news uncovered the truth about this massive giant beneath the earth that had made its presence felt.

It wasn’t until our fourth visit to Italy to meet up with friends affected by the quake themselves in the Marche region, just north of the epicentre, that the full picture became clear. Buildings shored up with struts and barriers. Homes impounded and still uninhabitable. Lives transgressed into flight and fight, a far cry from the luxurious destination of blissful happiness often promoted by the glossy magazines.

As our explorations took us around the beauty of the Sibillini National Park, our eyes were opened and hearts severely tugged at. We drove around villages south of the region that would have looked more at home in a war zone than the stunning countryside of Italy’s Apennine beauty hotspot. This backbone mountain range is where we find our earth tremor answers and yet to look at them, you would struggle to see how history played out.

Yet the villages soon made up for the gaps in the story. Our path constantly affected by road closures even now, three years on. Houses that look like a giant has ripped off their walls in a fit of spite, demolished walls looking like an archeological dig and restaurant signs indicating how life used to be.

On our journey painted with frustration, as one road closure after another diverted our route, irritation washing our egos, we drove to our home for the night. An idyllic spot in the foothills of Monte Vittore surrounded by a kaleidoscope of autumnal colours. Yet the stark reality was to reveal in the morning light as I visited Pretare, one of the devastated villages. To wander around this once thriving community, now just a ghost town, was sobering. A wreath still in place honouring the Great War paradoxically made me think about the battle with nature that we all face in different ways. Why oh why we battle against each other when there is tragedy enough from the natural world is beyond me.

I spoke to a lady with the help of my friend Google, who hadn’t been evacuated from her home. She was the only resident left in this ghost town. So whilst on the one hand may be you could class her as lucky; the reality is that she lives life in isolation, without a community and with the suspense of what another tremor might do to her home. The gentle smile on her traumatised face did not hide her sadness that her village would never be rebuilt – there was a strange acceptance to her fate.

Homes here show how that earthquake moment must have struck, as precarious ceiling beams, becoming balancing acts for chairs, suitcases and personal possessions. All left behind in the salvation for life. Cupboards torn apart from their walls revealing crockery and bathroom taps still sitting on tiled splashbacks as if it was the most normal thing in the world.

In our gallery below, I have chosen to distort the pictures out of respect for those whose homes I have captured.

And yet, something incredible has been born from the tragic events of 2016. Evidence of how communities have rallied to support their people. New homes have been built for the locals, once homeless, now safe. Identical prefab-style bungalows in small estates offer protection and hope. Wooden huts for businesses have been constructed to make sure livelihoods can continue and the needs of the locals still served. Tree-lined avenues and parks now holding makeshift sheds for Pizzerias and Post offices give a glimpse into the life that carries on, in spite of the rubble.

Animals were rescued by kind souls like our friends who, despite their red zone property, poured their energy into rescuing the vulnerable and keeping their B&B accommodation going. Communities are pulling together and are determined to promote that Le Marche is still very much open for business. They are ready to welcome lovers of nature, wilderness and spectacular mountain scenery. Le Marche is one of the most beautiful regions of Italy, that surpasses the iconic landscape of Tuscany. Yet it fights for its survival and preservation of dignity and history.

After our time spent exploring this magnificent region, with its historic landmarks, hilltop villages and mountain spectacle, we have been served up with a dose of humility. An important journey that has given us a glimpse into life on the edge. A life that, three years after the tragedy, the media is no longer interested in and yet people still struggle to survive, making the best of all that they have.

Check out our Gallery of how Le Marche looks, compelling visitors to come!

What a humbling experience travel revealed to us. A poignant reminder that life is fragile, often precarious and never static. Whilst a dream lifestyle travelling the world, may well look catwalk perfect, if you just open your heart to see beyond the facade, travel has an amazing story to reveal. And more importantly it will take you on a journey of more than miles, it takes you on a profound journey into yourself and will change you forever.

 

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