As we look back at 2017 and our highlights – Eastern Europe is going to always stand out to us. Whilst we love Western Europe, our curious souls sought more cultural education and east was where our hearts took us.
Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and all too briefly, Hungary. What delights these countries were with history, nature, cultural diversity and a world that has been teetering on the edge of communism into the European Union. What a fabulous six months we had.
To bring our experiences to life, we have produced an interactive map that shows not only all the camping spots we stayed at during our tour, some of the highlights too. Combining our videos, Drone footage and blogs, you have one resource all in one place.
So if Eastern Europe is calling you for 2018 – then this interactive map complete with pictures and co-ordinates is all you need to ignite your plans. We hope that it gives you some seriously entertaining travel inspiration.
Click on any of the icons on the map for more information about each place we visited. Please bear in mind that we started from Italy, headed over to Greece, then had a short trip to Crete and then headed north through Bulgaria and Romania before having a short period in Hungary.
As part of our 18 months on the road Celebration Series, we are sharing our Top 25 Nature Beauties.
During our time on the road we have been privileged to witness the most incredible scenery, landscapes and wildlife. We have tried to capture our best bits in one place in this INFOGRAPHIC which you can download for free. Click HERE to download your own copy.
From Spain, to France, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia; here are just a few of our favourite things…..
Enjoy with our love and we hope it inspires you to put these places on your list.
Being in our camper allows us to change our vista every day, if we wish, and gives us the freedom to get into the heart of the countryside, in amongst nature.
Travelling is such a privilege and feels even more so when you can take your home with you wherever you go. Being in our camper allows us to change our vista every day, if we wish, and gives us the freedom to get into the heart of the countryside, in amongst nature. During our 18 months of full-timing we’ve encountered a range of ‘homes’ from wild sites on cliff tops, to fields that resembled nothing short of a glorified car park, to the charm of a five van Aire in a tiny French village in the middle of nowhere.
2017 has been the year of (ad)venturing further east away from the relative comfort of Western Europe. We left our traditional lives in UK to push the boundaries, to explore and find the road less travelled, so at some stage the call east was bound to resound. So what would Eastern Europe bring us, how would we fair camping in the Balkan lands? Shrouded in Communistic shadows and media spin, we had a little trepidation about what to expect. Today we want to put the record straight. The Balkans is stunningly beautiful section of Europe and needs us to indulge our curious spirits. Although my focus for this blog is more about camping in this eastern land rather than advocating the countryside beauty. Come read about our camping highlights; we stayed at lots of great spots, although these are our favourites and deserve a bit of publicity and promotion.
The Balkans is stunningly beautiful section of Europe and needs us to indulge our curious spirits.
Finding good campsites is not difficult anywhere in Europe although their quality does vary dramatically. And interestingly that’s rarely to do with the country and more to do with the people who run it or who lovingly create it, we have found. Spending five months travelling through Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Slovenia (in 2016), we have been introduced to some great camping experiences; in fact some of our best ‘homes’ feature in this latest tour. Here we have taken the opportunity to show-case our favourite, must-visit Eastern Europe and Balkan camping beauties in the hope that they give you the inspiration and comfort to head over this way. *(All prices are for a MOHO, two people and electricity.)
This is one of two sites run by the same family, although in our opinion, this was the best. A small terraced site about 3km from Nea Epidavros on the eastern thumb of the Peloponnese. €19 out of season with ACSI. The site is narrow and pitches a bit tight to manoeuvre into if you have a rig longer than 7.5 metres, although it is a beautiful spot, right on the edge of the sea. With great shade to ward off the Greece sunshine, this site offers a relaxed place to rest up for a couple of nights with the town within easy reach by bicycle and the Amphitheatre not more than a 30 minute drive away. Good showers are available, with a restaurant next door that has a good reputation, although we didn’t eat there.
This is another family run and small site that whilst, like many campsites in Greece, have little pitch structure, has a certain charm. Only a couple of minutes walk to the beach and only ten minutes from the delightful Agios Galini, Camping ‘No Problem’ is great for a week or two. Hiring a car from the town nearby, gives you easy access to the surrounding southern beaches and the campsite’s restaurant is superb, offering a high quality and good value meal. And the swimming pool is to die for, especially at the beginning of the season when you have the snow-peaked mountains as your backdrop view.
Meteora is one of those unique sites around the world that will never leave your heart. It gets under your skin and you find yourself transported to a very special place of awestruck loveliness. Staying at Camping Vachros right on the fringe of the National Park is a joy, especially when you see the view from the swimming pool. You are within five minutes walk to the village and only a 10 minute drive to the first of your floating monasteries. It is an incredibly special place and feels a privilege to visit. Aside from the pool, the campsite has plenty of pitches, decent shower facilities and a restaurant run by the family. It costs €18 per night.
After leaving our love affair with Greece behind, we wondered how life in Bulgaria would fare for us. In fact what would Bulgaria be like as an experience, altogether? Well after a simple crossing over the border, our fears were allayed immediately. Good roads, beautiful countryside with vineyards, rolling hills and a super campsite waiting for us within 20 minutes of arriving in Bulgaria. Result! English couple, Sara and John moved over to Bulgaria to set up this lovely campsite, which has more of a feel of their back garden than anything stuffy from a commercial site. With only eight or so spots, free wifi and fantastic shower facilities, Sara and John make you feel so welcome. Sat in the foothills of the Pirin Mountains, you have so much to explore as you ground yourself in the Bulgarian culture. Try Melnik, only 11km away, which is easily reached by bicycle, for a great introduction to the Bulgarian architecture and way of life – oh and a bit of wine! Low season €16, high season €17. Bargain!
Welcomed by Matt, a lovely guy from England, Camping Alexandrovo is a delight. Another site that is more like a back garden, Matt’s place oozes beauty, views and security. Whilst the village isn’t pretty and doesn’t offer anything much, when you’re behind his walled garden nothing else matters. It’s a great spot to just chill out after a busy Bulgaria tour of either the northern or southern regions. Just east of Plovdiv, this is a great spot for checking out the city or heading further east to Turkey, which is only a couple of hours away. And you have to get up early for the sunrise, which is something else! Hammocks, a brick built barbecue and great facilities await you here and we highly recommend this restful retreat. Only €17.50 in high season! Check out our Drone footage below!
This is a beautiful, homely campsite run by Nina and her fisherman husband Dan. You are in their back garden, which is so tenderly cared for, with good facilities and the opportunity to go out with Dan at 6.00am or 5.00pm for a trip on his fishing boat into the Delta. For €25pp for two hours, this is a unique experience that gets you into the heart of this precious ecosystem, which is the second largest delta in Europe. If you love photography and nature, then this is a must-do place for your travelling agenda. And all this for only €10 per night. Bargain.
This was a gorgeous little find, hidden in the hills behind Zarnesti and so much nicer than the touristic Bran’s Castle about 20 minutes away. We loved it here. Whilst the approach to the Guest House owned by Constantino and Otilia is steep and a bit tricky to navigate, it is doable and their lower garden area is beautiful. With Zorro the Shetland pony to entertain you and an afternoon tea perhaps from Otilia, you will feel very much at home. The facilities are a little basic, although the charm of the owners (who speak English and German) and the surroundings absolutely make up for it. And for only €14 per night, it’s good value too. You can cycle or drive to the Liberty Bear Sanctuary, which is only 15 minutes away, which is a very humbling experience. Check out our blog here.
Run by a Dutch couple, this motel and medium sized campsite is a perfect stopover en route to or from Romania, being only 30 minutes away from the border. There’s no structured pitches and basic facilities, although it has a non-commercialised and informal feel to it. As you drive in you are welcomed with Hungarian flags and their own church, which has some interesting history! Underneath the trees you get great shade and you are not far from the river where you can hire a boat or two. They have a restaurant offering local fare, although we didn’t eat there. There are plenty of walks just outside of the campsite and you are only five minutes drive away from what looked like a charming thermal town with its own Spa and Baths. Well worth a look around if you have time. €18 per night.
Whilst this site wasn’t salubrious and has a commercial feel to it, it was ideal for visiting Budapest. You are only a 15 minute walk to the Danube and museums, from which you can then pick up trams and only 10 minutes walk from the station where you can buy your travel tickets for getting around the city. Tram number 24 stops right outside the campground. The facilities aren’t great, although there are plenty of parking spots and a restaurant if you don’t fancy cooking. We found an amazing restaurant in town, close to the Parliament Buildings, which we highly recommend. Click here for our review. Surprisingly, Camping Haller is not as noisy as you might expect from an inner city campsite and at only €18 per night and really cheap washing machine facilities – it’s a super place to explore the city.
Our final and best camping spot in our brief sojourn in Hungary was Camping Hintohaz. Run by Dutchman André, you will be greeted with a friendly and informal welcome, a drink from the bar and a wonderfully terraced campsite with excellent facilities. In fact one of the best shower blocks we have seen in Eastern Europe. André has put a huge investment into the campsite and with its beautifully grassed areas, you have tranquility, countryside views and comfort. There was no ‘locked gate until you pay’ policy here, unlike another campsite we experienced in Hungary. We highly recommend coming to this campsite if you’re close by. Whilst there isn’t much to do in the surrounding area, sometimes this is just what you need. André is keen to share a bit of Hungarian history, which is wonderful and his warmth is palpable. And only for €10 per night. This is an absolute must visit.
Check out our Drone footage here:
After seven weeks in Poland in the summer of 2018, we were blessed with 34 different places to stay, of which 12 were campsites. Sites here are often eclectic, although always delightful and our spot best sites were:
This was a super campsite nestled in between Dunajec Reservoir with its grand historic castle and the fast-flowing Dunajec river. At just £10 per night, which even in August has plenty of space, this is a steal. 2 miles away from the castle, just up on the dam for a gorgeous sunset and you can book river kayaks from here too. We did a 22 mile cycle that took us left from the site into Slovakia and then we followed the river path for 14 miles before crossing the bridge and then coming through the forest. What a stunning location.
A super ACSI site that gave you a 10% discount even though it was summer season. Attached to a hotel, the grounds were well managed and the facilities excellent. A bus stopped just outside the campsite for Warsaw although it looked a bit of a trek, so we moved to the secure parking on the day we wanted to visit the city. Highly recommend this lovely spot.
Slovakia actually a perfectly sumptuous place to wild camp and in our three weeks there we only had five nights in a campsite. Although this one is in the heart of an amazing National Park, which if you love challenging hikes, is a must.
The campsite is a bit uneven although with chocks is ok. There’s a number of hook up points up at the top of the campsite. You need to buy .50c tokens for the washing machine and shower (which lasts 3 mins) The same token does a 1hr wash. For a night and two people with EHU it cost €17.50 in August and with walks directly from the site, it really is an ideal spot.
Camping Podlesok Paradise National Park.
So, what can we say? Central and Eastern Europe are full of treasure, warmth, incredible sights and experiences and wonderful places to stay. If you love wild camping, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia are particular good as long as you abide by the values of discretion, respect and giving back. Recent history may well have tarnished the countries’ reputation, although they are rebuilding their lives, growing stronger and with their resilience are fight back to earn their rightful place in people’s affections. Central and Eastern Europe are not to be feared – they are only to be loved. Cost of living is a bonus to the experience of travelling through these wonderful countries and we cannot recommend more highly some time in these delightful, unassuming and peaceful places. Come East, you’ll not regret it!
As we prepare to hop over the border to Romania, our minds naturally glide over our month in Bulgaria’s beautiful realm. What will we member most about this eastern beauty?
For me, Bulgaria will represent a country of the inner journey rather than the actual miles we covered. Life on the road makes you a student of this great classroom and if you embrace it, it will enrich your soul and I am particularly thankful for my personal insights. As they say, “Every day is a school day”, if you are open to its teachers.
A Game of Two Halves
Our biggest reflection is that Bulgaria is a game of two halves. We are not quite sure why, although there was something about the southern half of the country that really connected with us. The Rhodope mountains that dominate the landscape, our first taste of authentic Bulgarian life in Melnik and the simplicity of mountain life really does get right underneath your skin. Even heading into the Central Balkan mountains gave us the thrill of discovery and exploration that we so love and that feeds our curiosity.
And then we entered the second half… A game that didn’t offer us the same deep connection and heart-bursting revelations that we had been experiencing. There felt like there was something missing, a real disconnect that we struggle to pin-point.
Don’t get me wrong, the northern half of the country around Veliko Tarnovo, Ruse, Shrumen and the Black Sea coast have their highlights, although there was a definite shift in energy for us that happened along the way. Whether it was because we entered into the poorer region of the country or the transition of the modern Bulgaria that is littered with a determination to fit in with its European family or the mafia mentality – something didn’t quite fit for us. There felt like a real struggle here – a fight to create an identity that releases them from their historical past and stand independently amongst their peers. Life just didn’t flow so effortlessly in the north as in the south.
And there we have it – we have hit the nail on the head. Bulgaria, as we reflect on our two halves, is a country of extremes – of polar opposites and it makes it hard for the visitor to make head nor tail of its culture. Is Bulgaria the innocence and simplicity of the southern mountain region or the more modernistic, spotty teenager of the north striving for respect from its European comrades?
Bulgaria has a reputation for being the poorest country in the Union and our feeling is that this strikes deep within the hearts of the younger generation and they are rising up to challenge this fiscal label. And that’s what we’ve been feeling – a struggle, an internal battle. How interesting that it synchronistically matches the internalising that I have been working through this month. In beautiful harmony I have been in tune with the changes we’ve felt from north to south. Bulgaria’s new European face is still so young and it will undoubtedly evolve, although in their effort to find themselves, the country has an underlying identity crisis.
What is this oppositional energy that we’ve picked up here?
Young and old
It is so obvious as you explore this fine country that there are generational challenges. The old folk who lived in pre-Communism Bulgaria through to today’s EU partnership, cling on to their simple way of life. They work their land with reverence, their curved backs evidence of their daily rituals. They sit watching the world pass by or tend to their herds without any thought of success or financial improvement. Just very happy in their traditional lives of simplicity and authenticity. And as the youngsters leave their village retreats for a life in the city, a huge gap begins to open up between the generations. Family homes with decades of ancestry are left to decay as the kids search for their wealth in the expanding cities, whilst their elderly kinfolk hold onto the fabric of their family life.
Rich and poor
The extremes have been eye opening, where you see the meagre lives of the country peasant contrast with the Audi’s, BMW and out of place, top of the range Porsches of the younger generation. It leaves you puzzled as to how that cavernous gap has been created. The gypsy camp we saw in Varna leaves you affected by their lifestyle and constantly grateful for the life we lead. The pony and traps that course their way through the countryside laden with worldly possessions as they find a way to scrape a living versus the petrolhead generation with their new European wealth. It’s a puzzle.
Communism and EU
Evidence of Bulgaria’s Communist state, that formed the country’s backbone for 35 years following WW2, is clear across the northern half of the country. Square tower blocks stand as a reminder of their Communist rule, although their struggle after the fall of Communism is clear to see in the dilapidated industrial buildings, the unfinished projects and the struggle to find their way in the new world. Interestingly we saw International Partnerships from Japan, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, as they fund the restoration of Bulgarian history in an attempt to create greater equity in free trade. Since 2007, the EU has embraced Bulgaria into its family and now the younger generation have the responsibility to bring the nation into a new culture of prosperity and stability after its tempestuous history of struggle and battle.
Muslims and Christians
It has been a humbling experience to witness the harmony of Muslims and Christians living side by side. Villages hold no shame in having the two temples as neighbours, honouring everyone’s faith and respecting their right to worship their own gods. More countries could take a leaf out of Bulgaria’s book.
Facts and Highlights – Motoroaming style
1. Despite this divide, Bulgaria is an intriguing country that really does entice you to spend more time here. Although I think if we did it again, I would come north to south, as we leave Bulgaria with an energy of curious confusion that needs to be processed.
2. The cost of livingis incredibly cheap in this Balkan beauty and you will spend so little money here. Petrol is cheap, LPG easy to get hold of and food good value for money. For our month here, we have spent about £500, which is well over half of general expenses in the western European countries we’ve visited.
3. If you come to Bulgaria with a camper, campsites are few and far between. Along the Black Sea there are more options, although wild camping is generally accepted here, even in high season. We simply asked permission and everyone was happy to let us stay. We found some amazing spots along the way and although we have been a bit uncomfortable in the last week or so in the northern region, it has been a positive experience making sure we avoid the complacency trap.
4. The language is tricky although with a few basic words and your 1-10 numbers, you can get by. In the towns and cities, many people speak either German and/or English, although in the mountains there is nothing except Bulgarian. Although a warm smile and a wave goes a long, long way in building relationships with the locals, who are a wonderful nation.
5. Cash here is king. Like its Greek neighbour, Bulgaria likes to deal with liquid cash and not cards, so when you first arrive in the country, get straight to an ATM and draw out some money. We used to get 400BGN at a time, which is about €200. The only place we managed to pay by card was in Decathlon and the Apple store in Varna.
6. Lidl is everywhere in Bulgaria although if you fancy a change, then you have Billa and in some larger towns you have Kaufland, a German shop which has a large range of goods.
7. The roads are generally ok here. We travelled on one dreadful main road from Sofia to Ruse anTryavnad Veliko Tarnovo, which is a main route from the Romania border in the north – and it is AWFUL! Pot holes, cambers and a tyre graveyard from lorries shedding their blown out rubber. Obviously the villages are less well maintained, although we thought the roads in Italy were worse than Bulgaria, on the whole.
8. You will see very few motorhomes here as many don’t venture this far east. Those that you do see are typically local vans.
9. The kids break up at the end of June, so if you are here in the summer, factor this into your plans. That said, nowhere is really that busy.
10. Fruit is great to pick up from roadside sellerswhich is often personally harvested and much cheaper than the supermarkets.
11. There are no tolls on Bulgarian roads, except for the two bridges that span the Danube over the Romanian border, which are €6. Although you will need to buy a vignette, which will cost you €20 per month and can be easily picked up as you cross the Border from Greece.
12. Water is very easy to get along roadsides especially in the southern region. In the north, they are less profuse, although they do still exist if you keep your eye open. We never had a problem although did resort to buying bottled water rather than drinking from our tank, even with a super duper filter.
13. Eating out is really cheap in Bulgaria and the wine, so Myles tells me, is delicious.
14. Whilst you’re here, do not miss the Rhodope mountains, the Central Balkan mountains, Shipka and Melnik, just as a starting point. Etâr is wonderful for seeing authentic artisans at work and definitely worth a visit. Veliko Tarnovo is good for a day’s visit and full of history and charm.
15. Bulgaria is a land of sunflowers, fields of golden ears of wheat, sweetcorn and tombs in the north and quaint villages, mountains, gorges and caves, geological rock formations and simple village life in the south.
16. When you think of crowded beaches, tourists and busy roads, then halve that image and then halve it again and you will probably have Bulgaria’s high season. It is a place yet to fully arrive on the tourist scene, so now is a great time to come, even in the height of summer.
So what would our closing thoughts be of our Bulgarian experience? A contrasting one that has taught us so much about Europe and its developing communities. It has opened our minds to the modern day fight for independence and identity. It’s taught us how a fusion of east and west and Muslim and Christian can live in harmony and it has reminded us how simplicity brings more happiness than complexity.
Finally it brings home how some countries struggle to find their own identity through the myriad of challenges that the traditional world and our modern fight for survival create. No where more than Bulgaria has this been so evident. It has been a great classroom.
A country rich in natural beauty and traditional simplicity that stands amongst its European rivals effortlessly. A country that needs to be explored and, with interest, observe as it creates its personality; holding onto old values whist embracing modern free trade rules. Bulgaria is a fascinating country whose growth and emergence will continue to intrigue us as the years unfold and they find their feet. Let’s hope it retains its traditional roots whilst finding a progressive route through their European opportunity. We will return as there is so much more to experience and so many more lessons to learn. Thank you Bulgaria, it’s been an interesting tour.
Hi, Karen & Myles, The Motoroamers here. We are a fun-loving couple travelling full-time around Europe in Scoobie our trusty camper. We're driven to deliver seriously entertaining travel through our blogs, photography and humorous videos. We hope to inspire you too to travel.