Ever thought about a visit to Zeeland? Could you even pin-point where Zeeland is on the map? I’ll be honest I didn’t, so I promise I’m not being judgemental in any way. Isn’t that the amazing thing about travel – we learn every day… Although I implore you, visit Zeeland now!
For most of us crossing from UK to Europe via Calais we are given plenty of options. Heading south gives us access to the sunny climes of Provence and the Côte d’Azure or may be Spain is in our sights. Perhaps it’s Italy and beyond to Greece. Turning right (after a few hours of travel) offers us the joys of Normandy and Brittany and their incredible coastlines. Or there is left! Left passed Dunkirk, Bruges and Antwerp and there we will find the treasures of Zeeland. A series of islands and peninsulas that make up The Netherland’s Zeeland region.
As a traveller, I have held a slightly skewed view that travel must be curvaceous, mountainous and breathtaking in its presentation for it to feel memorable. That picture-postcard vision that will have Instagram hearting all over the place. Although what living on the road for over two years has taught me is that beauty comes in many forms and it is not a mountain lake fringed with snow-covered tops that is the ultimate definition for a travelling student! I have come to appreciate the beauty in the flatter landscapes, as it too has charm in its formation and the creative story that goes on beneath its soil. Zeeland is for me, a perfect example of this type of beauty that has had me mesmerised from day 1.
Zeeland, translated as ‘Sea Land’ is The Netherland’s most westerly province that has the smallest population of its twelve regions. Tucked away just above Antwerp, this enormous delta landscape which is made up of 25% water from three different rivers, has had a tempestuous yet now commanding relationship with the sea. Throughout history the ocean was once Zeeland’s nemesis, with the North Sea reclaiming its lands with epic floods and high tides. Now, living by their moto ‘I struggle and emerge’ Zeeland has really taken charge and shaped their land to enable a sustainable life amidst the water that still tries to defeat them. After the last flood of 1953 where over 1,800 people were killed, Zeeland invested in the most incredible Delta Protection project that would see flood defences built between the islands to ensure the safety of their fragile existence. Today’s Zeeland landscape is a testimony to the inhabitants rising up to create a home that would no longer be challenged by nature and in fact would become its greatest income generator, through tourism.
With the context set. we can now begin to explore what this incredible landscape has to offer the humble traveller and how to while away a week or two enjoying the fruits of Zeeland’s historical labour. Having an all too brief excursion around these parts, it is very clear to me how this region benefits the visitor and here are five reasons why turning left at Calais and taking a visit to Zeeland deserves its place on your travel agenda.
1. Water sports
If you love to take to the water, then Zeeland offers you plenty of options. In safe waters, whether it’s a Stand Up Paddle Board, Windsurf or Boat, this is a haven for water lubbers. With little islands to explore and interconnecting waterways you have plenty to explore under sail power. With so many marinas on Zeeland’s shores, you’ll be spoilt rotten and many campsites are attached to these marinas giving you a chance to get on board and get your feet wet!
If like me you are a twitcher, then this is a bird-lover’s paradise. From Oyster Catchers, Grebes and Geese to Harriers and Terns this region is rich in birdlife. Take your binoculars and be ready for a feast. Especially great during the spring as the new-borns entertain with their investigative antics.
For some reason, I never really pictured The Netherlands or Holland having a beach culture. I can’t tell you why – I guess windmills and clogs took up the space in my mind when it came to creating an impression of what the country had to offer. Well I couldn’t have been further from the truth. Zeeland has some of the nicest iconic sandy beaches we’ve seen since New Zealand – strangely enough. Miles of uninterrupted dunes and North Sea plages that have the crowds a-flocking when the sun comes out. And with the on-shore breezes don’t be surprised if you see a kite or surfer or three.
One of the many things that The Netherlands and Holland are well known for is cycling. In fact I would go as far as to say that bikes rule! You give way to them on roundabouts, generally and they have their own dedicated road network and traffic light system. Ferries accommodate bicycles for free and every village, town centre is littered with racks and all shapes and sizes don the streets. I don’t know about 9 million bicycles in Beijing in Katie Melua’s 2005 song, I think The Netherlands is a serious contender for that record – if you pardon the pun. Bring your bike or easier still hire one from the many bike stores in every town and get to feel the province at a slower pace. Smell the air, really see the scenery and feel an integral part of Dutch culture, perhaps without the blue hair though!
5. Culture and History entwined
Zeeland in particular, although also its neighbour Holland, is steeped in culture and historical prowess. From the emergence of windmills in 15th century to assist with drainage of the dykes, to Zeeland’s more modern battle with Mother Nature’s elements and their trade routes to the rest of the world – this region has it all. To see the engineering feats of the Delta barriers, constructed following the 1953 floods just blow your mind and are strangely artistic in their design and their spirits. What saviours they are.
And come just a little further south-east to Rotterdam and Dordretch and you start to experience the importance of the Dutch mariner. Their barges sailed up through the North Sea and down through Europe by way of the rivers that converge at the Zeeland Delta connecting the whole world and facilitating global trading.
In fact Dordretch is Holland’s oldest town, which is easily seen in the architecture and the old quays that hold ancient mariners’ tales from their travels. There’s a real buzz during the last weekend in May when they hold their annual Steam Festival along the quay. Paddle steamers and boats of all shapes and sizes cruise up the river pipping their horns. And alongside their road vehicle compatriots steam is seriously the name of the game. Traditional costumes are everywhere as steam enthusiasts show off their prides and joy. Well worth a visit. Check out their website here.
And on top of that the UNESCO site at Kinderdijk is a must see. 19 of the finest 15th century windmills I have ever seen line the dykes to protect the land from flooding and they were a major influence in securing the inhabitants’ livelihoods. Today they still operate although as museums giving them a new role in holding the integrity of the past showing how they shaped both history and the landscape over the last 740 years. It is free to get into the site and walk or cycle the dykes or for a small fee you can gain access to the museum and the canal hop-on and hop-off canal boat ride. Check out their website for more details and even download their free app that shows you how to get the best from your visit.
You can reach Kinderdijk by waterbus from either Rotterdam or Dordretch on the 202 route. It takes only 30 minutes to get there and bicycles go free. For €8 per person return (from Dordretch) you start your unique experience with a water perspective of these important waterways that still buzz with the activity of tourism and trade.
So how does a visit to Zeeland stack up for you now? I genuinely hope that a place that was perhaps not even on your radar now is a consideration at least. Whether you travel by plane to Antwerp, Rotterdam or Amsterdam, or come by camper, a visit to Zeeland will not disappoint. Its architecture, culture, landscape, natural beauty and its abundant outdoor pursuits will have you entertained plenty.
Camping in Zeeland is easy with each island littered with independent, ACSI sites and the odd Camperplatz thrown in for good measure. This interactive map will give you a sense of our highlights and camp sites, although you will not be disappointed or stuck for somewhere to stay. Why not check out Search for Sites for a robust directory of options in this lovely area?
Perhaps it was getting turned down as an air hostess for BA at 18 that made me determined to travel as often and as far as I could – and perhaps that’s why now – at almost 60 – my husband and I are buying our first motorhome!
Let’s turn back the clock a little – the alternative career option was a shorthand typist in Canterbury Prison…..no thanks! In the late 70’s early 80’s the glamorous world of travel (unless you were an air hostess) was to be a “travel rep or courier” as we called it then. Bring on the first camping experience as a campsite rep in Bénodet in Brittany – Camping de la Plage – for those of you who have been there! I aspired to the Caribbean but ended up in Bénodet! Fast forward through 5 summers in a tent and 5 winters in the ski hotels of Austria and my career was well – static but fun!
At the same time, my future and yet unknown husband was on United Nations peace-keeping operations in Zimbabwe/ Rhodesia, Namibia and Cambodia as an officer in the Australian Army. He was craving travel too, however to less dangerous places! Returning to the UK in 1992, the travel bug bit again and in a fit of pique, I joined the UN’s training department and headed for Zagreb during the Bosnian conflict at the end of ’93. In the queue to check-in at Heathrow T3 was David, a now retired army officer also off to join the UN as Chief Engineer for Bosnia Herzegovina in Sarajevo. I was to be based in Zagreb – and a fairly long distance romance ensued and as they say – the rest is history!
We had a dream
No kids and “mainstream” careers continued in the UK – I travelled the world regularly with work as a medical congress organiser – David was more restrained by his daily commute from Windsor to Waterloo to work in facilities management – mmm! What sustained us through those long dreary winters in the UK was the dream of “something else”! One day we would ……
move to France
own a B&B
buy a canal boat
work as “mature aged” ski bums
travel around Europe as “resort reps” (they’re definitely not called couriers anymore!)
teach English in China
and buy a motorhome and tour Europe and ski out of it in the winter ….
In fact do anything that took us somewhere else! And it did……12 years on… an opportunity for David to go back to Canberra for three years allowed me to retrain as a chef at 50 years old!
A life full of adventure
We DID move to France; we have worked as Chalet Chef and Host in the French Alps for five winters; we toured the UK as Samsung Ambassadors on the 2012 Olympic Torch Relay; we worked as very immature(!) resort reps for Tui in Majorca and Turkey; and went to Africa 3 times.
Whilst we haven’t bought a canal boat or taught English in China yet, we do run a cooking school and a gîte on an old wine Domaine on the banks of the Canal du Midi called Cooking by the Canal du Midi where we run intimate classes for our international clients creating beautiful food from our local suppliers! And in July we will own our first motorhome!
Have Motorhome will travel
Having followed The Motoroamers for a while – their life on the road in their Pilote Scoobie, their “First Step Starter Kit“ and videos have been inspirational for us – we had another serendipitous moment when we discovered them house-sitting for our friends just five minutes up the road! Having toured the dealers in Toulouse and Narbonne, we had settled on a Rapido and were about to sign on the dotted line. However, a first-hand tour of Scoobie, plus their brilliant advice over lunch and a few wines, has convinced us of the joy that is a well-insulated Pilote 740C with an island bed not a French one – David is 6’4″ so a lucky escape we feel!
The decision itself has been a journey – new or second-hand; profile or A class; French or island bed; buy in the UK or France; Bailey, Hymer, Rapido or Pilote; to Gas bottle or Gaslow; alarms; payloads; and wild camping or sites etc – what an absolute minefield it all is! So thank goodness for you motorhome folk out there with your blogs, your forums and your questions and answers, advice and comments, we salute you all!
And our Number 1 lesson? TBYB
So the answer……. after a 3 night try before you buy (we are very spur of the moment people as you can guess) we bought the next day at TPL Narbonne in France. We are still deciding on our extras! We won’t get custody of our new baby until July, which is good as we have our one day classic French cooking classesto run throughout the summer and we need to stay focused (a bit)! We have made great new friends, learned loads and expect to learn a whole lot more over the coming years – and to hopefully meet many of you on the road! And if you are looking for good impartial advice, you can’t do better than Karen and Myles!
So, it’s been an interesting fortnight at Motoroaming HQ as we took time out to see our French friends in Toulouse as we were in the area. We hoped that they could help us navigate our way through resolving an ongoing problem with our shower, buy new batteries, get a service booked and contact the local Pilote dealer where we could get our annual Habitation Check sorted. We’re due up in December and given that we’ll not be back to UK until March, we needed to sort something out in France or Spain.
Whilst Myles’ French is pretty good, when you’re on the spot trying to find the right technical vocabulary, it’s a challenge and can be stressful. So we hoped that having a Frenchman supporting us, we would nail these tricky manoeuvres with the dexterity of a slalom kayak!!
However it’s not been that easy and the ensuing chain of events has created some important learning that we wanted to share for anyone in a similar predicament whilst in France and more particularly for anyone out there having to resolve issues with their Pilote. So here’s today’s Classroom of learning!
If you need to replace your leisure batteries find a Battery Specialist foundin most reasonably large towns. Take one of your original batteries in with you so that you can be sure to get like for like. One of the most important phrases we needed to use was to ask for a Slow Release Battery for a Motorhome which in French isDécharge lent pour un camping car. The two new batteries cost €320 and although we had to order them in, it only took 48hrs.
We have a December 2015 Pilot P740 and we had the idea from somewhere that we had a three year warranty. This is not correct. We have had it verified that we have a 2 year Mechanical Warranty and a 5 Year Body Warranty. So do check what you have so that you can make informed choices.
If the timing of you being away means you need to get a vehicle service done in France then ask a local for a recommended Garagiste rather than using a dealer as it will be significantly more expensive. You need to ask for Une révision annuelle. The mechanic should be able to source your specific oil and filter although we bought ours from a Car Parts shop, which you will find in most large towns. Expect to pay €56 for a filter and 5 ltires of oil on top of which you will need to pay the mechanic’s labour.
A service that includes the oil and filter change is called a Vidange in French
If you need to get a Gas and Electric test (rather than have it done as part of your habitation), then that is a Contrôle de gaz et electrique, which you can get done at a motorhome dealer.
To protect your Warranty you will need to have your Habitation done as close to your anniversary as possible. If this happens to fall whilst you are outside the UK then this shouldn’t be a problem. We were advised that we must go to a Pilote dealer to ensure that any future claim was not null and void and that a note of our Habitation could go onto the central Database. There are two parts to your Habitation; The Gas and Electric check (see above) and the Body Check (which is the bit you need for your 5 year warranty.) We tried phoning the local Pilote dealer in Toulouse only to be fobbed off with a ‘He’ll call you later,” and of course never does. We suggest you physically go in ask to be booked in for one. We had ours done within four days and cost us €123. It took four hours in total, partly because there were other people in front of us.
The phrase for arranging the Body Check part of the Habitation is: J’ai besoin d’une Contrôle d’étanchéité pour mon camping car, s’il vous plaît.
If you own a Pilote, then it is possible to arrange to have your Habitation deferred for up to three months, as long as you contact your Dealer and put this in writing. We have been co-ordinating with Martin Storey, who is a Pilote UK Agent, who has been terrific in helping us to navigate our issues. He confirmed that although it would be better to get the Habitation done around our anniversary date, if it was impossible then Pilote would be prepared to defer it until we got back to UK as long as this was within three months.
If you are away in France and have an issue that falls within your warranty, you do have the option of sorting this out directly with your Dealership in UK, although you can also get this done in France at an appropriate dealer, if you’re with Pilote. Other brands may have different arrangements, so it’s important that you contact your dealer in the first instance.
If it requires urgent attention and you cannot return to UK to get it repaired – as in the case of our leaking shower, which has been an ongoing issue for 12 months, then (certainly with Pilote) this can be dealt with by any Pilote dealer in Europe. Once they open up a warranty claim it goes onto the central system and even if it cannot be dealt with locally, once it’s on the system then your dealer back home can deal with the paperwork. So with our shower, we had the option of trying to get the Toulouse dealer to resolve it, do a temporary fix and open up a warranty claim so that our Dealer in UK could resolve it when we returned.
We’re yet to see if their fix has worked, although because of the paper trail that has now been undertaken, we will have plenty of recourse when we return to the UK.
A note for Pilote owners. The issue we have with the shower is the shower base doesn’t seem to be supported efficiently to the floor and so with pressure on the base, the edges come away from the back wall leaving a gap as the silicone cannot support the weight (and we’re not heavy by any means). Apparently this is a Manufacturing Issue and is common in Pilote vans, so be aware of this and ensure that more than just a re-sealant fix is carried out for you, otherwise it will return to bite you on the backside. In the Toulouse dealership they use Sikkaflex which is the best stuff on the market. We’ll see what happens over the course of the next couple of months.
Whist our French friend was terrific, much of this saga was negotiated behind the scenes with Pilote, so if you have any difficulties and you need support as a Pilote owner, then we suggest you contact Martin Storey, who is incredibly helpful. He is a Pilote Agent for UK owners and you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on 00441902 256990.
Seriously not impressed with Pilote’s idea of a make up bed in the lounge. After a couple of uses the brackets bent, twisted and came off so a ‘fix’ was required…. Oh and I don’t know why Cadac don’t put self levelling legs on their carry chef……
We are now in…..
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.