10 Tips for Navigating our Schengen Sentence

10 Tips for Navigating our Schengen Sentence

At Motoroaming HQ we are finally coming to the end of our first official Schengen Sentence. After 84 days in Europe through the winter 2021/22, we returned to the UK to tread water until we were able to step back into the Zone. The period from 21st February until the end of May has taught us so much about how navigate this ‘sentence’ (said of course tongue in cheek). Such have been our revelations during this time that we wanted to share our lessons about how to make the most of this period, based on our experiences.

Irrespective of your views of Brexit, we have it, fair and square; now we must navigate it positively in a way that meets all our travel needs and personal requirements. There’s no doubting for those of us who have been used to roaming freely across Europe, navigating the Schengen has had an impact on all our travels. 

As with all aspects of life, how we deal with our challenges is driven by the mindset we adopt when managing these changes. We can moan all we like, although these new rules are here to stay and so if we ‘bend with the wind’ we can learn a new way of travelling that creates a ‘new normal’. 

We have talked to so many people over the last six months and there’s no doubting that the prospect of coming back to the UK for long periods is faced with a dose of dread. As a result we have found many like-minded souls trying to string out their stay in Europe for as long as possible. Often we saw people choosing to bomb it back to the nearest ferry to maximise their time, some having issues with breakdowns that took them to the edge of their allowance, placing all manner of stress on their lives. 

It’s worth adding at this point that we all adopt our own strategies for making the most of our travel time, especially if we are full-time; so there is no judgement being made here. We are, after all, all doing our best with what we have available to us. There is no right or wrong way – just our own way.

As I reflect back to our return in February, I remember we stepped upon our English shores with heavy hearts. We knew that, for at least the next 90 days, we would need to manage our time in the UK otherwise it could feel as long as a winter’s night. We knew instantly that exploring ways to make this period productive and deal with our itchy feet would be a really constructive conversation to have. So having now experienced our first Schengen Sentence, we wanted to share our thoughts, reflections and tips, given we are all in the same boat. 

Scoobie Gamle Strynefjellvagen

10 Tips for Navigating our Schengen Sentence 

1. Hold back some of your 90 days 

When we started talking about our approach to the Schengen Shuffle, we decided our strategy would be not to use all our 90 days.  We wanted to have a buffer to make allowance for any unexpected events. So we choose to save some days in case we break down (which we have a tendency to do) or we needed to get back in hurry. And bizarrely this strategy has really helped us navigate our Schengen Sentence, albeit by default.

This year we ended up having 6 days spare from our winter trip. This enabled us to use these days for a surprise visit to Paris for my mum’s 80th Birthday. Whilst we considered ourselves lucky to have had these extra days, in fact it will now form the basis of our travel strategy catering for our UK lay-over. That break away to foreign shores was great to give us a bit of a European fix, which has proved to be a priceless lesson. Whether it is a City-break for a long weekend or a quick week in the sun somewhere, having enough days to facilitate that break away that could be a god-send during our time back in the UK.

2. Book things up ahead of your return to the UK

Psychologists and Life Coaches agree that to have something to look forward to every 13 weeks is important for our well-being. I think for us wanderlusters, we need something more frequently than that. 

Whilst we were in Portugal, three weeks before our winter trip ended, we began making plans for our 90 days sentence in our homeland. Those plans included a surprise Birthday trip to see my bestie on the Isle of Man, family gatherings to reconnect with loved ones and even practical appointments like Motorhome service, MOT and Dentists. We also took the opportunity to do different things to mark events such as Mother’s Day and Birthdays. This certainly made our time back in the UK more wholesome rather than simply ‘sitting out our time’  before our pass to freedom was released. It gave us a purpose, made life more pleasurable and allowed us to do things that added value to our lives. After all life is just too damned short. 

3. Build in a European non-Schengen or long-haul visit

We’ve talked a lot about the Schengen Shuffle and how to maximise our travel time outside of the UK. And there’s absolutely no reason why this couldn’t work in our favour during our Schengen Sentence too. So why not consider a week to Croatia whilst they finalise their Schengen membership?  At the time of writing, they are a non-Schengen option and will be until 2024. So that is a very viable option that has no impact on our allowance. What about Cyprus? They too are outside of Schengen for the moment; same with Morocco, Turkey, Romania and Bulgaria. We’re not suggesting taking the van; we are saying – why not fly for a bit of a holiday? If funds allow why not go further afield for an adventure? This will certainly be on our agenda for future years as we look to take advantage of what Brexit offers.

4. Put your van in storage and have a staycation

If like us you are full-time then some of the options above might seem a bit more tricky to navigate. After all what do we do with our van? Often our insurance small print says that we are not allowed more than 48  hours away from the van, so that can add a very real complication. Our Comfort Policy though does say that we can store the van in a CaSSOA Gold standard Site, so that is what we did. We found Cadeside Storage and Campsite in Wellington, Somerset, that allows members of the Caravan and Motorhome Club to store their van safely and compliantly. So we took advantage of this and on two separate occasions stored Scoobie for just £50 per week. There is also a monthly charge if you wanted to go away for longer.

This has been revolutionary for us and will absolutely feature in future Schengen Sentence periods. It has also confirmed our need to ensure we keep up with our C&MC membership fee. This storage facility allowed us to book up an AirBnB in the Roseland Peninsula, a part of Cornwall that we don’t know and would never dream of taking Scoobie to – and it was an amazing retreat. 

5. Tour the UK and Ireland

I think Brexit offers us a huge opportunity to explore our own country. And whilst we may prefer the balmy weather and cheaper lifestyle across the Channel, our homeland has some terrific sights to see. Whilst we didn’t do much exploring during this particular period, 2021 saw us explore areas that were brand new to us. Essex, what a joy that county is. Scotland – goes without saying, especially Dumfries and Galloway. And then there’s Wales with its hidden gems. Of course the weather is not guaranteed yet having seen some of the Spanish forecasts this spring, sunshine is never a banker.  

As part of our 2022 advantures, we are heading over to Ireland, both north and south. Neither of these countries contribute to our Schengen allowance so we are totally free to roam here either as part of a longer road-trip or as a way to break up your Schengen Sentence. You can sail with Stena Lines from Liverpool, Holyhead or Fishguard. Or why not take the opportunity to visit the Isle of Man, sailing from Liverpool or Heysham. Whilst the ferries are not cheap, if you go for long enough, then the cost is no more than hard hitting than our diesel costs. 

6. Buy a little run around car (if you don’t already have one)

Whilst I would much rather ride alongside my travel buddy in the van, having our little runaround car that we bought during Covid, has been a priceless resource for us; even though we have to travel in convoy. Finding little campsites tucked away in the countryside has allowed us to still roam and reach appointments having the car by our side. Granted this comes with additional complications when you come to return to the Schengen Zone again. Although we have found a campsite who will store the car for us for £30 per month and of course we can SORN it and don’t have to pay out for insurance whilst we are away. So we will just built it into our monthly budgeting.

 

7. Get your DIY jobs done

As we reflect back on our 6 years of travel, we have found that whilst on the road, we rarely have much time to do practical ‘stuff’.  You know things like clean the roof, bash the carpets and fix things that have rattled and rolled on the roads through Europe. The one thing about living or travelling in a van is that there is always something to mend – or so it seems to us. It is true that our travel lifestyle means that sometimes we need to stop to do our jobs, and so having time in the UK to be still and address our little niggles has been so productive.  Having access to DIY shops and places that fulfil your creativity is great and gives your van a whole new personality, ready for your next trip.

When we see that this period can serve a positive purpose, then it helps us navigate the time with a healthier mindset.

8. Start to plan your next Schengen trip

Talking about your next trip, use this homeland time to look forward; to dream, plan and organise. It keeps your wanderlust satiated and gives you something to work towards. This has certainly been true for us. Planning our next 10 months out has been a really good focus, especially given that it needs a bit more thinking through these days. I have really enjoyed finding places to visit when we head over to Ireland. Going through Pinterest and joining new Facebook groups to collect ideas keeps the excitement going. Whilst I am an advocate of being grounded in the here and now, having half an eye on the immediate future is also healthy, especially when you are trying to navigate being in a place where you might find yourself stuck. 

Planning for a trip

9. Find new places to visit and some ‘go to’ stopovers

Whilst we have focused our time and location on the M5 corridor, we have also tried to mix up our ‘homes’. We’ve balanced going to CL’s that we love for their location, walks and accessibility to the motorway. Also we have relished finding new spots that are so easy to bypass keeping our sense of exploration alive.

We loved our Orchard Farm Campsite and Glamping Pods near Glastonbury for a Mother’s Day surprise; being on the Somerset Levels exploring the Nature Reserves; finding a lovely wild spot at Dunkeswell Aerodrome and enjoying Broadhembry in Devon.  We have a go-to site in Hereford in the middle of the countryside at Holme Lacey and love our Golf Centre retreat at Cleveland. We have indulged ourselves in days out finding new hidey holes at Frampton on Severn and Otterton Mill down in Budleigh Salterton.

When we reflect back it’s been quite a rich set of experiences that are all too easy to miss waiting impatiently for our new 90 day allowance to begin. 

Avoid places that just make you feel uncomfortable for whatever reason. It’s important to feel at home whilst we navigate this period. We’ve chosen mostly CL’s with hardstanding to avoid sinking and which enable us to manage our UK budget, which is invariably more expensive than on the continent, where we wild camp a lot more. Also it is worth keeping a mindful eye on Bank and School Holidays as advanced booking may be required. We got caught out during the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.  

10. Do things that make you feel good

Life is always about balance and when you find yourself in a place that feels less than appealing, it is important to nurture your physical and mental well-being. So dig deep and focus on what motivates you, makes you feel fit and healthy and that pleases you. Whether that might be finding a yoga class, doing some daily walking, eating nice meals or engaging in a hobby that you love. Or perhaps do things that you wouldn’t normally have time for when you’re out travelling. Treat yourself to meetings with friends, or making connections with people you’ve met on the road. Anything that gives you a focus, makes you feel good and inspires you. All these important little wins will help you manage any sadness you feel not being able to travel in the way you really want to. 

Whist we would undoubtedly prefer to be in Europe full-time (minus the MOT of course), that is not possible right now. So this time back in the UK has been revolutionary for us and has given us a new perspective of how we can travel differently. Small adjustments to the way we manage our non-Schengen time will help make a happy life rather than one peppered with irritation and longing. Life is short and finding ways to adopt a healthy approach to our challenges is key to our happiness.

So we hope that sharing our experiences from the last three months might give you something to think about with your travels. We would also love to hear from you if you have other ideas to add to this list. How have you managed your Schengen Sentence that we can share with others? Please feel free to add comments below or comment on our Facebook Page.

Here’s to a healthy, happy and heavenly travel experiences, home and abroad.

 

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The Schengen Shuffle for Motorhome Travellers

The Schengen Shuffle for Motorhome Travellers

Mention the word Schengen to most people and it will be received with a mixture of anger and frustration. We’ve been trying to come to terms with our travel restriction for a few years, although on 1 January 2021 it became real. Irrespective of your Brexit opinions it is here to stay and Schengen rules now apply to us if we want to cross into Europe.
 

We have decided to put pen to paper after seeing far too much confusion on our Motoroamers’ Chat Room in particular. It’s odd, I so thought we had ‘got it’ although one particular post challenged my thinking and got me into a right old panic. So we had two days doing more research, looking for blogs and trying to get clarity. Myles even built a spreadsheet so he could get it clear in his own mind. The one thing that I noticed was there was little by way of blogs relevant to motorhomers looking to extend their stays in Europe. So the culmination of our tears, tantrums and stress is this blog with the specific intention of providing information for those of us who want to do the Schengen Shuffle without risking getting a fine.

 
We realise that it’s a bit of a risk going public as you are so open to criticism although we wouldn’t do it unless we were totally comfortable in our information. So we offer our research, explanations and presentation in an attempt to help you. With examples of how trips might look, we want to give you knowledge and confidence in the Schengen processes. Although please we ask you to do your own calculations relevant to your trips. This blog is just to get us all clear on what we can and can’t do and all the terminology that seems to set out to confuse and get us tearing out our hair.
 
We also acknowledge that although Schengen is a reality for us right now sat in 2021, because of Covid travel restrictions have created a double whammy for us. So few of us as yet have been able to put all this into action. Please refer to the examples as hypothetical as we are currently not allowed to travel anywhere at the moment. (@March/2021). This is how the blog will shape up.
 

What is Schengen and what does it mean for us as motorhomers?

Schengen is the term used to describe the treaty that lead to a passport-free zone that currently covers 26 countries across the European continent. It was created on June 14 1985 resulting in individual countries ending border controls between members. The vision was to build ‘a Europe without borders’ creating a concept of free-movement. Five years later the Schengen agreement was implemented although in reality the policies and rules didn’t come into force until 26 March 1995. After this the Schengen agreement grew with more countries joining the original five members. And now 26 countries are part of the Schengen Area.
 
The essence of Schengen is that within the continent it abolishes border controls and the need for passports to cross from one country into another. This of course is favourable for those countries within the Schengen club. For all other countries outside of the Area, restrictions are imposed to the amount we can travel visa-free through the member countries. This has implications for us as we have now left the EU meaning we become a third nation country. We will be restricted to a 90 day limit in any 180 days. More on this shortly. At borders after leaving the UK, our passage into Schengen will be recorded either electronically and/or via a stamp on our Passport. It means that we will need to plan our trips more carefully to ensure that we don’t overstay our visit to the Schengen. At the moment we don’t have any data to state what the fines would be for exceeding our limit although we need to expect some sort of penalty. It is reported that different countries impose different fines and that won’t become clear for us until we are once again allowed to travel outside of the UK.
 
Currently 62 countries, including the UK  can visit the Schengen zone for business or travel reasons without the requirement of a visa. In order for the Schengen countries to control security there is an electronic application called an ETIAS planned for launch by end of 2022. This ETIAS enables citizens of third countries such as UK to enter Schengen without the need for a visa. So the good news is that we are visa-exempt for entering the Schengen area for up to 90 days. We will provide more information on this when implementation dates are announced. Although for the time being no ETIAS is required for our entry into Schengen.

 

Schengen Terminology made simple

Schengen country – Is a country who has signed up to the Schengen Agreement and thereby allowing freedom of movement across their borders. Visiting each of these countries means that we can only spend 90 days in each rolling 180 day period.

Non-EU Schengen country – There are members of Schengen who are not part of the EU such as Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Lichtenstein although have for economic reasons decided to sign up to the Schengen Agreement. 

Non Schengen country – There are three types of non Schengen countries. The first is Ireland who has opted out of being in Schengen meaning that we can visit without needing a passport or it affecting our 90 day allowance. The second are countries who are part of Europe although who are not part of Schengen such as Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia and Ukraine. The third are countries outside of Europe that we are able to access for up to 90 days that include Turkey, Cyprus and Morocco.

Pending Schengen countries – It’s important to set these countries apart from other non-Schengen countries as their membership is currently pending and under review. So Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia are expected to join at some point in the future, although for now we are able to travel around these countries for up to 90 days, without it affecting our Schengen allowance.

Microstate de facto principalities – Aside of all these categories there are also four microstates that are principalities with a small population and few natural resources that whilst in Europe are not in Schengen. They are known as de facto countries and we are able to visit these countries without it affecting our allowance. They are San Marino, Vatican City, Andorra and Monaco.

Third Nation – This is the description used for countries that are outside of the EU. UK is now recognised as a third country following our exit from Europe on 1/1/21.

ETIAS – This is the European Travel Information and Authorisation System. Similar to the system required to enter US, at the back end of 2022 it is expected that we will have to register an Etias prior to entering the Schengen zone. It will cost around €7 per application.

Rolling 180 days – This is one of the key elements of Schengen that is most misunderstood and yet so critical to our plans to Schengen Shuffle. Schengen is like an escalator; always moving, rolling. So not like a calendar where the months are static. The 180 days will move according to when you want to enter and exit from the area and it is a counting back exercise from those dates. I will talk more about this, although see your available time as moving and not static and this will ease your planning pain immensely.

Schengen entry and exit points – These dates are really important to us in getting our allowance accurate. Your entry date is the day you leave the UK (or a non Schengen country) and make your journey to a Schengen country and this counts as DAY 1 of your 90 days. Even if you leave the UK at 6.00pm at night, you must still count this as 1 day in Schengen, irrespective of the hours you have stepped onto Schengen soil. Your exit date is the day leave Schengen and move outside of the zone, either returning back to the UK or moving into a non Schengen country. This is also counted as 1 DAY, irrespective of the time you leave the Schengen area.  

Schengen allowance – This is the second key element that we have to get our heads around. Understanding how our allowance works and more importantly how to calculate days spent in the zone is vital, to both your sanity and your noiseless navigation around Europe. So here we go. We have 90 days available within any 180 day period – as we know from above. We also know that this 180 day period is a moving beast and not static. So every time we enter and exit Schengen we must look behind us to see how many days we have already used up. The way to calculate this is;

You take your proposed exit date from the Schengen zone and count back 180 days to establish how many days you will have spent in the area. So as an example let’s take a trip into Schengen from 17 May 2021 with a proposed exit back to the UK on 16 July 2021. Using that exit date count back 180 days = 17 January 2021. Now you can work out how much of your 90 day allowance you have used up during this period and assess whether this trip therefore is doable. If you have spent too many days in Schengen already, then simply make your proposed exit date earlier.

 

Schengen/Non Schengen Map

Understanding which countries we can and cannot visit is imperative to us as we plan our European road-trips. So hopefully this visual map will help to grasp how to Schengen shuffle. 

 

There are a few points to make on this map; the originator of the map didn’t differentiate Andorra, San Marino, Monaco or the Vatican City I guess because they were too small to annotate. So whilst these for all intents and purposes look like they belong to the Schengen area – they don’t. We can travel here Schengen free and save some days from our allowance. So for skiers this might make Andorra a strong possibility.

Ok, so as you will see from this map, it clearly shows those areas that are defined by the Schengen agreement and allows us to plan where we can and can’t go travel to. So first of all those countries that are purple are currently in the Schengen zone and means that we are restricted to 90 days in our rolling 180 days and so careful planning is required here to avoid any penalties for overstaying our welcome. More on this later.

The blue countries are those who are not in Europe although for economic reasons have decided that being part of the Schengen Agreement is important for their countries. So travel here impacts on our Schengen allowance and must be treated in the same way as the purple countries.

The green areas; the first is Ireland which has opted out of Schengen and the second are those countries currently with their application to Schengen pending. So for now we can travel here without having to use our Schengen allowance. Which is great news.

And finally the grey countries are those that are not part of Schengen and are known as Third Nations. So in theory we can travel here without our Schengen allowance being affected. Clearly we will have unlimited travel through UK and Northern Ireland whilst a trip to Turkey and Morocco will be allowed for up to 90 days. So this has some terrific opportunities for those of us wanting to do the Schengen Shuffle especially during the winter.

 

Schengen Shuffle Scenarios

I think to really bring Schengen to life in a clear and non-scary way, we need to create some scenarios for you that will help you work out how your trips might look. So below we illustrate some options and how to calculate the days so you can dance your way around Europe without risking a Schengen penalty. For each of these scenarios, let’s assume that because of lockdown, none of us have been into the Schengen zone because of our lockdown periods. 

Easy Schengen Trip – Out for 90 and back for 90

The easiest Schengen scenario is where you simply decide to leave the UK and head to Europe for up to 90 days and then come back to the UK for 90 days and then head out again for another 90 day block. There is little complication here as there is no Schengen Shuffling going on. You simply leave the UK on 17 May 2021 and enjoy your Schengen countries for a full 90 days and then return on 14 August. That means that you can return to Schengen again for 90 days on 13 November. This calculator image below demonstrates this nicely.

 

 

Schengen Shuffle – Travelling for 11 months out of UK 

Now we start to dance our way through Schengen and begin our shuffle. So you want to spend most of your time in Europe and perhaps not too much time in the UK. Given that most us need an annual MOT, coming back to the UK is necessary, although with some careful planning you can be out of the UK for up to 11 months. We have shown you an example of how to do this using a trip down to Greece, over to Turkey and then back through Bulgaria and Romania. You could of course map the same sort of trip to include Morocco or Croatia (until the latter’s membership is approved.)

You leave on 17 May and decide on just 80 days in Schengen so that you have a 10 day buffer should you need to get back to the UK in an emergency. (Bear in mind that if you did 90 in Schengen and then went to Turkey and something happened back home then you have no days available in your allowance to return to the UK. You would have to leave your van in Turkey and fly back. So just as an insurance policy, it is worth having a little buffer period if your circumstances back in the UK drive it.)

On 4 August you cross into Turkey and stay for up to 90 days. After which you return to Greece and take two days to travel to Bulgaria where with Romania you can tour for 90 days per country if you wish. For the purposes of our exercise I have shown 90 days in total for the two countries leaving Romania for Hungary where we re-enter the Schengen on 1 February. We now have a totally of 88 days to return to the UK allowing us to meander through Austria, Germany and France.

 

To illustrate this one further step; if you look at each of your exit dates and go back 180 days you can calculate how many days you have spent in Schengen. This is how it looks in practice;

 

  • 4 August 2021 exit date – go back 180 days takes you to 5 February 2021. You have no Schengen allowance to consider in this period. 

  • Your next Schengen entry and exit points are 2 and 3 November 2021. Go back from 3 November 2021180 days takes you to 7 May 2021. During this period (which remember is a rolling 180 day period) you have used 80 days, so you have 10 left.

  • Your next entry and exit points are 1 Feb and 29 April 2022. So again from your 29 April date go back 180 days, which takes you to 31 October 2021 where you have used 2 days, therefore your planned 88 days can be used to return back to the UK.

 

There are obviously lots of other options we could illustrate, although hopefully seeing how we could have 11 months out of the UK should give you some confidence to begin planning your own trips. The bottom line to remember is that if you shuffle your way from Schengen into Romania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Morocco or Turkey, then you can have an extended trip out of the UK and still get back in time for your MOT. Obviously in the examples that we have given above, it doesn’t take into account weather conditions that might influence your decisions and the dates are just illustrative. Also as a disclaimer, we must stress that it is vital for you to do your own calculations and planning to ensure that the trip you decide upon is doable without penalty. 

 

Schengen Allowance and Date Calculators 

As we have navigated our way around this topic both for our own trips abroad and also for this blog, we have come across some great tools that will keep you sane, safe and in allowance, which we profile here. 

 

The first essential tool is the Visa Calculator. This is our preferred calculator tool as it is clearer and easier to use. The calculator allows you to input your entry and exit date to Schengen and then it calculates when you must have left the area to prevent penalties. It also allows you to map in multiple trips, which is great. So no paper calculations are needed as in our experience they can lead to mis-planning. We strongly urge you to if not plan with this tool at the very least use it to check your predictions. 

The second tool we found incredibly helpful is the Date Calculator. Trying to work out what 180 days back can be tricky even using your Phone’s calendar. So make life simple and use this site instead. It allows you to put in a date and then either add or subtract the desired number of days. It is terrific and makes life simpler, quicker and far less stressful than the classic ’30 days has September, April, June and November’. 

I have saved both of these websites on my phone and popped them into a folder called Schengen so that I have easy access to them. You can do this too by going into their websites and tapping the three horizontal lines on the bottom right of your screen. Then you press Add page to and you can put it on your home screen. 

 

Schengen Top Tips

This final section is more of a hypothetic section given that at the time of writing, we have not been able to travel and put our knowledge into practise. That said I think for now, there are some planning tips that we can offer you to help you navigate your Schengen Shuffle more easily. 

  1. Perhaps the flexibility of travel may be jaded by Schengen with intuitive right turns limited under the restrictions. Although there is no reason why, certainly for now, we shouldn’t be able to enjoy full and rich travels through Europe. We just need to plan a little more precisely than we have in the past. Travel is still possible and so keep your minds positive and upbeat.
  2. Avoid going to the edge of your allowance. 90 days might be alluring, although in any plans we need to cater for the unforeseen such as family crises, illness, breakdowns and incidents and our Schengen Shuffling is no different. Make sure you give yourself some scope for emergencies or things that you hadn’t catered for. Don’t risk getting penalties for having to overstay because of that breakdown that cost you five days you hadn’t allowed for in your plans.
  3. Make sure if you visit Turkey and Morocco you will need to get additional insurance. We have recently found out that Comfort have suspended their Morocco and Turkey cover. So sadly unless Aviva’s policy changes, we will be leaving for Saga in December. Make sure that you provide the specific dates to your insurers of your stay in these two countries so that they can send you the Green Card that is a requirement. For more information on Morocco, check out our free Ebook which gives you more essential information about your entry to this exciting African country.
  4. Make sure that your passports have at least 6 months left on them otherwise you may be prevented from travelling outside of the UK. Also make sure that you get a stamp from the Border Control to show your entry and exit points. Whilst it should all be automated, for us this is still so new, a stamp will prevent any disputes along the line.
  5. When you use the calculator to plan your trips, especially if they are multiple, take a screen shot and save it on your phone so if there is again any dispute you can demonstrate your dates using the calculator.
  6. Remember when travelling to the continent there are restrictions on the food you are allowed and prohibited to bring in. Check this website for the specifics otherwise you risk these items being confiscated.
  7. If you travel with pets, you should look to explore getting an EU Pet Passport otherwise you will be restricted to just 4 months in Schengen and non Schengen countries using the UK’s Pet Passport scheme.
  8. Keep your eyes open for Visa Extension information from each Schengen country. Whilst there are visas that you can apply for, for work purposes, there are few that cover tourism extensions. This may change as Covid restrictions are lifted and countries want to encourage UK travellers back into their countries. Although at the time of writing there are no immediate plans for this to be offered.

 

So this brings us to the end of our Schengen Shuffle guide. We hope that is has helped demystify some of the terms used and the confusions that have been building around what we can and can’t do. The bottom line that travel is still possible and more than perhaps we thought possible. So we hope that this will all feel hopeful and positive for you.

If you have any questions please drop us an email at themotoroamers@gmail.com and we will endeavour to answer them.

 

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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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7 Czechia Beauties outside Prague

7 Czechia Beauties outside Prague

The Czech Republic, severed from its old Slovak half, sits in apparent landlocked contentment, inside the European Union but outside the troubled Euro Zone, set into the new Continental mosaic like one of the small sturdy paving stones, just a few inches square, that form the sidewalks under the visitor’s ambling feet.    Thomas Mallon

 

During our 43 months full-time travel adventures, we’ve been blessed to visit some incredible European countries. Each destination having a space in our hearts; some taking more room than others. Our excitement at the beginning of  2019 however, exceeded anything we’d experienced up to this point. A Summer in Scandinavia – we had been waiting for this since we left UK shores. Our anticipation of visit Denmark, Sweden and Norway was as high as the heavens. And what a dream four months it was. Sights and experiences that surpassed our experiences. The memory book and my camera’s SD card were seriously full.

So how on earth would we beat those experiences? Well we have come to learn with our life on the road that there is no ‘beating’, just unique and individual cultural experiences. Each country is special in its own right. That said, we wanted to continue our travels with the same curiosity as we always have. So en route south for some much needed sun, we decided to check out the Czech Republic or Czechia as it is more commonly known.  This would be new country five for 2019. 

After the imposing scenery that Scandinavia offers in bucket-loads, we entered Czechia with a little trepidation. Although we didn’t need to worry. Within a couple of hours of crossing the Poland/Czech border at Boboszów we felt the country’s charm instantly touch us. It felt easy on the eye after the overwhelming magnificence of Scandinavia’s trio. Gently rolling hills, winding roads through farmland, forest and castles! Hundreds of them; up to 1000 depending on your definition of ‘castle’. Our two weeks here were going to be a very lovely excursion and our fears faded away into a sink of dishwater. Let us share with you our journey through this green and pleasant land, not even scratching the surface of its offerings, although with enough evidence to make us return – except to Česky Krumlov – although more on that in a moment.  Check out our fully interactive map below that lists all our overnight stops and country highlights. 

 

Our 7 Czechia Beauties

1. Czechia’s Castles

Ok, so castles are not everyone’s cup of tea, although there’s no denying their prowess when it comes to design and historical significance. I love to examine the intricacies of their architrave, the phallic extensions of their towers that preside over the lands below and the ghosts that glide through the walls with a story to tell. I enjoy imagining the footprints that have been left behind by the Dukes and soldiers and the war tales that are undoubtedly etched amongst the plaster. 

Of the 1000 odd castles you can see around the Czechia countryside, 12 caught our eye. If we’re honest we did get a bit castled out, although if you’re going to overindulge in these historic beauties, I can’t think of a better place. With history dating back to 12th century, Czechia’s castles offer us legend, intrigue and romance in equal measure. They invite you to shut your eyes and step back into the past seeing maidens with flowing veils and knights clad in armour on horseback, fighting for their maiden’s protection. I’m sure there is plenty of distasteful activity to add to the mix, although every one of these incredible buildings evoke waves of history as you gaze around their amazing construction. 

From the Rock Castle ruins of the Bohemian Paradise such as Vranov, Frydštejn, Kost and Valdstejn to the pristine presence of Boucov and Litomysl. Castles in town centres, like Jičín and peninsula fortresses of Orlik and Zvikov keeping guard over the magnificence of the Vitava river, south of Prague. And two pièce de resistance giants of Česky Krumlov and Hluboká and Vltavou. Czechia has a veritable feast of chateau brilliance and you’ll not go wanting. Here is a selection of images from the 12 castles we visited. And to think there’s hundreds more to satiate our historical appetite. 

 

 

2. Česky ráj – Bohemian Paradise

Czechia is a modern predecessor of the Imperial State of the Kingdom of Bohemia which was established in medieval times. And although the Czech Republic has reinvented itself more than Madonna, Bohemia still has a presence in the country. Whilst the Kingdom status dissolved in 1918, Bohemia is interwoven throughout their culture and is recognised as more than just a modern regional name. So when you come visit the Bohemian Paradise of the north east you are stepping into a historical storybook that has Bohemian culture embedded into its fibres.  

Although the Bohemian Paradise is so much more than medieval history. It’s a 100 metre square area of geological genius. With its sandstone rock pillars that hide themselves amidst the pine and beech forests, you walk amongst 60 million year old giants. Tiny dots compared to these brilliantly crafted pillars, hikers, rock climbers and adventure seekers love the Česky ráj. After four days exploring its rich variety, we fell in love with this place, just a mere 90 minutes from Prague. For a more detailed look at the area, click here.

 

3. Kutná Hora – Old Town

Czechia is blessed with 12 UNESCO sites, one of which is Kutná Hora. A 12th century settlement founded with the country’s first Cistercian church at Sedlec Abbey. In the 13th century, the town’s fortunes took a massive shift when German settlers started to mine for silver. This gave Kutná Hora greater financial and cultural status than even Prague, such was its importance. Since 1995, the old town has been given the UNESCO badge; protecting its Gothic church, Royal Mint palace and Museum. It’s a great place to wander and feel the historical significance of the area. Less than 90 minutes from the centre of Czechia’s capital and just 45 miles (77km) you will be in this fabulous place.  Check out our gallery below. 

 

4. Kutná Hora – UNESCO Cathedral of our Lady and Sedlec Ossuary

Our entry in at number four is worthy of its own listing and not hidden behind Kutná Hora’s mask. Just outside the Old Town hub and close, bizarrely to the commercial centre, you will unearth a UNESCO church and the macabre Chapel of Bones.

The Cathedral of our Lady of the Assumption and St John the Baptist (to quote its full title) has seen its fair share of history in its eight hundred year history. Originally part of the Cistercian monastery, it was the first cathedral-style building in Bohemia and the largest sacred building at the time. However the Hussite army plundered and burnt down the Cathedral in 1421 and it remained in ruins until the 18th century. It was at this point that architect Jan Blažej Santini began investing much needed love into the building combining both Gothic and Baroque styles, giving it a unique design not found anywhere else in Europe. The monastery which was seriously in debt at the time, was transformed into a Tobacco factory, which remains today, albeit more as a museum. Eighty years after the beautifully crafted Cathedral stood as a symbol of prosperity and grandeur, the area fell victim to greed and as a result the monastery was sold and the Cathedral became a flour-store. In 1995 it was ceremonially consecrated and honoured as a UNESCO property. 

Just across the road you start your path towards one of the those unique travel experiences that feel somehow inappropriate and yet   you are drawn towards it nonetheless – as if free-will no longer exists. The Sedlec Ossuary is a chapel decorated with the bones of 60,000 people. Like its cousin in Evora Portugal, this ossuary has the most incredible decor, which is fascinating and macabre in equal measure. Its history originates, according to legend from 1278.  T,he sprinkling of Holy soil brought back from Jerusalem made the Sedlec cemetery the oldest Holy Field in Central Europe and a popular place to be buried. After a period of famine, war and plague, the cemetery became over-run and in an attempt to reduce the size of the graveyard, 60,000 bones were exhumed and dumped in the Chapel’s cellar.  It is thought that the bones were decoratively placed into six pyramids by a partially blind monk during 16th century.  Then in 18th century the Cathedral’s designer Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel was tasked with reconstructing the chapel, inside and out. Further designs were created following the dissolution of the Cathedral, monastery and chapel in 18th century when the Ossuary was purchased by the Schwarzenberg family. They commissioned carver František Rint to renovate the designs and add further decorative elements, such as their Coat of Arms. 

A visit to the Ossuary is more than an admiration of the placement of bones into a design. It is a symbolic reminder that death will visit us all and that ‘What we are, you will become, and what you are, we once were.’ It’s a strangely moving experience when you grasp the history and presence of each one of these bones and how death visited each of them.  It costs 90czk per person and tickets are available from the ticket office located just across the road from the Cathedral – and not at the Chapel itself. 

 

5. UNESCO beauties

Czechia has twelve UNESCO sites across the county and you could shape your entire visit just around these beauties. We managed to see five, if you exclude the Geopark status of the Bohemian Paradise and Kutná Hora, which I have already mentioned.

With the delightful town of Litomysl with its unique motif exterior and cobbled street town, you can easily while away an afternoon checking out this delightful community. (A note for travellers with campers; parking is not easy here as there’s nowhere dedicated for motorhomes. We were lucky to park in the town although it may require staying in a campsite and travelling in, to fully appreciate the town.) 

Just down the road you will find the hilltop homage to St John Nepomuk. Another building crafted by the architect of his time Jan Blažej Santini-Aichel. My he was a busy boy. The site is currently being renovated by UNESCO so it’s a bit unkempt  and there is little parking up at the church. Although it is still worth a quick visit if you are passing through. With its five sided star-shape and its resident pair of peregrine falcons, the source of this church is a bit of a mystery. After a bit of research I found that Jan was commissioned to build it in 1719, following the discovery of preserved tissue of Saint John that had been found in his tomb. I’m sure when work is complete touring the renovated interior will be more information and interesting. 

Holašovice is a delightful village that is certainly off-the-beaten-track. It has history going back to the 13th century and in the five years between 1520-25 all bar two of the population were killed by the plague. A repopulation of the village began with settlers from Austria and Bavaria. After World War 2 the Germans were displaced, leaving the village to fall into disrepair. It was only in 1990 that it was restored back to its full glory and is protected by UNESCO given that it is the best example of the South Bohemian Baroque Folk architecture in the area. Many of the buildings are dated between 1840 and early 1900s, whilst the Chapel was built in 1755. The village is only small, housing just 120 buildings and 140 people, although its typical South Boheniam features make it a very lovely visit for an hour.

The most southerly UNESCO we visited is the much talked about Česky Krumlov. Aside of Prague, it is said to be the most visited place in Czechia and for good reason. Everyone insists a visit here will make your travels to the Czech Republic complete. These are indeed very compelling words and without doubt the setting of this fairytale town is to die for. The Allsorts mixture of houses, colours and textures make this visually appealing. The vistas from the magnificent castle across the town’s roof-tops and ox-bow river give it real camera click-ability and Instagram desirability.

Although there is a black side to Česky Krumlov that I believe needs sharing and which put a huge dampener on our visit. So strongly we felt about this shadow that we are actually not recommending a visit here, despite it being on our Czechia highlight review. We have added so that we can reveal the dark truth about this UNESCO supported destination. Captive Bears! That is the darkness that I talk about. 

We were shocked and disgusted to see two female bears being held like zoo animals in the ‘Bear Moat’. Tour Guides proudly say that these bears are cared for by a bear-keeper who feeds them three times a day and that are part of a family heritage practice that has been in place for hundreds of years. Signs on the railings invite you not to feed the animals, instead to contribute money for ‘a varied diet and delicacies’. Suggesting that this is not funded by the Castle management currently.  I was so unsettled by this sight that the rest of the town passed by in a bit of an angry fog. On further investigation I found that the bears are part of a couple of Festivals to celebrate their Birthdays and Christmas Eve, in the name of education! 

This abhorrent practice has led me to campaign for their release to a Sanctuary that can give them the respect and care they deserve. With letters written to UNESCO’s Ethics Committee, Libearty Bear Sanctuary in Romania, Four-paws and the Born-Free Foundation, I wait to see what will happen. I have written to the Castle Manager although I understand that this practice is deemed legal and so little can be done other than to change the law. If, like me you value animal welfare, then please feel free to add your signature to the petition to change this law and put an end to animals being used as tourist attractions. So our verdict of Česky Krumlov, pretty although with too many Insta-posers, clouds of tourists and animal welfare issues that make it far too unpalatable, for us! 

 

6. National Park Šumava – Bohemian Forest

In the south west corner, hugging the border with Germany’s Bavaria, you stumble across the peaceful haven of the Bohemian Forest. A UNESCO biosphere reserve since 1990, also known as the Šumava National Park, is a heavenly place for hikers and cyclists. The mountain range here has the most extensive covering of forest in central Europe with huge pines that look like ballerinas. With deserted roads that weave amongst the cheerleading trees, alongside lush green pastures and through remote villages, you feel like you have the place to yourself.  The odd ski resort offers a plethora of winter sport activities and forest tracks take you into the heart of the Park with miles and miles of walking opportunities to please outdoor lovers. The Park also supports a healthy population of lynx.  If you want peace and tranquility away from Czechia’s hotspots, then this has your name written all over it.  

 

7. České Budějovice – home of Budeweiser

Who would have known that Czechia is the greatest beer consumers in the world, per capita? And why not, they are prolific beer producers, brewing up a feast with some very famous names. They even have a claim to fame for having the oldest beer in the world – Černá Hora, first brewed in the 13th century. So you could be forgiven for wanting to head to Czechia to sample one of these fine brews. And what better destination than České Budějovice in South Bohemia?

Whilst its commercial exterior is much like any other town in Europe, when you navigate into its centre it reveals its nectar. Not only will every bar in town sell you the original Budweiser (until the Americans stole the label) the town square is one of the largest in Europe. So you kill two impressive travel experiences in one shot. The Old Town is lovely, with its colourful houses, towering church  spires and cobbled streets – and for a couple of hours why not soak up the atmosphere of this beer making king. 

 

Practicalities

Czechia is an up and coming European country that has been on the fringes of the European stage. Although with travel options opening up to so many more people around the world, it is starting to see an increase in tourism. In 2018 alone, 21 million people arrived into the Czech Republic, with almost 2 million from Germany alone. So come soon if you don’t want to be consumed by crowds. Here are some practicalities that you need to consider if travelling to Czechia. 

  1. Understandably with their germanic neighbours, you’ll find more people speaking German than English. Whilst in large cities and towns, many people will speak English, out in the country less so. So come armed with a few phrases that will help and Google Translate as it’s a tough language to get your tongue around. Dobry den (formal hello), Dêkuju (pronounced jequi, thank you) and Prosím (please).
  2. If you have a pre-paid credit card, check that Czech Krone is available. On our Caxton card, we were unable to load Krone so had to withdraw enough money to last us for our two week tour and suck up the commission from our credit card.
  3. Cost of living is cheap in Czechia and remember it is a cash-society, so make sure you have plenty of coins and notes as you enter the country. Car parks for example are all cash, so be prepared.
  4. For those travelling in campers, access from Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia makes exploring this budding country easy. Although in our experience, facilities for motorhomes is still in its infancy. There are very few Aire style stopovers and we found no Service Areas for filling up and emptying. So during our two weeks, we speckled our wild camping stopovers with a couple of campsites to empty and fill up.
  5. Wild camping in Czechia is allowed as long as the rules of respect are applied.
  6. Diesel and LPG is cheap around the country. You find prices closer to Prague are slightly more expensive although expect between 30.50 – 32.00czk (£1.05 –  £1.07). For LPG you will pay, on average 13.50czk (0.46p per litre).
  7. Road quality is pretty good although some off-piste country roads can be more narrow. Although generally we found the roads fairly quiet unless it is an arterial road to Prague.
  8. To travel on some roads and motorways in Czechia, you will need a vignette. These are available at most garages and you can buy as a 10 day, 1 month or 1 year. For our 10 day vignette, we paid 328czk (£11.34). Whilst we don’t often  travel on motorways, we generally always buy vignettes as there are some roads that suddenly become tolls and having the right vignette takes away any stress, given the small cost. 

 

Final thoughts

Czechia is becoming an increasingly popular destination, although as we found out in just a short two-week tour, there is so much more to explore than the capital Prague. Outdoor and nature lovers, thrill seekers and history buffs will all adore what the Czech Republic has to offer. Just off the beaten track, you will find a country that will charm, enchant and delight you and leave you wanting more. Aside of the animal welfare issue we found in Česky Krumlov, we were impressed with what Czechia had to offer and would, without doubt, return to explore some more. 

 

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Other Posts that may be of interest

Denmark Highlights & Interactive Map

Denmark Highlights & Interactive Map

Denmark is not a destination – it’s a lifestyle.  Pintrip.eu

Let’s be honest for a moment about Denmark… Why would you want to put it on your European itinerary? Surely there are more exciting destinations to visit, like the Swiss Alps! Or more dramatic locations like Norway! Yet perhaps for you a trip to Denmark is about heading to Legoland with the kids or may be just a city-break to Copenhagen. Perhaps you see it just as a transitory country to pass through en route to Sweden or the Norwegian fjords! 

Although before you read any further, let me be clear! Come to Denmark! Explore! Stay awhile! Denmark may well be an unassuming country on the European stage, although a visit here is a must. I feel so passionate about persuading you to come here that our 7 Reasons to visit Delicious Denmark’ must be enough to whet your appetite.  If not, then perhaps this more in-depth look at our road-trip may seal it for you. We share with you our Interactive Map that gives you our route, POI and overnight stopovers. Now surely there are no excuses – come you must.  Join us as we cover all corners of this Danish journey and invite you along our 900 mile exploration. Come on in!

 

Interactive Map

<iframe src="https://www.google.com/maps/d/embed?mid=1dM3gUtB0Ph8kI8uv7aaFxm1ecM1G9fUR&hl=en" width="640" height="480"></iframe>

 

As with any road-trip, it is never a complete journey as there are so many roads, miles and corners that you can’t possibly cover. Although we hope that following our path will give you an insight to some of the off-the-beaten track places and some of the more tourist ones that you could build into your trip. And whatever your passions, there is something for everyone. The sporty types, the historians, the nature lovers and everyone in between. 

 

Our Regional Highlights

Denmark has five main regions that are neatly organised into; South, North, Central, Zealand & Copenhagen/Bornholm.  Whilst we decided against Copenhagen, we did visit each of the other four regions and we have split our highlights into those nicely organised categories. So sit back, fasten your seatbelts and let’s get that engine roaring!

 

1.  South Denmark

Rømø Island

Crossing into Denmark on the south-west fringes gave us our first opportunity for an off-the-beaten-track destination. For sure Ribe – Denmark’s oldest town, is a major draw as you cross the border. Although turning left across the five mile causeway to Rømø was perfect for us. Rømø is famous for three things; Being part of the UNESCO Wadden Sea National Park, home to the smallest school and Lakolk beach – one you can drive onto! Whilst the drive can result in a bit of ‘stuckage’ for larger vehicles, generally driving on this compact beach is a real experience. Just having some time to chill out whilst parked up on golden sands is pretty unique and surreal. Definitely one to put on your list. 

We stayed at any beautifully manicured Aire alongside a lake with the best showers we’ve ever experienced. 

 

Ribe

About 45 minutes further north, you reach Ribe. Now this will undoubtedly be on everyone’s must visit list. And who can blame them. Think classical old town, cobbled streets, coloured facias, iconic steepled cathedral and a soul that is 1100 years old. Just imagine how many ghostly footsteps you’ll be walking in. Yet for something different, if you time it right, (unlike us sadly) at 8.00pm you can have a 45 minute walking tour with the Night Watchmen, whose role it is to keep the peace. These days it’s more of a tourist attraction although worth doing for a stroll around the old streets. Tours depart from the Restaurant Weis Stue in the Market Place during summer months. 

We stayed in the main car park for the town, which has allocated motorhome spaces. Although used by college kids until 3.00pm.

 

Billund

Surely on every child’s list must be a visit to Legoland in Billund. Home to the world’s most famous brand, Billund has a theme park to satisfy every child curiosity – both young and old. Although if muscling your way through summer crowds at the park isn’t your cuppa, instead venture into the town centre where you will find Lego House. The outside terraces of this lego building are free to explore and with its six different roofs to enjoy, what’s not to like? If you want to expand your experiences to something a bit more interactive, then you can enter the bowels of the house, although this will set you back £27pp for ages 3+. Babies up to 2 can go in for free.

 

Fåborg

Part of Denmark’s south region is strangely the island of Funen or Fyn as it is often referred to. Funen is one of Denmark’s 400 islands that forms its archipelago and is home to castles, quaint thatched villages and coastal delights. The islands take on a slightly different feel to the Jutland peninsula with a more curvaceous shape to them. Middelfart is the gateway to the island (famous mostly for being one of only 3 places in Denmark where you can get LPG. And for those campers amongst us, this is like liquid gold in DK!) Thereafter it is worth taking the coastal road that winds you through towns like Assens and Fåborg. With its atmospheric port to the boutique style high street with charming shops, it’s worth an hour’s mooch. The Ymerbrøden statue is one of those pieces of artwork that just needs to be seen. Whilst the main square offering is a bronze replica, exploring its symbolism will have you staring in wonder. Just think man suckling from a cow! Yes not an every day occurrence. The rest of the town is gorgeous with its yellow painted church and medieval cobbled streets.

 

Astrup

As you pass Astrup, your breath will be taken away by the Stofmollen. An 1863 windmill that today is home to an incredible emporium of fabric. Every colour imaginable is stored in this charming mill. Whatever you imagine goes with sewing, this place has it all. It’s pretty unique and definitely worth a little stop for coffee. Or if chocolate is more your thing, then drop into Konnerup Chocolatier just five minutes up the road. Handcrafted chocolate to satiate every sweet-toothed lovely out there. Why not grab a coffee, indulge in a bit of Hygge and some sweet treats.

 

Egeskov Castle

And finally in this southern region, a castle to end all castles; Egeskov. Ranked as one of Europe’s Top 50 most beautiful places to visit, Denmark’s Egeskov is a dream – an expensive dream although worth  it.  With a £23pp price tag, you want to make a day of it, although with the gardens, classic car museum and the castle itself, there’s plenty to do for you and the kids. Not our usual attraction although every now and again it’s good to indulge. 

You are allowed to stay in the car park overnight. 

Check our Southern Region gallery below.

 

2.  Central Denmark

Denmark’s Lake District

Our first view of Denmark as we headed from Ribe to Billund was flat and agricultural. Whilst the endless fields of rape seed certainly broke up the view of green, the Lake District was a welcome sight. With a gently undulating landscape, forest and mirror lakes, this is a region unique to Denmark. This area holds the country’s longest river – Gudenå at over 90 miles long, the highest point – Møllehøj at the heady heights of 171m, Denmark’s largest lake – Mossø to name just a few of its best bits. For its outdoor pursuits and water heritage this area alone is worth visiting. 

 

Himmelbjerget

Just 15 minutes drive from Silkeborg, a short diversion to see Sky Mountain (Himmelbjerget) is worth doing. It is Denmark’s second highest point and the views from the tower across the countryside is lovely. Himmelbjerget is particularly famous for being the seat of many political discussions and strategic decisions over the course of history. You can take a boat from Silkeborg to Himmelbjerget if you don’t fancy the drive and 10DK parking fee.

 

Silkeborg

Whilst as a town there is not much to hold your attention, there are a couple of highlights that make Silkeborg a worthy stop for an hour. The first is its Hjejlen the world’s oldest coal-fired paddle boat. Then there’s one of only two sluice locks in Denmark and finally, its piece de resistance is Mr Tollundman. The preserved body of a 30 year old man, murdered and buried in the peat soil close to Silkeborg dating back to 400BC. That alone is worth the 60DK entrance fee.

We stayed overnight at a parking area in the forest and alongside the river, with toilet facilities. 

 

Viborg

North west of Silkeborg is the quaint cathedral town of Viborg. Alive with its luscious gardens, cobbled streets and magnificent cathedral, this University town has a lovely energy. Although compact you will still need a couple of hours to enjoy all its aspects. From the Bibelhaven and Latinerhaven gardens, to the lake, the elegant shopping street and weekly market, there’s plenty to enjoy here. A beer in the Nytorv Square is a must, if for no other reason than to sup a Danish beer and watch the world go by. 

Free parking in the University is allowed for motorhomes for 24hrs.

 

Denmark’s Fjords

Whilst perhaps not on the scale of New Zealand’s fjords or its neighbouring Norway, Denmark has plenty of them. And if you want a bit of off the beaten track exploring, walking or camping, then go no further. This Central Region of Denmark has a plethora of fjords to choose from where the sea is master of all. Except perhaps the wind, which seems to have a dominant role in Denmark’s economy because there is so much of it. Try exploring Ulbjerg Strand and Nymølle Strand where you and the wind can be alone with your thoughts. 

We stayed at Ulbjerg Strand and Nymølle Strand for two nights. Alone and in the most stunning areas alongside the fjord.

Check our Central Region gallery below.

 

3.  Northern Denmark

Cold Hawaii and Thy National Park

The north western coast of Denmark is a landscape shaped entirely by nature. With North Sea winds whipping up tempestuous seas, this is stark yet beautiful scenery. Classed as Denmark’s last wilderness, you will experience a unique coastal perspective that takes you through ancient sand dunes that are constantly shifting and reshaping, forests that do their best to protect the land and lakes. And with more hours of sunshine than anywhere else in the country and thanks to the wind – there’s waves. Lots of them! Waves that attract surfers! Lots of them! Kitmølle or Cold Hawaii as it is endearingly known, is a curvy bay where fishing is still the ancient art. They ably retain their grasp over the surfing camps that have more recently emerged, attracting those wishing to master the waves. 

 

Hanstholm Bunker Museum

During the German occupation of Denmark during World War 2 German armies made their presence known along this coastline. Evidence of their coastal defences against the Allies are everywhere in this northern region. Huge concrete bunkers that look like something from an alien planet, occupy strategic positions poised for attacked. The outdoor bunker museums, like the one at Hanstholm, are free to explore; the museum houses have a nominal entrance fee if you want to learn more. 

 

Lys og Glas – Tranum

For one of those unique artisan crafts that allow you a peak into a country’s culture, then take a little diversion to Tranum. Here you will find an old candle factory that has since been turned into a Guest House and Ceramic Workshop. This is a feast of colourful loveliness and if you adore hand-made crafts, then this is a gorgeous off-the-beaten-track visit.

 

Rubjerg Knude Fyr

In 1900, the lighthouse at Rubjerg Knude was built and since that time the sand and sea have taken their toll on this magnificent building. A hundred years ago it was 200m inland and now it teeters on the edge of the five mile sand dune awaiting its inevitable fate. A fate that will have the sea reclaiming its hold. It is one of those places that needs to be seen much like the Dune du Pilat in France. Whilst this may be second to the French giant, these dunes are incredible and with their natural shaped artistry, treading this fragile yet tenacious land is quite an experience. And do it soon as they predict within the next couple of years, this lighthouse will disappear forever. Be one of those people who can say ‘I went there before it fell.’

 

Grenen Point

Grenen Point is Denmark’s most northerly point and it is far more than just a spit of sand. This area has a very special quality that, like so many places around the world, has to be experienced rather than described. Although I’ll do my best to craft a visual description. The visitors aside, imagine a place where two seas converge, each one searching for supremacy. The angry sea gods fight as if on a front line, each side wearing different battle colours. Undeterred by their wrath, sea life continue their daily routines as they dive bomb the sea’s surface looking for their next meal. And the winds that punish the lands whip up the sands like you’re in a desert sandstorm. There’s a eery silence here that blends with the noise of nature that just needs quiet reflection and of course the odd selfie. The 30 minute walk from the car park is an easy saunter along the coast where gannets and seals can be spotted. Or you can take the tractor taxi if you  need to for a mere 30DK (about £3.50). 

We stayed at the Grenen Point car park for free.

 

Voergaard Castle

As you head on the E45 south, a small diversion will break up your journey. Voergaard is a 15th century castle surrounded by a moat that oozes opulence. Although not open until 11.00am for Guided Tours, you can wander around the moat alone, for free listening to the serenade of the cuckoos. Whilst Denmark boasts 177 castles, this one is rarely on the tourist list and so you can share this with just your thoughts and plunge yourself into Danish history. 

 

Hobro and Mariager

We love going to places that others may by-pass for the bright lights of a cityscape. Given that built up areas are not really for us, we tend to search out the quieter places and are always rewarded with a treasure. And this is so true of Hobro and Mariager. Situated on Denmark’s longest fjord, they each hold a space in the country’s history book. Hobro with its Viking settlement and museums and Mariager – known as the City of Roses is Denmark’s smallest merchant town. Legend has it that this humble fishing village is named after Maria who tragically drowned herself after two rivalling knights died in a duel fighting for her hand in marriage. Mariager also has a Cittaslow title, showing the depth of its historical soul. Also if you’re here, the Salt Mine is apparently worth experiencing. 

We stayed at the Marina for the night that had free services for a 150DK payment.

Check our Northern Region gallery below.

 

4.  Zealand

One of Denmark’s most important and largest of its 400 islands, Zealand is accessed by the Storebælt Bridge at Nyborg. Like the Øresund Bridge to Sweden, this is a magnificent structure that will set you back 370DK/£43 if in a vehicle over 6m.  Zealand is classified into north and south. In the north you have the important town of Roskilde and of course the infamous Shakespeare setting for Hamlet at Kronborg castle. In the quieter south you have a multitude of islands to explore before you hit the inevitable city lights of Copenhagen.

 

Island of Enø

We loved our little saunter over to the island of Enø, which was more by luck than judgement. With its Kroen Canal and draw bridge, this is a fisherman’s haven. With fishmongers everywhere, artisan bakeries and coastal paths strewn with nesting swallows in the cliffs, Enø will delight. It’s only 3 miles long, which is easily hiked or cycled and is known for its musical festivals. 

We stayed at two spots overnight. One night was at the Marina with full services for 165DK (£19.50) and the other was a wild spot at the furthest end of the Island, which you will see on the interactive map. 

 

UNESCO Stevns Klint

Stevns Klint is a geological and historical delight. Its church, that balances on the cliff edge toppled into the sea in 1928 and has since been rebuilt. With a steep descent to the bouldered beach beneath that is not sadly disabled friendly, although if you can reach it, you will see millions of years history embedded in the chalk cliffs. It is classed as one of the best exposed Cretaceous-Tertiary boundaries in the world. That means fossils to you and me. The colour of the water, best seen from the cliff-top walk is just amazing when the sun’s out. Also to top it all, Stevns has a Cold War/Nato history, given that it was Denmark’s first line of defence in the protection of Copenhagen. So plenty to experience here.

It is possible to stay in the large car park overnight for 40DK – just under £5 payable with credit card, DK or Euro coins.

 

Denmark to Sweden – Øresund Bridge

Bridges are pretty important to a Dane’s life as whether crossing from the archipelago or hopping across to Sweden, they provide a cultural and practical lifeline. We have always loved these incredible structures; there’s something spiritual about them; from the design, build and the symbolism of leaving and arriving. So we were excited about heading south around Copenhagen, avoiding the Low Emission Zone and across over to Sweden on the Øresund Bridge. As you leave Zealand you drive through a two and a half mile tunnel and then emerge into the bright light revealing the technically brilliant architecture. Øresund is five miles long and is a great feat of engineering. It’s not cheap though. If you go on line you can save money although for any vehicle between 6-10m, it will cost 704DK (£83.00). You can get a reduction on this if you buy an annual Bropas for €43 entitling you to a 50% reduction. This is only cost effective if you intend to return back over the bridge. 

Check out our Zealand gallery by clicking the image below.

 

Closing Thoughts

Denmark with its coastline, forests, history and archipelago is a must. Be willing to look at Denmark with new eyes. Eyes that see its potential, its limitless beauty and its understated depth. You’ll not be disappointed. Give Denmark a chance and linger longer. We did and we’ll be back. For an even more detailed perspective of your trip to Denmark, keep your eyes open for our soon to be launched free eBook. 

 

 

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