Travel at a Natural Pace; Enjoy the Journey

Mandale Liberté, France

Actually it is ten months and we have taken it back to Mandale Motorhomes, between Keighley and Skipton, to have it prepared for its second season, a couple of minor warranty jobs and to make some upgrades.

In 2013 we managed 35 nights way despite both of us still working and having other family commitments. We learned a lot of lessons from those trips, first of which was that we should have spent more time away before we went to France for three weeks! Unfortunately the late start to the build (due to late delivery of the base vehicle from Renault not Mandale) meant we only had time for one long weekend and a couple of odd nights.

Before we set off for three weeks in France Mandale were very accommodating and collected the motorhome to make a few minor changes before we set off to France. In France our lack of familiarity with the bigger vehicle got in the way as our previous trip had been in a much smaller VW camper. The long wheelbase of the Renault Master and extra height meant we were more restricted in where we could go. We had chosen a van conversion rather than a coachbuilt motorhome to keep it narrower for use in French villages. However the long wheelbase meant some corners on village streets were just too tight – as a result I managed to knock off the drain taps for the water tanks on a low kerb. That meant a morning on a DIY store car park creating a new solution, it actually worked well and we used it for the rest of the year.

Ups and Downs

Our visit to Villeneuve sur Mer near Nice on the Mediterranean coast was extremely stressful. We had planned to stay a couple of nights with friends who had taken a flat there. We struggled to find anywhere to park because of the height and lack of manoeuvrability. Frequent hill starts in this old hillside town and having to three-point bends meant we managed to overheat the gearbox (probably the clutch as it is a robot manual). We only stayed one night and moved on Next day was Friday and we were worried we would not find a garage at the weekend if the gearbox problem reoccurred – fortunately it did not.

It showed that we will need to plan . With the VW we could take it most places we could take a large car. However France is generally camper-car friendly (as they call motorhomes) so parking in supermarkets and municipal car parks was usually less of an issue than in the UK. We stayed in more France Passion places (typically farms, vineyards and the like) than the previous year and discovered some excellent wine at Chateau de Premeaux near Nuits St George in . We stayed there again on the way home to stock up with wine and crème de cassis. We found the aires (low cost overnight sites) were more crowded, especially close to the Mediterranean coast.

With our twenty year old VW even small hills had been a problem and we were slightly worried about how we would manage in the Alps. They turned out not to be a problem of any sort and we were rewarded with magnificent views. We did not have chance to stay in the area but we had a very pleasant lunch at the Bistrot du Col on the Col des Leques – it was a bikers’ halt. The food was good, the view great, the service and company friendly. Like most diners we had the recommended noix de joue de porc confit. This slow cooked (five hours) pork dish was excellent and is recommended on many alpine motorcycling forums; we add ours. The Alps and the Bistrot du Col we will be worth another visit on a future trip.

Recharging batteries, van and ourselves  MF18039As we got used to the much bigger vehicle the main problem came about because we spend most of our time on sites without mains hookup so are reliant on the leisure battery. We had an extra big one fitted (220Ah, 110Ah is more common) but we often do not travel far at a time. We got caught out with it going flat and refrigerator cutting out after two days without moving. It was so completely flat that even a 150 mile drive did not bring it back to full charge. After urgent telephone calls back to the UK we were advised that to recover the battery we would need to get connected to mains until it was fully recharged. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The campsite was inexpensive (with an ACSI card) as we were out of season and more importantly it was quiet; I had been keen to avoid campsites expecting them to be full of children and noisy; they probably are in August but that is not when we visit. We spent two days there on a large pitch in a far corner with no immediate neighbours. We got caught up with our washing and had long leisurely showers.

We had talked with our motorhome builders about having a three way fridge that also ran on gas. But the standard layout meant it would have needed a complete redesign to accommodate the necessary ventilation and flue. Hence the bigger battery. We have decided that the problem was because we were in the South of France in early summer; we had air temperatures around 30C (85F) and the campervan was sitting in the sun. Because of the high temperatures the refrigerator was having to work much harder than it had at home where it lasted several days even on a smaller battery.

More Power

St Chinian Big blue skies to provide power MF15013Whilst the Liberté is with Mandale we are upgrading it with solar panels. Initially we will fit two (200W total) on the basis that the hotter and especially sunnier it is the more automatic compensation we will get as the solar panels will generate more power as the fridge uses more energy. Whether it will be enough we will find out in July, although we will probably not go as far south. We will have the option of adding a couple more panels if we need to, and budget allows.

Whilst our motorhome is away we have started to plan our trips based on the approach of The Winding Way. As a starting point in the UK we are aiming to visit those counties we have never visited or only driven through. Now we are both working part time we will have more long weekends so we expect to use it a lot more in 2014. In France we will not make commitments that cause us to do a lot of miles, a mistake we made in 2013 – not conducive to our slow travel approach.

Follow The Winding Way for more as we share our experience of slow travel, slow food and the people we meet along the way, both at home and away.

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