I love going camping with a caravan; there is nothing else like it. To have the freedom to drive and stop anywhere you want is amazing. It lets you experience every destination from a completely new and different perspective. You can get closer to nature and the local people, allowing more insight into the cultural changes as you drive through each country. In fact, everything you need for your journey is right there within your caravan, and it spares the hassle of dragging along a suitcase.

Camping means for me beeing close to nature!

My life partner Manuel and I were invited to St. Tropez to attend the wedding of a beautiful couple we had been friends with for some time. We didn’t think twice about it, because we wanted to witness their marriage vows in person, plus to take the opportunity to explore the many wonderful places in the south of France.

PLANNING A CARAVAN ROAD TRIP

We didn’t own a caravan, so when we were planning our trip, we opted to rent a Pössl motorhome. We had prior experience driving a Pössl on past trips, and it was such a positive experience. A Pössl would be the perfect size for two people to travel together in, while also allowing us to bring our beloved dog Fletcher along for the journey.

So I called up the local rental company we trusted and attempted to book a Pössl. To my surprise, all such vehicles were booked and unavailable for the season. So I began a lengthy internet search to find a caravan suited to for our needs, then finally booked a large size motorhome with all the necessary comforts for 2 to 4 passengers. On the website pictures, it looked luxurious inside and amazingly rugged outside. It looked to be the perfect alternative for a road trip to the pristine region of St. Tropez. I dreamed of our glamping holidays every night until we picked up the actual vehicle.

THE CARAVAN CAR RENTAL COMPANY

I arrived at the rental company address, which was a car parking lot in the middle of an industrial business zone. I parked my vehicle to the rear, just behind a caravan that appeared ready to be made into scrap metal. As I stepped out of my car, an Italian gentleman came out a yellow container, just behind the other caravans parked in the lot and walked in my direction with a friendly smile.

He spoke to me with smoking voice, clearing his throat and extending a hand towards me.

“Hello, you must be Roman,” he says, as I hesitantly shake his hand.

“Yes, I am coming to pick up the Laika caravan I booked online.”

The man answered, “Oh, you might have to wait a bit since we are still cleaning it for you.”

I hesitate again, then respond slowly,”OK.”

Just then, a lady comes out of the beat up caravan I had parked behind. She had a dirty towel in one hand and a container of Ajax in the other.

He points in her direction and tells me, “That’s the Laika you have booked.”

All at once, my dreamy bubble of luxurious holidays in St. Tropez in a fancy motorhome, they fell to pieces and died with my heart dropping.

Apparently, no other vehicles were available, so we are laidback and uncomplicated dudes, Manuel and I would be taking this beaten down Laika. The inside rather well kept, but far from being a luxury vehicle like pictured on the website photos. Furthermore, I was never driving such a monster, and I thought if there will be one more scratch it would not matter.

The Italian guy handed me a clipboard with a diagram, on which I was told to draw in any scratches already on the vehicle before renting it.

He said, “Draw in all the scratches you see.”

To which I asked, “Can I draw one big circle around the whole caravan?”

He only smiled, telling me just to mark down any significant scratches. I ended up practically coloring the entire black and white diagram with red marker ink. When finished, I handed him the clipboard back. It seemed pointless taking any pictures because there were more scratches than free space or digital camera angles could possibly catch. This was going to be a big mistake; I was sure of it. And I was so right…

I connected my iPhone to the dashboard swiped my way into Apple music and turned on the stereo system. The volume made the vehicle boom, as I hit the roadway to pick up Manuel and our dog Fletcher.

When entering Zurich City, I suddenly received a call from the car rental company and guess who was calling? It was the Italian man needing to speak to me.

I answer the iPhone, “Hello.”

“Hey Roman,” he says excitedly to hear my voice, “Do you see a yellow key somewhere in the caravan?”

I responded, “Yes, I see one on the passenger seat, what is it for?”

He laughs aloud, “It is the key to the office.”

I remember the yellow container back at the parking lot, all too well.

He goes on to say, “Could you please return it to me. Otherwise, I won’t be able to close up the office tonight.“

Since he seemed sweet, I did turn around and drove back to the rental company, to give him back the key to the yellow container. He was very thankful and also prepared for me a present. He gave me a bottle of 2-liter toilet chemicals for our bathroom in the camper. What a great gift, we are defiantly well prepared for unexpected diarrhea.

From Switzerland it takes around 7 hours to the south of France

ON THE ROAD TO FRANCE FROM ZÜRICH

Finally, I picked up Manuel and Fletcher, although much later than expected. We headed out from Zurich, driving to Schwyz where we saw the famous little and big mountain Mythen. Passing Brunnen, one of my most favorite ride in Switzerland began. The road is sloping among the mountains. It leads to a majestic overlook of Lake Lucerne with a backdrop of the Alps mountain range. This part of the trip was truly magical and brought me some peace of mind.

After a time, we arrived at the nightmare that all North to South travelers must face, the infamous Gotthard Tunnel. The traffic being in September wasn’t bad, so we waited less than 40 minutes travel time. Thank goodness, we stopped at the service station before the traffic jam, where we bought Wave Inferno Chips. We gorged ourselves on those spicy chips, as we waited for our turn into the tunnel. Our mouth was burning like hell. Speaking of hell, before you enter the Gotthard Tunnel on your left you see a giant rock. It is known as Devil Rock, bearing witness to a legendary angry devil who powerfully threw this piece of stone from the mountain tops.

One of my favourite roads in Switzerland leads to a majestic overlook of Lake Lucerne with a backdrop of the Alps mountain range

After exiting the 17 kilometers of tunnel, we entered the beautiful Italian part, the mediterranean atmosphere of the “Sonnenstube” of Switzerland. From there Italy is only 40 minutes away. Once we left the border of Switzerland in Chiasso, the driving conditions began to worsen. It was due to the much bumpier roadways and the fast Italian drivers now on the road. I have always had fun driving through Italy because there are no speed cameras. In Switzerland, you have the feeling of being constantly monitored since the speed cameras are everywhere. I have kind of strange relationships to them. Somehow they like taking pictures of me.

We spent under a half hour in Italy till the first road pay station awaits us. I recommend you to have some coins with you since the staffed counter almost doesn´t exist anymore. Off course, you can pay with notes and even sometimes with a credit card. But with coins you are best served.

Upon entering this first pay station, we inserted our ticket into the machine, but the machine didn’t accept our card. It took several minutes for an employee to address our problem, through a static speaker. But the women only spoke Italian so that I couldn’t understand her. I kept asking to repeat herself, which she did in Italian only louder.

I finally said,” I don’t get you.”

To which she screamed and overturned the boxes, giving us no opportunity to understand her further. But she really freaked out, when we burst into laughter at the situation, as the line of honking cars formed behind us. After 5 minutes some guy showed up, took our ticket and explained what she asked from us to her directly. At last, we paid our toll and left the pay station, laughing for 10 minutes driving away from the toll booth.

The region of Piemont gave birth to the slow food movement!

PASSING CITIES THROUGHOUT ITALY

On the way southbound, we pass through the picturesque City of Milano. It is the capital city of Italian fashion, and it is worth taking the time to discover its true beauty. We went driving straight downward in the direction of Genoa. After passing the Italian region called Lombardy, drivers are assured to enter what is the second largest area after Sicily. Its name is the Piemont, a region flush with large and small lakes. The Piemont is the sacred land of foodies, chefs and food lovers all over the world. It is famous for giving birth to the slow food movement, and of course, many great wines hails from this region of Italy.

Eventually, we crossed over into the coastal area of Liguria and are about to arrive at the actual borderline of France and Italy. Visitors must turn right just before entering Genoa. There are many cute little city´s located directly on the coast to visit and to have some great lunch and dinner. After 2 hours and fifty euros driving through Italy we enter the official French border.

There are numerous of charming town´s on the coastline of the Cote d´Azur

Camping Cote d´Azur

It was already 1 am when we stopped at the first service station while crossing the French borderline. Our arrival in France took 6 hours driving time, so I had been on the road long enough to feel tired, and Fletcher needed a walk. So we took a long stroll, before preparing ourselves to hit the bed and enjoy our first real night of camping in the caravan.

The following morning, we were awoken by the sound of screaming children surrounding our caravan at play. When I peeked out the window of our sleeping carriage, it was apparent that France had come alive since our arrival. There were many other types of campers in caravans all around, most coming from places like the Netherlands and Germany, each of these being known for their camping enthusiasm each year. It was quite inviting outside, being a lovely morning with a bright shining sunrise and so I made a hearty breakfast for Manuel and me to eat.

Once our bellies were filled, we set back on the road toward St. Tropez. Since the wedding was in the daytime, we did not want to delay our arrival, if at all possible. So in our excitement, we did not make any time for scheduled stops along the way. We passed by cultural cities like the charming town of Nice, as well as Cannes and raced our way forward to make it to St. Tropez.

Nice is the unofficial capital of the Cote Azur

Prior to our road trip, we had made a reservation at a camping site with great reviews and an even better reputation. This camp site was considered the best St. Tropez had to offer. I booked a place at the campsite Les Mures in Grimaud first row directly on the beach.

When we arrived at the campsite Les Mures we went straight to the reception to check in. The guy at the reception was excellent and extremely friendly. I liked him on the spot. We had one problem and asked him for support. Since we didn´t want to take Fletcher to the wedding, we ask him if he knew any dog walker. He immediately came up with an idea and told us his colleague is very good with dogs, so he would probably be willing to walk, feed and play with Fletcher while we were at the wedding.

We are quite picky with who cared for him, which meant we never would Fletcher to be given away since we consider him a part of the family. We would have taken Fletcher to the wedding if it were not that the dog walker ended up being such a great person. After a few minutes, a typical French red ginger guy came to the reception. He was a very well-spoken and laid back type of dude, named Kevin. He and Fletcher hit it off; it was love at first sight. Kevin spoke to Fletcher with the cutest French accent, and it was clear that he loves dogs passionately. He was a natural woodland child at heart, having the air of a weed smoker about him and perhaps a tree hugging hippie type. I liked him immediately and was the perfect guy for Fletcher. Kevin offered us even to take him to his place; then he was living with his dog on the campsite, and he promise us when he goes to sleep he will bring Fletcher to our caravan. We loved the idea, and the deal was fixed.

Later we drove through the campsite to find our spot. Almost instantly we got the full attention of the local camp residents. All the people waved at us in a friendly welcoming way. We found our place and start to settle down. I felt a bit observed. When I got out of the car, our neighbors came immediately and introduced them self. We were shown where the electrical outlets were, where the water hookups were and where the showers were set up. This is the nice thing about the camping community, we all stick together.

Our campsite was fantastic and located directly on the beach. It looked even much better than on the pictures of the booking platform. Also, Fletcher was waving his tail like crazy, and when he came out of the car, he jumped directly into the ocean to find pleased cooling since it was boiling.

Fletcher took every chance to jump into the ocean to find pleased cooling


WELCOME TO ST TROPEZ & THE WEDDING

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After two amazing days in St. Tropez we enjoyed our last breakfast at the campsite on the beach after we hit the road again. This time, we leave the coast and hiding north to the Vaucluse department and our goal of the day was the charming city called Gordes. It is only about a 3 hours drive and the first two hours you spend on the highway direction to Aix en Provence. It is a gorgeous scenery, so it fit our travel mood perfectly, just coming down from the romantic wedding bliss. I set my iPhone to play Tracy Chapman’s greatest songs, setting an enjoyable musical interlude for the Provence in sense and sounds.

We were happy to leave the highway because the rest of the ride was through typical cute little French cities. Everything looked so idyllic to us, and we were enjoying every minute to watch the people and to feel the urban life as well the culture.

The final 15 minutes we were driving through the countryside passing by lavender fields. We had to drive up a little hill and then we knew, we can´t be far away from Gordes. Excited we were looking for this unique city, but for a long time we could not see anything. All of a sudden, to our right, high above the Luberon plains, houses and buildings of white and gray stone root themselves into the sharp cliff of the mountain. We couldn’t stop gazing in amazement at the historic spectacle unfolding in front of us.

Before we could discover the city we had to find a camping side for the night, so I checked on Google, and to my surprise, there were one just five minutes from the city. It was a very peaceful and quite campsite called Camping des Sources and we could choice a place where ever we want.


GORDES IN THE SEPTEMBER SUMMER TIME

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The following morning, we awoke very early and began our drive to meet another set of friends from the wedding ceremony. It was a couple from Luxembourg, who wanted to join us for canoeing at the Gorges du Verdon.

The drive to the George du Verdon is picturesque, just as I imagined the Provence, even nicer. There were no highways, only rolling hills and small roads surrounded by tall trees. It was like some fairy tale forest in a movie.

The drive to Moustiers Saint Marie is picturesque, just as I imagined the Provence!

We ended up, where a small street and no people were visible, and I wondered if the GPS was showing the correct information. The possibility to be lost made Manuel very nervous since he is a city boy and uncomfortable lost in the countryside. There was even a blanket of fog, which made the surrounding seem spooky. Slowly we closed in on the edge of the French Alps, allowing me to know, that we are on track. Finally, civilization was visible again and our first stop of the day would be the George du Verdon.


GORGE DU VERDON & MOUSTIERS SAINT-MARIE

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After spending a beautiful day with exploring George du Verdon we hit the road again to the direction of Grasse. This was the most adventurous way we had been, through the French Alps in our large caravan. The journey from Moustiers Sainte-Marie, we had to drive up very steep roads. We reached the top, where the streets narrow and turning left the road sloped on the cliff, high above the gorge below. You could see straight down and view the Saint Croix Lake down below.

Manuel was sitting next to me silent. His fear of heights obviously had kicked in, so I asked if he was alright. He looked like a Gecko with spread out fingers holding himself between two armrests, as we carefully made our way past the cliffs and further the narrow street side. Up there was a lot of traffic from parked cars and people taking pictures, making it almost impossible to pass. But it is something most everyone can understand, when viewing the spectacle up close, you just want to see it from the cliff side perspective.

I felt uneasy, as I questioned my choice to take this route and dare drive the caravan down such tricky causeway. We managed the entire journey to Grasse without any incident, and admittedly it was worth it.

Arriving in Grasse that evening, we checked in at the camp ground. The site was OK for a single night, but I wouldn´t staying any longer.

This night we planned on cooking something nice and enjoying a private dinner for two with Fletcher. But this was not possible because the mosquito population was thriving. We went to bed early, covered in mosquito bites.

Grasse - Discover the secret of how a perfume is made

The next day we planned to go exploring the city of Grasse, but no parking was available that could accommodate our monster caravan. To make things more complicated, also the public transporting of big dogs is not allowed, and so we took the decision to leave early the following day. Our next destination, Monaco.

Monaco wasn’t very far at all. From Grasse, it was a quick drive down to Cannes, and from there the highway leads directly to the city of Monaco. On slow days, it might be an hour and 1/2 drive time. When driving into the city, there was plenty of parking at Les Pecheurs under the Monaco Oceanographic Museum. For a car the size of our rented caravan, it is the only place to park possibly.


DISCOVER THE GLAMOROUS PRINCIPALITY OF MONACO

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OUR RETURN HOME TO ZÜRICH

After leaving Monaco, we followed the same routes back to Zurich. The return trip took about 7 hours with only an hour of traffic ahead of the Gotthard tunnel. We arrived at our home just after 9 in the evening.

But the next morning at 9 was the scheduled time to return the rental car. I reached the parking lot with my rented caravan, and there was no sign of the Italian man from the night I picked up the Laika. Instead, the owner of the company named Stefan welcomed me. He is a grumpy fellow that seems to distrust everything about me. As I exit the vehicle, he comes up to me.

Fist I try to say hello, then try to explain some of the snags we ran into during our road trip to France. I have realized the window blinds are not shutting properly, and the handbrake was working poorly. Stefan immediately assumed I had broken these things.

It seemed that Stefan was searching for damages to pad the rental bill with extra charges. I wasn’t wrong, as he began to inspect the caravan unnecessarily and thoroughly. The vehicle already had a lot of visible marks, scratches and repairs needed, but that was when I rented it.

He beings pointing out scratches behind the cabin door, been made by the crank of the awnings, and other ones that luckily were recorded on the protocol inspection from when I left with the vehicle.

This was followed by an inspection of the awnings because you could slide them out manually. While doing so, a squeaky noise was audible. Stefan shook his head and claimed another part was broken, needed replacing, and I would have to charge for it.

He began climbing a ladder to inspect every millimeter of the awnings. I pointed out, that had also happened on the trip, so perhaps it just needed oil. He got some, but it didn’t solve the squeaking noise.

Stefan told me, “You see, it’s broken.”

I began to lose my cool and got really pissed off. I tell Stefan to get off the ladder because it was my turn to do the inspection. I checked everything, then determined the screws holding the awnings were not tided. I ask for screwdrivers and tighten the fittings. After sliding the awnings in and out, everything was like new again.

This didn’t stop Stefan from walking in circles around the caravan looking for other broken evidence. Over the right-hand front wheel, he found scratches, which he claimed came from crashing into something.

I said,” I didn’t hit anything. Otherwise, I would have already told you about it.”

So I took the protocol and showed him that I had marked this scratch. He answered me that this scratch I marked was the one two centimeter above the scratch I did.

Again I was infuriated saying, “It has been an hour, I am finished arguing with you.”

Stefan said, “OK, I will send you an estimate of the final costs on everything found today.”

Of course, I responded, “Bring it on. We shall see.” I didn’t want to start a fight since he still had my 1500 CHF held as a security deposit for renting the caravan that week, plus I hadn’t yet picked up my car either.

After all this nightmarish handling of the situation, he actually asks if I wouldn’t rather buy this junk pile of a motorhome or maybe another caravan in their parking lot, saying he had many deals to offer.

It now has been 2 weeks since we arrived back in Zurich from our caravan road trip, and after 3 email attempts to contact me, Stefan seems to have forgotten about his damage control cost estimate or any sort of bill at all. Neither has my 1500 CHF security deposit been returned or refunded in kind.

So I can hardly recommend that odd little car rental company, easywohnmobile.ch! Not unless your travel plans are in a pinch, but they did have one of the worst vehicles I ever drove available on the starting line.

There is another place, which I can highly recommend, that is not in a parking lot and is a professional rental company with a real garage under its roof, call on caravancenter.ch. If something breaks, they can fix it for free themselves, which is quite a big deal with some other companies.

Amazing things happen, especially under the most surprising real world circumstances. Despite the rental car company issues, Manuel and Fletcher, and I had a wonderful time in the south of France. The beaches of the Cote Azure will always be with us in our hearts, the French Alps, the cities of Italy, and every place in between. We will forever remember our friends at their wedding, but also made memories with one another camping, driving and exploring that will be with us for the rest of our lives.

See you next time.