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Walking the Torrent Neuf in Saviese, Switzerland

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Zagan the motorhome is still parked up in the mountains, only now he has moved over the other side of the Rhône valley to a large, free parking area just above Savièse (46.25694, 7.34445). The car park is parking area one for the Torrent Neuf walk, something we had never heard about, but thought we should explore while in the area.

Motorhome parking at Torrent Neuf

After a relaxing Sunday on the campsite, we bid farewell to Phil and Jules as their plans were taking them to Italy over the Grand St Bernard mountain pass. We now have a free diary until the 17th of July, when we hope to catch Stage 10 of the 2018  Tour de France, before heading north for a ferry home on the 23rd. Our initial reaction after the weekend’s race was to head straight back into France, land of the free and cheap aires, but Jay spotted this place on Park4Night and hidden in the reviews was a mention of stunning views and a 3 hour walk. So we programmed satnav and headed up here on Monday morning, just as the ACSI discount rate ended at the campsite we were on.

We paid extra special attention on our drive back down the valley from Randa to St Niklaus where the Zermatt marathon started from, and when we got there after feeling the descent I turned to Jay and asked him if he was planning on doing the full marathon next year. He said he is tempted, but there are lots of other amazing marathons out there for him to try – so watch this space, we may be back!

Our drive brought us back down into the Rhône valley. Along the valley floor a train line, motorway and B road compete with homes, businesses and fruit trees for every square inch of space. The south facing-valley side was even more crammed with grape vines – which we found strange as we saw very few on the other side of the pass in France.

Arriving at the car park there were a few other motorhomes already here admiring the view. We parked up and Jay went to inspect the motorhome service point (2 CHF) and the tourist information hut, which has free WiFi that stretches across most of the car park. Being a week day, the whole place is pretty quiet, and the Internet is superfast – so we’ve taken the opportunity to upload a couple more videos to our YouTube Channel, and update all the apps on our phones etc.

After a spot of lunch, we realised it was only going to get hotter – it peaks around 5pm – so we donned our walking boots and set off. The map at the information point says it’s a two and a half hour return walk, from the start. We were a 45 minute walk from the start. So, packed up with water and emergency jelly babies we set off to see what the walk was all about.

Torrent Neuf Walk SwitzerlandWalking to the start

The Torrent Neuf was a Bisse built around 1430 to bring water from the valley of Morge to the hills above Saviese, as the current channels that were built were insufficient. Along the first part of the walk up to the entrance the Bisse was constructed in its simplest form – a canal or channel dug out in loose earth which was then piled up at the side to hold the water in. Further along the walk the Bisse was cut into solid rock, a tunnel had been dug through a tight bend or more often wooden channels were hung onto the side of the rock face. As we walked along it never ceased to amaze me what lengths people had to go to get access to water all year round, something we take for granted.

Torrent Neuf SwitzerlandThe water channel now runs along a much improved walkway Torrent NeufWalkways and tunnels guide the water high along the rock face

Old photographs and information boards showed you how the Bisse looked years ago, when the locals used narrow planks to navigate their way along it in order to maintain it. I got the heebeegeebees just looking at them.

We had it much easier than the locals who built the Bisse

All along the route signs told you to look out for goats on the cliffs above you, as their movement would lead to rocks or stones being dislodged and sent down in your direction. Small stone fragments were falling off all the time, and Jay got hit by one, but luckily he had his trusty Birthday Skoda hat on, so it didn’t cause any damage.

Torrent NeufAlong with goat warning signs, there was one for bears, but further on a sign further on told us the last one in Switzerland was shot a few decades ago. Torrent NeufHang on, how did he get here?

The best, or worst depending on how you look at it, part of the walk were the suspension bridges. Looking like they aren’t really held on by much, and swinging as you cross, they enabled us to get right to the end of the path and the source of the water the villagers so desperately wanted – warning, lots of photos!

Torrent Neuf Water SourceIt looks like there was a lot of water coming down here over winter bringing trees and huge rocks with it The view out across to the Rhone valley were amazing

Charlie would have hated this, even when he was little and enjoyed a walk

As we started to head back from the source, the sky darkened. We picked up the pace, but didn’t manage to outrun it, soon we were being hit with huge splots of rain. The path is closed in wet and windy weather, and while it was just a few splots it looked like there was much more to come. As we headed back folks were still walking out along the path, so we figured they wouldn’t shut it with people on it and backed off a bit.

Jay watches the sky, while mannequins show what it would have been like before the bridges

Our return walk was significantly faster than the walk out, but we still had chance to stop and make a quick video for you as photos just don’t do the place justice.

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In all it took us around four hours of not very strenuous walking, but with some amazing views. The path is free to walk along, but we made sure we put a donation in the box on the way out to help with its upkeep. If you are ever in the area, I’d certainly recommend a trip up here.

Ju x

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Find Places to Sleep

Google Tour Maps from Motorhome Bloggers

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Julie and Jason Buckley - Authors of the OurTour Travel Blog

Thinking about a campervan trip around Europe, or even a year long motorhome tour? You’ll find tons of first-hand information, hints and tips, costs, places to stay, full-timing info (living in a van), practical advice, photos and stories to inspire you here at the ourtour.co.uk travel blog. Why not start with this summary of our tours to date, or dive into a full list of all ourtour blog posts?

Thanks for visiting, Julie and Jason Buckley

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breakdown cover

Brexit Considerations for a European Motorhome Tour

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motorhome on the channel tunnel How cool is this?

Ju and I are planning to start a six month(ish) motorhome tour of Europe in January 2019 (yeah baby!), which means we’ll be out of the country on 29 March 2019, when the UK leaves the EU. Hmmm. We need to think about what this might mean…

What impact will that have on our travel plans? We dunno. Until the details of Brexit are made known and ratified by parliament, we won’t know, but this post outlines the areas we’re starting to consider, just in case. At this very point in time we’re watching and waiting to see what happens in November and early December, but if you plan to travel with a pet, you may need to take immediate action. Read on folks.

Motorhome on Channel TunnelJu’s booked us on the Chunnel in January, so no fear of sea sickness!

Please don’t treat this post as anything but our thoughts on what may or may not need to be done. We’re not experts in any of the areas mentioned and we may well have misunderstood or missed some key aspects. If the UK agrees a deal with the EU, then it’s entirely possible none of the points below will change from the current pre-Brexit scenario. 

If you spot anything inaccurate or missing below, feel free to tell us using the comments section, that would be very helpful.  Please don’t go political on us though. Comments we deem to be political won’t be approved as we’re just trying to keep stuff simple, and make sure none of us fall foul of the law in April next year.

OK, let’s go.

Motorhome Insurance and Green Cards

Best case here will be that our insurance continues to let us travel in the EEA countries plus Serbia, Switzerland and Andorra, without needing to present a Green Card document to the authorities. If we travel outside of these countries (like Morocco or Turkey for example), we currently have to get a Green Card from our insurer in advance (you physically need the piece of green paper, so it is posted to you, this makes it tricky to arrange once you are on the road). For some countries, like Ukraine and Bosnia & Herzegovina, our insurer will not issue a Green Card and we have to buy third party insurance at the border, known as frontier insurance.

Brexit won’t change the need for frontier insurance, but could force us to get a Green Card for the countries which don’t currently need one. Whether this is necessary or not remains an open point until any deal is agreed with the EU. We’re in touch with Safeguard (our insurer) to get their view on the situation and will update this section when we have a response.

Breakdown Insurance

Our motorhome insurance policy includes European AA breakdown cover. We also have a separate breakdown policy with the ‘German version’ of the AA, called ADAC (this option is no longer available non-German applicants, nothing to do with Brexit). Our expectation is that these policies will remain valid after Brexit, as we’ve not been advised otherwise.

Travel Insurance

We buy travel insurance for our tours abroad. The main reason for this is to avoid potentially very high medical costs for emergency repatriation to the UK, or for emergency private treatment abroad. We don’t see this need changing post Brexit, and will continue to ensure we’re covered but will check the wording more carefully if the EHIC becomes invalid (see below).

Internet and Mobile Roaming Costs

At the moment mobile phone call charges and Internet data roaming costs are capped in Europe. This might not be the case at some point post-Brexit, but then again it might stay exactly as-is (here’s the government’s official line on it). According to the BBC if there is a deal: “All EU rules and regulations, including on mobile roaming anywhere in the EU, will continue to apply until the end of the transition period on 31 December 2020.”  This wouldn’t apply if there is no deal, but the same BBC article states: “Three has “committed to maintain the availability of roaming in the EU at no additional cost following Brexit”. Vodafone, EE and O2 made similar statements.

We use 1p Mobile (www.1pmobile.com) for our phone SIMs (for voice calls and text messages), and Three (three.co.uk) Internet with Legs (mobile Internet data SIMs). So it looks like we don’t need to worry about the Internet, but may need to change provider for our voice and text SIMs. We’ll keep a close eye on what happens and switch providers if needs be (or consider buying SIMs abroad).

The PETS Pet Passport Travel Scheme

We’re no longer travelling with a dog, after Charlie passed away earlier this year. Our understanding is that even if you have a Pet Passport, it might not be valid after Brexit, depending on whether a rabies inoculation test was done when it was issued.

If you plan to travel in the EU post Brexit with a pet, we’d strongly recommend you contact your vet ASAP to check whether your passport is valid, as you may need to allow up to four months to travel after Brexit in a worse-case scenario. You may also need to obtain a health certificate in advance of any trip, another point to discuss with your vet. The reasons for all this are complex, and explained here.

Customs Controls

It’s possible customs controls will come back into force, so we won’t be able to import large quantities of wine from France back into the UK, say. This is one area we’ll just keep an eye on, and act according to whatever the law says when we cross international borders after Brexit. Needless to say we brought back a considerable amount of wine when we returned from our last trip, just in case!

Driving Licenses and International Driving Permits (IDPs)

At the moment we can use our UK driving license in any EU country. This may or may not continue after Brexit. If it doesn’t continue, we’ll need to buy two International Driving Permits (IDPs) each (to ensure we can travel to all EU countries – France and Spain use different IDPs for example). The IDPs will be available from Post Offices and cost £5.50 each, last a year, and we’d need four of ’em (two each). For more on IDPs and Brexit, read the government’s notice here.

The EHIC Card and Health Insurance 

At the moment we both carry free European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC), which entitle us to access state-provided health care in EEA countries plus Switzerland (read about the cards on the NHS website here). It’s possible the EHIC system will continue after Brexit. In the worse case scenario where the EHIC scheme is discontinued, we’ll need to spend more time checking exactly what our travel insurance will cover before buying it, and possibly budgeting more for medical treatment abroad.

Visas

At the moment, as UK citizens, we can visit most of Europe without applying for a visa (Turkey and Russia being obvious exceptions). It’s not yet clear whether this will continue post Brexit and we can only watch and wait to see what any new requirements will be.

Passport Validity

The UK foreign office has already stated that passports need a minimum of 6 months validity before travelling to the EU. Our passports both have a few years validity on them.

I **think** that’s it. Please feel free to pop any (non-political remember!) thoughts in the comments section below.

Cheers, Jay

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Departmental Roads

D Roads to Stella Plage, North to the Opal Coast

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Zagan the motorhome’s up against familiar pale yellow dunes in the free aire at Stella Plage (N50.47341, E1.57723), just south of Le Touquet on the Côte d’Opale (the Opal Coast). When we arrived yesterday afternoon, 18 of the 20 spaces of the aire were taken, and another 6 or 7 vans were parked up on the seafront. This morning (which happens to be a Monday) pretty much everyone’s gone, so it seems there were a few weekend wanderers here, rather than the whole of France being packed out with camping cars.

The free motorhome aire at Stella Plage on the Opal CoastThe free motorhome aire at Stella Plage on the Opal Coast

Quick aside: France has a thing about posting signs indicating the full details of local laws, so rather than a great big blunt ‘NO MOTORHOMES’ sign on the sea front spaces, there’s a 4 page notice (in teeny weeny writing) giving precise dates when vans can park outside the aire, where they can park, the fact they need to be self-sufficient for cooking, washing, sleeping and toilet facilities and lots of other details we couldn’t easily translate.  After September, the sea front if fair game, but we’re happy we opted for the aire as the dunes we’re sandwiched between are protecting us beautifully from the wind. Every time we come here there are land yachts or kite surfers hammering up and down the coast.

Motorhomes along the seafront at Stella PlageMotorhomes along the seafront at Stella Plage

Now we’re pooch-less, so don’t need to allow 24 hours after a vet visit before heading to the UK, we could quite easily (with some strong coffee perhaps) motorhome our way home from Paris in a day. Get up early, pile up the A16 toll motorway, grab a train under the channel, free motorway it up to Nottingham. But no, we’re WAY, WAY too lazy for that. That and the fact a couple of hours driving serves to seize my upper back into a mass of painful muscle, in a way no number of press-ups, kilometres on the rowing machine or miles of running can touch.

So we’ve stuck to the old way: France’s departmental (D) roads have brought us here, the equivalent of ‘B’ roads back in Blighty. These smaller roads effectively join the dots between French villages and small towns, and since July 1st this year have a blanket 80kph (50mph) speed limit (previously 90kph). The aim of cutting the max speed is simple: to reduce the number of folks killed (roughly 10 a day) or injured (about 190 people a day) on French roads. Will it work? Time will tell, folks still pull off daft overtakes across solid white lines or in the face of fast oncoming traffic when we’re doing the new limit, so perhaps the lower limit will have the opposite effect? Ju’s updated our TomTom SatNav with the new limits, although it’s wrong in some places: sections of road with two lanes on one side and a single lane on the other, with no central divide, are sign-posted at 90kph for the dual-lane side, while the TomTom has them at 80kph. 

We cruised out of the campsite in Paris on Saturday around noon, having had a cracking stay seeing friends, visiting Versailles, gawping at the art and architecture in La Defense, looking around the Pere Lachaise cemetery and doing some Parkrun tourism. From what we could see, but for a section of roadworks on the way into the city, the roads around Paris flowed easily. Except at rush hour that is, when they were jam-packed for a couple of hours each morning and evening: think six lanes of endless brake lights with occasional horns blaring, that kind of stuff. Sundays were devoid of cars mind you: if you’re concerned about the traffic, come to the city on a Sunday and you’ll have the roads to yourself.

After a long section of free motorway and dual carriageway, the road gradually dwindled down to D road as we headed for a wee free aire at a village called Conty (N49.74425, E2.1565), to the south-west of Amiens (which we visited in 2017). We’d been recommended a visit to Arras by a nice British couple at the campsite in Paris, but we both thought we’d already been. Checking our map we just found we haven’t (doh), so that’s one for the ‘next time’ list. Conty turned out to be a good spot for a kip, a small town with boucheries, boulangeries (Ju can’t resist the artwork cakes these places flog, opting to try one called a Glandan acorn-looking treat), a poste, and a tabac (which had burned down). A kid quaintly greeted us with a passing ‘bonjour monsieur-dame’, and a lady opposite the permanently-shut church popped out her front door and asked whether I was cold (I think, my French is pretty rubbish). The aire was a grassy area away from the main road, a perfect spot for a good night’s sleep (we made sure we were at the far end from the cockerels spotted strutting in a neighbouring garden!).

Le Gland - the acorn cakeLe Gland – the acorn cake

Sunday morning we woke to the distant thud-thud of guns. Shop windows in France have us gawping at the array of shotguns, knives, throwing stars, explosive depth charges and the like you can buy and deploy of a Sunday in vengeful war against the local small mammal population. As we drove in among the fields, groups of blokes with dogs stalked through the low crops, guns at the ready, dogs trotting at their feet. They were pretty easy to spot, being dressed in bright orange jackets with a seemingly pointless camouflage pattern. Exactly what they were hunting, and how come their prey hadn’t been blasted out of existence through this relentless Sunday massacre, we dunno.

Crossing the Somme west of Amiens only took us past a handful of war cemeteries. This area of rolling countryside was the scene of human slaughter a hundred years back, and if we’d been further east the green signs pointing to the war graves would have stood at junction after junction. We didn’t stop to pay our respects though, not this time.

Up here at Stella Plage we’re on familiar ground, having stayed on the same spot two or three times before. I really like it here. The fact there’s only a single bar/cafe (open at the weekends) doesn’t bother me. I like the peace, the dunes, the huge beach. It has an easy living feel to me, a little like the Capbreton aire down towards Spain on the Atlantic coast which we first stayed in seven years ago on our first escape from the big bad World.

The sand dunes of the Opal Coast, south of Le Touquet Paris-PlageThe sand dunes of the Opal Coast, south of Le Touquet Paris-Plage

Our ferry home is at 6am tomorrow from Dunkirk (it was cheaper at that time, who needs sleep?), so we’ll head up to the aire at Oye Plage this afternoon, a shortish drive from the port. From there we’ll nip up the motorway and home to Nottingham, popping Zagan back in storage for a few days while we head off on holiday with friends. He won’t be alone for long, as we’re then grabbing him again for a jaunt up to Bonnie Scotland for a mate’s 65th and to check out the North Coast 500. After that, it’s a December back home and we’ve just about decided to use the van to head south in January for a longish tour through the winter months, Greece and Turkey maybe, not sure yet, watch this space :-).

Kudos to Ju! 10km beach run this morning, good work!

Cheers, Jay

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