We decided to head across to Seville, as the 240V invertor had blown a fuse, so we needed to find a camping shop to replace this. Unfortunately we had to pay for the Motorhome Parking here in Seville and it wasn’t cheap at 12 Euros!
This was a weird carpark in an industrial area 3km walk away from town, however there isn’t really any other options in Seville and I think there would be issues with security if you left your Motorhome in a non-secure location.
It was swelteringly hot in Seville and we ended up walking miles to find the Invertor shop, only for it to be closed when we got there. Figuring out opening times in Spain is something we are yet to master, but basically avoid trying to do anything essential between midday and about 4pm!
Fortunately near the inverter shop we stumbled across El Rinconcillo, the oldest tapas bar in Seville which has been serving drinks and tapas since 1670. Unfortunately, we arrived at the conclusion that they hadn’t changed the menu since then as the tapas were very disappointing. We had Ewes milk cheese and some local chorizo. From here we headed into town to Antigua Abacería de San Lorenzo, which was a tapas bar Rick Stein recommended in his show on Spain. David had a little steak sandwich which was tasty, although expensive for what it was at nearly 5 Euros for a finger sized piece of meat in a dry bun. On the opposite side of the road we spied a little place called Bar Agustín & Company which was much more our cup of tea. The waiters were friendly and put our phone on charge for us, so we shared a jug of Sangria and delicious fried turbot with pistachio mayonnaise… yum. We didn’t want to have a late night as we knew we would have to drive the next day as we didn’t want to have to pay for parking for 2 nights.
The next morning we found a different Motorhome shop that sold invertors so I looked online for a map and found it was in Cordoba. We headed there and 3 hours into driving I realised the map was wrong and the shop was actually back in Seville! Very annoying. However we carried on to Cordoba and found a little Caravan shop that had some second hand invertors that would provide a temporary solution. We were both exhausted from driving in the extreme heat of central Spain and decided we would treat ourselves and spent 2 days in a campsite nearby that had a swimming pool. This little place was called Camping Albolafia, it was on the pricey side at 19 Euros a night! However we got our money’s worth and spent the next two days lounging out by the pool and having millions of showers (in the bus we can only have quick showers as the water runs out so fast!)
The following day we had a very long day’s drive all the way to Almeria, where there is some absolutely fantastic scenery. We took a smaller road that went past Zuhero castle. The landscape really looks like the Wild West and there are some amazing little cave houses in the hills! We stopped for lunch at a petrol station that had a bustling little fish restaurant attached and shared a delicious meal of grilled hake and salad.
When we finally made it to Almeria after 7 hours in the bus driving we found a free parking place right by the beach. Link to site here : https://www.campercontact.com/en/spain/andalusia-04-11-14-18-21-23-29-41/almeria/30521/motorhome-parking-parking-auditorio-maestro-padilla.aspx . First impressions of Almeria were not great. Compared to the other beautiful historical places we visited Almeria was full of graffiti and 70s apartment blocks. To be honest we were a bit worried leaving the bus unattended as there was a band of homeless men in the car park trying to get money off people to show them were to park. However the city grew on us and we actually stayed for a couple of days, wandering down the beach front to the old town and enjoying tapas in the evenings.
Our favourite place was a tapas bar called Taberna Entrevinos. Surprisingly, Almeria was the first place in Spain offering free tapas with your drinks, so after a few drinks you’ve had dinner for free. We had Spanish omelettes with spicy potatoes, croquettes, foie toast with jam and other tasty little snacks all for free! The Alcazaba of Almería is defiantly worth a trip, an amazing Middle Eastern style palace built in 955AD, but again check for opening times as it closed during the day. The surrounding area is also very interesting with pretty little Moroccan restaurants with lovely gardens.
Next we trundled down the coast to San Jose; a beautiful little sea-side village in the centre of the Cabo de Gata Natural Park. This reminded us of a less developed Santorini, with its tiered white-washed terraced houses cascading down the cliffs towards the sea. There was a large public sandy car park right near the beach which had a free designated section for campervans. The beach in town is very well maintained with public restrooms and showers. There are a handful of quirky restaurants scattered around the town, along with some expected tourist traps. The town had a really hippy vibe, with several boutiques reflecting this.
We hiked down to Playa de Los Genoveses which is a beautiful beach in the Natural Park. Be warned there are a lot of Nudists proudly displaying their wares! Heading along the beach and up over the hill we found the most beautiful cove (you can access it up the mountain on the left side of the beach). The water is crystal clear, and yes you guessed it, full of Nudists!
Next we headed down the coast to Mojacar. There is a host of sandy car park spaces right on the beach that you can park up. We stayed opposite the Dia Supermarket in the big sandy space, for a couple of days (be warned locals suggested that in the summer Police are not so lenient about parking here). Mojacar is a pretty little (slightly touristy) low rise town on the coast. There was a good selection of cool little beach bars and restaurants running down the beach. However there was a lot of the all-inclusive resort crowd around town (Brits abroad), that might not be to everyone’s taste.
The next day Amy was feeling very ill so we just headed 15 minutes down the coast to Calabardina This is a very small town on the coast, with a cute little beach and a huge rock backdrop behind the town. Whilst a pretty little stop we wouldn’t recommend a trip here as it was very quiet with only 3 restaurants in the whole town and very little going on. We found a sandy car park in town to park in and decided to head off in the morning.
The next day our friend Racheal was flying over from Belfast, so we spent the night in Los Arenals which was near Alicante airport. This is a built up 50s style development on the beach, definitely not our cup of tea, but probably not as bad as a lot of the other places to choose from in Alicante! We stayed in the town, but driving out we passed the natural park beach which would have been a much more beautiful place to stay.
Once we had picked up our friend we headed down to Moraira. We found a great carpark in Moraira right on the beach behind El Castello Restaurant. There were signs saying no Motorhomes but there were several there so we decided to risk it without any trouble. We walked across to the beach bar and had several beverages before getting a bottle of our wine from the bus and sitting on the beach to enjoy it. Moraira has an impressive little marina, an excellent variety of local shops, markets, harbor-side fish restaurants and bars and best of all has still managed to preserve its Spanish character. This is probably one of the best parking spots with direct beach access that we came across in Spain.
The next day we walked down to Playa del Portet beach just around the cove, which is absolutely beautiful. The sea is crystal clear and has the most amazing beach. There were some lovely restaurants down the beach too, selling large gin and tonics full of summer berries. We were very surprised to find this amazing gem in Alicante! Be warned it would be very hard to drive directly here in the campervan so park in Moraira and walk down.
Valencia was next on our itinerary. Conscious of the size of the city we opted to stay on the outskirts at Valencia Camper Park and get the train into town. (https://www.campercontact.com/en/spain/valencia-03-12-46/betera/22540/motorhome-parking-valencia-camper-park.aspx?fromsso=1 ) This was a great little find right near the metro which takes you into Valencia. We paid 15 Euros a night for 3 of us. They had a lovely pool so we thought this was a reasonable price. We got the metro into Valencia and had a walk around town stopping at one or two bars along the way ;). We were not impressed with Valencia. We found the smell of sewage overwhelming and ended up down several back alleys that had some unsavoury gangs of characters. It is definitely not one of Spain’s safer or prettier cities. We also had some of the worst tapas in Spain while here! Probably wouldn’t recommend the effort involved in visiting this rather underwhelming city.
From Valencia we drove straight to the outskirts of Barcelona. We had heard that it is very unsafe to park the campervan in Barcelona and all the Motorhome parkings there were 30 Euros! We found an amazing place called Campo de Futbol, a free Aire de Camping-Car in La Colònia Güell. This Aire has water and waste dump included. From here you can walk to the train station and get a train into Barcelona for only 4 Euros! Be warned the camp site is a bit noisy from the football practice ground next to it, but it certainly felt very safe.
We got off the Metro in Barcelona and headed straight to Parc Guell, the municipal park designed by Gaudi. It was huge and took as a long time to get around. They were also doing renovations on the museum which was a disappointment, although the views of the city from the cross monument at the top of the park are breath-taking. From the park we headed to Gaudi’s Catherdral which again was covered with large building renovation work, but no the less impressive; and we were very happy to find a little café overlooking it that served up some very tasty tapas and a much needed refreshing cervaca.
Deciding the 40min walk was too far in the heat, we hopped on the metro down to Las Ramblas. Here we found the most amazing little market with gorgeous produce on offer, so we sat out here and had cold white wine and delicious oysters. We found the rest of Las Ramblas very overpriced and touristy, however we met a friendly group of Americans in an Irish bar and ended up having a bit of a wild night with them. The next morning we all felt very sorry for ourselves and our wallets, even despite the never-ending generosity of our new American friends.
Next day we covered a lot of distance and made it all the way up to Tossa de Mar on the Costa Brava. We knew parking would be a struggle here, so we parked in a sandy bus carpark right on the outskirts of town and walked in – we were here several days and were not bothered once.
Tossa de Mar is a pretty town with cobbled streets, constructed around a magnificent ancient castle. The beautiful mountainous valley, green gorges and natural springs create a stunning backdrop for the town. Be warned the mountain drive down to this town was hair-raising. David got quite the workout driving the bus down all these mountainous hairpin turns. The old town and castle are beautiful; there is have a lovely restaurant right at the top of the castle with the most amazing sea views in all directions. Down the back cobbled streets we found little bars off the beaten track with beers for only 1 Euro and spoke to Spanish bar owners who had owned these gems for decades. We also found a quirky bar with a bowling alley inside and had several funny games, which David won.
Next we headed to Caldes de Malavella, which had free motorhome camping and facilities, and is right next to Girona airport. https://www.campercontact.com/en/spain/cataluna-08-17-25-43/caldes-de-malavella/41324/motorhome-parking-area-de-caldes-de-malavella.aspx?fromsso=1 . This was handy for us dropping Rachel in a couple of days’ time. The town itself was very quaint with little cobbled streets and ruins of Roman baths. We found the most beautiful hotel (Hotel Balneario Prats) with a thermal spring pool which you could use for 10 Euros a day. We decided to just have a couple of chilled out days, making tasty dinners and playing card games and badminton on the town’s green where the parking is located.
After a few wild weeks of Rachel staying with us, we needed a spot to hold up for a few days to recoup, and Roses on the Costa Brava proved just perfect for that. The stunningly clean beach sweeps across the front of the town and the incredible mountainous views across the bay make the flat calm sea look even more enticing. The town hugs the cliffside and there is a small castle on the edge of town and a Roman Fort ruins in the town centre. There are a number of quaint bars in town, but our favourite was a little surf shack bar right on the beach, near to the watersports centre. We found a little wine shop in town with big barrels of different wines to try. You could buy 2 litre containers of these very cheaply. We settled on 2 litres of a fruity red for 3 Euros and 2 litres of lethal Sangria for 8 Euros. We then proceeded back to the bus stopping to get ice on the way. We then rather naively drank the full two litres of Sangria without mixing it with anything. The next day we were very very ill.
Chaves – Porto– Coimbra – Prego Dam – Benagil Beach – Saint Luzia
We drove for hours and hours through the mountains in Spain to end up in Portugal. The Landscape was amazing, on the Northern Spanish side we were surrounded by green forested mountains. Once we passed through to the Southern side we were suddenly in a much hotter dryer climate, with landscape similar to the Grand Canyon.
We stopped at a free campsite on the outskirts of a town in Portugal called Chaves, we found this stop on Camper Contact and it’s a great place to rest for the night to break up the journey to Porto. This was on the river behind a small family restaurant; they let you stay for free, if you are a customer at the restaurant. We just had a couple of beers under their grape vines and headed back to the bus for a peaceful early night. They had a well for you to dump the toilets and a hose you could use to fill up, all for free! Find the link to the site here: https://www.campercontact.com/en/portugal/norte-36–4049–5054/chaves/24231/motorhome-parking-o-moinho.aspx
We then made our way down to Porto; by the side of the river they have a great free camping spot! There is no facilities so stock up on water and empty your toilets before you get there! Link to site here : https://www.campercontact.com/en/portugal/norte-36–4049–5054/porto/14297/motorhome-parking-porto.aspx.
We walked along the river and into town, the energy of the City is so magical, there is buskers on every corner, and everyone sat out enjoying the sun! Porto’s life and soul is on her hilly streets, in the many hipster bars and smoky cafes. We were starving so we stopped in a little Brazillian pork sandwich shop and had juicy pork rolls and a cold beer. Next we wondered through the streets and found a cool bar by the university called Base. It’s a hidden gem in Porto. You can sit on crates or just lay on the grass, watching the stars! Next we headed down to the bar district, most of them don’t open till late! We grabbed a few wines and then started to make our way back to the bus, stopping at one or two bars on route!
The next day we chilled out and went out for grilled Sardines at a little restaurant near the motorhome parking. This was a lovely little gem, far removed from the tourist traps. Unfortunately we didn’t get the name but you will see it on the side of the road as you walk down to the main foot bridge, it has a big charcoal grill outside and they cook delicious little sardines over it. We also shared a bottle of wine for only 6 Euros bargain!
On day 3 we decided to head across to Restaurante Grande Palácio Hong Kong as we heard it had the best Dim Sum in Porto! It was a 4.3km walk from the Motorhome parking but it was sooo worth it, it was seriously some of the best Dim Sum we ever had. We had a leisurely walk back home through town, stopping for delicious roast chestnut and port ice-cream. We also made our way across the top of the Dom Luís I Bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel . There are breath-taking views of the city from the top!
We could have easily stayed in Porto forever, but alas we needed to top up our shower water so we decided to move on. We drove down to Coimbra stopping on the way to pick up a group of lovely young Polish hitchhikers who were trying to make their way to Lisbon.
There is a really good free Motorhome Car Park on the outskirts of Coimbra with free facilities! Find the link to site here: https://www.campercontact.com/en/portugal/centro-2225–3038–6064/coimbra/11634/motorhome-parking-parque-verde-do-mondego.aspx . This spot is right on the river, with kayak rentals nearby. You can also swim in the river! There is a little café on site that does cheap toasted sandwiches and churros and there is a swimming pool very close by that is open during the summer months.
Coimbra itself was a bit of a let-down compared to Porto, it was the medieval capital of Portugal for over a hundred years, and site of the country’s greatest university for the past five centuries.
We walked over the bridge and into Coimbra; we grabbed a pizza at a little Italian restaurant on the river and then went into town to find a supermarket. Unfortunately we got caught in a torrential thunderstorm with no umbrellas and got absolutely drenched! We had also left the roof vent on the bus open which soaked our bed.
We had a glass of wine outside the bus, and met a Scottish chap who had been living in his campervan there for 3 months. The next day we walked up to the old university and had a nosy round. We found a little Jazz bar and had a glass of wine, we could hear some amazing singing coming from the square below so we decided to go check it out. Turns out it was our new Scottish friend busking. He joined us for a couple of beers and then we made our way back to the bus to make some cocktails. His girlfriend also joined us for far too many Caipirinhas into the early hours of the morning.
Unfortunately the weather had been cold and rainy and we were desperate to get some sun, so we decided to try and make our way to the Algave. It was too long a drive to do in one go so we stopped at Barragem do Pego do Altar a free Motorhome parking place on the edge of a reservoir. There is not much to see there but it was a handy place to park for the night. Link to site here: https://www.campercontact.com/en/portugal/alentejo-20-21-7079/pego-do-altar/12325/motorhome-parking-parking.aspx
Next stop was Benagil Beach. We had heard about an amazing sea cave there and wanted to go check it out. It is located in the small village of Benagil, which is situated between Carvoeiro and Armação de Pêra. There was a small sandy parking plot opposite the main car park for the beach that is ideal for campervan parking, although the terrain was a bit uneven. There are boat tours to the cave, however I would recommend just swimming round yourself. The boat tours are crowded and do not let you get of the boat, so it would be impossible to see the cave properly. Wanting on our own, we set our alarm for 5am and headed down to the beach for an amazing sunrise. We inflated our kayak and paddled out only 5 minutes across to the sea cave. Thankfully, as we had hoped, we managed to beat the crowds and had the cave all to ourselves for a couple of hours, which was really magical.
Next we drove down to Santa Luzia, a small fishing village on the outskirts of Tavira. Santa Luzia is famed for its octopus, which is caught using traditional methods by the fishing fleet and then served up in the family run restaurants that line the harbour front. We found free parking right by the river however this did not have Motorhome facilities. Link to site found here : https://www.campercontact.com/en/portugal/algarve-80-89/santa-luzia/54834/motorhome-parking-areas-st-luzia.aspx
To get to the main beach you have to take a ferry across the river, this is 2 Euros a ticket. The Praia da Terra Estreita beach is regarded by some as the best beach in the region and is always quiet, even at the height of the summer season. There is a little bar on the beach and toilets but no showers, the sea was lovely so we went for a refreshing swim. The last boat back to Santa Luzia leaves the beach at 7pm. We spent the evening wondering through the town, there are a handful of restaurants and bars, our favourite was Meia Pipa Bar. The owner is really lovely and we had a good chat with him. We also met a nice young couple on holiday from Liverpool and had a couple of drinks with them. The next day we found a nice little coffee shop and spent the day in there ordering ice-creams, coffees and writing our blog.
San Sebastian – Zumaia – Lekeito – Ribadesella
When we first got to San Sebastian we tried to find a space at Autokarabanak Paseo De Berio, unsurprisingly it was full. The streets around there were also completely full of motorhomes. We parked up on Tolosa Hiribidea street. You had to pay to park here in the day time (3 Euros), but after 8pm it was free! Also there were no restrictions for parking motor homes there overnight, and it was a great location for walking into town.
We loved San Sebastian we arrived right in the middle their Semana Grande (Big Week) festival which is basically a week long pirate themed party in the city. They also had an insane firework competition on where all the local fireworks display teams had to put on the grandest displays possible – every night for a week. Both made for an amazing atmosphere! We spent the first day walking down to the main beach Playa de La Concha which was absolutely packed. We walked down the beach front all the way to the old town were we spent the evening gorging on Oysters, Pinxtos, Octopus, Iberico hams, Croquettes and Foie Gras. Quickly followed by lashings of delicious fruity Sangria. We tried the local sour Cider (Sagardoa), which is certainly an acquired taste as it has no sugar, carbonation or preservatives in it. We also tried the local wine (Txakoli) which is poured from a height into the glass to enhance its effervescence and to slightly carbonate it. Again refreshing, but not quite to our tastes.
There were parades of people going down the streets in pirate costumes singing and drinking. We wondered lazily down the streets after them, stopping at different bars after being seduced by their extensive tapas selections out on display on the bar tops. Eventually we made it back down to the middle of La Concha beach in time to order a bargain glass of red wine and watch the fantastic fire work displays. The next day feeling rather worse for wear David decided to go off in search of mince beef to make our favourite hang over Bolognese. I woke up to a very strange meal of pork mince Bolognese, something must have got lost in translation along the way. We then go on with some bus jobs, touching up the paint job and resealing the bathroom.
On day 3 we decided to have a day at the beach, which ended up turning into another night on the town. This time we avoided the tourist trap places in the old town and found some local places in the city (away from the beach) that charged 1.20 Euros for a glass of wine, that’s more like it!
After 4 nights in San Sebastian we decided to move on before we bankrupted ourselves any further, and headed down the coast to Zumaia. We opted to avoid tolls roads so we went down the N634, I would definitely recommend this to anyone in a car (it’s a bit of a challenge in a bus). The road is beautiful, winding through the mountains and forests, before opening out to dramatic coast lines with amazing beaches and sea side towns. We spent 1 night in Zumaia. We parked in a small free car park by the Camino a la Paya De Santiago beach. Our bus took up two spaces so we didn’t want to push our luck and stay too long. So we spent the day exploring the town and had lunch at the other beach on the other side of the town, which was amazing and gave you fantastic views down the dramatic coast line, and finished off the day with a few beers and an enlightening conversation about the disenfranchisement of Spanish youth and politics with the friendly musician that ran the bar on the beach.
Next morning we headed down to Lekeito (a small Basque fishing village) following the N634 down the coast again and then up into and through some stunning forests and mountain scenery, much to the dismay of everyone in cars behind us. Leikto had a large free Motorhome parking area (Parking area 1), and we got there early enough to find a great spot. It had a grassy area with picnic tables to use too as well as motorhome facilities (waste dumping). They had signs up saying you can only park there for 48 hours but we stayed there for 4 days without any issues. The police do come and check the site about 3 times a day though, so certainly felt safe there. Link to site here : https://www.campercontact.com/en/spain/la-rioja-26–pais-vasco-01-20-48/lekeitio/15190/motorhome-parking-area-camper-lekeitio.aspx
The town had a lot of character and it was like stepping back in time. We went to check out the harbour, as well as the beautiful beach which wraps around and runs down the side of the river too. We found a big supermarket and got 2 kilos of mussels for 4 Euros! We went back to the camp site and spent 2 hours de-bearding mussels before cooking them up in delicious white wine and cream sauce… yum. The next day we took our inflatable kayak down to the beach and spent the day kayaking down the river into the forest with a few beers. It was absolutely stunning, and when we finally got back to dry land, we both fell fast asleep on the beach before wondering back to the campsite. We then went back out in the evening, in search of the supermarket again, but ended up drinking white wine by the harbour most the evening. At a Euro a glass, stunning views and friendly faces everywhere it would be rude not too – right!? The was an amazing French style bar in main square which was fantastic, and here we met an older Scottish couple that took us to see their friends band playing jazz. When we arrived though their friends weren’t playing jazz tonight, but instead were in full bodied neon lycra suits playing curious electronic thrash rock metal.
Next we headed down the toll highway to Ribadesella. We thought it would be worth paying the extra money as our bus had been struggling on some of the steeper, smaller, cross-country roads – and we flew down the large highways covering some good distance. Once past the grisly looking outskirts of Bilbao and some of the splurging industrial towns, this road trip opens up has some of the most fantastic scenery you will ever see. It leads you straight down by the mountain range of Pico de Europa, which is absolutely stunning; you can also see the beaches and coves on the other side. When we arrived in Ribadesella we found a large campervan parking opposite the designated campervan parking facilities (which was just 4 spaces, all full), just on the outskirts of town and only a short stroll into the center. Link to site here: https://www.campercontact.com/en/spain/asturias-33/ribadesella/54532/motorhome-parking-ribadesella.aspx. Ribadesella is a beautiful town carved into the mouth of the river Sella. It has a picturesque beach and harbour, with interesting 19th Century American styled Villas all along the beachfront, and stunning views of the mountain range too. One thing we did discover as we strolled through the town is the prices were significantly higher than the Basque region. Not the cheapest place to visit or live, with Tapas now selling for 12 euros a plate as opposed to 2! We still managed to find a decent white wine for 2 euros a glass, but decided to cook our own food while here.
Next Stop Portugal!
A major consideration when travelling through France is that of the very expensive Road Tolls, which can sometimes be in excess of twenty pounds a pop. If you try avoid them, which at times provides some unexpected gems, you do also run the risk of ending up on tiny lane country roads; which in a large bus conversion can make for some pretty hair-raising driving. Another consideration is that travelling via motorhome is incredibly popular in France and subsequently a lot of places have signs saying no campervan parking so you’ll need all your cunning and wits about you to bag a cheeky spot at times! For ease of finding somewhere to stay, and having the added advantage of having water and waste drops, there are a host of lovely campingcar aires across the country which provide just that for between $3-$10. these things do add up in the end!
UK to North West Coast of France
Calais – Saint-Valery-sur-Somme – Mont Saint-Michel – St Malo – Paimpont – Ile D Oleron – Bayonne – Bidart
After a 7 hour slog in torrential downpour from Yorkshire, on the 3rd of August we caught the Eurotunnel Shuttle from Folkestone to Calais. The Shuttle was defiantly the cheapest way to get across to France – we paid about GBP160 to take our bus across. You simply arrive two hours before departure, get in a queue 15mins before you leave, drive on to the train, and then 30 minutes later you are in France. We laid in bed and put the projector on feeling pretty chuffed with ourselves that we were in our own underwater cinema.
We didn’t want to linger in Calais too long so we decided to drive straight through to Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. This was an hour and a half drive southwest from Calais. It was our first experience at finding parking somewhere and we were not very successful. We ended up parking at the side of a busy road, both exhausted we didn’t even walk into town. There was a large Carrefour nearby so we stocked up on food and did some laundry before heading on our way. (A lot of the large supermarkets in France have laundry machines in the car park which are very useful – saves carrying all your laundry through town looking for a launderette!)
The next morning we decided to press onto Mont Saint-Michel, which is known as a Wonder of the Western World – and certainly didn’t disappoint. We found a cheap camp site called La Bidonniere for 10 Euros a night and decided that it was worth it to pay that for the use of water to top up our tanks, wifi and toilet emptying facilities. Find the link to the site here: https://www.campercontact.com/fr/france/basse-normandie-14-50-61/ardevon/12402/aire-de-camping-car-aire-de-camping-car-la-bidonniere.aspx
Also there was very little on street parking near here, and the huge public car park charges around the same to park overnight with no facilities. As we got arrived in the late afternoon we decided to try out our new folding bikes and cycle across to Mont Saint – Michel. It was amazing to see this magical island topped by a gravity defying medieval monastery! We spent the evening wondering about the town and looking around the monastery. There were lots of bars and restaurants to choose from and we decided to sit outside at La Mere Pouland and share a carafe of French cider, which is soo much better than the UK stuff!
Next morning we set of for Paimpont, stopping first in St Malo (45 mins away). We managed to find a free campervan parking car park in St Malo near a football stadium. Find the link to the site here: https://wego.here.com/france/saint-malo/parking-facility/complexe-sportif-de-marville–250jx7ps-c2abd5a9d86d0d3d769140ae993a5c77?x=ep&map=48.64438,-2.00532,15,normal
However we were a little bit concerned about the location so decided to have a quick walk into the old town to get some lunch and head on our way. I was pleasantly surprised by the walled town; it was a lovely contrast to the industrial outskirts of the city we had parked in. There was music playing on every corner and people sat outside the many bars and restaurants; enjoying the sunshine with a glass of wine or two! We grabbed a baguette to share and sat in the square enjoying the sights.
We decided to push onto Paimpont which was an hour and a half inland. Having lived in Dubai the majority of my life I was very excited to spend some time in the forest. Surrounded by an ancient forest, Paimpont is the perfect stepping-off point to explore the legendary forest of Brocéliande that was supposedly home to King Arthur and the wizard Merlin. We parked up in a lovely green camp site, which was only 6 euros a night and walked into the old town. Link to site here : https://www.campercontact.com/en/france/bretagne-22-29-35-56/paimpont/768/motorhome-parking-aire-de-camping-car.aspx .
I couldn’t believe how magical it was when you pass through into the old town, it is like stepping back in time, several people were even dressed in medieval costumes on the street! We sat out and had a carafe of cider which we drank out of tea cups in the sun, before getting some food at La terrasse de l’Abbaye, which is a bustling BBQ restaurant next to the old Chateaux. We thought we had ordered a plate of grilled sausages and fries, but we ended up getting one sausage wrapped in a strange traditional crepe that we meagrely shared! We decided to get another flagan of cider to make up for it, before strolling back to the campsite and cracking open a bottle of wine or two!
The next morning we decided to walk off our hangovers by following one of the many trails that lead from the town into the forest. We lay by the side of the river and had a picnic of French baguettes filled with cheese and ham, before heading back for an early night in our bed cinema watching films!
From Paimpont we pushed onto Ile D Oleron, my first choice would have been to go to Ars-en –Rie but the toll charge to get onto the island across the bridge is 16 Euros! So we settled for its slightly less pristine sister island. It is the second largest island in France after Corsica. We drove straight through to Chateau d’Oleron, which is a Capital of the Island named after the castle and citadelle. On the outskirts of the town they have the most amazing old Oyster port that they have turned into a vibrant community of art workshops, shops and restaurants. We managed to park up outside one of these old huts on the outskirts of town and spent the evening strolling around the town. We had a beer at one of the old huts before walking into the old town to watch some live music in the town square under an umbrella in the rain (very romantic). We got up at the crack of dawn to get on our way before any of the local shop owners arrived and shouted at us for parking up our campervan right outside their shops!
Next stop on the itinerary was Bayonne, this was a fair distance and took us about 6 hours in the bus bobbing along at a comfortable 55mph. We stopped at the first campsite we found which was Aire de Caming-cars de la Bare. Link to site here: https://www.campercontact.com/en/france/aquitaine-24-33-40-47-64/anglet/18954/motorhome-parking-aire-de-camping-cars-de-la-barre.aspx .
We were exhausted from the drive so went straight to sleep, but the campsite location wasn’t great. We decided to head off the next morning but the bus was having some technical issues so we drove straight to a garage nearby. The garage owner told us we could park up overnight at his shop and he would look at our bus first thing in the morning. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, the shop was right in the center of Bayonne and we took the opportunity to explore the city. I absolutely loved the energy of this place and the live music was amazing! We spent the evening bar hopping, wandering around the city and listening to various local musicans and bands playing on the street.
Next day with the bus in tip top condition again thanks to the amazing French mechanics (loose wiring to one of the engine cylinders), we headed down to the seaside town of Bidart, where we sneakily managed to park up outside someone’s house and walk down to the beach. This whole coast between Bayonne and San Sebastian if full of cool little pretty surf towns, defiantly well worth a look.
Next stop San Sebastian!
We were finally there. We had taken a bus that needed a new gear box (unknowing to us), stripped it back to its very aluminium shell core state, insulated it, installed electrics, plumbing and gas – with no idea of how any of these systems worked – and with four months of back to back 12-16 hour days we had something that looked like the version of the mobile home that we had wanted in the start. The journey had taken two months longer, about £6000 more than budgeted for, and completely drained our bodies and soul to get it here – but we were finished – and what we saw we were in love with. Our ambition had always been to make something that resembled the quality, finish and function of a small studio apartment, and we think that is what we achieved; with the slight ramshackle look of an old seaside beach hut.
Last thing to do was get the brakes checked, the wheels taken off, greased and put back on, buy the stuff necessary for breakdowns in Europe, get ourselves a couple of folding bikes and an inflatable kayak, and that’s it. Time to make a break for the sunshine of Europe!!!
Cushions, art, throws, baskets, bookcase, tiki mugs, own poster,
Having set out with this moodboard (loads of images stuck to a corkboard) as the inspiration for what we wanted the bus to look and feel like once we were done, now came the fun part that we had been toiling away for 12 hours a day non-stop for four months – the decorating part!
We started at the back of the bus and started working our way forward. We got some canvases made for the bedroom of some images we had from a few years before. We made and put up a thick canvas door for the closet, added a mirror to the shower room door and bought some turquoise chevron throws (mainly to keep the daft white sofa fabric clean) but also to bring in some of the beachy themed turquoises we were wanting.
We bought some cheap wicker baskets to sit on the extended bed cushion, which would act as additional storage space, but would also look really cool. Unfortunately when they arrived they looked a bit naff, so we set about making some white canvas bags that we tied inside them. Much improved these were added under the sofa.
We installed the polished up the resin art piece that we had made for the shower room to bring some colour and interest in there, and mounted the original speakers to the walls (with a new coat of black spray paint on them they looked as good as new).
We added a beach sign that we had from Dubai to the kitchen wall, and added our cookbooks to our bookcase. We had brought over some Tiki Mugs that we made in Antigua for a daft Tiki cocktail party we had and these fit perfectly into the bookcase too.
We made some insulated double-thickness thermal shades for the windscreen and side windows out of the floorboard liner that we had left over, and sewed a cotton trim boarder to them to keep both sides together. We sowed on some Velcro to the shades and glued some Velcro to the window edges and now the conversion was totally private inside.
We installed a couple of fire extinguishers, made a thick canvas front door curtain, made some rope tie backs for the closet and front door curtain, bought a hammock that can attach to a ring bolt half way down the bus, and hang on…. What is this… are we done !?!?!
So with the pull out sofa starting to take shape, it was time to turn our attention to the kitchen.
1 – Install the Gas Heater & Secure Gas Bottles
Whilst many people opt for the old Carver Cascade water heaters that can be picked up for around £80-100 we wanted to choose a newer brand that had 240v electric hook up (in case we ever decided to park our van up anywhere permanently and rent it out). We therefore opted for the German made Truma Ultrastore which set us back £200. In hindsight the Cascade would have probably sufficed and been considerably cheaper. Anyway, we are very happy with the quality of the one we chose and it can heat 10l to about 70 degrees in 15 minutes so is perfect. The only downside is that the model we chose has an external cowl cover that needs to be removed every time you want to heat the water, which is easy to forget about – which can be quite dangerous as it could potentially prevent the Carbon Monoxide from exiting the van. However, it does have a pretty effective sensor on it that cuts it off if you if you do leave the cover on.
To install the Water Heater we needed to bore a thick hole through the floor, for the winter drain valve output pipe to go. We also needed to cut a hole in the wall for the air input/CO2 output. Unfortunately here the walls were thicker than the vent. You can buy a vent extender but we just used some scrap aluminium that we folded, pop-rivoted and sealed using non-drying automotive gasket sealer and some very long threaded bolts. Seemed to do the job just great.
We then wired in the Heater to the 12V fusebox, added the temperature control switch inside the cupboard and attached the gas pipes. This proved somewhat tricky as the gas connectors were German GOK sizings and not British standard, however after a few days of searching and several wrong adapters we managed to get it attached and ready to test.
2 – Build main frame for Counter top, cupboards, and cupboard doors
For the Kitchen unit frame we use 1.5” squared lengths. We attached one to the wall of the kitchen, build out from the wall towards the sofa using levels, and then up to them from the floor. We knew that our kitchen counter top was going to be 600mm wide so we brought the frame out 570mm to allow for the cupboard door thicknesses and a every so slight countertop overhang.
For extra frame strength we routered a channel deep enough to make some steel L-Brackets flush with the top. These would then sit under the counter top and be hidden. (Probably not necessary but had the brackets left over and didn’t want to have visible screws from the front of the unit.)
3 – Measure, cut, router, sand, seal and install solid Oak counter top
We decided that we hated the look of fake wood countertops and wanted to create an old fashion country farm house / beachy styled kitchen area, so for us only solid wood would cut the mustard. We found a 600mm by 2400mm solid Oak counter top on sale at Wickes for £100 and bought this as seemed the cheapest we could find. We needed just under 2m for the length of the countertop, so this would leave us enough to add a corner unit to help hide the battery bank and give counter top workspace for cooking.
We measured the length we need, and cut it out a cm less (to allow for expansion – it later proved that we should have left more as it expanded quite a lot at times). We marked out where the gas hobb and undercounter sink were going to go and then cut these sections out (very slowly) using the router with a straight routerbit. We needed to do a good job on this as the edges of the holes cut out would be visible in the sink, and we would have to use the larger section removed for the gas hobb, to be used as the lid to our sink – again to increase useable kitchen work surface.
We then applied 5-6 coats of Danish Oil to the worktop to protect and seal the wood, and 3 coats of clear matt marine varnish to the sink edge to make it water proof as likely to get splashed frequently. This amount of marine varnish worked great, but the Danish Oil lasted about a week before the wood totally dried out and needed more coats. I recommend adding as many coats as time will allow before installing the counter top (if going the solid wood way) as much easier to get a good coat on before it is installed.
When the top was dry we simply screwed through the frame to hold it in place.
4 – Install Sink, Plumb in and make wooden cover/cutting board
To continue the country farmhouse style kitchen look we opted for a ceramic undercounter sink secondhand off ebay for £25. With this being the first sink we had ever bought and installed, we were deeply shocked with how heavy it was when it arrived! It looks incredible but really could have looked just as good being made from a thick plastic. We needed to buy the sink plumbing kit (which we had overlooked and wasn’t cheap as had to come from Howdens to fit this exact model) but fitted very tight and very easily.
We drilled a hole through the floor again and added some pipe for the waste water. We had intended to pipe the sink and shower waste to a waste water tank, but there was just not space underneath the van, so decided to have hidden outlets in the middle of the bus that hopefully would be noticed when dumping our waste water. In reality this isn’t a problem at all as we never use paid for campsites so we just wash the dishes and have showers in the night when people cant see the waste water. That said, if you have the space underneath to fit one, for £10-20 it’s really useful having one and not worrying about waste water annoying anyone else.
We decided we wanted to leave a lip of the sink protruding from the wood, in order to have a ledge in which to sit an oak board to cover the sink when not in use (to give us more counterspace). Whilst this worked great as a ledge for the wood cover, it does mean that grime builds up here and needs a good scrub pretty frequently. In hindsight we might have done this slightly differently I think.
The cover weighed a lot in the end so we routered out the middle of the bottom to help reduce the weight. Unfortunately the router bit slipped and went too deep so we didn’t do the best job for this, however a tip here when routering out large areas we found, was to cut a really wide piece of Perspex and screw it to the base of the router. This ensure that the sides of the Perspex were always on top of the wood.
5 – Install Kitchen Sink taps and plumb in
Again we wanted the taps to match the farmhouse style so opted for this large, curved mixer unit. We cheaply procured some tap tail adapters that allowed us to connect them to the hose pipe we used for the plumbing. The screwed into the countertop easily and give the kitchen a great look. That said, in practice, because the long curve keeps some water in there when the taps are turned off, it does mean that this can dip out as you drive along as the taps vibrate.. which isn’t exactly ideal. Now we just place it over a folded towel as we dry to catch any drips.
6 – Install Gas Hob and connect to gas lines
We decided to use flexible gas hose and the appropriate hose barb connectors to attach the gas bottle to the hob and the water heater. We attached a length of hose from the regulator on our gas bottle, and the other length to a T-Connector spliter, which sent one pipe to the water heater and one to the hob. Technically to be registered as ‘Gas Safe’ (which you will need to do if you intend to ever rent out your conversion) you need to use solid copper piping instead of the gas hose, as the regulations on this changed a few years ago. However, we only found this out once we had used the flexible hose and as our gas bottles are only accessible from within the bus (to be Gas Safe access to the gas bottles can only come from the outside of the vehicle) we kept the flexible hose as will suit our needs fine. We did have some issues with finding the right connectors and with some leaks. We used the leak detector spray that can be purchased from DIY / Builders merchants to isolate the leaks and check everything over once the leak had been dealt with – WOULD STTRONGLY RECOMMEND USING THE LEAK DETECTOR ON ALL GAS PIPING!
By this stage we had the hole cut out for the hob to go in, and had sealed the edges of the hole with yacht varnish. We used some rolled up sausages of hob mounting putting to set the hob in place and trimmed the excess putty that came out of the sides with a knife to tidy the edges up.
Our hob didn’t come with any mounts so we just screwed a few scrap pieces of 5mm ply into the hob at one side and into the underside of the counter top at the other and the hob was fixed securely in place in just a few minutes.
7 – Build cupboard shelves and corner unit
We had intended to build an L shapes extention to the countertop and kitchen cupboards, but thinking that this might hinder access to our electrics panel and equipment, we decided to opt for a 45 degree angled extention – which actually looks much more welcoming as you step into the camper now. (This is a good point to note that in hindsight I really wish I had made the electronics/batteries/inverter/Fusebox much, much more accessible. You may end up needing to access this area on the road more than you think, so don’t make changing main cable fuses or changing inverters over in the future!)
The corner unit was built from lengths of wood that we had left over, painted with several coats of white paint, another door was made and kinged in place, and then the whole thing screwed to the floor. Another piece of solid oak for the counter top was cut, screwed in place and the gab between siliconed. At this point you can router to holes on each piece of counter top you are joining and attach bolts in a channel here to pull both pieces together, but with us running out of time for the build we opted not to, and worked out just fine.
8 – Fit and wire in pull out fridge shelf
We opted to minimise the amount of gas fittings (and hence potential hazards) so decided not to install a 3 way fridge that runs of gas, battery electric and hook up electric. Also, as installing solar it would be really nice to have the solar power the fridge during the day and just use the resisdual coldness of the fridge during the night. Also, a new 3 way fridge is pretty pricey too and already by this stage the build costs were spirally out of control and a hefty pace!
So, we opted for a Waeco (now called Dometic) Tropicool TCX35 Fridge for around £220, which cools to 30 degrees below ambient temperature. Not needing ice or a freezer section, this 33 litre cheap(ish) fridge seemed to do us just great.
So we build a sliding out shelf for it to sit, with the lid opening just below the height of the counter top. The 12v cable that comes with the fridge has a lighter socket it on the end, so in order to attach this to the fusebox, I needed to cut this off. However, once I had done this there was no clear way of knowing which was the positive cable and which was the negative cable on the lead. With no clear markings on either cable, I decided to to just touch one cable to the positive and one to the negative and see if it worked. It didn’t and a millisecond later the fridge was smoking. I had obviously got the polarity of the cables the wrong way around. I had either blown the AC/DC PCB or the main PCB. Contacting Dometic, these parts needed to come from Germany and were about the same (each) as the whole thing cost in the first place. So in the space of a second the fridge was dead!!
Not having enough money to replace it, it now became the world’s most expensive 10kg fixed coolbox L
9 – Install Kitchen / shower room wall, attach Oak spice rack and condiment shelf, and wire in light switch
We decided we wanted some nice looking oak shelves on the kitchen wall, and as these would be screwed from the back of the kitchen/shower room wall, this had not yet been fixed in place. We used some scrap solid oak from the countertop, and cut it into some thin board slices, and built a condiment shelf and a spice rack, both of which after a coat of oil or two, really complimented the oak countertop and looked great on the white wall.
We wired in the light switches that were on this wall, screwed the shelves in place, and installed the wall. Several coats of paint and attempts at fillering the joins and this wall was up and looking great.
10 – Build Cupboard Doors
By the time we had got to making the cupboard doors we were well and truly over building the kitchen. But, the kitchen doors would really make or break the look of the whole thing, so they needed some time and dedication. Having got some practice in making thin doors with the back cupboards, we decided to use the same method of making a squared frame, but this time added the plywood to the back (instead of sitting in grooves) as we wanted the edges to be thick as possible to hold the hinges adequately. Having never set hinges before, we struggled a bit to get them the right way around and after drilling a few holes with the forstner bit into the kitchen frame unnecessarily, we managed to figure out which way was the right way!
With some time and care we managed to set all the doors, adjusting the depth and height on the hinges to make the cap between each door the same and how they sat 3mm under the counter top overhang. We were incredibly pleased with how they looked and sat, so off they came for a multicoat paint job (save a few days for this!) and then back on they went with some lovely new ceramic door handles.
11 – Make handmade tiles for kitchen backsplash and install
We had already started the super laborious task of handmaking the ceramic tiles for the backsplash. We thought this process would save us a few pounds, but there was a certain appealing lure of satisfaction in making as much of the elements in the conversion as possible. We rolled out clay on large wooden boards to set thicknesses using same-sized sticks on the edges and rolling pins. Using rectangular templates, we cut out the rectangular tiles and bevelled the edges of each one we cut. We then let the tiles dry and then bisque fired them in the kiln. At this stage many of them we too thin, so several patches later we managed to get ones that didn’t curl too much. Then we purchased some lovely turquoise and green crackle glazes (this was very expensive – certainly makes us know appreciate why hand made tiles are so expensive!) and applied these to the tiles. We needed three coats per tile, so the glazes didn’t stretch so far. Then they needed a Glaze Firing. Some bubbled and some the glazes split. Some tiles shattered.
However, in the end out of the hundreds or more of tiles we attempted, we managed to get enough nicely glazed tiles, that were too curled, to make an attractive backsplash. We mixed up some tile grout with pva glue (which set super fast) and tiled them onto the plywood board. So far, they haven’t cracked – because god knows how we replace a tile if they do!
12 – Make and Install black out rollerblinds
We bought some cheap rollerblinds (full blinds seemed cheaper than the kits), stripped off the old material, cut some white blackout material to the required size, taped this material to the pole – and up the blinds went – trying to minimise the distance of the rollerblind to the wall so that not too much light would come through the gap. Once these went up the bus was starting to look quite homely!
So we kept one of the bus seats in order to use it as the front passenger’s seat, however the seat previously had a base that ran level with the floor on runner track. We decided where we wanted to the passenger seat to go and realised that it was half on the cab step, and half off it. This meant that we had to build a strong steel frame to attach it to the top of the step, the side of the step and the base floor of the bus. It was really key to get as many anchor points as possible for the seat, so that it was as strong as possible.
For the frame we decided to buy a 2m section of box steel from a local steel fabrications and then cut down some of the steel sheet and tube that we had salvaged in the original strip down process. In total the steel cost us about £3. We borrowed our friend’s welding gear and then my mum gave us a crash course in welding. Nervous about it being safe enough in the crash we let her do most of it as strong joints were obviously very important.
We angle-grinded the sections we need, cleaned all the paint and burred edges of with the polishing attachment on the grinder, and then welded everything together. A few coats of black hammerite metal paint and it was good to go.
With the bus sitting so close to the ground, and needing to bolt through the cab step (which housed the fuel tank) there was no way though for me to drill and get access to where I needed to, in order to secure the bolts. The seat was always going to be one of the last things we wanted to install anyway, as it would just get in the way of building the kitchen. So it just sat there ready to go for weeks and weeks, constantly playing on my mind as to how it would get installed.. the remedy came in the form of me foolishly drilling through the fuel tank by accident! Haha.
For some bizarre reason when the bus had been converted into a disabled bus, the fuel tank had been chopped down, to accommodate the cab steb and the low floor. The company that converted it had cut away about two thirds of the of the tank, leave about two feet of tank that ran under the main floor at a thinkness of about an inch. This meant that although this probably added about an extra five litres of fuel or so, that there was a large part of the fuel tank, hidden under the floor, in a space that couldn’t logically be used for a fuel tank. Sooo…. One day the original ply floorboards started moving away from the aluminium tray base, so I popped a few screws through.. right into the petrol tank! So off to the garage it went to be removed, pressure washed and welded up. However, whilst the tank is out – perfect opportunity to get the seat drilled and bolted in.
When it came to the covers we decided to use some waterproof outdoor furniture fabric called Sunbrella from the US that we had lying around. It matched the beach hut colour theme in the bus and would stop the seats from looking like retro bus seats.
We used large tracing paper to trace the sections of material on each seat and then cut out the templates. We then cut the material to match the templates and sewed together inside out. Well when I say we, I mean my mum! Some holes were added at the top for the headrest, elastic around the base of the sea to pull them in nice and tight, seat belt clips and arm rests were removed with Allen keys, and the covers fitted.
We had to keep the steel panel next to the door that houses the heavy hydraulics for the front door. So we decided that we should build a wine rack around the steel panel, and top it with a useful little oak counter top table. We decided we wanted to see the wine bottles easily from the side, but didn’t want them wine bottles rattling around. I had seen previous wine rack where the front part of the rack was higher than the back, so that the wine bottles sat on an angle, and this stopped them from falling out. However, being somewhat OCD, I didn’t like the look of the bottle not horizontally level with everything else. So I decided that if the front part of the rack where you slide the bottles in was higher than the back, but then there was a smaller section cut out for the neck of the bottle, this would make the bottles sit horizontally, but also lock them in place. The design work absolutely perfectly, although some fatter bottomed bottles don’t fit in the rack.
The key is to mark and cut the smaller front hole for the bottle necks to sit perfectly in line with the centre of the back hole, so the bottles lie level. If you have a large hole saw then the cutting of this rack will take no time at all. If like me however, you are going to have to draw and cut with a jigsaw and then finish off with a fall moon file and sand paper, expect this to take you a good few days to mark, cut, file, sand, add Danish Oil to seal and install. Worth all the effort though as one of my favourite parts of the bus and adds some warmth, style and functionality to an otherwise redundant section of the lounge area. Yes. If you haven’t got it already, I am very pleased with myself.
Following our original design we wanted to build another double bed at the front of the bus for friends staying over. This would need to fold out/pull out from underneath a sofa. We opted for a pull out version. We wanted a slight L shape to the sofa to make the lounge area a bit more cosy and not just a straight sofa, so that complicated the bed design a little. In the end we decided to make a pull out laundry box (with custom made cloth canvas bag inside for carrying to a launderette) under the L Shaped part of the sofa. This would pull out to form the extended top section of the bed. On top of the box we made an extra thick cushion that would make that the foam would all be level.
We then built the sofa base frame and the extending section. We chamfered the edges of the extending section to ensure that they fit snuggly when not extended and would not slide out without being intentionally pulled out. We glued together sections of foam and enlisted the seamstress skills of my mum to create an L shaped sofa cushion for the permenant sofa. We also made a straight foam section for the extended bed, that lives under the straight section of the sofa when not in use. We bought 4 wicker baskets and made custom canvas sacks to go inside them, and this is where we store our pots and pans, plates, glasses, fruit and veg and other kitchen storage items. We thought that they might need rope to stop them from sliding out when driving but the friction of the fabric of the cushion they sit on keeps them perfectly in place. We stained all of the frame with some oak wood stain, added some rope handles, some Velcro here and there, and our smashing extendable sofa bed frame, laundry box/bag and wicker box storage was complete. Add a few bright cushions, nice turquoise throws and the space looks fantastic and better than we could hope for. The only thing was that we didn’t get a full sized double out of it (due to the max depth of seat needed to sit comfortably, but still two adult guests could easily fit on there!)