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Campgrounds, or not, in Europe… and beyond

When the blog carnival theme came up this month for “RV Parks and Kids” my mind came up with a bit of a blank because we just don’t go to them very much any more. A couple of reasons come to mind. They are too dang expensive. With our amount of people we have paid €65 for just one night at a campground. Also, many of the higher end campgrounds can tend to smell, look, feel and act way too much like suburbia for our tastes. These ones also tend to cater to older clientele with visiting grandkids or small families.  We end up getting lots of photos taken of us but not much conversation.

However, sometimes we need a break from our wild camping ways. We look for a small treat when we are especially tired.  So, I will start off with some of these jewels and end up with alternatives to campgrounds in Europe and beyond. As you read our recommendations please be aware that we are a bit of a …. ferrell family and a great place for camping for us might not be your choice. We prefer to dive into local culture rather than find the perfect pool or shower temperature.

Here are some places we have camped.

First, some ground rules.

Look for places that are more down to earth, where you see lots of local license plates and away from touristy cities. The best places you find will be the ones that you discover on your own that fulfill your own specific needs.

In all of Europe an R.V., motorhome, camping car is the way to go. Do not think a caravan gives you the same privledges. A caravan reminds people of gypsies and you will be limited to camping grounds or your friends driveways.

Germany. Our favourite campground was one that we found when our car broke down. We took a taxi with our tent to a campground (their website) outside the village of Grunberg while our vehicle got repaired. In a great display of the German precision they have 7 stainless steel pools each age appropriate from infant to olympic swimmer. It is a set of community pools with campground attached. We go every year for a bit of a break. We also love camping at Edersee. Lots of campgrounds to choose from. We went to Teichmann (their website). It is a family paradise. Lake, daily family activities including BBQ and pancakes. Book ahead because they are crowded.

Spain. Campgrounds are expensive. Wild camping is dangerous. If we hear about anyone being robbed at night while they are sleeping in their RV it is always in Spain.  You can get a good deal on a campground here if you stay in the same campground for 2 months or more. That is not for us though. We rarely spend a great deal of time here, unless we are staying with friends. We did find a campground (TJs post) that was perfect for our needs north of Barcelona once.  Expensive, but it was only for a couple of days and we loved it.

Portugal. Our favourite camping experience is at Conscious Earth (their website) (our post). Great people. Great place. Say hi for us if you go.

Italy.  A couple of our favourite campgrounds are here. Asissi had a great campground (their website) and hostel in an olive grove with a giant, open air, family-style restaurant under a grape arbour. The type of things dreams are made of. You know how sometimes a place seems so perfect in your memory you wonder if it was real. Halfway down the country we found a huge, simple campground on the coast, next to a fishing village.

Croatia. Stay away from places with big, flash signs. Take the smaller road and look for small signs. Hope you find that farmer who was fortunate to have a bit of land on the coast and welcomes you to his family style campground. These special gems have no website just a friendly host and reasonable prices.

Macedonia. Our favourite campground here is outside of Lake Ohrid. Ask the locals in the town – they will all point you to the same place. It is called Autokamp Gradiste. No website. We went just before the main season and had the place mostly to ourselves. It is very popular during the main summer season. If you walk along the rocks on the small bridges you will find many cafes, clubs and even a cave church from the 1400s.

Albania. First of all, a bit of warning on the roads here. Only drive during the day and stay alert. People steel the huge manhole covers and leave huge holes in the middle of the road. Also, seems EU gave money for divided freeways but nothing for onramps. So, you will find a divided freeway coming off a dirt road with people going both ways on both sides of the road. Road signs are also frequently missing. Your GPS will be of little or no use as the information is not kept up to date. Beware also of speed traps. The speed limit will drop to 20 km for no reason except to give the police a chance to get money from the unknowing tourists. In reference, to camping, we only saw 2 campgrounds in the entire country. The route to Campground Praemer (their website) takes you through 10km of a road that is sinking back into the swamp from whence it came. 4X4 only. Nice campground and nice people, if you can get there. It is the heart project of a great couple. Strange, doesn’t mention the difficult route on the website.

Czech Republic. Did I ever say that we love the Czech Republic? Great campgrounds with pubs and cheap restaurants. The places we have stayed, on a lazy river, in the middle of the green countryside and the hopfields. Ahhhh.

U.K. Campgrounds generally charge by the vehicle and not the person. Much better prices than on the continent. Had some problems because we have a self-build motorhome and they are a bit scared of the Irish Travelers in England. Motorhome clubs are good to join if you stay around for a while because they offer “registered sites” and “farm sites”.

New Zealand. DOC campgrounds (our post) are great. These are government campgrounds. Off the beaten path. Some are quite standard, some are the idyllic, some are quite adventurous. We saw some great wildlife rooting around our campsites. Best to get your maps sent to you before you get to New Zealand as they can be difficult to find.  Our favourite “normal” campground (our post) was coming south from Rotorua and almost into Taupo. It was marked by a blue teapot and full of semi-wild chickens and peacocks. Heaven for us.

Now for the UN-CAMPGROUNDING.

Ground rules here.

If you park near some local businesses support them. Get coffee at the cafe. A beer at the pub and talk to the owners. Ask if it is ok to park for the night. One wild camping spot in Silves was emptied by the local police until the local complained that the police were putting them out of business. They petitioned to get the wild camping spot reopened.

Do not spend the night anywhere that is within 40 km of an international border. That is unless you want to get robbed, caught in an international dispute or accosted by prostitutes.

Camping ground

In France and Germany, remember this… In France, “Aire-de-campingcar”… In Germany “Stellplatz”. These beautiful places can be found in a magical book “ADAC Stellplatzfuhrer”.  It is possible to get on amazon.de or from any large bookstore once you get to Europe. DO NOT go motorhoming in Europe without this book. We bought our handy, dandy book in Germany and keep it in the front of the truck with a German dictionary. Good to have a GPS as well as many of these places are difficult to find. We have been to a beachfront parking lot in France with electricity, water and bread delivery in the morning for €3.00 a night. We have stayed in parking lots of camping grounds with use of all the facilities for a 10th of the price of those staying in the camping ground. We have stayed next to swimming pools for free. Horse riding clubs. lakes. rivers. pubs. etc. Facilities can be very limited but it keeps us flexible and creative. The book lists a few sites in other EU countries but none in Spain. A couple of our posts on Aires are here and here.

Would also like to mention that we have friends whose parking lots and fields they are generous enough to let us use. We are currently parked next to a castle. We have a key to the front door and use the facilities inside. Before this we were in a forest where other friends are renovating an old farmhouse and restaurant. We have stayed in hippie communities, squats, driveways, farms, fields and festivals. From here we will go to visit a friend who, with his invitation to come, told us where we can stay in our truck.

And beyond….

New Zealand. The ONLY way to see NZ is in a self-contained campervan. Many places to rent from . We thought the funniest ones were with a company called “Wicked”. The back of one said “They call it pms because mad cow disease was already taken”. OK, well, appeals to my sense of humour. Maybe not yours. So….where were we. If you have a self-contained motorhome you can go and park just about anywhere. We had tents and stayed at the DOC campgrounds. DOC campgrounds are cheap government campgrounds that can take you to some of the most idyllic places or on bizarre adventures.

OK, that is it. Have I wet your appetite? So, who is coming to Europe… or New Zealand?

This post is part of the FOTR Blog Carnival.