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Van Life pt.2

Navigating the French Alps towards North Spain

Story by Tens July 30th, 2015
We pick up where we left off with Bri & Lisa, now equipped with a custom-built camper, ready to take on their 4-month Eurotrip… First stop, France.

We broke up the journey down South by stopping with family in Glasgow and Manchester, proceeding to the Eurotunnel into France. First on our hit list was Morzine so we headed south-east, thankfully remembering to drive on the right hand side!

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Morzine

We head to Morzine every winter to snowboard and catch up with friends. Having the van to travel around was awesome. We parked in the main supermarket carpark as it is central and well lit. Also handy for getting an après scran. Luckily we woke up to a bluebird on our first day, so we pretty much rode every piste in Avoriaz. Some days we parked the van at the bottom so we could stop and chill for lunch.

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With hangovers and poor hill conditions we ventured into the hills with our friend and fellow Scotsman, Nangle. We explored les Gorges du Pont du Diable, admiring the luminous green moss and crystal clear water. Nangle took us on a mission of a drive up a hill where he takes his dirt bike and pointed out the downhill tracks. Mad man.

We stopped beside the lake in Montriond a few times to enjoy the view and found some scenic cooking spots.

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The highlight of Morzine was hanging out with friends that we don’t see often enough. We spent a lot of our time in Axel and Jaz’s cosy chalet - plenty of pizza making, movie watching, reminiscing and rum drinking went down. They drove us through to Les Gets for dinner at Boomerang one evening and we sampled their Gin menu – the mango and black pepper one was amazing! We also enjoyed a fair few Mutzigs throughout the week in good old Robos. Lisa also managed to squeeze in a 6am yoga class with Jaz one morning.

When it heavily rained for 48 hours straight, we decided it was time to say our farewells and head on.

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Bordeaux

Descending the Alps to dry land was a great shout. On our way to Bordeaux, we stopped for a night in Clermont-Ferrand, one of France’s oldest cities. Other than being famous for dormant volcanoes and Michelin tyres, this city has some stunning architecture on offer.

We parked the van in an Aire (a French motorhome stopover), where Bri proved that the best way to transport our water containers is by skateboard. Hopping on a tram into town was a great way to experience some local culture! After stopping for some pizza and vin rouge, we wandered the little alleyways towards the towering spires of the Cathedral.

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Sick of toll charges, we decided to drive to Bordeaux rural-style. Winding through the vineyards, perving on mega Châteaus and crossing railway tracks was way more fun than the highway. Our first stop was the indoor skatepark, Hangar Darwin, which lies in a ridiculously cool part of the city. The graffitied exterior, hip interior and friendly staff make this place a great hangout for all ages and spectators. It has a wooden bowl, big ramp, street style area and a “skatehouse” kitted out with furniture! After a wee skate we wandered to the vintage shop & cafe next door - we heavily rated the camper set up on display with a tent for kids to play in.

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Exploring Bordeaux on our bikes was fairly easy (tram dodging) and more exciting than walking. We cycled over the Garonne river by the pretty Pont de Pierre bridge and followed the riverside, taking in the views of the massive Place de la Bourse and Grand Theatre. Ditching the map, we cruised the streets around Triangle d’Or and crossed the largest square in Europe, Esplanade des Quinconces. We passed Porte Cailhau city gates on our way back to the van to complete our old town tour. You could spend days admiring the gothic buildings, buzzing off fresh bakery smells and indulging in Brasserie apéritifs…. With a schedule to meet friends, we drove to the West coast that evening with sand and surf in mind.

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Arcachon

Arriving to Arcachon in darkness, we didn’t fully appreciate our forest camper-stop until the next morning. The beach view and glorious weather made this the nicest parking space yet. After a flying visit to the tourist office we soon discovered the main attraction here. We unloaded the bikes again and boosted to Dune du Pilat. At 108m high, over 2,700m long and 500m wide, this is Europe’s largest sand dune. After the hike up we played about in the sand, appreciating the vast woodland and sea views in this peaceful place.

After a sunny lunch beside the water we headed into town. Passing the ferris wheel, ice cream parlours and casino, we soon learnt that it’s all about the beaches here in this seaside stop. We loaded the bikes back in the van and headed towards Hossegor.

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South-West France

Two things brought us to South-West France - surf and mates. Our good friends Tom & Alba moved to the north of Spain last year so seeing them on this trip was a top priority. Hossegor hosts massive surf, skate and snow sales at this time of year - a perfect opportunity for us to meet up.

We spent a night in an Aire just outside Seignosse before the much anticipated reunion. The pitch setting offered a perfect evening with the sun setting behind our forest enclosure. Cooking outside is a must in such good weather, so we made boursin burgers - a new found & delicious combination for us! In the morning our doorstep was ideal for some pre-breakfast yoga before venturing towards the beach. Immediately it was obvious what all the fuss is about - golden sands, turquoise water and long clean waves. After watching some surfers doing their thing, Bri had a wee skate by the beach.

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Only a 15 minute drive away, we cruised to Hossegor to suss things out. Back on the bikes we cycled to the marina, eyeing up the luxury on display. We couldn’t resist hopping off to have a closer look at a parked blue Mustang. Also a good time to test-out the camera self-timer….we’ll nail it one day. With guests arriving, we looked for a decent campsite. We found one in a forest just outside Hossegor and set-up camp in the sunshine. After giving our pals a warm welcome to France we headed to the beach for some surf watching.

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We found a nice we campsite just South of Biarritz for easter weekend. Tom & Alba also brought their bikes so we explored the coastline up into town. There were so many beautiful beaches and surf spots along the way (committed to getting a great photo, Lisa sadly sacrificed her shoes in the dog poop minefield). We stopped in town for a coffee and watched a surfing competition on the main beach for a bit. In the evening we enjoyed our gazebo set-up. Speakers, fairy lights, hefty rums & cards (without a fallout) - we had a great time.

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Eager to get in the water & test out the new wetsuits, we headed back to a beach we found the previous day - Plage de la Milady. The swell was perfect for us to get back into the swing of things. Keen for a wee post-surf scran, we got takeaway pizza and a bottle of vin rouge and returned to our surf-spot. What a sundowner!


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It was now time to head in the direction of Tom & Alba’s Spanish house. Bon voyage for now France, see you on the South side in June…

Follow Bri & Lisa on the remainder of their full 4-month trip towards Spain, Portugal, Monaco and back through France on Van Life. Want to try your hand at the Van Life? Email Bri & Lisa here: hey@vanlife.co 🚐

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