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Vanlife: The beauty of a 2,600 mile European road trip

Search #Vanlife on Instagram and you'll find no shortage of beautiful photos of people living a seemingly blissful existence in a camper-van on a remote road.

To find out what a camper-van road trip is really like, we took a VW California Ocean 2,600 miles across Europe, armed with our cameras.

Click through to follow our journey from England, across France, Austria and Slovenia into Croatia, Italy and finally back across Germany.

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The first leg was a long 800-mile stint from London to Austria. We were met by beautiful mountains. And clouds.

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Into Slovenia. A quiet moment of reflection for reporter Katie Collins. 

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The clouds made the mountains look even more dramatic.

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Vanlife is going well so far.

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A beautiful bridge across a gorge.

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Slovenia's Soca river really is this blue. Later we would raft down this. 

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The roof expands on the VW California, providing more sleeping space inside. It's comfortable to sleep in and full of storage for gear. 

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A swimmer enjoys a plunge into beautiful blue water.

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A waterfall cascades into a pool of clear water.

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At night, we opened the van's awning to sit, drink local beers and watch the fireflies. It was magical.

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The church at Jamnik in Slovenia.

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How Andy tries to photograph Slovenia's beautiful Lake Bled.

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We dropped in on Slovenia's capital, Ljubljana. Craft beers flowed.

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Into Croatia now, we took the van miles and miles around the hills, jumping from village to village. Even on the winding, narrow roads, the van was bliss to drive.

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It's illegal to wild camp in Slovenia and Croatia, so we were mostly restricted to using organised campsites.

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Time for some relaxing on the coast in the beautiful Croatian town of Rovinj.

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Unsurprisingly, plenty of people were taking advantage of the sunshine.

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The sunshine didn't follow us into the Italian Dolomites.

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We hiked deep into the mountains.

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With some patience, we braved the rain and were eventually greeted with this glorious double rainbow.

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As the light faded, beautiful colours filled the sky.

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The remote mountain refuge -- Refugio Auronzo -- lit up against the encroaching darkness.

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We woke at 3:30 a.m. to hike further into the mountains to get to our photographic vantage point. 

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The sunrise didn't result in beautiful light, but as the day wore on, more interesting light -- and clouds -- made for better photos.

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We photographed the area for a few hours.

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Sturdy walking boots are a must in this area. These all-leather Danner boots were just the trick.

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A wide shot of the Tre Cime.

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The Rifugio Locatelli is tough to get to, but at least it serves coffee.

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The hike back down was easier but still exhausting after such a long morning.

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We stopped to find lovely photo compositions on the way down.

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And of course stopped to just take in the beautiful scene.

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The Dolomites are extremely pointy mountains.

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Back at ground level there are still beautiful mountain views to find.

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The mountain roads snake their way up and down -- they're not difficult to drive, as long as you take it steady.

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Lago di Braes -- a must-see in the Dolomites area. We camped right next to it to make sure we were there for the last light in the day.

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Power wasn't always easy to come by, so sometimes we had to generate our own. The Biolite stove uses heat from the fire you build to charge a battery that then charges your other devices. Of course, you can also cook on the fire, heat water, or just watch it happily crackle away.

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Driving through the Dolomites meant dramatic views at every turn.

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The church of Santa Magdalena, backlit by the evening light.

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From the front, we were able to catch the sunlight as it slowly faded away.

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Our last location in Italy was the Alpe di Susi, Europe's largest alpine meadow. Sadly for us, the weather had taken an even bigger turn for the worse.

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The clouds provided some moody drama, but the rain that started to pour meant we quickly had to put away our cameras and take the cable car back to the van.

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The van has a great dual gas hob inside, mostly used for heating water for coffee and cooking pasta and bacon in various forms.

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We detoured back home through Germany's Bavaria region. Our last night camping included a stunning sunset, which meant we had to pull out the van's included table and chairs to enjoy the evening rays.

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Castle Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. A castle worthy of any fairy tale.

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And another castle: the charming Burg Eltz.

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