Travelling 2,600 miles across Europe in a VW camper
Is there anything more appealing to a person of nomadic sensibilities than a set of wheels, an open road and no fixed plans.
Search #VanLife on Instagram and you find no shortage of beautiful travel pic But do these glossy images capture the reality of a road trip?
To find out whether van life lives up to the hype, we took a 2018 VW Camper on an epic two week 2600 mile road trip across Europe
Heading first to Slovenia via Austria before dipping down into Croatia's Istrian peninsula popping up into the Italian dolomite, a mandarin home to the UK by Bavaria, and Germany's Vizsla Valley.
The journey was a steep learning curve.
An unforgettable adventure.
A never-ending quest to find the perfect light.
Join us as we find out what it's really like to live the van life dream.
The first leg of driving was a big one.
An 800 mile, 15 hour stint from London, across France into Germany and finally to Austria.
Getting a huge chunk of miles out of the way at once gave us more time to spend later cruising around the areas we were most keen to see.
We arrived at what I would say is our first stopping point of the day.
It's now about 10 to 12, were were just up at 4 o'clock this morning so it has been a long day.
But I believe here is a place for a toilet stop and of course.
So, we kettle up with some water, so we can make a coffee.
Which means I get to actually use the gas burners, which I find very very excited to do in a car.
And at some point actually was trying to get the thing hooked up and I couldn't really figure it out and I'm always scared about using gas, incase, well, incase it explodes Got covered in fire and all that.
But it has worked.
We have got boiling water.
I do have an aero-press and a nice fresh bag of coffee which means I get to make lovely, fresh delicious coffee in the outside, in the van.
I found amazing.
CNet mug, of course.
Having arrived at our first stop in the beautiful Austrian mountains, we hit our first snag.
What you doing, Andy?
I am filling the water tank of our van which was empty and fortunately we have been provided with a hose which we connect this tap to the van so so that we leave, instead, I had I think a genius idea of doing it both.
50.000 times filling up a bottle
and then just shoving it in the hole.
How many times have you done it so far?
I've totally lost count.
Is there any way of telling when it's full?
But I don't know how.
There's probably a gauge somewhere.
With our water tank full, it was time for a much needed sleep.
But even that wasn't problem free.
We had a good first night's sleep.
The only problem was that we did find it a little interrupted by the car alarm going off.
It turned out that we Locked the car by pressing the lock button on the keys which we thought, fair enough, I've gotta lock the car.
Turns out that also activated the alarm and there are motion sensors inside so as soon as we moved anywhere the alarm went off very loudly at night.
I don't imagine we were particularly popular.
But it turned out there's a button on the dashboard that you need to press which locks it but doesn't Activate the alarm.
Good lesson to learn.
So putting the roof down is fairly easy.
Because if we have a look up here, see we have the bed bit up on these rods.
Whatever you call these, pistons, I don't know.
I'm not very technical.
Surprisingly for tech journalists.
We pull the bed down here.
There we go.
See the sheets are all crumpled because where we sleep.
Make sure that these window panels are all closed.
And then I move around to the driver seat and I find the keys.
I find the keys.
The keys, the keys.
Katie, where are the keys?
I think they're back there in the, where your laptop is.
Here, hiding behind my camera, okay.
We do need the ignition on to do this so we'll go.
Turn on, and then up here, we have this panel, and it tells me roof open.
I know it's open.
That's why I'm closing it.
Press and hold.
[SOUND] And here.
[SOUND] Not done yet, blind open, no.
[SOUND] Carrying on.
[SOUND] And this closes in.
I'm trying to press on the mats.
The only one that starts making a difference is that one.
Let it go, and you're done.
Then what we do because obviously this looks still pretty messy is pull this across, tuck it in, and tuck it in here.
Ready, all right.
With the roof closed, and our bodies full of bacon and coffee we hit the road for a few hours of cruising to Austria and into Slovenia With the mountains and rolling countryside all around us, we were pretty sure we'd already found the photographic gold.
Every corner we turned and every village we pass through provided yet another stunning scene to take in.
As we plunged deeper into Slovenia, the views only became more dramatic.
We just found this old, wooden, rickety suspension bridge.
It's the sort of thing you don't expect to see in bad film and the worst thing about it as well is that.
[SOUND] It actually wobbles, and moves.
[SOUND] Which is a little bit confusing.
[SOUND] Then you're crossing-
It's a lovely river.
A little bit of road here, but I didn't necessarily anticipate this.
I think I've had quite enough of that now.
I'd like some solid ground, please.
Well, we've had the second night, which means this is the second morning.
That makes sense.
We have alarm troubles, thankfully, because we actually knew how to lock the van properly.
As you can see, it's in repose in this wooded bit of a campsite that we found in Slovenia.
The great thing is how close we are
to the lovely river.
Which is as you can see is clear and blue [INAUDIBLE] But trust me it's clear and quite blue.
It's a gorgeous spot and it means that we get to listen to the river all night and wake up and make coffee.
And it's great.
The van's been super comfortable.
As you can see we're plugged into the electric point over there so that we can.
I have the lights on, and charge devices, and the fridge is on, and I was sitting underneath the awning last night, which was really nice.
Let's see [INAUDIBLE]
But being river adjacent wasn't just good for relaxing.
[UNKNOWN] river is crystal clear and catches way through the stunning landscape, making it a haven for watery through thickets.>> [INAUDIBLE]
On the head.
On the head?
The water was truly amazing but once we dried off we had to make our way to Slovenia's famous lake Bled.
So we're at Lake Bled now which is one of the most.
Photographic spots in all of Slovenia, it's probably the first image that will come up if you just google Slovenia.
In fact I think this particular island with the Church on it is one of the screen savers of the new Apple TV.
It's just a gorgeous spot photographed to death.
Problem is that we've come here and if we take a closer look, yes, completely covered in scaffolding.
Which does somewhat ruin the ambiance.
So we're shooting away anyway, and trying to get some cool nice looking shots from different areas around the lake.
And as you see the light's great, and we've got these beautiful clouds overhead, but it is marred somewhat over by the church that looks a little gross right now.
Whether or not I decide to Photoshop Some of this [UNKNOWN] out later, I don't know, I might not be bothered.
But, it is a little disappointing.
So, what do we do when the odds are against this?
Keep [UNKNOWN] anyway?
No, we go home and cry.
By this point we realized our kitchen supplies were slightly lacking.
We did pack many of the absolute essentials on this trip.
Such as washing up liquid, but neglected to bring any sponges because, we are idiots.
So instead I'm using an antibacterial surface wipe as a sponge.
I'm not entirely sure if it is healthy, but we haven't died yet so I'm going with, it's fine
I think we need a new system.
It's a great game though.
Washing up done, we hit the road with a beautiful blue sky overhead.
We had a lot of ground to cover across the heart of Slovenia And as we drove further into the country the motor ways and main roads gave way to single track paths through forests, winding mountain passes flanked by cattle and long sweeping ribbons of tarmac that gently curved across the pretty rural landscape.
Although the roads were narrow, the van was still easy to maneuver.
It was comfortable to drive and because it's an automatic, all we had to do was point it in the right direction, and seat back and enjoy the ride.
Because we had our accommodation with us, there was no rush to get to a hotel for a particular check in time That gave us the freedom to take a winding route over the next few days, cruising through the countryside, enjoying the slower pace as we picked our way through the hillside villages.
It took us through the charming town of De Parlor surrounded by picturesque vineyards to cruise through, and tight winding streets.
The parlour was classic of many of the towns and villages we passed through in Salvinia.
The hills were dotted with old villages each of which provided plenty of opportunity to snap some nice photos.
Not to mention opportunities to stock up of farm fresh liquor olive oil and wine.
We've arrived in Croatia now in this small name, the name of which I forget, but this is very similar to what I know of Tuscany in Italy.
Vineyards, rolling green hills, lovely old buildings.
It's a gorgeous little spot to explore.
And certainly this view is the shot that I really want to get
The narrow streets of the old villages and the snake and hill roads went towards easy cruising but that didn't mean they weren't enjoyable
These are really really fun driving roads.
They snake through the forest and over the hills and even when we've got these really tight hairpin
It's still super fun.
And I thought I wouldn't really like driving this because it's a big van, and it weighs several tons, particularly when we've got all our gear in and the water tanks full and the fuel tanks full.
But it handles really, really nicely.
It's a proper sport van, and when you put your foot down, you really go.
That is great.
It's so much fun, and these roads are the best place to enjoy it particularly when the sun is out, and the sky is blue, and we're driving through Slovenia's wine region.
I'm hoping to pick up maybe a case.
Maybe a couple of cases.
Of their finest produce.
Eventually the road to this to the Croatian costal town of Ravenge where we were met by a beautiful sunset.
Our time in Ravenge meant relaxing.
Instead of seeking out mountains to hike, we strolled cycled and along the coast.
Enjoyed the amazing food and wine and even made a new friend.
One of the cool things I do like about being in this van is that while one of us drives, I get to sit back here and I've created my little editing Sitting workstation.
I've got the table up, and I'm backing up all my photos and videos so far to this WD My Passport wireless.
I'm pulling all the footage from my drone, from my, there is SD cards from my camera, from the GoPros, and everything is being backed up at the moment.
I do get a little A little bit trouble stake if I try to do to much.
I'm not going to do full edits right now, but basically just transferring all over the data so that I can keep on shooting when we get to the Dolomites later today.
I think we've got about five hours of driving, four hours, probably like that, something like that.
I'm also, I'm fully belted in here, so I was just totally, fully- Safe, almost gonna get a nice view of this [INAUDIBLE] and [INAUDIBLE] we pass by.
So that's quite nice
Our journey into the [INAUDIBLE] initially signaled a sharp departure from the landscape we traveled through so far.
Jagged peaks and pine forest replaced the green fields.
And the higher we climbed the more narrow and winding the roads became.
We'd also said goodbye to the beautiful Croatian sunshine.
And as we drove further into the peaks, the weather got worse.
We are well into Italy now.
And we are climbing higher and higher into the Dolomites.
Now the weather is awful at the moment.
It's cloudy, it's gray, it's raining.
I personally think that this is what the mountains and the Dolomites, this area, it's how it looks best.
Everything looks super dramatic, moody, all the greens, there's like this metered grey green The way that the clouds all hang around in like little strums and wisps through the trees.
I think it looks so cool, so cinematic, and I would love to be out hiking and shooting.
The problem is that it is absolutely hammering down with rain, and so we just kind of think well Do we stop now?
Spend an hour hiking to get absolutely drenched and then have to dry the stuff off.
Or hopefully just carry on go.
We've only got 20 minutes until we're at our stop.
See what the weather does.
And then see if we can maybe go back out to some of these locations.
Which saved a few Map points on Google maps as we've been driving through just to make sure that we know exactly kind of where we want to go to if the weather picks up.
But it's one of the things that we are having to think well on one hand it looks great.
And I think it looks better now than it would do with bright blue sky.
This empty blue sky.
This is so cool, but I just cannot be bothered going out and getting absolutely soaked with rain.
As you can see the weather is absolutely atrocious.
It's hammering down with rain.
It's just definitely Raincoat time.
I probably won't be using the sun awning or the fan, but we are in the Dolomites and it looks great.
I love the clouds.
I love the colors.
I love the whole moody dramatic atmosphere that this weather has brought.
What I don't like is that I get drenched and my gear gets drenched every time I leave the van.
So I am hoping that the rain stops, but maybe some of the clouds stays.
But eventually we made it into the heart of the mountains.
Among the jagged peaks of the Dolomites.
So there's the Rifugio Auronzo.
That's where we've just been to still get prepared, and we're walking.
Basically, come around this path and follow it all the way around there.
Sort of up and around, there's a gap.
Here to the other side.
But here, the weather is still [BLEEP].
So at the time, I'm not sure I'm going to get anything at all, so I'm already planning on coming back for sunrise.
But even in [BLEEP] weather, it's bloody dramatic.
And here's what you get with a bit of Patience and perseverance.
The skies are clear, and the sun opens up to catch one of these rocks, and give us this gorgeous rainbow.
I want to sprint up to try to find a good spot before the clouds come back, but we've got some good stuff.
My patience in waiting for the clouds to pass really paid off with this amazing rainbow, but my evening wasn't done yet.
So right now as you can see, it's pretty much completely dark out here.
All of the mountains dark, and back the way I came, pretty much completely dark.
But the refuge is still, has its lights on, I'm sure a little bit of light on the inside which I think looks pretty cool.
You can't see at all on this phone of course but by using a longer shutter speed, we can bring out a lot more of that light.
You probably can't tell very well here unless I do that.
There's a lot of different colors in that sky, blues and pinks And the refuge itself has come out really nicely.
The mountain has put on a great display but there was still more that we hoped to see.
You can see obviously very little due to the light, because it's dark.
It's actually almost midnight and My alarm sadly is set for three-thirty AM, so that gives me at best three and a half hours of sleep, and that's if I fall asleep immediately, which I tend not to.
The reason is is because sunrise is at about five to 5:30, and we want to hike dd there's about an hour's hike to a location we want to find.
So even if we leave at 3:30 we're getting there for about 4:30 to more like close to 5, and then we need to find a good location, and get ready for sunset really kicks off.
So it's nearly start But hurried back here by maybe 8 and probably have a couple of hours of sleep then.
But it's definitely good night for now.
As you can vaguely see, it is just starting to get a bit lighter.
Still need my head torch, lighting the way ahead.
But it looks like the clouds are clearing a bit and there's already some clear sky poking through.
So I think we could be in for an absolutely cracking sunset.
Sunrise, that's right, it's early I haven't slept.
I don't remember which one's which.
I've been hiking for probably about an hour now.
It's pretty tough going because the altitude means it's quite tough to take proper breaths.
It's now getting very light And I'm still not at the spot I want to be.
A little nervous though.
I've taken too long to get here.
As you can see we've got some lovely night over there.
And those guys themselves is ready to be lit up.
Got to carry on.
After a long height we are finally in position waiting for that glorious sunrise to erupt, and shroud the landscape into beautiful golden light.
Except that it didn't.
There was no direction to this light.
No contrast from the rocks, and no beautiful golden hues.
Our shots were flat and dull, and not even a coffee in the mountain [UNKNOWN] did much to help our moods.
But, again, a bit of patience made all the difference cuz it wasn't long before some direction to the light brought out some great shadows on contrast to the mountains letting us capture more of the shots we really wanted.
Our hike back down in the daylight was certainly easier and a lot more enjoyable as we really could soak in what has to be some of the most dramatic scenery found on the planet, with more to be found further down.
So we've come to this absolutely gorgeous lake, as you can see.
Beautiful water, lovely colors, this gorgeous, old boathouse here, the trees in the background, and the mountain here that's just catching the last of the evening light upon the tops there, and of course a lovely blue sky above it.
Now to capture this I've got my camera on the tripod.
I've got [INAUDIBLE] from the top and I'm probably going to be doing a blend of two exposures.
This one which as you can see rather overexposed with a five second exposure.
There we go.
And in order to get enough detail in the boat house and trees, and then i'm going to do one which is a little bit under at 1.6 seconds.
I'm already focused on this.
In order to make sure that we've got plenty of detail left in the sky.
On the mountains and then I'll blend the two of these together in Light Rim or Photoshop later.
Driving around the [UNKNOWN] meant more narrow paths, more winding roads, and a lot more beautiful views to take in.
It's where the freedom of having the van really became apparent.
Any road we wanted to take, we could.
And any time we wanted to stop to get some shots, we could do that too.
Time wasn't the factor for us, and it made us feel like it was just us and the road.
As we hit the 2,000 mile mark on our trip, we came to our next photo stop, the Santa Maddalena Church nestled in the Italian countryside.
We have made it up the windy roads to Santa Madalena, is what's called and there's a very iconic church right here.
Basically has burns away and has a good light on it.
I'm gonna get pizza while we do so.
I've seen some really really great shots in this place so I knew I wanted to come but one of the few things that I didn't really get from the photos [UNKNOWN] up against this electric fence.
This is one of the biggest wild snails I think that's [UNKNOWN].
So as we're sitting the lights changing The sun is going down towards the right of the scene and we're just seeing the last of the beams coming across the field, illuminating the chapel and the trees around the base of the mountain living the sky all moody and dark and cool and it's just gonna look so nice when it's
Our last stopping port in Italy was the Alpe di Siusi, Europe's largest alpine meadow.
We hopped on the cable car to get to the area and immediately hit the hiking trails, that crisscrossed their way over the beautiful green valley.
I'm being normal.
While the dark clouds added some cool drama to the scene, the heavy rain that followed meant it wasn't long before we returned to the van and fled across the border to the German region of Bovaria.
For the full two days to make it back to London, we went fully off peast, detouring by the vertiginous vineyards of the Riesling-producing Mosel Valley and past another castle where they have a fable or two, the tall, turreted, charmingly timbered Burg Eltz.
It's surprisingly hot in Germany at the moment.
And we're in the wine region, so I'm fairly certain that after we're done This hike up to the castle and then back to the van, I'm going to try to drink all of the wine I can find.
Honestly the ones we've passed [INAUDIBLE] drive anymore.
And also find some big German sausages.
There's no innuendo that you can possibly find there.
We've become used to a meadering style of travel.
The VW California played its part perfectly.
It had been more than just a bed on wheels for us.
It represented a freedom to take our holiday and our lives in whatever direction we wanted.
Unencumbered by hotel check-in times or bus schedules, we wound our way across Europe for almost 3,000 miles, detouring when we wanted, stopping to take in the views when we wanted.
If the weather sucked, we could simply drive on to make the best of our next location.
We made our way back into England on the channel tunnel from France, and as we drove the final road back to London, we both agreed that it was exactly that flexibility that made this trip so enjoyable.
Not having to abide by anyone's timeframe but our own, made us masters of our own destiny.
And that's a feeling we won't seem to forget- And certainly we can't wait to take our next van life adventure.