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Another summer TR - Campervan trip to Alpe D'Huez for the Tour de France

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
This is a TR from our first summer trip to France, first campervan trip and first time seeing a stage of the Tour de France, so hopefully something in here might be useful to someone!

My husbands request for a ‘special’ birthday was a trip to the Alpe D’Huez stage of the Tour de France. We were planning to rent a Campervan but after years and years of talking about it, that snowballed into finally committing to buying a long wheel base VW T6 and having her converted – finished mere days before the start of our trip!

We had the 17.20 Eurotunnel booked on the Friday 8th July – traffic on the M25 (surprise!) meant that we rolled up to Folkstone half and hour before our departure and we pretty much drove straight on to our train (I wouldn’t choose to arrive this late but was relieved they are flexible!)

We arrived in Calais and went straight to Carrefour to stock up for a picnic and supplies, then drove to Esquerdes which took just over 30 mins, to a village carpark (seen on YouTube and found on Park4night), next to a river and little woods with picnic benches – a comfortable, quiet and free place to spend the night. 1 other camper arrived around 3am, but otherwise we had the place to ourselves. There is a good bakery in the village for those breakfast needs.

Our plan on the way out was a leisurely drive to the Alps, so we’d planned a couple of stops. After breakfast on Saturday, we drove around 2 and a half hours to Epernay and straight to the municipal campsite – perfectly nice, good sized pitches and a 30 min walk / 10 min bike from the centre of Epernay. We had plenty of time to explore before a tour and tasting we’d booked (in advance) at one of the Champagne houses. Epernay is definitely on the list for a return visit with more time.

On Sunday, we took around a 3 hour drive to Dijon which is absolutely beautiful and warrants much longer than we spent there! We parked in the centre of Dijon (I think it was around €3 for all day!) and explored. We happened upon some sort of traditional music festival so the place was heaving with people and a great atmosphere. We drove to the municipal campsite early evening and the only space was in their car park at the front of the campsite – but still gave us full use of the facilities and electric hook up (and was inside their security gates which were locked for the evening), so was no problem. This municipal site is next to a beautiful lake (Lac Kir), perfect for an evening bike ride and picnic. And we couldn’t resist cycling along the river back into the city (10 mins) for an early morning ride round and breakfast before our Monday departure. Dijon is incredibly cycle friendly.

On Monday morning, we had around a 4 hour drive to Alpe D’Huez. As we came through Bourg D’oisans, everywhere was already lively, fully decorated and ready for the Tour de France. Most of the ‘good’ spots on the twisting, turning road up to Alpe D’Huez were already taken, but if you were that way inclined, you definitely could have squeezed in somewhere along the climb on Monday (pretty sure if you were any later than Monday, that would not have been the case). We’d already planned that we wanted to be near shops and restaurants in Alpe D’Huez rather than park on the climb, so we carried on up. The areas set up for Campervans and motorhomes were already quite busy so we found a perfect spot on the side of the road near Lac des Bergers which was to be our home for the next 4 nights. During the rest of Monday and Tuesday, every little spot that you could conceivably park a camper or pitch a tent was filled and the population of the town swelled massively!
For anyone thinking about watching the Tour de France in Alpe D’huez, campervans were arriving up until late on the Wednesday evening (the stage was on Thursday) – but by Wednesday, all new arrivals were getting escorted by police into suitable spaces and didn’t seem to have much choice in where they ended up. You’d definitely be found a space arriving that late, but would have to go where you were told. The police and town in general did such a great job in finding space for everyone. Wednesday night was a big party with fireworks and lots of revelry – such a fantastic experience.

In the couple of days before the Tour arrived, we hiked, did trail runs, downhill mountain biked and generally explored the area. The walking / running trails are not well marked, so I’m glad I had routes loaded onto my Garmin watch. The mountain biking was much better than expected.

For the actual day of the Tour, we wanted to be on the climb, so set off early with enough food, drinks and supplies for many hours. The police wouldn’t let you walk down the road due to all the cyclists (in hindsight, we should have got the telecabin down to Huez), so we had an interesting walk down the mountain and finally settled near corner 6, around 5km from the finish. The whole day is hard to describe, it’s something you just have to experience – we met people of many different nationalities and generally had a party for hours before the race actually came through.

Practical items – we had a porta potty in the van in case of a lack of facilities although there were portable loos set up throughout the town (which become less and less appealing as time went on…). We bought a “Pass libertie”, which gave us access to the lifts as well as the sports centre and swimming pool (both for showers), as well as other facilities.

It would have been very hard to get out of Alpe D’Huez on Thursday night – many people were trying and the traffic was stationary throughout the town, with most routes blocked off to all but official tour traffic. We went to sleep to the sound of waiting traffic and horns beeping – goodness knows how many hours it would have taken people to get out.

On Friday morning, most routes out of Alpe D’Huez were still closed, so we had to take the Col de Sarenne route which is just beautiful. Bourg d'Oisans was completely closed due to the Tour, so we’d planned a long route round, taking in a drive over the Col du Galibier (a long but beautiful way round!). We then headed up past Lyon and spent the night in Macon. It was such a long drive, this was literally just somewhere to lay our heads so can’t comment on the area but it’s a very convenient location.

On Saturday morning, we drove 4ish hours to Reims which is perfectly placed for a stop en route to the Alps. We’d found a free car park on Park4night for the night, but it was in such a populated area, we decided to park there for the day (for free) to cycle into Reims, but we weren’t comfortable popping our roof up to sleep there (if you could more stealthily camp, it would be a reasonable spot). Reims was a lovely stop over and we had a very good and leisurely late lunch here before cycling round to a couple of the champagne houses. After that, we found the Aire in Reims, but you had to phone for a gate code and there was no-one answering the phone so we had to go elsewhere. We drove around 30 mins north of Reims and found a lovely campsite at Villeneuve-sur-Aisne – the snack bar did good food and it was a lovely quiet spot for our final night!

Sunday morning was a return to Calais (via a Carrefour – worth noting, some are closed completely on a Sunday and others are only open in the morning). Our 12.20 train back was delayed by around 30 mins, but all in all, a very easy way to travel.

Reflections on the trip are that it is so easy driving around France, they are incredibly well set up for and welcoming to campervans. Even without bookings or a proper plan, we never struggled for somewhere to spend the night.
It’s worth having a porta potty as a back up if you think you want the freedom to park up in places without facilities!
It was so, so hot - our thermal windscreen and window shades were absolutely essential and stopped this from being a very uncomfortable trip.
The Park4night app was a really useful back up.
Glad we had the Bip and Go to get us through the Tolls easily – we haven’t got the bill for tolls yet so can’t say how much they cost!

Now to book our winter campervan trip to the Alps...
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
@SLB79, Great, sounds awesome - that's my plan in 2-3 years time.....still planning our camper project. Out of interest did you get the T6 from VW and do the conversion yourself or get a company to do it? Did you buy new or used, i'd be keen to discuss how it went, i'll PM you if OK maybe later this week, I'd welcome do's and don't's.
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
@SLB79, sounds like a great trip. Know the Esquerdes park up from our own trip, and most likely the same YouTube channel. Really nice spot, although the morning we woke up there the car park was really busy as loads of cars were parking up for a coach trip somewhere. Lovely bakery though as you say just a couple of minutes walk away.
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You need to Login to know who's really who.
@markymark29 we bought the VW privately (2017 reg) and got a company to do the conversion (we'll do one ourselves eventually when life isn't so chaotic!) - she's only 3/4 converted so far - windows, pop top, sound deadening, insulation and walls carpeted, double passenger seat changed for a captains seat which swivels (a last minute decision and definitely a good one!), drivers seat swivels, electrics, leisure battery, lighting, Webasto diesel heater and 3 individual combi seats put in (so we can remove 1, 2 or all 3 depending what we want to do), bike rack in the back - it sounds a lot when I list it all out!
Next purchase will be a drive away awning. Then we will have storage and a slide out bed put in the main part of the van before we go away for winter. We'll also probably have a small, removable kitchen pod for boiling a kettle but I can't see us ever properly cooking in there. By all means, drop me a PM - we've done A LOT of research and I'm very happy to talk about her!

@swskier they were preparing for a wedding in the big building off the car park in Esquerdes, so we didn't hang around in the morning but I suspect it would have got very busy later on! Definitely a great overnight spot after a long drive to Folkstone!
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
@SLB79, Sounds brilliant, well done with it. I'm definitely not thinking a fancy specialist conversion and will likely buy a new/ near new low mileage van and do something similar, like you I don't see us needing cooking facilities and would likely do that in a tent awning anyway, probably get a portable fridge etc. Ours would be a 3 season usage, mainly western Scotland/ Inner & Outer Hebrides/ Devon & Cornwall and European/ Alps/Med type stuff with 2xMTB's on back (or inside for security) and potentially sea kayaks on top. Started with a VW plan then convinced myself towards an adventure Sprinter plan and now back thinking a T6 and a awning set up (don't think we'd stay on sites though and whether an awning or pod tent might suit us better) getting it done as a project rather than going and paying megabucks for a camper conversion all done (can't afford that anyway and think some are pretty OTT) but its a 2-3 year plan so will likely get in touch next week or 2 if OK via PM. Thanks.
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