I always say the best way to know what van conversion suits you is to rent different vans and try them out for a few days.
After a busy summer filming all over the North East, it was my turn to take a little break and explore new territories. And what do van lifers do on their vacation? Well, they rent a van on the other side of the Atlantic! After interviewing travelers from all over the planet for the past four years, my European bucket list has grown pretty long; it was about time to start checking items off!
Karo and I landed in Milan, where the team at Indie Campers picked us up. In just about five years, the company that started in Portugal now operates in over 10 countries and 50 different locations in Europe. Most of their vans are Fiat Ducatos (Dodge Promasters in America) and they just added California VW Transporters for those looking for the Westfalia-ish experience.
Traveling in Europe is interesting because you have so many options. This goes to show why we couldn’t decide on the itinerary, or maybe we just didn’t want a plan! We ended up traveling mostly by feel, taking the route shown below. Milan is an interesting starting point because of the mountains being in such close proximity. Also, if the weather isn’t up to par, you can easily go south for a totally different trip.
We ended up driving the standard-shift Ducato towards the Alps, with our first stop being the famous Como Lake. iOverlander works great in Europe, but Park4night really gave us more options in most locations. It was already dark when we got to our first spot, so the next day was a total surprise, as we discovered this huge and gloomy lake surrounded by sharp cliffs. If you’re thinking of driving around the lake, there’s a beautiful road by the water that is worth exploring. It gets pretty tight at times and you’ll encounter many bicyclists en route, but if you’re an experienced van driver you’ll be fine! It is Europe after all, and the roads are definitely tight.
We entered Switzerland in Lugano, as we wanted to spend the night by the famous Gotthard Pass (San Gottardo).
There are plenty of spots to park your van in this area. There is even a hotel, a few shops and food trucks by a small pound at the top. We highly recommend looking for backroads and finding a more secluded spot – the view in the morning will be breathtaking and well worth it.
The Furka Pass, one of the most « instagrammed » routes in Europe is also a must!
The Wes Anderson Hotel is much more crowded than it looks so we’d recommend getting there early. It’s important to note that the best light is at sunset, so stick around for the night if possible! The souvenir shop is also the entrance to the Rhone Glacier, which was pretty impressive. You can walk inside the glacier for about 200 meters. Believe us when we say that the 10 minute hike and 10 euro entrance fee is worth it. The lady that runs this seems as old as the glacier so we thought – might as well show some support!
While mountains are always great, we quickly began missing the ocean so we decided to drive south.
We traveled through Geneva, by Lake Léman, all the way to Marseille. Karo really wanted to visit a city with medieval ramparts, so we stopped in Avignon. You can’t drive the van in the city but there’s a huge parking lot with a free shuttle to the old town right next to the city center. The parking lot has a 2 meter high limit but we managed to park on the grass right outside the parking lot. Parking in Europe is pretty chaotic so this ended up being our best option in the moment.
Growing up listening to French hip-hop, Marseille was a must for me, even though most van lifers might choose to avoid it!
The « Parc National des Calanques » is a location that was pretty high on my list so we spent the next day exploring the park. We parked in Cassis on the Avenue Notre-Dame, where there’s a path that heads down and will take you to the trailhead. Driving in Cassis was quite an experience, as streets can get really narrow! At some point we had to turn around in a one-way road because two cars were parked and blocking the way. We made it safely back up but a few cars going down were surprised to see a rental van going the wrong way! Driving the Côte D’Azur was so beautiful, and even though there were a lot of people, I think it’s great to do it with a van. You might not enjoy driving through cities but you’ll find little gems everywhere along the way!