In June I was finally able to fulfil one of my biggest childhood dreams and bought a ’91 VW T4 California campervan. I grew up spending my vacations in my parents‘ T2 and later T3 VW van, so buying a T4 was just the logical consequence of these light-hearted childhood years camping, catching fireflies and counting shooting stars.
Luckily enough I found a van that is in very good condition and the car dealer renewed the fabric of the pop-up roof, so with a little cleaning, the inside (original Westfalia) nearly feels brand-new and there is so much to discover – as my friend Tina said: „It’s like a barbie car for grown-up girls!“
A dream came true and so I called the van Nash (after Nashville, because I love American country music), the dreamcatcher van!
Only one week after I picked Nash up, we started our first roadtrip together, five weeks ahead of us. Five weeks of vacation and so much more. Five weeks of adventure, five weeks of challenges, five weeks spent outdoors, five weeks of exploring, of fun, of surfing, of meeting different people, of being in tune with nature, of freedom, five weeks of pure vanlife.
In this blog entry, I want to take you on my five-week trip down the French and Spanish Atlantic coast. I’ve been thinking about how I should write this one to really let you participate and give you a real impression of the vanlife I’ve been living, and since I couldn’t really find anything like this before my trip, but would have found it really helpful, I decided to tell you a little bit about every stop on the trip, how to get there, how to find a place to sleep and if there is good surf, just in case you want to take the same route on your next trip or follow parts of it. Since this would be the longest blog post in history, I also decided to divide it into four different parts – Bretagne & Charente Maritime, Gironde, Les Landes & Côte de Basque and last but not least, the north of Spain.
Let’s start, here comes Part I.
The first 850 km took us from Berlin to Belgium, where we wanted to spend a few hours on a parking lot next to a gas station on the highway, surrounded by at least ten other vans and campers, get a little bit of sleep – not a very good idea. Not a good idea at all. At 3.41 am two men broke into the van and stole cash while we were sleeping, or actually not quite sleeping, my friend Miriam and I both woke up by the noises and movement of the van, but as I was sleeping „upstairs“ and Miriam „downstairs“, we both thought it was the other one moving. Anyway, it was scary. It was scary and something like this happening during the first night of the journey was a nightmare, but also a lesson. Take better care of staying safe, trust your intuition, expect the unexpected. Don’t feel stupid putting a tension belt between your doors or a baseball bat in your bed. Better safe than sorry. But it has also been a lesson in trust. In that night, I saw my dream crumbling in front of me and I thought we would’t be able to do any wild camping or experience the complete freedom of vanlife. But my mum said: „You are equally safe and equally unsafe everywhere in the world. This could have happened to anyone, anywhere, anytime. It was simply bad luck.“ And we all know, Mums are always right, so we continued our trip anyway and, day by day, gained back our trust in the good.
(I highly recommend NEVER to sleep at service stations in Belgium, though, we have met more people with the same story on our journey.)
// La Bretagne //
Stop 1 – Landéda
Landéda is a small village in western Brittany and I’ve been coming here since I was 3. It is my oasis, my place of longing, my time capsule. Time seems to stand still, life is slow and traditional, the wether is inconsistent and very rough from time to time, beaches are empty and I swear I’ve never seen a night sky so perfect anywhere else in the world. If you want to get away from touristy places and calm down and really leave your everyday life for a while, Brittany is for sure the right place. It is called „La Finistère“ (the end of the world) for a reason. Bring your rain coat, though!
Sleep: I can reccomend a very good campsite right at the beach called „Camping des Abers“, it’s got all you need at a fair rate, a little shop and a pizza place, some entertainment (but not the unbearable kind) and is very clean.
Other than that, from my experience, it is really not a problem to park your van for a night or two in Brittany (see Stop 2 & 3).
Surf: There is no surf near Camping des Abers (only good for kite and wind surfers), but a couple of good spots in driving distance. Penfoul in Landunvez is my favourite, easy parking and never too crowded, there is also a surf school and board rental close to the beach. It works at incoming or high tide and has quite a good access from the side, not too much paddling *yay (bring your booties!). Another one I like is Boutrouilles in Kerlouan, good parking behind the dunes and a nice atmosphere, gets a bit crowded though.
Favourite places: Coming here for 24 years probably makes me a little bit of an expert concerning the area and I can reccomend a couple of nice places to hang out / eat. First of all the Hoalen Ocean Store in Kerledut – Hoalen is a local surf brand and they also do a lot to support the local surf scene. Their Ocean Store is right next to the ocean (surprise!) with the best view of the „Phare de l’Ile Vierge“, the biggest lighthouse in Europe, you can not only shop, but also have coffee or tea and hang out in the garden. Another really nice place is the L’Atelier Ty Room in Aber Wrac’h where you can not only buy excellent paintings, prints and some local products, but also sit in the backyard and enjoy the free wifi.
The best Crêpes and Gallettes are to be eaten at the Restaurant Captain right around the corner (make sure to make a reservation) and for an amazing traditional bakery try La Maison du Boulanger in Lannilis.
Stop 2 – La Palue / Crozon
After leaving my childhood time capsule in Landéda we moved on to the peninsula Crozon a little bit further south, in general an amazingly beautiful place with a breathtaking landscape and good surfspots. We stayed for one night at the parking at Plage de La Palue, overlooking the cliffs and the ocean (just drive through the village to the end of the road) – you will not only find the best view here, but also a lot of other campervans and vanlifers and easy access to the spot (a bit of a walk though) // no toilets, no shower, no water.
Stop 3 – La Torche
We went to La Torche in the south of Brittany to meet up with an old friend of mine, who also revealed a good place to sleep: go to the village of Tronoen, make a right at the little chapel and follow the road towards the sea, drive right up to the dunes and enter the parking on the left side, find yourself a parking space, build a castle out of vans with new friends and enjoy the direct entry to the beach, good waves and/or wind. You can also take a walk to Pointe de la Torche, eat some Moules Frites or take a surf lesson or shop at some of the surfshops/schools there.
By the way, I took my first ever surf lesson in La Torche in 2011 – it was me, two 14-year-olds and a bunch of kids around the age of 8, I didn’t understand a word the instructor was telling me, but man, I took my first bit of white wash on a foamy, good memories // no toilets, no shower, no water.
// Charente-Maritime //
Stop 4 – La Rochelle
We only stopped here to not drive too long on the way south, but found the cutest little campsite ever, which from now on will be remembered as the Garden of Eden, it’s called Camping le Verger (27 Rue Jean Pierre Pigot, 17139 Dompierre-sur-Mer). It’s not by the beach, not even near, but is eco-friendly, super cheap (17 Euros for Nash and two adults), green, has a little shop and a bike rental and the owners are extremely friendly. If you need a safe place to sleep on the way south or north, check it out. La Rochelle itself was a little bit too touristy for my taste, but I very much enjoyed the music of Julien Mueller by the harbour, who is travelling around with his bike and his travel guitar (voycycle.com/fb). I find people like him so inspiring and listening to his stories and him singing in the streets that night was a special moment, so I want to finish off the first part of my travel story with a little bit of music: