Wednesday 22 November 2017

How this Irish couple toured 3,000km around Switzerland and France in their Volkswagen camper for less than €1k

Couple Michael and Niamh travelled through France and Switzerland on their holidays
Couple Michael and Niamh travelled through France and Switzerland on their holidays

Michael Lawless has just returned from a 3,000km-plus road-trip around France and Switzerland in his 1991 - a rare motor here. How did it do? Here's his account.

Since 1949 Volkswagen has created some iconic vehicles - from the Beetle to the Split Screen Transporter and many more. The Volkswagen camper has built a huge following over the decades. I've been lucky to own a 1971 T2 Bay Window model along with my 1970 Beetle.

I think nothing beats the drive of a vintage Camper, the fun factor and the countless waves it evokes from people. It's amazing the distances these old VWs can travel too, once maintained properly.

For me, with a limited amount of space and the desire to cover more ground in shorter times, I moved up the years to a full factory-fitted camper. I sold my T2 in January 2016 and bought a 1991 Westfalia California from John Hickey, classic Volkswagen specialist, in Kilkenny.

Michael's Volkswagen Campervan
Michael's Volkswagen Campervan

After spending last year holidaying across Ireland, Wales and Scotland with fellow Vdub camping friends and girlfriend Niamh (right), we decided on France for a road-trip.

A 10-day break was planned; in reality it would be eight days' driving. Some people might be concerned about travelling such distances in a 26-year-old Transporter with 325,000km+ on the clock. We Irish are probably slightly snobbish around mileage; it's not unusual to see double that mileage on similar vehicles abroad. I had no worries.

A vehicle registered as a camper is taxed at €102/year. As well as insurance, it must have a Certification of Roadworthiness (CRW), the equivalent of NCT.

As the T4 California was only produced in left-hand drive by Westfalia, it makes driving on the continent straightforward.

Couple Michael and Niamh travelled through France and Switzerland on their holidays
Couple Michael and Niamh travelled through France and Switzerland on their holidays

We left Cherbourg (Irish Ferries got us there) with a tank of diesel, bikes and luggage and headed east to Rouen (250km). Next day, we went south through Paris' tunnels to Beaune.

Making good time can mean using motorways. Although they're not free and can seem frequent, sometimes they're the best option. However, for this leg, we opted for ordinary roads to view the small, old villages.

Remember Lyon from the Ireland v France finals last year? It was our next destination, bringing us further south so we could U-turn home through Switzerland. The T4 Transporter was still clocking up kilometres without any bother. Being one of the first T4s made, the 2.4 diesel engine is still quite powerful even without a turbo, coping with motorway speeds and overtaking other campers and lorries with ease. The price of diesel in France was €1.26/€1.38/litre.

Factory-built campers are in a league of their own on camping sites, with fridges, night heaters, cookers, pop up roofs, swivel seats and more.

The unique thing about camping is it allows you to get to some of the best locations without lugging bags through airports and dealing with hire companies.

The French campsites are exceptional, with swimming pools, showers, mains electricity, fresh baguettes delivered each morning and cycle tracks at the gate to the big towns and villages.

All at a fraction of the cost of an equivalent hotel: most campsites with camping card cost €16-€20/night.

After some time in Switzerland, we returned through France, stopping in Colmar for a night. We spent the last two days visiting WWII museums and D-Day beaches. It is amazing what you can pack into a short time. Having the T4 take us around made it rather special.

l Costings: ferry €361.80; fuel: €341.35; tolls: €106.81; campsites: €173.00 for 3,000km travelled.

Indo Motoring

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