Rhodes and the Balkans 2018

Following the success of our trip in 2017 across Europe to Rhodes, Greece, we planned a return journey of eight weeks that would follow a similar outward route but return via the Balkan countries of Albania, Montenegro, Croatia and Slovenia, and then Austria, Germany and France. We drove through eleven countries, covered over six thousand miles, and had adventures galore.

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Our route

Colmar, France – a day’s driving from the ferry at Dieppe, we reached Colmar, a touristy version of the more attractive Kaysersberg, and a dodgy campsite with warnings of petty crime.

Germany, Switzerland and Italy – a whistle-stop tour. Problems with campsites meant missing some planned overnight stops, and driving from France to Italy with only one overnight stop in services. Driving through Switzerland is a feast for the eyes, but Germany and Italy have little to offer when sticking to the fast roads. Arriving at Ancona Port a day early, we were greeted with stark warnings against wild camping in the area and ended up spending an uneasy night on a gipsy encampment.

Mainland Greece – a last-minute cancellation of our ferry from Ancona to Patras began a frantic search for an alternative crossing. The Greeks, being the laid-back sort of people that they are, began every conversation with “do not worry, it is not a problem”, and sure enough, it ended up not being a problem. After speaking to the right people, we got a crossing to Igoumenitsa and the chance to explore some more of the wonderful Greek mainland. Our unscheduled drive took us past vast green lily-leafed lakes with pelicans adorning the water’s edge, through mountainous canyons and rustic settlements. Sadly, due to technical problems, we were unable to capture much of this on camera, but we have vowed to return and explore further this delightful country. On arriving at our campsite at Ancient Corinth, our Greek host suggested that we park anywhere we liked, and a little while later brought us a large bowl of freshly picked figs as a welcome gesture. It is this friendly attitude, the climate, the history and the culture that draws us back again and again to Greece.

Mainland Greece to Rhodes – usually unfazed by driving abroad, the one place I dread is Piraeus! Being a suburb of Athens, the driving is nearly always hectic and chaotic, and the reward for surviving the roads is arriving at the bedlam that is Piraeus Port. No matter how early you arrive in your motorhome, you will inevitably be the last to be loaded when they finally decide where they can slot you in. Having booked a luxury cabin, the crossing itself though is more of a mini cruise than a ferry crossing, and we enjoy the stops at Patmos, Leros, Kalymnos, Kos and Symi during the night, and an excellent meal in the restaurant.

Rhodes – landing at Rhodes is like coming home again to us now. Being a Sunday, the roads were quiet and we were soon enjoying a warm welcome from our friends at Pefkos at the start of our five-week stay on the island. There are no campsites on Rhodes, and few places for emptying tanks, so some ingenuity and local knowledge is called for. It is also necessary to be completely self-sufficient when it comes to energy supplies, we rely on solar panels plus two leisure batteries, and constrained use of two 13kg propane cylinders, which we find for the two of us is comfortably adequate. Having many friends on the island who have offered any amount of help, we could also call on them if we had to, but we try to be as self-sufficient as possible.

We spend our time on Rhodes socializing, walking, kayaking, swimming, fishing (unsuccessfully), painting and exploring the wonderful countryside and ancient ruins. Despite having visited over 30 times, we still always find new things to do or see. I hope the following pictures give a flavour of this.

Delphi and Meteora – sad to leave Rhodes, but excited about seeing Delphi and Meteora which did not disappoint. The Unesco archaeological site of Delphi was an important ancient Greek religious sanctuary sacred to the god Apollo. Today the ruins spread over a wide area of the mountainside, and offer the energetic visitor far-reaching views. The more energetic will be able to climb right up to the stadium, which, despite being built within the second half of the 4th century B.C., is the best preserved ancient stadium in Greece. Our route through the mountains took us through bear and wolf country before we arrived at Meteora. Meteora is a rock formation in central Greece hosting one of the largest and most precipitously built complexes of Eastern Orthodox monasteries, second in importance only to Mount Athos. The six remaining monasteries, there were originally twenty-four, are built on immense natural pillars and hill-like rounded boulders that dominate the local area. Geologists know that the columnar rock formations were formed by erosion by water, but not why the outcrop of rock is so localised to this area alone.

Albania and Montenegro – we had received dire warnings about driving a UK-registered motorhome through Albania, and all turned out to be unwarranted. As a precaution though, we had shown our route to three Albanian friends in Greece, one had suggested that it was impossible, one that it would be very hard, and one that we should make sure to drive through his home town (which we did). We expected a two-hour hold-up at the border, but in the event, we got through in about twenty minutes, most of which was spent arguing that we did need to buy insurance for our vehicle as our UK policy only covered us within the EU, and them insisting that we did not. We did eventually get it. The scenery is much the same as in mainland Greece which we love, and the people are just as friendly. The only downside was the disparity between the rich and the poor – the rich being almost obscenely wealthy in the face of extreme poverty, and the poor living in squalor. That said, we did not see any beggars, no one with their hands out, and everyone worked for what they got which is a refreshing change from our own culture.

Croatia and Slovenia – we were sad to leave Albania and Montenegro having really enjoyed our time there, but we were also looking forward to Croatia and Slovenia. There is an odd expanse of no man’s land between Montenegro and Croatia, and the day we were there, the weather was terrible, low cloud and thunderstorms that followed us up the coast road. Croatia turned out to be every bit as beautiful as we had been told, every corner seemed to bring with it yet another breath-catching view. After a while though, you become immune to it all, which was just as well as I had to spend much of my time driving avoiding rockfalls and rivers across the road. Thankfully vehicles coming the other way would warn of hazards around the corners. A favourite place, without a doubt, was the Trpanj peninsula which we drove through to catch a ferry to avoid driving a few miles through Bosnia. While reports of hold-ups in Bosnia were probably exaggerated, Trpanj was amazing and we spent two nights under palm trees on a beach listening to jackals howling in the woods above us.

Austria, Germany and France – by now we already had a sense that the best of the holiday was behind us, and what remained would be largely number crunching to get the miles out of the way. Little did we know that due to terrible road conditions and congestion in Germany, we would end up driving 550 + miles in one day just to get clear of it all. Austria is every bit as pretty as the postcards, and good roads make for easy driving providing you stick to the many rules that are enforced with vigour. Germany was our downfall, arriving at our planned overnight stop early, we decided to drive on to our next destination at Stuttgart, but not liking the area at all, we carried on to Kaysersberg knowing that this would give me a full rest day there. Liking Kaysersberg as we do, this was not a big hardship, and we even got another rest day later on in France despite opting to go the slower non-toll route and enjoy the wonderful scenery.