At the end of November 2022 I set off on the long journey to southern Spain from Manchester. Just me and the dog, and a lot of bags and boxes.
As usual the drive in England was the worst bit! Road works, traffic jams and bad weather. Apart from those obstacles I got to the Eurotunnel terminal at Folkestone in good time and they bumped me onto an earlier train.
I had to visit the pet reception to confirm that Pippa’s microchip matched what was on her pet passport. I was the only person in there, but all six desks were manned so we did not have to wait at all.
Next I went in to the passenger reception to use the toilets. Again it was earily quiet. This was 15:30 on a week day, not the middle of the night, and yet there was only a couple of people in there.
Very soon though, it was time to head to the departure area for the tunnel. I was directed to a lane with three other tall vehicles in. The other lanes were equally quiet, but before long the traffic lights went green and we were headed down to the train.
The journey itself is almost an anticlimax. You can barely feel any movement when the train sets off. The windows are only small so you have to really press your face to the glass to see what is happening. Obviously you are in a tunnel, so apart from a few lights here and there, there is nothing to see! After 35 minutes you stop at the other end, not far from Calais in northern France.
If you have pets, I would definitely recommend taking the tunnel. The cost was £120 and your pets can stay with you through the whole journey.
Northern France – first night
It was starting to get dark and I was tired so it was time to find the first park-up for the night. I headed south on the A16 towards Boulogne-Sur-Mer. I came off the motorway after 20 minutes to get some fuel at an Intermaché supermarket. Like any other country, fuel is always most expensive on the motorway service areas, so look for centres commerciaux just off the motorway. Most towns have something in the outskirts and are often sign-posted telling you how many minutes it takes to drive there and which way to turn at the roundabouts.
After getting fuel, I drove south for a while and stopped at Aire d’Hardivillers. This was a motorway services but not very busy and it had nice toilets and a bakery – so ticked all the boxes for me!
This was the first time setting up the car camper for real. I put the window foil screens on, set up the bed and moved all the boxes and bags into the front. The temperature was 2°C that night and I slept soundly. The temperature in the car was ok, although during the night it must have got colder as I felt my face getting cold. I just hid under the sleeping bag and was fine. It also helps having a furry hot water bottle (Pippa) for company!
I picked an aire where I could park away from the trucks as they tend to come and go at all hours and make most of the noise – especially the ones with refrigerators. Also being mindful of my safety, I parked in an area that was well lit. The foil screens blocked out all the light so it did not keep me awake.
Northern France – next day
I woke up about 7.30 as it was just starting to get light again. The car camper had worked really well. Despite the cold temperatures, only the windscreen had condensation on it. I will say though, that an estate car has quite a low roof compared to an SUV/MPV (duh!).
If you are at all claustrophobic you may not appreciate the coffin-like sleeping arrangements.
It did not bother me, it was just a place to sleep. I was so tired each evening that I slept fine, even though the ceiling of the car was only about eight inches above me. If I was going to make a habit of car camping, I do think something like a VW Sharan or Ford Galaxy would be better.
Back to the drive. My original route was going to take me over the Pyrenees and through the Somport tunnel. Looking at various web cams for that area, it looked like they had been some large snowfalls. Time to plan another route.
The new plan was to make for the Massif Central region and cross into Spain on the Mediterranean coast.
Anyway off we went, heading south towards Paris. I just figured we would take the A86 around Paris, then head for Montpellier on the south coast. Google Maps had other ideas. I think the traffic must have been bad around Paris, because it rerouted me off the motorway into northern Paris! We were in traffic for about 30 minutes then I was routed onto the A86 duplex tunnel. This is a motorway that runs under a big chunk of west Paris. Now I do not normally mind tunnels, but this one was for cars only, so was just 3 metres high and about 12km long. If you do not like tunnels, definitely do not go this way!
Out of the other side, it was plain sailing down the A70 towards Orléans, I got some fuel from Carrefour on the outskirts, then hit the A71 towards Bourges and Clermont-Ferrand. After here the road became the A75 and the scenary was stunning. We climbed up to about 1200 metres and it started to get snowy and very cold. Luckily it was just a light dusting and not at all icy.
We stopped off at the Aire de Garabit which overlooks the Viaduc de Garabit. This is a stunning railway bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel. You can see the similarities to his famous tower. It was bitterly cold up here so we did not stick around too long.
Next we crossed the Millau Viaduc, which is still the worlds tallest bridge. Unfortunately it was dark now, so I could not see much of a view. Hopefully I will get a chance to cross this again in daylight hours. As you cross it in the dark there is no sense that you are 300 metres above the valley below!
We continued driving south, joining the A9 motorway towards Perpignon and Spain. I also noticed the temperature starting to rise as we came down from the mountains. Up at Garabit, it had been around -1°C, but now it was 8°C. At about 19:00 we stopped for the night at Aire de La Palme Est. This was another very quiet aire, but with decent services. It was also crawling with cats! As soon as I put food out for the dog, atleast six cats showed up wanting some too!
After dinner, I watched some videos on Youtube and then set up the car camper for the night. It was noticably warmer than the previous night. Infact, in the middle of the night I got too warm and had to unzip the sleeping bag. In the morning there was no condensation on the windows at all. A pleasant and quiet nights sleep with very little traffic.
Spain – final day
We set off a little after 8am. It was Saturday and the roads were quiet. As we passed Perpignon and headed to the Spanish border, you could see the snow-capped Pyrennes in the distance. I was also seeing bright sunshine for the first time in weeks. For me this makes the drive so much more enjoyable, once you have left the grey skies of northern Europe behind. A short while later we were over the border, and the motorway became the AP7.
Normally, in Spain an AP (auto pista) road means tolls, but all the toll booths have been removed for some reason. I was not complaining, as this meant I did my final days driving for free!
The route from here south is straight-forward, just follow the AP7 past Barcelona, Tarragona to Valencia. Then head inland on the A7 to Murcia – and home!
The route through France I took was noticably cheaper than my normal route through western France past Bordeaux, and then Spain past Zaragoza. In total I spent less than half as much on tolls as normal.
Another thing I did was not drive faster than 110kmh. Normally I would do 120-130 depending on the speed limit. I just let the cruise control do its thing, and by driving slower I ended up needing one less fill up than usual.
I hope you enjoyed my description of the journey from Manchester to Murcia!