From Pictou, Nova Scotia we took the 75 minute ferry to Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island on a beautiful sunny day. PEI is Canada’s smallest province and is mostly rural with pretty villages interspersed by extensive agricultural land.
PEI has three main regions and each has its own clearly marked scenic drive; we drove the eastern and central routes which included the capital of Charlottetown. The tourist information centre just after leaving the ferry was a great source of information and maps.
We had some amazing park ups along the coast all of which were very quiet at this time of year. The main tourist season here is very short, just July and August so a lot of places were closed, although the cruise ships still dock in Charlottetown. The capital is a very pretty town and worth a visit. Whilst there we treated ourselves to two local delicacies – lobster and chocolate covered crisps (not at the same time I should add!).
We drove along the Green Gables coast (as in Anne of Green Gables – the book was written here by Lucy Maud Montgomery) but found the area to be overly touristy and think it would probably overrun in the summer.
We were lucky with wildlife too – watching the seals and a bald eagle from one spot. If there had been a water source nearby it would have been much harder to drag ourselves away.
The coast is littered with lighthouses which make for great park ups (although not all allow overnight parking) and the beaches of the north coast were stunning. This was a very relaxing week!
After almost two weeks apart and sleeping in five beds in nine days, we couldn’t wait to get back into the van. Don’t get us wrong, we loved seeing everyone and people’s hospitality has been endless but as they say, there’s no place like home!
After a couple of days of shopping (still trying to get our heads around prices, taxes and conversions back to GBP), it was time to hit the road again and see as much of this region as we could before the winter set in. Whilst fuel is significantly cheaper, about £1.25 per litre, food seems for an average shop more expensive, and alcohol is definitely more expensive and sold only through government stores.
We spent almost three weeks in Nova Scotia exploring the province via a figure of eight route starting in Halifax, then north to Cape Breton, south to Yarmouth and back to Halifax following the coast. There are a number of well signed routes around the province and roads are in reasonable condition but are not always tarmacked.
As we left Halifax for the first time we were avidly watching the weather keeping an eye of the severity and route of Hurricane Lee (it’s the middle of the hurricane season) as we headed to a campsite to continue sorting the van. We also wanted to be around people should the storm be particularly bad, but luckily for us we escaped with just a lot of rain.
There is so much to see and do here taking in the scenery, the history and wildlife. The indigenous people were the Mi’kmaq Indians but the land has been settled by the French, English, Germans and Scots (Nova Scotia means New Scotland) and many of the town names are familiar to anyone from the UK!
We drove in a clockwise direction around the island of Cape Breton from the relatively flat south to the winding roads of the highlands of the Cabot Trail in the north. Lots of Scottish influence here; some of the road signs are in Scottish Gaelic and the language is still taught in some schools. It’s also a licence for the tourist shops to sell anything and everything tartan themed!
The Bay of Fundy is home to the world’s largest tides and watching an incoming tide is apparently a sight to behold (I say apparently as we haven’t yet got our timing right to actually see it!). The tidal bore can be surfed and a couple of companies offer rib trips out to play in the bore and the local red mud – too cold to do this now. At low tide it’s possible to go out onto the rocky seabed in places with the knowledge that in a few hours the spot will be underwater by up to 16m!
The southern coves are home to many small fishing villages and the coastline is dotted with lighthouses, with the most famous being Peggy’s Cove. Being in the van we were able to stay in the carpark overnight and take photos before the place was overwhelmed with tour coaches.
Nova Scotia was a great place to start our tour; friendly people, good food and plenty to keep us busy. Next stop will be Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island.
Note re campsites! Due to power differences, we will not be hooking up on this trip, relying on our solar/inverter/battery set up to keep everything charged and working. Our travel style means no more than two or three days in any one place so even if there is little solar power coming in we will recharge the leisure batteries via the engine. Having swapped from a cassette toilet to a separating one over the summer this also means that we are not looking for black water disposal. This page explains the changes and improvements we have made to the van.
Porters Lake Provincial Park: small lakeside camping area in the park. Grass pitches with some gravel, BBQ pits and picnic benches. Some pitches have power and water. Walking trails and a small boat launch. Booking was via online system (www.parks.novascotia.ca).
We paid CAD28.85 p/n without services.
Nimrod’s Campground, Sherbrooke: small lakeside camp with a lot of seasonal trailer pitches. We parked on a small lakeside pitch (we are small by local standards) which was supplied with water and EHU. Pitches are grass and some areas were, not surprisingly, very muddy. Lots of activities available in peak season but our reason for visiting was to sit out a storm!
We paid CAD46 p/n over a weekend.
Other overnight spots:
We find our spots via the iOverlander and Park4night apps with the former having more entries in the Americas. These are usually public car parks where overnight parking is permitted and out of season, there is much more choice. Most are free but not always flat. We always review where we’ve stayed – just check out the app to see if we’ve stayed in a particular place.
Cape Breton – Baxter’s Cove, Pleasant Bay, Donkin and Gabarus Bay.
Mainland Nova Scotia – Fundy Tidal Interpretive Centre, Cape Split Provincial Park, Cape Fonchu, Peggy’s Cove (need to be aware of restrictions in the two car parks), Halifax city centre near Pier 21 (daily rate of CAD12) and Salt Springs car pool carpark.
It’s easy to split the Romania blog into two parts – before and after the mud incident! We’ll start with the former and the latter will follow in a couple of weeks once we’ve moved on to our next country.
Before entering Romania we bought an online vignette (www.roviniete.or and there is an option to select the site in English) which cost Lei157.39, just over £28 for 30 days. We then renewed for a further seven days for Lei79.18, about £14 after receiving an email a week before our first vignette expired.
We entered Romania on a grey, wet day and drove through extensive flat agricultural land which in places looked unchanged from centuries ago – we saw so many horse and carts on the road!
We were on a mission to reach Bran where we were meeting up with Ali and Martin (aka The Triggols), fellow travellers and also Hymer owners. The sun had finally come out and we had a couple of glorious days exploring the famous Bran Castle (admission Lei55 each) and the surrounding countryside.
If visiting the castle, which tenuously has links with Dracula, we would advise avoiding the weekends – even out of season we could see the long queues on the Saturday (we had been the previous day). Whilst some of the rooms display local myths and legends, one floor has been restored to show artefacts from the actual history of the castle and overall is worth a visit.
We also had our introduction to the sweet delicacies of langos and kurtos – hate to think of the calorie count but nonetheless, delicious!
With the need for a washing machine starting to nag, we headed to a campsite in Harman, the former Saxon town Honigberg. The campsite is in the vicarage garden of the Harman Fortified Church. Within the walls is the Church of St Nikolaus which dates back to 1240 and houses “women’s benches” in place of pews from 1753 when ladies’ stiff clothing didn’t allow them to lean back!
After three peaceful days by the church it was back to nature and this time, mud volcanoes…yes they are a thing. The mud mixes with gases and rises from about 3km below the Earth’s surface to erupt and form cones or large burping pools of muddy water. There are two areas of these volcanoes close to the campsite and we visited both. We found the smaller area to be the better of the two – there is more going on there and not so many school parties. Each area cost Lei4 per person to enter.
Our next destination was to prove an expensive one! We drove to the Danube Delta, a large area of wetlands with a large migratory bird population. Having walked the dry mud road first, we parked up on the bank of the Danube looking forward to a couple of days watching the comings and goings on the river.
We had a visitor in the form of Kate (Overlanding Solo on Instagram) who we had previously met in Turkey and spent a few hours chatting to a couple of local fishermen who shared their food and wine with us. All seemed well in the world but then it began to rain….and it continued to rain.
We had been watching the river and the water level was fine but we had come down a steep slope off the road to get here. The weather forecast had changed to show rain for the next few days so we decided to move on after one night. Just had to get back to the road and after 4 hours we did, being towed behind a tractor driven by a local farmer. It was lucky that we’d seen Kate the day before as she’d been on a boat trip so put us in touch with her tour guide who contacted a friend in the area who found us the farmer. No matter the situation, it seems there is always someone who will help. We saw no birds.
The whole sorry episode is played out in our “Stuck in the Mud” video on YouTube and the upshot was we needed the clutch looking at so we drove to the closest Mercedes truck shop which was a couple of hours away in Galati.
We ended up needing a new clutch, flywheel and bearing and luckily for us, they were able to fit us in within two days. We were in a free car park down by the Danube (couldn’t get away from it!) and had a launderette a short walk away, so a couple of days’ wait was not a problem.
With the clutch sorted we headed north only to wake up the next morning with a rapidly deflating rear tyre. Fortunately tyre shops are everywhere in Romania and once we found one with a jack big enough to lift us, it was a 20 minute repair job after removing a piece of metal which was embedded between the treads.
Having also broken the toilet flush handle (and in the absence of a Thetford dealer in the immediate vicinity, mended with an improvised spindle cut down from a 9mm knitting needle) during this time, we needed a change of scenery so it was back to the mountains for us. More of that next time when we visit the beautiful painted Bucovina Monasteries.
Camping Honigberg, Harman: EUR15 p/n for 2 people and a motorhome without EHU (EUR3 extra). The campsite is within the walled garden of an old vicarage and parking is on grass. Standard water and WC facilities are available plus a washing machine at EUR2 per wash. Immaculate shower/toilet block – so much so that we used it rather than our onboard shower, which is a first since COVID. The fortified church is just across the road and there are shops close by. In fact we liked this campsite so much we came back!
Muddy Camping: Lei60 p/n (approx £11) without EHU. Clean water and black dump on site. All grass. Didn’t use any other facilities. Ongoing building work re toilets and showers. Great onsite restaurant offering traditional home cooking. Easy walking distance of two mud volcano sites.
Other overnight parking:
Snagov: free overnight spot next to a small football stadium. Quiet and flat – great for one night. No facilities.
Bran: parking is currently on the land of a house owner just outside the centre of Bran, who is in the process of building a small campsite. Currently just fresh water available and he is only asking for donations to the new facilities. Really friendly owner who can advise on walking in the local area. Short walk to the town and Bran Castle.
Near Garliciu: after a long day driving we tried a few places before settling here for the night. It’s nothing other than a pull off from the road and grassy (potentially muddy) but OK for the night. No facilities.
Danube Delta: one of several grassy areas used by fishermen right on the banks of the Danube and just across from the nature reserve. You are supposed to buy a permit to stay overnight – there are no signs but one of the fishermen gave us the website so we bought one each online for Lei5, less than £1. Access is via a mud track with steep banks down to the parking areas – great when it’s dry but in the wet, the mud turns very quickly to clay making driving out very difficult. In our case, a tractor was required to pull us out of the quagmire, up the slope and back along the track until we hit the tarmac.
Galati: Free riverside car park by the border force building. Flat and hard standing but no facilities. Easy walk into town. The road is busy but does quieten down a little at night.
Bacau: roadside park up next to the old stadium. No facilities but OK for one night to break up a long journey. A busy road which did calm down a little overnight.
It was with a heavy heart that we left Turkey and crossed the border into Bulgaria. We had had an amazing three months exploring Turkey and hope to return some day but new adventures lay ahead as we began our slow journey back to the UK.
The border crossing was fairly straightforward and it’s worth noting that you have to pay €6 (in Euro) to have the van disinfected as you enter Bulgaria.
Tolls in Bulgaria took a little thought as we are over 3.5T so couldn’t buy a simple vignette and had to use a pay as you go app. We used the Bulgarian Tollpass app which allowed us to input that day’s route and pay the appropriate toll. The tolls were often just pennies and over a four week period, it cost a total of around £10.40.
We had very little idea of what to expect in Bulgaria and had a route which would cover the most popular tourist spots plus see some of the quieter countryside. The weather was variable and in the mountains there was still plenty of snow.
The old town of Plovdiv was worth seeing and we spent a few days in Sofia, as our daughter flew out at the last minute for a visit. June was treated to an afternoon in a hotel spa (bliss!) and we wandered around the city admiring the buildings and many churches including the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral.
We visited several other churches and monasteries in the region including the Rila Monastery which was quite simply stunning. We stayed in the car park right outside the gate so were able to visit early the next morning, having the place almost to ourselves.
We met Oxsana and Brad, aka Frenchy Le van, who we had previously spent some time with in Turkey. Oxsana introduced us to the tradition of “Baba Marta” or “Granny March” which marks the beginning of spring on 1st March and is when Bulgarians exchange red and white tassels and bracelets which are then tied to the branches of trees.
Bulgaria has a number of natural thermal springs and we visited a couple, going from one extreme to another! The first was at Repite where there are a number of shallow outdoor pools used by locals (a paid, more landscaped area was also available) and then we visited Thermal Camping Velingrad, a campsite with properly built pools filled with naturally heated water.
Kamping Kromidoro: BGN40 p/n (approx £18) which was BGN16 for the van, BGN8 per person and BGN8 for hook up. A small eco-campsite run by a very friendly English couple who kindly opened up the site despite being closed for the winter. Washing machine available at BGN10 per wash – includes powder. Lots of communal space and BBQ area. Free wifi. Lots of walking around surrounding vineyards and fields. The road through the local village is full of potholes but if driven slowly, it’s definitely worth weaving your way around them!
Thermal Camping Velingrad: BGN90.20 (yes, about £40) p/n including EHU. Fully serviced pitches, free wifi, washing machine and tumble dryer. The site has its own thermal pool complex including indoor and outdoor pools, two saunas and a steam room – dressing gowns provided free of charge. BBQ area, bar and restaurant area. Although the per night cost is expensive, taken the facilities in account, it is worth it and if you can arrive on a Sunday or Monday, you can get 4 nights for the price of 3.
Other overnight spots:
Plovdiv Stadium: a large car park next to the sports centre just outside of the town centre. Fairly quiet once everyone had left but the trains across the road ran all night. No facilities.
Devin: the car park at the entrance to the Devinska River Gorge and next to a thermal pool complex. There was a port-a-loo in the carpark but no other facilities. There is a hike into the gorge and up the valley side to a waterfall.
Rupite thermal pools: a large open grassed area close to the pools – some are free and others you pay to enter. There is a walk to some ancient Roman ruins which are still being excavated. There are a couple of port-a-loos in a small car park. Only noise was from a building site close by.
Vitosha, near Sofia: a slightly sloping car park at the base of Mt Vitosha and next to the Dragalevski Monastery. Water is available at the monastery but only for filling small water bottles. No other facilities.
Vasil Levski National Stadium: BGN20 p/n and there didn’t seem to be a limit on how long you could stay. No facilities. Parking is on the road around the stadium – we were asked to get as close to the back as possible and did manage to find a long space although slightly sloping. The stadium is in almost constant use but mostly quiet and we backed on to a large park. Great spot for walking into the city and good value given the location.
Rila Lakes: BGN10 p/n and parking just below the lower cable car station. A large gravel car park. No facilities but cafes nearby (limited opening off-season). Lots of walking and it’s worth taking the cable car up to the lakes (although all covered in snow when we visited). The cable car was BGN25 each for a return ticket – it’s possible to walk down when the snow has melted.
Rila Monastery: small car park outside the monastery costing BGN10 per day and if staying overnight, you have to pay for two days. A must visit if in Bulgaria, the monastery is free to enter and by staying overnight you can wander in before any coaches arrive. Water available but not via a threaded tap. The bakery is also worth a visit for a freshly cooked “mekitsa”, a fried bread/donut pastry and utterly delicious!
To complete our trip to Turkey we had planned to follow the Black Sea coast pretty much as far as the border with Bulgaria but as usual we took a few detours along the way!
The coastline itself was a never ending series of, well to us anyway, very similar towns spread along one of the main truck routes from Georgia and Azerbaijan and not very inspiring. Maybe it was the weather, or that places were busy so we had problems parking but we just weren’t feeling it. Heading inland a little though, the hills are covered in tea plantations and very quickly you are back in the mountains again, much more our thing.
We did however enjoy our visits to the old towns of Safranbolu and Edirne, our final stop in Turkey.
Safranbolu made its name as an isolated source of the precious spice saffron. Nowadays the old cobbled streets cater for tourists but it’s well worth visiting. We loved the workshops of the Metalworker’s Bazaar where Bob was invited to try his hand at forging something.
Most people leave here having bought saffron or local Turkish delight but we came away with a hand forged axe and some handmade cups and saucers from the pottery next door.
We had to stop for the obligatory gözleme and this time we got to see the café owner making the pancakes.
We stopped in Edirne to see the Selimiye Mosque but it is currently undergoing extensive renovations. However there are several other beautiful mosques close to the old town so we visited those – we both love the architecture and the internal decoration of the mosques. We will miss the daily prayer calls, even the dawn ones!
We have really enjoyed our trip to Turkey and will come back again one day and not just because we were buying fuel at under £1 a litre! Motorhoming was easier than we expected as water and LPG were readily available, although the roads can only be described as variable! Don’t underestimate the size of Turkey (we drove just under 5,000 miles in all) and even after almost three months, there is still so much to see.
There is something in Turkey for everyone – beautiful coastline, high mountains, ancient history, modern cities and great food. The people are so friendly and we were welcomed everywhere we went.
We will post a summary of the trip shortly but if you are thinking of visiting Turkey in your motorhome then do it!
Danzi Camping, near Ardeşen: tl250 per night including EHU. A relatively new riverside campsite close to the Georgian border, run by a very friendly couple. The site is mostly for tents but there are a couple of mostly grass but flat pitches for vans. Newly built block housing showers, toilets and a communal kitchen which has a washing machine and tumble dryer (both cost tl50 a use). Small lounge area in which food and drinks are sold.
Safranbolu Karavan Kamp, Safranbolu: tl250 per night with metered electric extra. Very sloping site although the owner said he intends to level out the pitches, and when we visited, it was very muddy! Pricing was a bit confusing and he didn’t mention metering the EHU until the following morning – not that we had an issue with that but we just like to know upfront! Great site for walking to the old town of Safranbolu.
Other overnight spots:
Sumela Monastery: we would have stayed in one of the payable car parks but because of the snow, they were all closed! We managed to tuck ourselves away for a free night. Toilets close to the monastery but closed when we visited.
Terme: an overnight stop on a beachside track to the east of Terme. A rough track surrounded by lots of rubbish but it had been a long driving day and all the campsites were along the main road. No services.
Vezirkopru Park: tl95 for entry to park. A beautiful country park that allows overnight parking. Toilets and freshwater taps throughout the park. Slightly sloping but hard standing parking spaces.
Horma Kanyon: another park up disrupted by heavy snow! We couldn’t get into the official car park for the canyon so tucked ourselves into a little pull in and spent a night there wondered if we’d get out the next day! No services.
Alapli: large beachside car park and picnic area. Given it was a Saturday night there were a few locals around revving their engines but they quietened down as we went to bed. Toilets nearby but no other services.
Silivri: a large grassed area, a short walk to the town with its restaurants and cafes. Lots of cars coming and going but quiet at night. Close to a supermarket. No services.
Selimiye Otopark, Edirne: tl105 for overnight parking. Large flattish car park close to the Selimiye Mosque, with large spaces for motorhomes and coaches. Be careful of some people trying to steer you to parking in less salubrious areas! We nearly fell for it but gut instinct told us we were not in the right place. No services.
As usual, I’m writing this post a few days after we were in this region and if some of the names seem familiar, it is because this is the region that was struck by the horrendous earthquake in the early hours of Monday 6 February. As of now the recovery process is still ongoing but it is being hampered by the weather which turned cold and snowy just before the disaster struck.
The people of this region have been some of the most friendly and hospitable people we have ever met and our thoughts go out to them all.
We left the cold of Cappadocia to head back to the coast at the eastern end of the Mediterranean. Our first stop was Tarsus, the birthplace of St Paul, although we have to confess that our primary reason for visiting was the free washing machines at the municipal motorhome aire! With the washing drying we wandered into town and followed a tourist walking route which took us past most of the main historic attractions – well worth a few hours of our day.
After Tarsus we drove around lakes close to Yumurtalik but couldn’t find a park up there so we headed to a car park near Yumurtalik Beach. As we were sitting outside the van having a coffee, we were approached by a family who were having a picnic nearby and who asked if they could look inside. No problem, we said, and after all three generations had stuck their heads through the door, we suddenly had an invite back to the grandparent’s house for coffee, so we packed up the van and followed them the 30km or so to Ceyhan. Having settled down for a cup of tea, we were then offered dinner, a shower and a bed for the night! Not wanting to offend anyone, and knowing the Turks are incredibly hospitable, we ate the delicious soup and the kibbeh but very politely turned down the bath and bed.
The family would have been in the region impacted by the earthquake and we just hope Yusuf and the rest of the family are ok.
From here we drove further south along the Mediterranean, spending a couple of nights beside the beach at Arsuz, catching up on admin and housework.
We visited the Titus Tunnel near Samandag, a flood prevention tunnel built by the Romans in the first century and whilst there had a great homemade flatbread stuffed with cheese and spinach – that was worth the entry fee alone!
We reached our southernmost point a few kilometres south of here, about 12km north of the Syrian border, when the track became impassable so we turned north again towards Antakya (also known as Hatay).
Sadly the city carpark was unable to accommodate us so after a few twists and turns through the busy narrow streets we found a campsite out of town. This meant we missed exploring the town and all that it had to offer.
Our bellies were looking forward to our next stop at Gaziantep, known for its baklava and other foodie treats! The town is in the centre of the pistachio growing region and given our habit of stopping occasionally for coffee, we had to try the local pistachio coffee. Well, what a revelation – we really liked it!
We wandered around the old bazaar area where we had all our kitchen knives sharpened in a small workshop and had our first kebab of the day.
The Gaziantep Zeugma Mosaic Museum is definitely worth a visit. The mosaics were unearthed at the Roman site of Belkis-Zeugma and moved when the Birecik Dam flooded the area. The size and detail of the mosaics is phenomenal.
We had taken a taxi from the campsite with another English couple, Rich and Sarah, aka tracey_van_ness on Instagram, and met up with them again later in the day for an early dinner at Kebap ve Baklava (worth a visit and don’t be put off by the queue as it moves really quickly). We don’t eat out much as a rule as we’re on a budget but we knew we’d blow that in Gaziantep! We had different kebabs so we could share and of course had to finish with a couple of pieces of pistachio baklava.
We were now beginning our journey east and spent a couple of nights near Halfeti on the banks of the Euphrates. The old town of Halfeti (Eski Halfeti) was partially submerged following the construction of the Birecik Dam. It’s now a destination for boat tours to view the Rumkale fortress on the opposite bank and the flooded village of Savas, where the minaret of the submerged mosque stands above the water.
We had hoped to visit the famous statues at Nemrut Dagi but knew there was a good chance we wouldn’t get there and indeed, at a height of 5,500ft we found the snowbound and very much closed approach road.
We spent three nights in Mardin but had only one day when we left the van – can’t be helped travelling in this region during the winter! We did have one glorious day when the sun came out so we could explore the old town and look across the plains to Syria.
Our final stop of this leg was the Mor Gabriel Monastery where we spent a couple of nights in their very snowy car park! The monastery is the oldest surviving Syriac Orthodox monastery in the world having been founded in 397AD and is located near Midyat. Although still home to practising monks and nuns it is possible to take a guided tour of the monastery.
The snow of the last couple of days was a gentle introduction to what was to come next!
Tarsus Municipal Campsite, Tarsus: Free, including EHU and limited use of a washing machine. Small individual pitches for 10 vans and any overflow was accommodated in the car park – it’s worth arriving early to secure a pitch. The maximum stay is initially 3 nights and return visits are limited. The washing machine is under lock and key and used under the supervision of the site manager but it’s free so can’t complain! Great restaurant next door and others within short walking distance. The city of Tarsus is about 2km away, a flat, easy walk.
Esenbahçe Kamp Alani, near Hatay: tl150 p/n (£6.50) including EHU. Small, rural, riverside campsite. All grass pitches. All the usual facilities but we only stayed overnight (only because we were on our way to somewhere else) so can’t comment on them.
Gaziantep Karavan Park, Gaziantep: tl150 p/n including EHU. Free use of washing machines and DRYERS – yes, tumble dryers, although it did feel like you had to fight with local caravan owners who had bought their week’s washing from home with them! A fairly new, 24hr guarded, large, tiered site with hard standing pitches next to a lake. Reception building with a communal seating area and terrace. Pitches available for long term rent and lots of caravans seem to be long term. Taxi point just outside the front gate and it cost us tl150 to get to the centre of Gaziantep.
Mardin Karavan Camping, Mardin: tl150 p/n including EHU. A small car park run by a really friendly and helpful family – we drank lots of tea with them! A great location for access to the old town of Mardin and it has all the facilities you need, albeit it’s not a pretty site. Some noise as you are right next to a mosque and the owner’s dog barks at anything and everything passing the front gate day and night.
Other overnight stops:
Buyuk Ataturk Park, Ceyhan: Free overnight spot in the car park. A few cars around in the evening but once they had gone, it was quiet enough.
Arsuz: Free parking on grass close to the beach (no swimming allowed though at this point). Some noise from the construction site behind the parking area but quiet at night. A great place to rest for a couple of days. Short walk into town.
Siverek Picnic Area, Siverek: Free parking overlooking a dammed lake on the Euphrates. Large parking area. Toilets at the entrance. Very quiet night.
Halfeti: Free parking on a track alongside the Euphrates river. They are working on the track so some lorry noise during the day. Short walk to a few shops.
Mor Gabriel Monastery: Free parking in the outer carpark. We arrived during a snow storm and staff from the monastery came out to see if we needed anything. Great views across the countryside.
This small area needs its own post – we spent longer in the Cappadocia region than anywhere else so far on our travels!
Moving towards the east, we first stopped in the Ihlara Valley and began at the north of the valley at Selime Castle, the largest cave complex in the region. The valley was a favourite retreat of Byzantine monks and many of the buildings carved into the rock are monasteries and churches.
We spent a couple of hours here exploring the churches and other buildings before driving a little further south to a small hot spring we had read about. We have visited a few hot springs and this was definitely the hottest but also the smallest! Shame about all the rubbish lying around though.
We then parked at the visitor centre near the town of Ihlara and from where we took the 350+ steps down to the valley floor to walk along the valley and explore the churches here. There are a dozen or so churches built into the valley walls and some still have amazing frescoes dating from as early as the 9th century. The total walk was about 10km.
If timed correctly you can probably explore the whole valley in one day and pay only one fee of tl90 but we took our time so paid for two days.
Goreme is the main town of the Cappadocia’s tourist industry and much of the town is geared towards tourists (several Chinese, Korean and Indian restaurants are just one example of this!). Although we stayed on a campsite for a couple of nights, we much preferred being parked up overlooking the valleys from where we could watch the hot air balloons, one of Cappadocia’s biggest tourist draws, and view the strange rock formations. The balloons only fly when the weather allows and we saw them twice in six days.
Whilst here we visited the Goreme Open Air Museum, a UNESCO World Heritage site of a Byzantine monastic settlement built into the rock. There seemed to be a few churches closed when we visited but it was still worth going and also buying the extra ticket to visit the Dark Church which has the most breathtaking frescoes. The church gets its name from the lack of windows which has gone a long way to preserve the frescoes and their strong colours.
There are some fantastic hikes in Rose Valley and we covered a lot of it, from the peak of Aktepe Hill and down a few hundred metres onto the valley floor.
The Columned Church (Kolonlu Kilise) is well worth hunting out.
Between Ihlara and Goreme we visited Derinkuyu, one of several underground cities in the area.
If on a quick visit to the area it is possible to cover a lot with the Cappadocia Pass which gives access to seven locations for 400tl (just over £17) and is valid for 72 hours. We decided to take our time and paid for each place we visited (3 out of the 7 but we had to pay twice for Ilhara Valley) which cost us a total of tl480 (around £20.50).
We’re not usually ones for big tourist centres but Cappadocia was a must, although we were grateful that it wasn’t overly busy. Saying that on our last morning we think they hit the maximum permitted number of balloons flying, which is 100, and some of those baskets carry 28 passengers!
It has been quite cold here (we’ve been in thermals for the past two weeks!) so time to head south again for some warmth.
Panorama Camping: tl450 (£19.50) per night including EHU. Tiered, hard standing campsite, close to the town. Small pitches but plenty of room out of season – upper terrace has the views and lower terrace the best wifi signal! Swimming pool and washing machine were out of service when we visited. Friendly, helpful owner who is very responsive on WhatsApp.
Other overnight spots:
Ilhara Valley Tourist Facility car park: was free when we visited. There was building work going on close to the main car park so we used the overflow area. There are toilets but they were closed when we visited.
Love Valley viewpoint: no pay point on the track we used. Parking is a free for all along the western ridge overlooking Love Valley and which has great views of the balloons, some of which land in this area. Access is via bumpy tracks which could be muddy if there’s any prolonged period of rain. Restaurants and toilets nearby.
Rose Valley viewpoint: tl50 for a motorhome to access the valley (only pay to enter and not a daily fee). Bumpy mud tracks again off the main access road. Great views of the balloons taking off and plenty of local hiking. Restaurants and toilets nearby.
We left the coast and headed inland after a disappointing trip to Decathlon in Antalya with our shopping list barely touched – probably not a bad thing!
On the map, along the route we were following, were a number of caravanserais (also kervansaray, han or hanı), basically lodgings built for travellers on the Silk Road and where they could resupply themselves and their animals. The caravanserais were built 30-40km apart which would have equated to about a day’s travel
The buildings are in various states of repair and some now house museums, shops and cafes. The largest caravanserai in Anatolia is Sultanhani which was built in 1229 and reconstructed after a fire in 1278. The covered lodging area is now a carpet museum (not as boring as it sounds!).
Of course we came we had to visit some ruins; the Roman city of Sagalassos which are found at an altitude of 1500m in the Taurus Mountains. The site is one of the Mediterranean’s largest archaeological projects with lots of ongoing excavations. Something we were not expecting was to be handed the keys to the Neon Library which houses a 4th century mosaic. We thought this was one of the most stunning sites we have visited so far.
The Turkish Lake District is found in the mountains of western Anatolia. We had already visited Lake Salda so this time we stayed on the edge of Lake Egirdir, admiring the sunsets.
We also spent a night close to Lake Tuz, one of the world’s largest salt lakes. It’s often pink but only when it is warm and dry, and is slowly drying up as the water feeding it is diverted for towns or agricultural use.
In between the two lakes we spent a night in Konya. As it was a Saturday this meant we were able to catch the weekly sema, the Mevlevi worship ceremony of the whirling dervishes. You can turn up at the Mevlana Culture Centre about 30 minutes before the show and entry was tl50 (£2.15) each and the ceremony lasts about an hour. If you can time a visit to catch the mesmerising ceremony than we’d highly recommend it.
The nearby Mevlana and Panoramic Museums are also worth visiting. The former houses the tomb of Celaleddin Rumi, later known as Mevlana and who bought the whirling dervishes to the world. It is an old lodge of the whirling dervishes and one of the biggest pilgrimage centres in Turkey, attracting over 1.5 million visitors a year.
Kervansaray Camping, Sultanhani: tl250 p/n including EHU. Small grassy campsite just across the road from Sultanhani Caravanserai. Probably quite cramped in the summer and wifi only really worked in the central building. Washing machine but it was out of order when we visited but the owner took my washing and returned it the following morning (I suspect his wife or mum did it for us!). Very friendly and helpful staff.
Other overnight stops:
Susuz Kervansaray: free parking to the rear of the building. The site is covered in litter and the local children were running around the van but they soon got bored when we ignored them. Bumpy, rock strewn ground but fine for an overnight stay. There was an old toilet block there but there was no water connected.
Egirdir: free parking on the peninsula. We parked on an the site of an old cafe which was flat and quiet. One of the other car parks had a couple of hole in the ground style toilets so we were able to empty the toilet cassette. No other facilities but water is plentiful from roadside public water fountains (we have a filter system on the van so are not unduly worried about where we get water).
Konya: large free car park behind the Panorama Museum and next to the Hilton Hotel. No services and a little noisy – it was Saturday night and locals have a habit of parking next to the van and playing loud music.
Lake Tuz: a track off the main road took us down towards the lake but not too close as the ground became very soft and muddy. Parked next to a farmer’s field so no services but spectacular views!
We spent Christmas with our children, who had flown out from the UK, in an amazing villa up in the mountains just south of Fethiye.
If you are looking for somewhere away from it all and with spectacular views and sunsets then Villa Blueview is the place to be. We found it on AirBnB.
After Christmas we headed back to Fethiye to join John and Kellie again to continue travelling along the south coast, exploring various beaches and more ruins. We had the best of everything here – places were quiet because it was out of season and the weather was perfect and warm enough to swim and paddle board in the sea.
We celebrated New Year in Kas joining the locals to watch the fireworks over the harbour as a DJ played in the main square. Earlier we’d had dinner with another couple, Simon and Lorraine of Silo Adventures, who we know via social media. This has been a great trip so far for meeting up with fellow travellers!
Having given ourselves a day to recover from New Year (anything after 10pm is a late night for us!) we said goodbye, at least for the moment, to John and Kellie and followed the coast a little further towards Antalya.
The coast road, D400, is a stunning road to drive and the Turquoise Coast lives up to its name.
As it was on our way we visited the rock tombs and ruins of Myra. The rock graves date back to the 4th century BC and the ancient village has origins in the 5th century BC. The theatre is Roman, built over a smaller Hellenistic one, and was the largest in the region, seating over 10,000 people.
Our final stop along the coast was the “burning rocks” of Chimaera. Whilst ancient peoples attributed the flames to the breath of a monster, in reality the source of the flames is natural gases seeping through the rocks.
We came equipped with marshmallows and sticks to toast over the flames!
Kas Camping: tl450 (£19.50) per night including EHU. Tiered gravel campsite next to the sea and close to the town. Small pitches but plenty of room out of season. Washing machine was included. Relatively expensive for Turkey but paying for the location.
Other overnight spots:
Fethiye public car park: town centre car park right on the harbour and close to the shops and the old town. The car park is open 24 hours, access is through a security barrier and payment is charged by the hour. We paid tl220 (£9.50) for two nights, arriving late afternoon and departing after breakfast. A small amount of noise but to be expected from the location. No services.
Kalkan: free parking in an old quarry just outside the town. Rough ground but no issue with finding a flat area. No services.
Tekirova: Free. Small beachside carpark next to an old bar. No facilities.
Once we had driven past all the lorries queuing to get into Turkey, our border crossing was relatively easy.
We had to stop to buy van insurance at the border – EUR140 for three months, and the office is easy to find. One tip is don’t use the cash machine here as the bank loads a huge handling fee on to the withdrawal!
Once away from the border find a Ziraat Bankasi ATM as they don’t charge at all. Back at customs we were only asked if we were carrying electrical goods. Our cameras, iPads, phones etc were not an issue and we were waved through. The Turkish border makes quite an impression!
We had a vague route in mind for this first part of Turkey having watched several other travellers on YouTube and a couple of weeks to explore before spending Christmas in Fethiye with our children who were flying out to join us in a house we have rented for the week.
Our first stop was the Gallipoli (Gelibolu in Turkish) peninsula, the site of several battles in 1915. It’s a site of particular importance to Australians and New Zealanders as well as Turks and the southern end of the peninsula is home to 40 Allied and at least 20 Turkish war cemeteries. The Allied cemeteries are maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and their website (www.cwgc.org) can be checked if you are trying to locate a particular grave. The area is now pine covered rolling hills and is well sign posted for the individual cemeteries and memorials. A very thought provoking trip.
We left the peninsula and crossed the Dardanelles Straits to Canakkale via a small ferry. This also took us to a new continent as we left Europe and arrived in Asia.
As well as changing continents we moved from recent history to ancient and a region, to quote our Lonely Planet guidebook, with an “embarrassment of ruins”!
We didn’t stop in Canakkale and instead drove to the town of Troy (Troia), a short distance to the south. We parked at the Troia Pension and were able to walk to the museum and the ruins from there. If not using a guide (we didn’t) then buy a joint ticket (tl150 each) and visit the museum before the ruins to get some sense of the history. Compared to other sites the ruins here are exactly that but there are a couple of spots where they have excavated enough that you can see multiple layers of Troy’s history.
The Pension offered food albeit not from a menu so we ate there one night. Meatballs, rice and salad which although basic was tasty. Watch out for the wine though – it was good but expensive at over £4 a glass!
We had a couple of days at the beach before heading to Bergama and the ruins of the ancient city of Pergamum where we drove up the hill to the Acropolis rather than take the cable car. These ruins were UNESCO listed in 2014 and date from at least the 5th century BC. The site is scattered over the hill top and includes a steep 10,000 seat theatre. Well worth the tl100 entry fee (tl50 for an audio guide).
Next was the site at Ephesus, once the 4th largest city of the Roman Empire with over 250,000 inhabitants and was previously located by the sea although over time the harbour silted up and the water is now some distance away. This site is huge and yet they think about only 20% has been excavated. The theatre here seated an impressive 25,000 people although the three Singaporean lads singing a Christmas carol from the stage were playing to no more than 50 people (but I imagine many more on Tik Tok or Instagram!).
We bought the ticket which covered the main site and the terrace houses (tl250 per person). The latter is a live excavation site which is within the main Ephesus city but fenced off and under cover and the buildings are very well preserved.
Ephesus is Turkey’s most visited ruins and in the summer we can imagine that it is overrun with tour buses so probably best to visit as soon as it opens. One of the positives for travelling out of season is visiting these sites when they are relatively empty.
Our whistle stop tour continued on to Pamukkale where you can visit the travertine terraces and the ancient spa city of Hierapolis (same ticket – tl200 per person). The white water filled pools of the terraces can be reached by several gates but we used the north one which is located at the top. You can park and walk up from the bottom or from the town but as shoes are not allowed on the terraces themselves it would be quite tough on the feet! We would also suggest following the path away from the main pools area through the ruined fort and on to some more pools there. You can’t access these pools but the area is quieter making photos easier.
One extra you can do once on the site is swim amongst the ruins in Cleopatra’s Pool, a small geothermal heated pool close to the restaurant and coffee bar. It costs an extra tl130 and the ticket has a 2 hour time limit (probably summer only as nobody was checking during our visit).
The city was a destroyed by a series of earthquakes and the fault line is marked by a couple of signs. We had a wander through some of the ruins and climbed the hill which took us to the top of the Roman theatre which was worth the effort.
As well as seeing the area on foot, several companies offer sunrise balloon flights over the terraces but we think the weather had grounded them the morning we were there.
After all the tearing around over the past two weeks and before the children coming out to visit, we decided we needed a few days to relax and catch up with ourselves. We spent a couple of days parked up next to Lake Salda, a beautiful lake but cold at an altitude of over 3,700feet.
From here, after a visit to Carrefour, we headed out to the coast near Marmaris to a campsite on a cove surrounded by wooded hills.
Troia Pension, Troy: tl300 p/n (approx £13.50) including EHU. Small parking area next to the restaurant with toilets, a shower and access to a washing machine.Site is across the road from the Troy Museum and a short walk to the ancient ruins of Troy.
Antique Lodge Campsite, near Kusadasi: tl330 p/n (£14.60). EHU available based on usage – tl6 per unit. Great campsite with all you need including a swimming pool and lots of communal space around the bar/restaurant area.
Catlak Beach & Camping: tl300 p/n including EHU. Small beachside campsite accessed via the small beach road. Bar and restaurant on site. Great place to sit and chill for a few nights.
Other overnight stops:
Boomerang Bar, Eceabat: Free but buy a drink at the bar. Small hard standing, seaside parking area on the edge of the town. Good site from which to explore Gallipoli.
Bademli Beach near Dikili: Free beach side parking – grass and mud and flooded in places. Toilets and restaurants nearby (closed when we visited).
Aliaga: free beach side carpark located between a police and an army base. Lots of locals coming and going (we were there on a Saturday night), a few stray cats and rubbish lying around (lots of bins though). Toilets but they were locked. Fine for an overnight stay.
Atca: Free overnight park up in the Aqualand car park just off the main road. Quiet as the park is closed and fine for an overnight stay.
Pamukkale: Free park up just outside the town on the balloon take off/landing site (sadly no balloon flights during our night there).
Salda Lake: Free parking on the west side of the lake close to a restaurant (currently closed but toilets open). Flat grass parking away from the water’s edge although the ground was a little soft (very soft close to the water). Several local dogs who stayed with us the whole time we were there – very friendly and harmless and just wanted food, although they were fed by a local each day.
Greece was never really in our detailed plan as we were just passing through on our way to Turkey. With this in mind, we only had a couple of places marked on the map but they certainly didn’t disappoint.
Like a lot of Brits, our vision of Greece is beaches, blue and white houses and Mamma Mia, not the snow capped mountains that greeted us!
We explored some of the Vikos-Aoos Geopark in the Northern Pindos mountains, walking a small part of the “Hunters of the Ice Age” path through the Voidomatis Valley and then a drive up to view the Vikos Gorge from the viewpoint at Beloi.
After a laundry day in Ioannina we moved on to Meteora, a spectacular landscape where Byzantine monasteries sit on top of large pillar like rock structures. There are three main roads which take you past all the monasteries (you need to check opening days as they all differ) and we drove them all in both directions and in very different weather conditions.
Our plan had been to then head straight to Alexandroupli, close to the Turkish border but after a couple of hours of motorway driving we noticed a large mountain ahead which turned out to be Mount Olympus, in Greek mythology, the home of the gods. A quick search on Park4night gave us an overnight parking spot next to an old monastery, so up the mountain we headed!
Greece does have a network of toll roads linking the main cities and for travelling across country they were worth using. No vignette was needed and we spent a total of £41 on tolls at manned booths using a no fee credit card.
No issues with the border crossings in and out of the country.
In our short time here, we had no issues getting around in the van although a lot of supermarket carparks are covered so we had to look for the larger shops, and overnight spots were easy to find (albeit we’re pout of season). We’re looking forward to returning one day and exploring more of the country!
Vía Natura Voidomatis Rafting Centre: Currently free but donation requested. The campsite here is under construction but there is access to the showers and toilets in the rafting centre, clean water and WC emptying. Grass pitches. Easy access to hiking in the Vikos-Aoos Geopark.
Camping Vrachos Kastraki, near Meteora: EUR25 p/n (cheaper for cash). EHU available. Tightly packed, mixed pitches. Typical holiday park with swimming pool (not open when we visited).
Other overnight spots:
Beloi viewpoint car park, Vikos Gorge: No facilities. Small uneven parking area – mud and grass. Short walk to the viewpoint.
Pamvotida Lake, Ioannina: Free lakeside parking on grass. No services. Opposite side of lake to the town which has a good choice of launderettes.
Meteora: Free parking spot just off of the main road close to the monasteries. Small grassy area with a view over the valley. Quiet despite being next to the road.
Old Dionysos Monastery car park, Mount Olympus national park: Free, flat and quiet! The old monastery is currently under renovation but there are walking routes from the car park.
Alexandroupoli: free beach side parking, handy for the Turkish border and the last Lidl shop. As usual, lots of rubbish around.
If you have already seen our Facebook posts you will know how much we loved Albania, even to the extent that we had to extend our Albanian motor insurance!
We really enjoyed the challenge of, for the first time in a long time, travelling through somewhere new and very different to what we are used to. The language was completely beyond us; we do usually try to have a few words for wherever we go, and we didn’t really get beyond hello – përshëndetje for those interested, but English was widely spoken and the people we met were generous, welcoming and friendly.
Albania is a country of so many contrasts; on the road there is every type of vehicle from horse drawn carts to high end Mercedes and Porsches, houses range from small shacks to modern square concrete blocks, and you can buy from roadside family run stalls selling their own produce, or in large supermarkets. The mountain scenery is beautiful, if you can ignore the rubbish and stray animals, and there is history everywhere dating from the Illyrians to the Ancient Greeks to the recent Communist era.
Driving needs to be experienced to be believed and the rule of the road seems to be just find a gap and go for it! Our advice for driving through Tirana, especially on a Sunday, is avoid it if you can . Our UK insurance didn’t cover Albania so we had to buy a third party policy at the border which cost €49 for 15 days (the only period seemingly available) and we were able to buy another at a Western Union office once it became apparent we’d be staying longer than 15 days.
We didn’t struggle to find campsites and whilst they were often basic, they were clean and had everything we needed. Wifi is usually available but flakey at times. We bought a local Vodafone SIM which could be topped up as needed – 100GB of data in total (yes we use a lot!) cost about £40. We were also able to use some of our Montenegro bundle under a West Balkans arrangement.
In a lot of places both Euro and LEK are accepted and with the exceptions of petrol stations and large supermarkets, payments are in cash. It’s still worth asking, especially before they start pumping fuel, as we did pull into a couple of petrol stations where they didn’t take a card. We found that Credins Bank didn’t charge for cash withdrawals at their ATMs and as we have Monzo Bank accounts plus Revolut cards, our transactions were fee free and good rates were used.
Travelling out of season often means we don’t see places at their best due to ongoing renovations and repairs. There was lots of work going on and maybe this was an indication of an increasing tourist trade – places that were hard to get to a couple of years ago are now accessible via newly tarmacked roads or walkways.
We loved our time here and if a visit is on your radar, we’d certainly recommend it.
Windmill Campsite Shkodra: LEK1,200 p/n (approx £9) inc EHU. Usual site amenities available including washing machines, wifi plus a restaurant and bar. Mostly grass and muddy after rain. It’s a small campsite which also has small lodges available. Access to the site is through small residential streets and past a few scrap car yards. There is a tight turn off the small street on to the site which also has overhead signage. Like many sites, the dogs wander around and there are chickens in a cage. Within walking distance of the city centre.
Camping Kruje: €13p/n including EHU. Usual facilities available including wifi and washing machine at €3.50 a wash. All grass amongst fruit and olive trees. Family run and very friendly staff owners. A 20 minute or so uphill walk to Kruje centre.
Camping Dajti, Tirana: €14p/n plus €2 for EHU. Usual facilities available including wifi. Another grass site, family run and surrounded by olive and fruit trees. Chickens and ducks run free and occasionally the owner walked a couple of cows through! The access road is steep with a couple of short hairpin bends but we made it in our 6.7m van without a problem. They can arrange a taxi into Tirana for €15 return. A very relaxed few days.
Riverside Camping, Berat: €15 p/n including EHU and 1 use of the washing machine (extra washes are charged). Great campsite within walking distance of the centre. Hard standing pitches which are probably quite tight in the summer but there is still a shaded garden area with tables and chairs. Usual facilities including wifi plus access to a small kitchen if needed. Really friendly owners who can’t do enough for you and who bought us mandarins every day straight from their trees. The site is on a main road but noise wasn’t an issue.
Family Camping, Gjirokastra: €20 p/n including EHU. Clean modern toilet/shower block, washing machine available and wifi included. Site has a nice looking restaurant and bar which is probably quite busy in summer. Parking area is almost aire like with not a lot of space between vans but not an issue in November. The owner will arrange a car to the castle and old town for €5 each way – worth it at least to go into town as the castle is at the top of a steep hill!
Other overnight spots:
Buni i Bajraktarit Restaurant: €5 p/n. Restaurant car park on the SH21 road to Theth with stunning views over the Accursed Mountains. In addition to the restaurant they are building lodges and you can use the toilet block.
Bënje Thermal Pools, near Përmet: Free overnight parking in car park near the pools. Last couple of hundred metres is off-road and very bumpy.
Syri i kaltë (Blue Eye Spring) car park: Free overnight parking when we visited in November but possibly not in the summer. Large flat open car park which is quiet at night. Resident stray dogs but they are not a problem and twice a day a farmer walks by with his cows, sheep, goats and even a couple of boars!
Butrint Car Park: Free overnight car park at the entrance to Butrint Archeological site and a small chain ferry across a small stretch of water. The ferry operates day and night as needed (cars just turn up and beep their horn if the ferry is on the other bank) so is noisy but other than that the car park is flat and has great views out to Corfu.