We are flying! Covering 880 km (547 miles) in two days is not our typical happy travel pace. On average, we tend to travel no more than 150-200 miles (240-320 km) per day. So why the rush? Because we felt like we were running out of time.
As American citizens, we are limited to 90 days of travel in Schengen Europe areas (highlighted below in orange). Although you can come and go from these regions, you must not exceed 90 days counting from the last 180 days. I explain the complications of Europe travel planning in my blog post Planning for a Year of Europe Despite Schengen Limits.
Once Spain ended the State of Alarm on June 21st, we were automatically granted 90 days of travel in Schengen Europe. If we wanted to continue traveling after September 18th (90 days since June 21st), we would have to be in a region that wasn’t part of Schengen. As you can see from the map above, there are a lot of grey areas we could go. However, not so fast!…
As of March 2020, Europe was in the midsts of a world Coronavirus pandemic. At the time, in August 2020, most European countries were closed to American travelers (countries in red).
The UK, Ukraine, Turkey, and the western Balkan countries were the only options for us. As we considered where we would like to be during the winter months, it was pretty obvious where we should try and position ourselves – the western Balkan region.
The advantages of the western Balkan region (shown in green) is that there are many countries to explore, and the weather along the Adriatic Sea is relatively mild and free from winter snow.
The other reason for the rush is that we feared that countries would start closing their borders once the summer tourist season started winding down. With a second wave of Coronavirus cases spreading throughout Europe, it was just a matter of time before we could be in another lengthy travel lockdown.
So here we were, riding through southern France at a spirited pace of 440 km (275 miles) per day while doing our best to avoid the heavy fees of French autoroutes.
Camping au Tour de L’aveyron, France
We don’t typically do a lot of research when we select a campsite. In the late afternoon we usually start searching on our cell phone for an area that is close to where we plan on stopping for the evening. Our needs for a campsite are pretty basic – a quiet, inexpensive, grassy, flat spot where we can park our tent and mules and sleep for the night.
Camping au Tour de L’aveyron not only met our needs, but also had many other extras. A cozy lounge with a fireplace, leather seats, power outlet for my iPad, and great WiFi, allowed me to get some blog posts written and update our social media sites.
They also had a small pasture where they kept horses for riding through the nearby forest roads, and a chicken coop where the hens and a rooster lived.
The campsite was large enough that there was privacy between sites, and there was also a small play area for children to enjoy. The campsite cost was a very reasonable 10 EUR (11.86 USD). If your visiting this region, we would recommend this campsite.
The Provence Region
This region in southeastern France, which borders Italy and the Mediterranean Sea, is known for its diverse landscapes: Southern Alps, pine forests, Camargue plains, rolling vineyards, olive groves, and lavender fields.
With all this wonderful scenery it pays to pay attention to the roadway. Especially with all the summer traffic on some of the more popular tourist destinations.
This region of France is well known throughout the world for the wonderful violet colors of lavender. Unfortunately, we timed our visit about six weeks too late.
Ideally, the best time to visit is June and early July, just before the fields are harvested.
Lavender is one of the most popular forms of aromatherapy. As an oil, it can be used to treat anxiety, fungal infections, allergies, insomnia, eczema, nausea, and menstrual cramps.
Based on how much of this region was dedicated to lavender, I’m guessing it must be pretty profitable to grow and harvest.
Even though we were not here at the ideal time, we still felt it was a very beautiful area. I enjoyed the symmetry of the perfectly aligned rows of farmland contrasted against the blue peaks of the surrounding mountains.
Gorges du Verdon
As we continued east, the scenery quickly changed from farmland to rugged limestone cliffs of the alpine foothills. We had reached one of the most popular tourist destinations of Europe.
Our initial reaction to all the traffic was that we had made a mistake to come here in the summer, but after riding around and seeing the natural beauty, we felt it was worth the afternoon of riding. The loop on the south side was less crowded so it seemed to balance out the excess crowds of the northern roadways.
The Verdon Gorge is known for being the birthplace of sport climbing and after seeing the expanse of limestone cliffs, it’s easy to see why so many rock climbers come to this area.
This region also has wonderful kayak and rafting routs, a multitude of majestic trails to hike, and some of the best scenery Europe has to offer.
One of the highlights of the day was pulling over at the various view-points and watching the large condors soar gracefully along the canyon walls.
One could easily spend months in the region enjoying all the natural beauty. Unfortunately, we were on a bit of a timeline to make it to the western Balkans. Perhaps we’ll return someday when we have more time to do some camping and hiking?
Next Blog Post
We experience one of our most challenging days of off-road riding through some tough alpine terrain. However, the wild-camping spot at the end of the trail made our efforts oh-so-sweet.
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