Explorers Connect

Trip Report: French, Swiss and Italian Alps with my children

Trip ReportJames Hipkiss

After months of preparation, the team finally set off for Dover to meet the rest of the expedition group and support team. Team set off at 5pm on the 20th July 2013, and had a good run down to London and then hit the M25!

GPS notified us of long tail backs but it was too late. 2 hours stuck in queue's doing 5 mph was not much fun. The campsite we had booked shut its gates at 9pm, and the GPS was displaying ETA 9.50pm! A quick call to the campsite was needed to let them of our situation. Thankfully they agreed to meet us and let us onto out pitch as long as we made it before 10pm! A heavy right foot was needed by the driver...!!!! At exactly 9.50pm as the GPS has displayed we arrived in the dark at 9.50pm, shown to our pitch, and the team jumped into action to make camp, and by 10.20pm everyone was tucked up in bed! An excellent sleep was had by everyone, and 6am next morning the driver was up and cooking eggs, bacon and beans for everyone. After breakfast Heidi and Markus did the washing up (bribed by the driver with a treat afterwards), and then went off to explore the campsite facilities. What a fantastic place!!! Shame we are only here for a few more hours, but this is one campsite to make a note of. The showers are brilliant and the best we have ever been to, large play area for kids and the pitches are fantastic and is only 30 mins from Dover. http/www.broadhembury.co.uk/

Check in for the ferry to France is at 11.00 am so the team is now enjoying the warm sun, and cannot see a cloud in the sky before packing up the tent and heading off to meet the rest group..!!!! T shirts, shorts, and sun glasses on..... Next stop France....... Alps Late update 21-7-12 Met the rest of the team on the Ferry crossing. 5 Vehicles in total. Stopped for provisions at a store as soon as we got off the ferry and then proceeded to the 1st campsite. Campsite has pool, so the driver and Heidi went for a swim to cool off, while Markus played on the assault course. Welcome briefing given by Alex from Atlas Overland, and plan for tomorrow is a 6 hour drive south. Team need to be packed up and on the road for 9am tomorrow. Markus and Heidi are not the only children on the trip. Lauren who is 9 years old is also part for the group, so all the kids are playing nicely. Markus and Heidi did the washing up again, (bribed by the driver), and are enjoying running wild at the campsites. Update again soon........... Alps Update 22-7-12 250 miles covered today all on main roads. We are now camped at Joinville. Another fantastic site with pool and great facilities.

Land Rover has developed a rattle, which as of yet we cannot track down what it is, but so far we still have forward motion...!!! Its getting hotter and windows now always down, and plenty of juice needed to keep everyone cool. 9 year old Lauren, who is also on the trip, is going to have her 10th birthday during our expedition. Seems like yesterday Markus was having his 10th birthday in Morocco... Lauren will be getting a card from everyone in the group. Tomorrows plan is to push further south, and then the off road sections will start. Kids still doing the washing up, but the driver is fast running out of sweets for the bribes....... Alps Update 23-7-12 After 841 miles from leaving Norwich, the team has finally arrived in the Alps. A long drive today on main roads, and we arrived at our campsite at 5pm. Our senses are on overload as the scenery is incredible..!!!!! Our campsite is surrounded by massive mountians. Its still very hot and Markus and Heidi are in shorts and T shirts enjoying the weather and staying cool by having water fights..!

The Land Rover rattle is still there, but we covered over 300 miles today so nothing has fell off and we still have forward motion. We were welcomed at the campsite with a complimentary fruit punch, which the driver made the most of.!!! We will now spend the next few days exploring the area on old tracks, which we have been told are not for the faint hearted... Alps Update 24-7-12 Team set off today at 10am to explore tracks around the area. We ascended to over 2100 Meters on single track dirt roads, which twisted and turned every few hundered meters! The trip today was not for the faint hearted, as we were driving along tracks with no barriers, and a shear drop to oblivion only inches from the wheels. Both Markus and Heidi hung on for dear life when they spotted the massive drops, and the driver was holding the steering wheel a bit tighter than normal...!!!! On a few occasions a 'shunt' was needed in order to get the Land Rover around the bends, and everyone held thier breath, as the Land Rover was stopped inches from the drop off and reversed in order to make it round. The driver is very glad that Markus helped fit new brake pads before the trip..!!! The scenery was stunning, and the camera does not give the area justice.

I recommend everyone come and explore this area, as the views are just incredible...!!!! On the decent we drove a fantastic tarmac road through amazing mountian tunnels and also drove down part of the Tour De France section. I have no idea why anyone would want to subject themselves to biking up those gradients........ !!!??? Everyone arrived back at Camp HQ, and proceeded to have a water fight to cool down, and Markus and Heidi made sure the driver was soaked...!!! The camp shower was also used to cool everyone and to clean off all the dust from the days exploring. Tomorrow we move on from this area and will be exploring other routes...... Alps Update 25-7-12 What an incredible day..!!!! The team and the rest of the group made it to the top of the Glacier at 3000M (10,000ft). The route was hair raising and needed 300% concentration from the driver. ''Oh MY GOD we are going to die'', was Heidi's comment as we started to ascend up towards the Glacier. The Land Rover bounced and scambled up the tracks. I was glad I had fitted underbody protection..!!!!! Low range and diff lock was needed all the way up..!!! Markus and Heidi enjoyed exploring the Glacier once we arrived at the top, and had fun jumping around in the snow.

The team is now in Italy, and had a fantastic drive over mountian passes and across the French, Italian border. The scenes were stunning, and we have never seen rivers and lakes with such incredible blue colour! The forests are amazing and the smell of the pine is strong as you drive though the area. We are going to explore some old military roads tomorrow, and will finish the day off with a BBQ Alps Update 26-7-12 Another fantastic day with incredible scenery!! After our 'griefing' as Heidi calls it (meant to be briefing) at 9am we set off to explore the tracks. We made it along more cliff edge routes up to 2500 meters, and Alex our support guide gave us interesting insite into the history of the battles in the area which explained the secret forts and memorials. The tracks twisted and turned and the Land Rover bounced over these with ease, and we even had a muddy section which we managed to get through with the help of the diff lock. Low range was needed most of the time until we got back onto tarmac. Once on tarmac we started to make our way down on roads which had severe twists and turns. All seemed to be going well until about halfway down and team Global adventures Land Rover losts all its brakes!

The driver quickly pumped the pedal, and managed to gain some usage out of the brakes again. This continued all the way down until the road levelled out and the brakes started to operate as normal again. Brake fade is something that most people encounter, but this was extreme, as the pedal hit the floor of the Land Rover, and we had nothing until a few pumps of the pedal was applied!!! As soon as the brakes had cooled from the hard work, everything worked as normal..!! First thing we shall do once back in UK is replace all the brake fluid.....!!! BBQ was lit at the end of the day and a few beers consumed, kids needed a good wash , and both fell asleep within seconds of hitting the pillow..!! Tomorrow we are going to be following in the footsteps of Hannibal and his elephants..!! Alps Update 27-7-12 The emergency sweets had to be opened last night as one of Heidi's front tooth fell out and she accidentally swallowed it! She was upset to think that the tooth fairy would not come as she could not put it under her pillow.

Thankfully the Italian tooth fairy came and slide some Euro's into the tent... As before we had our 'griefing', and headed out to explore the Hannibal's trail. What an excellent route with challenging sections, and amazing scenery..!!!!! The Land Rover coped well and brakes behaved themselves. Diff lock and low range was needed for most of the route! Lunch was had beside an amazing lake with incredible blue coloured water, which of course the kids just had to dip thier toes into. We are now back in France at Bourg-Saint-Maurice and will be here for the next 3 days. Tomorrow is a rest day, and I have booked the Land Rover into a local garage to have the brake fluid flushed and replaced, to ensure I do not boil the brake fluid again on steep mountain passes...!! Sunday is planned to be a day at Europe's biggest offroad course, so the team are looking forward to having a bit of fun after out rest day tomorrow. Markus and Heidi are still full of smiles, and are enjoying every minute...!!!! The driver is looking forward to his rest day tomorrow!

Alps Update 28-7-12 Nice relaxing day today, but woke up with loud thunder and lightening..!!!! Did the breakfast between downpours, and ran back and forth to the washing machine between storms..! Took the Land Rover to have its brake fluid flushed, and 30 mins later its all done with fresh fluid. Heidi and Markus played all day either in the roof tent when it was raining, or ran around the campsite when the sun was out. Neither of them missed a TV, X box or U tube....!!! The first aid kit had to be opened due to the fact one of Heidi's teddys nose fell off, so it was stuck back on ASAP..! Off to Europe's biggest offroad course tomorrow, but if it keeps raining then, its going to be an interesting day..! The course sits on the side of a mountain at 2500 meters, and apparently you need low box just to get to the course..! Alps Update 29-7-12 Everyone slept very well and woke up to sunshine again. The team headed off to Europes biggest offroad course, to have a day practicing 4x4 techniques and skills, and also to explore the area. This is the first course I have been on when you need low box and diff lock engaged just to get to the site!

The site sits on a mountain at around 2700 Meters!! We were given a guide of the site by Alex our team leader and we marked the lunch spot with our GPS, as the site is so big, you need a GPS to find your way back...!!!! Everyone had great fun, and severe hill climbs and obstacles were tackled, and Team Global Adventures even made it across a balance beam. Deep water was also negotiated, and tricky rock sections also negotiated. After a fun day, everyone headed back to camp, to make the evening meal and Heidi then announced that Dad's cooking was waaaayyyyy better than Macdonalds...... Another end to a great day...!!! Alps Update 30-7-12 Lovely relaxing day! Sun beaming down and not a cloud in the sky. Heidi and Markus decided to try out the assault course near the camp site and scrambled up nets and slide down slides most of the afternoon. They also had a second go at the bungie's which were close to the campsite, and Markus managed to do double front and back flips!! Land Rover topped up with fuel and cleaned ready for the next part of the adventure. The team are going to enter Switzerland tomorrow, and apparently the Swiss do not take kindly to 4x4 covered in Alps mud, hence everyone was instructed to clean their vehicles.Food supplies have been replenished, and it has been a challenge for the team to try and buy food and drinks, when none of us can understand the language! Our planned campsite is directly on the shores of Lake Geneva, so the team will be dipping their toes into the lake before heading off into the city to explore.

Alps Update 31-7-12 The morning started with celebrating Lauren's 10th Birthday. Cup cakes were handed around and everyone sang several versions of Happy Birthday. The drive started with a road that twisted and turned that made you dizzy, and we started to climb . At 10am we stopped for a coffee break and both Markus and Heidi had ice cream's to help celebrate Lauren's birthday. Although Heidi was least impressed with the outside toilet at the cafe, and the long drop type loo.... We continued to climb and passed incredible scenery, although nothing prepared us for the view at Lunch time..!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! We rounded the corner and in front of us was an amazing view of Mt Blanc..! The view was breathtaking, and we spent the hour gazing at the view. Never has the team had lunch at 2000M height and had a view like that before. (see the pictures) We continued towards Switzerland, and had to negotiate more twisting roads, with suicidal bikers who have a habit of overtaking you doing 40 MPH..!!! Its a shock to see a cyclist overtake you at such speeds, but they can easily get up to 40 MPH on these mountain roads. We finally entered Switzerland and found our campsite which we were astounded to find the campsite directly on the shore of Lake Geneva..!!!!!!

We quickly made camp, put on our swimming stuff and jumped into Lake Geneva for a swim..!! There is a floating platform off the beach at about 50M, and to my amazement both kids flung themselves into the Lake and swam out to the raft, and then proceeded to jump off it over and over again!!! Smiles all round, and laughter was heard well into the afternoon..!! What a great day, and we are here for tomorrow so the fun will continue.................... Alps Update 1-8-12 The morning started with Heidi and I having an early morning swim in Lake Geneva. We swam out to the floating pontoon again, but had to stop halfway to let 4 swans pass by us. We then sat on the pontoon and counted 18 swans, 1 Crane who was looking for his morning fish, and 100's of ducks. Markus was still half asleep so declined to join us. After a lazy breakfast, we jumped on a bus and headed off into town to explore Geneva. Heidi and Markus enjoyed standing under the massive powerful water jet that is a symbol of Geneva, and cooled down in the spray from the jet. We also took a solar powered small train around the city to see the sights. Markus and Heidi's highlight was driving the mini boats that were on hire, and spent 15 mins driving around Lake Geneva in their own mini cruise liner.

Town was very hot, so even several ice creams could not keep the team cool, so we headed back and quickly jumped in the pool, and are then going to finish the day with an evening swim back in the Lake, as tomorrow we say goodbye to Switzerland and start our route North..... Alps Update 2-8-12 None of us had a very good nights sleep, as Switzerland were celebrating and the whole coast of Lake Geneva exploded with 100's of fireworks well into the night.The whole group were rather quiet as we all knew today would be rather boring roads heading North as we are coming to the end of our expedition. The day was as expected as we left Geneva and then crossed the border again and cruised along the French motorways. Markus and Heidi soon fell asleep. At record speed we all arrived at Joinville, and set camp, and the adults raced down to the bar to make use of the happy hour..!!! Markus, Heidi and Lauren raced to the childrens area, and spent the rest of the day swinging from the monkey bars, and going down the slides. Both Markus and Heidi have told me they have loved the trip, and we are all discussing where we should explore next. Suggestions have been - Portugal, Further south into Italy, Germany, Iceland, Poland, Arctic Circle, Egypt, Tunisia and back to Morocco......... Who knows where the next trip will be....?!!! Tomorrow is another long drive to get close to Dunkirk, to get ready for the ferry back to the UK.....

Alps Update 3-8-12 Markus and Heidi had to be dragged out of bed this morning, as neither of them wanted to get up. The group was away sharp at 9am for the long drive north to St Omar. The drive was long and boring on the French Northern Roads, and the drive was only interrupted by the expensive French tolls, which had great delight in relieving us of our last few Euro's. We eventually arrived at St Omar, and both Heidi and Markus quickly jumped into the pool with Lauren, while some fo the adults went and visited the V2 Missile site, which was incredible! We all said our goodbye's to Alex who was our support crew from Atlas Overland and we all pitched camp. Tomorrow is a very short drive to the ferry terminal for the crossing back to Dover, followed by the drive back to Norwich. Both Markus and Heidi were a little upset when we arrived at the last campsite, as they said they have had an excellent time and are going to miss all of the group. I will do a final Blog once the Global Adventure team have arrived back home in Norwich, but I can honestly say both Markus and Heidi have been absolutely incredible during this expedition, and they have done the washing up everyday, helped with making and breaking camp, plus have helped each other, and also have made great friends with Lauren and the rest of the group.

To date we have covered 1800 Miles, on very steep tracks, rocky glaciers, through rutted forest tracks, and long motorways, and both Heidi and Markus have coped amazingly well!!! I am very proud of them both, and will have great fun in planning the next Global Adventure expedition with the team..!!! Alps Final update 4-8-12 The Global Adventure team has made it home after a 2100 mile trip around the Alps. Both Markus and Heidi coped incredibly well, and they both enjoyed the expedition. There are so many highlights of the trip from the 3000 Meter Glacier from following the Hannible route, to swimming in Lake Geneva, nobody can decide which was the best bit of the trip! We all agree that the lowlight was the Northern French roads which are rather boring.

The weather was excellent and we only had one day of rain, and all team members have come home with a nice tan and loads of great memories!!! Alex from Atlas Overland did a superb job of managing to keep the whole group together and to arrive at the planned destinations on time. He was also excellent at enlighting us of the history of the areas we were in at the time. The Land Rover coped well, and apart from the slight issue with boiling the brake fluid (which the driver had to change his pants afterwards!!) it did not need any major repairs. We have made some new friends which we hope to see again during our future travels, and have experienced parts of France, Italy and Switzerland which not many people have had the chance to explore.