Living in Scotland has many advantages but towing a caravan as large as the Elddis Avante 866 across to Europe from up here is not always one of them. However, we found that the ferry from Newcastle over to Amsterdam was a wonderful option for travelling to the continent with remarkable ease!
We arrived in Newcastle in plenty of time - checking in was very smooth despite a few white-knuckle moments as we negotiated the very tight docks area. As soon as we were loaded onto the ferry we could relax and any worries about the size of the caravan were unfounded, especially as we were parked in between two enormous HGVs on the car deck – if they could get on, we certainly had no problem!
Our cabin was very cosy for the four of us and we had plenty of time to check out the shop, bars and restaurants before settling down to sleep. We found the ferry timings ideal, setting off at 5pm and arriving at a very civilised 9am in the Netherlands. The ferry had lots of entertainment from live music to quiz nights and several restaurants to choose from but we were all tucked into our beds before the party really started – judging from some of the pale faces we saw the next day at any rate!
Our site for the week was at Beekse Bergen in the south west of The Netherlands. Luckily the staff all spoke wonderful English (very useful, as our Dutch is, let’s say, limited…) and we were soon pitching up in a very quiet park as we had arrived outside of the main school holiday season. We went for a fully serviced pitch but needed to be aware of the more limited electricity, with only a 6 amp supply. One of the many things we love about the Avante is the touch screen controls for heating and water so switching between electric and gas is very easy - we soon remembered to put the heating onto gas before we switched the kettle on.
As always, the PowrTouch motor mover was invaluable and on soft ground it had no trouble shifting us onto the hardstanding. The Vango inflatable awning was up very quickly and our home for the week was ready. There was a canal directly behind our pitch and several times during the week we watched boats drift by, the local university rowing team also uses it to practice and the children enjoyed shouting their encouragement for the teams.
The main reason we’d chosen Beekse Bergen was their incredible facilities which include, quite unusually, their own wonderful safari park. We were lucky enough to arrive outside of the main October holidays and for the first few days had the park almost to ourselves. Driving around the safari park was wonderful and we were all thrilled to experience our first ever giraffe car wash – they seem to have worked out that the bugs stuck to windscreens are a good snack bar! One of the other things we loved is that the walking route round the park has adventure courses next to lots of the main paths so the children can scramble on logs, ladders and rope bridges to reach the next enclosures.
Other popular family attractions nearby included Efteling theme park – one of the largest in Europe and, so they claim, the inspiration behind Disneyland. Again, we were lucky enough to go out of season so the queues were very short and we could often walk straight onto the rides. We really enjoyed the park, especially lunch in the Pancake House which is beautifully themed and very child friendly.
Being so near the border we also took a day to explore the Belgian city of Antwerp – any country that lists chips, chocolate and beer amongst its national dishes is on our list every time! In just one day we managed to use the Victorian-period wooden escalators and a tunnel walk under the river to a fantastic pirate themed playground, find the best chocolate shop in the world (The Chocolate Line - one of only three listed in the Michelin guide!), eat chips and mayonnaise, explore a cathedral and drink a cheeky Belgian beer in the main square. Not bad for a day trip!
Closer to home we slotted in several other trips – the Van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven was a real highlight with plenty for the kids to see and the best lift we’ve ever been in (it’s accompanied by choral music either rising or falling with the lift!).
Back at the campsite we found a local pancake restaurant which was only a few minutes drive away - De Eksterhoeve. It’s very Dutch – so no English in the menus – but with fantastic and friendly staff who were more than happy to explain everything to us. The kids were in pancake heaven with very ‘healthy’ kids pancakes with a selection of sprinkles, sauces and chocolate spreads to pour all over, topped off with an ice cream for pudding - thank goodness for those long walks around the safari park!
The local towns are Tilburg – a lovely small university town with some lovely shops and Hilvarenbeek which is the nearest village and has a wonderful square with several restaurants and bars as well as supermarkets for stocking up the caravan.
By the end of the week we’d managed to pack so many adventures in and there was plenty that we just didn’t have time for - we’ll definitely go back. Our first European trip in the Elddis was a wonderful family adventure and we would highly recommend The Netherlands as a holiday destination to everyone. Until next time – Tot Ziens!