It’s already half past ten by the time we check into our hotel. It’s eerily quiet with no sign of a night reception and we’ve got to make the bed ourselves. But strangely enough, it’s got more stars than the Ritz Carlton – and there is definitely more to do here.
After my best mate’s long-planned holiday drowned in a week’s worth of colossal rain, a tragic state of disillusionment after the grind he’d put in trying to seek out the best value hotel and plan the trip in advance. I decided my summer holiday wouldn’t go the same way. Imagine a trip where you could just follow the sun, picking your route depending on the day’s weather forecast? Imagine a world where your hotel room travels with you, no matter where you go? Not such a far-out idea, we found out as we headed off with VW T6, custom-build by Space Camper.
The unit – a Space Camper VW T6
We got hold of a VW T6 Caravelle customised by Space Camper. Alongside the not-so-standard panoramic sleeping deck, this has the Space Camper Classic Specification with practical storage space in cupboards, a kitchen unit and clever bed construction. A standout feature is the hot water unit, but all this luxury comes with a hefty price tag of around €90,000. This isn’t the only build that Space Camper offers; they also create bespoke designs for most budgets. All information can be found on Spacecamper.de
A cursory glance of this hashtag on instagram won’t suffice. There are more than 2,097,074 tags to date, depicting envy-inducing trips in vans by those who have the luxury of owning one, or by those who just yearn to do the same. Once you start searching it’s contagious. The vanlife virus is a real thing: the desire to travel independently, free from the shackles of booking.com, hotel reservations, and pre-planned routes. Going where the trails are in the best state, the trails that are calling your name the loudest. It’s a much more down-to-earth type of travel, bringing you closer into contact with where you’re travelling than any stuffy hotel can do. And those awkward encounters in crowded lifts down to breakfast? Boy, are we glad to escape those.
The Camping 101
Put in the graft to find somewhere nice to stay – you’ll reap the benefits as the sun floods over your spot in the morning.
If it seems like a sketchy, illegal spot then it’s best to arrive late and leave early before trouble occurs.
Take all your rubbish away with you.
Only BBQ at designated spots.
Buy local food and delicacies
The temperatures drops in the evenings so down jackets are a must.
Pro tip for couples: Sleeping bags are usually easy to couple up but watch out for positioning of the zips.
South Tyrol always delivers!
The weather forecast confirmed our thoughts that we’d be warmer, drier and happier if we skirted past Innsbruck and headed south on the Brenner motorway. Bruneck and San Vigilio would be the first port-of-call; we reckon they must have one of those almost silent whistles to draw in mountain bikers. First up was Kronplatz before a ride around the Fanes natural park on Saturday.
The trails at Kronplatz are amazing. The main trail known as the Herrnsteig has a ton of variations along the route, but we were most excited about two particularly twisty trails, aka Hans and Franz, a sort of outdoorsy version of Heidi Klum’s bust. About as wide as your bars, these two trails are man-made beauties that demand full concentration, lifting you around high turns and straight into catch berms so you can flick your way out of them.
Campsites are so middle class
After a day on the bike there’s another challenge to come: find somewhere decent to sleep. After all, there’s a distinct absence of trendy booking websites that detail the most epic spots to park. Some choose to go to campsites, but frantic families and static caravans aren’t really our thing. Moreover, what’s the instagramability of a campsite reception and crowded outdoor pool? What we were looking for takes a bit more effort, but it’s always worth the extra time. While looking for the ultimate spot to park and sleep, it’s important to think about these factors: is it peaceful? Will it be in sight of the sunrise? If it’s an illegal spot, are you likely to get hassled? Is it flat enough to sleep horizontally?
The travel-mobile – Our four-wheeled hotel
Once we get settled there’s time for a much-needed shower before dinner. Thanks to the in-built water heating unit and sophisticated shower set-up on the van roof, we’re quite smug about our ultra-luxe hygiene standards. Inside the Space Camper there are four potential sleeping arrangements, but we vote unanimously for the first floor, stowing the bikes underneath us for security. The panorama sleeping deck opens with a zip, which then lets you enjoy the rare occasion to sleep out underneath a starry sky.
Beating hotels at their own game, we begin the next morning with a coffee on the balcony followed by a brush of the teeth before riding straight out towards the Fanes Hütte mountain restaurant for lunch. By midday the low-lying clouds have finally lifted to reveal a blisteringly clear sky, illuminating the imposing landscape in bright autumnal hues. With rocky peaks in every direction it feels a lot like Alaska even though we’re only a few hours from home. One final, super fun descent over loose fist-sized boulders takes us back down by mid-afternoon to the van.
Dream trails around the Kronplatz
Kronplatz isn’t just the ultimate riding spot if you’re all about losing altitude and tearing down sublime manmade trails, it also has a ton of great climbs followed by hiking trail downhills if you ride up the valley to Pederü. Take the gravel fire roads for the climb, and the natural, technical trails back down to the valley floor.
Oh, shall we stay an extra night?
By Sunday morning you’re usually lugging your bags out the hotel and wondering how and when you’ll get a shower after the final day’s ride. Fortunately, it’s a bit different when you’re on an ad-hoc #vanlife schedule. When the weather forecast confirms your suspicious that it’s still rainy in Germany, then what’s the harm in extending your Vitamin D exposure with another night in Italy? We plan a mid-route stop in Brixen/Bressanone, where we indulge in the finest Italian pasta in the old town before another night in our million-starred hotel. At 5am the next morning the alarm goes, leaving us just enough time to cover the remaining 240 km to reach our 9.30 editorial meeting. Fortunately the plush driver’s seat and cruise control soften the blow. It’s a leisurely drive back into Germany that confirms our conviction that #vanlife wins.
Words: Christoph Bayer Photos: Valentin Rühl