David MottonSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by David Motton
Caravanners and motorcaravanners tend to see themselves as two different but related tribes.
There's some crossover between the two, and clearly both camps have a lot in common. But as a rule, each will defend and promote the advantages of their kind of touring until 20 minutes after last orders.
It won't surprise you, given that you're reading this on practicalcaravan.com, that I'm in the caravan camp. And having chosen a side, it always frustrates me when someone tells me that I picked the wrong one.
I'm talking about non-caravanners here, people with no experience of touring. Most of them, judging by the look on their faces when I tell them I work for a caravanning magazine, would no more go away in a caravan than they would holiday halfway up a tree.
The c word
I drop the 'c' word (caravan, obviously), and conversation grinds to a halt. They make eye contact briefly, as if searching for the twinkle in my eye that will tell them a punchline is coming. But then they understand I'm not kidding.
"Oh," they say. "Really?"
Silence. Polite smile. A sudden fascination with the carpet.
Then inspiration. A smile passes across their face and they ask: "Do you write about motorhomes as well?"
I have – until now – always had to answer 'no'. But as I write this I'm sat in a motorhome, looking out across the Swiss Rheinland.
Why a motorhome?
So, in future these conversations may have to take a different turn.
I've borrowed the Benimar Tessoro 481 from our sister title Practical Motorhome's long-term fleet. The main reason is purely pragmatic.
I needed a way to travel to Switzerland for a cycling race I'd entered. Tortour Cyclocross is a three-day on- and off-road race with professionals and top amateurs riding at the sharp end, and ordinary cyclists like me making them look good.
I could have towed a caravan down, but I'm on my own, so I don't need more space than the Benimar has to offer. And as the Tessoro is fitted with a towball and I have a towball-mounted bike rack, it seemed like the perfect solution.
One of the things I've explained countless times to people who go 'urgh, yuck' at the mention of caravans but enthuse over motorhomes, is how small they are inside (unless you own an absolute behemoth).
Motorhomes may look big, but so much of their length is taken up with the engine and cab that there's not as much living space as you might expect.
To some extent that's true of the Beni, but on the drive down its relatively compact size has been a definite plus. The Ford Transit-based chassis and punchy 170hp engine mean the Tessoro is surprisingly enjoyable to drive, and relatively easy to manoeuvre.
The rear-view camera, mounted where you'd find the mirror in a car, certainly helps. What's more, I've found the driver's seat, with its upright, van-like position, to be extremely comfortable.
Benimar has made good use of the available space, too. The lounge is comfy, and there's no faffing about at night, thanks to the ingenious double bed.
Turn a key, press a button, and it motors down from the ceiling. It's not an especially thick mattress, not compared with most caravan fixed beds, but I've slept very well.
A different type of touring
The other thing I grow tired off explaining about motorhomes is how inconvenient they can be when you reach your destination.
Need a few bits from the supermarket? Unless you've towed a city car behind you or have a scooter or bicycle, every trip, however small, means undoing the electrical hook-up and making sure the motorhome is safe to be driven. With a caravan you can just nip out in your car.
It's always struck me that motorhomes suit a nomadic life best. Keep on moving, never stopping for more than a day or two. Really get out and explore.
But head to one campsite for a fortnight in a motorhome? Why? I just don't get it.
On this trip I'm not going anywhere, but then I don't have to. The Tortour race stages always start and finish from the same spot, and the Benimar is parked all of 100 metres from the start line.
It's been interesting and enjoyable to see touring from the point of view of a motorcaravanner for a few days. Some things I like more than I expected, especially driving the Beni. And the lowering bed is both practical and pleasingly theatrical.
Am I tempted to change tribes? To be honest, no, at least not completely. For most types of touring holiday I still think a caravan takes some beating. But I can see myself going away in a motorhome again, and that's not something I'd have thought a few days ago...