Alastair ClementsSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Alastair Clements
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My family and I are lucky enough to have just returned from two weeks on the road, touring across Europe in just about the most bling outfit I've ever experienced. Before I left, I attempted to justify the need for a Range Rover SDV8 Autobiography tow car because our tourer, a 2016-spec Adria Astella 613HT Amazon, weighs in at a not-inconsiderable 1900kg – so naturally I needed a tow vehicle with a decent kerbweight (2410kg) to make for a sensible match (79%, in case you were wondering)... The fact that the duo looked superb both on tow and on site was neither here nor there, of course!
With a 4.4-litre diesel V8 pushing out a faintly ridiculous 546lb ft of torque, towing was as effortless as you might expect, yet the more time we spent on Continental roads, the more I started to feel as if I was doing it all wrong. Because on the other side of the Channel, those technicalities seem all but redundant – you don't need a whopping kerbweight and a 3500kg towing limit to pull your twin-axle Hobby if a Renault Megane Estate will manage, albeit at a leisurely 90kph maximum. If it'll legally pull it (or in some cases, I suspect, even if it won't) then it'll do.
I'm not advocating ignoring the two main UK clubs' advice, mind you – for the record, that's an 85% match for safe and stable towing, or up to 100% for experienced tow car drivers – but I am always intrigued to see how different nations approach the same pastime.
And it's not only in our tow cars that we and our Continental cousins differ, of course. Over here, we buy British – in our last Owner Satisfaction Survey some 98% of respondents had bought their tourers from the UK's 'big five' (Swift, Bailey, Elddis, Lunar and Coachman), yet just a short ferry ride away, the only time you'll see those names is on British-registered vans. Instead you'll see Hobby, Knaus, Eriba, Fendt, Adria and a host of less familiar brands.
The majority of them will be pretty tatty, too. No offence intended, it's simply – once again – a different attitude. Where here the caravan is an integral part of the experience, the very heart of it (and therefore we want the very best we can afford), in sunnier climes it's all about the holiday itself, and the tourer is more of an afterthought, a base around which to dine, to dry your wet gear, and to sleep. As anyone who has been to the Düsseldorf Caravan Salon will know, many mainland European brands don't even fit ovens or grills, because buyers don't really expect to eat inside the van.
And the final telling difference is the length of time that most people seem to spend on site. Each morning as I emerged from the Adria for my morning stretch, I was amazed to find that my neighbour was already hitched up and ready to go. This is touring proper – visiting only three sites in two weeks made us amateurs, and the idea of a seasonal pitch would be anathema to the majority of the holidaymakers we met.
There's no wrestling with that British campsite favourite, the 'divorce-in-a-bag' awning, because by the time you've pitched it, it's time to move on to the next site and the next experience. Instead, you simply pop up a gazebo, string up a shelter between a couple of handy trees or, as in our case, roll out an ultra-simple motorhome-style awning. It works brilliantly in the sunshine – but less so in the couple of monsoons that we experienced, which would explain why they are such a rare sight over here!
I wouldn't advocate the Continental way over our own, however, because in the main it is climate-driven: our caravans are designed the way they are because we spend an awful lot longer inside them. Yet it's always fascinating to see how the other half live.