When we crossed from Germany into Switzerland we were downhearted by our first glimpses of Basel which doesn’t give a great first impression from the motorway. Fortunately after 20 minutes the scenery became vibrant green and very pleasant indeed. The grass looks so lush and the hills are scattered with pine trees and small wooden cabins.
We turned off the motorway around 30 minutes before the sat nav reported we’d be arriving at our destination and we still didn’t have any Swiss Francs. We drove slowly through a small town on the lookout for a cash point.
Stopped by the police
As we sat still at a junction, deciding which way might lead us to a bank, a police car pulled up alongside. There were two policemen inside and the driver motioned for me to wind down the window. As far as we were concerned we’d done nothing wrong. We had stuck our GB sticker on the back of the van, and I think we had all the necessary high-viz vests etc required, but still I was nervous.
‘Do you speak French?’ asked the driver of the cop car. When I replied ‘No,’ he asked in English what we were looking for. I told him a bank and he provided directions. Phew.
We needed enough cash to pay for our campsite for two nights, plus a coffee in the morning and maybe drinks and snacks. I was about to get out of the van and withdraw money for us both when I realised I hadn’t a clue how much a Swiss Franc was worth. Google obliged with the answer and we decided to get 100 Francs each (about 70 British pounds). The cash machine dispensed two 100 Franc notes. This wasn’t ideal but we didn’t think the campsite would mind being paid with such a large note.
No sign of life
We arrived at Camping Lac de Joux at just before 2pm. It was gloriously sunny and we both wanted to get pitched up and sat outside with one of the 60 bottles of wheat beer we’d stocked up with at a German Lidl.
The site appeared deserted. The reception cum cafe bar was shuttered up and so we started to read the vast array of noticeboards. Nothing was in English, bar one sign that said ‘Self service’. Self service for what we didn’t know.
I found a plan of the site from which we worked out which area was allocated to motorhomes. I don’t like to refer to Cleopatra as a motorhome (she’s a campervan), but for some situations this is the intended category for her. So we decided to find our own pitch and took one on the last bit of grass before the deserted tent field.
The chosen spot was in full sun and clearly would be for the next few hours. It was also close to an electric hookup point and as far away from any of the other vans as was possible to be.
The other vans, by the way, looked like they were permanent holiday residences, and the lack of a car by the side of each suggested their owners were not in residence.
Flummoxed by electrical connections
We began our ritual of setting up camp by taking one end each of the electricty cable. I plugged mine into Cleopatra while Tony peered inside the site’s hookup box. ‘We need the European adapter,’ Tony reported.
Armed with one of two European adapters we’d read were often needed in France Tony was still no further forward with plugging us in. I went over to investigate. Our plug and our adapter were not going to be coerced into this socket. Damn.
Our options were limited. Had there been anyone at all on site, I’d have asked if it were possible to borrow an adapter. We could have taken our leave and tried to find another campsite, but there was no guarantee its electrical supply would have been any different. ‘We’ll have to manage off grid’ I said.
As luck would have it I had added our wood gas stove to our camping hardware box. Ten minutes of collecting sticks and pine cones would ensure we could cook our dinner. We’d limit our use of Cleopatra’s leisure battery to having the heating on low in the evening and charging our phones.
Chilling with beers
With the roof popped up and awning extended we set about filling a bag with sticks. It didn’t take at all long and very soon we were doing exactly what we’d hoped given the cloudless sky – sitting outside in our chairs with wheat beers in hand.
Several hours later we still hadn’t seen a soul when I heard movement in the nearest motorhome to our pitch. This was followed by the sound of a door being rolled open and a pair of feet appearing on the ground on the other side. A young lad, early- to mid-twenties with dreadlocks walked away from us down the road. He came back shortly afterwards and waved hello. I waved back and he disappeared back into his van. A little later Tony would report seeing sitting in his doorway playing a guitar.
Around an hour later someone in a white Parker coat walked up the hill towards the campsite. The person hovered for a while before going back the way they came. Two minutes later the mysterious person reappeared, moving in no discerned direction at the brow of the hill. It just seemed to dance around like a little cloud for about five minutes before it was gone for good. What a very strange place. We’d check and double check we locked the doors that night!
Cold mountain nights
We started cooking around 4.30pm so that we’d have dinner ready while we were still in the warmth of the sun. We were high up in the mountains, and out of the sun it was cold. So cold that little mounds of snow were still dotted here and there.
Dinner was goulash with pork, made with a sauce mix from Lidl and it was delicious. We ate it in the last patch of sun before it vanished behind the trees, then we retired into Cleopatra where we moved from drinking beer to wine and eventually went to bed. With the heating set only to number one we were perfectly warm until morning.
We were up at 8am and the first thing Tony did was light the wood gas stove. I thought he was planning on cooking the sausages intended for that night’s dinner for our breakfast until he explained he was boiling water for coffee!
Coffee consumed we set out for a walk. We decided to walk north towards the northern tip of the lake. I thought we could walk right round but Tony was more sceptical.
A walk around the lake
Lake Joux is the largest lake in the region. It is 1,000 metres above sea level and in winter it freezes over and attracts ice skaters. In the summer it can reach 24°C and a row of chained-up pedalos gives away the lake’s popularity during the second of its two peak seasons.
Our intended route from the southern end to the northern meant we could get a train back after two hours of walking or continue the rest of the way on foot until we’d completed the full 30km circuit.
I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a walk more than this. It was beautiful and we really felt as though we were walking in the wilderness. The sun was still beating down and we had occasional glimpses of the still lake from between the pine trees. We saw many deer and even up close they just continued grazing, ignoring the walkers.
We reached Le Pont, the town at the top of the lake at 11.30am. We checked the train times and we could get a train in 15 minutes or 45 minutes. I still said we could walk all the way around the lake but Tony thought otherwise. The thought of another afternoon lazing in the sun was appealing and so I gave in quickly.
We decided to go for the train in 45 minutes so we could grab a cup of coffee and split one of our 100 Franc notes. We needed change for the train and for the campsite. The train was efficiently on time and soon we were back at the southern end of the lake where we knew there was a Carrefour supermarket.
A baguette in my backpack
We never found the Carrefour because we came to an artisan bakery which was open at lunch time. Our experience in France up until this point was that if you manage to find a shop that’s open, don’t walk past it because it will be closed next time you pass.
We bought a salami baguette each, plus a chocolate croissant for Tony, a loaf of bread and two big bags of crisps. We divided the purchases between our two backpacks and set off to find a pace to enjoy our sandwiches.
We ate our baguettes sitting next to the lake. The water was still and our picnic as peaceful as could be. We sat for a while in silence before walking the remaining distance back to the campsite. We spent four hours sitting in the sun and Tony went so far as to get out the picnic blanket and snooze, while I read for a time on my Kindle.
We started cooking dinner around 4.30pm. It was German sausages and lentils and it was divine. We washed off the smoke from our wood-burning stove by having an early evening shower, having discovered the showers weren’t actually locked as we’d first thought – the door slid rather than opened by pushing or pulling!
Self service camping
Before retiring for the night we took a self-service envelope from outside the closed reception, filled it in and calculated that we needed to pay 62 Swiss Francs for two nights. It was requested that we post the sealed envelope containing the cash in a letterbox.
We’ve never come across a campsite that relies on the goodwill of those who camp there, but it was well worth the money as the facilities were top notch. We’re already talking about going back in the summer on the way to Italy. Next time we’ll have the right adapter for the electric hookup!