Winterised: Winter Camping in the Benimar Mileo 201

We’ve really put our van through its paces in terms of winter camping this year, and it’s been great! It’s a Benimar Mileo motorhome, model 201. Ours is from late 2015 and includes various extra features that are supposed to make it fully ‘winterised’:

  • Thick insulation on the roof and floor
  • A 6 KW gas and electric Truma for central heating and hot water
  • Fresh water stored inside the insulated space, so no worries about freezing
  • The waste water tank under the van is insulated and has a heater to prevent freezing
  • Fridge vent covers and an external thermal windscreen cover

In addition, we added winter tyres front and back and bought some hefty snow chains, both legal requirements in many EU countries. We had the garage check the antifreeze levels in the radiator coolant and it was good to -36°C. We used a screen wash fit for -70°C in a 1 to 1 ratio with water, so again it would work in similarly freezing temperatures. And earlier in the year, we’d made the big decision to invest around £400 in a fitted LPG tank. I’ll post soon about how that’s gone, was it worth it, etc.

So, how did it perform? We spent 10 days or so in on a site in Austria in early February – lots of snow, temperatures down to -15°C – and it was fantastic. Then we had a few days wild camping in the German/Czech borders and again the van performed great. It was easy to keep the van toasty warm, everything worked*, life carried on pretty much as normal.

Bev had sourced this snow brush… (thanks to my sister Wendy for an early Christmas pressie!)

…and couldn’t wait to try it. Good job we had it. Our Italian neighbour’s on the site had ladders but no brush, so we pooled resources and cleared both van roofs after the heaviest dumps of snow.

We took a spade also – just a normal garden spade rather than a snow shovel. We cleared snow each morning from the door of the van to the main path through the site (which they kept cleared with a snow plough). We also kept the snow clear at the back of the van, so we could reverse out when required. Didn’t fancy having to battle it out through a wall of thawed-frozen-thawed-frozen snow and ice when it was time to go!

We’d read a lot – on sites and forums like winterised.com – about running a ‘dry van’ in winter. This means for example: Draining all the water from tanks, pumps, pipes, taps, etc; filling up water bottles for use inside the van; and leaving your waste open so the tank doesn’t freeze and split. This means you have to catch the waste in a watering can or similar and empty it before it freezes.

Well, we didn’t go that far. We used the taps as normal, but tried to reduce water use where possible to minimise the amount in the waste tank. We were on a site for the coldest spell, so this was relatively easy as we could use the site showers. I tested our waste every morning and it was flowing freely. We moved the van maybe twice to empty it at the waste point – which sensibly was indoors.

*We had one glitch. Our pump started playing up towards the end of our time on site. I’d noticed that the only patch on the outside of the van that showed any sign of the cold was under the lounge window. Turns out this is where the pump is housed, in a compartment under the sofa. It was screwed to the van wall and so fairly exposed to the external conditions. It must have frozen at some point. After googling, and trying the fuses, we gave it a knock and it started running again.

A few weeks later, the pump stopped again so we took it to bits and cleaned it thoroughly. It limped on for another month, but eventually died. We found a replacement in a motorhome dealer in Belgium. It’s a slightly more powerful pump but was a fairly simple swap.

Old Pump New Pump

For convenience at the time, we put in back in the same place – fixed to the outside wall. But for our next winter trip, we’ll definitely move it to the inside wall of the compartment under the sofa. Might make the pump a little noisier inside the van, but we can live with that.

So would we say that the Benimar Mileo 201 is ‘winterised’? Yes!

Winter Camping: Spain, France, Italy, Austria, Germany

We loved our first full season of winter camping… Christmas and New Year on the Costa Brava, northern Spain – winter sun, medieval villages, catching up with our pals Tom and Zoe, paddleboarding on boxing day, midnight grapes in Girona, the Dali museum in Figueres…

After that, we trundled across the south of France, through the Camargue region, where they speak Catalan, and have bull fights, and flamingos, more gorgeous medieval hill towns – like St Paul de Vence, all snickleways and art galleries.

We sped through Italy, through some areas that had really suffered in recent floods, stopping to admire some new places like Mantua, Valvasone, Palmanova. We had a fantastic and hilarious weekend in Trieste with our friends from Newcastle, Aston and Edy, who relocated there last summer with their kids, Daisy and Lily. Great place to park the van, 100 yds from Piazza Unita!

Then, with some serious weather threatening, we made a dash up to Austria – Bev driving us through the Dolomites and over the Brenner Pass. We made it to our campsite in Leutasch one night earlier than planned. Fortunately, they had space and we were all set up before a huge dump of snow on the day we would have been traveling. An amazing week cross country skiing, beautiful ‘winter wonderland’ scenery and great exercise.

Then into Germany, more lovely medieval towns (a bit of a theme!), a little detour to catch a gig by jazz guitar maestro Martin Taylor, even sneaking in an extra cross country ski trip at Bodenmais. Heading inexorably back to the UK, but no rush!

Wild camping vs. campsites

Feels like we’re really starting to get the hang of this. The only nights we’ve been on a proper campsite since we left the UK in December were our ‘holidays’ – 3 days at Christmas in Spain and for my birthday, a week in Austria, Cross Country Skiing. Mostly, we’re finding places using park4night, usually free, occasionally 1 euro for water or electric. That’s helping keep our costs down, which we’re having to think about a little more carefully now. I’m starting to pick up some freelance work – using my day job skills in data, programming, analysis and analytics – remote projects that I can deliver on the move.

Slovakia, Czech Republic, Poland and Germany

To escape the heat in Budapest, we headed north, towards our ultimate goal of Sweden, and meandered through Slovakia, a corner of the Czech Republic, up through western Poland and then into Germany. Here’s our highlights… 

Wrocław, Poland

Can anyone outside Poland pronounce the name of this fantastic city properly? It’s not ‘rock-claw’. Something like ‘Vrosh-wav’. Anyway, we stayed in a car park right in the centre and had a fantastic time. Trundled around the islands, couldn’t do the Botanic Garden with the dogs, but we saw the cathedral, stopped for beer and pancakes, saw the main square, checked out some bars, and some gnomes. I went to see the Taylor Moore band at the Vertigo jazz club – great band, great venue! Next morning, Bev went round the Botanic Garden, then – our 24hrs up – we moved on. Loads more to see I’m sure, I’d happily return.  

Kamenná brána rock window, Bosanov, Czech Republic

The Broumovsko Protected Landscape Area is a reserve full of natural sandstone rock sculptures. A typically askew adventure – we went hiking with the dogs, and of course took Marra’s wheels for when he got tired. Passed a Dutch couple on the way who said, “Turn back, you won’t make it.” One thing about this trip – we really don’t like going back on ourselves. Only done it about 3 times in 4000 miles! And, of course, we have that stubborn, plucky, can-do attitude and a large dose of “I think I know what’s best for me”. So, 16.7km and various scrapes and increasingly bizarre challenges later, we made it back to the site with just 6 minutes before the site bar stopped serving. Ice cold beers and a dip in the natural swimming pond to celebrate. This route was not wheelchair friendly, but it is an amazing place!

Mecklenburg lake district, Germany

The land of a thousand lakes lived up to its name, unlike the land of a thousand storks in Slovenia! We wild camped, swam, paddleboarded and ate by the lakeside. The dogs loved roaming free, tramping down the grass to make a nest to doze in the sun. Idyllic. We will definitely be back. 

High Tatras, Slovakia

The mountains looked amazing, but we could only get so far with old Marra. There were a few wheelchair friendly walks – we did one to the mid station ski lift up the mountain of Lomnický štít, one of the highest peaks in Slovakia. We managed to avoid the wheeled toboggans careering downhill on the same path! We also did a gentler trundle around Štrbské Pleso, very picturesque with stunning views of the mountains beyond.

Travel notes…

We’d heard stories about rural Slovakia – along the lines of ‘they send kids out into the road and pretend you’ve run them over, then rob you when you stop’. There was nothing like that. Some scrappier towns in the borderlands maybe – Bev says Stephen King calls it ‘slippage’ – but that’s true of most places. 

Crap signal for data in Czech Republic and the German lakes, while Poland we had good 4G coverage. 

Big generalisation but we think Dutch-run campsites are cool – Stayed at a few (Brezno, Czech Republic and Uciechów, Poland), nice atmosphere, good facilities, etc.

We passed two convoys on mad driving challenges: The Barrel Challenge, a Dutch competition where teams pimp their cars and undertake challenges along the spectacular route to an unknown destination, somewhere between 2000 and 4000 km!

And, the Baltic Sea Circle – another Dutch race – 8500km in 18 days in a car over 20 years old, no GPS and no motorways…

Looks like fun!

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