When Our 6 Week European Road Trip Took A Hairpin Turn in the French Alps

Flashback to our 2013 European Road Trip!  Here I sit out on our terrace in Spain in nearly 100’F hot and humid weather, with no AC to be found, gazing at the Mediterranean Sea and reflecting back on our 6 week Summer Road Trip.  We have so many fond memories, there is no way we could possibly share them all with you, but we have tried here and there.  Today I’d like to share with you when our road trip took a hairpin turn and started going downhill.

The First Hairpin Turn – Roads in the French Alps

We just spent 4 wonderful and hot nights in Switzerland and couldn’t help but explore the area every day.  We promised ourselves we would have down/chill days and not do activities every day, but we just couldn’t resist.  We wanted to hike in the Swiss Alps, ride the trains and gondolas, check out waterfalls, and swim in the lakes.  So that is exactly what we did, until we were exhausted.  It was time for us to leave Switzerland and the plan was to go to the French Alps next.  It was less than a 3 hour drive to our location and we chose this location specifically to go river rafting and have a little more mountain time in France.

Unlike our time driving in Switzerland, the French Alps had fewer long tunnels to jet your through the mountains.  Instead we found we were driving on smaller winding roads up and down and up and down the gorgeous mountains.  While this was very picturesque and full of ooohhh aahhhh moments, a couple of us don’t do so well with the curvy roads.

French - Swiss Alps European road trip

We had an apartment reserved for 3 nights in Passy France, as this was very near to the rafting location.  When we were about 35 minutes away, we decided we would stop for lunch.  We took a little food break and explored the adorable town of Chamonix.  The views of glaciers and mountains were to die for.  We were anxious to get settled in our place, so we forged ahead to Passy.

The Second Hairpin Turn – Remote

When we arrived in Passy, I then noticed that our place was actually in Passy Plaine Joux, waaayyy up the hill from Passy!  We didn’t have a SIM card for our smart phones and I only saved the directions on my phone the last time we had wifi.  The directions we had weren’t very good, but eventually we were on the right path.  We followed signs to Passy Plaine Joux on small winding roads that seemed to endlessly go up. The roads were full of hairpin turns and Alan was doing his best to make it easy on the rest of us.

We finally found our apartment, nearly at the top of the mountain, only to find out the only grocery stores and bulk of the restaurants are way back 15 minutes down at the bottom (where we just came from).  NO!  We just couldn’t do any more winding roads for the day, yet we had very little food.  We had some bread, lunch meat, and soup.  Guess what we were eating for dinner?   Our apartment did have a little restaurant and we actually ended up ordering 2 hamburgers from there as well.  They were delicious.

Plaine Joux, Passy, France roads
The hairpin turns we had to drive going about 15 minutes up, up, up.

Anyway, our apartment was very small and there wasn’t much for the kids to do in the area.  The apartment building did have a game room with a ping-pong table and a trampoline outside, so that was great until the novelty wore off.  This was supposed to be 3 nights of down time, other than rafting, for us to catch up on the internet.  The only problem is the internet connection really only worked if you were in the lobby.  Not very convenient. There was no AC in the apartment and it was only a 1 bedroom, with bunk beds in the family room for the kids.  Some of this I was aware of and when looking for accommodation last-minute, you need to make compromises.

The Thrid Hairpin Turn – Mutiny?

We were all hot, grumpy and it seemed nothing was going to please anyone.  I felt so terrible as the “Planner” that I flopped on this one.  I didn’t do the research to see how remote we would be and I just couldn’t stand the thought of everyone being so miserable for 3 nights.  I felt the entire world was on my shoulders and I failed.  I didn’t keep the family happy 24/7 for the full 6 weeks.  I know, who would think they could?  I am crazy that way.

After some family discussion it was clear, this just wasn’t going to work for us.  We decided to skip rafting and then I went online to see if we could adjust our reservation to one night.  It turns out that I could…with no fees.  Done!  Holy Cow, it was  5:30 pm and we had no place to “live” the next day.  What are we going to do?  Of course our daughter then asks “Mom are we homeless?” Gotta love her!

Mont Blan France - French Alps
Mont Blanc  “White Mountain”, is the highest mountain in the Alps and the European Union. It rises 4,810 m above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence.  It is a bit behind the clouds, but gorgeous just the same.  We were staying just across from it and this was our view.  That said, it was a long ride down, down, down for civilization or it seemed that way to us tired travelers.

I frantically searched the internet for something in a less rural location, with a pool and AC.  Searching the night before is more difficult for apartments, as there isn’t much time for owners to reply.  So I opted to head to the city of Lyon, France and chose a campground.  They were a little pricey, but it was now deep into the high season and we were asking for the world by wanting AC during the heat wave that had struck Europe.

Things are looking up

The next morning we were on our way to the campground with a pool, internet, game room and much-needed laundry service.   We were all happy to be on the move, yet still exhausted from too much activity.  The car ride was another 2 1/2 hours and yes there were more mountain roads.  It wasn’t nearly as bad as the day prior, but just the same, it didn’t stop the complaints from filling up the car.  We were all very hot, tired and snippy to say the least.

We arrived in our campground in Lyon and upgraded to a 3 bedroom mobile home.  While this was a bit out of our budget, we all needed a little space.  The price we have to pay for a little space and sanity.   We had 3 nights in Lyon and never left the campsite, other than to the grocery store down the street.  We enjoyed all that the campground had to offer and took our 3 nights to regroup, begin to enjoy each other again and hit the reset button.  Fortunately one of the days was non stop rain, so it relieved me of a little guilt of not going out to explore.  Of course during this time, I was still trying to figure out where we were going next.

The Final Hairpin Turn – No Response

The plan was to head to the west coast of France near Bordeaux and then next go south to Bilbao and Northern Spain.  For 3 days, I was contacting apartment owners looking for availability near Bordeaux.  I contacted about 15 owners via email, all showing availability online.  1 day passed, 2 days passed, and not one reply.  This is weird.  Here again the night before we needed to leave and we didn’t know where we are going. UG!  I am really biting the big one now!  I guess I was just getting too tired as well, not in my usual “planner mode”.

As you can see, the planning as you go thing works well sometimes, but after 5 weeks it was backfiring on us.  We had a family discussion and I asked the family if they wanted to change course and go to South France.  They agreed that we should do that, but they all requested we have AC and a pool.  We had stayed in too many places without AC and uncomfortable nights.  After having these luxuries at the campground, we didn’t want to give them up again.  I found an executive apartment complex with availability in Toulouse, so this was now our next destination.

Toulouse Ferris Wheel

Our apartment in Toulouse was great and the family was still in chill mode on day one.  Day two, I was getting ants in my pants and didn’t want to stay in another cool French city and not see it.  We all ventured out to see Toulouse in the blazing heat.  We enjoyed the city center, a few churches and rode a huge Ferris Wheel along the river.  After about an hour or so they kids were very vocal and animated about not wanting to see another city, they just wanted to return to the pool.  To me the writing was on the wall, the Wagoner’s were done with this road trip.   After some pondering, the family discussed a few options.


  1. We were 13 hours from “home”, so we could just pull an all day trip and go home next.
  2. We could drive 8 hours to Madrid, stay a night or two and head home.
  3. A few days in Zaragoza, then a few days in Murcia and then just 3 hrs to home.
  4. Spend a few days in Zaragoza, then a few days in Madrid and then home.

Needless to say we all wanted different options.  The kids wanted Option 2 and just to head home.  They were baked and done with exploring.  They missed their friends and just didn’t want to move anymore.  Alan and I really wanted to see Zaragoza, so we all compromised a little  and agreed to a few days in Zaragoza and one night in Madrid.

In hindsight, we should have just done Option 1 and headed home.  We were baked no matter the option, but sometimes when tired you don’t make the smartest decisions.  We spent a few days in Zaragoza and actually had a great time, but we didn’t really see any sites.  We were kind of in “Being At Home” mode now that we were in Spain.  We knew it was all coming to an end.  Once we entered Spain, it felt like home.  The kids each commented how nice it was to understand people speaking again (in Spanish!).  Alan and I felt comfortable too.  We could communicate without playing charades and we could read the road signs too!

Our time in Zaragoza ended up being time to get errands done in a big city.  We needed to get Alan’s Mac serviced at the Apple Store and we found that the mall had rock climbing, a wave machine, and many other things.  We ended up spending the full day at the mall (amusement park) and enjoyed eating out and being in air conditioned places!    So while it wasn’t a cultural experience, we all had fun for 3 nights.  Then it was a quick drive to Madrid and an over night there with loads of pool time. Then home to Almuñécar.

The original plan was to stay a week in each location and we averaged 3-4 nights in each location.  It was just too much moving for us all, so lesson learned:  We’ll need to slow it down next time.  The fast pace worked for the first month, but after that it was just too much.  We knew better, yet did the crazy tour anyway.  It was a great experience and we did some great things.  I am not sure I would have changed a thing, as we all learned to communicate and voice our opinions as well as negotiate options and be with each other 24/7 for 6 weeks.  Those are all good learnings in life and we seemed to have mastered them near the end.  We are happy to be home and love where we live!

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