Zingst peninsula on the German coast

I had until 3.30pm to come up with a plan for our holiday. At that time I'd be collecting Tony from work and we'd be heading towards Folkestone and our booked Eurotunnel crossing.

Our original plan to visit Normoutier had been scrapped due to a week of wet and stormy weather affecting most of France. Even the back-up plan hatched the previous evening needed to be unraveled having seen an updated weather forecast.

Northern Germany and Denmark appeared as though they'd enjoy great weather and so I began investigating possible destinations taking into account the time it would take to travel and likelihood of there being semi-deserted beaches. We'd been looking forward to a beach holiday for far too long to be prepared to compromise.

Eventually I was drawn to the Zingst peninsula on the coast of Germany which promised several similarities with Noirmoutier. Connected by bridge to the mainland the peninsula was island-like, it had miles of sandy beaches on two of its sides and was flat with cycleway connecting all parts. There were several campsites along its northern beaches.

It then came down to deciding an order of preference of campsite. I started by reading the reviews other campers had left in Google maps, starting with those with the highest rating out of five stars.

I liked the look of Mei├čner's Sonnencamp in Prerow but I was put off by the fact it only had eight motorhome pitches. I didn't fancy taking the chance one would be free if we turned up without booking. The site nextdoor, Regenbogen Prerow, was criticised for its high prices with one reviewer claiming to have been charged nearly £50 per night for a tent.

Further east in Zingst, Campground LVB had a great score of 4.5 stars but I was put off that there weren't private showers.
Widening my search I found Campingplatz Naturcamp Pruchten which wasn't on the peninsula itself but just a short distance from the bridge. The reviews were good mainly, though quite a few German visitors had marked it down because reservations at the site's restaurant were hard to come by. Tony and I don't need a campsite to have a restaurant, bar or shop, so this was no barrier for us. The location looked ideal and it would only take 30 minutes to cycle to the peninsula's beaches; I couldn't find anything to put me off. I decided to fill in the booking enquiry form to which I quickly received an email reply confirming there were pitches available.

I felt happy enough to be setting off from home without a firm booking because of the plethora of other sites, none of which I'd really have minded taking as second choice should we turn up and find the spaces at Naturecamp taken.

My next piece of research was to find us somewhere on our route to park overnight an hour or two from Calais. When we booked our Eurotunnel crossings we'd only been able to secure an 11.45pm slot which was far from ideal. Given a choice we'd opt for 8pm which allows for traffic hold ups on the Dartford Crossing while allowing us to travel a reasonable distance the other side of the channel on the first day.

We'd only ever stayed on aires in France, picking them from our two All The Aires books. We didn't have an aires book for Belgium or Germany and so I'd need to rely on the internet for my information. I was pleased to discover a site with a searchable map that easily allowed me to home in on aires along the route and read what other travelers said about them. I found two I knew we'd be comfortable parking at, one an hour from Calais and one two hours away.

I was remarkably relaxed about the whole trip considering we've always booked our campsites in advance and rarely venture from the half a dozen French aires we've come to rely on. I'm not entirely sure how or why I was so laid back about it as I take after my mother who worries about her departure-day plans and likes to be six hours early for the airport.

With just last minute bits and bobs left to pack in the campervan I spent the afternoon making sure the chickens had everything they needed nearby for our kindly neighbours who absolutely love looking after them. It was quite late in my preparations for departure that I remembered the passports, and it's a good thing I did remember since Tony didn't enquire after their inclusion when I picked him up from work at 3.30pm.

The drive to Eurotunnel was better than to be expected on a Friday afternoon before a school half-term holiday. We arrived at the Folkestone terminal at just gone 6pm, way too early for a 11.45pm crossing but hopeful of the possibility we'd be allowed in and maybe given an earlier slot. We were amazed to be offered a crossing at 7.15pm. That meant no time to even park as our hanger letter was already being called to embark.

This welcome turn of events meant I needed to come up with another option of first-night aire since we'd be able to drive even further that night. I found one that sounded promising in Wildeshausen, only five minutes off the autobahn. It meant we'd have three and a half hours of the drive between Calais and Zingst under our belts before we slept for the night.

The drive was good with little traffic on the roads and we arrived in Wildeshausen before midnight. The aire was in a quiet area just outside the centre of town. Several other motorhomes were parked for the night and we chose our spot as quietly as possible so as not to disturb their sleep. Cleopatra's bed was made in the back and we didn't bother putting up the roof or turning chairs around; we just climbed into bed with our alarm set for 7am.

I awoke just before the alarm after a good night's sleep. Dressing when the pop top roof is closed is difficult, but we were soon back in the front seats. I suggested we fill up with diesel before getting back on the autobahn, thinking the fuel would be cheaper, and so we drove to a nearby Shell petrol station where I went into the shop for coffee while Tony filled up thirsty Cleopatra.

French service stations have self service machines for coffee but here in Germany that didn't seem to be the case. I was going to have to put my secondary school German into practise. But that would be easy as ordering coffee, or a cup of tea with lemon, is one of the first things they teach you. Coffee has changed since school though and I couldn't spot 'Americano' from the list of options. There wasn't much else I could do but ask for 'Zweimal kaffee, bitte,' and hope for the best.

My best efforts were rewarded with filter coffee which was perfect. My German ran out when the girl behind the counter rang up the bill and I needed to tell her I wanted to pay for the fuel as well. I resorted to pointing at Tony and looking out the window in anticipation of him finishing at the pump. We conversed in English after that, hers, strangely, with an American accent.

Back on the autobahn Google advised it was a six-and-a-half hour drive to our destination. That turned into seven and a half hours as traffic was bad around Hamburg. We found the German motorway to be busier than France's, but they do have the benefit of being free - we've probably saved around £140 compared against getting to the west coast of France, and £200 if we'd ended up going to Provence.

It was just before 3pm when we arrived at Naturecamp Pruchten. I greeted the receptionist with my best 'Guten Tag' before asking her, in English, if she spoke English.
She shook her head and said: 'small.'

So I started constructing a sentence: 'Zwei personen im... erm... wohnmobile fur seben nacht.'

I was quite pleased with myself but the lady looked around for her colleague and said: 'English'.

The second receptionist took over and offered us a map on which she drew circles around three possible pitches and asked if we'd like to look at them and choose one.

We do dither when faced with a choice of camping pitch. There are so many variables to weighed up: distance to the facilities block - not right next to, but not very far for frequent visits while we're drinking beer; proximity to any children's play area (as far away as possible); proximity to any other camping units that give the impression they may house children or dogs; proximity to any campers who look like they're in a large group or would otherwise make a lot of noise; and the potential for getting sun in the evening.

We discussed the benefits and pitfalls of all three pitches before settling on one which ended up being in the shade of some tall trees each evening, but wasn't near any playground equipment.

Back in reception we decided to book eight nights and not seven, determining that we could make the drive home in a single day. Our Best Deal Camping Card reduced the price per night to €17 including 16 amp electricity which was a steal.

There was a little final confusion before we were sent on our way to pitch up. The receptionist said, in the tone of voice that made it sound like a question: 'You don't need tokens for the shower?'

I was puzzled by this assumption, not knowing if the showers didn't need tokens or if they did but she thought we wouldn't want any. We just agreed with her, took our map and receipt and went to show Cleopatra her home for the next week and a day.

If we dither when choosing a pitch that's nothing compared to then deciding whereabouts on that pitch to park and in which direction to face. Tony seems to struggle with the direction the sun is going to take which infuriates me because it's such an easy thing to work out. Then I infuriate Tony by insisting we're not one hundred percent level and ought to try using the leveling blocks. We both infuriate anyone nearby who is trying to relax by chugging about the place until we've tried every which way. Even switching off the engine shouldn't be taken as a sign that we're done yet. We've even been known to make a few final adjustments with the roof fully popped up.

And so it was 4.30pm when we finally set off on our bikes to check out the beaches. Right from the campsite we were on cycleways and it was a lovely flat ride to the beach near Zingst. The sand was lovely and white and the beach spread as far as the eye could see in both directions. We decided to cycle west away from the town to determine if there were less-populated sections of beach. Though the beach directly in front of residential properties and campsites was fairly busy, so were sections further afield thanks to car parks under the shade of the trees at frequent intervals. Eventually, at beach number 19, we found an entry point to the beach that didn't have a car park. It wasn't deserted, but it would do very nicely and we spent two sunny days there.

Before our much anticipated beach days came a cloudy Sunday which we spent exploring. We set out to reach the lighthouse in the national park on the north-west tip of the peninsula. We cycled back as far as beach 19 and continued along the cycleway behind the beach until reaching the town of Prerow.

Deciding to have a look around the town, we locked up our bikes. The town is pretty with many small properties having immaculately-thatched roofs to go with their immaculately-manicured lawns in their immaculately-maintained streets. The shops in the centre were mostly closed as it was Sunday.

Back on our bikes we entered the national park and the cycleway wove its way through forest and our first encounters with mosquitos which would be all over any exposed skin anytime we stopped peddling. This was no place to stop and consult Google maps!

And so, as we cycled past Meisener's Sonnencamp, I felt pleased I'd discounted it for its limited number of motorhome spaces. You'd need jungle-strength mosquito repellant to camp there!

Reaching the lighthouse we found a busy bike park but stood out from everyone else being the only ones dancing around swatting the insects landing on our exposed arms and legs. I noted everyone else wore trousers and long-sleeved tops. If we had another day exploring I vowed to do the same. Fortunately, expecting rain, I had a waterproof poncho that covered my arms and waterproof over trousers that covered my legs. It was more clothes than I really wanted to be wearing but it stopped the mosquito attacks while we quickly inspected the unremarkable lighthouse and went to see if the mosquitos were on the nearby beach. They weren't.

Deciding that the western beaches to the south of the lighthouse weren't worth looking at on account of the biting insects we'd have to endure to get to them, we decided we'd return home via the supermarket in Zingst. Part way the sun began to emerge as bits of blue sky peeped through the clouds and so we had an hour sitting on the beach before resuming our shopping mission.

We cycled through Zingst as we sought the Netto supermarket we could see on Google Maps, eventually locating it just off the cycleway we'd have been on if we had just bypassed the town altogether. Neither of us had a coin for the trolley and my British supermarket trolley token wouldn't unfix one. We hoped there'd be baskets inside. There weren't. Bloody foreign supermarkets.

We often shop in Lidl when we're abroad and Netto was familiar in concept if not so neatly maintained. The special buys were in so many random categories I think they'd been there a long time. Bike panniers sat alongside boardgames, mosquito screens, tins of chocolate biscuits and solar security lights. We were delighted to find 500ml bottles of beer priced 25 cents each and one-litre cartons of wine for €1.50. Not having a basket or trolley we carried what we could to the checkout.

We visited Netto on our way back from the beach every evening, the rest of the week finding bargain packs of meat, generously marked down due to their sell by dates, for dinner.

Tony wasn't immediately a big fan of Netto and suggested that the following morning we cycle to Lidl in Barth before breakfast. Barth is a 3km cycle, again along well-maintained cycleway. I spotted that there was an old town and so we resolved that we'd come back for a visit if we had a cloudy day, which we didn't and so we didn't.

We fell into a routine of waking at 8am, showering and then sitting outside the van for coffee and breakfasts of sardines on toast. On the morning we'd been to Lidl we were tempted into preparing a cooked breakfast, not least because I'd brought some of the eggs our chickens we're currently laying at a rate of two per day. Like France, Germany doesn't seem to do baked beans, so we bought kidney beans and mixed with tomato puree.

With the breakfast things washed and our rucksacks fillted with all the necessary beach paraphernalia we'd then set off on our bikes to the beach. For the first two days, after crossing the bridge to the peninsula we cycled west along the coast to beach 19. The few other people we shared the beach with were dotted along the top of the sand where it met the dune behind, encamped inside little wind break forts.
 
After that we tried cycling in the opposite direction and found we preferred the beaches to the east of Zingst. There was only a minor road for a time with little in the way of car parking and eventually the road came to an end with just the cycleway continuing. That the beaches were out of reach of drivers meant they were quieter still. We also enjoyed the cycle more in this direction with its views out over the water and quaint little harbours.

On our first day of four spent on the west we took a fork in the path to the beach with cycle racks in the trees. This was a mistake since, while locking the bikes together with our ridiculously-small Decathlon locks, mosquitos descended. I ended up having to stand back and let Tony wrestle with getting the bikes close enough together while swatting the mosquitos that landed on him with the wind break.

We sited ourselves not far from a volleyball net, thinking it unlikely there'd ever be enough beach goers for it to be used. We were wrong though. Two retired, naked couples made themselves at home behind the volleyball court and actually raised a flag. Shortly after they carefully raked out a court in the sand and played for much of the day. We were amused that one of the ladies put on knee protectors and talked about what strange tan lines she'd have.

We cycled a few hundred yards further on the next three days, taking a path to the beach without cycle racks but also with a large enough break between the trees that mosquitos weren't a hazard. If you'd like to find our carefully chosen bit of beach for all its benefits, its coordinates are 54.441726, 12.755896.

The Baltic was pretty much like you'd expect - cold. Having said that though, at the end of May I'm not sure I'd have braved a swim if we'd gone to Noirmoutier as originally planned. I did paddle, several times, just up to my knees as the sea seemed the most inconspicuous place to have a wee.

As it was, a nice breeze just took the edge off the 25°C temperatures on all except the last day. There was little wind on our second Saturday and to keep cool and mainly just to be able to say I've swum in the Baltic, I swam in the Baltic. The weather really did live up to expectations.

We stayed on the beach each day until around 5pm, engrossed in a book and occasionally trying in vain to get a signal on our phones. The cycle home was punctuated half way with our Netto shop, what we purchased having to share space in our rucksacks with beach towels, Kindles and suntan lotions. We took bungee cords to tie the heaviest loads to the racks on the back of the bikes.

Our evenings were spent sitting under the awning with some beers before dinner and then a glass or two (or three) of wine to accompany our meals. We progressed from the litre cartons, which were cheaper and lighter to carry, to a bottle of South African merlot cabernet sauvignon we decided to try as a treat and then continued to buy for the rest of the week. I can't remember the name of the wine but it sports an elephant in its logo.

As a big, red sun set right where we couldn't see it for other caravans, it was time to turn on the fairy lights as we played a boardgame or people watched.

Although the campsite is large and was pretty full, it seemed as though the older part of the site, amongst the silver birch trees, where we were pitched was mainly long-term caravans, many of which weren't occupied during our stay and so the site felt quite quiet. We'd see the same faces walk past, always with a 'Guten abend,' or sometimes, having clocked our British number plates, a 'Good evening.' Sometimes we'd be greeted with 'Hallo,' but I'm afraid no matter how hard I try, I cannot say 'Hallo' with an A like a German - it still comes out as 'Hello' with an E.

Couples on bikes would cycle by, singles walking their dogs (and their enormous bellies), and one guy who liked to wear red socks with red Crocs, often with the rest of his attire clashing horribly.

During our entire stay we didn't encounter any other Brits, which suited us fine - they clearly didn't get the memo about the weather and were soaking up the rain in France. The coast was, except for us and one Dutch couple we spotted, exclusively German.

Probably most people's understanding of the German coastal resorts are similar to what mine was previously. I knew nothing about them and had no reason to want to visit. I'm so pleased Europe's weather pushed us into venturing here and, if the weather was to be as great as we enjoyed during our eight-night stay, I'd be delighted to return.


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