The MINI Clubvan Camper diaries

Last week I was asked to collect a MINI Clubvan Camper from Munich and drive it back home. I charted the journey via Tumblr, but unless you follow my waffle on Twitter, you won’t have seen the updates. So, as a prelude to the full PetrolBlog report, I’m recreating the updates from here.

I’m calling it the MINI Clubvan Camper diaries.

1. Introducing the MINI Clubvan Camper
13th August 2013, 9pm

This is the MINI Clubvan Camper. It’s purely a concept – but MINI is calling it the ‘world’s smallest luxury camper van’. It’s effortlessly cool and you can read some more about here:

MINI Clubvan Camper on MSN Cars

Right now, the MINI is in Munich. But by the end of the week it’ll be safely home in the UK. And that’s because I’ll be bringing it home. Yep, it has been left to me – Gavin Big-Surname – to get it back across the Channel.

So to chart the little adventure in the very little camper van, I’ve set up this little blog. You can follow the updates on here and via the #MINIGlampVan hashtag on twitter.

MINI Clubvan Camper with canoe on the roof

I can’t promise drama and fireworks, but I can promise sausages and two nights sleeping in the back of the van.

Just got to hope I can fold my 6’ 3” frame into the back…

2. Introducing the MINI Clubvan Camper
14th August 2013, 11am

Morning campers! Hi-de-Hi!

Right now I’m sat in the departure lounge at Bristol Airport, waiting for my flight to Munich to collect the MINI Clubvan Camper concept car.

For anyone not familiar with the concept, it’s billed as the ‘world’s smallest luxury camper van’ and is based on the quite brilliant MINI Clubvan, which in my mind is the best modern MINI you can buy.

You can read about here: PetrolBlog’s review of the MINI Clubvan.

Naturally, being a camper van, it has been treated to one or two subtle modifications. MINI hasn’t just simply thrown a mattress and an alarm clock into the back.

Sleeping in the MINI Clubvan Camper

It sleeps one – so it’s clearly a camper for the independent traveller. Or people without friends.

But it does have an extendible kitchenette, complete with propane stove and chest fridge.

It also has a TV, portable sat nav and an auxiliary heater. And, should things start to get smelly, there’s an ‘ingenious’ hand-held shower. Although given there’s no cubicle, this may not be an option. Finding a shower at a local gym may be a more sensible (and least embarrassing) option.

I’m about to spend few days ‘living’ in the MINI Clubvan Camper. Which could prove to be quite a challenge, especially considering my last camping trip was about 25 years ago…

In the next update I’ll share my plans. Which should provide ample mocking material when you discover I’ve failed miserably to stick to them.

3. The MINI GlampVan Plan
14th August 2013, 12pm

OK, so here’s the plan. I land in Munich around 3pm and following a handover and refreshments, I should be on my way.

It’s a small luxury camper van, right? So it got me thinking about other small luxury things. And more specifically, small luxury things in Europe.

So I got in touch with Small Luxury Hotels of the World and asked them if I could pay them a visit in my small luxury camper van. Surprisingly, they said yes.

Which means on Wednesday night, I’ll be staying in a hotel in Bavaria and on Thursday night, a small luxury hotel near Reims.

But naturally it wouldn’t be cricket to stay in the beautifully appointed hotel rooms, so I’ll be kipping in the MINI, in the hotel car parks. Which all sounds very PetrolBlog.

Rumour has it I might be served breakfast in the car. Need to be careful I don’t get crumbs in MINI’s priceless concept car.

Then on Friday it’s a leisurely drive back through France and to the Tunnel. Swiftly followed by what I imagine will be a horrible drive during a typical British rush hour.

So that’s that’s the plan. Wish me luck, campers.

4. Cars are better than tents
14th August 2013, 11pm

I could get used to this glamping lark. I’m a reluctant camper at the best of times, always preferring the comfort of an air conditioned hotel room to a damp and miserable night in a tent.

But glamping appears to be a much more pleasurable experience.

For a start there’s the car. A MINI Clubvan may not make for the largest camper van in the world, but there’s no chance of big spiders entering the cabin, a herd of cows trampling over the living quarters or the possibility of a damp bottom.

So the car is therefore better than the tent. Fact.

MINI Clubvan Camper arrives in Bavaria

And then there’s the opportunity to move. I’ve realised the MINI Clubvan Camper is rather like a very fast snail. A snail that can do 130mph on the Autobahn and then magically transform itself into a warm, dry and bijou house when it reaches its destination. Turbocharge a snail and it’d be the perfect motorhome.

Two nil to the car.

And then there’s the welcome you receive when you reach your destination. At the wonderful Alpenhof Murnau – part of the Small Hotels of the World group – I was greeted by a pair of lovely young Bavarian ladies armed with a cold beer.

Arrival in the MINI Clubvan Camper at the Alpenhof Murnau, Bavaria

Would I have received the same welcome if I had arrived hot, sweaty and laden with camping gear? No.

Three nil to the car.

But now the MINI GlampVan must face its biggest challenge. I’m about to sleep in it. Wish me luck.

Then tomorrow it’s the small matter of a 470 mile journey to Reims…

5. In the heat of the night
15th August 2013, 7am

There was one thing worrying me as I folded myself into the back of the MINI Clubvan Camper last night. Would I fit?

The good news is yes. Yes I did fit.

But after the wave of euphoria had washed over me, the grim reality of my next problem hit home. The heat.

I’m not sure what I was expecting really. Southern Germany, mid summer, 22 degrees during the day and what’s essentially a mattress in in the back of a van.

12 o’clock came and went. Then 1 o’clock, 2 and then perhaps 3. I opened the windows, but that had little effect.

Plus I imagined all kinds of creatures flying through the window. Do they have bloodsucking bats in Bavaria?!

I did get some sleep, as much was evident by the fact that I woke at 5. But such was the intense and uncomfortable heat, I got up and hit the showers. Not literally, the heat hadn’t put me in a bad mood.

I don’t think I’ve slept with an oven before. Nor a fridge. Or indeed slept on top of a shower. I would say I wouldn’t like to again, but that would be forgetting tonight’s overnight stay.

Yet despite this, the whole thing is proving to be lots of fun. Driving a unique car in a beautiful part of the world and meeting some delightful Bavarian people. It’s all good.

But now it’s time for some breakfast before venturing out towards Reims. A few gallons of coffee may be required.

6. Bordering on sadness
15th August 2013, 5pm

I think the MINI Clubvan Camper deserves its rest tonight. Having set off from Murnau at 8am this morning, it arrived at the hotel situated between Reims and Paris at 6pm. Final stats – 501 miles and 48.2mpg.

It would have been quicker, but a gridlocked Autobahn just outside Stuttgart and a road closure at Karlsruhe lost us two hours. Still, at least in Germany you know you’ll soon be able to make up time on an empty Autobahn.

MINI Clubvan Camper at services on the Autobahn

And talking of which, I must make a point about border crossings. Without going into a ‘things were different in my day’ kind of blog, things were definitely different in my day.

When you crossed a border, it was an event. An experience. A bit of theatre. Successfully crossing into a new country felt like an achievement. When the border crossings were manned, it was like a line in the sand. ‘You’re entering our country now and our rules apply.’

But today all that has gone. A ‘free’ Europe now means you can hop in and out of a country until your heart’s content. No need to show your passport. No German Shepherd sniffing your boot.

Of course, the freedom is welcome. But I miss the ceremony. Heck, I crossed into France, just outside Baden-Baden, without even knowing. And this makes me sad.

Today, you’re more likely to know you’ve crossed a frontier by the annoying beep on your mobile as your network provider ‘welcomes you’ to the new country.

And then fleeces your pockets to mark the occasion.

7. Sleeping like a baby
16th August 2013, 10am

What a difference a night makes. Having struggled to get any sleep in Bavaria, I was a reluctant camper in France last night.

But maybe it was the 500 mile drive. Or my tiredness. Or a combination of the two, because I slept like a baby.

The temperature helped. It was much, much cooler, to the extent that I needed an extra layer of warmth.

Sadly, without some serious gymnastics, the duvet was out of reach. So step forward a Union Flag picnic rug. So that’s another first – the first time I’ve slept under a picnic blanket.

With a spring in my step I ventured out from the hotel, ready to make the relatively short hop to Calais. Plan is to avoid toll roads and go in search of old French tat.

So I’m enjoying a cappuccino and croissant in the really rather excellent McCafe. Why can’t we have these in the UK? Everything about them is better than McDonald’s.

Will be sad for this mini adventure to end. But still, there are 150 miles to go yet…

8. A day of two halves
17th August 2013, 9am

Yesterday could definitely be split down the middle. The first half was good, but the second half was anything but. Although I did manage to salvage something from the gloom.

After the mad dash to Munich, the sprint to Murnau and the epic 500 mile blast to the Champagne region of France, yesterday morning was a much more leisurely affair.

Waking early, I only had the 180 or so miles to complete in order to reach the Channel Tunnel. So I took my time and set the MINI’s excellent aftermarket sat nav to ‘avoid toll roads’.

Which meant I took in the roads that once upon a time would carry far more traffic than they do today. Old trunk roads that have since been replaced by motorways and toll roads.

Many villages were like ghost towns. Each side of the road separated by a massive expanse of asphalt. Old bars, former petrol stations, derelict houses – evocative and rather sad sights.

And naturally, given that this was the Somme, there were a huge number of military graves. I stopped at a British Military Cemetery, which must have contained the graves of 300 or so British serviceman. I stood for a while and contemplated just what the area would have looked like 100 years ago. And far more importantly, what things would have been like for the brave servicemen.

I was lost for words.

I returned to the car. The A25 to Calais heralded the end of the genuinely enjoyable parts of the trip. Heavy traffic and the funnel effect of the whole of Europe heading for one port didn’t make for enjoyable driving. The Tunnel was as stress-free as always. And this time I got to enjoy a great conversation with the owner of a Morgan who was returning from Brittany.

In half an hour we were back in the UK. It was raining and the traffic was awful. Welcome back. Yeah, right. But that was nothing. The M25 was shut. The other roads in Surrey were gridlocked. And Stonehenge was its usual horror story. An original estimated arrival time of 16.30 looked almost laughable when I rolled home at 19.45.

I made the best of a bad situation by choosing to take B-roads to avoid the jammed trunk roads. Much fun was had picking my way through the country lanes. And Caro Emerald made for a rather welcome ‘passenger’.

So, long story short, I’m home, complete with a feeling of anti-climax. Given the chance, I’d do a little adventure with a car every week. I’m therefore more than a little sad it’s over. All that’s left now is to complete a final report for PetrolBlog and hand the car over to MINI UK. They may have to wrestle the keys from me. Can I claim squatters’ rights?

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Gavin Big-Surname
The chief waffler and founder of PetrolBlog in 2010. Has a rather unhealthy obsession with cars from the 80s and 90s, and is on a one-man mission to collect the cars nobody else wants. Also likes tea and Hobnobs.


  1. August 19, 2013

    I too know the sadness of a road trip coming to an end and the frustration of it ending on traffic-clogged British soil.

    If you like old-school border crossings, then driving into Switzerland is one to experience. You have to go past several official-looking buildings, and usually stop at another so they can bill you for an extortionate Vignette motorway tag.

    On a related note, let me know if you want to convoy to next year’s Geneva show – I always enjoy that drive.

    • August 19, 2013
      Gavin Braithwaite-Smith

      Ah yes, the infamous Swiss border crossings! The price of the motorway tag may be extortionate, but I rather like having it on my car. It’s like a little achievement tag!

      And Geneva – great idea. Hold that thought…


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