by Karen Davies | Nov 20, 2019 | Italy, Personal Insights, Spain
The Age-old Conundrum – Road or Ferry?
Europe’s shores are calling; adventure, culture and a rich tapestry of beautiful scenery awaits. And where better to explore than the delights of Spain and Italy. Whilst perhaps close in their language root, distance between these two European siblings is great. So how is it best to experience these two great nations? How can you best dance between the joys of Spain’s Tapas and Flamenco to Italy’s Gelato and rock villages?
On our travels since March 2016 we have visited both countries and indulged ourselves in their beauty for months at a time. Although the thought of trying to get to each one easefully can be a tricky conundrum for us travellers. Do you go by road or by ferry?
We’ve done both routes and feel that with both experiences under our belt, it’s a good time to share our journeys, the cost comparisons and offer these up to you. Hopefully as a result you can then make your own personal choices.
The Road Route
The road route to and from Spain to Italy is surely a beautiful one. Flirting with the edge of the Pyrenees at one side of the continent, through the southern regions of France’s Riviera and skipping into Italy’s Riviera cousin. With such sights along the route as Carcassonne, the Camargue and Provence’s coastal delights it makes the road-trip an easy temptation. And who could resist the joys of baguettes, the regional Pastis and a croissant or two? Crossing the border into Italy gives you a plethora of seaside resorts to enjoy or the tourist magnet of the Cinque Terre, Portofino and Pisa. And so your Italian adventure can begin.
With that in mind, let’s look at the stats and costs of choosing this route.
- It is approx 800 miles from Civitavecchia in Italy to Barcelona in Catalonia.
- That’s a rough cost of £140.00 for diesel, based on 0.17p per mile for a 3.5T motorhome.
- The Tolls through eastern Italy and France can add up depending on how many diversions you take for sightseeing. Allow around £130 for Tolls depending on the class of vehicle you are driving.
- There are potentially two Weighing Station possibilities, both on the France/Italy border and at Perpignan as you head to/from Spain. Whilst we have never been stopped, there are regular stories about campers being taken to the weighing station en route from Spain into France. If you want to avoid this, then the coastal route from Collioure to Roses is an alternative. This will take you an extra hour and an additional 20 miles.
- Depending on your travel philosophy and how many hours/miles you are willing to do in a day, it will take between 3-5 days.
- Meals/drinks for those days need to be built into the cost analysis together with campsites, Aires or services.
Advantages of the Road Option
- It gives you the chance to explore en route if you don’t know the area.
- Avoids potentially stormy seas of the ferry crossing.
- You can be flexible when you make your journey.
Disadvantages of the Road Option
- Much of the most direct route requires Tolls, many of which are nigh on impossible to avoid, can be tricky to navigate and can add to your stress, time and mileage. And the costs do add up.
- You need to build in the wear and tear on your vehicle, tyres in particular.
- There is a risk of being stopped at the Borders for weight checks.
- Places to stay alongside the motorway are limited and not recommended so a diversion into the towns are required, adding further to time, mileage and costs.
- If you are travelling in the winter heading from Italy to Spain for some sunshine, then most of the campsites will be shut, so you are reliant on Aires, wild camping and Sostas.
- You are at the mercy of bad weather conditions and accidents.
- The road quality in the north-west regions of Italy are particularly low quality.
- You have the Genoa issue to navigate following the collapse of the bridge in August 2018 that carries the main arterial motorway.
- If you are travelling in winter, then weather conditions and potentially snow around the Pyrenees are a factor to consider. Also in Italy, from 15 November, winter tyres are recommended and snow chains are compulsory so, if like us, you only have snow socks for your summer tyres, then the ferry is a strong contender.
Total cost for Road = minimum of £300 excluding campsites, Aire fees and the wear and tear apportionment.
The Ferry Route
From Baracelona to Civitavecchia, just north of Rome is a 20 hour sailing leaving at night between 2000 and 2300 respectively. So for 7 hours of the journey you are asleep. The boats are cruise ship size vessels from Grimaldi Lines and whilst not the quality of a cruise liner, it does what it says on the tin. The boats for summer trips have a swimming pool and sun loungers and for other season, a Well-being centre, restaurants and bars. With plenty of cabins available you have your own private space and toilet/shower facilities. Or you can choose a reclining seat in a private lounge.
Here are the costs for the ferry option;
- Based on an April 2017 from Barcelona the cost was £356.00 and a November 2019 sailing from Civitavecchia was £349.00. Both ferries included a cabin and were booked online with Directferries which was a lot cheaper than going direct to Grimaldi Lines.
- There is also a route from Genoa and Savona to Barcelona obviously depending which part of Italy you are travelling from or to and they are slightly cheaper by about £50. So it might make more sense to take this ferry if you are in the northern regions of Italy than to drive down to Civitavecchia.
- Prices are based on the size of your vehicle <6m and from 6m-9m.
- Allow for Breakfast, Lunch and refreshments whilst on board, prices of which average £17pp for the trip.
- You can reserve a reclining seat for £5 or a cabin for £80. Bear in mind that if you pay for a cabin when onboard, it will cost you £10 more than if you reserve it on line.
Advantages of the Ferry
- It is much quicker than the 3-5 days it takes to drive. With the overnight boat, 2/3rds of your journey is done by the time morning arrives.
- It saves on the wear and tear of your vehicle. The 800 miles direct route by road accounts for around 5% of your tyres’ lifespan. So this does need to be built in, mentally at least.
- With a night time schedule, no accommodation the night before is required, so you can travel directly to the ferry, ensuring you check in 120 minutes before the sailing.
- If you order a cabin you can have unlimited showers with piping hot water!
- Dogs are allowed on the ferry, with either Kennels or Pet Friendly cabins.
Disadvantages of the Ferry
- The weather is unpredictable, so stormy seas are a factor https://www.instagram.com/ especially during the winter, causing potential sea-sickness if you are prone.
- The food quality is not great and is expensive.
- If it is busy then embarkation and disembarkation can take time.
- The schedule is always open to disruption from operational issues. Although unless it is cancelled you are still across the Mediterranean within 24 hours.
- It’s never a great quality sleep on a boat.
- On exiting the ferry, a wrong turn could have you in Barcelona’s Low Emission Zone, which without a sticker could be an expensive fine. Although sticking to the outer ring road is not in the city zone.
- If you time your crossing over a half-term, there is a risk of school children crossing to or returning from a trip to Rome or Barcelona. This happened to us on our first crossing in March 2017 and it was not pleasant given their teachers were all sitting in the bar having a fine old time.
Total cost for the ferry = £385.00 with no additional extras
A significant part of our decision about the ferry versus the road is about time rather than costs. As you can see there’s not a huge amount in it, once you factor in the Road Option’s hidden and unexpected costs. For us the speed and efficiency of the ferry far outweighs the road. We all know that travel is tiring and to cut off potentially 3 days travel time is worth doing, in our book. Although of course it is a personal choice based on your individual circumstances and also where your start or end point is in Italy.
If you have no time constraints and the seasons are in your favour, then the road has some huge sightseeing benefits. For autumn and winter, then the ferry is far more appealing. The choice is yours!
We hope that this has been helpful in working through the options for you with some stats and facts.
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by Karen Davies | Dec 29, 2017 | France, Travel Blog
One of the most poetic and diverse regions of France has surely captured many a heart – ours included. After nine weeks wandering this enigmatic Provence countryside, we fell in love with its mountains, gorges, villages built into the rocks and coastline.
Perhaps Provence is most famous for its lavender and its celebrity status along the Côte d’Azur – French Riviera where bling will outshine even the most sparking water. Although Provence has so much more depth offering you colour, texture and flamingoes. And how could you forget the eight Les Plus Beaux Village de France that are just waiting for you to succumb to their charm? Who would have thought that one region could have so many ways to captivate its visitor, leaving them surely wanting more.
From the Camargue with its wild white horses, bulls and salt flats to the deep valleys of the Gorges du Verdon and De Loup to the craggy coastline that commands the respect of the richest of the rich – Provence will delight and amaze. Check out our highlights from the last two years in this interactive map that lists our camping options and must-see spots by clicking the icons.
This is one part of France that deserves your time, your admiration and your adventurous spirits and I defy you not to fall in love….
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by Karen Davies | Nov 5, 2017 | Free Stuff
Free Resource – Download Now!
As part of our 18 months on the road Celebration Series, we are sharing our Top 25 Nature Beauties.
During our time on the road we have been privileged to witness the most incredible scenery, landscapes and wildlife. We have tried to capture our best bits in one place in this INFOGRAPHIC which you can download for free. Click HERE to download your own copy.
From Spain, to France, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovenia; here are just a few of our favourite things…..
Enjoy with our love and we hope it inspires you to put these places on your list.
Free INFOGRAPHIC to download HERE
by Karen Davies | Oct 25, 2017 | France, Travel Blog
France’s Camargue – the land of true diversity
Imagine travelling through the heart-land of a delta region – what jumps out at you? Is it the flatness of the region or the endless acres of salt flats divided by borders of gravel banks leading to who knows where – perhaps just the horizon or some other equally distant destination that is unattainable. May be your mind leaps to a haven of wildlife and even flamingoes, hidden by seven foot reed-beds defying your camera lens access to the private ornithological playground.
Whatever your impressions or images are of delta regions, I would love to set you a challenge of falling in love with France’s Camargue. We’ve been to four deltas during our 20 months on the road; two in Spain, one in Romania and one in Italy. They are all very different – and in their individuality you can look deep within their characters to experience the true battle between land, river and sea and watch unfold an incredible evolution that serves both the human race and the natural world in an incredible dance of harmony.
Yet the Camargue, the largest delta in western Europe is one of the stand-out areas for me such is its diversity, expanse and intrigue. Nestled in the arms of the Rhône that splits out into two; the Petit Rhône to the west and the Grand Rhône to the east, the south of France claims protection over this incredibly fertile and rich plain. With a blend of Mediterranean Coast, a Spanish cultural influence and a highly balanced ecosystem of salt lagoons cut off from the sea’s reign by sand dunes and reed beds, the Camargue has supremacy in Europe for tradition, cultivation and ornithology. It is so much more than a land of flat nothingness.
Let me see if I can inspire a visit with these seven reasons to put the Camargue on your list:
1. Sexy Salt-flats?
So let’s talk salt-flats and deal with the iconic delta landscape before we delve into cultural intrigue. Now these are no ordinary salt beds; the Camargue has coloured salt-flats that just cry out for a few ‘Ooohs and ahhhs’ from passers by. Thanks to the algae in the region, the landscape is quite breathtaking and in the mid-day sun the hue sparkles pink and purple.
There’s also something quite earthy about the salt industry here, because although there’s a slight hint of exploitation of the earth’s resources, somehow there feels like a grace in which this process is undertaken, almost as if, with gratitude the salt is lifted and manufactured. A mixture of salt we use for cooking and also road salt – this production line has huge benefits to the local community and beyond. Fringed with coarse plants and crystal rocks, this area defies you to not be impressed. Go to the Visitors’ Viewing point about 2km from Salin-de-Giraud and you will be treated to a magnificent sight.
Arles is Camargue’s capital and a thriving city that boasts the splitting of the Rhône in two. Although we didn’t spend any time here other than passing through looking for petrol, it certainly looks like a place to stop. It has one of the region’s longest and most major markets around its city walls, every Wednesday and Saturday morning and if you love markets, then get your walking shoes on and go explore. On top of that you have a UNESCO site in the Roman monuments, theatre and amphitheatre and its main claim to fame is that it was host to Vincent Van Gogh who called this home for a year, creating over 300 hundred paintings. So Arles is definitely worth exploring and we will do it justice next time we’re in the region for sure.
3. Sainte Marie de la Mare
Black Madonna – Sarah
This small, Spanish influenced, whitewashed town on the Camargue’s coast has strong links with the Romany people, for whom Sarah or ‘Sara the Black’ is their patron saint. The Black Madonna, as she is also known is honoured at Sainte Marie each May, when there is an annual pilgrimage of Romanies to the town. The drive there transports you to a land that time forgot, with Ranches spring out of nowhere, where the famous Camargue horses form the heart of local’s passion and their livelihood.
It is here that you start to feel the culture behind the Camargue, where Gardians or cowboys hold their centuries old tradition of raising black bulls for the Spanish Bullfighting industry and using the wild horses to round up their herds. Today there is more of a tourist feel to this town as many of the Ranches offer horse-ridding excursions around the Delta, although it is quaint enough and definitely worth hanging around to pick up an evening vibe.
4. Aigues Mortes
Aigues’ Castle Walls
Of all the Camargue towns, Aigues Mortes (name source; stagnant water) was our favourite. As we cycled along the main road from Montcalm where we were camping at their vineyard, we crossed a river, which at its end has an imposing tower that entices you towards it. With increased pedal power you find yourself intrigued and soon enough you enter the almost Disney-like scene in front of you. Impenetrable walls that for centuries have protected its farmers and salt-miners, standing up against those who wish to claim the land for its own. Back in the day, Aigues had direct access to the sea, so protection from the Crusaders was absolutely necessary. Today bridges over the canal, a silted moat and a great road network has you within the bosom of Aigues within no time, although you certainly feel its protective prowess as you approach.
This ancient city is beautifully intact and as you walk around the walls you get a real sense of the stories that were created here and how today’s town has claimed its identity.
Inside the walls, it’s like another world. A place where you can feel the security and as you wander through the grid-like alleyways, you seriously feel like you have teleported into a Dickensian era. If like me, you take your camera with you everywhere, then Aigues is the place you will click the most. Outside of the walls you have a masterful spectacle; waterways that now provide tours for eagerly awaiting landlubbers with a chance to see the Delta up-close-and-personal; and then there’s the romantic, encased town claiming its own unique personality with sandstone walls that tell tales of battles fought, won and lost in bygone eras. In fact the town saw the largest massacre of immigrants in modern France, when in 1893, Italian workers who were brought in to work on the salt flats began fighting with the French contingent leading to riots and a massacre of Italian workers. It caused a huge diplomatic incident between France and Italy leading finally to compensation and justice.
We were lucky (or unlucky as the case may be) to have visited early October, where they have a week-long festival of Bull and Horse Running through the town. Local Gardians and Romanies gather to celebrate their Bull raising traditions and although I hate the idea of bullfighting in any manner, this bull running through the town’s streets is not something that results in death, thankfully. Whilst I love to experience another country’s traditions, the crowds that these festivals attract don’t make for an authentic visit. So whilst I appreciated seeing something completely new and I must admit to being intrigued, I would love to return so we can wander through the streets without the throng of the crowds.
5. Le Grau du Roi
I think when you come to a new place, visiting as much as you have the time and energy for seems appropriate. It’ll certainly help you form an overall impression of a place and help you decide whether a second visit or a recommendation to others is worthy. So on our last day in the Camargue, we decided to check out Le Grau du Roi and sadly it was our least favourite of all the places we visited. Whilst the canal leading to the sea and the old town to the west is full of character and we just love marinas and boat-life, which this has aplenty, the rest of the streets and harbour-front were just full with wall-to-wall tourists shops and restaurants. It left us cold and the beachfront with its high-rise hotels and marinas simply didn’t do it for us. It’s almost as if this section of the Camargue has lost its soul to the devil and really doesn’t have the same spirit as in the heart of the National Park. Whilst Le Grau du Roi is to the west of the Camargue, this town marks a significant change in both the landscape and the authenticity that the Delta offers.
Le Grau du Roi coastline
From this point as you head west, small fishing villages have been swollen up by consumerism and commerciality, with hotels rising above the trees in some sort of fight for supremacy and the authentic nature of the coastline lost to holiday-makers. Montpellier sets its southern coast marker where crowds flock rather than birds – and for us, it just wasn’t our cup of tea. We were glad to visit to see the other side, although it was a face of the Camargue that was less appealing for us and we were glad to have moved inland to find a bit more French authenticity.
If like me, you love nature and the wonders of the world, then the Camargue will not disappoint. Away from the towns and their tourist trade, you enter a magical world where nature seems unperturbed by the frenetic human activity around it. As if in some grand snobbery, flamingoes defy the photographers’ lens and coach loads of adoring ornithologists. This is a sanctuary to them, a haven of food and relative safety from the elements where they can raise their young and live their simple lives amidst the lagoons, teaming with their favourite dish of the day. Dragonflies dart amongst the reed beds, birds wade, horses roam and buzzards soar all to the delight of the onlookers.
You can visit the Parc Ornithologique at Pont de Gau close to Sainte Marie de la Mare which is open all year – here you get 2.5km of intimate sanctuary that allows you to see seasonal wildlife in a protected area. Alternatively, just spend time, like we did, cycling or driving around the region and see the area teeming with wildlife everywhere. Autumn and spring are great seasons to visit as migratory birds will be more evident here, although whatever time of year you go, there is always something on the horizon.
7. Carmargue beaches, sunrises and sunsets
Perhaps beaches are not the first thing you think of when you picture a Delta, although the Camargue has them in bucketloads. Perfect golden sands that stretch for miles offering a barrier to the lagoons from the sometimes harsh energy of the sea. As a south facing landscape, of course the added benefit of the coast is its unmistakably beautiful sunrises and sunsets. With just a little patience and commitment to perhaps an early morning or two, then you will be rewarded by the most incredible colours that turn the sky and the land into an artist’s canvas. Whether you love kitesurfing, horse ridding or simply walking with your bare feet on the the golden grains, the Camargue’s endless beaches are magnificent and just so the diversity of this treasured land.
I hope that these seven reasons for visiting the Camargue have inspired to add this French beauty to your ‘must visit’ list. Easily accessible by plane with flights into either Montpellier or Marseille and a road network of motorways from Spain and Italy, there is no excuse not to visit.
If you decide to come by car or camper, there are plenty of places to camp out which enhanced our Camargue experience although one piece of advice before I leave you – if you are driving from Martigues in the east towards Sainte Marie de la Mare, you will find a ferry that takes you across the Rhône. Take it! For no more than €10 you can cross this channel and get direct access to the Camargue, otherwise you will have a 80km detour to Arles which is the only other crossing point from east to west. Learn from our mistake and just pay the Ferryman!
Here are our camping spots should you go with your own vehicle:
- Sausset Les Pins – Free Aire (43.3318816 005.109914)
- Arles Plage de Piémenson – Wild camping on the beach between the lagoon and the Med. Windy, although stunning location in good weather. (43.348050 004.784010). Services available in Salin le Giraud.
- Domaine Montcalm – France Passion Vineyard – camping for free. Free wine tasting although no obligation to buy.
There are plenty of other camping options in the area, including official ACSI sites. However you come – just come and discover the treasures of the land that is the Camargue.