Which is best? Spain to Italy – Road or Ferry?

Which is best? Spain to Italy – Road or Ferry?

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.

 

  1. It is approx 800 miles from Civitavecchia in Italy to Barcelona in Catalonia.
  2. That’s a rough cost of £140.00 for diesel, based on 0.17p per mile for a 3.5T motorhome.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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;

 

  1. 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.
  2. 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. 
  3. Prices are based on the size of your vehicle <6m and from 6m-9m. 
  4. Allow for Breakfast, Lunch and refreshments whilst on board, prices of which average £17pp for the trip.
  5. 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

 

Conclusions

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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3 Natural Parks in France not to miss

3 Natural Parks in France not to miss

France is one of Europe’s most popular destinations and with just under 250,000 sq miles, you could be forgiven for not seeing it all. We’ve been visiting France for a couple of decades, made easier by my parents who had a house in Brittany going back 10 years ago. It’s a beautiful yet vast country that is so diverse we never tire of it. With more than 150 Les Plus Beaux Villages dotted around the country that ooze character, France will charm you. And away from the obvious main sights of Paris, the lavender fields of Provence and the southern resorts and beaches, this country has some incredible hidden secrets. Three of which we were about to discover as we travelled from Chambéry, south of Annecy to Beziers on the south coast. Check out the three Natural Park treasures that we passed through in a bid to head for the coast.

Chartreuse Natural Park

Our route; Les Manches, Chambéry to Grenoble, 65km (about 40 miles).

Having nestled ourselves at a lovely campsite just outside Chambéry to do some much needed repairs to our van, our feet started itching on day 4 as though they had been tickled by a feather. So we headed south and looking at the map, the motorway was not an option, it rarely is for us. We love the road less travelled and when the map shows us a bit of greenery, all the better. It can get us into trouble at times, although on the whole the secrets we’ve uncovered have been amazing.

Chartreuse Natural Park was one of those amazing secrets, even though for most of our passage it was shrouded in low cloud. Sometimes whilst the sun certainly enhances a vista, we could just sense that there was beauty here. With Chambéry at the northern end and Grenoble in the south, the route is actually doable in a couple of hours.

Our path took us up into the misty shroud, sadly leaving the warmth of the autumn sunshine behind, and wound up the mountain road to the Col du Grenier. With a left turn we entered what I would class as rural France. Hillside and valley hamlets with one bar, one church, a boulangerie and a clutch of houses. The feel of the place was heart-warming as a sense of authenticity grows the deeper you drive into the mountain shadows. Lush green pastures are home to cows with Swiss-style bells around their necks and the promise of devine diary produce. Rich meadows provide sanctuary to rare plants and the skies, I’m sure if we could have seen them, would be littered with swallows, buzzards and other raptors looking for their prey.

Sainte-Pierre d’Entremont is a gorgeous stone village that begs you to stop and explore. With walks galore up into the natural park and, if it is your thing, why not take the ‘Route de Savoire Faire’ which takes you on an artisanal journey offering you an insight into craftsman’s trade typical of the region.

As you wiggle and wind up, then down like a rollercoaster, you slowly fall in love with this Park and after driving through Le Sappy, a quaint ski resort, you start to make your descent into Grenoble. Capital town of the Alps, France can be proud of this winter sport’s hub with its University, river, chateaux and cable cars. Grenoble marks the end of Chartreuse and offers a gentle introduction into the second of our trio of natural parks that we entice you to explore.

Check out our Gallery below to get a feel for this gentle giant with its pine clad snaking roads.

Vercors Natural Park – Balcony Road-trip Extraordinaire  

Our route; Grenoble to Chateau Julien near Villards de Lans then onto Die;  105km (about 70 miles).

I love venturing into new land with little or no knowledge and then exiting feeling richer for the experience. This was certainly true of the Vercors region. Whilst we didn’t have time to explore, what we found and researched in and around our route, was enough to have us rushing back in a heart-beat. For now we had to be satisfied with this little taster of what is a limestone kingdom that will have you mesmerised by its massive character. A protected environment from 1970 you immediately feel the Park’s prowess as you leave Grenoble and climb up into the unforgiving route south.

This Park is a huge contrast to the gentle curves of the Chartreuse. The luscious Alpine valleys suddenly give way to towering gorges, steep rock faces and twisting roads that look like a serpentine.  Huge plateaus of rock rise from the earth in some regal dominance that has expletives rushing from your mouth as you turn each corner. Caves hidden deep within the rocks make this a fabulous region for climbing and potholing, France’s Vercors mountains are a thing of beauty. This fringe of the Alps is home to World War 2 history with museums and memorials dotted throughout the region and yet their biggest secret and greatest challenge are the balcony roads. These are routes of stunning vistas and little passageways that are barely wide enough to fit two vehicles side by side. With cliff overhangs that are mouse-holes for giants, the unassuming and unprepared of us in 2.50m tall vehicles may need nerves of steel to even attempt them. After a lot of research and reading Our Tour’s blog on the area, we decided that to attempt any of these roads with our camper would be fool-hardy, and that a bicycle or motorbike were the only real options for exploration. So this was for another day.

Still after a couple of nights wilding at the Chateau Julien plateau, just west of Villards de Lans, where autumn’s grip was already obvious, we vowed to return for a closer inspection. Until then our path south must continue and so we headed for Die.

Secluded by mammoth pines that would give Sequoia National Park in US a run for its money, we coursed our way downhill to the alluring valley below. Classically glacial, this valley on the D518 was beautiful, passing through rural villages and farmer’s fields basking in the seasonal sun. Then suddenly we approached the tunnel that I had seen on the map – would this be doable? Well we were about to find out.

I love tunnels; you enter with one perspective and then you enter and you wait; like a child at Christmas, waiting for the view to open up, like that present you’ve been poking for the last two weeks. A new vision awaits at the other end and I always feel just a little excited. Well we were not expecting this vista. Our route up until then had been straight as a die (excusing the Die pun!!), that was until we reached the Col de Rousset and that tunnel. Coming out into the light, we were greeted by the most magnificent view – yes I nearly cried! What a dreamboat of a view that was. Suddenly it was like being back on the Stelvio Pass in Italy, which we had mastered only a few weeks earlier. Twists, turns, corners and switch backs where our challenge and a descent of 700m in a matter of minutes. And it was like there was an invisible curtain that, once through the tunnel, drew back to show this new landscape, which rugged design was home to hundreds of vultures. They soared in their flocks above us, enjoying the thermals that kept their lofty view of the dots beneath them. Oh wow, I was in heaven. With rock faces that had more layers than a Christmas cake, you could see clearly how geology and history had played their part in this amazing region of France. Imagine the ancient legacy held within those stratum.

Die gave us a lovely stopover for lunch where, with a serviced, free Aire, it offered us the perfect opportunity to have a quick skeet at this surprisingly authentic and non-commercial town. We’d not seen anything industrial since Grenoble – what a joy that was.  Yet the most interesting landscape change was that we had noticeably entered into northern Provence, evidenced by the abundant lavender fields that were beginning to grace the land.  And even though they had been harvested months ago, there was still a purple and mint hew that draped over the valley. Oh how I love Provence and we know in our hearts that we only skimmed the surface of this region of France although return we surely shall.

Check out our Gallery below to get a feel for this regal limestone region that will test your driving skills should you choose to do the balcony roads.

Cevennes National Park – The many faces of Cevennes 

Our route; Gumiane to Portes, Mont Aiguoal and La Couvertoirade;  345km (about 200 miles).

The third of our Parks held a mystery and a diversity that we had not seen in our other two Parks.  The Cevennes fall in the catchment area of three different French regions; Rhône-Alps to the east, Languedoc-Rousillon to the south and Auvergne to the north and it is almost as if each area brings its own unique character to the party. With part of its personality coming from the Massif Central in the north and the limestone Causses to the south, this area is impressive.

As we left our wild overnight spot at Portes’ castle, it felt like were entering Narnia – the deeper we drove the more wild it became, with seemingly one road in and one road out. We wound gently around the mountains with horsechesnut trees as our cheerleaders – wow this is seriously conker heaven. Thousands of them in their spiky cases just waiting to drop their loads. Autumn is just such a fab time to visit this region as the oak, chestnut and beach trees start to dress in their golden colours. 

Our destination, after leaving our castle retreat was Pont de Montvert, which is at the foot of the highest mountain in the Park, Mont Lozère that reaches a moderate 1700m. Hiking is good in this area and so is simply enjoying the village’s quiet, rural vibe. It’s certainly worth a stop and there is an 80 place car parking area suitable for campers on the hill which is easy enough to get to.  Famous for receiving the 2018 Tour de France and also being a stopping point for Robert Louis Stevenson who travelled this route with his donkey. This village is worth checking out. 

The one thing about the Cevennes that struck us most is how the landscape changed every 30 minutes. Around one mountain you have tightly forested routes with the occasional glimpse of the mountain’s sumptuous curves. And then around the next corner, suddenly everything opens up and you find yourself in a granite gorge carved by the Tarn river. Purple heather dots the ground offering a break from the relentless, yet beautiful greenery and white outcrops of solid limestone rock dominantly rise up through the earth creating a punctured vista that is definitely not man-made.

The roads course through the terrain with just the odd rural village hanging in the middle of nowhere with its obligatory and oversized. church. Vultures soar way up on the thermals looking down at the tiny images beneath them and goats and cattle treat the roads as if they are their very own.

Heading up to Mont Aiguoal and the France Meteo Observatory for our next overnight stop was a total joy. The vista was a 360 degree panorama with sunsets and sunrises to die for. With a blend of Yorkshire Moors and the Grand Canyon, it feeds all your senses and for us felt like a magical experience.

To top it all off, the Cevennes stakes claim to no less than seven Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Although some might argue that a number of them are not truly in the heart of the Park, let’s not get into the semantics of geography. We managed to squeeze in two of the villages whilst on our passage through the region; Aigueze on the eastern fringes and La Couvertoirade on the south west tip of the Park. Both are, as always, steeped in history and in particular La Couvertoirade is unique because of its windmill and its tale of the Knights Templar who built the 12th century castle which now protects this little maze of cobbled streets within its citadel walls. This is on our top 10 of our 32 visited so far.

So the Cevennes Natural Park has something for everyone; ornithologists, outdoor lovers, geologists and photographers. Simply just driving around the mountains and through the gorges will seriously entertain you over a couple of days.

Check out our gallery of images of this lovely area.

So three very different and yet beautiful Natural Parks that are just calling out to be explored. With few tourists and the most rural perspective of France imaginable, taking the road less travelled will enrich your experiences beyond doubt.

 

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Provence – Route Map

Provence – Route Map

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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Six month video mash up

As part of our six month’s ‘on tour’ milestone we thought we’d summarise our experiences in a number of posts. The first was our financial account ( how much we’ve spent and on what) and for our second we thought it would be a bit of fun going over all the videos and picking out some highlights. With only 5 minutes to play with ( don’t want to bore the pants off you all) we could produce dozens of mash ups but we’ve chosen these ones….. Six months Q&A coming next..

Poetic Provence in 32 Pictures

Poetic Provence in 32 Pictures

After seven weeks wandering around the delights of Provence, we reflect on our love affair with this radiant region of France as we finally said farewell to its borders, heading towards the southern Alps.

Provence’s Abundance

We’ve been struck most by Provence’s abundance, her simple yet provocative beauty and her diverse landscape.  Nowhere else have we seen such a flirtatious exchange between mountain and coast, where the lapping azure waters with their alluring appeal, tantalise the very foothills of these Provençal giants and yet to no avail. The mountains rule and with their lofty gaze they serve to remind you that they have the true reign of this terrain.

It is clear in Provence, that Mother Nature is in charge, despite human intervention.  From her gorges that run deep through the earth, her mountains that scale the heights of sky’s ladder and her rolling hills that nurture the rainbow coloured patchwork of fields; from red poppies, golden corn, green acres of vineyards and olive groves, to the ruby cherries and the endless stretch of the purple lavender, which must be given centre stage for its Provençal roots.  Never underestimate the captivating spell that the lavender castes as you enter her domain, as she takes you to heaven and back with her smell, her colour and her sound.

And all of this is before you reflect on Provence’s kaleidoscope of shutters that keep out the scorching summer sun, her salmon shaded roof tiles and ochre coloured houses.  Her intrinsically crafted stone walls and churches will impress you, whilst the many villages that precariously perch upon each and every hill to ward off their enemies will enchant you with their cobbled streets, narrow winding alleyways that hold so many untold secrets and hidden cafes where you can watch the world go by beneath the mesmerising mimosa trees.

The Côtes d’Azure

The word Provence can not be uttered without the mention of the glitzy, glamorous Côtes d’Azure, which plays host to the rich and famous from Nice, to Cannes and St Tropez.  And yet away from their sparkle and celebrity, lies the treasure of their old towns where history writes its own story of intrigue, legacy and courage.  They invite you to move past the boats and cruise liners to peek at their true essence, hidden beyond the marinas and en vogue boutiques.  There you will capture an authenticity that will charm your heart and move your soul.

Words alone cannot begin to convey the depth of our trance with Provence and all that she offers.  Pictures can surely conjure up just a little of her overwhelming abundance that commands respect from her audience.  And so I leave you with a gallery of images that capture just a little of this area’s staggering elegance and raw beauty that will have you returning moment after moment – even if only in your dreams.

Provence in Pictures

It’s best to leave aside the words as Provence needs nothing more than a visual presentation to strike deep into your heart.  Click on the main image below to access the gallery. And we hope that the simplicity of these 32 images will be enough to feed your wanderlust and inspires you to travel there one day.  If you’ve already been, then perhaps it will remind you of your love affair with this great region.