You may feel that the title of this article is a little misleading considering that the UK is an island but this is a trip I make every year and am constantly asked both how it’s done and what it’s like compared with flying hence I though I’d share my annual experience.
Setting off from Ipswich, Suffolk it’s a 2 hour drive down to the port town of Dover, after checking off the check list of extra things you need to make a drive across different countries your first decision is whether to take the Eurotunnel or a ferry.
This should be booked in advance to get a better deal as well as a ferry from the Italian port of Ancona, both ports have a selection of different operators so have a scout around to get the best deal.
We usually take a Seafrance early morning ferry as these are the cheapest although do have limited facilities and then Anek on the Italy to Greece route with a double bed cabin for the sleep over.
Your checklist is important, you’ll need to expand your existing car insurance to cover France, Italy and Greece as well as store a car safety pack including a red safety triangle in your car. If you are not driving a modern car that can simply switch your headlight direction for driving on the opposite side of the road then you’ll also need to invest in a couple of European headlamp stickers.
We always take the ferry as it’s both a nice break in the drive as well as a good opportunity to have something wholesome to eat that you wouldn’t usually find at motorway service stations.
On arriving at Dover, checking in, finding and parking in our allocated lane for boarding the ferry we take the chance to fit the headlamp stickers and change the car clock and our watches to the local time (+1 hour) as the race to get off the boat the other end leaves little time.
On arrival in Calais, France the one thing to hold in your mind is the side of the road you should be driving, all too often we see confused British holiday makers happily driving through the port which is one way but as soon as they hit the road network which is dual carriageway they sit in the outside lane (that’s the left hand fast lane in France!).
The first thing we tend to do once on the motorway is to fill up with a full tank of fuel, as you probably already know the UK pays some of the highest fuel charges in the world and the saving is worth waiting for.
Our trip takes us via Reims, Troyes, Dijon and down to Lyon, this is a very straight forward motorway known as the E17, at this point we veer off towards Chamberey on our way to the Alps on the A43 which takes us to the mighty Tunnel de Frajus or T4 on a map.
This huge border crossing into Italy is a lengthy 8 miles long (13KM) and has a fixed speed limit, on exiting this mammoth tunnel we enter into Italy and straight onto Torino.
The E70 just continues on past Torino and takes us all the way to Piacenza where we make our next big road change. This is where we hit the biggest road in Italy, the A1 and following this takes us all the way down to Bologna through famous places like Parma and Reggio (ham and cheese!) before we take our last turn onto the A14 which ends our Italian leg in the port town on Ancona.
On boarding our ferry for Igoumenitsa, Greece we quickly locate our room for the night and usually relax with our first Greek made frappe at the ships swimming pool bar, after a quick shower we head off for our evening meal in one of the four restaurants and then retire for a well deserved sleep.
The ferry we usually opt for leaves Ancona at 5.00pm and arrives at Igoumenitsa at 8.00am local time (remember you’ve lost another hour!), it’s great waking up in your destination country where the whole atmosphere feels different, exciting and most of all sunny.
On arrival at Igoumenitsa we take the short coast road which has amazing views across to the island of Corfu (especially early in the morning) down to our first holiday port of call; Sivota.
The journey can vary in duration but we find that at the proper road speed the drive from Calais to Ancona usually takes 14-15 hours, if you stop more regularly then this will obviously take longer.
The ferry from Italy to Greece is 16 hours but considering we sleep for much of this it seems very quick and find ourselves missing breakfast on the boat regularly.