From channel ports to the sunshine coasts of Spain and Portugal – best European route
Summer is bursting out now on the coastlines of southern Europe – as you will see from my picture above taken at Praia da Rocha on the Algarve, Portugal.
Here is the best route, in my opinion, for those lucky enough to be able to afford the time and the money to tour by car from England through France and Spain to either the Portuguese Atlantic coastline of the Algarve or the Mediterranean costas of Spain.
It”s based on a couple of recent trips and is an attempt to strike a balance between the cost of toll roads and fuel for a comfortable journey south.
French toll roads are expensive and you can easily spend 70 to 80 euros on tolls in getting down to the Spanish border. Of course, it makes for a fast, easy trip but you are often cutting out the chance to take in some really interesting towns and cities en route.
First you have to decided which English channel port to sail from. There are a host of options. Calais is usually the cheapest crossing but Caen is good value as it chops off about 160 miles of the road journey.
From Calais head for Rouen and Le Mans to bypass the headache of the Paris ring road. You can also make life easier by using the toll road at first to get down to Le Mans. Then head for Tours to pick up the no-toll N10, mostly dual carriageway, all the way down to south of Bordeaux.
From Caen you can drive for free on the E401/A84 to Rennes and the E03/N137 to Nantes. Both routes are comfortable dual carriageway. From Nantes the D137/E3 offers a slow but pretty route to Niort where you can either speed the trip up on the A10 or avoid tolls by picking up the N10.
Once past Bordeaux you are on your way to Bayonne and the Spanish border and need to head for Vitoria-Gasteiz and Burgos. You are on easy street now – great auto-routes, no tolls and good coffee at around a euro a time in the service stations.
You can head for Madrid where you will face one small toll on leaving the city via one of its three ring roads. You are now in easy reach of Spain”s Costa Blanca or you can travel further to the Costa del Sol or Gibraltar. Spain is also the place to buy your petrol with the cheapest prices you will see on your journey, around 1.40 euros a litre.
If you want to go to the Algarve, my advice is to take the great auto-routes all the way to Seville and Huelva and the Portuguese border where you cross in to Vila Real de Santo Antonio.
Here you can take the A22 along the Algarve coast but beware! This is an electronic toll road and the Portuguese authorities expect you to pay to use it. To do this you have to find somewhere to buy the necessary ticket. A bit difficult when driving at night.
If you”re not tired it might be easier to use the old N125 which meanders along the Algarve. Don”t be too surprised if you get stuck occasionally behind a horse and trap in daytime or if you see prostitutes at the side of the road in certain spots. It”s a recent trend on the Algarve where prostitution is not illegal.
This journey from the Channel ports of France can take anything from two days to seven or more depending on what pace you want to set or how many places you want to visit. More to come on places to stop, etc, in future articles.