Tag Archives: Europe

Europe road trip – day one


Europe touring - rpad trip Portugal to England

Touring by car can give a whole new dimension to the joy of travel

Europe road trip day one – Algarve, Portugal, to Seville, Spain

I have always found touring Europe by car one of the best ways to holiday. There’s so much to enjoy and outside of the peak school holidays finding accommodation is so easy.

This means you don’t have to plan your route. If you get bogged down in rain in Picardy you can motor on to the south of France or Spain or Italy.

But that amazing freedom of the road comes at a price, a price which is continually, it seems, being upped at the petrol pump and the auto-route toll booth. So taking note of where you pay most for petrol and for using roads has become quite important.

As I am from the North-East of England, I usually head south but this time I was going the other way and heading north. I was setting off on a journey of more than 1,500 miles from Portimao on the Portuguese Algarve to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in northern England so I decided to cut the cost of tolls by using N-roads.

I avoided the A22 and took the N152 eastward out of the Algarve to drive directly in to Spain which is relatively toll free and has excellent auto-routes.

Portugal has great auto-routes to take you northwards but they have installed electronic tolls on them which are a great inconvenience to its visitors. I took the Spanish route because I can’t be bothered with these electronic toll roads and avoid then wherever possible. You can read more about that on link below this story.

This pleasant Saturday drive – at one stage I was wedged firmly behind a horse and trap – took me through whitewashed Portuguese villages and the very quiet city of Faro.Europe road trip - ferry crossing I ran out of road at Vila Real de Santo Antonio on the Portuguese border and a ferry crossing was necessary. However this was pleasant and only cost 5 euros. I was the only car on the boat.

Once in Ayamonte on the Spanish side the E1/A49 no toll auto-route took me swiftly all the way to Seville –  85 miles  – at no extra cost.

Another financial point about the journey was that fuel prices displayed on Algarve forecourts were 1.60 euros and up for 95 octane unleaded. The first price I spotted on the Spanish side  was 1.44 euros and this got cheaper.

Landing in Seville at the end of a long journey is not to be recommended. The city centre is difficult to navigate for a first timer and overnight parking is crazy. You end up cruising the streets searching for a free space.

Next day I took the time to explore this great city and the day after I was driving through Spain to France – a journey I was able to complete on great roads and spend less than two euros on tolls. More about that later.








Tea with Einstein on Belgium’s Flemish coastline


Belgium and its many beaches


Belgium - De Haan - Grand Hotel Belle Vue

Grand Hotel Belle Vue, De Haan, Belgium, a haunt of Einstein

A cheap tram service clanks up and down the Flemish coastline of Belgium. It runs 65 kilometres from De Panne, through Dunkirk and Ostend to Zeebrugge and Knokke at the other end of the line.

It passes by kilometre after kilometre of promenade and beach peppered with scores of eating houses ranging from humbles cafes to good restaurants.  The café culture is contagious.

Dutch speaking Belgians flock here for their holidays using the seafront to the full for leisure and pleasure.

It offers a good, old fashioned beach holiday and if the unpredictable northern European climate means the sea is not welcoming for swimming and water sports they can always stroll and cycle. When the sun is out the beach huts buzz with chatter.

Ostend – too often bypassed as a port of Belgium to get somewhere else from – has good shopping and nightlife and much has been done to rejuvenate its seafront. The train can take you to no end of resorts, villages, nature reserves and fishing ports.

Blankenberg is a pulsating resort with a marina full of yachts. Nieuwpoort, where the huge King Albert 1 monument looks down on a network of canals which helped protect it from 13 sieges, is favoured by water sports enthusiasts.

De Panne boasts the widest beach on the coastline and is popular with sandyachters. Expanses of dunes and nature reserves can be enjoyed by strollers.

Oosterdunkerke is the only coastal village in the world where shrimps are still caught on horseback and trendy and sophisticated Knokke-Heist is a top destination.

Einstein and De Haan

The pearl is De Haan, a belle époque holiday town still much the same as it was when it was built in the 1890s and 1900s where the unique tram station seems almost to bear a smile of welcome.

There was nothing on this spot before the railway age came along. Then developers saw its potential as a money-spinning seaside resort and moved in. But a great intervention on the part of the town planner created a rule that no new building could be higher than 11 metres so that its dunes would not be spoiled or hidden from view by high-rise construction.

Thus there is no urbanisation whatsoever to spoilt  the pleasant nature of the town which is fond of reminding us about its most famous fan – Einstein.

The genius behind the theory of relativity and his wife were on a journey back to Germany from the USA on a Red Star Line steamer when Hitler came to power on March 13, 1933. On hearing the news that the Nazis had confiscated all his possessions and unleashed a witchhunt on the Jews, he cut short the journey in Belgium and was hosted by professors in Antwerp. His wife travelled ahead to De Haan and rented two villas and Einstein joined her by train.

He was fond of a cup of tea in the Grand Hotel Belle Vue, still a social hub, and there is an Einstein trail all over De Haan..

Flanders is probably on the UK tourist map mostly for its military history but tourism bosses are working to change that by laying on concerts and events along the coastline all easily reached by the tram.