30 June 2010

More for your money - Pound stronger against Euro

We don't want to get into the economics or the politics, suffice to say that at last the British pound sterling is on the up against the Euro. Yesterday it broke the 1.2 euros to the pound barrier and hit the giddy heights of 1.24, a level not seen since November 2008.

So good news for holiday makers wanting to take advantage of the fact that Europe is now altogether cheaper than for several years. As well as the improvement in sterling, prices have fallen in most of the major European holiday destinations as hotels, restaurants and others try to keep their share of a reduction in the travelling public.

Reduction in the flying public in fact, as the fall out from the recent ash cloud coupled with travellers' disillusionment with low-cost carriers means a considerable increase in ferry and train travel.

So visit our Drive-Alive website, the foremost portal for everything to do with driving holidays in Europe, and book your ferries, hotels, camping and self-catering. Search by interactive mapping and find accommodation en-route. You can even book car hire if you really must fly, and we also have a website with information and links to book train travel in Europe.

Forget the World Cup blues and join the ever-increasing number booking a motoring hoiday in Europe.

28 June 2010

Brittany Ferries new low cost midweek fares from £99 return pp with car


This is quite a departure for Brittany Ferries, who have always stayed out of the "low cost" environment. But they have now made a week's holiday in France really affordable this summer with a special low fare of just £99 per person return for mid-week travel to Caen, Cherbourg and Roscoff between now and 22nd July. You need to return within 7 days, but it means you can have a great week's holiday in Brittany or Normandy (or further afield).

Apparently there's plenty of space on mid-week sailings, so it makes sense to fill this space rather than travel with the ships less than full, although passengers can still enjoy the same quality of service and great value French cuisine for which Brittany Ferries is famous. Suddenly it makes financial sense to take the ferry to Brittany and Normandy, as even the low-cost airlines will be hard pushed to match these fares, especially after taking account of car hire and airport parking costs. Not to mention the benefits of being able to take as much luggage as your car will carry and of being able to travel in a relaxed and civilised manner.

Go to the Drive-Alive Brittany Ferries page and click the big red "Special Offers" button to book one of these great value ferry crossings.

• Fare available on departures Monday to Thursday Portsmouth-Caen, Portsmouth-Cherbourg, Poole-Cherbourg and Plymouth-Roscoff
• Available on both cruise-ferry and high-speed services
• Travel out by 22 July and return by 29 July 2010
• New bookings only and cannot be combined with any other offer
• Full payment with booking
• Non-refundable

25 June 2010

Should you drive from the UK to Greece?

Having recently driven from the United Kingdom to Greece we would whole-heartedly recommend it, provided you can spare the time. Our route took us through Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Serbia and Macedonia, offering a fascinating glimpse of changing culture, scenery and architecture as we progressed east and south.

We took our time driving to Greece, travelling about 4 to 5 hours a day. In strictly driving time it took us 7 days from Calais to Thessaloniki, although it could be done in much less time if you don't mind longer driving days. In addition we stayed for two extra nights in Vienna, and one extra in Budapest and Belgrade, so we took 11 days from Calais.

It is this ability to spend time en-route that makes driving so much more interesting, giving you the opportunity to get a real feel for the places you are passing through.

Until the fall of the iron curtain, and after that the cessation of hostilities in the former Yugoslavia, driving to Greece was not really a viable proposition. Now it is and our journey went without incident. All the border crossings were made with no problems. Roads were always adequate and sometimes excellent, and on the main routes sign-posting was good and the Roman Alphabet always duplicated the Greek alphabet (used of course in Greece) and the Cyrillic alphabet used in Serbia and Macedonia.

The only real difficulties were experienced in the cities. Sign-posting is poor and street names in Serbia and Macedonia are not normally duplicated in the Roman alphabet. And at the time of writing SatNav does not extend to the cities in those two coutries, although some systems cover the major roads.

So we suggest you book your hotels in advance and print some quality street level mapping before you leave. It is a good idea to buy a street map in a service station as you approach the town you are heading for and make sure your passenger is a good map reader!

Our return route took us across Northern Greece to the port of Igoumenitsa, from where there is an excellent and frequent ferry service to several ports in Italy. From there of course it is an easy drive home through Italy and France.

So driving to Greece really is an option if you've got the time. It's a great way to travel, there are no real restrictions on luggage, your journey is most unlikely to be affected by Volcanic ash and you are in charge of your own destiny as opposed to being at the mercy of airline schedules, delays, cancellations and the other shenanigans beloved of low-cost airlines.

And there is a sense of achievement, of having made the journey, something quite unlike the sterile experience of travelling in a short time from point A to B in an aluminium tube. Maybe we'll all be doing more driving in the future!

Below are the links to take you to all the pages telling the story of our journey:
Driving from Calais to Vienna
Driving from Vienna to Budapest
Driving from Budapest to Belgrade
Driving from Belgrade to Skopje
Driving from Skopje to Edessa near Thessalonika
Driving in Greece
Driving from Thessaloniki (Greek spelling) to Parga and Igoumenitsa
Ferry from Igoumenitsa to Ancona on Superfast Ferries
Driving from Ancona in Noerthern Italy to the UK

21 June 2010

Irish Ferries special offers and on board cabaret

Irish Ferries are aggressively marketing their services at present, which is good news as they are offering up to 30% off on all routes, meaning you can cross the Irish Sea one way from as little as £89 for a car and one person during the week. More about this offer and all Irish Ferries fares and timetables visit our website.

If you use the direct crossing between Ireland and France, from Rosslare to Cherbourg and Roscoff, Irish Ferries are doing their best to make the crossings more like a cruise than a ferry crossing. They are laying on a variety of entertainment during the summer cabaret season on the Oscar Wilde cruise ferry.

Irish Ferries have engaged a troupe of 14 entertainers including singers, musicians, dancers and a magician. Younger passengers will be able to enjoy an early evening children's cabaret, while grown ups will be entertained by a pianist and singers in Oscar's Piano Bar.

Outbound and return journeys will feature different performances and the cabaret is due to continue until mid-September.

Irish Ferries ferry crossings from Rosslare to Cherbourg
Irish Ferries ferry crossings Rosslare to Roscoff

20 June 2010

Ancona to the UK: the last leg of our drive from the UK to Greece and back

The final leg of our journey from the ferry port of Ancona back to the UK was completed in a matter of a couple of days. Leaving Ancona at about midday we easily reached our fist night's stop in the small city of Asti, south of Turin and home to the Asti Spumante wines, at about 4pm, ready for a stroll around the medieval centre and an excellent meal at the Osteria Vecchia Carrozza.

Next day we crossed the Alps through the Fréjus Tunnel. I much prefer this tunnel to the Mont Blanc. It's less busy, slighlty cheaper, and the route around Turin is also much pleasanter than driving around Milan on the way to the Mont Blanc. There is also the added attraction that you can take the old road over the Mont Cenis pass, which the tunnel has replaced. This is not a difficult pass to drive over and you are rewarded with some spectacular scenery. Probably adds about an hour to the journey, but make sure the pass is open, which it often is not from the end of October to the end of May. And again, unlike the Mont Blanc, both ends of the Fréjus tunnel are joined to the motorway network.

We spent the next night in Annecy, south of Geneva, one of our favourite towns. The picturesque centre is packed with lovely old buildings huddled around the twin rivers which flow through the town and into the beautiful Lake Annecy. There's no shortage of places to stay in Annecy. Make sure you try the local delicacy, tartiflette, creamy potatoes with bacon and mountain cheese, delicious and definately not part of a calorie control diet!

And then to Calais. The journey between Annecy and Calais took about 8 hours, proving how easy it is to drive from the Channel Ports to the ski slopes in a day.

14 June 2010

Ferry crossing from Igoumenitsa Greece to Ancona Italy

There are a number of ferry crossings between Greece and Italy: Igoumenitsa to Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi; Patras to Ancona, Venice, Brindisi and Bari; Kefalonia to Bari and Brindisi; Corfu to Bari, Brindisi and Venice.

We chose Igoumenitsa to Ancona as this crossing offered the most convenient departure and arrival times, with the added benefit that you join the ship early evening, leaving mid-morning next day, so plenty of opportunity for a good night's sleep.

There are also several operators on these routes and we opted for Superfast Ferries, partly for the reasons above and partly because they have a good reputation with modern ships and good facilities.

So after the short drive from Parga to Igoumenitsa we arrived at the port with time to spare. As ever in Greece the signposting is unclear as you approach the port since a new port has recently been constructed and basically you should follow the signs to "New port".

Here we found a brand new terminal building with check-in desks for the different operators, a couple of bars and cafés and some duty free type shops. After completing the check-in we set off for the holding area for our crossing. Again, no signs. We were directed by vague waving of hands to drive right around the terminal building, finding ourselves on a vast dock area where more equally vague hand waving directed us to a wavy line of cars which turned out to be waiting for the ship we wanted.

The vessel, the Superfast XII, was a little late in arriving, but made up for this by loading the cars and lorries and leaving again in about 20 minutes flat! The fastest turn-around of a big ferry I've ever seen. The actual loading process was yet again very Greek, with men waving the cars and lorries on at the same time, frequently directing vehicles around each other. Reminded me of an aerial display by the Red Arrows!

Once on board the ship was clean modern and comfortable with decent restaurant and bar areas, shops and nice cabins where we did indeed enjoy a good night's sleep.

Arriving in Ancona was almost as chaotic as leaving Greece, with just one lane of traffic leaving the port and the exit roads to the Autostrada being completely inadequate for the port traffic. It was the best part of an hour aftre docking before we were clear of the post area and headed westwards towards home.

9 June 2010

Driving the Egnatia Odos motorway from Thessaloniki to Igoumenitsa

Leaving Thessaloniki required the usual map reading skills as sign-posting to the E75 motorway to Athens was more or less absent. A sense of direction would have done as well as a map, as it was really just a question of heading west to join the motorway. The E75 heads south but after about 50 km we turned westwards again to join the E90/E92 towards our destination, Parga, a small but popular seaside resort south of the ferry port at Igoumenitsa.

The motorway is part of the recently completed Egnatia Odos motorway, a high quality road built largely with EU funds and which crosses the whole of northern Greece from the Turkish border to the Ionian Sea in the west. The road cannot fail to impress as it crosses plains, plunges into mountain tunnels and soars on elegant bridges across deep ravines. But be warned, facilities are almost entirely absent. I think we passed just one service area plus a couple of rest spots. Also there are no emergency phones, although signs inform you that there is a number to call on your mobile if you have the misfortune to break down.

Now and again you pass a spot where clearly a service station was intended, but instead there is just a patch of wasteland. When we passed along this road (May 2010) we drove straight through a couple of toll stations, unfinished and unmanned - great for us, and typical of this fantastic but disorganised country.

At one point we fancied a coffee and followed a sign showing restaurant facilities just off the motorway. All went well until we tried to get back on to the motorway. There was no obvious way to do this, and no signs. We were eventually escorted by the restaurant's owner on his quad bike along a km or so of completely unfinished dirt access roads back on to the main road, following a route which was not at all obvious.

So yes, the Egnatia Odos motorway is a great road, reducing the journey time from Thessaloniki to Igoumenitsa to just 4 hours compared to maybe 8 previously, but make sure you have a full tank and sandwiches before joining it!

We turned off the highway before Igoumenitsa for a well-deserved few days in Parga before catching the ferry to Ancona in Italy.

8 June 2010

40% discount for stays at Disneyland Paris

Just to let you know that if you book before July 20th 2010 Disneyland Paris is offering a discount of 40% on a package which includes a stay in one of their on-site hotels. This is even better value if you've got young children as kids under 7 get to "stay and play for free".

The offer runs for stays up to February 18th next year (2011), so includes school holidays, although dates over Christmas are excluded. As usual with these offers there are conditions, but if this is the kind of break for you it represents a pretty good deal.

Check out the details at the Disneyland Paris website.

We also offer booking for Eurostar, the High Speed Train which has services direct to Disneyland from St Pancras Interntional and Ebbsfleet.

If you'd prefer the convenience of taking your own car then search and book for a ferry crossing to France. Disneyland is just an easy 3 hour journey from Calais, Boulogne or Dunkirk, and you don't need to drive through Paris.

4 June 2010

Driving in Greece

While we were in Greece we spent a few days driving around the Northern part of Greece, the area known as Makedonia. As mentioned previously, the Greeks consider Makedonia (yes, they spell and pronounce it like that) as being Greek, so don't look kindly on references to the country just to the north as Macedonia.

It must be said that during the whole of our trip through 10 different countries, we encountered the worst driving, and in some respects, the worst driving conditions, in Greece. It's pretty much every man/woman for him/herself, with not much regard for traffic laws and especially not for lane discipline in cities.

To quote an extract from a tourist brochure produced in Greece: "Unfortunately, many drivers are not aware of the position of their indicators, therefore they are not usually used." And again: "Take heed of any speed limits as it is still an offence to exceed the stated limit". So are they about to abolish speed limits?

It's best not to drive in the rain! On the one day we had to do this we coluldn't believe how slippery the roads are. The surfaces are very shiny and it was almost impossible to start from rest without the traction control kicking in, and coming to a standstill required the same skills you'd exercise when driving on icy surfaces.

We spent a couple of nights in Greece's second city, Thessaloniki (or Thessalonika as we call it for some reason), and it was chaotic. And not just the driving. Lots of stuff was broken, there were unfinished building sites here and there, and, with a complete disregard for health and safety, bits of scaffolding sticking out, broken pavements and the occasional hole. Nothing ever seemed to get fixed. And finding any of the tourist sights was more a matter of luck and map reading, as signposting was minimal at best.

But having said this, the people were great, really friendly and relaxed, and the city had a real buzz about it with bars all along the seafront and plenty of restaurants offering every style of cuisine. We were there at the height of the rioting in Athens, about 500 km to the south, but you wouldn't have known anything was amiss, with no sign of any trouble in Thessaloniki.

So we had reached our destination safely and on schedule, and next we head for home!

Visit the Drive-Alive website for information on driving in Europe.

1 June 2010

SeaFrance voted best ferry company website

In a survey conducted by eDigitalResearch the SeaFrance website came out top amongst the ferry company websites for usability, and the site was rated in the top ten of all travel-related websites, quite an achievement.

The survey was carried out by mystery shoppers and SeaFrance scored 78.4%, with positive comments about the search and booking process.

For more about SeaFrance and links to its class-winning website visit the Drive-Alive SeaFrance information page.
More about ferry crossings to France and the rest of Europe.