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.

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