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

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