14 December 2011

Petrol and diesel prices in Europe - December 14th 2011

If you are driving abroad for your Christmas or New Year holiday you might like to check our chart of petrol and diesel prices throughout Europe, updated December 14th 2011.

Since our last survey in October the price of petrol has been static, or fallen slightly. The price of diesel has gone up, largely because of supply issues, and is now close to the price of petrol in most of Europe. In some countries it is now dearer, and whilst this has long been the norm in the UK, in Europe in general this is a new development.

Italy has seen the biggest price rises and fuel here is now the most expensive in Europe, with Britain close behind for diesel and in the top 5 for petrol. It's a long way to drive, but Hungary and Poland have the least expensive fuel, and nearer home Luxembourg is still a good place to fill up.

If you are heading to the Alps this winter Austria is relatively inexpensive both for fuel and the cost of living generally.

In many countries there are large variations in price so when you first arrive in a country drive for a while before you fill up, so you can get an idea of the prices on offer. This is particularly true in France where petrol prices can vary by as much as 20 cents a litre.

A full list of petrol and diesel prices in Europe

1 December 2011

Snow chains or winter tyres when driving abroad?

One of the most frequently asked questions at Drive-Alive relates to the use of snow chains and winter tyres when driving abroad. Are they a legal requirement and if so where and when? Confusion also exists about the difference between winter tyres, all season tyres and studded tyres.

Studded tyres are designed to be used in more extreme conditions than normal winter tyres and should not be used when driving on clear roads. UK drivers will not normally need studded tyres and snow chains are a much better option should extreme conditions be encountered.

All season tyres are in effect the same as winter tyres. Like winter tyres in theory they can be used all year round, although they suffer from the same disadvantages in the warmer weather as do winter tyres. They also carry a symbol on their side wall similar to winter tyres.

Winter tyres will carry a snowflake, M&S or mountain symbol on the sidewall. They are manufactured from a different rubber compound to summer tyres (currently fitted as standard to British sold cars). This compound retains its grip in cool temperatures much better than summer tyres, and by cool we mean anything below about 7 degress centigrade. So they are safer not just in snow but in cold weather generally, especially if the road is wet or icy.

The disadvantage with winter tyres is that in the summer they tend to wear more quickly, have a higher rolling resistance so use more fuel, are a little noisier and do not grip as well as standard tyres in hot weather and cost a little more.

In certain European countries (currently Germany and Austria) there is now a legal requirement to use winter tyres during certain months of the year, when driving in wintery conditions. The problem is that on a lengthy journey such as from the UK to go skiing in the mountains it is impossible to be certain whether you will encounter wintery conditions. So if you want to go skiing with your car in those countries you really should purchase a set of winter tyres. Drivers resident in those countries normally have two sets of tyres as standard and they are sold on with the car.

We expect that more countries will make winter tyres mandatory in the future. In Switzerland the current position is that winter tyres are not compulsory but if you do not fit winter tyres and as a result you impede other traffic you could be fined. The tread depth on winter tyres must be at least 3mm (4mm in the Czech Republic).

Snow chains should be carried whether using winter or summer tyres if you are in a country with mountainous terrain. In some countries it is mandatory to use chains when conditions demand and if you do not do so the police can prevent you from continuing your journey. However, you must only use chains when the road surface is covered with snow and must remove the chains as soon as possible to avoid damaging the road.

For more on winter tyres and snow chains please visit the following pages:
Driving abroad
Winter driving in Europe
Winter tyres in Germany
Winter tyres in Austria

23 November 2011

Stena Line Ferries all change on the Irish Sea

Stena Line's Irish Sea ferry routes have undergone a rationalisation process to make the company leaner and more efficient. The Fast Ferries (large catamarans) have been trimmed so that only the summer service between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire is still operated by these expensive to run vessels.

Among the casualties are the Fishguard to Rosslare fast ferry service, which will not be returning to service, although the conventional ferry the Stena Europe will continue to service this route twice daily. The Stena Europe Superferry service had benefited from a £1m refit in 2010, and to confirm its ongoing commitment to Fishguard, and the Fishguard to Rosslare ferry service, Stena Line has gone into partnership with investment firm Conygar to develop the port of Fishguard with a proposed new marina, housing development and promenade.

Stena has already announced a cut in its fast ferry service between Holyhead and Dun Laoghaire. This route is now served in the summer only by the Fast Ferry Stena Explorer. The Stena Adventurer and Stena Nordica superferries continue to operate ferries between Holyhead and Dublin port.

Holyhead continues to enjoy support from Stena Line and here also they have partnered with Conygar to develop the waterfront.

On a further positive note Stena Line ferries have moved their Cairnryan to Belfast ferry service to Stena Lines’ new £200 million port at Cairnryan in south-west Scotland. Previously the route to Belfast arrived and departed from Stranraer on Loch Ryan, but the narrow entrance to the loch meant a slow approach, losing time and burning fuel.

Cairnryan is at the mouth of Loch Ryan and this has reduced the travel time by three quarters of an hour and saved fuel. The new ships can maintain full speed until the last minute. Stena Line has also invested in two new ships, Stena Superfast VII and Stena Superfast VIII. The new ships are the largest ever to sail the route. Automatic docking at the new port allows a faster turnaround.

Another positive devlopment for Stena Line took place earlier this year when they inaugurated the Liverpool Belfast ferry route, giving excellent access to Northern Ireland's capital city from the heart of the North of England.

Stena Line hopes this programme of modernisation and rationalisation will see the company continuing to serve the ferry routes between England and Scotland and Ireland far into the future.

More about Stena Line's Irish Sea Ferries

20 October 2011

Ferries and Mini-Cruises - a growing trend

Once upon a time a car ferry was a fairly basic piece of kit designed to transport vehicles from A to B. Sometimes there was a bar, a self-service restaurant and a duty-free shop, but the early ferries were not built for comfort.

That has all changed. A modern car ferry is more like a cruise ship, with sleek lines, restaurants, bars, cinemas and sometimes even swimming pools. The cabins, especially the better specified ones, are more like hotel rooms, with ensuite facilities, proper beds and TVs.

The ferry companies realised that these facilities, often under-utilised outside the holiday season, could attract a new sort of customer, not so much interested in taking their car abroad, but who enjoyed the very experience of travelling on these comfortable ships. To further enhance the experience live entertainment is provided on board, and at the port of arrival excursions and shuttle buses ferry customers to the various local attractions.

Some of the mini-cruises allow for just a shopping trip at the destination, whereas others give the traveller the chance to spend a couple of nights enjoying cities such as Amsterdam, Bruges and Santander. The choice is yours.

The destinations served by the ferries to France, Belgium, Denmark, The Netherlands and Spain offer ample opportunity for sightseeing. Below is a selction of links to just some of the destinations. If a short break in comfortable on board accommodation without the car to some of Europe's best destinations appeals, with none of the hassle associated with flying, , then why not check out these mini-cruises?

P&O Mini-Cruises from Hull to Amsterdam, Zeebrugge (for Bruges), and Rotterdam
DFDS Seaways have a whole range of mini-cruises from Newcastle to Amsterdam and from Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark with some great offers
Brittany Ferries Mini-Cruises from Portsmouth to Santander in Northern Spain

7 October 2011

Plymouth to St Malo on Brittany Ferries

Brittany Ferries have announced that they are launching a new ferry crossing between Plymouth and St Malo, to run once a week during the winter.

The car and passenger ferry departs from Plymouth on Tuesday evenings and the return sailing leaves St Malo on Friday mid-morning.
More about the Brittany Ferries Plymouth St Malo ferry.

We think this is a useful addition to the ferry crossings between England and France, and this is why:
  • Plymouth and St Malo are both cities well worth visiting.
    Plymouth has something for everyone with shops, theatres, cinemas, bar and restaurants. In addition Plymouth Sound and the ancient steets of the Barbican are awash with history, and the views from the Hoe are stunning.
    St Malo is also rich in history, with one of the best preserved walled citadels in Europe. It too, although smaller than Plymouth, has a wealth of attractions, including some excellent beaches
  • Both cities offer easy access to some superb countryside and coastal scenery, all within a short drive from the ferry. From Plymouth visit the Devon and Cornwall coastline, and from St Malo take a trip to Mont St Michel, or the riverside town of Dinard
  • These are popular holiday areas, and no wonder, but in the summer season they can be very crowded. These crossings give you time and space to make the most of what Devon and Cornwall and Brittany and Normandy have to offer.
  • The timing of the crossings mean you can leave the UK on Tuesday evening and arrive refreshed after a good night's sleep. Then you have the option of a short break, returning to the UK on Friday in time for tea, or with hotel prices at their lowest of the year you might want to stay for a full 10 days, maybe venturing further afield into France. And of course you can always choose a different return crossing!
So why not give it a go? Below are the links to check the timetables and book the crossing, as well as links to the hotels we offer in Plymouth and St Malo.

Timetable for Brittany Ferries Plymouth St Malo ferry crossing
Hotels in Plymouth
Hotels in St Malo

23 August 2011

Driving in Europe? 10 things to remember.

More and more UK motorists are taking their cars to Europe, both for holidays and business trips. Flying is becoming more stressful and subject to delays, and low cost flights now seem to cost more in surcharges than the flight itself. Plus there are restrictions on the amount of luggage you can take.

With a car the journey becomes part of the holiday. Enjoy the changing scenery and architecture; notice how everything becomes a little bit different the further you venture from our shores.

But you do need to make a few preparations, and below we list 10 things which will help to ensure a trouble free trip:

1. Remember to drive on the right everywhere in Europe (except the UK and Ireland).
2. Several countries now insist you carry reflective vests in the vehicle in case of emergency.
3. Buy or hire snow chains if you are driving in mountainous areas in the winter.
4. Carry a warning triangle, first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, and spare bulb kit.
5. Do not exceed the speed limit - radar traps are frequent and on the spot fines can be severe.
6. Take out vehicle breakdown insurance for Europe.
7. Contact your car insurer and tell them you are driving abroad - not all policies provide automatic European cover.
8. In Spain you must carry spare spectacles (if you wear them).
9. Do not drink and drive - many countries have stricter limits and heavier penalties than the UK.
10. Buy and affix headlamp stickers to ensure your lights do not dazzle oncoming motorists.

If you follow this advice you should enjoy a trouble free driving trip. You can find more detailed advice on our country-by-country pages about driving in Europe.

20 July 2011

Roadworks delays en route to Dover summer 2011

Roadworks are in place on the A20 near the Roundhill Tunnel between Folkestone and Dover. The eastbound carriageway, which narrows from three lanes to two soon after passing the Channel Tunnel exit, now reduces to just one lane.

The delays vary according to the volume of traffic, but at peak times during the school holidays you could be delayed by as much as one hour. The same applies to westbound traffic towards London. Channel Tunnel traffic from the West is not affected as the exits for the tunnel are before the roadworks.

The roadworks are necessary because of problems with the expansion joints on the viaduct to the west of the Roundhill Tunnel. Apparently these need to be made in Europe (so much for British engineering!) and this, together with the time needed for fitting, means the disruption could continue for most of 2011.

The ferry and port operators are urging the Highways Agency to find an interim solution, such as a temporary bridge, but this is by no means certain.

You might like to consider using the alternative route via the M2/A2, which although a little slower, is not currently subject to any problems.

For up to date traffic information visit the Highways Agency website.
For more information on ferry crossings to France, Eurotunnel and Eurostar.

7 June 2011

2011 Whale Watching in the Bay of Biscay

Spot whales in the Bay of Biscay with Brittany Ferries' on the largest whale-watching boat on earth!

This summer Brittany Ferries is offering wildlife lovers the opportunity to take a unique wildlife cruise to Spain, travelling through some of the best waters on earth for spotting whales and dolphins. Marine conservation experts from the School Of Whales will help passengers look out for all kinds of marine life from the best vantage points on board Pont Aven, Brittany Ferries’ flagship cruise ferry.

Expert whale biologist and School of Whales guide Dylan Walker says: “Whale watching with Brittany Ferries is the perfect combination. The chance to see whales and dolphins in the wild onboard a ship that offers considerable luxury and comfort at a reasonable price. To be able to go whale and dolphin watching from the south coast of England is a treat that most people just don’t realise is possible. Within a day’s sailing of Portsmouth we regularly find ourselves surrounded by huge pods of dolphins and enormous whales – it’s a magical experience.”

“The Bay of Biscay is such an undiscovered wilderness that we are still learning more about the whales and dolphins that live there on every trip. By joining us you can help us to continue to record sightings and take photographs, as we begin to piece together the mysteries of some of the rarest and least known whales on earth!”

The cruises will be fun as well as enlightening. During the trip the expert guides from School of Whales will carry out whale and dolphin spotting watches on deck helping passengers spot these amazing animals in their natural habitat. There will also be a range of colourful wildlife presentations and activities. On-board passengers will enjoy a range of bars and lounges as well as shopping and entertainment and fine French dining. And on arrival in Spain the ship docks right in the centre Santander, and there’s just enough time to explore this vibrant seaside resort before getting back on board and heading back out to sea.

These two night trips depart from Portsmouth on 21st June; 5th & 12th July; and 2nd, 16th, 23rd & 30th August, with prices starting from only £155 per person, including comfortable en suite cabin accommodation.

After leaving Portsmouth, passengers will cruise through the English Channel before crossing the Bay of Biscay, a vast ocean landscape and one of the world’s most important habitats for whales and dolphins. Plunging to depths of up to four kilometres, this mysterious sea area has recently begun to reveal its secrets - including the fact that it is home to over twenty species of cetacean (whales, dolphins and porpoises) ranging in size from the harbour porpoise, which is no bigger than a dog, to the mightily blue whale – the largest living animal on earth.

For more information visit the Brittany Ferries Whale Watching Page

10 March 2011

Zermatt Unplugged - Festival of Music

Zermatt Unplugged is one of the winter’s most exciting musical festivals. It was founded in 2007 as a singer-song writer festival and this year’s event (the 5th festival ) takes place between 12th – 16th April.

5 days, 6 stages, 14 acts, 32 concerts and free admission! On 5 days, 14 different bands and musicians will be playing 32 concerts on 6 New Talent stages – and all free of charge!

In addition there are ticket events for concerts with Seal, David Gray, James Walsh ( and surprise guests!) and Roger Hodgson (Supertramp).

Hotels in Zermatt
Self-catering chalets and apartments in Zermatt
More about Zermatt Unplugged

Zermatt is spectacularly situated at the foot of the Matterhorn, and is arguably the most famous ski resort in the world. It has something for everyone - pistes for all levels, a lively and sophisticated ambience, and stacks of aprs-ski and non-skiing activities.

Zermatt also has the longest winter season in the Alps. All three skiing areas are open from late November to the start of May, so there should still be plenty of fantastic skiing available in the breaks between the music.

Drive-Alive Holidays offers a fantastic selection of hotels and Self-catering chalets and apartments in Zermatt – perfect for skiing and for enjoying great music.

17 February 2011

Rail travel in Europe - ideas and deals of the month

Drive-Alive is about more than just driving in Europe - we also promote other forms of surface travel (our last post was about cycle trails in Normandy) and this post has some suggestions for getting to a few of Europe's most popular destinations by train.

Disneyland Paris by train from £69 rtn
Eurostar trains run from London St Pancras and Asford International direct to Disneyland Paris. This is a great way to reach this most popular of family destinations, especially with kids. There's plenty of room for them to get up and stretch their legs and what child doesn't enjoy the magic of a train journey?

Florence by train from £131 rtn
Avoid all the hassle of budget flights and airport delays. Catch the Eurostar direct to Paris then change to the overnight sleeper to Florence, waking refreshed and ready to enjoy all the treasures this famous city has to offer.

Paris by train from £69 rtn
Nowadays the only sensible way to get right into the heart of the City of Light, the Eurostar from St Pancras takes just 2 and a quarter hours. Enjoy Paris in springtime.

Geneva by train from £105 rtn
Geneva enjoys a spectacular situation on the shores of Lake Geneva, with the Alps as a magnificent backdrop. With a journey time (not counting transfer in Paris) of just 5 and three quarter hours from St Pancras to the centre of Geneva, you can be booking in to your hotel with time for a stroll along the Lake before dinner.

Rome by train from £131 rtn
Rome needs no introduction, just to say that taking the train is a stress-free way to arrive right in the centre of the Imperial City. The journey takes 17 hours and only one change of train in Paris, from the Eurostar to the comfortable high speed sleeper. And when you arrive, it's only mid-morning!

Nice by train from £119 rtn
The French Riviera still retains the glamour and charm that has attracted visitors over the years. The train journey takes less than 8 hours from St Pancras, excluding the transfer in Paris, and you get to enjoy the spectacular scenery of the Cote d'Azur over breakfast!

These are just a few of the great destinations available by modern comfortable high speed trains. We hope you agree, it's time to let the train take the strain!

For more about Trains in Europe click here.

1 February 2011

Cycling in Normandy on Voies Vertes

The authorities in both France and England are looking for feedback regarding the facilities for cyclists at the ferry ports and what they think of the signage, as well as views on the paths themselves. So when you reach the ports you are likely to be handed a questionnaire. Complete this and you will help to shape the cycle newtork of Europe!

The French are well advanced in setting up a nation-wide network of Voies Vertes (Green Ways) for cycling and walking. There are still gaps in this network but some excellent sections have now been completed and some of the best are in Upper Normandy (Haute-Normandie) and Lower Normandie (Basse-Normandie).

Normandy is easily reached by ferry from England. You can either book as a foot passenger and pay a small extra fee for your bike, or, if you want the freedom to try out different routes you might like to take your bikes by car. Just make sure that when you book you complete the section confirming you will be carrying bikes. This is especially important if the bikes are roof-mounted, as you will need to be allocated a high space on the ferry.

Ferry crossings to France from the UK.

The longest of these routes is the Véloroute du littoral en Seine-Maritime which runs for 172 km from Le Tréport to Le Havre along the coast. It's not a true Voie Verte becaus some of it is on quiet roads, hence the title "Véloroute". If you don't take a car you can join this route 40 km south of Le Tréport at Dieppe, which can be reached using Transmanche ferries from Newhaven, and from Le Havre the ferry travels to Portsmouth. Or of course you can travel in the reverse direction.

Or maybe you'd like to try some shorter options. For example there's the Voie Verte de la Seine à l'Eure, a 20 km voie verte south of Rouen, along the banks of the Eure. Or how about a gentle 13 km ride along the Voies Vertes de la Vallée de la Charentonne in central Haute Normandie.

As you can see these Voies Vertes cater for all levels of cycling ability, so they are perfect for a family trip or a good long ride for the more enthusiastic. Normandy is a beautiful region of France and can really be appreciated by bike. It is a region of wooded valleys, forests and rolling hills, dotted with pretty timbered houses in old villages.

For more information on all the Voies Vertes in Upper Normandie.
For more information on all the Voies Vertes in Lower Normandie.

Both the sites are currently only in French, although there are plans to present them in English and German.

4 January 2011

Self-drive camping holidays January booking discount

Self-drive camping holidays are likely to be popular in 2011. They offer a cost effective way of having a great time in Europe's best holiday locations. Modern mobile homes offer real comfort, while fixed tents are a budget, but still comfortable option.

These great prices are now even more amazing thanks to discounts for any bookings made in January. Eurocamp are offering 20% off all their holidays, while Keycamp discount by 15%.

Camping holidays are not just for families either. With campsites situated in some fabulous country areas they offer a great base for walkers and cyclists. Put your bikes on the car and take a few days break in the Dordogne or the Loire, where you will find superb cycle and walking paths.

And if you are not tied to school holidays there are some fantastic bargains to be had, made even more enticing by the early booking discount of 20% on all holidays booked with Eurocamp in January, or 15% across the board for January bookings with Keycamp.

With over 250 campsites from Europe's favourite operators, why not check the great holidays on offer now?

Book your camping holiday with Eurocamp
Book your camping holiday with Keycamp