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To Greece by Sea or Land PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

To Greece by Sea or by Land

Barry and Margaret Williamson
September 2010

Introduction

For some years we have acted as voluntary, unpaid 'Travel Consultants' for the MMM, the UK's most popular motorhome magazine. Although we aim to cover a range of subjects: Long-term Motorhoming in Continental Europe; motorhoming in Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Slovenia and Albania, plus Balkan routes to Greece, it's the latter which attracts most interest and questions. We are loath to offer advice but very willing to share experience, so here is a summary of that experience.

The main source of information we offer is this website, which contains hundreds of articles, thousands of images and countless live links encapsulating our 16 years of full-time travel, along with the contributions of 50 other long-term, long-distance travellers by motorhome and/or bicycle.

In our website are very detailed accounts of several journeys to and from Greece via Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria, as well as routes through the former Yugoslavia (Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia), including one made earlier this year. There are also many journeys we have taken by ferry from Italy's four Adriatic ports: Venice, Ancona, Bari and Brindisi.

The easiest way into the website is to use the Site Menu on the left hand side of the Home Page. Click on 'Countries', then the required country, and then browse. The Site Menu also leads to 'Motorhoming' and 'Cycling' articles, as well as 'Images' and details of the 'Fellow Travellers'. On the right hand side of the Home Page, 'Quick Links' gives immediate access to selected articles and countries. There is also a very thorough Google-type 'Search the Website' feature in the Site Menu, for individual words or phrases. If any specific questions remain after all this, we will respond to queries sent through the Site Menu's 'Contact Us' feature.

Routes_to_Greece_H.jpg

Getting to Greece

There are two possibilities: by ferry across the Adriatic from Italy, or overland through the Balkans. Of course, most people travelling to Greece or its islands take the third and quickest option they fly in on a charter plane.

But here are some ideas for motorhomers planning to drive to Greece!

By Ferry across the Adriatic from Italy

The Adriatic ferry route to Greece is by far the easier, shorter and less challenging journey than the overland routes through the Balkans. You can choose the Italian ferry port, depending on how much of Italy you want to see, and you can land in either Igoumenitsa (north-western Greece near the Albanian border) to explore the north; or stay on the ferry until Patras, 5 hours later, for the same fare. Patras is in the north-west corner of the Peloponnese - the warmest, less developed, most diverse and least visited part of mainland Greece. Depending on the time of year when you travel, it may be better to stay on the ferry until Patras, as the north can get cold and even have a little snow in the winter months. A return ticket (with a saving over two singles) may allow you to arrive at one port and leave from the other.

Routes to Italy's Adriatic ports are given in great detail on our website. We have travelled across France from several different Channel ports to the Frejus Tunnel under the Alps, past Turin and then crossed northern Italy. We have travelled through Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany and Switzerland's St Gotthard Tunnel and then across northern Italy. We have followed the French Riviera round from Provence, past Nice and Monte Carlo and along the Italian Riviera, then down through Italy to Naples and across to Brindisi. Etc. Too many options to list, all of them giving the opportunity to visit some of Italy's great cities.

From 1 April to 31 October all the Adriatic ferries allow 'Camping on Board', which means you can stay in your motorhome for the whole crossing (up to 21 hours) but with full access to the public decks, usually via a lift. The motorhome is on an open deck (but with a roof), sometimes with a view of the passing sea from your own window. You get a full electrical hook up and use of toilets and showers - and all for the price of the motorhome (according to length) plus two deck passengers. Almost all the crossings are overnight and obviously the time varies: the longest is Venice-Patras, the shortest (and cheapest) is Brindisi-Igoumenitsa, which can sometimes be a daytime sailing.

Google 'ferry Italy to Greece' for details of current times and fares. Eg from Ancona, 3 or 4 ferries sail every day, leaving in the afternoon and arriving in Igoumenitsa just before breakfast and Patras just after lunch, both on the following day.

Outside July and August there is usually no need to book ahead. If sailing from Ancona, for example, go to the Maritime Station (good parking outside) and see what's on offer that afternoon from the three ferry lines operating from there (Superfast, ANEK and Minoan). This way, you can sometimes get special offers or reductions, eg occasionally a free cabin is offered for a winter crossing.

Ferries from Venice and Ancona are very large, modern and well-equipped. They have lifts, ramps, etc and the Greek crew will be very friendly and helpful. Boats out of Bari and Brindisi are often smaller, older, cheaper, with shorter crossings mainly for trucks (including live animals from Brindisi) but they do offer camping on board (and they may be more flexible about allowing it in winter). But we must say that our recent (April 2010) journey from Bari to Igoumenitsa by Ventouris Lines was a complete nightmare!  

Here is a summary of the ferry lines sailing year-round from Italy to Greece. Ferry companies and times and frequencies of sailings do change, so get the latest situation, particularly concerning Bari and Brindisi.

ANEK: http://web.anek.gr/portal/page/portal/ANEK_prod

Minoan Lines: http://www2.minoan.gr/index.asp?a_id=226

Superfast Ferries: http://www.superfast.com/site/content.asp?sel=291&loc=2

Ventouris: http://www.ventouris.gr/

Agoudimos Lines: http://www.agoudimos-lines.com/default.aspx?lang=en-US

European Sealines: http://www.europeansealines.com/?page_id=108

Endeavour Lines: http://www.endeavor-lines.com/en/home

Websites for booking a range of Adriatic ferries include: http://www.greekferries.gr/ and http://www.viamare.com/ 

Things change and in our March 2011 travel log (A Journey through Norther Greece 2011) we wrote:

"So the season turned, clocks were put forward throughout Europe for 'Summer Time' and the end of March heralded the 'Camping on Board' season for ferries between Greece andItaly. Our thoughts turned to an April journey back across Europe, starting with a boat to Ancona. Three ferry lines operate this route: Superfast (Patras to Ancona or to Bari), Minoan (Patras to Ancona or to Venice) and ANEK (ditto).

Phoning the various agents in Patras, we learnt that for 2011 things have changed slightly. Superfast (generally the most expensive) still have Camping on Board between 1 April and 31 October and are offering reductions of 45% on early booking for vehicles up to 6m long (which doesn't help those of us in larger motorhomes). Minoan allow Camping on Board toVenice, but on their Ancona-bound ferries this is no longer possible instead, they offer a free cabin to those travelling with a caravan, camper or motorhome. ANEK, on the other hand, still have Camping on Board to Ancona, but not to Venice  and they offer a free cabin, dinner and breakfast for campers etc taking this longer voyage. However, all this could be subject to change at any time! Check out the websites at: www.superfast.com ,www.minoan.gr  and www.anek.gr .

In addition to all this, flexible pricing now applies on some of these ferry lines, as on cross-Channel ferries. It is no longer advisable just to turn up at the terminal and buy a ticket (this was our previous recommendation). Booking online is also not recommended nor is it always possible use the telephone well in advance to discover the best offer and lowest fare for you and your motorhome. Use the website to see what special offers there may be and then get the phone number nearest to you. In Greece, we always ring the numbers in Patras."

Overland Routes through the Balkans

Several overland journeys to and from Greece are described in daily detail on our website. We would only recommend them to more seasoned travellers with a reliable motorhome. The main problems, in no particular order, are:

Getting motorhome insurance cover
Getting breakdown insurance cover
The need for personal health insurance cover
Lack of campsites
Finding a safe location for the night
No simple ways of getting water and gas
Poor road surfaces, particularly in Romania and Albania, but improving all the time
Extensive road works
Unfamiliar road rules
Erratic driving (not you - a minority of other drivers)
Slav-based languages
Non-standard road signs (sometimes in the Cyrillic alphabet)
Absence of signposts at junctions and in towns and cities
Variety of currencies and exchange rates

We wouldn't want to exaggerate these problems, but they do require some prior thought and experience. It is a great journey and still largely untravelled.

Our website contains many lists and links to campsites in Eastern Europe but 'free camping' (we prefer to call it 'overnight parking') is feasible in all these countries. Just find a quiet place, perhaps where other motorhomes are gathered. TIR parks (for trucks) are also useful, with safe parking for a small fee. We have also used hotel and restaurant car parks, with permission, perhaps eating there.

Euros are generally accepted, and indeed welcomed, everywhere. Credit cards can sometimes be used for fuel (but don't rely on them). We have travelled in many of these countries without using local currency. This avoids problems with changing back again and enables us to keep accounts without concern for exchange rates. Whichever way, it's a good idea to carry a substantial number of Euros in cash; this is in case of emergencies (breakdowns, including mechanical ones) and for occasions when your plastic cards, debit or credit, don't work. Any Euros left over will get an equally warm welcome in Greece!

English is widely spoken as a second language throughout this region, particularly by younger people, otherwise some German is useful. Older people may speak Russian or school French.

There are two major overland routes: one follows the edge of the Adriatic through countries of the former Yugoslavia. The other enters Greece from Bulgaria, south of Sofia.

The Routes through the Former Yugoslavia

Slovenia is entered from Italy (perhaps via Venice and Trieste) or via the Karawanke Tunnel through the Julian Alps from Austria. Then it's south through Croatia, Montenegro and Albania, entering Greece near Igoumenitsa. Variation can be made with side trips into Bosnia-Hercegovina and/or Macedonia.

We have several detailed accounts of these routes on our website, including our own journey in April 2010 when we returned to the UK from Greece (having been in Sicily, Malta and Tunisia) via Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, Germany, etc. In the past, we have also included a detour from Greece to Albania through Macedonia.

In May of 2010, Don Madge travelled north from Greece to Croatia.

There are only two main roads south through Croatia: the coastal road or the new inland motorway (currently open as far as Split, but eventually down to Dubrovnik). For the most part there is one major road south through Albania, although the road which follows the coast south of Fier is now greatly improved and a splendid drive.

We definitely do not recommend travel through Kosovo or near the Albanian/Kosovan border. The latest information is given, along with much else, on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website's Travel Advice for every country in the world.

The Routes through Romania and Bulgaria

The routes through Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria are further but easier, in that they are all now EU members, so insurance should not be a problem. In addition, more campsites are available.

These routes cross Hungary, which can be entered from Croatia, Austria or the Czech Republic/Slovakia). They then pass through Romania and Bulgaria, entering Greece south of Sofia in the direction of Thessaloniki.

The routes are also constrained by the limited number of crossing points between countries, still a result of their 20th century history.

From Hungary, you can cross from Szeged (south-east corner) to Arad or Timisoara. We prefer the latter, which is quieter, much quieter. Arad is on the main road and truck route. After that, there are only two roads across southern Romania.

Firstly, the main road from Arad to Brasov and Bucharest and then south into eastern Bulgaria, crossing the Danube at Ruse on the Friendship Bridge. Or alternatively, from Timisoara the road turns south and east and eventually follows the north bank of the Danube to Calafat, where a ferry of sorts crosses the Danube to Vidin, from where there is a road to Sofia and then a good main road south into Greece towards Thessaloniki. John & Susan Hughes have written something on this subject on our website under 'Bulgaria'. See http://www.magbaztravels.com/content/view/770/30/ under campsite no 48.

There are only 2 (or maybe 3) border crossings between Bulgaria and Greece: one at each end of their long border, and possibly a third new one, if it's now open, just east of the Sofia-Thessaloniki one. The one we have mostly used is a long way east, near the border with Turkey.

We have no recent experience of travelling down from Hungary or Croatia, through Serbia, to Thessaloniki nor have we met anyone who has. It's also possible to avoid Hungary and Romania by continuing east in Croatia, on the motorway past Zagreb, into Serbia and past Belgrade and then Sofia. We do know that there is a problem with getting insurance and apparently the border guards don't approve of key members of NATO!

Conclusion

Greece will prove well worth the journey, by whichever route. Of course, you could go overland one way and take an Adriatic ferry to Italy the other.

Although we have travelled throughout Greece by motorhome, bicycle and motorbike (we even got married in Greece), our favourite area is the Peloponnese, particularly in winter. It has a wonderful coastline, several mountain ranges exceeding 8,000 ft, many an ancient site, mountain villages untouched by time, donkeys still at work, tavernas, orchards, spring flowers in abundance, fishing ports, a handful of good winter campsites and no crowds.