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2008 Nov Road to Greece PDF Printable Version E-mail



The Travel Log of a 1,400-mile Motorhome Journey from England to Greece via France, Italy and a ferry to Patras

Margaret and Barry Williamson

December 2008

This illustrated travelFarm1_(22).JPG log describes our motorhome journey from England to Greece in the Winter of 2008. We started one Thursday morning in early November from the farmhouse of friends on the North Downs of Hampshire, after an evening celebrating the 403rd anniversary of the failed plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament.

We had spent 3 weeks in England and Wales, mainly in order to visit Motorhome Medics in Cheltenham and for Margaret to spend time with her 94-year-old mother in Thornton, north of Blackpool.

Darren and Martin, the Motorhome Medics, did their usual greatFlair_(27).JPG work - thorough inspection, a full service, some repairs, fitting new accessories, supplying spares and preparing the Flair for what was to be a successful MOT. Whilst in Cheltenham, we were also able to visit Towergate-Baker's of that city, for a seamless continuation of the motorhome's insurance and Continental RAC breakdown cover. We took time in Cheltenham and in Huddersfield to shop for the essentials that only the UK can provide: good cheese, bacon, sausage, tea bags, golden syrup, HP sauce, DVD's, books, magazines, accessories, spares …  Sometimes, it's useful to have a 6.5-ton motorhome!

We also spent wortPaul_Hewitt_(7).JPGhwhile time and money at Cotswold Outdoor near Cirencester and with master bicycle builder, Paul Hewitt, at his fully-stocked shop and fully-equipped workshop in Leyland Lancashire. We needed no repairs for our excellent touring bicycles, but we did avail ourselves of advice and a few accessories.

Friends in Huddersfield, Glyn Ceiriog in North Wales, and near Winchester opened their doors to us. Many thanks for the hospitality, the friendship, the meals, the beds and for the interest you took in our seemingly endless travellers' tales

To view more images of this journey, click on one or more of the following:

At the Slate Mine in North Wales
Life on the Farm
The Port of Portsmouth
In the Dordogne with the Durhams
The Road to Ancona via the Frejus Tunnel
The Port of Ancona and the Crossing of the Adriatic
In Greece in the Winter of 2008

To read about our 3-month stay in Bulgaria, click: Summer in Bulgaria 2008

To read the log of our return journey from Bulgaria, click: BG to GB 2008

For more details and images of our Motorhome, click: A Flair for Travel

6 November 2008   41 miles   Nr Winchester, England to Ouistreham, France   Seafront Motorhome Aire

Fair Stood the Wind for France – on Brittany Ferries 'Normandie'

More farewells to the kind friends who had been our last port of call before finally setting off for a ferry across the Channel.

We filled our petrol tank at Tesco's, near junction 9 of the M3 – astoniPortsmouth_(20).JPGshingly, British supermarket prices (here it was £0.97 per litre) are currently undercutting those in France (we saved another 5 pence per litre with a voucher, obtained by spending over ₤50 in the store earlier in the week!) Then the M3, M27 and M235 took us straight to Portsmouth and its very well signed Ferry Terminal. Arriving well before our 3.30 pm sailing with Brittany Ferries, we collected our tickets and made lunch.

The boat was extremely quiet, the sea very calm, and the 6-hour voyage passed pleasantly, with a meal in the cafeteria, a flask of coffee and plenty to read.

Arriving at Ouistreha12_Ouistreham_Fishing_Port.JPGm (the port for Caen) in the dark, at 10.30 pm local time, we checked out the ferry terminal car park. Only 5 spaces for 'Camping Cars' – all taken. However, we knew of a motorhome parking area – an Aire – less than a mile westwards along the sea front. It was almost full and we drove past to a much larger free car park we remembered using, another mile along near the Casino. This had a new sign, forbidding entrance to Caravans, Camping Cars and anything over 3.5 tons. Consequently, it was empty!

So it was back to the Aire, where we squeezed in for a welcome night's rest. Almost all the campers were French and clearly not likely to be sailing to or from England any time soon.

7 November 2008   161 miles   Ouistreham to Tours, France   'Aire de Chantemerle' on A28

From sunrise to sunset, singing the Song of French Roads

We awoke at 5 am on the dark rainy Aire, disturbed by the arrival of the Gendarmes – not come for us but to deal with a car driver who had crashed into the open barrier at the entrance to our car park!

Taking advantage of this sleep disturbance, we made an early getaway before the morning traffic built up. On empty roads, we drove south to the Caen ring road, then took N158 via Falaise (with its castle where William the Conqueror was born - no relation). Continuing, we climbed gradually to about 500 ft, glimpsing the twin spires of Sées as they disappeared into the mist. We pulled into a layby for breakfast as dawn broke at about 8 am (a rare event for us!).

Starting the engine and turning out into the empty road, we thought of Rudyard Kipling's 'Song of French Roads', written in 1923 but still very appropriate:

'Now praise the Gods of Time and Chance
 That bring a heart's desire
 And lay the joyous roads of France
 Once more beneath the tyre.'

Just before the city of Alencon (78 miles), the Lidl store was opening its doors at 9 am – they must have heard we were coming! Their food selection was much more exciting than in England (though probably a little more expensive). We bought cheeses and pâté, wine and croissants, as well as a bag of assorted vegetables. Even our credit card was accepted – Sacrée (Carte) Bleue!

Ever southwards, now on N138 towards Le Mans, we recalled the chaos of driving through that city in the past (not quite 24 hours, but it felt like it). Deciding it would be worth paying to avoid the congestion, we joined the motorway (at 107 miles) on the north side of Le Mans and followed A28 towards Tours. There was a toll of €11.90 after 41 miles, then a further €2.90. Most (though not all) French motorways have tolls, indicated by the word Péage. Credit cards are taken, though it's easiest to have some cash ready. Some toll points have an actual person to say bonjour to, some are automats (which do give change).

The motorway crossed the river Le Loir (a tributary of the better known La Loire) shortly before the service station of Sarthe Touraine, where we had a break and obtained more Euros from the ATM. At the next exit (27) we turned off and drove west for a mile or so to the village of Neuille Pont-Pierre. Here there is a motorhome Aire we have used previously (it even had a few free hook-ups), listed in the Guide Officiel Aires de Services Camping-Car as being open all year with 30 places. We easily found it again, on the left of the road, but it was being fully used as a car park for school buses, shoppers and workers at the postal depot.

Rather than wait until they all went home, we returned to the A28 motorway and continued south briefly, to the last rest area before Tours. It was charmingly named Chantemerle (sing-blackbird?) and had plenty of space behind a couple of Belgian trucks.

We settled down to heat up (and eat up) an Indian Meal for Two, courtesy of Tesco – delicious, but nothing like the food in India! As the sun set above our view of Tours, a rainb

We settled down to heat up (and eat up) an Indian Meal for Two, courtesy of Tesco – delicious, nothing like the food in India! As the sun set above our view of Tours, a rainbow hung over the city.   

8 November 2008   90 miles   Tours to Châteauroux, France   Service Station 'Les Mille Etangs' on A20

Over the Loire and along the Indre Valley

The A28 and A10 motorways took us another 19 miles south, past Tours and over the wide River Loire (very full and an unromantic muddy brown in colour). We left A10 at exit 23 (just one junction past the free section: toll €1.60), then followed N143 south-east to Châteauroux, along the valley of the River Indre. The farmland was interrupted by picturesque villages, like Cormery with its ancient abbey, and fine churches and castles could be glimpsed along the banks of the Indre.

It was a fine Saturday morning, with light traffic. Running low, we bought both petrol and LPG (for the domestic tank) at a garage near Loches. Petrol cost €1.28 a litre: less than at the motorway services. The best deal in France is at supermarket pumps but (as this morning) they are often inaccessible for large vehicles, with narrow entrances and low parapets.

At Châtillon-sur-Indre we had a break on a car park, complete with motorhome dump point. After 80 miles, shortly before Châteauroux, we joined the A20 southwards: a motorway which is toll-free until beyond Limoges. (A good road atlas is needed to identify which motorways charge tolls, since there is no logic to it! Our 'AA Big Road Atlas of France' shows free motorways in a different colour.)

Stopping at the first service station for lunch, Barry also did some work on the motorhome generator, but a new sparking plug failed to solve the problem. It seems the petrol isn't getting through. As the parking area at the spacious new services was quiet and level (not always the case), we decided to stay for the night. We were now within easy reach of our current destination – the home of good friends in the Dordogne – and phoned them to expect us tomorrow.

9 November 2008   104 miles   Châteauroux to Lanouaille, France   Chez Keith & Brenda

A warm welcome in the Dordogne

The weather had returned to being wet and windy, though warmer. We had an easy drive down the quiet A20 (free of trucks on a Sunday) to exit 36 just south of Limoges.

From here,France_07_(43).JPG country road D704 led south through the Limousin hills to the small town of St Yrieix. St Y (as it's easier to call it) has a good hypermarket with accessible fuel pumps, on the left before the town, and a good choice of other shops (though not on Sundays). There is also a small motorhome Aire, on the right as you follow the truck route which bypasses the narrow medieval centre.

Lanouaille, a village 10 miles south of St IMG_0834.JPGY, has a better Aire, with plenty of space and some free electrical hook-ups. We turned into it to dump our waste before continuing for a couple of miles to the farmhouse home of old friends and fellow motorhomers, Keith & Brenda.

We hadn't met since our visit a year ago (Autumn 2007), so the afternoon was spent deep in conversation, catching up on events. We were able to park our motorhome alongside the house, plugged into the garage – wonderful. One of Keith's well-remembered beef curries rounded off the day.

10 November to 4 December 2008   Lanouaille, France   Chez Keith & Brenda

A Month in the Dordogne

A few days of goodFrance_(28).JPG company and good food followed. Keith led us on a 20-mile cycle ride, along the quiet lanes linking the hamlets and farms around Excideuil. On Armistice Day (a national holiday in France – as it should be in the UK), during an interesting 2-hour walk together, criss-crossing the Limousin/Dordogne border, we passed a Resistance Memorial by an old paper mill on a wooded stream. In February 1944 a group of French ResFrance_(33).JPGistance men were surrounded by Germans at this picturesque spot. Some were shot, the rest taken off to prison camp, with just 3 surviving to return to France.

Soon we were left in charge of the house, car and cat, while our friends flew back to England for 2 weeks of family visits. Although the weather turned cold, reminding us we were above 1,0In_the_Office.JPG00 ft (with thick frosts and temperatures low enough to freeze the motorhome's water), we had a very busy and interesting time, sawing wood for the fire, visiting local markets and shops and enjoying some excellent local meats and cheeses, such as Bleu d'Auvergne. We made full use of the internet to catch up on our writing and also installed Voipwise on the laptop, giving free or low-cost phone calls all round the world. We still can't believe it, but it worked very well once we'd bought a microphone and headset (see http://www.voipwise.com to join).

Keith & Brenda returned in time to rescue us from becoming fully re-domesticated and we prepared to continue our journey to Greece for the rest of the winter.

5 December 2008   82 miles   Lanouaille to Tulle, France   Correze Service Station on A89

Heading south and east in the rain

After dumping our waste at the Aire in Lanouaille, and a fill of supermarket petrol in Excideuil (now €1.13 per litre), we were ready for the road, through thundery showers and heavy downpours. Our winter migration was overdue.

After a few miles south on D704 we met the Perigueux-Brive road, now paralleled by Autoroute A89 (still under construction a year ago). Turning east, we took the non-motorway route to Terrasson-Lavilledieu in order to shop at the large Lidl (left of road alongside McDonalds, after the town with its old bridge over the Vézère). We were able to link to the motorway from Larche, before Brive (and 45 miles from our start).

The A89/A20 turned north towards Limoges, bypassing Brive-la-GaillardeRd_to_Ancona_(10).JPG with a €2.20 toll. At junction 46.1 our A89 veered eastwards above Tulle, with the sun rarely breaking through the rain. The road remained high (all above 1,000 ft with a maximum of 1,900 ft). After the exits for Tulle, we came to a new service station, La Correze, with a massively high roof supported on sturdy timbers over a vast hall – a huge waste of heating, we felt. However, it provided a quiet place to park as darkness fell at 1,880 ft on a rainy night.

6 December 2008   227 miles   Tulle to Villefontaine (20 miles east of Lyon), France   Isle d'Abeau Service Station on A43

Driving through the Volcanic Domes of the Auvergne

Continuing north-east on A89 towards Clermont-Ferrand, we climbed steadily to reach snow at the roadsides above 2,000 ft on the Plateau de Millevaches. The empty motorway crossed the Gorges of the Dordogne and at 36 miles entered the Department of Puy de Dome, Auvergne Region.

Sleet and rain followed us to a summit at 2,999 ft in the Parc Naturel Regional des Volcanes d'Auvergne. Reaching a maximum of 3,280 ft, in falling snow, we passed an exit for 'Vulcania', then the sun broke through as we descended. The landscape was eerie, with the conical peaks of the extinct volcanoes known as Puys shrouded in cloud.

At 79 miles, above Clermont-Ferrand, we turned south on A71, descending to 1,100 ft through the rain. A toll was payable 10 miles later (€32.80), before we turned east on A72. We paused for lunch on the Haut-Forez services at 127 miles, up at 2,300 ft with snow on the tops of the surrounding Puys.

The next toll (€15.40) came at 165 miles, just before crossing a narrow River Loire. At St Etienne we joined the A47, north-east towards Lyon, then at 214 miles we took A43 east for Chambery. The next services down at 720 ft provided shelter for the night.

7 December 2008   290 miles   Villefontaine, France to Fiorenzuola, Italy   Service Station on A1

Fréjus-Tunnelling under the Alps into Italy

It was very misty Rd_to_Ancona_(34).JPGas we headed east on A43 towards Chambery: Brouillard – Prudence warned the signs. We climbed to 1,350 ft, above the haze which hung in the valleys, dipping in and out of it for 28 miles until a tunnel led us onto the Massif de l'Epine at 1,600 ft, which was clear with snowy sunlit tops. A second tunnel below the Col de l'Epine emerged at 36 miles near Chambery. WRd_to_Ancona_(37).JPGe paid a toll of €22.40 before turning south. The road signs now showed Fréjus Tunnel for Italy, as we turned abruptly north-east towards Albertville.

At 59 miles the A43 turned south down the Valley of the River Arc: a very photogenic scene of serious snow-dusted Alpine peaks all around. The last motorway toll was €30.00. At 99 miles, up above 4,000 ft near Modane, we entered the Fréjus Tunnel (toll €44.00) – always an exciting moment, driving right through thRd_to_Ancona_(42).JPGe barrier of the Alps. We had planned our journey to do this on Sunday, the quietest day of the week with no heavy goods vehicles on the roads of France or Italy.

8 miles (12.8 km) later at Bardonecchia, we saw the light of Italy, where the sun shone brightly on a much snowier scene at over 4,300 ft. We paid a small toll (€5.50) and continued east on E70, pausing at the first services for lunch in the Gran Bosco National Park. A series of short tunnels and a €4 toll followed before reaching Turin, where the A21 led us south of the city on the Tangential (Ring Road), via 2 moreRd_to_Ancona_(50).JPG small tolls, then eastwards towards Asti. We finally collected a toll ticket, which lasted for the next 2 days until Ancona!

The afternoon was dry and sunny, outside temperature 12 C, though snow blanketed the fields across the flat plain down at 350 ft, across Piemonte and into Lombardy. We crossed the 45th parallel near Voghera (half way twixt Equator and North Pole) and continued to Piacenza, where we turned south-east onto the A1. By 5.45 pm it was already dark, an hour past sunset, and we stopped on a spacious service station at Fiorenzuola for a clear frosty night at a mere 180 ft above the distant sea.  

8 December 2008   202 miles   Fiorenzuola to Ancona, Italy   Ancona Nord Service Station on A14

Perfect driving conditions to the Adriatic Coast

Today is actually a Catholic festival day (the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary – can't understand the timing of this!) We were delighted, as it means that trucks are again absent from Italy's motorways. Combined with bright, dry, sunny weather and a light back wind,Rd_to_Ancona_(51).JPG we couldn't have had an easier run to the Adriatic coast, bound for a ferry from Ancona to Patras.

The A1 was clear, past Parma and Modena to Bologna, where we joined the A14 round the city – normally subject to congestion and delays. Today there was no such problem and we pulled into the ring road services for a fill of petrol at €1.14 a litre – a much lower price than on French motorways. Also topped up our LPG tank (for cooking and heating), knowing how difficult it can be to find once in Greece.

We had a break on the next services along A14, at Castel San Pietro TerRd_to_Ancona_(52).JPGme, where we had spent a night on our outward journey in October. It was very quiet, with space for the bambini of a trio of Italian motorhomers to play football while their elders made lunch! However, friend and fellow motorhomer Maggie reported an attempted break-in on this very service station last summer, so we don't become too complacent. A remarkable number of Italian motorhomes were now at large, travelling in 2's and 3's on the motorway, in both directions, after the long weekend. We had seen almost none in France.

The A14 now Rd_to_Ancona_(53).JPGran due south-east, parallel with the Via Emilia, passing Faenza, crossing the Rubicon and finally glimpsing the Adriatic at Rimini. Continuing south down the coast, the service stations are smaller, with little parking space, but the last one before the Ancona Nord exit has been extended and offers plenty of room for the night. The weather was calm with a good forecast for tomorrow.

We  had driven 800 miles in the 4 days since leaving Lanouaille, with 4 nights on service stations.

9 December 2008   14 miles   Ancona Nord Services to Ancona Port, Italy   On Board the 'Superfast XII' Ferry

We are sailing – while riots rage in the cities of Greece

We soon left the A14 for Ancona, paying a very reasonable toll of €27.80 Ancona_Ferry_(10).JPGwhich includes 2 nights. Arriving at the port, we found that Ancona's maritime station had been moved from the quayside to a new site a mile away. We cursed the lack of signposts as we wound our way back through the narrow busy streets.

The brand new building had ticket booths for Minoan, Superfast and Anek lines. It was very quiet (perhaps no-one can find it!) and we easily picked up tickets for the Superfast ferry sailing at 1.30 pm. Superfast's winter offer gave a 50% reduction on the whole fare, for both motorhome and cabin.

We packed aAncona_Ferry_(31).JPG bag, made our way back to the port for 11.30 am and were surprised to be waved straight on board. On the upper deck we joined half a dozen trucks and – unusually – no campers or caravans of any kind. The crew were happy to plug us into an electric point (for the fridge-freezer) but camping on board is not allowed between 1 November and 31 March. The half price offer more than covered the extra cost of a cabin, so we had decided against driving down to Bari or Brindisi for a shorter crossing that might allow overnight camping. We actually had a roomy 4-berth en-suite cabin to ourselves and enjoyed the calm voyage.

The ferry sailed on time, as we watched Ancona recede in unseasonally Ancona_Ferry_(24).JPGmild sunshine. We dined in the self-service restaurant, then easily resisted the temptations of the WiFi Hotspot (at €9 for 90 mins) and the on-board shops.

The (mostly Greek) truck drivers and crew were crowded round TV sets in the bars and we struggled to follow the breaking news of riots in Athens and 30 other cities and towns. The (literal) trigger point had been the fatal shooting of a 15-year-old boy in central Athens 3 days ago. Two police patrol mAncona_Ferry_(27).JPGen had been arrested, protesting it was an accidental ricochet bullet, but the ensuing demonstrations and protests had escalated into street battles. Yesterday the capital's giant Christmas tree had gone up in flames, shops were being looted - we could hardly believe the scenes. A friendly waiter tried to reassure us that it was the normal story of everyday protest but it looked much more sinister to us.

Wondering what awaited in Patras, we put our watches on one hour, read a little and slept well in our comfortable cabin

10 December 2008   58 miles   Patras to Amaliada, Greece   Marathia BeachArrival in Greece on the day of a National Strike

The crossing was so quiet that we barely awoke as the Ancona_Ferry_(29).JPGferry docked briefly in the northern Greek port of Igoumenitsa at 5.30 am. When we ventured on deck around 8 am the weather was fair, a few clouds hanging in a blue sky over a calm sea.

The restaurant no longer offered the generous fixed-price breakfast that we'd enjoyed last year but we were consoled with fresh croissants, honey and good coffee in the self-service (followed by more coffee and muAncona_Ferry_(30).JPGffins in the bar). After over 500 nautical miles, we arrived in Patras ahead of schedule and disembarked by 11.15 am. The mountains behind the port, bare of snow, showed how mild the winter is.

The largest city and port in the Peloponnese was GR_2008_(12).JPGquiet – too quiet! Assuming people were staying home after last night's riots, we easily made our way west along the sea front, past St Andrew's Cathedral and the Praktiker and Eurospar stores, to the free car and coach park (on the left). We later learnt that this was the day of a national strike, but the shops were still open! We strolled back in the sunshine to buy bread and a pack of Greek Xmas cards. In Praktiker, a fully frocked Orthodox priest was trying on black Wellingtons – perhaps a hint of the weather to come!

Move to Winter in Greece 2008/9 for what happens next!)