Driving to / from Corfu

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Driving to Corfu

People often talk about driving to Corfu for their holidays, so, as we have done this each year since 2009, I have added some thoughts and advice here.  These are very much personal thoughts / experiences, based on our journey in the Spring (to Corfu) and late Autumn (to UK) - many people have done this journey and some have quite "specific" thoughts on routes, etc.

For most, the journey really starts in France - either Calais (Eurotunnel / Ferry) or Dunkirk (Ferry).  It is also possible to get an overnight ferry down from the north of England to Zeebruge, although this can be affected by bad weather in the North Sea (as can the Dover ferries of course!). There are additional options if you travel from the south west of England, but these are not covered here as we have not used these services.  

There are two primary routes thereafter - France / Switzerland / Italy and France / Belgium / Germany / Austria / Italy.  A third, which we have not tried, takes you down through France to the west of Switzerland and into Italy from there - this can cost quite a bit more in terms of Tolls though when compared with the other two routes.

Although it is feasible to do most of the journey overland (by travelling down through Slovenia, Croatia, etc.), most people who drive will take the ferry from one of the main northern Italian ports - Venice or Ancona (Trieste is also a recently added option).  The ferry companies have changed their routes several times recently so, particularly outside of the July / August period, the ferries no longer stop at Corfu and you therefore need to use Igoumenitsa on the Greek mainland (which has plentiful connections to Corfu).  Which Italian port you use will often depend on how the sailing times "work" for you.  We used Venice for a number of years until we were held outside the Grand Canal for eleven hours in November 2011 due to fog (two weeks later there was a thirty six hour delay) - we now use Ancona which only adds around 150Km to our road journey but does not suffer the same sort of delays, and the sailing time is also quite a bit shorter (around 17 hours against 26 hours).  We have no experience of the Trieste route as, after looking at the sailing times, we decided this was not for us. 

Since we last used the Venice route, the port has changed such that the ferries no longer have to use the Grand Canal and now dock on the mainland, which in theory makes the driving process easier as it will no longer require a drive across the Causeway from the mainland in to Venice.   However, in our view the shorter journey time on the Igoumenitsa / Ancona route still makes Ancona our favoured port.  It is also possible to drive down through Italy to pick up a ferry in Bari or Brindisi - these ferry routes are much shorter (and cheaper), but many have reported that the ferries are not particularly comfortable. You also have additional fuel, toll and, possibly, hotel costs.  A cost comparison exercise we carried out in 2015 showed that there was nothing to be gained (financially speaking) by driving that extra distance as, for us, it would have required an extra nights hotel, food, etc.

When planning your journey, it is worth noting that the ferry companies have a regular (weekly) "Maintenance" day when there is no ferry, and also that the departure times are not the same every day.  There are two main ferry companies on the route - Minoan and Anek.  Both have good websites, with English as one of the language options, and with the ability to make bookings on them - indeed, this is the only way we have made bookings since we started making the journey.  Both companies offer "early booking" discounts as well as discounts for Over 60's, use of certain car recovery companies, etc.

The choice of route from the English Channel can also be affected by your views on Tolls - there are none in Germany but France has plenty while Austria and Switzerland have mandatory "Vignettes". As with all these, and those in Italy, it is possible to avoid them by using alternative roads (the likes of Google Maps and ViaMichelin have "avoid tolls" options on their route planners), but we have found that with some planning we can easily avoid some of the more expensive tolls but still leave us on motorways.  Another aspect of the planning can be how long you want to spend on the journey.  It is possible to do the drive from Calais in around fourteen hours (with multiple drivers and minimal stops). 

It is also worth noting that several countries (including France and Germany) ban most lorries on motorways on Sundays - this can make a major difference to the driving experience, as, instead of "nose to tail" lorries on some motorways during the week, you might only see a dozen lorries during a Sunday drive.  In Germany and northern Italy many of the motorways on the routes we take are two lanes only, so, away from Sundays, you are constantly having to "slot in" between lorries as the "boy racers" come racing up behind you flashing their lights!.

The ViaMichelin route planner includes details of individual Toll costs on the routes.  The toll booths normally accept credit / debit cards (but rarely pre-paid cards). In March 2017 it was noticeable that the number of booths that accepted cash had increased - in most instances these were "manned" booths rather than slot machines.

The AA and RAC websites (and a few others) have details of mandatory requirements for driving through the various countries (e.g. Winter Tyres, Warning Triangle, etc) - it is important to ensure you meet these requirements as fines can be large for certain offences (e.g. Dash Cams are banned in a number of countries - there is a five figure fine for using one in Austria where their ownership is actually banned!), while others can be somewhat unexpected (e.g. it is a criminal offence to run out of fuel on German motorways).  The websites are also starting to show details of the motorway "emergency vehicle" rules - a number of countries have a requirement that if you come to a halt on a motorway you have to move to the left or to the right to allow emergency vehicles through.  Whether you move to the left or to the right varies depending on what lane, and what country, you are in though!

For overnight accommodation we pick places easily reached from the motorway - it can be dark around 16:30 when we travel and we think it is worth having places that are easy to find.  We also prefer to use hotels with restaurants attached - after a day in the car we certainly do not want to drive out to a restaurant in the evening.

After our drive to the UK in November 2018, we both agreed that time spent in the car was becoming uncomfortable (probably down to our age!!), and that we should consider taking an extra day for the journey. We will be taking this approach on our journey in November 2019. 

Our "Swiss" route is normally:

In terms of mileage, Day 1 is around 500Km while days 2 and 3 are around 750Km and 600Km respectively, and day 4 around 250Km.  In March 2017 the tolls for this route were EUR13.40 (in France) and EUR34.60 (Italy) with EUR37 for the Swiss Vignette (which is valid for the whole calendar year).

Our "Germany" route is:

In March 2019, tolls were EUR9.50 (Austria) and EUR38.90 (Italy) with EUR9.00 for the Austrian vignette (valid for ten days).

Both Vignettes can be bought at service stations before the borders, or, for the Swiss Vignette, actually at the border (although there can be a queue for this).  We buy ours in advance from a German website as this allows us to get them stuck on to the car windscreen before we depart.

You should be prepared when using the Switzerland route that you will normally have to show your passports at both the France / Switzerland and the Switzerland / Italy borders - there can be quite a queue for this, particularly on Monday mornings.  As these are borders where you leave / enter the EU, it is also possible that your car may be "pulled over" and a series of questions asked - your car can also be searched at these crossings. I "lost" nearly an hour going in to Italy in both 2016 and 2017 for a questions / car search session.  As a result, we are tending to use the Germany route more frequently.

It is also worth noting that security checks at Ancona port have increased over the last few years - cars can be directed to the "security" area when entering the dockyard (after check-in) and asked to take luggage in to a building for security screening. 

A SatNav, whilst useful, is not essential (we didn't use one for the first few years).  The roads mostly have European Road numbers (E....) which cross national borders and thus make navigation relatively simple - most printed road maps and route finders include these.  I have also found that the road signs on motorways will frequently mention cities (and countries) several hundred kilometres away so, even driving "solo", you only need to know three or four cities on your route to navigate quite easily.  Even when using a SatNav though, I still have a road map in the car "just in case"!.

Driving to UK

For this, we follow a similar route to the journey down and again ensure that our Sunday drive is through France or Germany - this requires a Thursday evening departure from Corfu.  Depending on which ferry company we use, the ferry normally docks in Ancona at around 14:00 (Minoan) or 17:00 (Anek) so we spend our first night near Imola (14:00 arrival) or Senigalia (17:00 arrival), our second just north of the Swiss / French border and the third in northern France or Belgium.

For the German route, we again spend the first night in Imola or Senigalia, the second on the Austrian / Germany border and then the third in northern France / Belgium. In both instances, this leaves us with a 150-200Km drive to Eurotunnel, where we normally get the train around 10:30 (and avoid most of the M25 rush hour traffic!). 

From November 2019, we will be spending the first night near Imola, the second on the Austrian / Germany border, the third in Luxemburg and the fourth near Ashford in Kent.