Driving to / from Corfu

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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 early Spring (to Corfu) and late Autumn (to UK) - many people have done this journey and some have quite "specific" thoughts on routes, etc.

When planning the journey, it is worth noting that the ferry companies operating the routes from Venice and Ancona 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 these two routes - Minoan (now owned by Grimaldi) 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', booking return journey's, use of certain car recovery companies, etc.   Anek also offer a daily service on the Bari / Igoumenitsa route - an option we started using in 2021.

The choice of route 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 (particularly in France) but still leave us on motorways.

Another aspect of the planning / routing, is that a number of countries, most notably France, now insist on purchase of a "clean air" sticker for some areas - in several cases these must be purchased before your journey.  Some of the route planners indicate if a sticker is required.  To date, using the main motorways through these countries has not been impacted by the sticker requirement, but if you decide to opt to avoid tolls then it is quite likely that you will need to investigate the sticker requirements more closely.  There is also the possibility that you may need to enter one of these towns if you have a problem with your car during the drive - I took the view that, for the small cost involved, it was better to have the French sticker than get hit with an unexpected large fine.

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 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 often, not pre-paid cards). It has been noticeable in the last few years that the number of booths that accept cash has increased - in most instances these are "manned" booths rather than slot machines.  There are also options now to use the automated lanes by purchasing / renting appropriate equipment - we used one for the first time at the end of 2021 and found it considerably eased transit through the booths.

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. several countries have specific controls in respect of Dash Cams), while others can be somewhat unexpected (e.g. it is a criminal offence to run out of fuel on German motorways).  In most countries the use of winter or all-season tyres and / or the carrying snow chains is also mandatory from November.   The websites are also starting to show details of the motorway "emergency vehicle" rules - a number of countries have introduced 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 (there are plenty!) - 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.

You should be prepared when using the Switzerland route that you may have to show your passports at both the France / Switzerland and the Switzerland / Italy borders - there can be a queue for this, particularly on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons.  As these are borders where you leave / enter the EU (although not the Schengen Zone), 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 have tended to use the Germany route more frequently. You should also be aware that Switzerland has its own customs regulations in terms of alcohol and cigarettes, etc., - some of these are different than EU and UK regulations.

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.  We 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, we still have a road map in the car "just in case"!.

Follow the links above for the relevant sections.   Most of the information is contained in the "Driving to Corfu" page as the reverse leg is pretty much a repeat of the same information!.