Sunday, 9 October 2016

A Grand Tour ...

I mentioned in a previous post that we intended to take our 'new' convertible on a driving tour of Europe.   Well, we've now returned from a great holiday, and here's brief diary of the trip.

the route, anticlockwise from Zeebrugge to Amsterdam

Day 1 - to the Ferry (Hull to Zeebrugge)

Relaxed drive to the ferry terminal, and an overnight crossing to Belgium.  This outbound ferry crossing was the only advance booking we'd made before we left.

sunrise over the North Sea
Day 2 - to Tours, France

Well over 400 miles clocked up on the way here, despite having taken a more direct route south than usual, avoiding any potential delays on the coastal route around Calais.

Tours is a nice town on the banks of the Loire, but it still seemed very busy for a Monday evening in late September.

the old town of Tours

Day 3 - to Gitaria, Spain

Another 400 miles plus this day, mainly on the French national roads although we took to the motorways near the French / Spanish border.

Once in Spain, we went back onto the smaller roads after San Sebastian, and came upon Gitaria just as the light was starting to fade.

Found a very nice, though expensive, hotel on the corniche.

Day 4 - to Comillas, Spain

A more restful driving day after the previous two, only around a hundred miles or so but passing the 1,000 mile trip marker on the way.

Stopped in Comillas, at an hotel built right on the beach and only a short walk from the old town. 
hotel on the beach

Day 5 - to Viana do Costelo, Portugal

Return to Viana - it was this place that actually gave me the idea for a Spain / Portugal coastal tour, after I made a week long visit here earlier in the year on business.

The motorway journey along northern Spain was excellent, the road tight and twisty like a racetrack and with splendid sea and mountain views.  Last time I travelled along the northern Spanish coast was around twenty years ago when I did an asset appraisal on three related industrial facilities in the region, and one of the comments I had in the report was the lack of a decent road infrastructure for supply backup, which could have caused serious logistical problems if any one of the adjacent supply seaports was unable to offload process raw materials.  Not any more, the road communications are now excellent all the way from San Sebastian in the east to La Coruna in the west.

In Viana, there was no space at the seafront hotel where I'd stayed previously, but we found another in the middle of the town.

Viana do Costelo

Marvelled at the old twin-decked bridge across the river, built by Gustave Eiffel.   The cast iron columns supporting the rail and road decks at the end access looked incredibly femmer, and I'd have been worried about the strength of the bridge if I hadn't known it had already been standing there for nearly 140 years....

Day 6 - to St Martinho do Porto, Portugal

A small coastal resort round 60 miles north of Lisbon.   Quite a long day, first driving inland to Braga and then south over the mountains on 'B' roads, before cutting back across to the Atlantic.

the beach and bay at dusk

Day 7 - to Quarteira, Portugal

A blast down to the Algarve on the free 'A' roads, after having first skirted around Lisbon, clocking up the 2,000 mile mark en route.  We managed to avoid all motorways during the entire time we were in Portugal.

Quarteira was still a busy resort, and we took the last room at a quite-expensive beachfront hotel.

Day 8 - to Gibraltar

I thought Gibraltar a rather strange place, like a small English market town in the sun.   M&S, Mothercare, Top Shop and others of a similar ilk on the high street.  To get onto the territory, we had to dig out the passports from the rucksack in the boot of the car, and were then held for ten minutes immediately after the border crossing because the main road in-and-out crosses the airport runway and a plane was taking off. 

We arrived on the Sunday evening, having followed the coast road down from Cadiz.  

Gibraltar was a little quiet except for several large groups of what seemed like UK lads on stag parties filling some of the bars.   Unusually, there were no similar groups of girls on hen-nights and there was a very distinct lack of women around on the evening.

The Monday morning rush-hour was totally different from the Sunday traffic.  It seemed like there were thousands of cars out and about on the roads, all registered in Gibraltar - so where were they all travelling to and from on such a tiny territory where just about everything is within walking distance ?

The queues for the cable car up to the top of the rock were more than an hour long, so we gave it a miss and headed back into Spain.

The highlights (!) of the place were two-inch long cockroaches on the street, diesel at 70p per litre, spirits at a fiver per bottle and very cheap tobacco.

Day 9 - to Feungirola, Spain

Short drive this day, only around 60 miles or so.  Nice enough sea-front location on the Costa del Sol, but the place was very tourist-y and way overpopulated.

view from our 15th floor hotel room
Day 10 - to Mojacar, Spain

A quieter resort on the Costa Calida, on the road to Cartagena.  Good beachfront hotel location.

the mountains behind the town

Day 11 - to Grao, near Castellon de la Plana, Spain

Passed the 3,000 mile mark on the way.   We didn't intend travelling quite so far up the Mediterranean coast on this day, but once we were past Alicante and north of Benidorm the few resorts we drove through seemed totally deserted - the summer season had definitely ended in some of these places.

Grao is mainly a commercial port but it has a marina with a lot of bars and restaurants, only a few of which were still open in late September.

Grao marina

Day 12 - to Cambrils, Spain

On the Costa Dorado near Tarragona, with the resort of Salou just up the road.   Less than 100 miles this day.

hotel in Cambrils

Days 13 & 14 - to Lloret de Mar, Spain

On the Costa Brava.  We spent a couple of nights here, having first booked the return ferry home from Amsterdam and then figuring we had plenty of driving days in hand to get there.

En route, we ended up driving through Barcelona on the motorways, because the traffic on the smaller roads was a nightmare.  A lot of the transit through the city was therefore spent in tunnels, so we didn't see much of it.

Lloret was one of the original Spanish destinations for foreign holidaymakers, and it seemed a little dated and tacky near the seafront, with hundreds of shops selling cheap tat.   However, our hotel was well back up the hill where the locals live, and we found some nice bars and restaurants a little off the beaten track.

beachfront at Lloret

The sand on the beaches was very coarse, but the seawater was the warmest for swimming of anywhere we found on the trip, even at resorts hundreds of miles further south.

Day 15 - to Aix-les-Bains, France

A spa town on the banks of Lac de Bourget.

Last of the really long-distance drives, we spent the first half of the day on the French motorways.   It cost around 45 euros in road tolls from the Spanish border up to Valence, where we switched back onto the national roads and eventually racked up to the foothills of the Alps in the evening.

view from the hotel window

This place is at the opposite end of the tourist spectrum from Lloret, which was reflected in the pricing.   A half-litre of beer and a glass of wine here was nearly 11 euros, compared with less than 4 in the backstreets of Lloret.

As an aside, I see huge drinks pricing discrepancies even in the bars around where we live in the UK.  We often have a drive out to a roadhouse on an evening, and prices for a pint of beer and a large glass of wine vary from less than £6 to over £10, and most of the time there's no noticeable difference in either the quality of the drinks or the surroundings.

Day 16 - to Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany

Stayed in the biggest town in the Black Forest region.   Passed the 4,000 mile mark on the way.   We drove through Geneva before returning to France and continuing north-east.  Encountered two road closures in France this day, neither of which gave any warning in advance !  We were very glad to reach the German border near Mulhouse ...

Day 17 - to Breda, the Netherlands

A blast up the autobahns and then a gentle drive up the Rhine from Mainz to Koblenz, before picking up the autobahns again and crossing into the Netherlands.

the road by the Rhine
We stopped for the night in Breda which meant a lie-in was possible in the morning, with not much distance left to cover on our final day.

Breda town centre was a mix of the old and new.   The hotel stay was the most expensive of the trip, a typical well-equipped city business hotel, but pretty soulless.


Day 18 - to the Ferry (Ijmuiden to Newcastle)

Just a short drive this day, taking in The Hague and a few Dutch coastal resorts on the way to the ferry terminal just west of Amsterdam.

However, it still took longer than I thought.   Too many traffic lights of the unintelligent type, where you're made to wait a long time regardless of whether or not there's any cross traffic.

waiting to embark

Day 19 - Home again !

South Shields, as we entered the mouth of the Tyne

Leisurely drive home, arriving in time for a game of golf in the afternoon ...


- total distance driven, 4,630 miles (7,450 km)
- average fuel consumption, 47.9 mpg (5.9 litres / 100 km)
- cheapest hotel (B&B excluding parking), £38
- most expensive hotel (B&B excluding parking), £119

The weather was great, and we had the car roof down almost all the way.   There was only a few spots of rain during the entire trip.

However, I now need another holiday to recover from all the driving - 4,600 miles is much more than I usually do in six months ...

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