Getting your own car to Greece needn’t involve a fifteen hundred mile transcontinental roadtrip. Car ferries sail regularly between Italy and Greece. Be warned: if you must have your creature comforts it can get very expensive.
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Most of this new-fangled smartphone-based travel technology eludes us, but one aspect we have mastered are the ferry booking applications.
These apps have their limitations – you cannot use them for immediate travel – but for booking absolutely at your own convenience they knock online and telephone booking into a cocked hat.
In this case we booked our trip over beers on Vrijthof Square in Maastricht. The idea had been to turn up at the port when we were ready but, after paying twice the normal rate to cross the ‘Channel earlier that day under similar circumstances, we chicken out.
Maybe aferry.co.uk’s app is too easy considering that in five or six clicks we spent £446.79, the price for one car and two adults in an outside cabin on Minoan Lines three days in advance. That’s one way BTW.
In fact, it doesn’t seem to make much difference when you book. A similar journey this September would cost the same; in mid-July, £100 more (all prices are each way and approximate). An inside cabin saves £40 but the absolute cheapest way for two people and a car to get to Greece is by bedding down on deck or in the corridors (someone even pitched a tent). In September that costs £210 in total. Airline-style seats are £25 each while a four berth ‘junior suite’ is £50 more than a regular cabin.
Taking your own car to Greece is not cheapy cheap but the prices are comparable to Brittany Ferries’ UK-Spain sailings.
Cruise Olympia looks vast as it edges towards the quayside but at 55,000t and 224m it’s only a bit bigger than P&O’s latest Dover-Calais ferries. Built in 2010, it carries 3,000 passengers, 1,000 vehicles and has 413 cabins. It’s big enough that we don’t ever fully get our bearings.
The ship starts at Trieste in north east Italy. After Ancona, it calls at Igoumenitsa then Patras, on Greece‘s west coast. Both Ancona and Trieste are just over 1,000 miles from London. It only costs £30 more to sail from Trieste but the boat departs at 06:30. It leaves Ancona at 14:30, gets to Igoumenitsa at 08:30 and Patras at 17:00 the following day (see below for maps).
Only the driver is allowed in the car during boarding. Otherwise boarding/ disembarking is similar to crossing the ‘Channel though the lanes are sorted by destination. We got a large wooden card with ‘Igoumenitsa’ written in big letters to put in the windscreen. You are allowed to go back to the car during the trip.
Ancona – population 100,000 – is definitely easy on the eye considering it’s the largest port in the Adriatic. The name comes from its early Greek settlers – in about 400BC – from the word for ‘elbow’, not because it’s lies on a bump of the east central Italian coast – which it does – but from the shape of the promontory which makes a natural harbour.
Apart from Greece, ferries also sail to several destinations in Croatia, just across the Adriatic.
Those thinking to stay in Ancona the night before their sailing should check out the Grand Hotel Palace, on this hill. Port/town view double rooms can be had for around £130 B&B.
DriveEurope last sailed from Italy to Greece (from Brinsidi in the far south to Corfu) in 1987 on an inter-rail trip. We slept under the stars and brought our own booze. This trip wasn’t quite like that. For one thing we sailed out of Ancona and into the rain, but with little else to do for the next 18 hours there was a definite party atmosphere as the boat steamed away.
The food on-board is good quality but quite expensive. There is a proper restaurant but we ate in the self-serve café. Dinner, desert and coffee was €19 each while breakfast was €12 each. Including some beers (€4.50/pint) and a nightcap we spent just under €100 on food and drink onboard.
Luckily there was big enough gap under the clouds to watch the sunset…
…although it takes a zoom lens to see in all it’s glory.
Compared to the sheer glamour of the black marble reception area – where you check-in to get the keycard and directions to your cabin – the accommodation, with ensuite shower room and toilet, is rudimentary though scrupulously clean.
On the final run in to Igoumenitsa the next morning, there’s a (naturally) close up view of Corfu’s east coast.
Meanwhile on the other side the misty mountains of Albania slip by.
The surprise wasn’t just that there were a few other Brits on the ship but that some had their dogs with them. There were quite a few dogs around and all seemed to be coping okay. Pets cost about €40 each way but the owners are restricted to an inside ‘pet friendly’ cabin.
Despite the fine setting, off-puttingly Rough Guide describes Igoumenitsa it as ‘decidedly unappealing’ and ‘rather dodgy’.
Population 25,000, it’s the third largest passenger port in Greece after Athens (Piraeus) and Patras but thanks to the Via Egnatia motorway, opened in 2009, it is the country’s busiest container port.
At ten miles from the Albanian border it’s a frontier town too hence it was levelled WW2 and rebuilt in an apparently ‘bland utilitarian’ style. The coast just south however is very popular with holidaymakers.
Next: Driving in Greece. From Igoumenitsa to Thessaloniki via Mount Olympus.