More than 4,500 miles through six countries in eleven days. One of our worst trips, or one of the best? Certainly one of the most expensive.
The car clocked past 20,000 miles on the road to Besancon. By the time it reached the UK, a week later, the odo read 23,492 miles. On top of the 1,100 miles already covered on the way to eastern France, it made for a total of 4,592 miles in eleven days.
Never in a million years would normal people attempt this journey, from the north of mainland Europe to the very south – and back – well within the annual fortnight.
If the mileage alone isn’t off-putting enough – an average of 420 miles per day overall, or 510 on actual driving days – then what about the road tolls?
A total of £313.66, just for the receipted ones. The Portuguese automatic toll charges are yet to show up on the credit card statement.
All that said, the biggest thing we take away from this trip is that it was possible at all.
We were so surprised to reach northwest Spain on schedule – after driving down to Gibraltar from the Dutch North Sea and up the Atlantic Coast through Lisbon – that we hadn’t done any planning.
For instance, who knew Santiago de Compostela was twenty five miles inland? Or that the coast to the west – Costa da Morte (the rocky Coast of Death) – is, apparently, one of the most beautiful in Europe? Or that La Coruna, occupying its own promontory – home to the very first Zara clothes shop, the world’s oldest lighthouse and the characteristic Galerias, glazed balconies to protect from the rain – is an industrial hellhole?
Or that, particularly, the northwest coast, in sharp contrast to the south of Spain, is completely unspoilt and almost completely lacking in tourist infrastructure?
We felt incredibly lucky to find, at 21:30, a new-build Best Western resort in Viveiro for the all-in price of €68. So grateful in fact we didn’t mind being kept awake half the night by the sound of waves crashing onto the beach 200ft below.
In terms of boxes ticked we achieved quite a lot: a drive up the causeway Delta Works on the south west Dutch coast; exploring the wild north east Netherlands (on foot and by bike); inspecting on-going works on the bottleneck A31 Emstunnel at Leer; a drive down the A45 ‘Queen of the Autobahns’, including a look at the award winning new Autobahn church at Wilden and a quick back road detour through the Sauerland; a whizz down the original Hitlerbahn A5 at Darmstadt; an update on ‘The Gap at Sarreguemines’ – the enduring lack of a north-south motorway connection between France, Germany and Luxembourg at Saarbrucken; sampling the motorways on the French side of the border down to Basel; cross-country across an outstanding corner of the fabulous Auvergne; an update on upcoming works on the A9 to the Spanish border; finally putting in some serious miles on Spanish motorways; Granada; the famous A397 Ronda road; seeing the border situation in Gibraltar for ourselves (tense, scary); Cadiz; and – most important – a first taste of Portugal, south to north.
Brace yourself to hear lots more about all of these in the near future.
The ones that got away however were pretty major. We had no choice but to stop for fuel in Millau – we were about to run out – but relying on the satnav, in the pitch dark, took us up the southern side of the valley and we missed the famous viaduct entirely save for its red-lit tips in the distance.
There was also no time to drive Veleta, Europe’s highest paved road, in the Sierra Nevada east of Granada.
And the Brittany Ferries’ boat back from Spain, across the Bay of Biscay – to complement our outbound P&O Hull-Zeebrugge sailing, across the North Sea in Force 9 winds – was booked solid by the time we got round to sorting it out.
That at least meant the opportunity to check out Bordeaux (and the new A63 and A10 upgrading) on the way back, though – severely over-confident now – we came back through Paris rather than the reliable A28 Le Mans-Rouen bypass.
The idea had been to finally fill the windscreen with the Arc de Triomphe – having spectacularly failed to do so on a previous trip – but a succession of accidents and incidents on the inbound A10 and A6, the A86 super-peripherique and then the outbound A1 too meant it took a traumatic four hours to drive through the French capital. It might be a while before we go back.
Instead of the 18:40 boat back from Calais we ended upon the 23:25. Thanks to P&O for re-arranging our booking with no fuss and no extra cost.
Writing within forty eight hours of getting back we still can’t decide if this trip – because of the wilful mileage – was one of our worst, or – because of the sheer variety – one of the best.