Drive to Spain for Christmas

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30 Jun 2009 00:00 by Vynehound Star rating. 29 posts Send private message

We are thinking of driving to Spain to spend Chrismas on the Costa del Sol. We live in Andover in Hampshire and are confused which ferry crossing would be best. Also we have heard Toll Roads are very expensive. Anyone got any advice?

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30 Jun 2009 18:29 by almeria1 Star rating. 4 posts Send private message

Hello, we will be doing the same trip, from Charlton Village.   We've heard that it's best to go via Portsmouth on the ferry to Spain rather than driving through France.  But, will you be wanting to take leisurely drive down through France as part of your trip?  The west coast of France is what others have said and then down to Spain through to Barcelona and then down.  Or via Madrid and down through Albacete? We will be going within a couple of months (depending on selling the place here) so we can let you know if we take a good route!

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30 Jun 2009 19:41 by foxbat Star rating in Granada. 1114 posts Send private message

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Portsmouth- Bilbao or Portsmouth-Santander routes during the winter can be quite rough and either route involves 30 hours at sea.

Portsmouth-Caen (Ouistreham) or Portsmouth-St.Malo are both relatively short sea routes of about 6 hours duration.

When we came here we used the Portsmouth-Caen route so my personal recommendation would be one of the short sea routes then as follows;

Caen-Rennes OR St Malo-Rennes then onward to Nantes-Bordeaux-Bayonne-Irun-Donostia (San Sebastian)-Vitoria Gasteiz-Burgos-Madrid (pick up the M50 motorway ring road that runs between the airfields at Barajas and Torrejon then  south to Valdepenas-Linares.

At Linares you have another choice of routes; either continue due South through Jaen to the outskirts of Granada then take the A92 to Malaga or again from Linares you can swing westward through  Cordoba and Antequera again finishing in Malaga.

Tolls on this route are not that expensive... and apart from the early stages between the ports at Caen and the outskirts of Caen its dual carriageway or motorway all the way...

If you are going to the CDS I can see no reason whatsoever for using any route that involves going anywhere near Barcelona since Barca is nearly 1000kms from Malaga and the CDS...

Hope this helps...



This message was last edited by foxbat on 30/06/2009.



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30 Jun 2009 22:14 by jamesyvonne Star rating. 181 posts Send private message

foxbat as a matter of interest how long did the journey take you.

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30 Jun 2009 23:49 by foxbat Star rating in Granada. 1114 posts Send private message

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Now that is a leading question...

Some of the regulars to this forum will know the full story but essentially it took a week!

BUT the actual travel time was not that long about 18 hours with two drivers it's do-able in about 14-16 hours total after the ferry trip; let me explain...

Pull up a chair it's going to be a long night...

We bought a huge Yank tank Motorhome just prior to leaving the UK and did a couple of long haul runs to check it out and all seemed to be OK.

We took the afternoon sailing from Portsmouth to Caen and stayed overnight just outside Caen on a campsite; then set off the following morning, fully intending to make it as far as the Spanish border all in one hop, bearing in mind that the M/H was uncomfortable to drive at much above 50mph (It had horrible soft squidgy American Suspension). We made it far as a point some 70kms South of Nantes when the fan belt failed. Because of the size of the M/H we had to wait around until the followong morning before we could get a Heavy Recovery Truck / Trailer rig to get us to a garage way back in Nantes. We spent until around 4pm at the garage getting it fixed and then set off again. We crossed the France / Spain Border and were on our way South from San Sebastian late afternoon / early evening and were discussing whether to just plod on and find a campsite when we heard horrible rumblings from underneath the body, followed by a nasty fishy smell and steam from every ventilation heating duct in the cab area.

We were halfway up a mountain on a dual carriageway and ground to a standstill on the limited width hard shoulder.

To cut a long story short we called the Police who escorted us back down the mountain the wrong way (They stopped the traffic just before a slip road we had passed about 30 minutes earlier)...with the engine just ticking over and they took us to an industrial area which had a truck garage. Unfortunately this was Friday night and the place would be closed until Monday morning. The police made sure we were secure and then left. We camped out at this Industrial site until Monday Morning...

On the Monday morning we made contact with the Garage owner and showed him the problem; Fan Belt (again), power steering belt, brake assist and Aircon belt, a split radiator hose and a blown apart expansion bottle for ther radiator; all American Chevrolet parts and definitely not available locally. We could order in the parts from an M/H dealer in the UK but this would take upwards of a week to ten days then the garage costs of actually doing the work. In the event this was all immaterial anyway; the guy couldn't do the work for at least a month...So we were stuck, well and truly. 

After long discussions we decided that our our only option was to get the M/H onto the back of a Heavy Recovery low loader and delivered to the Campsite in Granada where we had originally supposed to arrive on the Friday after leaving Portsmouth. This was to prove a very expensive operation at just over 4000Euros (payable in cashor bank transfer in advance.) Also we couldn't travel with the M/H so we would have to go back to San Sebastian and hire a car for a one way trip to Granada. We arranged for the recovery and the rep from the company offered to take us to San Sebastian to arrange the car hire.

The truck and trailer rig arrived at about 9am on the Wednesday (One week after we left Pompey!) and between us we got the M/H onto the trailer and strapped down. They set off South at about 10am and we set off North back to S/S. We arrived at about 11am but then hit another credit card; Again the recovery company rep helped us out; she used her Mothers(!) card to guarantee payment on the understanding that we would pay cash for the hire period in Granada. We set off from S/S at around 1pm with the rep acting as pilot to lead us out of town and back onto the road South. We were about three hours behind the truck and we knew we would not catch up until we were well South of Madrid, even travelling at 120Kms/hr plus; the truck would be travelling at 80kms/hr and so had at least a  240km start on us, but we had to be at the campsite before the truck arrived in Granada.

In the event we arrived at the campsite at about 9pm having passed the truck between Jaen and Granada. It sustained some more damage on the trip which left the diesel tank rutured...the guys had strapped it down a little too well...Suffice it to say that by fair means and foull we got the tank off the trailer and into the campsite.and parked where it became our home for the next six months! But that's another story...

What I would say is this European Breakdown Insurance is an 'abolute must have...' we couldnt get breakdown insurance for the Tank because of it age and it's size...but it is an essential.

In order to comply with Spanish Law you must also carry a full set of replacement bulbs (and the tools to change them), two warning triangles and most importantly,  Hi-Viz vests for every occupant of the vehicle; if you wear glasses for driving you must have a spare pair with you too. You should also carry all of the vehicle's documentation. If you have anon-photo ID Driver's Licence you should also obtain an International Drivers Licence from your Post Office (Valid 1 year and costs about £3).

If for any reason you are stopped by the police and invited to 'step out of the car' put the HiViz vest on before you get out of the car.

On the spot fines are payable immediately they are issued if you are a tourist...

Hope all of this helps!



This message was last edited by foxbat on 01/07/2009.



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01 Jul 2009 02:29 by foxbat Star rating in Granada. 1114 posts Send private message

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For Everyone Considering the drive from England to the CDS in Winter...

A couple of thoughts occurred to me after I posted that long entry and the driving time estimate...

Please bear in mind that for people not used to continental driving and driving a UK reg car in Europe...

a)  you will be at an immediate disadvantage because your steering wheel is on the wrong side and overtaking manoevres have to planned well in advance...

b) The toll booths are set up for left hand drive cars

c) My estimate for driving time of 14-16 hours is based on summertime driving where it is full daylight from around 7am until around  9.30pm. During the winter, especially around Christmas, it doen't get light until around 9am and its dark by 5pm. This obviously means that a greater part of your drive is going to be in darkness on strange roads...and it gets VERY dark, very quickly, not like the UK where there is some residual light from village or town street lights being reflected off the cloudbase.Depending on what time your ferry arrives in France might well be a deciding factor in whether you decide to do it in one hop or to make an overnight stop somewhere en-route. Again the overnight stop location would be dependent upon your arrival time at your French Ferryport...

Just a thought...or two...or three!



This message was last edited by foxbat on 01/07/2009.



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01 Jul 2009 11:00 by jamesyvonne Star rating. 181 posts Send private message

thanks for the information sounds like one of those Victor MELDREW moments,     we will  avoid the all american mobile home and stick to the trusted well serviced car. best wishes james

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01 Jul 2009 21:41 by b4ssy Star rating. 24 posts Send private message

 Hi All

I am doing the trip this december. I will take the eurotunnel from folkestone to calais and head to bordeaux for an overnight stay. On day 2 I will drive to madrid for my overnight and day 3 will end in CDS. I am travelling with my girlfriend, my son who will be 9 months old  and 2 large dogs.

I have done the trip before a couple of years ago before my son was born and made it to biarritz on day 1 and CDS on day 2. It was approx 1400 miles from calais so it was 2 days of approx 700 miles which was 10 hours averaging 70mph per day.

If you plan your route on the website the tolls will be calculated as well as speed cameras being pointed out.

Another useful site is on which you can plan your trip and locate hotels along the route. Their hotel brands include ibis, sofitel and novotel and seem very reasonably priced.

Hope this helps

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03 Jul 2009 11:41 by xetog Star rating in Wiltshire/holiday ap.... 516 posts Send private message

We posted on this one over a year ago and said we would never do the Portsmouth - Santander trip again! 

However, 18 months of reflection and we are ready for another go.  We went over in February 2008.  Unfortunately our trip coincided with one of the worst storms the crew could remember.  We were due to board at 21.00, but bad weather delayed the incoming ship and we boarded at 04.00.  We went straight to bed and in spite (or because of) the rough weather I would have slept soundly if it were not for my wife screaming out out every time a large wave crashed into the side of the ship.  As soon as we reached the Bay of Biscay, the waves were head - on and the ship more stable, so the rest of the trip was not too bad.

Instead of reaching Bilbao at 08.00 we didn't get off until 14.00.  We didn't want to stop as the car was loaded with very stealable stuff, so we decided to plod on.  Luckily I had just been given a Tomtom satnav by the kids and apart from a poor start caused by my fumbling the instructions, once we got on to the motorways everything was fine.  I needed fuel, so we has a short stop for that and stopped again for a quick 'lunch' somewhere north of Madrid.  Madrid came and went in the dark, but faithful Tomtom kept me on the straight and narrow and we reached Formentera at about 23.30, so the trip, including breaks took us about 91/2 hours, much of it in the dark, without ever exceeding the speed limits.

After 2 months we did the return trip, this time starting at about 13.00 and driving until dusk, finding a hotel and driving the last 120km the next morning.  Again the ship was a bit late, but not excessively and although the weather in the Channel was again poor, docked only a little late.  Altogether a far nicer trip.

The thing to remember is that it's just a ferry!  They sell it as a mini-cruise, but it's just a glorified channel hop and the facilities are pretty basic.  I spent most of my time sitting in one of the lounges reading, taking the occasional 'constitutional' walk around the ship, going up and down the various decks by the stairs to get a bit of exercise, but unless you are into smoky 'night club' bars, there is little else to do.  There is a cinema, but of course if the weather is rough a hot, windowless space, is not the place to be and its expensive, as along with all your food and drinks, it is of course extra.  I dubbed them the Ryanair of the waves as they seem to  charge you extra for everything you wanted, which after paying almost £600 for the trip, seemed unreasonable. On a real cruise an all inclusive price for a luxury trip is about £90 per person per night, this works out at about £110 pp/pn on the same basis.

That having been said, we live in Canterbury, 12 miles from Dover / Folkestone and could easily take one of the shorter hops to France and motor down.  We have yet to try this because we take as much as we can in the car and after friends had had their car burgled at an overnight stop, we feel that we would rather not risk it.  We could go over via one route and back another and we might try that sometime.  If you live somewhere near Portsmouth, (about 120 miles from us) I would have thought the Bilboao or Sanander crossing was a no-brainer, why add over 100 miles each way to your trip to travel via the Kent ports, but then, what do I know? The traveller facilities in Portsmouth are pretty dire if you have any delay, but they are heaven compared with those at Bilbao, so don't aim to stay long in either.

I can't remember how much we paid in Spanish tolls, but it was insignificant.  We have since used the Michelin web site to gauge the cost of both routes and the differencee is very small once tolls, fuel and overnight stops are taken into account.  We also save on this years horrendous car hire rates by using our own vehicle. I don't personally find driving a RH drive car is a problem.  Most of the trip is on dual carriage way, where you simply look in the other wing mirror and if you are using single carriageway roads, time is clearly not of the essence, so overtaking not a priority.  You are also more familiar with your own vehicle and need to give far less concentration to operating an unfamiliar, over used and under maintained hire car.

Well, I hope this is of some help (it's the longest post I have ever made), whatever you chose will clearly be a matter of personal preference, but having made your choice, I hope you enjoy the trip.



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03 Jul 2009 14:52 by Darrenwilmshurst Star rating. 18 posts Send private message


We live in Margate and chose to drive to Murcia via Dover/Calais Ferry. By way of comparison...

Excluding the 30 mins to Dover and the 90 mins crossing the total distance from Calais to Murcia was 1250 miles and it took us 18 hours; 8 hours on the first day stopping at a Kyriad in Cahors (just north of Toulouse) and 10 hours the following day.

We took the route west of Paris ie via Rouen and then across Orleans which has less tolls. Total cost of tolls was €88 plus the overnight stay in the Kyriad which at Easter was €50. However, wouldn't recommend that you have breakfast which was €8 per head including kids!

Doing the same at the end of July - P&O Ferries doing some goog offers at the moment on Dover/Calais.


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03 Jul 2009 20:24 by Vynehound Star rating. 29 posts Send private message

Thanks to everyone for their advice. Feeling better about going now, in fact cant wait. Weve decided that the best crossing for us will be by Condore Seacat from Weymouth to St Malo. Not keen on sailing so its not too long on board. Went over to Gurnsey on it last year and it was really quick. Weymouths not as good as Portsmouth for us, but better than trailing to Dover. Still not worked out best places to stay overnight. Any ideas? We arrive in St Malo  at 7pm. and as one of you pointed out it will be dark so thought we'd go straight to a hotel, have a look around St Malo as never been  there,then get an early start next morning.Any advice on the most reasonable european breakdown service.?

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04 Jul 2009 09:44 by Jeanie60 Star rating. 103 posts Send private message

 Hi every one,

Very interested in this thread.

We will be traveling to cb november, we are doing the portsmouth santander but not booked yet.

Is it better to book early or just wait a while not sure which date yet.

We have never done this before i would rather fly but this way allows you to take more stuff, its a good job my husband is used to driving abroad.

We were realy doing this because of our dog oli but he has gone to doggy heaven now   but he had a good life and was over 16yrs, i dont think he fancied spain.

We are looking to rent for the winter round the Quesada area we hope to buy.


What a nightmare your jouney sounded.




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04 Jul 2009 11:45 by Jack5340 Star rating in Enfield and Calahond.... 43 posts Send private message

Vynehound, Jeanie60,

We are traveling to CDS on 13th July. We go from Portsmouth (21:15 departure) to Bilbao which takes 35 hours.We chose this way because the ferry docks at 08:00 which give us a lot of daylight time for most of the drive to Calahonda on CDS. The ferry to Santander whilst quicker docks in the evening also, it's cheaper to Bilbao.

I've brought a satnav so there should be no problem in navigating the roads. I've driven in Spain quite a bit but never in a RHD car I must say.

The satnav tells me it should take 10 hours to get to CDS. Does anyone know if that is realistic?

Also are there any good places to stop for food/drink and a short rest?

When we've done the trip I will post how it went.


Jack5340 & better half.


Don't say you can't do something without adding the word YET after it.

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04 Jul 2009 13:25 by b4ssy Star rating. 24 posts Send private message


Yes, 10 hours sounds reasonable. I did Biarritz to CDS in 10 hours, it was about 700 miles. Bilbao looks to be about the same distance.

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06 Jul 2009 17:33 by Vynehound Star rating. 29 posts Send private message

Hi, its me again asking stupid questions. Decided to stay overnight at St Malo, any reasonable hotels there? Also will spend a second over night stop half way between St Malo and Malaga, any ideas? Is it better to book or are there plenty of places to just turn up at? Is there a Xmas market in St Malo around 19th Dec.? Anyone used Green Flag Euro Breakdown? It it any good?


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