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Darian Dec 11th, 2010 09:48 AM

Road trip around the Mediterranean :)
Hi everyone!

My boyfriend Dave, and I have done little traveling in our lives so we need a helpful hand or two for some direction. Neither of us has ever been to Europe, so I don't know if our ideas are practical or if our imaginations have romantisized this a bit too much :)

We have this idea of renting a car (and buying a state of the art GPS) and driving the coast of Spain, France and Italy. We love driving and our vision is to drive a convertible along a curvy mountain road with my scarf flying behind lol.
Should I be worried about the price of renting a car? I've read already that driving in the city is insane and not recommended. Do you think a train would be better? Would it be more sensible to rent an air conditioned vehicle?

We have 2 months, possibly more, for the whole trip. The only place that we know that we'd like to visit specifically is Pompei. We can travel there at any time of the year.

Which places inspire you along that route the most? We'll be flying from Vancouver, Canada, Any ideas on the best place to fly into price wise?

Any help is much appreciated, we're so excited to begin panning :)

Darian and Dave!

nytraveler Dec 11th, 2010 10:30 AM

First, don;t know what convertibles are available in europe and suspect they would be "specialty" cars and very expensive - as is picking up in one country aand dropping in another. (Drop off fee is usually in the hundreds of dollars - more for a specialty car.)

Part of that trip wold be pleasant if you do it early enough in the year (April or May). Later than that and some parts will be hot as hell - and you will be begging for AC. (Southern Spain is in the 80's in April, French coast wold be cooler, Italian would be warm but probably pleasant in May.)

What sort of budget do you have for this trip and how much time?

We have done MANY road trips in europe - although nothing like this - we try to do 3 weeks with a large city as an anchor at either end. Then we pick up the car on leaving the first and drop off on arriving at the end. In between we try to stay in smaller cities, towns or countryside. You need to assume in most places you will have to pay for overnight parking to the tune of $30 to $40 per night - either for hotel parking or a public garage.

What you want is certainly doable and sound like great fun - but you will need the time and money to do it.

Zerlina Dec 11th, 2010 10:32 AM

I think you have seen too many movies...

Picking up a car in Spain and dropping it in Italy (or vice-versa) will cost a bundle. Gas, possible tolls and parking will add up to more than train fare.

Large chunks of the Mediterranean coast in all three countries are wall-to-wall hotels and condos.

Driving in cities in Italy is not only difficult, it is often forbidden.

bobthenavigator Dec 11th, 2010 11:36 AM

That is a nice dream and really quite feasible. I have done most of what you propose but not in one trip--more like parts of 20 trips. The first step is to understand the French lease packages for cars. That will get you a Peugeot or Renault car---you pick the model. It is less if you pick and drop in France, but you could drop in Rome with a surcharge. I would start in Nice. How far you go will depend on time. Then, you need to do a ton of homework to understand which coastal areas are really drivable. Sounds like fun to me.

WomBatt Dec 11th, 2010 11:46 AM


'We have this idea of renting a car (and buying a state of the art GPS) and driving the coast of Spain, France and Italy.' -
As advised above. An extraordinary repatriation fee for drop off in another country. You will not 'find' these countries or this 'curvy mountain road' by driving the (generally) now ugly built up coastlines.
'I've read already that driving in the city is insane and not recommended.' - Correct, more expense and very time wasting when many sights are in a compact area that could be walked or are accessible by public transport.
'Do you think a train would be better? ' All forms of transport - bus, train and car - have their place.
'Which places inspire you?' - No, wrong. Obtain the guides and determine which places inspire you.

Cathinjoetown Dec 11th, 2010 12:30 PM

Watch out for the scarf, remember what happened to Isadora Duncan.

Seriously, go for it, much of the scenery is still gorgeous but, as mentioned, many areas are very built up.

The Atlantic coast, in general, is less crowded, so don't totally discount it.

zeppole Dec 11th, 2010 02:38 PM

If you want to go to Pompei, and you want to rent a car, don't go in the high summer. There is too much traffic along the coast.

You might consider getting a leasing deal from France, as bobthenavigator mentioned, and exploring the possibility of a trip that included Corsica and Sardegna -- which might be the best places for enjoying scenic coast driving other than the Amalfi area. You could cut down on some of the driving by using car ferries, including a car ferry to Barcelona.

Rather than drive the coast from Spain into France, I suggest that going up into Pyrenees would be more exciting.

My ideal trip along these lines would be:

Drive from Nice to Italian Riviera. then veer inland through the Tuscan hills, then drive to Pompeii/Amalfi/Salerno. Then head up to Rome via coastal route (Gaeta, Sperlonga, etc), and take a car ferry to Sardegna, proceed on to Corsica car ferry to Barcelona (via Genova if necessary). Barcelona/Costa Brava, then through the Pyrenees to San Sebastian. Enjoy the Spanish Basque coast and head on to the French Basque coast, and then finally to wherever in France you need to drop off the car to fly home. Paris?

I would start in very late April, well clear of Easter.

If you stay out of cities, you won't have to spend a lot of money for lodging. But gas, tolls and car ferry fees will be really pricey.

Darian Dec 11th, 2010 03:53 PM

WOW, thank you all for the responses!
As mentioned in my fist note, we knew our dreams could be unrealistic. Unfortunately, not ever having been to Europe, we only have the movies to guide us lol.

Zeppolle, Thank you so much for the ideas! The places you mentioned will give us a good idea on what to start researching. It's difficult to start looking at every city on a map in order to decide, this will be a great guide to start to focus on :)

Cathinjoetown, thank you for the support :)

What I might start doing now is mapping out the less built up areas and nice sections to drive on and then plan on taking other transit for the other areas. Hopefully I can find some websites on the road conditions and areas that Zeppolle mentioned (Nice to Italian Riviera, Tuscan hills and Pompei) We definitely don't have to drive the entire trip!

So nice to have people who know the ins and outs of these trips for the feedback.

nytraveler, we honestly don't have a budget in mind yet. We're open to how much it'll cost, but we don't have anything to base a guesstimate on. We were originally planning on 6-12 months of traveling, but decided against it. It's probably best to work our way up to those extended periods of time away. Previously, our longest trip has only been 3 weeks.

D and d :)

Zerlina Dec 11th, 2010 05:49 PM

Two months in Europe, whatever you decide to do, is not going to be inexpensive. I would suggest that investing in three good guidebooks, one each for Spain, France and Italy, would be worth it. Read them. You may well find that there are places that interest you in all three countries that are not on the coast and do not involve winding mountain roads. You can then plan a trip according to your own interests, using trains, planes or ferries and renting cars as appropriate. Guidebooks will also give you an idea of costs.

nytraveler Dec 11th, 2010 05:52 PM

Assuming you are Americans you are not allowed to travel in europe for that amount of time. Schengen (most of the EU - minus UK) allows tourists to stay for only 90 days. Then you have to leave for at lest 90 days.

To stay longer requires another type of visa (student registered in a school, work - that you get from the company employing you - or sort of retirement - which requires you to have very substantial assets).

As a first step I would consider your budget - Europe will be more expensive than the US - esp the type of trip you are talking about and how much time you can actually get. You should start doing research on specific places and if yo don;t have basic language skills each pick a language and start to learn the basics. (You can get along in English in major tourist centers but even there you should know the politenesses and how to read a menu - an doff the beaten track a basic knowledge will help.)

Darian Dec 11th, 2010 08:27 PM

Not that it matters, but we're Canadian, not American.

We'll take all the advice. Thank you everyone :)

We'll definitely pick up some books. Coming on here was informative though, there's only so much information you can find in books. Especially on a topic that doesn't seem to be talked about as often.

It's overwhelming looking at a map and sorting through every city on it to decide where to go.

Thank you for all the ideas everyone :) If we get stuck along the way, I'll be sure to ask some more specific questions. This has been a great start though.
Otherwise, I'll let you all know how the trip went! :)

D and d

kimhe Dec 11th, 2010 11:51 PM

The Spain part of the trip could at least come close to adventure with some planning. I would have gone in Spring with beautiful landscapes, not so hot and less tourists on the road.

Start with Costa de la Luz/Coast of light between Huelva and Cádiz, both cities dating back to Phoenician times. Some of the finest beaches in Spain and not much developed.

Get a taste of the curvy mountain roads towards famous "white village" Ronda:

Then down to the coast again and to fabulous Málaga city, the capital of Costa del Sol (pop 500 000):

You could then explore the Axarquía region east of Málaga towards the Alpujarras mountain region south of Granada. All along this way you can easily combine mountain and coast.

Relatively small Nerja (with the famous caves) would be a good coastal stop along this part of the trip. Touristy but has retained lots of charm.
The Nerja caves:

Or go to tiny village Maro for total peace and quiet:

Then you could explore the unspoilt and arid Almería coast. This region has been scenery of many "spaghetti western" movies.

Continue up along the coast towards dynamic and lively Valencia, and perhaps explore Jason Webster's "Sacred Sierra":
Video promotion of the book:
I love this video from the Mercado Central in Valencia, one of the oldest running food markets in Europe:

Then further up the coast and through cava winery country to plain fabulous Barcelona. North of Barcelona, you find the Salvador Dalí-land of Costa Brava:

MyriamC Dec 13th, 2010 07:29 AM

Renting a convertible in Europe is pretty expensive. Whether an A/C car would be advisable depends from when you are going. We drive a convertible car and usually travel to the south of France (we are in Belgium) in June. Two years ago it was so hot at times that we only drove top down in the mornings and evenings, and had our A/C on 'high' during the day.

Mephistopheles Aug 7th, 2011 09:48 AM

I know I'm probably too late to help, but don't be afraid of driving in Europe. I've been there a dozen times, in nearly every Western European country, and IMO the best way to see it is by car. It's difficult to get a good driver's car via rental, but look for a VW if you can, or some other hatchback. The cars' suspensions in Europe are set up sportier than similar cars here in the U. S., so they handle better and will suffice. If you need a cabriolet, try to get a Fiat 500. It's not a true convertible, but it's a good car for the job and you'll get some sun. Also, they have fewer atomatics over there so brush up on your manual transmission skills as it will greatly expand your options and reduce your costs. And it will make what ever car you get perform much better.

It's true you should avoid the large cities, but who wants to drive there anyway? Other than speeding, which is patrolled by camera, it's not that difficult to drive over there, and there are some great roads when you get away from town. Especially along base of the Alps, whether you're in France, Italy, Germany or Austria. Avoid Switzerland-they fine you based on income, and I'm sure they're always looking to nail an American. European drivers tend to be much more civilized once you leave the metro areas, and actually stay to the right for the most part. (apart from Britain of course.) My passport radar detector can be downloaded with camera locations, etc., and so far in a small sample, it has worked.

They will require the extra insurance even if your credit card provides it so renting is costly, but time is your most valuable asset on a vacation like that, so don't waste it on public transportation. It's OK for the larger cities, but it's a time vacuum no matter how "efficient" people try to tell you it is. It's a classic mistake to try to save money on vacation at the expense of time. Don't. Skip a few meals or cut somewhere else, but not on your car. And no matter what, get A/C if it's not cold-I promise it's worth it.

An iPad/iPhone is a great navigation tool, especially when trying to find a small Balsamic Vinegar Acetaia in Modena, Italy for example. (Highly recommend) Its probably better to rent from an American company so if the bill is wrong you'll have a chance to make it right when you get back. If you're smooth, you can sometimes get them to let you pick out your own car. Just compliment everything about them and their country. It actually works on occasion. Also, try to talk to the workers outside in the lot. They know which cars are better, newer, etc., and can give you a recommendation.

The road along the Amalfi Coast is fun, but traffic can be a wet blanket so get out there early in the morning, or some other off-peak time. A trip through the Black Forest in Bavaria is great too, but the autobahn, like many other roads, suffers from congestion, so again, get your butt up early and beat the madding crowd. Check the BMW website for the European Delivery program-they give you some packages you can buy, but don't buy them. Just check them out and follow the routes. Excellent.

BTW, if you have the means, that is also a high recommendation. Taking your new Bimmer along those roads, (they cover insurance, etc. for you) is nearly as good as it gets. Other German makers have similar offers, so take your pick. For trips of 15 days or more, a good option is vehicle leasing. It's cheaper, can be easier to use, and may give you better choices.

I know this may be a little verbose, but hopefully some of you will find it helpful. For me, driving in Europe can be the highlight of your trip if your smart about it. I can't wait for our next one.

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