Driving from the UK to the Algarve via France and Spain
There are many UK expats living in the Algarve, many will have never travelled between the 2 countries other than by plane. The alternative to the flight is the overland trip by car, a journey of around 2500 km, not for the faint-hearted. The Google map above shows the route which is described below Having done the trip on several occasions, leaving the UK via the Channel Tunnel and also from Poole by ferry, this article describes the route.
Depending where you are in the UK, leaving from Poole/Portsmouth/Plymouth by ferry can reduce the overall journey by several hours (the Calais route is a bit of a "dog-leg" for people living in the West of England). The journey from the south coast of the UK to Faro in the Algarve typically takes 3 days and 3 nights. The first day should find yourself somewhere near Bordeaux or possibly the Spanish border, and the next 2 days take you across Spain and into Portugal.
Day 1: France
Crossing the Channel and arriving in France, one of the first things that you will probably notice is that there is generally a lot less traffic on the roads (unless you travel in August when all of France takes a holiday). It is always best to avoid Paris as the roads there are very busy, and the road signs are notoriously poor. It is easy to find yourself accidentally driving through the centre of Paris having missed a road sign. There is a terrible 6 or 7 lane motorway to the south of Paris, which I would not recommend to anyone, and if you end up in the wrong lane you can easily find yourself in the centre of Paris if you are driving from the Algarve back to the UK.
The route via Rouen down to Bordeaux avoids Paris, but once again the road signs are rather confusing and an unscheduled detour through the centre of Rouen is likely (although this is preferable to driving through central Paris). The western side of France has good roads all the way down the Spain, but if you want to avoid tolls then you will have to plan your route carefully beforehand, and allow more time for the journey. It costs around 50 Euros to follow the motorways from Calais/Cherbourg down to the border with Spain. As you approach Spain have plenty of spare Euros as there are lots of small tolls. Much of the drive through France is flat and there isn't much in the way of spectacular scenery. The traffic builds up a little around the cities but is generally light. Assuming that you left UK fairly early in the day, you will probably be close to Bordeaux by the evening, if you are lucky you may reach the Spain border. To the south of Bordeaux there are plenty of roadside services with accommodation for around 60/70 Euros per night, but I would not recommend crossing the border if you are looking for somewhere to stay, as the Spain side there is very little in the way of road-side hotels.
Day 2 France/Spain Border
Driving from France into Spain the scenery changes from flat pine forests to mountains. The roads change from the straight motorways of France to narrower roads which undulate through the spectacular green scenery around San Sebastian. The first 100km in Spain is a slow, but following signs for Burgos the road passes through tunnels in the hillsides as you leave the northern coast of Spain. You may not even see the sea once you leave France, although there is a brief glimpse towards San Sebastian. There are tolls for the first 100-200 km, but once you pass Burgos the roads are free and the scenery becomes flatter.
As you drive South of Salamanca you approach the central Plateau of Spain. The roads in Spain are generally very good, but until recently there was a stretch south of Salamanca where single-lane roads were unavoidable. These are now gradually being replaced by a motorway. A good destination to aim for at the end of day 2 is Placencia which is just about in the centre of Spain. There are places to stay in the town (which is not very big), and the prices are cheaper than staying by the roadside. In fact in central Spain it can be difficult to find a bed for the night, and some of the roadside hotels are fairly basic.
Day 3 Central/Southern Spain & Portugal
Depending on the time of year in which you travel, once you cross central Spain, the temperatures can be very hot. Travelling down from Placencia you will see the scenery change, becoming more arid, and the pines of the north are replaced by olives. Storks flying overhead will also be a common site at many times of year. It is possible to get from central Spain to the Algarve in a day, but it is an arduous drive, and having already been on the road for 2 days tiredness can set in.
Somewhere around Merida is a good stopping point for the night, and there are plenty of roadside hotels of varying quality in Southern Spain. The last leg of the journey is the drive around Seville and into Portugal. There are many signs for Portugal around Merida, but be careful if you are headed for the Algarve, as some of the signs will take you across the border at Badajoz, and the Portuguese have toll roads unlike Spain. The roads around Seville are fairly straight forward, follow the signs for Huelva, and then cross the border into Portugal at Ayamonte via the A22 motorway. The A22 continues all the way along the Algarve to Faro and the rest of the Algarve.
NOTE: The A22 became a toll road in 2011, however, there are no toll booths at the Spain border. Cameras photograph the number plates of vehicles using the road, and payment must be made at local payment centres in the Algarve such as post offices.
Read more about the A22 toll road and driving in Portugal.Tweet