Jersey to Portofino by a tiny Peugeot 206 car
(Archive: April, 2019)
So I did it! Jersey (UK) to Portofino (Italy) in three days on my first ever long distance road trip.
Like a mad animal, broken free from all the chains that had held me back for all these years, I was heading deeper and deeper in France. Using a paper map instead of gps, I was heading at a speed of 100km/h, fast enough for me but maybe not for those who had to make it to a certain destination on time, like lorry drivers, for example. They we always and everywhere, approaching from behind at a high speed horning, flashing the headlights at me, not wanting to let it go.. then overtaking and cutting right back in front of me.. I must admit, I’ve never felt such an adrenaline rush running through my veins, but I didn’t hold back, I kept my nerves and emotions in control. I was just going for it and experiencing this incredible, mind-blowing feeling of FREEDOM..
At first, I was quite sceptical as I thought they gonna be viewless and pretty boring to drive on, but actually it turned out to be one of the best driving experiences that I’ve ever had in my entire life (especially, after having been driving on tiny, little roads on an isolated island for 10 years, at 40m/h max speed (mostly struggling to move an inch due to overpopulation and bad traffic jams).
You just gotta love those motorways! Every 20-30km they have a resting/service place with toilets, petrol stations, free wifi, restaurants, camping spots.. some with absolutely stunning views and acres of green surroundings. In the beginning I tried to buy something to kinda feel ‘entitled’ to stay and use their facilities, later (as I’ve got used to them) I didn’t even bother, just drove in and used all what they had to offer like showers, toilets, staying overnight or as a camping ground if i felt like having a chilltime. When you think, for that little money that you sometimes have to pay for using a motorway (I’ve paid as little as 1.50Euros twice) you can have a FREE shower, FREE overnight stay, you can ask for a FREE water as well as use the FREE wifi. Isn’t that incredible!? I have totally fallen in love with these places.
To drive from the St.Malo (North) to Marcelle (South) it took me 1.5 tank of petrol which in money was around 80Euros (note that my car’s engine size is 1.4l) and roughly 50Euros by using the motorways. It took me a further 25Euros in petrol and around 15Euros for the motorways from Marcelle to Portofino. Mind, petrol in France is cheaper than in Italy, also on the motorways, as expected, the prices are higher (so fill your tank up before you enter one).
Roads conditions, signs and all that stuff
There are lots of roadworks going on through all of the France and it can be a bit frustrating as some of the lanes are closed for some distances leaving only one or two to drive on (so you gotta share them with others). But it’s not the end of the world, at least the French are maintaining the roads comparing to Italy, where even on the motorways there are bumps and big holes and all sorts of damage on the surfaces.
Driving in France takes a lot of guts and sharp attention due to the high speed limits (even in towns). They have a lot of roundabouts but, comparing to the Italian ones, they are pretty straight forward and easy to understand, whereas Italians have their own little ways and rules. Driving in Italy can be quite overwhelming and challenging. Please do your own research before you travel by car to those countries.
The roads in France are pretty levelled, it’s when you start heading East from Marcelle the earth surface starts to present with mountains that only grow higher as you approach Italy. So the roads can steep down by 6% and can go on like that for more than 6km (use your engine break wisely), then they can go back up (be aware of the tracks in front of you).
The mountains continue to grow in size, it can be a pretty view at first but.. you won’t really have chance to enjoy them as from Nice (France) all the way up to Livorno (that’s how far I went) those long dreaded (by myself) mountain tunnels that you need to drive through at a high speed start and never end. You enter one, exit and enter the next one.. and the next one.. and so it goes on and on, and on.. Again, the French tunnels are quite modern and well maintained, wide as well as appropriately lit so that they don’t interfere with your vision whereas the Italian ones are dark, narrow and claustrophobic. The yellow lighting and the high visibility posts along both sides really interferes with the vision as well as start to play tricks with your mind after you have passed through numerous such tunnels for hundreds of miles. Some of the tunnels are even more that 2km long.
The road signs in France are big and clearly understandable (the motorways are marked in Blue) and they are placed well before the actual exit or entry so that you have plenty time to plan your next turn and change the lines, unlike in Italy the signs are barely visible, misleading (the motorways are marked in Green) and appear with no extra warning, so it is easy to miss your turn (hence me driving in Genova (Italy) in cycles looking for the way out.
Due to driving fast and the overpopulation, both town centres in France and Italy can be a bit like driving in Istanbul - rules don’t apply! You have to be very attentive and focused. Driving outside the motorway (along the seaside) in South Italy can be very slow due to high mountains and will take a lot of your patience. The snake-like lanes are tiny going all the way up then coming all the way back down. If you feel a little mercy towards your car, I suggest that you take a bus instead to explore. The most craziest driving I’ve ever seen was in Portofino (Italy). They central road leading from one village to other is that narrow that it could easily be a one way road, but, clearly, it’s a two way. And to make things even worse - the pedestrians also walk on it in a constant flow (Portofino is a very famous place to visit as some of the Hollywood movies have been filmed there, hence thousands of tourists on the roads).
They only had one parking place in Portofino and it cost either 6Euros/h or 35Euros per day. Everywhere else in Italy you are allowed to park on the roads and carparks. Where there are yellow marked lines - it is for free all day until 7pm, on the blue marking you pay a normal fair from 9am-8pm but it’s for free overnight. In France you need to pay for parking in the cities and towns on the roads and carparks, but it’s cheap (0.60p/h) and straight forward. On the streets they have telephone-like boxes where you just type in your car’s registration number and how many hours you intend to stay, then pay by card or cash, it will print you a ticket which you display in your window screen. After 8pm until 9am the parking is free.
The Policeman, both in France and Italy all can speak a bit of English, and they are quite nice (you just need to be beautiful and give ‘em your best smile, and, of course, obey the rules and regulations). Please do your research before you go to these countries as they have their own regulations such as EU Driving kit, Air stickers in the window screen and all sorts. If you are not an EU citizen you might need an International driving permit along with your driving license and a Green card.
I hope this post was helpful and give you a bit more confidence before you hit the roads :)
See ya in my next post,