We have been to the Costa del Sol many times and have always flown from England. This time we wanted to try something different and so decided to try driving from England to Spain. Wanting to keep the costs down, we looked at various different options.
During our research, we looked at alternative routes, the driving regulations for each country and the insurance requirements needed to take a UK car to Europe, and the regulations within France and Spain.
In the end, we decided to drive to Portsmouth, England and get the Brittany Ferry to Santander, Spain. From there we drove to Malaga, avoiding the toll roads. This route meant that we missed out France, kept the costs down and were able to relax on the journey as opposed to driving the whole way.
Below is an account of the information we found out, the experience we had and some useful tips if you wish to make the same journey.
Regulations for Driving through France and Spain
*Driving licenses issued in EU and EEA countries are accepted, as long as the driver is 18 years of age.
*Vehicles from the UK can be taken into France and Spain for a maximum of 6 months in any given 12 month period, per country, as long as you have the necessary paperwork:
+Full, valid driving licence
+Insurance documents (third party or above)
+Proof of ownership (V5C certificate)
+MOT Test Certificate
France has some very strong driving laws, which must be followed at all times.
*All drivers are forbidden to wear headsets and/or headphones whilst driving, no matter whether listening to music or making/ receiving phone calls.
*French motorways are privately managed and have their own breakdown services. If you break down you need to use the orange emergency telephones which are located every 2km along main roads and motorways. These will put you directly through to the local police or official breakdown service operating in that area. If however, no orange telephone is available you should call the emergency services on 112. You will be towed to a safe designated area where you can be met by your chosen breakdown provider.
*Drivers who have less than 3 years experience have a maximum alcohol limit of 0.2 grams per litre.
*For experienced drivers (with more than three years' experience) the limit increases to 0.5 grams per litre.
*Note that both of these limits are lower than the UK limit of 0.8 grams per litre.
*If you plan on driving through Paris then be aware of the new regulations regarding emissions. There is a Low Emission Zone banning diesel and petrol lorries and buses made before 1997. Also, since July 2016, petrol and diesel cars registered prior to 1997 have been banned from 8 am to 8 pm on weekdays. By 2020, only vehicles made in or after 2011 will be allowed in the city.
*All cars are required to have a Crit'Air sticker (The Air Quality Certificate, an act of good citizenship to promote cleaner vehicles) displayed when traveling in certain cities. This costs around £3.60 and drivers face an on-the-spot fine of almost £120 if they don’t have one. Read all about it, and apply for your sticker here
Spain also has some strict laws.
*The law regarding the use of indicators on motorways is being strictly enforced. There is a risk of being fined for not indicating before and after overtaking.
*Do not cross the solid white line as you enter a motorway from a slip road, you must wait until the line is broken.
*Passengers are not allowed to have their feet on the dash. This is dangerous in the event of an accident as if the airbag deploys it could cause even more serious injury.
*Drivers are not allowed to wear flip-flops.
*The general alcohol limit for drivers of private vehicles and cyclists is 0.05%
*Drivers with less than two years' driving experience, the limit is 0.03%
*After a traffic accident, all road users have to undergo a breath test.
Purchase the necessary equipment for driving in France and Spain
While driving in France and Spain, you are required by law to carry the following items. Heavy on-the-spot fines can be issued for failing to have these with you.
Travel kits can be purchased but you would need to check the contents carefully. For example, most kits only contain 1 reflective jacket. This would be fine if you are traveling alone but you are required to have one for each passenger. Travel kits may also contain items that you do not require, or already have. Our recommendation would be to purchase items individually to suit your individual needs.
France - one for each traveller, to be kept inside the vehicle and easily accessible
Spain - although not compulsory to carry, heavy fines are given out for walking on the road or hard shoulder if not wearing one
France and Spain - compulsory in all vehicles
Spain - Residents must carry 2
Headlamp beam deflectors
France and Spain - dependant on your car, you will either have to apply deflector stickers or adjust the beam manually
France - law states that drivers of motor vehicles and motorcyclists must have an alcotest ready for use in their vehicle in the event of a police road check
A GB sticker or ‘euro’ registration plates featuring the GB initials
France and Spain - UK registered vehicles displaying Euro-plates (circle of 12 stars above the national identifier on blue background) do not require a GB sticker when driving in European Union countries, at the moment. Will Brexit change this?!
France - the French police deem it necessary to replace it there and then on the grounds of safety, therefore you must carry a spare bulb kit.
Spain - it is no longer compulsory for vehicles to carry a set of spare bulbs and the tools to fit them although it would be advisable to carry them
France and Spain - wearers must carry a spare pair in their car at all times.
France and Spain - always good to have
France and Spain - advised, but not compulsory.
Never get caught short! We recommend the heavy duty ones for emergencies.
Unexpected flat tyres or slow punctures can be a massive inconvenience if in the middle of nowhere, so pumping it up and moving somewhere safer can be a huge benefit.
All UK vehicle insurance provides the minimum third party cover to drive in other EU countries. So, as long as your car is insured in the UK, you're insured in the EU! Some insurance companies offer the same protection you receive at home for the first 90 days in an EU country and then defer to the basic legal requirements for that country.
We decided that the best route for us would be to go via ferry from Portsmouth to Santander, missing out France. The extra cost of the ferry was only negligible compared to the ferry or tunnel from England to France, the fuel and the extra accommodation required for the long car journey.
This route made a very brief promise of Dolphin and Whale sightings from the ferry, a good nights sleep and a much shorter driving element to the journey. We also skipped some of the stronger driving regulations found in France and some toll roads.
Information about our Mini Cruise
We chose to go with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Santander
After purchasing all the necessary kit (see list and links above) we drove to the ferry port and queued to get on board. The advertised sailing time was delayed by 2 hours due to Hurricane Ophelia, however, we were allowed to board early. When going through customs, ensure you have your passport ready! As we had chosen to have a cabin, we were given our room cards at customs.
Once on board, the parking attendants give out cards to show you how to get back to your car at the end of the journey because you cannot return to your vehicle until then. This details which level you are on and which stairwell to use.
We had an inward facing cabin since we had booked close to the departure date and missed out on the sea-ward facing cabins. The cabins are small, with a fold-down bunk bed, small desk, and a small shower room. Personally, we found the cabin to be comfortable, well-organised and spotlessly clean.
Our First Night on our First Cruise
Once settled into our room, we explored the ship and found several bars, a swimming pool (sadly empty and covered over as we travelled out of summer season), a restaurant, a cinema and a helicopter landing pad next to the dog exercise area.
The cinema was just around the corner from our room and we chose to watch 2 back to back films and then get food and a drink later. Other people perhaps did not know there was a cinema on board because we had the room to ourselves.
Our plan slightly backfired! When we came out of the cinema everybody else on board had gone to bed. Or to a secret party? The bars and restaurants were closed and there was nobody around. We managed to find a vending machine selling soup though.
Day 2 On Board
Having decided not to set an alarm, we got lucky and caught the last part of the sunrise before the sun disappeared behind a huge cloud.
For breakfast, we compared the cost of individual items in the self-service restaurant to the buffet-style restaurant, and it seemed like value for money was to be found in the buffet style restaurant. For a fixed price we ate as much fruit, pastries, and cooked breakfast items as we wanted.
After breakfast, we walked around the ship and explored as much as we could. When looking over the side we noticed 2 Dolphins close to the boat. They jumped up 3 times and then disappeared. This made us very happy. It was a fleeting sighting but made our cruise.
Walking through one of the bars, I noticed on the Entertainment board that I knew one of the Entertainment team from university, and via a few other friends, I made contact. We met up and he suggested he show us the Bridge! Fantastic! What an experience!
The final part of the cruise saw us docking into Santander after dark. We, unfortunately, had time constraints and so had decided to drive through the night when the roads would be clear of traffic and therefore could not sightsee and enjoy the journey through Spain.
Driving through Spain
We set the sat nav to miss out toll roads and this led us to the West of Madrid , down the West of Spain, through the center of Sevilla and on towards our final destination, El Chorro in Andalucia.
From Santander Port, we headed South West on the S-10. We joined the A-67 and travelled mostly West towards Torrelavega. We continued on this road as it shifted South, all the way down to Palencia, where we joined the E-80/ A-62. At Salamanca we drove due South on the E-803/ A-66, through Plasencia, and on to Sevilla. Our route took us anti-clockwise around the ring road and on to the SE-40/ A-92 to Osuna. From here we followed smaller, more winding, roads. South on the A-451, East on the A-384, South on the MA-467, SW on the MA-466, looping SE on the A-7278, S on the C-341, E on the A-367, S on the A-357 and into El Chorro on the MA-5403.
We made a few stops for food along the way and had a short sleeping interval. It helped that we can both drive and so were able to share the workload. The roads were well signposted, well maintained and for the most part, very clear. The biggest thing to watch out for is the changing speed limits. They may change from 120kph to 80kph very quickly and occasionally go down to 60kph, so be vigilant and alert.
On the whole, this was a great journey. If you have the time I would suggest sleeping in Santander and then drive down in daylight as the viaducts, valleys, and mountains promise to be spectacular viewing.
Our Spanish Location
We have made The Olive Branch Guesthouse in El Chorro, Andalucia, our second home.
They offer camping, bunkhouse (hostel) and private ensuite rooms; so basically something to cover every budget.