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Driving from England to Southern Italy

Jonathan Morgan

Map from Flags of the World, used with permission.

For the past six summers my family and I have driven from England to Central Italy and back again. The drive was always part of the holiday, and with my wife Philippa to share the driving it's never felt like too much. This Easter we decided to try something rather further, partly to see how possible it was. I'm happy to report that it all turned out fine.

This is a brief account of our trip driving from our home in England to Puglia in southern Italy. Our car is a medium sized diesel estate (wagon): quite relaxing at motorway speeds. Given the distances, our route was motorway virtually all the way.

All our overnight stops along the way were planned ahead and prebooked.

The Outgoing Trip

Day 1 - England to Baden Baden, Germany

Took the ferry from England to France. Left Calais around 10:00am. Lunch on the autoroute: Autogrill Reims-Champagne. The Autogrill chain is becoming more frequent in France, though L'Arche is the main, and preferable, chain. Arrive Baden Baden at 5:00pm. Check into hotel, wander through town, and up to the Caracalla Spa: the best way I know of de-stressing after a long drive (we discovered it last summer).
Miles Traveled: 421
Hotel: Bayerischer Hof. This hotel isn't anything special. The previous year we stayed at Hotel Merkur, for around the same price (90), but this was a late offer from the tourist information office when we arrived there.

Day 2 - Baden Baden to Parma, Italy

South on the Autobahn, where the black Mercedes and BMWs don't seem as aggressively tailgating as previously: has there been some sort of TV ad campaign? Into Switzerland at Basel. Up though increasingly attractive alpine meadows, lunch at the Gotthard Raststtte and into the Gotthard tunnel (no extra toll: it's included in the Swiss Vignette, the pass you need to drive on the Autobahn in Switzerland). Into Italy, round Milan, and arrive at Parma about 6:00pm.
Miles Traveled: 400
Hotel: Hotel Button, as recommended in a few Slow Travel Message Board threads.

Day 3 - Parma to Puglia

Leave 8:10am. Breakfast on autostrada, Modena. Lunch just north of Pescara. Arrive Ostuni 5:00pm. Unpack, shop, meet friends in bar, drive to Brindisi airport to pick up our son Nicholas, back to Ostuni for pizza, bed.
Miles Traveled: 537

The Return Trip

And, after a week in Ostuni, the return journey. Decided to take one extra night for this.

Day 1 - Ostuni to Umbria, Italy

Left Ostuni at 9:00am; take Nick to Bari airport (shining new terminal, opened just a couple of days before). Shop at the huge Auchan outside Bari (having your own car means lots of wine to take home!). Just as Autogrills are invading France, so the French hypermarket chain Auchan is moving into Italy. Lunch just before leaving Puglia. Up to Civitanova Marche on autostrada, then across country on the SS77 to Foligno, stopping off at one of the many roadside stalls on the Colfiorito plain to buy a sack of potatoes (superb little red ones). Arrive in Bevagna, Umbria at 5:45pm.
Miles Traveled: 407 miles
Hotel: Il Chiostro di Bevagna. For some reason it's only a 1*, but it's a lot nicer than most 2*s.

Day 2 - Umbria to Piedmont, Italy

Leave 9:20am. Over the top of Lake Trasimeno and join autostrada at Bettolle. Up past Florence. As ever, there was a coda - traffic jam - around the Certosa exit: a minor shunt caused about an hour's near-stationary non-progress. Across to Viareggio, up through (mostly under and over) Genoa, Alessandria, Asti, and arrived 5:15pm at Capriglio, north of Asti, in the Piedmont region.
Miles Traveled: 358
Hotel: Cascina Piola, organic (mostly vegetarian) agriturismo.

Day 3 - Peidmont to Bourg et Comin (Picardie), France

Leave 9:25am. Up Val d'Aosta and through Mont Blanc tunnel (an expensive toll of 30); lunch at Valleiry L'Arche. Up through France to Reims, leave autoroute and along to Bourg et Comin, on the Aisne just south of Laon. (Bourg et Comin is in Aisne department, Picardie province.) Arrived 6:30pm.
Miles Traveled: 579
Hotel: Auberge de la Vallee. This wasn't booked in advance because we weren't sure how far we wanted to go on the last day, but had a look in the red Michelin guide after lunch. This was one of the Logis de France association, which is normally a good sign.

Day 4 - Picardie to England

Leave 9:30am. Arrive Calais 12:00pm. Take the ferry back to England.
Miles Traveled: 187


Total journey mileage: Calais-Ostuni 1358. Ostuni-Calais 1525
Tolls for the outward half: France 40, Switzerland 28.50, Italy 42
Tolls for the return: Italy 63, tunnel 30, France 59
Fuel for both halves: 336

One thing we noticed about driving in March/April rather than in high summer: far fewer traffic holdups. So those times of ours are quite quick (average cruising speed on autostrade was around 85mph).

We've used that Adriatic motorway quite a lot: it's good for le Marche and further south, of course. Not so good for Umbria, because you have to cross back over the mountains somewhere, and that's often slow. On high traffic days there are often holdups around Cesena and Cattolica, but it was fine on Easter Sat this year.

Jonathan Morgan lives in Stroud, England and is a moderator on the Slow Travel Message Board.

Thanks to FLOW - Flags of the World - web site for these great maps! www.crwflags.com

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