I love driving in Europe, I’ve done it a few times now and it really does add something to a holiday. It adds a sense of adventure and eliminates time constraints for starters. I think a car adds to a holiday what the car itself, originally added to the everyday life of the privileged few who could afford one a century ago, freedom. Another bonus of a car on holiday, is that you have probably rented it, so naturally that means it becomes the fastest car in world. If you’ve never driven abroad before, I urge you to try it, here is my plea.
I’ll use Portugal as my example but I’ve also driven in Greece and Italy and what I’m about to say is true of those countries as well. Let me begin with cars, the key ingredient to driving abroad. I suggest that if you’re holidaying as a couple the smallest car possible from the rental company will suffice. (Do not get a Smart car though; their CVT gearbox will suck the fun from any holiday). Peugeot 107’s are your best bet. A car I would never consider buying even for a second in this country turns out to be the perfect Mediterranean warrior. Big enough for two and their bags, precise albeit light steering, perfect for parking and a surprisingly sprightly 3 cylinder 68bhp motor mated to a vague but entertaining 5 speed gearbox. And haste we forget that as it’s a rental you can fully exploit that 68bhp at its 6000rpm rev limit, because, well, it’s not actually yours.
Other cars on the road add to the experience too. Unlike the UK where the roads are largely full of cars no more than 10 years old, Europeans, particularly Southern ones seem to keep their cars for a lot longer. I’ve written before about why this may be, better climate, shorter winters, generally a less stressful life for the cars could all be reasons. Whatever it is, the results are roads littered with gems. Renault 4’s, Peugeot 205’s, Fiat Uno’s, early Golf’s, old Mini’s, 80’s Alfa’s and a largely un rotted selection of Lancia’s, the list is endless. These cars, quite often accompanied by their deeply bronzed aged owners either sit peacefully by the road or career past you the moment the road straightens out, whatever way you spot them they add to a unique experience that can only be had when you do the driving yourself.
Key ingredient to driving abroad and reason you should, number two, the roads. As the title suggests I found the N2 north of Faro out of the Algarve to be particularly good. It was so winding in fact I began to feel slightly sick, not to worry though as the road is peppered with rest spots offering views that most people who visit the Algarve for an all inclusive, alcohol fuelled, blister inducing 2 week holiday don’t get to see. Avoiding the motorways in whatever country opens up mile after mile of winding ribbons of tarmac draped through and across some absolutely stunning scenery with barely another car in sight. The roads really are a win, win. As a driver they are a joy, clipping apexes and nailing exits even at low speeds is fun while the passenger, provided they are not being violently sick, gets a much better view than any coach trip could offer.
After the cars and the roads comes the third reason why driving abroad is essential, it lets you see a different side to a countries culture. Driving gives you an insight into what the personalities of the people are like once they get behind a wheel. A lot of scaremongering goes on online with people proclaiming that the roads in Europe are unsafe death traps. There is some truth that yes they may not be as safe as our own roads but they are not as dangerous as you’d expect. What you can expect is liberal use of horns, bumpers living up to their names during parking manoeuvres, traffic lights that go straight from red to green, changing gear with your right arm and being tailgated even if you think you’re going quick enough. Honestly don’t be frightened by it just go with it, I guarantee you’ll become a more competent driver in the process. Judging gaps, nipping out of junctions, parallel parking, clutch control, all will be improved after a week of driving in Europe.
So there we have it my three reasoned plea why you should try driving next time you go on holiday. You see more, you learn more and you use the car for it’s original intended purpose. Driving means you can make the choices and make the most of your precious holiday time. Surely that’s better than time pressured guided coach trips and relentless drinking by the pool?