It's not difficult to find a flight to the Med. Most major airlines fly into the region, and there are currently more than 30 low-cost carriers operating between hundreds of European airports. In summer, charter flights add to the congestion.
- Expect to pay high-season prices between June and August – the two months either side of this period are the shoulder seasons. Low season is November to March.
- Many no-frills airlines use secondary provincial airports.
Airports & Airlines
The region's main international airports serve flights to/from destinations in Europe, Africa, North and South America, the Middle East and Asia.
- Athens Eleftherios Venizelos International
- Barcelona El Prat
- İstanbul Atatürk International
- Lisbon Lisboa
- Madrid Barajas
- Milan Malpensa
- Paris Orly
- Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle
- Rome Leonardo da Vinci
The following national airports operate mainly European flights:
- Tirana Nënë Tereza International
- Sarajevo Sarajevo International
- Zagreb Zagreb
- Podgorica Podgorica
- Ljubljana Jože Pučnik
The flag carriers for the countries covered in this book:
- Bosnia and Hercegovina BH Airlines (www.bhairlines.ba)
- Croatia Croatia Airlines (www.croatiaairlines.hr)
- France Air France (www.airfrance.com)
- Italy Alitalia (www.alitalia.com)
- Montenegro Montenegro Airlines (www.montenegroairlines.com)
- Portugal TAP Portugal (www.flytap.com)
- Slovenia Adria Airways (www.adria.si)
- Spain Iberia (www.iberia.com)
- Turkey Turkish Airlines (www.thy.com)
Finding tickets to Mediterranean Europe isn't difficult, but to get the best deal you'll need to shop around.
- Check airline websites and flight-comparison sites. Lonely Planet has a flight search engine at www.lonelyplanet.com/bookings/flights.do.
- Note that some low-cost airlines, including Ryanair, only accept bookings made on their own website.
- If you're planning a complex itinerary talk to a travel agent who can find you the best fares, advise on connections and sell travel insurance.
- Full-time students and people aged under 26 (under 30 in some countries) have access to discounted fares. You'll have to show a document proving your date of birth, such as a valid International Student Identity Card (ISIC) or an International Youth Travel Card (IYTC) when buying your ticket.
For advice on booking tickets, check out the article How to Buy Cheap Flights Online (www.stanfords.co.uk/blog/post/How-to-Buy-Cheap-Flights-Online.aspx), which has some excellent tips.
- Buy early. If booking for high season (June to August) try to sort out your ticket by about March.
- Travelling midweek generally costs less. Friday and Sunday are the most expensive days to travel.
- Get an early flight – you'll lose sleep but save bucks.
- Flights to major hubs tend to be cheaper. If you're heading to Eastern Europe consider taking a long-haul flight to a major Western European airport and then picking up an onward flight with a European low-cost carrier.
- When working out the cost of your ticket, factor in all price extras, such as fuel surcharges, seat selection, luggage fees etc.
- Consider an open-jaw return when you fly into one city and exit from another. They are usually more expensive than simple returns but might save you in the long-run, particularly if travelling across the region. If, for example, you plan to fly into Rome and head across to Madrid, it might cost less to fly out of Madrid on an open-jaw ticket than to retrace your footsteps to Rome and fly out on a standard return ticket.
There are plenty of options for getting to Mediterranean Europe by car, bus or train. In most Western European countries, buses are generally cheaper than trains, which tend to be more comfortable and more frequent. However, in the Balkan countries, buses are the main form of long-distance travel, serving more destinations than the limited train networks.
Transporting your bike to the region poses no great problems.
- Different airlines have different rules – some insist that you pack your bike in a bike bag; others require you to remove the pedals and deflate the tyres. Some sell specially designed bike boxes. Remember that the bike's weight will be included in your luggage allowance.
- Bikes can generally be carried on slower trains, subject to a small supplementary fee. On fast trains they might need to be sent as registered luggage and will probably end up on a different train from the one you take.
- In the UK, European Bike Express is a coach service on which cyclists can travel with their bikes. It runs in the summer from Stokesley in northeast England, to France and northern Spain, with pick-up and drop-off points en route. Standard return fares range from UK£239 to UK£249 (less if you pay online); single fares cost UK£144. Members of the Cyclists' Touring Club qualify for a discount of UK£10 on return fares. The CTC can also offer advice and organise tours.
- If travelling from Britain to France by Eurostar you can take a bike on as part of your luggage only if it's in a bike bag. Otherwise it must go as registered baggage, for which there's a UK£30 fee.
- Eurotunnel runs two daily cycle services to the continent. These must be booked 24 hours in advance. The standard fare is UK£16 one way per bike.
Border crossings into the region are pretty stress-free.
- If entering France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal, Slovenia or Spain from another Schengen country, there are officially no border controls. However, spot checks are not unusual, particularly on trains, and individual countries are within their rights to reinstate controls. As a precaution always have your passport or ID card ready to show when crossing a national border.
- Land crossings into the eastern Mediterranean countries are fairly straightforward, although delays are not uncommon between Albania and Greece, particularly in summer.
- Border crossings into Turkey often involve a one- to three-hour delay. Passengers are usually required to get off the bus or train for checks of paperwork and baggage. Note that if you require a visa, you will need to buy it at the border crossing. Some crossings don't have ATMs or exchange facilities so ensure you have the money on hand.
Bus links between Mediterranean Europe and the rest of Continental Europe are comprehensive.
Eurolines (www.eurolines.com) is a consortium of coach companies that operates across Europe. You can book tickets through the website, which also has timetable information and details of ticket offices in each country.
At some border crossings you might be required to get off the bus to have your documents and bags checked.
Car & Motorcycle
Driving to the region from northern Europe is a definite possibility – the road network is good, border controls are simple and there are no special hazards. If you have to traverse the Alps, note that while the main mountain passes remain open year-round, some minor ones close over winter.
When driving make sure you have the following:
- a valid driving licence, and, if necessary, an International Driving Permit (IDP)
- vehicle-registration documents
- insurance certificate
- passport or ID card
- any compulsory equipment (such as snow chains, a warning triangle etc).
The Channel Tunnel
To take your car through the Channel Tunnel, Eurotunnel Le Shuttle operates between Folkestone and Calais. Trains run 24 hours, every day, with up to three departures an hour at peak times.
- To save money, book in advance, although it is possible to drive into the terminal, buy a ticket and get on the next train.
- Fares for a car and passengers start at UK£30. As a rule, the more expensive tickets allow for a longer duration and increased flexibility. Check the website for details.
- Both terminals are directly linked to motorways (the M20 in the UK and the A16 in France) and both have petrol stations.
The train is a viable option for getting to Mediterranean Europe, particularly if travelling from the UK.
The high-speed Eurostar passenger service runs from London to Paris, where you can pick up trains to destinations across Europe:
Routes Direct trains from London's St Pancras International Station, Ebbsfleet and Ashford in the UK to Paris' Gare du Nord station, Lille, Calais and Avignon. There are also services to Paris Disneyland, several French Alpine ski resorts, and Brussels.
Journey times Approximately one hour to Calais, 1½ hours to Lille, 2¼ hours to Paris, and 6¼ hours to Avignon.
Fares There are 10 ticket types (adult/child/youth/senior, fully-/semi-/nonflexible etc), with a corresponding range of fares and restrictions. The cheapest are generally nonrefundable returns with restrictions on departure times and length of stay. As a rough guide, return fares to Paris start at UK£69. Always check the website for special deals.
Tickets Tickets are available direct from Eurostar, from travel agencies, at St Pancras, Ebbsfleet and Ashford, from other UK mainline stations, and from Rail Europe, which also sells other European rail tickets.
You can also get trains to the region from central and eastern Asia. Allow at least eight days.
The Mediterranean has an extensive ferry network. For timetables, routes, ports and prices, check out aferry (www.aferry.com).
From North Africa
There are regular ferries from Morocco and Algeria to Spain and France, and from Tunisia to Italy and France.
The main ports are Tangier (Morocco), Algiers (Algeria) and Tunis (Tunisia). Note that ferries on popular routes are often filled to capacity in summer, so book well in advance if you're taking a vehicle across.
Main ferry companies operating to/from North Africa:
Acciona Trasmediterránea Tangier and Ceuta to Algeciras; Melilla and Nador to Almería; Melilla to Málaga. There are also services from Ghazaouet and Oran (both Algeria) to Almería.
SNCM Services from Tunisia (Tunis) and Algeria (Algiers, Oran, Béjaia and Annaba) to France (Marseille). Also from Tunis to Italy (Genoa).
From the UK
There are several UK–France ferry routes, including:
- Dover–Calais (1¼ to 1½ hours)
- Newhaven–Dieppe (four hours)
- Poole–Cherbourg (4½ to 6½ hours)
- Portsmouth–Cherbourg (5½ hours)
Fares depend on the usual mix of factors – the time of day/year, the flexibility of the ticket and, if you're driving, the length of your vehicle. Vehicle tickets include the driver and often up to five passengers free. There are also plenty of reductions on off-peak crossings and advance-purchase tickets. On most routes there is generally little price advantage in buying a return ticket rather than two singles. To compare fares check out Ferry Savers (www.ferrysavers.com).
Rail pass–holders are entitled to discounts or free travel on some lines, and most ferry companies give discounts to drivers with disabilities.
Major ferry companies include the following:
Brittany Ferries From Portsmouth to Caen, Cherbourg and St Malo (all France), Bilbao and Santander (Spain); from Poole to Cherbourg (France); and from Plymouth to Roscoff (France) and Santander (Spain).
Condor Ferries From Portsmouth to Cherbourg (France); from Poole to St Malo (France); and from Weymouth to St Malo (France).
LD Lines From Dover to Calais (France); from Newhaven to Dieppe (France); and from Portsmouth to Le Havre (France).
My Ferry Link From Dover to Calais (France).
Norfolk Line From Dover to Calais and Dunkirk (France).
P&O Ferries From Dover to Calais (France).
From the USA
Sailing the Atlantic is slow (typically between seven and 13 days) and not cheap. You can either sign up for passage on a cruise ship or hop on a freighter as a paying passenger. Freighters are cheaper, more frequent and offer more routes.
- Freighters usually carry up to 12 passengers (more than 12 would require a doctor to be on board).
- Bank on between €80 and €125 per day plus port fees and insurance.
- Vehicles can often be included for an additional fee.
- If you're not travelling with a car, you'll need to organise transport from the port to the centre of town – ask the port agent (who'll be on board when the vessel docks) to arrange a taxi for you.
- You'll need to be flexible as shipping schedules can change at short notice due to weather conditions, delays in cargo loading, port congestion etc.
- Take seasick pills as many cargo ships are not fitted with stabilisers.
- Useful resources include: Strand Travel, A la Carte Freighter Travel (www.freighter-travel.com), and Sea Travel Ltd.