Letter from Europe

Watery diversions

Issue no. 2021/18

Picture above: Corsica Ferries operate shipping routes from the French mainland to Corsica, occasionally detouring via Sardinia en route (photo © Sergiy Palamarchuk / dreamstime.com).


Making time for creative journeys has been at the heart of our work with hidden europe. So in this issue of our Letter from Europe we highlight some longish ferry routes which even allow for some sightseeing. Here are some examples from this winter’s Mediterranean shipping schedules.

Dear fellow travellers

On our journeys around Europe we have often taken time out for a spell afloat. There are of course many direct overnight ferries linking European ports: Kiel to Oslo, Bilbao to Portsmouth and Genoa to Barcelona. These are examples of routes we especially favour because travellers get plenty of time on board a very comfortable ship. All three crossings take more than 20 hours.

Our view is that short overnight crossings that just don’t allow time for a relaxed dinner on board and a good night’s sleep are best avoided (a principle we also apply to overnight train journeys). Here it’s worth checking the small print though. What might in the schedules seem to be an unusually short night crossing might be redeemed if the ferry operator allows boarding some hours prior to departure.

Stena Lines’ Hoek van Holland to Harwich route is a case in point. The overnight sailing from the Dutch port doesn’t leave until 22.00. But foot passengers may normally board at Hoek from about 18.50, so allowing a leisurely dinner before retiring to the cabin for the night.

We reserve special praise for longish ferry routes which even allow for some sightseeing. Here are some examples from this winter’s Mediterranean shipping schedules.

Some Grimaldi Lines sailings from Barcelona to Civitavecchia make an en-route stop in Sardinia. Currently it’s just two sailings each week which do this, but the intermediate stop adds real interest to the journey. The departure from Barcelona is in the evening, and by about 10 next morning, the ship is approaching the island of Asinara. The Sardinia stop at Porto Torres is quite brief, and then the vessel sails east through the Bonifacio Strait, in good weather affording marvellous views of Corsica and the Maddalena archipelago.

For journeys from the Bay of Naples region to Sicily, we especially favour the Siremar sailings from Naples to Milazzo. Typically twice weekly in winter, and three times each week in summer, these crossings take longer than the fast boat from Naples to Palermo. The 17-hour crossing with Siremar starts with an overnight leg to Stromboli and then the ship stops at five other islands before reaching the Sicilian port of Milazzo.

Corsica Ferries sailings from the French mainland to Corsica often include wonderful little diversions that turn a humdrum ferry crossing into a mini-cruise. Next Sunday, for example, there are two daytime sailings from Toulon to Corsica. The early morning departure starts with a daytime cruise along the French coast to Nice, where the ship stops to pick up more passengers before heading south to Bastia. Crossing time from Toulon to Bastia is just over 14 hours. A second daytime sailing leaves an hour later from Toulon, first going to Sardinia and then continuing to Corsica where the ship docks at Ajaccio. Corsica Ferries sometimes combine Savona and Nice sailings, and we see an example of that on 22 October when the overnight ship from Bastia to Savona continues to Nice, giving passengers a morning cruise along the Riviera coast.

We have written about unusual ferry routings quite a bit in hidden europe magazine. For example, in issue 40 we featured the weekly Trasmediterránea sailing from Valencia to Mahon on Menorca. The voyage starts with an overnight crossing from the Spanish mainland to Palma, then continues with a daytime sailing around the south coast of Mallorca to reach Menorca.

In similar vein, there is a Norway sailing we would really like to try – and that is the daily lunchtime departure from Langesund (near Oslo) to Bergen. It takes 22 hours with en-route stops at Hirtshals (Denmark) and Stavanger.

Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries
(editors, hidden europe magazine)

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