Driving from UK to Malta via Livorno

[Editor’s note: This piece was written by Melby, one of our Malta forum supporters. He has kindly given his permission for us to reproduce it here.]

I’ve just driven my car from UK to Malta via the port of Livorno and this is an indication of the route/timings and costs of the journey.

My thanks to David, an English guy who lives in Gozo and gave me a lot of advice before I left. He drives a rather fine blue Ford Racing Puma, so say hello if you come across him.

Costings are accurate at the time of my trip (February 2011).

First off, obviously, check your vehicle is up to the trip. Check your UK insurance is fully comprehensive when driving in Europe. I also arranged for my local Malta insurance to start at 00:01 on the Monday I landed in Malta.

You need a warning triangle, spare set of bulbs, fluorescent safety vest and headlight deflectors when driving on the Continent. I ordered the European Travel Kit from the AA (cost £27.99). An advantage of this is that it also gives a discount on the AA’s European Breakdown Cover (£35.73).

For the Channel crossing I took the Eurotunnel. I booked a one-way ticket (£53) but you can book a day return ticket for less (£44).

Book your Livorno ferry ticket with Grandi Navi Veloci (GNV). Ferry sailings are every Saturday at 22:00. I booked a berth in a 4-berth cabin. In winter you will get your own cabin with this and save about €50 compared to booking the whole cabin yourself, as there’s not that many people using this service then. However, if you do find you’re sharing you can always ask to be upgraded. Total cost for the ferry and accommodation was €148. The shipping line, GNV, has a local agent in Zachary Street in Valletta. You can get details of the service from there as well as a map of the terminal at Livorno port.

I left South West London at 01:45 on Friday morning, eventually ending up on the M20 at Junction 11a, the exit for the Channel Tunnel. I boarded the 03:27 train and arrived in Calais about 30 mins later. Eurotunnel will give you a ticket to hang from the rear windscreen. If you are intending to import your vehicle into Malta under the 24-month registration tax exemption rule it is important that you retain this ticket together with your internet booking confirmation. You will need to present them to the ADT/Ministry of Finance.

Eurotunnel exits straight onto the French autoroute system. There is no passport check. Off the train you’re immediately away.

The French motorway system is excellent. The road surfaces are uniformly good. The speed limit is 130 km/h (81 mph), 110 km/h (68 mph) in the wet. Most drivers keep reasonably close to the speed limit.

Petrol is very expensive in France. At the time of driving it was between €1.55 and 1.60 per litre.

French motorways are well provided for in terms of service areas. Full service areas, known as aires, occur at regular intervals and smaller areas known as aires de repos, which are off-road parking areas, are very frequent. All are always clearly indicated in advance with standard pictograms. Note that there are very few hotels on the French motorway system.

You’re on the A16 and head towards A26/E15 (Saint-Omer, Arras, Reims, Paris).

At Setques/Calais you pick up your first motorway ticket. At Courcy you pay your first toll (€20.20).

Head towards A26/E17/E50 (Reims, Chalons-en-Champagne, Metz-Nancy, Strasbourg, Lyon).

At Taissy you collect another motorway ticket.

Head towards E17/A26 (Saint-Gibrien, Chalons-en-Champagne Rive Gauche, Troyes, Lyon).

Continue towards E17/A5 (Mulhouse, Lyon-Dijon, Chaumont).

Continue along A5/E17 and A31/E17/E21 and you will be approaching Dijon (about 350 miles from Calais).

Head towards A39 (Grenoble, Genève, Besançon, Dole).

Head towards A40/E21/E62 (Milan, Annecy, Genève, Oyonnax).

At Viry you pay your second toll (€45.80).

Head towards A40/E25 (Annecy, Grenoble, Chamonix-Mont Blanc, Turin-Milan).

At Nangy you pay your third toll (€1.70).

At Cluses you pay your fourth toll (€3.70).

You’re now heading towards Mont Blanc tunnel (about 550 miles from Calais) and will leave France. Local time is now about 15:00. The cost for the Mont Blanc tunnel is €35.10.

You’re now in Italy.

Pick up your Italian motorway ticket at Aosta.

Continue on the A5/E25.

Head towards E25, E64/A4 Milano and A26 Alessandria, Genova.

The first thing to notice on the Italian autostradas is that the motorway numbers appear very small on the motorway signs. You’ll also notice that whereas the speed limit is the same as in France (130 km/h), this appears to be a minimum as far as Italian drivers are concerned. I kept to the speed limit all the way and I was very much the slowcoach. Service areas are not as frequent as France and not indicated as well in advance. Petrol is cheaper at about €1.40 to €1.45 per litre.

Continue along A26/E25/E80 to Alessandria/Genova. A7/A10 into Genova.

It’s now about 17:30 and approaching Genova. There are a lot of tunnels around Genova. At rush hour on a Friday evening it is like a racetrack in tunnels; initially a bit daunting but ultimately quite exhilarating. At this stage I decided to stop for the night in Genova. There are no hotels on the Italian motorway system so I came off and paid my first Italian toll (€26.10).

I stayed in the Novotel in Genova, which is just off the A7. It’s a bog-standard business hotel but the advantage of this hotel is that it has secure underground parking, so if your car is loaded up like mine it’s reasonably secure. Cost of the room was €74 for the night.

Back on the autostrada next morning, take the A12 to Livorno. If you weren’t taking a break at Genova you would go straight from the A26/E80 towards A7 Milano and A12 Livorno.

The drive from Genova to Livorno is about 100 miles, again through lots of tunnels and dramatic views of the coast through the breaks in the tunnels. I took it slowly and stopped for a very nice lunch in a place called Camogli.

Approaching Livorno, come off the motorway system at the signs for Livorno and “porto”. My second Italian toll was €12.20 but if you didn’t take a break at Genova the toll would be €38.30.

The sign for the port (porto) also includes Firenze (Florence) but it is Livorno port you’re heading towards. You soon come to a sign indicating about 5 terminals. It includes Varga Galvani.

Continue until you come to a large sign stating simply Varga Galvani. This road is Via L. Galvani. It looks as if you’ve entered the container port but you’re in the right place. Continue until you see a number of car transporters with lots of UK-plated cars on them. The terminal building is on the left. You’ve arrived at Stazione Marittima Galvani. It’s an ochre coloured building with blue doors. The only mention of the shipping line Grandi Navi Veloci is on the letterbox. The terminal opens at about 16:30.

This is not the glamour end of ferry terminals. There is nothing there. There is a bar/trattoria attached to the terminal but it wasn’t open. There is another bar/trattoria 100 yards up the road but that also wasn’t open. So basically you sit in your vehicle. If you want anything to eat or drink, bring it with you.

When you book in you’ll be given two 2-part tickets: one for the ferry and one for your accommodation.

At about 20:00 the cars/vans drive forward and are separated into Palermo and Malta-bound in a holding area. At about 21:30 a guy takes your ferry ticket, rips it in half, keeps one himself and puts the other part under your windscreen wiper. Keep your eye on this piece of paper. Once you’re on board this ticket will not be checked again but you must make sure you retrieve it as if you intend to import your vehicle into Malta under the 24-month registration tax exemption rule you will need to present it to the ADT/Ministry of Finance. He’ll also give you a piece of paper to put on your dashboard which simply says “Malta”.

Shortly after this the cars are loaded on the ferry. The ferry leaves at about 22:00.

There is a self-service cafeteria on board and the food is OK but expensive for what it is. It closes quite quickly after leaving port so if you want to eat, get in quickly. There is a bar but this also closes early, about 23:30. Unless you speak Italian there is no entertainment at all, and even if you do speak Italian the only entertainment is the dubious pleasure of Italian TV. Otherwise there is nothing to do on board so bring a good book. The ferry travels about 30 miles from the coast so all you can see is sea!

On Sunday morning the cafeteria is not open so the only available breakfast is coffee and croissant from the bar. Lunch is available for about an hour and a half around midday.

The ferry arrives at Palermo, Sicily around 16:00. Passengers in transit to Malta can get off and look around. The plus as far as Palermo is concerned is that the port is right in the town and it’s a big, lively place. It’s well worth having a look and you can get some decent food here. You need to be back on the ferry about 18:30pm and the ferry sails at around 20:00.

The ferry gets into Grand Harbour about 07:00. It berths at the quay just beyond where the cruise liners dock. You drive straight off, there is no passport, papers check and you’re home.

The trip was very enjoyable. However I had no hold-ups at all and the weather was good and the sea calm.

The drive can be done in a day if you leave the UK on the 03:27 train, but that allows for no hold-ups and very limited breaks. Total mileage from Calais to Livorno is about 850 miles.

Costs for me were: Eurotunnel, £53; travel kit and breakdown insurance, £63.72; ferry, €148; tolls, €144.80; overnight stay, €74; petrol, €200; eats and incidentals, €50. About €750 in total.