Leigh and Andrea Martin have always dreamed of living in the sun and this summer they took three months off to explore Portugal and Spain to find their perfect place abroad.
They planned a route from the historic Portuguese capital of Lisbon where they looked at luxury apartments, checked out a studio flat at a golfing complex near Praia de Luz and town houses in the Spanish city of Huelva.
Next was a cave house near the blue lakes of Ronda – a villa in the rich man’s resort of Estepona, then they headed off to the beach town of Nerja where traditional white houses come at a premium.
Their last stop was on the Costa Blanca, a one-way trip of more than 1,500 miles.
And amazingly they did it all by taxi – because it was cheaper than renting a car!
“We’d just finished renovating a big old cottage in the UK which had put our plans to move abroad on hold for four years and now we were ready to go,” Leigh, a journalist and broadcaster, said: “So we decided to have a look round, we knew it would be either in Spain or Portugal, but that was all.”
The idea was to hire cars along the way.
But as they packed at the beginning of June news broke about the investigation into car hire.
“We’d booked and we were trusting them to supply us with other cars along the route. When we heard they were being investigated it was a bit worrying to say the least.
“Anyway, we decided to take our chance with them as we already knew that trying to travel across the two countries by train wouldn’t take us near any of the houses we wanted to see and bus and coach travel was just too slow.”
Andrea, who runs her own company, said: “We checked with Europcar a few days before we planned to pick up a vehicle and that was the first blow. They told us we would have to pay an exorbitant fee to drop the car off at a different location. Nobody told us that when we made the initial booking.
“Luckily, no money had exchanged hands so we told them what to do with their car.
“The price of hiring a VW Golf or similar was 132 euros but then they hit us with a 100 euros drop-off fee! Then we had to pay 27 euros for insurance, 5 euros for a waver AND leave about 1,000 euro deposit. But it wasn’t possible anyway because they wouldn’t let us take it across the border. It was outrageous!”
So, they left Lisbon by train and headed to the golf paradise of Porto Donna Maria, a twenty minute walk from `Pria de Luz, the town where Madeleine McCann vanished.
All the villas and apartments have terraces or balconies over looking the Luz Bay but Andrea says, the area felt depressed and haunted.
So, the couple, who live in the Midlands, decided to check out their next destination, Huelva, the nearest Spanish city to the Portuguese border, a 200 mile trip.
Cross Portugal border into Spain:
Taxi: £175 – car hire, not possible
“We’d actually arranged to pick up a vehicle in Huelva but when we went to do it they wanted 100 euros to drop it off at the next port of call,” Andrea said.
The couple were hit with the unexpected charge as leading car hire firms were being accused of charging excess insurance, blocking off up to £1,000 on credit cards to pay for any damage, charging extra to people who didn’t book online, charging inflated prices for petrol and adding surcharges for hiring at the airport.
Leigh said: “Nobody told us there are the restrictions on taking rental vehicles from one city to another – we’ve driven across America from Dallas to San Francisco in rental cars without any problem, or excess charges.
“But it is almost like the rental firms are cashing in on the lack of rail connections between tourist destinations in Europe.
“Even if you took a car from airport to airport you still would have paid the punitive destination-to-destination charge.
“We quickly discovered it was actually cheaper to go by taxi.”
Huelva to Estepona (via Ronda):
Taxi 350 euros – car hire almost 300 euros plus petrol and taxi back from drop-off point
Estepona is a rich man’s paradise going to seed with the inevitable ‘strip’ of shops and cafes and bars selling gassy lager and hamburger and chips. Villas with a pool start at about £1m euros.
So, back in a taxi, this time an ordinary white cab for the 100 miles journey from Estepona to Nerja.
Estepona to Nerja:
Taxi 200 euros – car hire refused because of lack of drop-off point
Like all of the Costas, Nerja has spread replicant houses and apartment blocks across its seafront and into the Sierra de Tejadas mountains. Prices were high and little chance of finding long-term rent.
Nerja to Torreveija:
Taxi 350 euros – car hire, not available
And so to the final leg of this incredible journey across a large part of Europe – 350 euros by taxi, from Nerja to the pink salt flats of Torreveija on the Costa Blanca where house prices are rising rapidly but you can still find a four bedroom villa with pool in the mountains less than 30 minutes from the beach for around euros 150,000 euros.
Leigh and Andrea are hoping to find a place in Hondon Valley, a little known agricultural and wine area near to Alicante. Their journey continues.
So as car hire firms are stinging holidaymakers with rip-off charges for scratches, child car seats and petrol refills, we discovered the best and cheapest way is to travel in style with air-conditioning and a chauffeur and if anybody ‘dings’ your car, well it just isn’t your problem!