Driving an EV from London to Porto

Tl,dr;

It’s fine. You could probably do it in three days, we took it easy with four. Stopping along the way to charge and sleep is wonderful. Driving is insanely boring, no matter what the advertising industry tries to tell you, even in a shiny new EV. The eurotunnel is an engineering miracle. France’s charging infrastructure is great, Spain a little less so, and Portugal less so again – but improving. Charge point mapping/route apps are your friend.


I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while – well, since this summer of 2022.

Told the tale to a number of folks who are thinking of moving from away from cars that use fossils fuels to make tiny explosions inside them, but are feeling uneasy about long journeys (that they probably undertake once a year if that).

I was lucky to get our family EV (an ID4) late last year before supplies got very constrained – and even then it was a a six month wait from having made the down payment in the summer of 2021.

This summer we decided to drive instead of fly to Arouca, Portugal – a lovely small town in the mountains / river valleys about an hour to the east of Porto.

It’s a beautiful place – with loads of great nature / hikes to be had including the epic Arouca suspension bridge and ‘Passadiços do Paiva’ riverside walk along wooden platforms. If you’re near Porto, go visit!

Our Route

We started out from London early for the Eurotunnel.

It was my first time so I was a little trepidatious.

I needn’t of worried – it was all very smooth and simple. 30 or so minutes after driving our car onto the train we were rolling off in France.

From there to our first charge, which was one of the Ionity network.

Quick and painless for us – but the person in the next bay (with a very shiny Porsche Taycan EV) was struggling.

The flummoxed face of a stranger looking at a cellphone or frantically trying to tap a multitude of RFID cards against a charging station would be a familiar sight this trip.

We gave them our VW WeCharge card which allowed us to use Ionity, and they were able to make their return ride on the eurotunnel back to the UK.

A brief diversion stating the obvious on RFID cards, charging networks and apps etc.

There are too many.

If I have a combustion engine, I can roll up anywhere and pay cash or use a debit/credit card to get refuelled. Not so with electrons. You have to give companies data, and membership as well as money. A few EV charging networks now will accept money alone, but that’s the minority it seems.

A good alternative is to join something that allows you to tap into different networks. It seemed though that not one of these would work across everything on our route. ChargeMap is a great app – and certainly was our mainstay – as well as the “ChargeMap Pass” RFID card you can get from them that allowed us to use a number of different networks on the way. Our VW “WeCharge” card also helped – but in Portugal – Miio came into its own.

Mostly I found navigating between Ionity stations. Ionity is expensive for sure – but fast – and fairly ubiquitous. Also – there tend to be 6-8 of them at a location instead of 1 or 2. Driving to a way point only to find that the one working EV charger is occupied is very dispiriting.

Night One: Saumur

After traveling through Normandy and North-east of Paris we got to our first stop Saumur in late-afternoon. Settled into the cheapish-but-nice hotel we’d booked (which had an EV charger… most of the big hotel booking sites now let you filter for locations that have EV charge points) and walked the short distance into the town centre (not a hardship after driving all day).

Quickly the pattern of the journey was established – this was all about driving through the morning and early afternoon, arriving somewhere to eat, sleep and recharge ourselves as well as the car. It also reinforced that the journey was going to be part of the experience rather than the thing merely facilitating it. I’d had that mindset going into this, and planning it – but it had been theoretical until the cold beer and charcuterie arrived…

We were also travelling through a Europe that was experiencing a heatwave – and tangible reminders of the climate emergency were everywhere. It was sobering to see the levels of the Loire for instance

Night Two: San Sebastián

The next morning we departed pretty early as we had a long leg ahead of us – through south western France, past Bordeaux – ending up in San Sebastián in the Basque region.

Despite traffic jams all around Bordeaux scuppering our plans to have lunch there we made ok time and did two full charges on the way. French service stations continued to impress – with one offering a model for the future: more or less an outdoor festival site with beanbags and hammocks in the shade while you let your EV recharge!

Again – thinking about charging as being something you enjoy rather than an annoying hindrance is made a lot easier to embrace when you have a motorway stop like this – reading your kindle for an hour in a beanbag with a cold diet coke, while the electrons flow…

We passed over the border around 5pm and got to San Sebastian not much after that.

We had a pretty posh hotel booked in the centre of the city which had been listed as having an EV charge point, but the logistics of plugging in our car defeated the staff on duty… So, it was into town for a sunset pintxos crawl…

Night Three: Salamanca

From the Basque region through Spain, the charging situation started to get a little more vexing. Chargers were on many different networks, some were faster than others – many only being 50kW, and maintenance became a little bit of an issue. Again Ionity was the saviour – but we managed to scrape through to our next stop – a vineyard/hotel outside Salamanca.

This, being more of a ‘destination’ had a Tesla ‘destination charger’ – which in Europe are all CCS standard rather than the proprietary Tesla connector. They’re low powered – 7kW – but again leaving it overnight to charge while we slept was no hassle.

In the morning we drove the remainder of the way to Arouca in Portugal.

Arouca is a pretty small town but has a 50kw charger in it’s centre which we used every couple of days we were staying there. We found the Miio app invaluable for using the chargers in Portugal – which was a bit sparser in its coverage again from Spain. We’d also bought a EU-outlet compatible trickle charger with us to plug into socket where we were staying in the countryside outside the town, and allowed us to leave a few weeks later on 100% for the route back… which was tackled with considerably less trepidation after the success of our journey there.

Conclusion

Long road trips in EVs are fine, entirely doable with a bit of casual planning – and maybe more pleasant than the equivalent in a fossil-fuel car, once we adjust your mindset a little… Stopping and recharging your car and yourself for a while on the journey can be a very positive thing – especially in France where they already seem to have it down.

There’s an interesting new typology of rest stop yet to emerge around EV charging and longer road trips, but you can kind of see the beginnings of it – if you squint.

EV charging networks though really need to improve. Ionity is the best in class for sure – but hopefully others will follow their lead. But – spare us the memberships, apps and terms of service… just let us pay like the people buying the dinosaur juice!!!

I hope – if you have an EV or have been considering changing over to one – this post is useful in someway.

Until the next one…

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