Simon Calder: No Iberian cheap Seats on the road this summer

The road north-east to Cap de Formentor appears to snake up from Port de Pollença in northern Mallorca like an especially tricky tract of the digestive system.

The reality of the PM-221 is more rewarding than the map: you discover one of Europe's most spectacular coastal drives. The narrow strip of asphalt teeters a raw edge of the world, where towering mountains crumble into the sparkling Mediterranean hundreds of metres below. An alluring prospect. But you could find it hard to make this great drive: this summer a holiday certainty has, like an afternoon shower on a sun-roasted road, evaporated.

There have long been three "givens" about the school holidays: prices for overseas trips will go up; the rain will come down in Britain; and you will always be able to rent a car cheaply in Spain or Portugal – the Iberian peninsula has routinely been one of the most competitive places on the planet for vehicle hire.

Not this year. While the first two inevitabilities have proved more reliable than usual, thousands of people accustomed to paying perhaps £100 for the pleasure of meandering around Iberia for a week are discovering that the supply of small hatchbacks, whether Seats, Fiats or Fords, has dwindled alarmingly.

Spain and Portugal have seen a sharp fall in visitors from the UK this summer compared with last. Even so, millions of us continue to holiday south of the Pyrenees, because both nations offer outstanding quality and value even after the pound lost a quarter of its value against the euro. In Lisbon, you can recharge for another bout of exploration with a strong and bittersweet coffee for 60c, while Spain offers the chance to stay in a magnificent historic property for less than a rey's ransom – as last week's Complete Guide to Paradors (online at tiny.cc/ylwrx) shows. The trouble is: many of us rely on rental cars to get around from costa to campo to ciudad. And this month, from coast to countryside to city there is barely a vehicle for hire.

Carl Whitaker booked a "pay-on- arrival" car with DoYouSpain.com. This is a common arrangement, with a couple of key benefits: you need not supply credit-card details until you actually pick up the car; and you can cancel any time without penalty. Unfortunately, so can the agency. Two days before Mr Whitaker was due to arrive at Palma airport for a fortnight's holiday with his family, he was told, after all, no vehicle was available. He tracked down an alternative: a Renault Clio was available – but "the cost had risen from the £197 I had been quoted to £ 843".

Mr Whitaker's experience is all too common this summer. Because there are not enough cars to go around, prospective hirers are paying hundreds of pounds over the normal rates, or being turned away.

I checked at some of the most popular holiday airports for a week's rental, starting today, of the most basic car available. At Alicante, Avis was offering a Volkswagen Golf for £751: more than £100 a day, and then only "subject to availability". At least this offered more hope than the same company's office at Mahó*airport in Menorca: "Sorry, no vehicles are available". Europcar at Ibiza airport and Hertz at Faro airport in the Algarve gave the same response. Hertz had a car on offer on around the same latitude – but 200 miles away at Málaga airport, where £472 would get you a Polo. Rental companies are making a mint from the hole in the hire-car market.



HOW DID Europe's most aggressive car-rental competition go into reverse? Stuart Nassos, managing director of the rental broker, Holiday Autos, blames the recession.

"Car manufacturers have cut the number of cars being built, therefore fewer are available", he says. "Also there is a lack of credit. The two combine to create 'a perfect storm'." His says prospective customers should book well ahead.

For this summer, that advice is too late, of course, so he suggests other strategies. "Don't always go for an airport pick up – these can get more booked up. Consider a city centre or resort location."

Mr Nassos stresses that different companies and brokers have different levels of availability, particularly in Spain where the market is very fragmented. And searching in cities off the usual summer map is also worthwhile: "Bilbao and Barcelona are less affected".

Through Spain without a hitch

Happily, both Spain and Portugal have excellent public transport. In Mallorca, the gorgeous train from Palma to Sóller is an essential component of the island's infrastructure, as well as a historic highlight. And bus 353 will get you from Port de Pollença to Cap de Formentor in 20 entrancing minutes, four times a day (not Sundays).

On the mainland, Málaga airport has its own railway station with links to resorts along the coast; and a rail line connects Alicante with Benidorm and beyond.

In Portugal, an excellent and often scenic railway line runs along the Algarve.

Without a car you can save money and relax. Even for journeys off the beaten track, taxis are still pretty good value, despite the slump in sterling; €70 buys a cab from Marbella to Málaga airport, the pretty way across the mountains.

If all else fails: hitch-hike. The easiest lift I ever got was in the city of Almería, trudging through a suburb towards the autopista with a scruffy sign reading "Murcia" tucked under my arm.

A man walked out of a house carrying his car keys. He saw the sign, and said "I'm going there; hop in".

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
football
Sport
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
News
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
people
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine