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 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 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".

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
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

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments