Greece Stories and Tips

Crossing the Corinth Gulf: the Rio - Antirio bridge

Photo of Patras, Greece

The road past Preveza skirts the coast of the Ambracian Gulf, a remarkable inland lagoon which was the site of the naval battle of Actium between Octavian and Mark Antony in 31BC. It's a peaceful and scenery-rich area, although the road winds its way round many bends, enforcing a slow pace. Things improve when we hit a decent length of newly built motorway (whatever happened to some of the EU money, a lot of it contributed to pretty amazing improvements in Greek roads, one only wonders how long this will last with the austerity measures now imposed) that takes us as far as Messolonghion (famous for being the place of Byron's death), low-lying on another shallow lagoon on the shore of the gulf of Patra.

From there, it's not far to the crossing, and on the way the scenery becomes more dramatic, with the road (sadly, single-carriageway again, and infested by heavy lorries and dumper-trucks with building materials) winding round mountains and crawling along cliff-faces.

The Rio-Antirio bridge crosses the Gulf of Corinth north-east of Patra. It was opened in 2004 and dramatically improved the transportation connection between the mainland Greece and the Peloponnese which before required a ferry journey or a massive detour via the Corinth isthmus.

The bridge is almost 3km long and is officially world's longest cable-stayed multi-span bridge. The construction and design had to deal with many challenges of a difficult site, including deep water (65m), soft seabed, tectonic movement (the gulf of Corinth is expanding at the rate of 3cm a year), shipping (and associated collision risk), earthquake and tsunami dangers. The result is recognised as a major engineering feat, but also a superbly attractive structure that fits well within the natural environment of the area.

It's not a cheap crossing (in fact, ferry, which is still operational, is slightly cheaper) at over 12 Euro for a normal car, but it feels well deserved. There is a magic in driving on a bridge over a sea: human ingenuity creating permanent connection where there was none.

After the bridge the road south-west leads to Patra, the third largest city in Greece and a major ferry port for the boats travelling from Italy. We go the other way, on a coastal road towards Athens. There is an inexplicable toll to pay before driving on what seems to be a continuous roadwork for quite a few miles, to then change to a worn and weary, busy single-carriageway. Luckily, we are not going very far on this road and soon are turning off inland towards Kalavryta.

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