How to Drive to Portugal from the UK

By | Last updated: May 26, 2020
"I live in Portugal, I've travelled to almost every part of Portugal, and one day I hope to write a book about Portugal."

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Every year, thousands of people drive from the UK to Portugal and back again.

It’s usually cheaper to fly (although that depends on how many are in your group), but there are also a lot of benefits to driving to Portugal.

You save money on car hire, you can bring a lot of your possessions over, and it’s also a good way to bring the dog (or the cat) to Portugal. These benefits are even more useful to expats or to anyone who’s planning to spend several months living in Portugal.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a direct ferry between the UK and Portugal. In fact, there are no ferries to Portugal from any other country (unless you count some of the river boats that connect Spain and Portugal like the one that connects Ayamonte in Spain and Vila Real de Santo António in Portugal). 

You can either A) drive through France or B) take a ferry to the North of Spain and drive from there. There are pros and cons to both but, for most people, it normally comes down to a question of time and money.

Which option is cheaper?

A ferry ticket (for two people and a car) from the UK to Spain can cost around £400 one-way or around £800 for a return trip (see aferry.com for the latest prices). Occasionally there are deals, but £400 each way is definitely not unusual.

Meanwhile, a ferry between the UK and France might cost around £120 for a return (again, see aferry for up-to-date prices).

That’s £680 of a difference! Obviously, you need to factor in the cost of driving across France and perhaps at least one overnight, but, even still, it’s not going to come to £680.

So, how much should you expect to pay driving across France?

As an estimate, we looked at how much it would cost to drive from Calais in the very north of France to Saint-Jean-de-Luz right next to the Spanish border.

Autoroutes estimated €94.9 for the péage (tolls) and €104.2 for fuel at the time of writing. A quick look at booking.com suggests that there are plenty of accommodation options for around €50 if you stop off at a small town on route.

In total, that’s €199.1 for the fuel and tolls, €50 for accommodation, and around £120 for the ferry or Eurotunnel ticket. A saving of over £300.

Note: you can also avoid the péage roads if you want to avoid the toll costs, however it’ll take you slightly longer: 13 hours and 30 minutes vs around 10 hours 42 minutes. You’ll spend slightly more on fuel, but will save on toll costs.

Which option is faster?

So, if driving through France is the cheaper option, which option is faster? We took a look at both.

Driving through France

According to Google, driving from Calais to Albufeira takes around 21 hours and 38 minutes. You’ll need to add on the ferry time or tunnel time and any driving time within the UK. As an example, the Dover to Calais ferry takes around 90 minutes.

Total time: 21 hours and 8 minutes.

Take a UK to Spain Ferry

According to Google, driving from Santander to Albufeira takes around 10 hours and 8 minutes. The fastest ferry time to Santander is the Plymouth-Santander route which takes around 18 hours and 30 minutes.

Total time: 28 hours and 38 minutes.

So driving through France, surprisingly, is the faster option although it doesn’t take into account any overnight stopovers. A lot of people take two overnights.

Both options also assume you’ll be driving non-stop, which obviously won’t be the case. You’ll have to stop off a few times and driving through France means you’ll stop off more times. If it’s just one person driving, it’s a good idea to take longer breaks.

These stop-offs really add up, particularly if you stop for food, and it’s very likely that the driving through France option could take longer.

How to plan your trip

Hopefully, the information above will have helped you decide which is the better route for you.

Below you’ll find a little “todo list” for both options.

Driving through France in 4 Steps

Decide which ferry route you want to take

There are lots of different ferry routes between the UK and France. Dover to Calais is the most popular ferry route, particularly from those living in London, but it doesn’t make sense if you’re living on the other side of the country.

There are ferry ports all across the South of England, in places like Plymouth, Poole, and Portsmouth, so take a look at those nearest to you. You can see a list of ferry routes here.

Aferry.co.uk is also great for the journey times and prices between routes.

Book your ferry (or Eurotunnel) tickets

Once you’ve decided your route, book your tickets. Prices rarely go down, but often go up.

Decide your route through France

The easiest way to do this is simply to put your arrival ferry port and your final destination in Portugal into Google Maps and let Google do the planning for you.

If you’re planning to avoid the toll roads, you can do this by clicking “options.”

Decide how many stopovers you want

Most people need at least one overnight to drive through France. Some people need two.

If you’re doing one overnight, look for somewhere to stopoff about halfway through the France leg of your trip. If you’re doing two overnights, divide it into thirds.

Pick a town, and then have a look on booking.com to see what comes up.

Taking the ferry to Spain: Steps

Decide which ferry route you want to take

Unlike ferries between the UK and France, there are only a few ferry routes between the UK and Spain, so it’ll probably be a case of choosing the one that’s closest to where you live in the UK.

You can view a list of ferry routes here. It’s also worth having a quick look at aferry as sometimes it’s good at highlighting a cheaper route.

Book your ferry tickets

Once you’ve decided your route, book your tickets.

Plan your route from Spain to Portugal

Often the easiest thing is to let Google decide: put your arrival ferry port in Spain and your final destination in Portugal into Google Maps to see what it suggests.

Google will probably suggest doing most of your driving in Spain rather than Portugal. This is mainly because Portugal has toll roads and Spain doesn’t.

So, driving in Spain is the cheaper (and often faster) option, however, if you’re interested in seeing more of Portugal, consider driving through here instead. One possible route is Portugal’s “Route 66” which starts in Chaves in the north and goes down to Faro in the south.

Decide if you’ll have a stopover

Even though you can do the drive in one go, it’s much more pleasant to have an overnight. Salamanca is a popular stopping off point for those driving through Spain.

Travelling with Pets?

If you’re travelling with pets, there are a few extra things to think about.

Pet-friendly Accommodation

Booking.com is good for finding pet-friendly accommodation: simply select “pet friendly” under facilities on the left-hand menu.

Pet-friendly Cabins or Kennels

Some ferries have pet-friendly cabins while others have kennels where the dogs stay for the duration of the trip. In the Eurotunnel, the dog stays in the car with you and, in some ferries, pets stay in the car.

Some people don’t like the idea of their pet being left in the car or even in a kennel so, it’s important to find the right option for you.

See our guide to pet-friendly ferry cabins and kennels.

Journey time

Travelling with a pet, particularly a dog, means that you’ll have to break up the journey a lot more for toilet and walk breaks.

Pet passport

And, don’t forget that your pet will need to be vaccinated and micro chipped (see the full list of rules). There are also Brexit-specific guidelines here.

Tips & rules for driving in Portugal

It’s a good idea to read up on the different rules for driving in Portugal, things that you should have in your car, and tips for staying safe and making the most of your time here. 

Car insurance & Breakdown cover

Most UK insurers cover European trips abroad, but most also have limits on the amount of time that you’re allowed to be outside of the country. 90 days is not uncommon, but neither also is 30.

For most people on an annual holiday, this won’t be a big deal but if could be an issue if you’re planning on spending a few months in Portugal.

If that sounds like you be sure to read Portugalist’s guides to long term car insurance and breakdown cover for UK drivers.

FAQs

Can I drive to Portugal from the UK?

Yes, you can drive to Portugal from the UK. You can either take the ferry or Eurotunnel and drive through France or you can take a ferry to Northern Spain.

Is there a ferry between the UK and Portugal?

No, there is not a ferry between the UK and Portugal. There are ferries between the UK and Northern Spain, however, so you can take the ferry to Spain and then drive onto Portugal.

Which is better, driving through France or taking the ferry to Spain?

We estimate that driving through France is likely to be cheaper, but that taking the ferry to Spain is going to be the faster option.

About this article
This article was first published in October 2017. It was last updated on May 26, 2020.
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68 thoughts on “How to Drive to Portugal from the UK”

  1. Hi
    My father lives in Lagos (Algarve) we are in the UK and because of Covid obviously cannot see him.

    The ferries start crossing in June, I can get a ferry to Bilbao and drive down to Lagos, will I be OK crossing the Spanish/Portuguese border by then ?
    Many thanks
    Mark Samuel

    Reply
    • Hi Mark,

      At the moment, it’s difficult to say but there should be more announcements in the next few days. So far, the Portuguese government has made a lot of announcements about different Covid-related rules in Portugal but hasn’t said a lot about tourism from outside of Portugal.

      Some reports suggest that the Spanish-Portuguese border could open early June. I’ve heard others say that it’s already open in the Algarve and Alentejo (although can’t confirm).

      My advice would be to hold off booking for at least the next week or two until there’s a more definite announcement.

      Reply
    • There’s often a border fee for taking a car into another country and there may be a mileage limit with some companies. Apart from that it should be doable.

      Reply
  2. my wife and i and our little dog are getting the ferry from ireland to Bilbao and will be driving to Alvor preferably through Spain .
    anyone done this already with a pet and know where to stop on the way overnight in a pet friendly hotel ?

    Reply
  3. Hi
    i need to take my car to Lisbon, as have to move from Horley in UK to Lisbon for work, just wondering what is the cheapest way to do this, via ferry crossing or driving through toll roads. please advise

    Reply
  4. It is worthwhile in my opinion getting a toll tag from Sanef when travelling through France. Although the cost for passing through the tolls are the same you can use the fast lane which in some places means that you race through whilst others are waiting.

    Reply
  5. Hi – I’m in central Portugal now but need to drive back to UK – I’m wondering if you know of any websites/groups to find people that might also need to go to UK and prefer to go by car and share costs as the ferry with the cabin is like £300 minimum in December! I’m traveling alone after a house sit went badly wrong. I wouldn’t mind taking a dog/cat as I have a quite big estate car. I thought this would be a good way to share costs and help someone out also. thanks 🙂

    Reply
    • Hi Ange,

      I’ve had a few housesits go wrong, so I can feel your pain.

      I don’t think there are any specific groups for this, so you would probably need to post a notice in all of the different expat groups. The other thing you could do is register the trips on BlaBlaCar and you might pick up a passenger or two for some of the trip.

      There are websites where you can bid to transport things like Shiply, and it might be worth registering on one or two of them as well as mentioning it in your post. As for dogs and cats, I don’t if there are any websites or groups specifically about transporting them.

      Reply
  6. Hi! I know you provide information for trips out of the UK to Portugal. But thought the trip "links up" at some point from our departure point Rotterdam. We plan to drive one of our cars from Rotterdam to Portimao first week of December as we are moving there. We want to avoid any mountains so as to avoid any possibility of snow. So does the route outlined via Bordeaux Bilbao down to Valladolid, Salamanca, Badajoz involve any mountains? And does anyone have any experience on driving in December down to Portimao. Just trying to find the most efficient way to get to Portimao. I have been searching including TripAdvisor but could not find any information such as road conditions and any other tips for the journey. We went to the local equivalent of AA but they could not assist with any route planning as where to stop off for the night or the best route to take. We do not want to be in any large towns on the way and we do need secured parking as we will be travelling with some of our personal stuff. We do not expect to drive more than 8-9 hours a day. Would be great to get advice/input from anyone who has actually driven to Portimao and the route they took and where they stopped off for the night and or to take a look around. We are flexible. We planned to take it easy and not get stressed about the trip. Thank you

    Reply
    • Hi Sultan,

      I drove from the Algarve to Berlin in January/February once and went up the right-hand side of Spain, past Barcelona. I stopped near Girona and also Lyon. I remember there being a lot of snow once I reached Germany, but I don't think I saw it before that.

      Can't really remember the hotels, unfortunately, but the one near Girona might have been there Hotel Costabella. I don't remember it having secure underground parking, but it was a little outside the city centre (but walkable) so reasonably safe.

      Reply
  7. I would like to bring my son over to our home in the Algarve to but he has been advised not to fly because he is suffering with lung problems caused by chronicle pneumonia. We were thinking about driving to northern Spain to catch the ferry to the UK and bring my son back with us. Is anyone able to advise or recommend the less stressful route to take bearing in mind my son is not in the best of health?

    Reply
  8. Buenos días, por curiosidad he entrado en tu página para ver cómo desde Inglaterra venís en coche al Algarve. Os recomiendo si venís por España ( autovía de la plata), qué es gratuita, conocer Salamanca, Plasencia, Cáceres o Mérida.

    Reply
  9. Info on flying if it helps… TAP fly Pets to Faro on a scheduled flight from Heathrow, however this involves 1 stop and a plane change in Lisbon. The charge for a 1 way carriage for a large Dog is 100 euro but you do have to provide your own flight suitable ‘crate’ for the hold. I am just waiting to hear back from them if 1 way means the booking from London to Faro or the stop in Lisbon makes it 2 and hence 200 euro.

    Reply
  10. I’m just about to drive to castelo branco, from Calais for the second time. It took me about 22 hours, with 6-7 short coffee/toilet breaks.
    I’ve also taken the ferry to Santander, which was 30 hours, of the 2 I preferred driving, although the ferry worked out cheaper.

    Reply
  11. In October I am takig a ferry from Portsmouth to Santander. I am planning to visit Santiago and drive doen to Porto, then stay a few days there, then drive back to the UK via France. I’ve not planned properly yet but the suggestions above seem great. I am travelling with 2 dogs and one more person. Any advice on taking pets? These are toy breed, very small, and one of them fits in a handbag. I will have all documents for the pets, passports, vaccines, etc, but just want to some advice on places to avoid with pets, where to sleep, any issues with driving with pets in france, spain and Portugal etc. I am planning to spend about 17 days on route using a Peugeot 3008 diesel.

    Reply
    • Hi Miguel,

      I’d recommend booking a pet-friendly cabin (if you want one) quite far in advance as these sell out quickly on the UK to Spain ferry routes.

      Finding pet-friendly hotels isn’t very difficult, but I will try and do a list of them between now and then. I think in France there is a law where hotels, B&Bs etc all have to accept pets so it’s even easier there.

      Driving with pets usually takes a lot longer than normal driving as you have to stop off quite a bit to walk them and let them go to the toilet. It’s a good idea to factor that into your plans.

      Reply
  12. Hi I will be travelling from uk by car and ferry to Calais
    However pls can you tell me how I Can get to Porto from uk by ferry

    From Calais to Porto it’s 18 hours drive

    Reply
    • Hi Fazna

      There’s no ferry to Portugal from the UK. The closest ferry is the ferry from the UK to one of the ports in Northern Spain (see the article above for more information).

      Reply
  13. Hi there, loving this article and thread. (And in fact the whole site!)

    We are moving to SW Algarve for a trial period in September, and thinking of driving down with our two children (3 and 1 yo) and our two cats, in a car as we don’t have a camper/motorhome. All the stop-offs in Portugal sound great, but are the cats just going to complicate this enormously? We could ship them separately for about £700. Or do you think it is easy to find hotels that will put up with a couple of cats?!

    Do you think it’s worth looking into buying a camper van for our stay (9 months more or less) for the purposes of driving down, and for further adventures whilst there?!

    Thanks in advance.

    Reply
    • Hey Amy,

      So glad you like the site! It’s still a work in progress, but getting there!

      I think it’s definitely a good idea to do a trial period in the Algarve before committing to moving here.

      As for the driving, I would probably drive down with the cats. I don’t know anyone who has done the trip with cats, but a few people with dogs. I imagine the hotels that take dogs would also take cats, but I’m not sure. I don’t know how you manage toilet breaks with cats, but I have seen people with leads for their cats. Maybe something to get them used to beforehand?

      You could get the ferry from the UK to Northern Spain, and book a pet-friendly cabin. That way they can be in the room with you. Then you could do the trip with just 1 overnight if you wanted to? You could even drive it in one go, although that’s not ideal.

      Alternatively, one person could fly to Portugal with an airline that takes pets.

      As for the campervan, it’s definitely not necessary for the trip but, if it’s something you want to do, it’s something to consider. The Algarve is very campervan-friendly, so it’s a good place to try van living. It would probably mean forgoing a car, though, and a car is a lot more practical for the small streets in most Portuguese towns.

      Hope that helps!

      Reply
  14. This year we are taking the ferry to St Malo ( previously have gone via Gijon & Bilbao ) heading to the Algarve near Lagoa so would appreciate any tips/ recommendations as to where to stop over. We will be taking 5 days to travel down.

    Chris & Bruce

    Reply
    • Hey Chris & Bruce,

      If you’re into food, San Sebastian in the North of Spain is a good place to stop. The Parc naturel régional du Marais poitevin just north of La Rochelle in France is also beautiful.

      Maybe some other drivers on here will be able to chime in with other recommendations.

      Reply
  15. Hi, we are currently in Cascais, having driven down from Bilbao in our camper over the previous 3 weeks. I must say, the “All the Aires in Spain and Portugal”, published by Vicarious Books, was invaluable, helping us to save money by stopping, either overnight or for a couple of days, in places of interest.
    We stopped off in Gijon, A Corûna and Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and they were all really worthwhile. Once in Portugal we tended to stay for longer, on the coast in campsites, for electrical hook-ups and showers etc. We found the Orbitur group have good facilities at a very reasonable price (less than €20/night, with their Camping Club discount, which costs €11, for the year) .
    Now nearing the end of our month away, and it’s been fabulous!! We leave Guincho tomorrow, and have 2 days (3 if you include Wednesday- the ferry leaves at 17.30) to get up into Spain, probably overnighting in Salamanca.
    The ferry (Brittany freight ferry, not much in the way of entertainment, but much cheaper than the “cruise” ferry) cost a reasonable £700-ish, for the 2 of us and a 6metre Mobile home, and, although I’m not particularly looking forward to the 26-odd hour crossing, seems good value to me…
    My advice- just do it!! You’re off the main tourist drag for most of the time, and can stop off wherever you like, and whenever you’re tired.
    Tim n Teresa.

    Reply
  16. Hello
    I’m planning to travel to albufeira in July via car, not sure whether to go from Santander or Bilbao and what route to take ? Are you able to help?

    Reply
    • Hi Amelia,

      In terms of driving distance, there’s not much in it. I would probably choose Bilbao, simply because I’ve never been there and it looks interesting but you might not be planning to stop there. Most people get driving as soon as they hit the Spanish coast.

      The route Google suggests is across Spain via Salamanca, down to Badajoz, and then into Portugal. This is a good route to take, especially as there aren’t tolls in Spain. Petrol and diesel are also cheaper here.

      Although it’s not quite half-way, Salamanca is a pleasant city and somewhere that a lot of people stop off at. It’s perfect for an overnight.

      Alternatively, you could drive through Portugal. It would mean you’d get to see a bit more of Portugal, and you could stop off at somewhere like Guarda or Castelo Branco, but it’s going to take longer and be more expensive.

      Reply
  17. We are creaky joints people but adventurous nevertheless. Considering ferry/road trip UK-Portugal. We’d like to stay in lodges or static caravans on campsites en route if there are such things, any idea please?

    Reply
  18. Hi James,

    Thanks for this post and all your answers to the comments. We are looking to drive from Lisbon to Paris over 10 days. We like to travel to small towns and tend to only spend a day in the bigger cities.

    What route would you recommend we drive? Of all the places you’ve listed above, are there any must-see small towns you would recommend we stay in?

    Lisbon, Porto and Bordeaux seem to be the ones we should spend a day and night in

    Reply
    • Hi Trish,

      I’ve visited Salamanca, Burgos, and San Sebastian. Burgos was only for a few hours, but it seemed pleasant. The other two were both very nice. Getting in and out of San Sebastian without a sat nav is tricky for some reason: everyone (including myself) seems to get lost. It does have some great food, though, so worth stopping off at.

      In France, the area around La Rochelle and the Parc naturel régional du Marais poitevin is very nice. I stayed a little further north at Noirmoutier-en-l’Île, which is also recommended if you want to go a little off course. Cognac is also on your route and very nice, if I remember correctly.

      Reply
  19. Hi James

    I found this article really useful including the article on Portuguese tolls.

    Have been contemplating whether to drive from St Malo to Guarda in Portugal with a 2 year old. Intention was to drive overnight and try and do as much as possible in one go and from your article it appears that maybe a stop in northern spain may be an option to split the trip.

    Any other suggestions you may have would be appreciated. I would add I have never driven in Europe.

    Reply
    • Hi Philip,

      Thanks for your kind words.

      Driving in Europe is very easy. The roads are good, and there are plenty of places to stop off (more so in France than Spain).

      I’ve always found it hard to get through France without a stop. Google Maps suggests it can be done in about 8 hours on the toll roads, but it seems to take me longer than that. I normally find myself starting to get very tried between Bordeaux and the Spanish border.

      I do think a stop-off is definitely a good idea. One option is San Sebastian which is a really nice city, and I think on your route, but it’s really confusing to get in and out of. If you have a sat nav you’ll be fine, but it always seems to be quite confusing without one.

      I don’t know if you’ve considered this but, if you’re coming from the UK, another option would be to take the ferry to Northern Spain. It’s a long crossing, but easier than driving.

      Reply
  20. Many thanks we’ll be leaving from north London.
    The plan was get the train across as it’s quicker and then drive for at least 6 hours have a break then make a plan of wear to get to to stop over night.
    I’m used to doing long trips I’ve already had a couple of 600 miles plus in a day this year.
    Thanks for all you’re advice great help.

    Reply
  21. Hi James
    I’m planning on driving to Vilamoura in August with my teenage son I’m happy to go on toll roads if it’s quicker will I have to pre pay for tolls or simply stop at gates.
    As I’m only planning on stopping off for one night somewhere.
    Many thanks Justin

    Reply
    • Hi Justin,

      Where are you driving from? The UK?

      Many people drive through Spain to the Algarve as there are no toll roads there, usually joining at around Badajoz, and that might suit you if you’re not really stopping off too long anywhere. In Portugal, most of the toll roads have two options: the electronic Via Verde and an option to pay by cash/card (often manned).

      The electronic toll roads are the issue as they are electronic only, and there are issues with foreign reg cars. This article will show you how to register or pre-pay for them, and it also contains a map of where they all are.

      They’re mainly in the North of Portugal, but there’s also the A22 in the Algarve to watch out for.

      Reply
  22. Hi James,
    We are planning to drive down through Portugal to the Lagos area at the end of September. We’ll be traveling and camping in a 4×4, and we want to travel on the many off road tracks to visit some of the more secluded parts of the country and coastline that can’t be accessed in a car. Can you tell me where I can get more info on these routes, and the places/regulations of wild camping.

    Many thanks,

    Nick

    Reply
    • Hi Nick,

      Wild camping isn’t legal in Portugal mainly because there are big concerns about fires, but also littering. The police do turn an eye to it a lot of the time, but they also do ask a lot a lot of people to move on as well and sometimes fine people as well.

      That said, a lot of people still do it. People tend to park in car parks, and in a lot of the Algarve and the South of Portugal this is tolerated. I’d say that the police are much less likely to tolerate someone off-roading and parking close to the beach.

      Reply
      • Hi James,

        Thanks for your reply.

        We’ll be sleeping in our truck and not a tent so shouldn’t attract too much attention, so car parks may be the answer.
        I’ve been led to believe that there are many off road trails that can be driven without breaking any laws, so is this not the case then?
        Any info on them would be gratefully received.

        Thanks,

        Nick

        Reply
  23. I am planning a trip this June (2019) to Euprope for 14 days. I am from Western Australia. My First 14days are being spent in the U.K where I have a hire car booked for a month. I am wanting to travel across to Europe and visit Portugal (Lisbon), Venice and Lake Gardo, Switzerland, Vienna, Prague and Amsterdam. If possible Spain. Have you any information to advise me of as to whether it would be best to self drive, or book a tour to those locations (any sites would be most welcome). If you have any better suggestions/options I would greatly appreciate your feed back. Thanking you in advance.

    Reply
    • Hi Kerry,

      A car is going to give you a lot more flexibility, and you may need it for more remote places like Lake Garda. It’s worth looking at the trains to see if that’s worth considering. It should be fairly affordable between places like Prague and Vienna, but you may want to consider it for the entire trip as well. Interrail’s 15-day ticket might be worth looking at, and might be cheaper than booking all the journeys separately.

      Reply
    • Hi Grace, I don’t think there is. You can get a ferry to Northern Spain (the routes change frequently, but Santander and Bilbao are the two current ports) and that’ll cut about 3 or 3 1/2 hours off your drive.

      It’s definitely a bit of a drive, but Northern Spain is very beautiful and worth a visit (if you haven’t already been).

      James

      Reply
  24. I drive to Portugal from the uk and back again at least 3 times a year and in my experience I never use the French toll roads as they cost over 150 euros between Calais and san sabastian also the fuel is around 20 cents a litre cheaper on the non toll roads. Yes it does take around 5 hours longer but the savings are massive and you also see the little French villages closer up and hotels are cheaper too. There are a lot more speed cameras to be aware of this way but if you stick to the speed limits it’s not a problem.

    Reply

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