Enjoy Europe's most stunning drives

Posted on: 20 August 2010 by Mark O'haire

Spectacular coastal scenery, mountain views, historic towns and rural vistas await the adventurous driver willing to try out some of the best driving routes in the UK and Europe.

http://owl-group-staging.s3.amazonaws.com/upload_datas/398/landscape_large.jpg?1288782376For centuries, European royalty escaped to the country to enjoy the scenery and peasants led horse-drawn carts through mountain valleys to trade wares in neighbouring villages. The pathways they took have now changed into modern roads, yet the beautiful vistas remain virtually the same, revealing a side of Europe not seen in cosmopolitan giants such as London and Paris.

Driving through Europe is a gratifying way to experience the old continent. Whether you peek over the Swiss Alps or coast past Scottish castles and England’s sprawling garden estates, enjoying the continent via the open road opens up a plethora of options, where you’re in control, kilometre after kilometre, over where you go and what attractions to visit.

To coincide with our monthly Travel Driving feature, we have put together a pick of the best driving trips in Europe. So whether you’re renting a car on holiday or just fancy jumping into your motor and following the open road, we have the routes to explore at your own pace and to your own itinerary.

With Europe offering a wealth of mountainous, lakeside, sun-drenched, beach-views and city culture, there is bound to be a drive to excite all drivers – all within comfortable driving distances.

The Amalfi Coast, Italy

amalfiAsk someone just beginning to learn the Italian language to translate “stunning beauty,” and Amalfi Coast will be the answer. Winding along sheer rock cliffs for 30 miles from Sorrento to the unmistakable white houses of Amalfi village, the drive provides breathtaking panoramic views at every turn. The hard part is keeping your eyes on the road.

The key is to drive south, where your lane will twist and turn right next to the edge, with only a stout stonewall separating your vehicle from the sea hundreds of feet below. Southbound from Sorrento leads you through the charming resort towns of Positano, Praiano and Amalfi, where many stay for a few days before hopping back into their car to continue driving down the coast to Ravello and beyond. Eventually the road ends at the Ionian Sea, but memories of this trip will never fade.

Causeway Coast, Northern Ireland

Causeway CoastFrom the city of Larne to Dunluce Castle, curving around the northeast corner of Northern Ireland, the Causeway Coast is a drive where the “70” on the road signs are not speed restrictions, but instead the number of amazing sites you’ll encounter within the next mile. For this is an area of exceptional natural beauty, where the rugged coastline seamlessly merges into a landscape of deep glens.

Yet the true star of this drive is Giant’s Causeway, a mass of 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns packed tightly together. The tops of the columns form stepping stones that lead from the cliff and disappear under the sea. The columns were either formed by a volcanic eruption or, according to the locals, by a Scottish giant tricked by the Irish giant, Finn McCool. Either way, they’ll leave a giant impression on you and your camera.

Madeira, Portugal

MadeiraOfficially a part of Portugal, Madeira is an island in the Atlantic closer to Morocco, north of the Canary Islands. For such a small island (30 miles long, 13 wide), Madeira offers a varied and eye-pleasing landscape of steep green mountains sliding into valleys covered with wild flowers, sprawling vineyards and quaint villages.

Driving around the entire island requires a full day along the coast and across the rugged interior. Begin from Funchal, the cosmopolitan capital city, and drive counterclockwise up the southern coast on a breathtaking mountain route to the northwestern tip at Porto Moniz, where it’s wise to disembark from your vehicle and swim in the natural tidal pools in the volcanic rock shoreline. Then follow the dramatic north coast road, where the street flirts close to the ocean just above the surf and passes through a waterfall. Yes, that was through a waterfall.

San Bernardino Pass, Switzerland

San Bernardino PassConnecting Chur with Bellinzona in southeastern Switzerland, the San Bernardino Pass is a driver’s dream road, offering Alpine scenes so dramatic and striking, you’ll often find yourself throwing the car into reverse so you can drive past them a second time. This road is dominated by castles and churches, earth-splitting gorges and sprawling bridges, bringing you face-to-face with Switzerland’s most engaging region.

En route you’ll travel through the Domleschg, an area that boasts the greatest concentration of medieval fortresses and ruins in all of Europe. Then you’ll conquer the Alps, with the help of lengthy tunnels and high bridges, past mountain villages like Splügen, beyond the picturesque towns of Grono and Roveredo to the bottom of the valley to Bellinzona, where three fortresses fill the sky, bringing the city’s historical significance as a key Alpine site into awe-inspiring focus.

The Romantic Road, Germany

13-Streets-of-RothenburgA European drive, to most people, means soaring down Germany’s Autobahn, possibly the world’s most famous superhighway. Yet exit A-7 off the Autobahn acts as a time machine, transporting you into a world of medieval towns, walled cities, aged churches with carved wooden altars, Bavarian beer halls and gothic cathedrals, all with the Alps—a towering wall of white in the distance—as the backdrop.

Exit A-7 leads to the Romantische Strasse, the Romantic Road, a 220-mile journey through the Middle Ages from Wuerzburg to Fuessen. Wherever you drive, you’ll find something sublime, whether it’s the stunning Wuerzburg Residence Palace, Roman remains in Augsburg or King Ludwig II’s dream-castle of Neuschwanstein. You could drive the entire length in less than 10 hours, but no one ever does. Spread out over two or three days, the Romantic Road is a fairytale drive straight into the heart and soul of Germany.

Have you driven any of these routes? Do you know of any drives not on our list? Have you any recommendations for other readers?

If so, let us know by leaving a comment in the box below or share your thoughts in the 50connect forums.

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