From the incredible 48 hairpin turns of Italy’s Stelvio Pass, to speeding within a hair’s width of crashing waterfalls and gushing geysers in Norway, there are some driving break destinations that every motor enthusiast and their driving gloves simply have to experience. Explore the most spectacular driving routes in the world, while discovering the perfect vehicle with which to embark on the journey of a lifetime. All that’s left for you to take care of is the soundtrack…
The Amorous Amalfi
Stretching 50km along the east coast of Italy, the Amalfi Coast is one of the most spectacular coastlines in the world. Jagged cliffs, decorated with lemon groves, tower above the sparkling sea, while dainty villas hang precariously from their edges. On the horizon, the sea and sky merge into one dazzling ocean of blue.
From the picturesque town of Sorrento begins the famous SS 163 Amalfitana – the Amalfi Road. If the incredible views aren’t enough, the route is also famous for its zigzagging road and hairpin turns that lend a challenging drive to the daring driver. The road winds right along the cliff edge at a steep angle, with a number of sheer drops and serpentine turns.
Along the way are two of the jewels in the Amalfi’s crown, the pretty villages of Positano and Ravello. These colourful locations offer panoramic vistas of the coastline and surrounding hills, with specialist shops caught in the tangle of prepossessing nooks and crannies.
A Classic Swiss Pass
Switzerland’s Klausen Pass has been used for the purpose greater beings must surely have intended ever since the invention of the automobile. The legendary Klausen Run mountain race began in 1922, after motor racing has begun to thrill audiences in England, France and Italy. The Swiss wanted to create something similar and no other mountain pass could compare with the enchanting 22.5km that stretched between Uri and Glarus.
Still today, the event remains for vintage car enthusiasts, extending through the Schächten valley, at high altitude, passing stunning landscapes, majestic mountains and unique flora and fauna. With its 136 curves over an incline of 1237 metres, the event attracts crowds of around 40,000.
The road is perfect for speed demons, including high speed sweeping turns through Alpine forests and views of jagged granite peaks that one might find hard to believe. The winding road to the top of the Klausen Pass includes around 40 more twists and turns to the summit, while the route back down offers some eye-watering sheer drops that need to be skilfully averted.
Europe’s Highest Road: Col de la Bonette
One of the most famous roads in the world, the Col de la Bonette is Europe’s highest. Hitting heights of 2700 kilometres above sea level, the views of the Alps from the top are quite spectacular.
The first thing one notices when embarking on this epic journey is the superb quality of the road surface, which adds to the overall driving experience with long, sweeping turns that are a joy to take on. One of the finest spots to stop en route is the picture postcard town of Saint-Étienne de Tinée. Sitting low in the valley, beside the gushing Tinée river, this spot is surrounded by lush pine and mélèze forests and towering mountain slopes.
As one ascends the higher reaches of the route, the striking contrast between the increasingly barren, volcanic appearance near the top of the pass and the lush greenery below will become more and more apparent. The road becomes more complex as it climbs, producing a thrilling driving experience. This is rewarded by the panoramic views at the top.
En route back down, the descent is exhilarating. From the peak, one can see the 5km from the top laid out like a racing track. Ensure the driving gloves are at the ready and take on this enthralling challenge.
New Zealand: Hobbiton, Geysers and Cavern
It was Rudyard Kipling that called New Zealand the eighth wonder of the world. And, driving through the lush green mountains that typify the country’s abundant beauty, it would be very difficult to disagree.
There are a great number of stunning routes to take in New Zealand that traverse every aspect of glorious nature one could possibly imagine. Try the west coast of the South Island, for example. Despite superb views of the Tasman Sea, the singularly most awe-inspiring aspect of the journey is the towering Southern Alps mountain range that overlook from the east. They run through the entire South Island, with the snow capped peaks reaching 3000m in height, with multiple opportunities for admiring glances.
Highway 5, linking Rotorua and Taupo, offers a selection of treats. Through thick sections of pine forest, there are several turn-offs to spots as varied as the powerful Huka Falls, where 220,000 litres crash into the pool below every second, a host of boiling mud pools and shooting geysers.
Perhaps the highlight of New Zealand’s driving routes, however, comes in the North Island. The green Bombay Hills showcase luscious farmland, while the volcanic terrain of Mamaku District provides an eye-opening drive. Volcanic cones are dotted across the landscape towards Mount Ngongataha, a popular destination for luge riders.
‘The World’s Most Romantic Road’, La Grande Corniche
La Grande Corniche is simply a masterpiece. Designed by the world’s first engineering school, L’École des Ponts et Chaussées, to provide for Napoléon’s ambitious Italian campaign of 1796, the road originally clung almost impossibly to the cliff edge.
Described by The Independent as “the world’s most romantic road”, views of the lush, pastoral landscape and, of course, the magnificent blue sea are incomparable. The highlight vista comes at a section between Eze and Nice, where one can see the jagged clifftops of the Alps in the backdrop, beautiful sweeping views of the Maures Massif and St. Tropez to the west and the stunning seascape ahead.
Often used in car adverts, the road seems like an example of the liberating prospects offered by motoring. Its seemingly impossible position, carved into the cliff edge, represents the possibilities foreseen when the automobile was first conceived. The idyllic surroundings expound upon this motif even more, making the route an adventure within itself.
The Super Stelvio Pass
Crowned by Top Gear as the world’s best road, the Stelvio Pass is a labyrinthine collection of twists and turns. With 48 hairpin turns, the route would likely provide quite a challenge even to the Hamiltons and Alonsos of this world.
Located right by the border between Switzerland and Italy, the approach to the pass comes through beautiful Swiss countryside in the Stelvio National Park, with picturesque stretches of Alpine forest.
Once onto the pass, the budding Ayrton Senna can measure their progress, since the turns are all numbered in sequence. The path to the top includes a great many exhilarating switchbacks, with meanders every which way.
The road has some history, too. Built in 1820 by the Austrian Empire, the route sought to connect Lombardia with the rest of Austria – a somewhat thankless task. Since its inception, it has changed very little, even in spite of the fierce battles fought during World War I on the road.
Perfect Pacific Highway
Route 66 may well be the most famous road in the States, but it’s Pacific Highway 101 which offers petrolheads the most thrilling of routes in the country. Making its way down the west coast of the USA, the road begins in Washington state, before entering California via San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. An impressive entrance if ever there were one.
From here on, the route hugs the Pacific coastline, all the way past Los Angeles and into Orange County, offering sensational sea views. The route is known as El Camino Real, the Royal Road, since its route along the Californian coast approximates where the Spanish missions, pueblos and presidios travelled.
The route provides a patchwork of different sights. From mountains that plunge into the sea to the more mellow landscapes of oak-studded hills, this iconic, designated All American Road has something for everyone.
A Loop to Remember
Two of the main highways in northern Thailand, Highway 108 and Highway 1095, meet each other in Mae Hong Son, providing the irresistible opportunity to tie together in a 600km loop. Now inventively named the Mae Hong Son loop, the route winds over incredible mountain scenery through provincial towns and farming valleys.
One of the highlights of the route is the first leg of the journey southwards, through Doi Inthanon national park. The twisting curves bring you out to see panoramic views over all of northern Thailand, into the Golden Triangle beyond.
Anyone who enjoys scenic waterfalls will be certain to find this route most enjoyable, since there are enough to last a lifetime along the loop. Meanwhile, on the northern leg of the route, sits the charming town of Pai. A popular tourist destination for Thais, the town is within close reach of natural geothermal spas and the ‘Pai Canyon’, set on high rock cliffs with narrow ridges that look over the Pai valley.