The Best Road Trips in Europe
From the heights of Austria’s alpine passes to the coastal clifftop trails of Italy’s Amalfi Coast, Europe offers some of the best driving experiences on the globe. With its extensive rail network and ever-reliable airports, many flock to Europe for short breaks and city hopping, but the only way to experience the true scope and charm of this sprawling continent is by car.
Europe is a driver’s paradise- where America has the straight-laced Sunset Strip and Route 66, Europe has Monte Carlo’s rocky corners, and The Black Forest’s viridian autobahns – the latter of which do not tend to impose speed limits. Where South Africa has off-road safaris, Sweden has on-road elk crossings, and France offers flamingo-friendly wetland routes through the Camargue.
Whether you’re touring for the lush scenery and spectacular landscapes, or for the diverse wildlife and discreet attractions, taking a road trip through Europe could be the best decision you’ve ever made. But no matter your agenda, the hardest part is always going to be deciding when and where to tour. Luckily, Luxury Travel Guide is here to help, with four suggestions of iconic trips that should be on every serious driver’s bucket list.
The Classic Grand Tour – An Alpine Art Trail
The Grand Tour has been a staple of European travel for generations. The trend – a tour of Northern Italy’s picturesque cities, coastal towns and Renaissance wonders – emerged in 17th Century British high society, and remained a rite of passage amongst wealthy travellers right up until the flourishing development of rail transport in the 1840s. Today, with its mountain-burrowing tunnels and swirling hairpin bends, a tour of the region is as spectacular as ever. Start in Switzerland and pass through France for a roundtrip tour of the raciest roads across three countries.
A typical 500 mile route starts out at Geneva’s lush Lake Léman. From here, take the D902 south, and travel through the iconic Mont-Blanc tunnel to emerge in Italy’s Aosta Valley. Explore the delights of understated Turin before heading south and embarking upon the Mediterranean at Savona, avoiding Italy’s hectic autostradas to cut out any unwanted tolls.
Winding roads traverse the Levantine Riviera as far as La Spezia, and tiny trails climb slowly up the Apennines to Abatone, before twisting down into Renaissance Florence. Minor routes from here toward Bologna and Modena offer opportunities to make your way back to the Alps via Milan, with the likes of Portofino and Le Cinque Terre as potential seaside stops en route. Hotel Splendido in Portofino is one of the finest in the region, famously frequented by George Clooney, who has a private motorbike spot in the on-site car park.
Norwegian Glory – Oslo to Bergen and Back Again, Cross-Country
Dramatic Norway is a scenic attack on the senses – a rugged nation of snow-capped peaks, jagged fjords and fairytale forests. The best way to take in the scenery, along with some of the country’s most challenging tarmac, is to take a minor route from Oslo to Bergen. Start out in Oslo’s cosmopolitan centre, taking in daring architecture and challenging contemporary art. Then meet Oslo road at Eidfjord to begin your 800 mile adventure.
The 350 mile route from Oslo to historic Bergen is highlighted in green as a scenic route in Michelin Road Atlases but, for the most part, the roads here are ice white. Even during the height of summer you’ll pass snow-filled craters, creamy peaks and turquoise fjords en route to Alvik. Stop off at Hardangervidda National Park to marvel at some natural glaciers, or wander around Bergen’s colourful fish market before returning on the coastal road via Kristiansand and Stavanger.
On the southern coastal path, you’ll swap giant mountains for seaside fishing towns and intimate ferry trips over land-slicing fjords. The car ferries in this region tend to run every 15 minutes, and often only carry eight to ten vehicles per trip. Follow in Roald Dahl’s footsteps, and spend a night at the whitewashed Strand Hotel Fevik, a 1930s guesthouse with a private beach, serving up typically succulent Norwegian seafood in its restaurant. Don’t worry about tolls – discreet cameras en route will take photos of your registration plate, and send a bill to your home address. Alternatively, pre-payments can be made on passing at tourist information centres.
Route Napoleon – France’s Finest War Path
In 1815, Napoléon I famously marched from Elba to Grenoble, in a bid to overthrow King Louis XVIII. Bonaparte’s route of choice has since earned itself the status of legend. Known locally as Route Napoleon, this historic mountain tour has been a recognised drivers’ favourite since 1932 and, if you start out from Monaco, in the Côte d'Azur, you’ll soon discover that Napoléon’s roads are much racier than Monte Carlo’s Ferrari car park.
The official route starts out in Grasse, and continues all the way to Grenoble over 90 miles away. Considerably short by Grand Tour standards, the route is best modified with a detour toward the Gorges Du Verdon, the French equivalent of the Grand Canyon. Visitors can gaze 730 metres down into the gorge, and tackle challenging alpine bends to rival a Formula One race along the way. The Route Napoleon is famed for its smooth, unvarying road surfaces, making this particular road trip the sportier driver’s tour of choice. Bastide Saint Antoine, right outside perfume paradise Grasse, offers 5 hectares of Mediterranean gardens and a gourmet, Michelin-starred restaurant directly en route.
Germany’s Romantic Road – A Fairytale Trail through Bavaria
Germany’s famed Romantische Strasse (Romantic Road) slices some 300 miles through the forests and mountains of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. Travellers to Germany typically choose to visit the Black Forest, but the Romantic Road is unrivalled in its scope of scenic delights and off-key attractions, winding from the vineyards of Würzburg all the way to the foothills of the Alps in Bavaria, and brushing past many a medieval castle en route.
This well-trodden trail is best traversed late at night or early morning, when traffic is at its lightest and opportunities to take advantage of the autobahn's relaxed speed limits are at their best. The journey is best taken in short bursts, allowing travellers the chance to sample some of Germany’s best-preserved medieval towns and Ludwig II’s picturesque castles en route. Schloss Neuschwanstein is believed to have inspired Walt Disney, and walled Rothenburg ob der Tauber is loaded with kitsch museums and immaculate Middle Age buildings. NH Kloesterle Noerdlingen offers contemporary hotel living in the heart of ochre Nördlingen, a quiet medieval town nearby, and the entire stretch or the Romantic Road is toll-free.
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