Bucket-list builder: Driving holidays
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Plan the perfect post-pandemic getaway with a trip-of-a-lifetime driving holiday
What could be better after life in lockdown than the freedom of the open road? Wide-open horizons, a full tank of fuel and endless possibilities. The catch is that totally unrestricted roaming probably won’t fit in with a week or two off work. Taking the Pan American Highway from the top of Alaska to the tip of South America would be great, but you’ll never get it done in a fortnight...
But it is possible to get the sense of wide-screen adventure, of freedom, of exploration – just by picking the right route for your road trip. It’s possible to find big scenery, wilderness, culture, history - whatever appeals most – and tackle it at your own pace with a well-chosen driving holiday. Go at your own pace, stop when you feel like it, take any detour that catches your eye and enjoy the truest of travel experiences.
There are, of course, great routes everywhere. Two or three days hugging the East Anglian coast can make for a great road trip. For the post-lockdown celebration, though, perhaps something more dramatic is called for: something that could be the trip of a lifetime. Here’s our short-list of six memorable driving holidays – but which will make it onto your bucket list?
Scotland: The North Coast 500
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This route that starts and finishes in Inverness was created in 2015 as a marketing gimmick to attract tourists to one of Britain’s quietest, wildest and most beautiful areas. It worked – and what was once the preserve of deer and free-range motorcyclists now sees campervans, cyclists and other automotive enthusiasts discovering the amazing landscape (and driving) on this 500 mile route that takes in the east, north and spectacular west coasts of the Highlands. Most people take two or three days to complete the circuit (it can be driven clockwise or anti-clockwise, but our tip is to go up the east coast to John o’Groats first). Accommodation in remote areas can book up a long way ahead, so spur-of-the-moment trips aren’t recommended. Remember to use the passing places on the single-track roads to let faster vehicles overtake.
For information see www.northcoast500.com
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France: The Route des Grandes Alpes
Like the North Coast 500, France’s Route des Grandes Alpes was created to attract tourists to an out-of-the-way corner of the country – in this case the forbiddingly high mountains that have always formed the natural border with Italy. However, the French began earlier and the Route was finished when the paved road over Col de l’Iseran was completed in 1937. Running from Thonon les Bains on the shore of Lake Geneva to Menton on the Mediterranean Sea, it’s 450 miles of majestic mountain beauty – three days of driving in one of Europe’s most magical landscapes. It’s only possible from June to the end of October, though, when the highest passes are clear of snow – and the Tour de France often closes stretches in July. It’s easily manageable with a week off work and makes for an unforgettable experience.
For more information see ee.france.fr
Italy: Via Aurelia and the Amalfi Drive
Italy is a nation that loves all things automotive, from scooters to motorbikes to full-fat Ferraris. And while everyone knows what the Romans are famous for (no, not the aqueduct) the rugged hills that cover most of the peninsular mean the roads are often anything but arrow straight - so it’s no surprise that it’s a fabulous place for a driving holiday. Our favourite Roman road is the Via Aurelia, hugging the coast all the way from Ventimiglia on the French border to Rome in a symphony of flowing corners with amazing blue-sea views. The SS1 often runs parallel to modern motorways, allowing it to wend its way through scenic seaside villages and towns. Of course, it’s not the only famous seaside drive in Italy. Carry on south from Rome - through the bustle of Naples and past Pompei – and you’ll reach the Amalfi Drive, through Sorrento, with some of the most stunning panoramas in Europe. It’s a four- or five-day trip – the heart of a two-week European road trip.
For information click here.
California: Pacific Coast Highway
If you want a great American road trip, we’d forget Route 66: it’s long, it’s straight, and much of the original highway has been replaced with characterless interstate. Whereas California Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, remains in all its gloriously unspoilt charm hugging the ocean from San Fransisco to Los Angeles. The driving highlight is the superbly twisty run from Ragged Point to Monterrey, but there’s so much to see along the way – from Hearst Castle to the towering trees of the Big Basin Redwood reserve (and it’s easy to detour into the Yosemite National Park as well). At either end there are two of America’s greatest cities, packed with their own attractions. If you’re looking for the trip of a lifetime, this could be it.
For more information click here.
South Africa: The Garden Route and the Cape of Good Hope
As the northern hemisphere shivers in the depths of winter, summer is painting the mountains and seas of South Africa with glorious golden sunlight. If you want to take your road trip at the earliest and warmest opportunity, head to Cape Town and discover the amazing roads down to the Cape of Good Hope, through the mountains around the Stellenbosch wine regions and, especially, the R44 coast road – a regular location for those car adverts that make your jaw drop at the scenery rather than the vehicle. Then head east to Mossel Bay on the Garden Route. Along the way you can do wildlife safaris, go shark diving, parascending... or concentrate on the wine tasting and the amazing food of the Eastern Cape.
For more information, click here.
It’s hard to pick a single route to recommend in New Zealand. Really, the best advice is to take two to three weeks and see as much of it as you can. On the North Island you have cosmopolitan Auckland, the Mauri capital and volcanic hotspot of Rotorua, the Art Deco treasure-trove of Napier, not to mention the black-sand beaches of the east coast and the stunning scenery of the Coromandel peninsula. Then the landscape gets even more majestic on the South Island, from the coastal glory of Fjordland to the wild mountains and plateaux of the Otago highlands. You can even visit Paradise, if you head inland from the outdoor activity mecca of Queenstown. There are also all the visitor attractions associated with the South Island’s starring role as the location for the Lord of the Rings films. However long you spend there, whichever way you go, a driving holiday in New Zealand is guaranteed to be a magical experience.
For more information click here.