Destination Articles

Shifting Up: Great Drives in Europe

For centuries, European royalty escaped to the country to enjoy the scenery and peasants led horse-drawn carts through mountain valleys to trade wares in neighboring 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 such cosmopolitan giants 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 open continent via the open road opens up a plethora of options, where you’re in control, kilometer after kilometer, over where you go and what attractions to visit.

To discover a European road trip that gets your motor running, check out these top choices from the American Society of Travel agents. Some of the most travel-wise people in the world, ASTA members know that no matter which side of the road you’re driving on, the view should always be unforgettable.

The Amalfi Coast, Italy

Ask 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

Road signs on Amalfi Coast
Photo by TravelSense
Community member Rae Quinn

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
From 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
Officially 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.

Photo by TravelSense
Community member Rucas

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
Connecting 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
A 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.

The Best Drive: To Your Travel agent’s Office
Travel agents make the best co-pilots for all European vacations, especially if you’re dreaming of one of these scenic drives. Travel agents can set up your car rental (ever tried a Ferrari?), help map out which scenic detours to take (the Loire Valley is gorgeous) and the best places to park your car each night (stay overnight on the Romantic Road at Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, the best preserved medieval town in Germany). With all the details taken care of, all you have to worry about is learning how to fold the road map and how to convert kilometers into miles.

Click here to find your travel agent and start planning a European drive that will drive your friends wild with envy.