Road Trip Europe

A great European road trip is quite different to its North American counterpart. Road trippers exploring Europe can find wide open spaces and miles of empty roads like ribbons to the horizon, but they can just as easily spend days touring between small villages and hopping from fairytale castle to ancient monastery, never out of sight of the next medieval town or inn. Here the borders between countries melt away as easily as the coastline drifts off into the rear view mirror, replaced by vineyards which then fade into the distance and become the Alps.

For ever changing scenery, and waking up in a different country each day, road trips passing though the Danube Valley and the fairytale castle regions are ideal. By all means set off without a plan, there are plenty of pretty villages with pubs and B&Bs to come across - you're not going to starve in the verdant Rhine - but if you like to work from an itinerary, there are a couple of classic routes through this area: The Castle Road winds 1,000kms though elegant countryside of the Neckar Valley between Mannheim and Prague, passing hundreds of historic towns and more than 70 castles on its way. You probably won't have time to see all the castles but the Heidelberg is one to mark off on your map. The Autobahn to Romantic Road Route runs though similar territory, from Heidelberg Castle to Neuschwanstein Castle, but at a different speed – two speeds: race along the Autobahn like James Bond, then slow right down and admire the fairytale castles like a princess. The Vienna Loop calls for ten days of leisurely driving ex-Vienna, highlights including the medieval city of Cesky Krumlov, Prague, Bratislava, and a bit of tinkering around by the Danube, then back to Vienna via Budapest. The most difficult decision when it comes to this trip is choosing the musical accompaniment - this countryside belongs to some big names in the classical music world.

Europe's Alps are a theatre set perfect backdrop for these driving holidays, but there are classic routes though them as well. The Great St. Bernard Pass cuts though the Swiss Alps, offering views from either side of your car onto glaciers, deep canyons and shimmering, high valley lakes. This route passes between some ancient and beautiful monasteries where travellers used to stay, including the St. Bernard of Menthon Monastery - which is the one with the St. Bernard kennels and the rescue dogs with the little barrels. The Grossglockener High Alpine Road is a real classic – it was the first graded road though the alps and was always meant to be the scenic route, built between the World Wars to attract paying customers, who drove the 48kms, at some points 2,504m high, amongst some of Austria's most beautiful and magnetic views.

For a more North American style driving holiday along roads that seem to drop off the earth or get swallowed up by the drama of the setting, the Scandinavian countries have the best empty highways to explore. Iceland's classic is the Reykjavik to Akureyri Route. You can do it in an day or take your time visiting the Blue Lagoon, the Reykjanes Peninsular, Geysir and its hot springs and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Norway's Aurlandsfjellet Mountain Road is only about 45kms long but it gets you up high over the lakes and views of Aurlandsfjord – the place to stop at is the Stegastein viewing platform. Even shorter is the Atlantic Road, only 8kms long, it hops from island to island over bridges and along this pretty stretch of coast.

Finland’s 1000 Lakes Trip is an eight or nine day loop starting in Helsinki and touring Finland's lake district, which actually has a lot more than a thousand lakes. Free agent types can jump in the car and head in the right general direction, but the classic trip passes though Turku, Finland's oldest city, and past Tampere and Jyväskylä which are cozy country towns, and of course between the vast expanses of the lakes.

As far as southern European classics go the Amalfi Coast Road has got to be the best loved. Winding along a coastline that somehow manages to proffer repeatedly beautiful cliff-clinging towns and idyllic bays at every turn, this is the trip for people who like comfort, or even luxury, and never tire of watching a lovely sunset over a lovely bay. Best seen in a rented Ferrari, or other open topped sports car.

The World's Best Road trips

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