Europe's Top 10 Drives
Got a rental car? Here are the ten best scenic drives in Europe.
Amalfi Drive, Italy
Posh resort towns with world-class hotels, lovely fishing villages with cheap fish restaurants, free limoncello liqueur tastings, traditional papermaking, and some of the best ancient Greek (yes, Greek) temples in the world. All that and a mind-bendingly twisty, cliff-hugging, death-defying, white-knuckle roadway that's hung half-way up a cliff above the crashing waves of the impossibly beautiful coastline known as the Amalfi Coast.
Romantic Road, Germany
Medieval towns still encircled by their turreted walls, villages with churches hiding elaborately carved wooden altarpieces from the Middle Ages, Bavarian beer halls and Franconian wine festivals, princely palaces and elaborate baroque churches, pastries to die for and the largest ceiling fresco in the world—and that wall of white-fringed rock approaching in the distance as you drive? Those are the Alps, my friends.
Rhine River Valley, Germany
Get your castle groove on with the most fortified stretch of river in all of Europe, where petty princelings slung arrows and insults at each other across the rushing waters of the Rhine between fairy tale castles often no more than a few hundred meters apart, and greedy counts slung chains from their castles across the river to collect tolls from passing boats.
This stretch of one of Europe's mightiest rivers, from Cologne to Mainz, is positively barnacled with stony towers, battlemented walls, and castles-turned-hotels, and steeped in famous legends. The dulcet tones from the clifftop lair of the Siren-like Lorelei once lured riverboats to their doom against the rocks, and an evil dwarf hoarding gold and a magic ring in a riverside cave gave rise not only to Wagner's operatic Ring cycle, but was also reinterpreted and added to by an Oxford don named J.R.R. Tolkein to create the core of his Hobbit/Lord of the Rings epic.
Loire Valley, France
Cat...castle—in French, chat...château. The Loire is France's castle row.
Ring of Kerry, Ireland
Ancient Celtic ring forts, brightly colored fishing villages, offshore islands, cozy B&Bs, friendly folk who still speak Gaelic, welcoming pubs where the Guinness flows as freely as the craic (conversation) and traditional Irish music, and those postcard green fields sloping down into the waters of the North Atlantic, stitched with a lacework of low stone walls and dotted with sheep.
Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos, Spain
Whitewashed villages, flamenco bars, bullfights, prehistoric cave paintings, world-class wines... Andalusia's "Road of the White Villages" is one European road trip that manages to distill the essence of a region, and yet is not nearly so well-known (read: clogged with tour buses) as some of the more famous drives on this list.
The French Riviera, France
Yes, the Riviera of Provence and the Côte d'Azur is a land of resort towns oozing with celebrities, casinos out of a James Bond flick, winding coastal roads dotted with luxury villas, and beaches ranked with orderly rows of colorful umbrellas where the beautiful people go to holiday and the women tan topless.
But the Riviera also still has fishing villages where old fishermen mend their nets in the shade of medieval churches in the afternoon. And even at the beaches devoted to elegant hedonism and Coppertone, you're never far from a chance to get in some culture: art galleries devoted to Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall, ancient Roman ruins, Provençal vineyards, gritty port cities, papal palaces, and medieval hilltowns.
The Great Dolomite Road, Italy
The Alps aren't the only mountains in Europe. In the extreme north of Italy, the Alps give way to a series of ancient coral reefs that have since been raised thousands of feet above sea level and weathered into distinctively craggy peaks. This is a land where the locals speak vestigial German dialects from the Middle Ages and wooden villages tucked into high mountain meadows throw festivals of horseback riding prowess.
The Cotswolds, England
Village pubs, cheddar cheese, and a landscape softened into smooth green contours by millennia of smallcroft farming.