Hit the road: 11 exhilarating road trips

Buckle up as we speed through eleven road trips guaranteed to sate your lust for adventure

Great Ocean Road
Australia

Short cut: Against the backdrop of the rainforest-covered Otway Ranges, near-deserted sandy beaches and striking rock formations, this is one of the world’s finest coastal road trips.

How to do it: This varied, sunny route begins at Torquay, Victoria’s surf and beach-worship capital, then carries you through 150 miles of jaw-dropping scenery along the B100 towards the finish at Warrnambool. En route, enjoy the winding, 25-mile section to Apollo Bay, the 1,417ft rainforest-rich Otway Ranges, a short diversion via dirt track to the Cape Otway Lighthouse, a beacon on these shores since 1848, and Melba Gully State Park, known for its dense rainforest. The most sensational coastal stretch of all is at Port Campbell National Park, where magnificent rock pillars up to 200ft high — the Twelve Apostles (reduced to eight by natural erosion) — line the coast.

Garden Route
South Africa

Short cut: Cradled between winding coastline and mountain, this 120-mile route takes the best South Africa has and wraps it up in a hugely varied road trip offering lagoons, deserted beaches, forests and lakes.

How to do it: The old-fashioned harbour town of Mossel Bay marks the start of this drive, before it heads north-east on the N2 to the town of George, with its formal, colonial buildings, at the foot of the Outeniqua mountain range. The mood changes as you enter lush, 13-mile Wilderness National Park with its sprawling lakes, lagoons, wetlands and teeming bird life, before reaching the seaside resorts of Sedgefield and Buffalo Bay, followed by Knysna with its bars and restaurants, perched on a forest-encircled lagoon. Plettenberg Bay offers beaches before you reach the mouth of Storms River and enjoy the trip for a second time — travelling back the way you came.

Hardknott Pass
England

Short cut: The signs at the entry to this challenging, high-rise road between Eskdale and Wrynose Pass in the Lake District say it all: ‘Extreme Caution. Narrow route. Severe bends.’

How to do it: This section is the icing on the cake on a zigzagging, DIY road trip that should also take in the ‘honeypot’ areas of the Lake District, such as Windermere, Coniston Water and pretty villages such as Keswick and Grasmere. For the main event, start at Little Langdale and warm up your motoring skills on twisting Wrynose Pass — you know you’ve reached even tougher Hardknott Pass when you see those signs — and then tackle the network of hairpin bends. Stop frequently to catch your breath and soak up the views. Eventually you reach the final, daunting descent, a test of driver, machine and brakes. When you reach the end, turn round and do it all again, the other way. Just for fun.

Trollstigen
Norway

Short cut: Eleven hairpin bends, mountain views, cascading waterfalls, steep inclines and awe-inspiring glimpses of the twisting four-mile route draw thrill-seeking travellers to Trollstigen, which translates to Trolls’ Path in English.

How to do it: This narrow, sharply twisting mountain road is studded with strikingly designed viewing platforms. The best views are at the 2,300ft plateau where there’s a visitor centre, but the main joy comes from the sense of isolation, the buzz from negotiating the well-surfaced twists and turns — and wonderment at the houses clinging to the mountainside. Start at Andalsnes in Rauma, following signs along Country Road 63 until you reach the village of Valldal and draw breath. Be sure to allow three hours to include frequent sightseeing stops. The route is closed from late autumn through winter.

North Coast Drive
Northern Ireland

Short cut: 130 miles of craggy coast with the Giant’s Causeway as its star sighting.

How to do it: Heading north from Belfast, the M2/A2 kisses the coast and the Causeway Coast Route, past Carrickfergus Castle and Glenarm, where the landscape becomes increasingly wild. After isolated Garron Point turn left, climbing steeply into remote Glenariff Forest Park. Drive on past mighty Tievebulliagh mountain, through the pretty towns of Cushendall and Cushendun, following signs to isolated Torr Head. Ballycastle harbour is followed by romantic, ruined Dunluce Castle… a mere curtain-raiser for the mind-blowing Giant’s Causeway.

North Coast 500
Scotland

Short cut: Touted as Scotland’s answer to Route 66, this atmospheric, circular tour is actually much more varied than its US cousin, uniting some of the Highlands’ most remote roads. Start at Inverness, venture up the craggy west coast then back via the rugged north and east coasts. Marvel at mountain, loch, castle and coast all the way.

How to do it: With Inverness behind you you’re soon speeding past Loch Luichart with towering mountains all around, giving you a taste of the drama — and joyously twisting roads — to come. Enjoy untamed, windswept views of the Highlands between Ullapool and Durness, before Orkney raises its head from the choppy North Sea, and near deserted roads carry you on to John O’Groats. While navigating the single-track roads of the east coast you’ll encounter the mysterious Grey Cairns of Camster — among Scotland’s oldest stone monuments.

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Grossglockner Hochalpensrasse

Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse
Austria

Short cut: This cloud-piercing route is only 30 miles long but it’s one of Europe’s best, with views over 37 mountains.

How to do it: The ‘High Alpine Road’, as it is known, winds through the Hohe Tauern National Park. Start at Bruck in the Salzburg valley, continuing through the Ferleiten toll entrance. You are soon greeted by stunning, endless views as the road climbs ever upwards to 8,215ft — with 36 challenging hairpin bends. Passengers (at least) can gaze out on a frequently changing vista of lakes, glaciers, pine-clad hills, dramatic, rocky cliff faces and lush meadows. Pause for a visit to the Alpine Nature Show museum, highlighting the area’s natural ecosystems, and the ‘Building of the Road’ exhibition next to the Fuscher Lacke, recording the challenges faced by the labourers who, in 1935, built the ‘most beautiful road in the world’. The journey ends when you reach Carinthia. The route is open until early November only, due to weather conditions.

Côte d’Opale
France

Short cut: A European ‘starter’ road trip packed with colour and interest.

How to do it: The beautiful Côte d’Opale is nestled between Calais and Boulogne, and boasts 26 miles of breathtakingly craggy, verdant, coastline. Short but stunning. Its quiet, restrained identity has long been prized by the French, who love its informal seafood restaurants hidden in fishing villages, its miles of sandy beaches and its intriguing coves. Find it by following the D940 south from Calais. Discover pretty beaches — and overnight stops — along the way at Audresselles and Ambleteuse and the surfing mecca of Wissant, before dropping into Boulogne, home to 1,000 shops, 200 restaurants and traditional markets.

Stelvio Pass
Italy

Short cut: It’s often ranked as the ultimate test of driver and machine and with 60 hairpin bends charging past the snowy peaks of the Eastern Alps for 15 miles (48 of them on its steep northern face alone as you climb 9,045 feet) that’s no exaggeration.

How to do it: Offering dizzying views as you pick your line through bend after bend, this drive is best approached from the north so that you can whet your appetite in stunning Stelvio National Park, before swooping up the Stelvio Pass’s famous wall of switchbacks. Enjoy some of Europe’s most dramatic scenery from the summit, before heading back down the pass towards Bormio. The descent isn’t as thrilling but with its sharp bends, picturesque views and sheer drops it’s still up there with the best. Start early in the day, before hordes of thrill-seekers arrive. The pass is open until September.

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Stelvio Pass

New England
US

Short cut: A breathtaking 1,300-mile, two or three-week meander through Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and back through New York State.

How to do it: Beat the jet lag in New York before hiring an RV (recreational vehicle) and touring leafy New England. Connecticut’s open roads make the perfect introduction before pushing into fashionable Newport then the southern tip of Maine. Next comes the forested wilderness of New Hampshire, where you might spot a moose, followed by the green pastures and clapboard houses of Vermont. Southern Massachusetts offers more classic New England beauty, with historic barns and churches, before you plunge back to New York via rugged New York State.

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New England

Costa Verde
Brazil

Short cut: Magical islands, South America’s most romantic city and stunning sections of the Atlantic forest make this five-day drive to Copacabana beach a classic.

How to do it: Start at the port city of Santos for this 370-mile coastal adventure — perhaps spending your first night in the relaxed island resort of Guaruja, before starting your drive and hitting the BR101. It takes a ferry to reach your first stop, Ilhabela, then, at Ubatuba, climb up through the Serra do Mar mountains — enjoying the long views — to Catucaba, soaking up the refreshing, colder air. Next up is Paraty, often described as southern Brazil’s prettiest city, with its cobbled streets, Portuguese colonial houses, restaurants, boutique hotels and beaches. Now take a break from driving for a day or two, catching the ferry from Angra dos Reis to the traffic-free island of Ilha Grande to enjoy some hiking and beach time. It will heighten the drama of your final push into throbbing, flamboyant Rio, your first sight of the favelas clinging to the hills, and the city’s famous beaches, including Copacabana itself.

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Bixby Creek Bridge

Big Sur
US

Short cut: Clinging to mountains and cliffs, twisting and turning, soaring to 1,000ft and dropping back to sea level, ‘Highway 1’ from Monterey to Morro Bay is one of America’s greatest, most scenic drives. Do it in a day or rent a log cabin midway.

How to do it: Start at Monterey — famous for historic Cannery Row, where John Steinbeck’s novel was set — and drive south with the Pacific on your right until you reach smart, touristy Carmel with its pine-tree-fringed beach. Push on and you reach wild Big Sur itself, complete with towering redwood groves to your left and wave-pounded beaches to your right. Cross Bixby Creek Bridge (pictured above) before reaching Point Sur Light Station. Soon, churning Big Sur River runs through majestic Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, before Morro Bay — heralded by the stark volcanic plug of Morro Rock — signals the end of this invigorating 123-mile drive. The route is reversible; pick up a hire car either in Los Angeles and drive north or in San Francisco and drive south. Plan accommodation ahead; it’s popular year-round.

Credit: David Williams/The Telegraph/The Interview People