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Many books have been written, songs sung and movies made about “the road trip”. Whether you’re whizzing about the city in a sports car, off-roading in a 4×4 or campervanning your way from beach to beach, there’s something about being on the road that makes the special moments a little more special (if only because you’ve driven five hours to get there).
Famous for its year-round sunshine, glistening shores and the long tanned limbs that grace them, California is truly the Golden State – and hitting the Pacific Coast Highway (or California State Route 1) has long been hailed as the best way to experience its highlights. As with everything else in the land of sun, road trips are to be approached with a laid-back attitude, without a hard and fast itinerary in place.
Kick things off with a few days in San Francisco, checking off hotspots such as Ocean Beach and Golden Gate Park while devouring Mexican food in the Mission and taking in the general artsy atmosphere, before cruising on down for a retreat into the wilderness at Big Sur. Then it’s on to Santa Monica by way of Big Little Lies territory in Monterey, Santa Barbara and Joshua Tree. Finish with a bang in Los Angeles, the City of Stars and your final destination on a whirlwind road trip that’ll undoubtedly yield more than its fair share of memorable moments.
There are few landscapes as awe-inspiring as those in Namibia. Twice the size of California and with only two million inhabitants, the sun-bleached desert is an otherworldly domain that’s literally only doable behind the wheel (preferably of a 4×4). Between the Lion King scenes at the watering hole in Etosha National Park and the Mad Max territory of the Moon Landscape, Namibia offers an off-road adventure regardless of which route you follow. Yet while incredible views and once-in-a-lifetime experiences are all but guaranteed, there are certain unmissable spots to consider when planning your trip.
You’ve seen the dunes of Sossusvlei on your Instagram feed, but pixels can’t compare to the real thing. A place of contrasts, it has blazing red sand dunes, black acacia trees and an expansive white clay pan that is most definitely best witnessed IRL (and from the peak of Big Daddy, if your legs can make it). Other highlights include quad-bike adventures and candle-lit dining in Swakopmund, getting up close and personal with the wildlife during a game drive at Etosha National Park, and cruising along the Skeleton Coast (passing shipwrecks, whale bones, dry riverbeds and desert dunes as you do).
While it’s not the first place you’d think of when planning a road trip, Slovenia is an unexpected destination on this list, but one of the best. Small but mighty, the European country packs a punch, offering fairy-tale castles, cobalt-blue lakes, wine valleys and gourmet restaurants – plus it’s not crawling with tourists.
Begin in the romantic capital of Ljubljana. The city’s cobbled streets teem with alfresco cafés, riverside bars and baroque architecture that’d be impossible to pull yourself away from if it weren’t for the alluring Lake Bled just two hours away. For unbeatable scenery, take the Vršič Pass (braving its 50 exhilarating hairpin turns) through to the Triglav National Park and Soca Valley, before journeying to Kobarid, where you can get out from behind the wheel and stretch your legs on a historical trail. Finally it’s onto Piran, a sleepy seaside town in which seafood and sunsets are on the agenda.
Nothing quite says l’été (summer) in France like riding in a speedy little coupé with the top down, your headscarf fluttering in the wind. Here, the roads are windy, the cheese is smelly (in a good way) and the rosé is flowing. For a taste of that sweet Brigette Bardot kind of life, the French Riviera, its glittering waters and overpriced ice-creams await. Fly into Nice, pick up your rental car and take the coastal Basse Corniche route to Monaco and onto Cannes (stopping at medieval villages along the way) and Saint Tropez, before concluding your French fling with a lasting love affair in Aix-en-Provence.
Alternatively, if you’re more mother nature than grand dame, France’s Loire Valley offers bucolic bliss. When the Parisian crowds get too much, drive along the D952. Hugging the Loire River all the way, the road will take you through the region’s most magical towns, past covetable chateaux and endless scenic picnic spots.
A real-life fantasy land, Iceland has a lunar-esque terrain that is notoriously disorienting with lush grassy fjords, crystal blue lakes or gushing waterfalls. Second only to riding an Icelandic horse, driving is the best way to experience it all in one sitting. Approximately 800-miles long, the country’s famous Ring Road is technically doable in a day, but best experienced punctuated with stops at beer spas, stays at traditional farmhouses and refreshing dips in volcanic lakes. Take at least a week to complete the route, exploring Thingvellir National Park, the Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, eastern fjords and, of course, keeping an eye out for the Northern Lights on the way.
Even just two days in the land of ice and fire is enough to experience the country’s diversity – and the aptly named “Iceland in Miniature” route is the best way to do it all. While the Snæfellsnes Peninsula stretches only 66 miles from the west, it manages to squeeze in some of Iceland’s crowning glories in the short distance, including Snæfellsjökull glacier and volcano, Rauðfeldsgjá Ravine, the hamlet of Búðir and a spot of seal watching at Ytri Tunga beach.
Pastel-painted villages, bucolic countryside and snow-capped mountains make Italy prime road-trip territory. Its diverse regions mean there’s a route for everyone – each offering a different kind of la dolce vita. Boasting a reputation as glittery as its seas, the Amalfi Coast is the stuff of legend and it’s safe to say that the famous cliff-hugging roads are most definitely better travelled in an air-conditioned Fiat than crowded tourist bus. Drive west from Salerno to the tiny village of Vietri sul Mare, where you’ll find the start of SS163 highway. Follow the winding route all the way through to Amalfi, stopping for an Aperol spritz at celebrity-studded Positano, romantic picnics at the gardens in Ravello and infinite bowls of seafood pasta in the seaside village of Amalfi.
For those looking to trade Aperol for wine, Tuscany’s vineyard-dotted wine country awaits. Start in Florence and drive south to the Chianti region, wining and dining your way through Strada and Greve towards Siena, before cruising further south to Montepulciano, Montalcino and Val d’Orcia for more wine, more views and perhaps even a stay in a castle or two.
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