On The Road
The World’s Most Scenic Drives
Grab your car keys and hit these spectacular roads, from Oregon to the Rhine Valley
An aerial view of motorsports complex Nürburgring in Nordschleife, Germany © Robert Kah/ imagetrust. capricorn NÜRBURGRING GmbH
The start of the new school year means that most of us regard autumn as a fresh start: a time to fold up the swimsuit, pack away the sun cream, take all that replenished energy and apply it to work. But it’s also an ideal time to travel, particularly on wheels. The weather cools, the roads are empty and you can have the world to yourself. Plus, the harvest season makes it a great time to eat along the way. Your car, or the one you rent, will thank you for not forcing it to idle and nudge its way along a summer-clogged auto-route, instead rewarding you with some uninhibited speed as long as you choose an appropriate route. The following stretches of road — picked for beauty and sheer pedal-to-metal potential — come highly recommended for this hedonistic pursuit. Ready, set…
Greek National Route 74, Olympia to Nafplio
Drive through the pretty village of Stemnitsa in the Peloponnese, Greece Anna Berkut / Alamy
Visitors to Greece are typically drawn by the sea. But venture into the heart of the Peloponnese and you are in Arcadia, literally. You turn along narrow mountain roads, pass herds of goats, skim the edges of vertiginous drops (buy the extras on the car insurance) and emerge into one eye-popping village after another. The chestnut trees climbing up the hills turn golden by October when the olive harvest is also under way. Stay in the Villa Vager in Levidi and end the drive with an ouzo facing the Argolic Gulf and dinner at Noulis. It’s stuck down an unenticing alleyway, but Mr Adrianos Andrianopoulos, the chef and owner, uses the best locally sourced ingredients (including swordfish, if you’re lucky).
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Route 101, Oregon Coast
Breathe in the ocean air as Highway 101 winds along the Oregon coast at Cape Sebastian Philip James Corwin/ Corbis
The 363 miles from where Oregon’s Columbia River empties into the Pacific are truly rough and gorgeous. They’re even better once the lumbering Winnebagos of high summer have gone. Cruising along the Highway 101, you’ll see the churning sea below as it surges onto the rocks, dunes and slivers of beach. These aren’t always the balmiest of waters (try swimming in it and you may be dragged down and spat out in Hawaii), and in the autumn months the salty mist can roll in and envelop you in a heartbeat. But at Long Beach Peninsula at the north end of the route, and Secret Beach at the south, you’ll feel as if you have the Pacific all to yourself. There are seafood joints everywhere, but try the Waterfront Depot in Florence to escape the snap of the cold ocean winds. The hotels can be squalid, but the Whale Cove Inn in Depoe Bay brings up the standard. It even has a Tesla charging station.
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Causeway Coastal Route, Northern Ireland
A Classic Austin Healey 100M being driven along the Causeway Coastal Route in Northern Ireland, 1954 Martyn Goddard/ Corbis
The road that loops north for 130 miles from Belfast to Londonderry takes you along some of the finest coast in the British Isles, through poetic-sounding towns – Ballygally, Glenarm, Waterfoot and Ballymoney – past ruined castles and fishing towns, and the great Giant’s Causeway leading out to sea. It’s a good setting for a Jaguar, or anything British in racing green. Start your trip at the vaunted OX restaurant in Belfast, which sources ingredients from the surrounding seas and farms to create something new in a city that is previously known for serving stodge. At the other end, Londonderry is thriving, and there are crisp sheets and blazing fires at the Ardtara Country House, although you may have to elbow aside the shooting parties for a bed.
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Ruta 40, Argentina
A long straight section of National Route 40 in the Mendoza region of Argentina Alex Treadway/ Corbis
So how long have you got? If it turns out that you are short on Chinese stocks this year, you are an employee at Facebook or the beneficiary of a few late aunts, then it’s time to wangle a sturdy 4WD and try all 3,100 miles-plus of National Route 40. When it’s autumn in the northern hemisphere, it will be spring here. You start in wind-lashed Cabo Vírgenes, the southernmost tip of continental Argentina and head north through 11 provinces and across 24 rivers, then past volcanoes and lagoons up into the mountains towards Bolivia. There are a few downsides: the roads are poorly maintained and there is a lot of goat on the roadside restaurant menus. But if you can break the trip in Mendoza, the capital of Argentina’s wine country, there’s great food and the Cavas Wine Lodge to ease you back to civilisation.
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The impressive racetrack at motorsports mecca Nürburgring in Nordschleife, Germany © Robert Kah/ imagetrust. capricorn NÜRBURGRING GmbH
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When romantics think of the Rhine Valley, they think of poets such as Heinrich Heine, composers such as Robert Schumann and soaring churches and rippling vineyards. But for petrolheads, the region means the Nürburgring, the Valhalla of racetracks. Stay in the Domstern or Stern Am Rathaus in Cologne, feast your eyes upon the Mr Peter Zumthor-designed Kolumba Museum and then head for the track. There are academies and rental companies to lend you a race car for flat-out driving, but you can take your own around the 12 miles or so of the Nordschleife – the swooping, curving hurtle through the woods that are rightly known as the Green Hell. If you can even bear to think about food, head back to Cologne’s metal and glass wine temple, WeinAmRhein, for dinner.
Jebel Hafeet, UAE
The winding Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road near Al Ain in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates DeAgostini/ Getty Images
Thrills in the conservative UAE can be hard to come by, but one is the Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road on the edge of Al Ain in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. It's more than seven miles of three-lane blacktop surging up Jebel Hafeet Mountain. But the German engineers who built it, built it well — it’s smooth and wide enough to take 60 turns as fast or slow as you like, pausing to gaze at the desert spreading out over both sides, or keeping your eyes trained on the white lines and speed gauge. Your only company will be motoring journalists on test drives, serious cyclists and perhaps a royal convoy hurtling up to the palace on the mountain top. When you reach the top, there’s the Mercure Grand Jebel Hafeet Al Ain – a grand folly of desert hospitality where you can recuperate before pounding the drive 10 more times the next morning to perfect your drift turn.
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The Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia
Hit the Great Ocean Road and take in Port Campbell National Park and The Twelve Apostles, Hervé Hughes/ Corbis
As you head south from Melbourne, you find yourself in the Australian version of the California coast – a beautiful, indulgent patch of the world that makes you wonder why fate damned you to live anywhere else. The Great Ocean Road is convertible country and starts in Torquay – a hotbed of surfing culture where the brands Rip Curl and Quiksilver began. As you arc round, you pass through Victoria’s wine country, with wineries such as Leura Park Estate welcoming visitors. Busting out of the ocean are the 12 Apostles – huge, mysterious stacks of rock. Near the end of the route, which finishes in Allansford, stay at Saint Patrick’s, a former convent turned hotel just south of Warrnambool. The town of Port Fairy is frozen in the 1970s – in a good way – and has an acclaimed restaurant at the Merrijig Inn. There are also lots of dreadful family restaurants along the way, but a few, such as The Bottle of Milk in Lorne, make the best of the local ingredients.