When we talk about Europe’s greatest road trips, we usually mean the most popular, ranking high on many a bucket list. Today, we look at those that are equally spectacular but less well-known, offering a trip off the beaten track.

Coastal Cruising In Northern Ireland

The Wild Atlantic Way is the touring route on everyone’s lips, but Ireland’s breathtaking coast doesn’t end there. In fact, just beyond Malin Head, where the Atlantic meets the Irish Sea, begins one of the most spectacular seaside drives on the island. The Causeway Coastal Route stretches from the historic Walled City of Derry to the capital Belfast, taking in the Antrim coast, Bushmills, Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, plus a smattering of castles, stately homes and quaint fishing villages in between.

[Photo: Öztal Tourismus]

Curve-Hugging In Austria And Italy
Rather than racing to South Tyrol on the Autobahn, sneak in over the spectacular Timmelsjoch Alpine pass and experience 3 countries – and often 3 seasons – in a day. Starting in the Bavarian foothills, via Austria’s Ötztal Valley, climb all the way up to 2,600 metres above sea level, then drop down to the Italian province and head for Meran. It could be rainy on one side of the Alps, while it’s permanently winter atop the glacier, and usually warm and sunny upon crossing into Italy. Whether you’re driving or biking, the 60 curves on the 58-kilometre stretch between Sölden and St. Leonardo are a challenge – and the panoramic view from the imposing cantilevered lookout your reward.

Palace-Hopping In Poland
The historical region of Silesia is a wonderland of green valleys, lakes and snow-capped mountains, dotted with over 2,000 castles and palaces, with monasteries and majestic spas thrown in for good measure. Jelenia Góra Valley, adjoining the Karkonosze Mountains close to the Czech border, offers all of the above, strung like so many architectural pearls along the winding route. The tumultuous history of the region has left its mark. The area was ruled by Polish and Bohemian kings, Silesian royalty, the Habsburg dynasty and the Prussian empire. Decades of neglect during Soviet times followed. Most castles have only recently been restored, but so beautifully that locals can once again take pride in this unique heritage.

[Photo: ADT 04/Flickr]

Cliff-Hanging In France
No need to travel to Arizona for a grand canyon, there are quite a few of them in Southern France. The spectacular Gorges du Verdon in Provence and the Gorges du Tarn are but two examples. The roads snake along towering cliffs and canyons (up to 700 metres deep), making the drive an exhilarating – sometimes even terrifying – experience. The views of crystal blue rivers below, with hotels, monasteries and even entire villages clinging to the rock face, makes it all worth while. Beware the school holidays, however. Just because you’ve never heard of them, doesn’t mean they won’t be packed with French tourists in summer.,

Myth-Chasing In Greece
Although Greece is currently in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, this is the perfect time to visit. The friendliness and hospitality displayed by locals is compounded by gratitude for support, as well as solidarity shown in difficult times. Historic sites like Thermopylae, Sparta, Delphi, Olympia and Marathon serve as a reminder that Greek civilisation has been around for far longer – and survived far worse – than the current financial crisis. The scenery is beautiful, offering all the idyllic appeal of the islands without the crowds, while the food is delicious and prices are bound to be competitive.

Article by Fiona Brutscher

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