6 fascinating roads for a perfect road trip

My favourite kind of travel has always been road tripping. I believe that it’s the best way to enjoy the country you’re visiting: you can make as many detours as you want, take the direction of your choice and stop whenever or wherever you’d like to, for a quick picture by the side of the road or for a long hike in a gorgeous landscape. It’s even better with a campervan: you can decide to stay anywhere you want, for as long as you want! During my travels, I drove thousands of kilometres in many countries around the world; not all the roads I took were amazing, but some of them were really extraordinary. Here is a selection of some of the most fascinating of these roads.

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I based my choice on two criteria: I chose to limit myself to one road per country only, on which I had driven at least two days (which automatically withdraws all the scenic drives I took only for a few hours).

1/ Highway One, California

This is probably the most famous road of this list. Between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the Highway One (formerly known as California State Route 1) follows the Pacific Ocean over almost 900km, providing tremendous views over the coast.

Highway One

I was there in May 2018, at the end of a one-month road trip in the South West of the United States. After visiting Yosemite, the last of the many gorgeous National Parks I explored during this trip (I ranked them from my least favourite to the one I loved most in a previous series of articles; here’s my top 3), I decided to follow the coast to bring back my rental car to Los Angeles.

Half Moon Bay

I caught up with Highway One in the little town of Half Moon Bay, 40km South of San Francisco. My first stop was at Poplar Beach: a very large beach, with grass-topped sand dunes on which lovely flowers were blooming (picture to the right). The wind was strong and it was quite cold so I didn’t stay very long and kept going to Santa Cruz, 80km further South, where I booked my accommodation for the night. I was there in the late afternoon, which gave me plenty of time for a stroll on the beach boardwalk, admiring the beautiful lighthouse and observing dozens of surfers practicing their skills.

On the second day, I kept heading South towards Monterey. I first went to Point Lobos State Natural Reserve close to the city; this little park can be explored within half a day, but its jagged coast is beautiful and there’s as a very rich fauna living there (seals, sea lions and thousands of birds).

I think it has reopened since, but in May 2018, the road after Point Lobos was a dead-end. Because of a landslide further South, it was impossible to follow the coast all the way to Los Angeles. This section of Highway One is called Big Sur and it’s the most spectacular part of the road, I decided to drive as far as I could anyway, before going backwards to Monterey. It was simply gorgeous: the road was overlooking the ocean, on the side of huge cliffs, and every corner and every bend offered a brand-new tremendous sight.

After another night in Monterey, I took a detour away from the coast to avoid the landslide and caught up with Highway One a little bit further around Morro Bay, but the last part wasn’t so interesting in my opinion: less wild and more and more constructed as I was getting closer to Los Angeles. The best was behind me!

2/ The Ring Road of Iceland

I often think back to my trip in Iceland as one of my most beautiful holidays. I was there for only two weeks, but that was enough to fall in love with the incredible beauty of this country, which doesn’t look like any other place I ever visited.

Road, glacier, Vatnajökull

Once I landed at the Keflavik International Airport, the first thing I did was, as usual, renting a car to begin my road trip in Iceland. After a first day exploring the Golden Circle close to Reykjavik, I took the road number 1, the “Ring Road”, with the intention of driving counterclockwise around the entire country.

Djupivogur

I already described this fabulous road trip in four previous articles (respectively about the South Coast, the Eastern Fjords, the North, and the last one about the Snaefellsnes Peninsula), so I’m not going into detail here. All I can say is that the landscapes were incredible and driving there was extraordinary. I had never experienced before how stunning and frightening at the same time nature could be. You have to respect your environment in Iceland, and you’ll feel very small surrounded by volcanoes, waterfalls, fjords and icebergs. That’s the beauty of the country, and as images can sometimes be more powerful than words, here’s a little gallery of pictures reminding me of this perfect road trip.

3/ Starlight Highway, New Zealand

Starlight Highway

The Starlight Highway was the first road I took when I started to explore the South Island of New Zealand in February 2018. Close to Christchurch, the State Highway 8 between the towns of Fairlie and Twizel as well as Mount Cook Road to the North have been officially given this name since 2016. The reason? The entire area including the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park is a “Dark Sky Reserve”: light pollution is strictly controlled here and the use of artificial lights is restricted, which results in one of the most extraordinary night skies I ever saw. Have a look by yourselves!

But the area isn’t less stunning during the day: the turquoise colour of Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki is something out of this world. I can guarantee that none of the pictures below have been photoshopped, and no filter has been used: this is exactly how it looks like!

Mount Cook Road is probably the most scenic road of New Zealand (although the Glenorchy-Queenstown Road is a great challenger). It starts from Pukaki and follows the banks of the lake for about 30kms, with some fabulous lookouts on the way.

Mount Cook, Lake Pukaki

tekapo-mount-cook-roadArriving at the northern extremity of Lake Pukaki, the road enters the Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park. It’s an extraordinary feeling to slowly go deeper into the valley, getting closer and closer to the highest mountains of New Zealand. At first, I only intended to spend the day there and leave in the evening, but I loved the area so much that I decided to stay at the Mount Cook campsite for the night. The next morning, I was up early to be one of the first people hiking on the Hooker Valley Track until Hooker Lake, at the feet of Aoraki/Mount Cook, the tallest summit of the country (3724m). An unforgettable memory!

For more details about this stunning road trip, read my previous article “Starlight Highway: from turquoise lakes to the top of New Zealand” or have a look at my entire gallery of pictures.

4/ Canadian Route 132, Gaspésie

I’ve been to Canada twice. During my first visit in 2015, I limited myself to big cities (Quebec City, Montreal, Toronto) with only one brief excursion along the Saint Lawrence until the village of Tadoussac. But this short trip was so beautiful that it made me want to come back in a little bit more adventurous way, and that’s what I did in September 2017.

gaspesie-road-3

If I also spent a few days in main cities during this second visit (Quebec City and Montreal again, Vancouver for the first time), my main goal was to explore the wild nature of Canada. I did two road trips during this holiday, on Vancouver Island (have a look at my article “This is life: an unforgettable trip on Vancouver Island”) and around Gaspésie, the South-East part of Quebec, that I also described in a previous article.

The region of Gaspésie isn’t the most famous part of Canada, but it has a lot to offer to visitors: lovely villages along the Saint Lawrence, gorgeous sunsets (it’s supposed to be the second best place for sunsets in the world after Hawaii), beautiful lighthouses and a stunning unspoiled nature in the National Parks of Bic or Gaspésie. Exactly what I was looking for!

The most spectacular section of the Canadian Route 132 which circles the entire region is at its easternmost extremity, where the Saint Lawrence River flows into the Gulf of Saint-Lawrence. I particularly liked the Forillon National Park with its tall cliffs (and a stunning sunrise) and the famous Percé Rock was also very impressive…

…but what I loved most was the day I spent on Bonaventure Island, hiking and observing the giant northern gannet’s colony living there. It was the best part of this road trip for sure!

I felt a little bit sad going back to Quebec City after such a great trip, but this feeling was a little bit softened by an extraordinary sunset on the last evening. I’d love to go back to Quebec some day!

For more pictures of the region of Gaspésie, have a look at my gallery!

5/ Nullarbor Highway, Australia

In the introduction of this article, I wrote that I loved going on a road trip because of the sensation of liberty it gives me: I love being able to go anywhere or take the direction I want. Well, that’s not always completely true. Take my trip in Australia in December 2017/January 2018 for example. After a few weeks exploring the West Coast of the country and a New Year’s Eve well celebrated in the beautiful city of Albany, I was heading towards Adélaide and its surroundings. But there weren’t many choices for the itinerary, as there’s only one road connecting Western Australia to South Australia! And this road is going through one of the biggest deserts of the country, the Nullarbor Plain

Nullarbor Plain

I was a little bit scared to take it. Between Norseman on its western extremity to Cedona at the other end, there are more than 1,200km without a single town; there are only a few roadhouses, with gas stations literally in the middle of nowhere. It was the Australian summer, when temperatures often climb above 40°C, and the van I was driving didn’t have air conditioning. “Nullarbor” comes from the Latin and means “no trees”: for more than half of the itinerary, there are indeed no trees at all over the horizon, which also means nowhere to hide from the heat. And last but not least: one of the sections of the Nullarbor Highway is Australia’s longest straight road: 146,6km without a turn!

Straight road, Western Australia, Nullarbor Plain

I guess you can understand now why I was a little bit afraid… What if my van broke down? What if I was suffering from the heat and didn’t have enough water? As it is the only road between two major regions of Australia, there are always many trucks and cars driving on it, so nothing life-threatening should happen, but it can still be really dangerous if you’re unprepared.

But everything turned out great (apart from driving non-stop during three consecutive days which wasn’t the funniest thing I ever did). I was very lucky: temperatures were really low (around 20°C only) compared to what they usually are at this time of the year, and it was even chilly in the evening! I spent my first night in a campsite close to the road, in the last bit of forest before the vast and empty plains.

The Nullarbor Highway isn’t the most beautiful road I ever drove on, although I always found a form of beauty in desertic landscapes, but there are still some interesting things to see on the way. The Eucla telegraph station for example: at the border between Western and South Australia, this building half buried under the sand today used to be vital for communication between Perth and the rest of the country. Life must have been extremely complicated here for the first pioneers at the end of the 19th century…

The road follows more or less the coast after Eucla, with many lookouts over the Great Australian Bight and the tremendous Bunda Cliffs. They are up to 120m high, and form the longest uninterrupted line of sea cliffs in the world. I spent my second night on a parking lot next to one of these lookouts… but not too close to the edge of the cliffs, and with the handbrake on!

Finally, after two and a half days of uninterrupted driving, I arrived in a city named Kimba, “half way across Australia”, where I spent my third night camping before reaching Adelaide, leaving behind me the fascinating Nullarbor Plain.

Kimba store

6/ SS145 and SS163, Italy

Two magnificent Italian roads are hiding behind these code names (SS means “Strada Statale”, State Road). The SS145 starts from Pompeii and circles the Sorrento Peninsula, South of Naples. It connects with the SS163 in the village of San Pietro; this second road is also known as the “Amalfi Drive”, as it follows the entire Amalfi Coast until the city of Salerno. The entire length of these roads combined is less than 100 kilometres, but it takes at least two days to travel them entirely, and a week would barely be enough to stop at every lookout, explore every village and hike on every trail!

amalfi-coast-road-2

I described in detail my road trip around the Sorrento Peninsula and on the Amalfi Coast in a previous article called “La Dolce Vita, a week of holidays in and around Naples”, so I will only mention the highlights of this trip here:

The Regina Giovanna Baths (Bagni della Regina Giovanna): directly outside of Sorrento, the ruins of an ancient Roman villa next to a natural pool, with a fantastic view over the Gulf of Naples and Mount Vesuvius.

Ieranto Bay: a little detour from the SS145 leads to the beginning of this hike, one of the most beautiful tracks of the Sorrento Peninsula. The panorama over the Amalfi Coast, Ieranto Bay and Capri at the end is stunning.

Church of San Constanzo: close to Ieranto Bay, on top of a 500m-high hill at the extremity of the Sorrento Peninsula, this church provides an extraordinary 360° view over Naples, Mount Vesuvius, Capri and the Amalfi Coast.

Sorrento Peninsula, church San Constanzo, lookout

Vettica Maggiore and Praiano: these two neighbouring villages were my favourites on the Amalfi Coast, especially for the beautiful ceramic dome of the Church of San Gennaro.

Amalfi: the most famous village of the Amalfi Coast, which gave its name to the region. I really enjoyed walking around the town centre, with dozens of pedestrian lanes and hidden passages, not to mention the gorgeous Duomo and the beautiful harbour.

Ravello: five kilometres away from the Amalfi Drive, a winding road leads to this village that offers a dramatic view over the coast.

Cetara: the last village on the Amalfi Coast before Salerno, but probably the cutest harbour with its colourful boats.

This Italian trip was the last I did just before the coronavirus pandemic paralysed the entire world. I can’t wait for this situation to be over so I could begin another road trip soon!

Have you ever driven on such amazing roads? Which one is your favourite and where would you advise me to go next? Share it in the comments!

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