Europe’s Ultimate Driving Experiences
If you like to be behind the wheel, and enjoy having your driving skills put to the test, there’s no better place to find an exciting challenge than the roads of Europe. When the summer months reach their peak, the particularly high altitude routes open for vehicles, meaning you get a chance to experience the thrill and excitement of Europe’s premier highways. Below, we’ve highlighted five of the top driving routes in Europe, giving you a taste of what to expect if you’re soon to take a trip to any of these brilliant locations.
1. DN7C Transfagarasan Highway, Romania
"It appears as if every great corner from every great race track in the world has been knitted together to form one grey ribbon of automotive perfection" Jeremey Clarkson talking about the Transfagarasan Highway.
July sees the opening of Romania's premier high altitude road, spanning 60 miles from Curtea de Arges to central Romania, and this year it won’t be closing until 31 October. Never designed for public use, the president of Austria opened ‘Ceaușescu's Folly’ in 1974 as a private road for military purposes. The construction required the use of around 6 million kilograms of dynamite, and is reported to have resulted in the deaths of hundreds of soldiers and foremen.
Now, the DN7C Transfagarasan remains popular with driving and motorcycle enthusiasts as one of the best drives in Europe. Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson named the Transfagarasan as the best road in the world, a title Top Gear previously awarded to Italy’s Stelvio Pass (read more about Stelvio later in this article).
The Transfagarasan’s 90km journey joins two valleys, through a tunnel of 890 metres. On passing through the tunnel, you experience a dramatic change of environment, from southern greenery to northern alpine conditions, before meandering down towards the Transylvanian plain.
Often capped with snow, even in June, the flurries usually return in October, so it’s important to prepare your journey for a time when you are less likely to encounter cooler conditions. However, in case of emergency, it might be wise to keep warm clothing and a snow shovel in your vehicle.
2. Col de la Bonette, France
We couldn’t write this blog post without including the highest paved through road in the Alps! There are disagreements as to whether or not this road is the highest in Europe, but this route certainly has some of the most breathtaking views! Col de la Bonette has played host to the Tour De France four times, and combines scenes of lush vegetation at the base of the mountain, with dramatic terrain towards the summit.
This mountain pass is ideal for the driver who enjoys taking their time with coasting roads and sweeping bends. While many of the corners may be a true test of your driving ability, the well surfaced route is suitable for a variety of drivers, and allows you to enjoy the most spectacular vistas that Europe can offer.
CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), via Wikimedia Commons
3. The Atlantic Road, Norway
The third road on our list is quite the spectacle to behold. Norway’s Atlantic Ocean Road looks like something of fantasy and imagination, spanning 5.2 miles across a chain of islands (or archipelago). The structure joins the mainland and Romsdalshalvøya peninsula with the island of Averøy, winning the Norwegian Construction Industry’s "Norwegian Construction of the Century” in 2005.
Eight bridges jump across each island, but make sure to use the four viewpoints to rest and take in the unbelievable scenes that accompany the route. However, if you choose to drive the Atlantic Road during autumn, be warned that treacherous storms often arrive around this time.
Jørgen Vik from Stranda, Norway - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
4. Trollstigen, Norway
Featuring 11 hairpin bends, the “Trolls Path” as it translates into English, is far from a stroll up a hillside. Trollstigen, in the Norwegian Municipality of Rauma, wraps its way through a mountainous region to connect Åndalsnes with the village of Valldal. The beauty of the Stigfossen waterfall can be witnessed on arrival at the viewing platforms, but these can only be reached after a 700 metre climb to a plateau car park. Thankfully, the well made roads allow drivers to traverse the steep mountainside, and the impressive engineering results in an exciting, winding journey across fjords, tunnels and frozen lakes.
"Trollstigen Norway 2006" by Color probe - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
However, the fabled trolls of Norwegian folklore aren’t the only feature of which drivers should be wary. A ten percent incline and narrow cliff edges result in a very difficult drive for those with large vehicles, with certain areas only wide enough for one car. The road becomes additionally dangerous at night or in wet conditions, so extra care should be taken in poor weather. Fortunately, the beautiful rest areas along Trollstigen are perfect for recuperation before heading on with the remainder of your journey.
5. Stelvio Pass, Italy
Taking this blog post to its extremes, Italy’s Stelvio Pass reaches 9,045 feet and drivers often find it difficult to navigate the 60 hairpin bends, resulting in many accidents. The location itself is exceptionally beautiful, yet this attracts a vast amount of visitors and leads to the pass becoming one of the world’s busiest roads.
A testament to the incredible, weaving landscape, the team from Top Gear featured Stelvio when choosing their list of Europe’s greatest roads. While it was eventually beaten to the number one position by Romania’s Transfagarasan Highway, Italy certainly hold their own when it comes to premier roads. Stelvio Pass definitely deserves a place of recognition as a challenging, yet astonishing route, worthy of a visit to marvel at the exceptional structure and scenery.
Figure 1"The Stelvio pass" by Amcs1983 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
While these routes may be spectacular locations for driving enthusiasts to visit, they aren’t for the faint hearted, and push even the most experienced of drivers to the limit. If not approached with care and caution, you could fall victim to the dangers of reckless driving in such unfamiliar conditions. These are not racetracks on which to burn rubber, but exquisite examples of unique drives through exceptional landscapes. For the safest way to enjoy these roads, be sure to treat them with respect and avoid taking thoughtless risks.
Author: Paul Quigley
1 July 2014