Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me. As is ever so on the open road. – Jack Kerouac
As we curate our experience driving over 30,000 miles through Europe, we realize that our drives were so much more than a form of travel. We remember the drop and the sweeping curves of the Italian roads and bumping along joyfully in Slovenia. We remember the graceful wind in the French countryside and the abandoned border crossings that hinted at a more divided time. The freedom we felt as countries perfectly aligned like pieces in a once foreign puzzle was life-changing. Driving through Europe was once a romantic notion. Now, as we remember the terrain intimately, it is no longer a notion but an ever-unfolding, lasting love story. The 14 roads we selected for this article are only a sampling of our time traversing Europe and they are in no particular order of preference, but all came at the perfect time in our journey:
Tuscany, Italy: The snaking drive up Michelangelo’s Carrara Marble Mountains in the Apuan Alps with snow drifting lightly across the valley is forever etched in our memory.
Dordogne, France: From Beynac, to Limeuil we were surrounded by ochre fields set against new spring leaves and butterscotch colored stone homes that looked like they had graced the hillside forever. The deafening birdsong at sunset was the perfect accompaniment for our efforts to take in every last moment of light offered as we traversed the countryside.
Costa Verde, Spain: Jagged, snowy peaks that plunged into spring green valleys and rolled into miles of golden sand. Nearly 1,200 miles of verdant coastline along the Iberian Peninsula is still alive within us.
Lake Bled, Slovenia: As the castle came into view, we had to pull over. The beauty stopped us in our tracks and stunned us into silence. We drove slowly around the lake in a dreamlike state determined to stay long enough for this magnificence to feel real.
Black Forest, Germany: Trails of soft, inviting moss that certainly lured Hansel and Gretel, were plentiful. Darkness descended that the Big Bad Wolf could certainly lurk behind, before revealing himself to Little Red Riding Hood. Around every corner, there was a Rapunzel-like castle spiking out of the conifer-rich canopy called the Black Forest.
Brenner Pass, from Italy to Austria: Entering Austria through this alpine pass into South Tyrol is unforgettable. The sheep cling to the hillside and fortresses cast shadows over ancient tunnels. We loved our diversions to both Merano and Selva Val Gardena. Spectacular drives shoot off the main pass in every direction.
Sicily, Italy: Driving the northern coast of Sicily from Taormina to San Vito Lo Capo was like entering a different country. We felt like we understood Italy in many ways until we arrived in Sicily where we found layers of surprises in store revealing a new side of Italian culture and cuisine. Stops in Cefalu for lunch and beachcombing followed by Palermo for dinner at twilight were slightly trumped by legendary cannoli in Taormina.
Algarve, Portugal: From Albuferia on the southern tip of Portugal all the way to Porto, near the Spanish border, we marveled at the Portuguese coastline. The landscape was so diverse from the whitewashed towns of Olhos de Agua and Falesia to the more vibrant Cascais and Ericeira. Never pretentious, always delightfully inviting.
Luberon Villages, France: We all agreed that a lifetime in Provence would be a good start to understanding and taking in the overwhelming beauty of the culture and countryside. The roads between the villages that comprise the Luberon Region of Provence were just as spectacular as the villages themselves.
Cinque Terre, Italy: After traveling to the five villages of the Cinque Terre by boat, train, and car, we have decided the drive was the most memorable. Although we have walked some of the trails, many were in need of repair during our time in Italy and not safe with children. We thought the next best thing would be driving the once inaccessible region, and we were rewarded, and on the edge of our seats around every curve. The Amalfi Coast was riveting but the five villages by the Ligurian Sea squeezed it out of our top 14 because we were virtually alone on the Cinque Terra drive which made it feel more like a pilgrimage.
French Riviera, France: During our drive from Monaco to Cassis, we had a picnic in Monte Carlo, ice cream in Saint-Tropez, a baguette in Antibes, and apéritifs in Cannes. We had a rock skipping contest in Nice, a spin on the Ferris wheel in Marseille, and a swim next to gypsy caravans in Saints-Marie-de-la-Mer. To this day, it seems like a dream.
Zillertal Alps, Austria: As our confidence grew, we wandered deeper into the Zillertal Alps and spent many days alone with some of mother nature’s monuments. We will never forget the power of the “Wasserfalle” in Krimml. It is the largest waterfall in Europe and the fifth-largest in the world AND it is still dwarfed by the peaks from which it tumbles.
Lisbon to Sintra, Portugal: Although not a long drive, we will always remember leaving the port-side jewel of Lisbon on Easter Sunday and driving into the lush bursting spring countryside as we wound our way to Sintra. The drive gave us a new lens for which to view Portugal.
Romantic Road, Germany: Last but not least, we wound through the Bavarian countryside as the romantic road revealed itself in unexpected ways. The kids were glued to their windows anxious for any form to reveal itself through the mist. The fog lifted just in time for us to see a pack of horses running through a lush, emerald valley. There was just enough light on a black, soupy lake to see a lone white swan gliding under a stone bridge. It was wet and dreary and ever so romantic.
Today’s Tweetable: Plan a romantic drive with someone you love this weekend.
Today, deliberately reflect on roads that led you to a new understanding … CLICK HERE if you have questions about travel. Planning your dream trip should be enjoyable and we would love to help you figure out what is best for you.