Journey Through 10 Amazing Underrated Scenic Drives

A great driving route doesn’t always have to mean an epic road trip. Get behind the wheel for these journeys in the US, Spain, Switzerland, Japan and Norway and you’ll still enjoy the experience of stunning views and winding roads.


1. Carretera de Sa Calobra, Mallorca

Photo Credit: Steve Johnson / Flickr by Creative Commons
Photo Credit: Steve Johnson / Flickr by Creative Commons

The twisting Sa Calobra highway in Mallorca sneaks through impossibly narrow gorges, as well as featuring an epic 360-degree curve, the Nus de Sa Calobra. Snaking through the rocky landscape of the island, the eight-mile stretch of tarmac is also steep. Built in such a way as to avoid using tunnels, a fair proportion of the road has a gradient of more than 7%. If you really want a challenge, try tackling it by bike.


2. Irohazaka Roads, Japan

Irohazaka Roads, Japan. Photograph: Alamy

Respectively built in 1954 and 1965, this pair of winding roads near central Nikko have 48 hairpin bends – one for each letter of the Japanese alphabet. This also explains the name; I-ro-ha are the first three letters of the old Japanese alphabet (the modern one begins with a-i-u) and zaka, which means slope. The curvy, super steep pair of roads are one way up and down the mountain. From October the forest surrounding the road turns into a rich sea of gold, red and brown, a time when many people visit the mountains to enjoy the autumnal hues.


3. The Old Strynefjell Mountain Road, Norway


With its dramatic rocky coastline, Norway has lots to offer in terms of scenic drives. The Atlantic Ocean Road is perhaps the most famous (that’s the one with the terrifying bridge that looks like its melted), but its not the only route to offer travellers epic views from their car window. The Old Strynefjell Mountain Road runs through Fjord Norway and is still considered a masterpiece of engineering. Although it’s closed during the winter, in the summer the 16½ mile stretch of tarmac weaves through mountain villages, peaking at 1,139m (3,736ft) above sea level.




4. Grimsel Pass, Switzerland

Photograph: Alamy

As an alpine country, it comes as no surprise that Switzerland has its fair share of spectacular drives. The road over the Great St Bernard Pass is the most famous, but there are others less well known worthy of a driver’s attention. The Grimsel Pass runs through steep granite terrain, through tunnels and past reservoirs and power plants. The 23-mile road connects Gletsch and Meiringen and even though it’s the only direct road between Bern and Valais, it has to close during the winter. The pass has an elevation of 2,165 metres and places to catch your breath include the Grimsel Hospiz – a classic alpine hotel, triangle in shape with stone walls and red wooden shutters.

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5. Serra do Rio do Rastro Road, Brazil

Serra do Rio do Rastro, Brazil Photograph: Alamy

Clinging to the side of the Serra do Rio do Rastro mountain range in southern Brazil is the SC-438 road, a ludicrously zigzagged route that tumbles past waterfalls, through canyons and past spectacular scenery from start to finish. The elevation is so high that at its peak of 1,459m you even have a chance of spotting the Atlantic ocean – 62 miles away.


6. Rim Rock Drive, Colorado, US

Rim Rock Drive, Colorado Photograph: Horst Mahr/Corbis

Set in the kind of rugged, wild-west landscape where it feels more appropriate to travel by stallion than car (or, for fans of the Simpsons, by Canyonero), the Rim Rock Drive is a 23-mile scenic route through Colorado National Monument. The hour-long drive winds through red rock canyons through scenery dotted with pine and juniper trees. Above, golden eagles soar. The road was carved out of the rock by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1933 under the New Deal.




7. The Loneliest Road, Nevada, US

Photograph: Alamy

If Highway 61 is the road of country blues, then the soundtrack for Nevada’s Route 50 – known as the Loneliest Road in America – would be some kind of Philip Glass-esque drone. The route in its entirety runs coast to coast from Sacramento , California to Ocean City, Maryland but the Nevada section is notable for its barren desolation; the road crosses remote desert valleys, stretching ahead of you like a ruled black pen line. The Loneliest Road nickname – born out of a feature in Life Magazine in the mid-1980s – was not meant to be flattering, but the state of Nevada decided to own it, turning it into a slogan to attract visitors to the vastly empty, yet beautifully intriguing landscape. Besides, if it gets too quiet you can always stop off for a party at Lake Tahoe.

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8. Skeleton coast, Namibia

 Photograph: Sergio Pitamitz/Corbis
Photograph: Sergio Pitamitz/Corbis

If you’re after some solitude, take a drive along Namibia’s hauntingly barren Skeleton Coast in the country’s north west. Stretching from Swakopmund to the Angolan border, the C34 road takes you through a desert area almost completely empty but for the occasional shipwreck embedded in the sand. Further north is the Cape Cross Seal Reserve – where thousands of seals bask on the sand – and beyond that is the Skeleton Coast National Park, which has a small entrance fee and can be explored by 4x4s.


9. Hai Van Pass, Vietnam

Photograph: Rob Whitworth/Corbis

Visited for a Top Gear special in 2008, the “sea cloud pass” is a 13-mile road running alongside the Annamese mountains on the edge of the South China Sea. Travellers can hire motorbikes or cars to ride the pass as part of a one-day loop. At the top you’re rewarded with stunning views. As the now former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson put it, the road is: “A deserted ribbon of perfection – one of the best coast roads in the world.”


10. Road to the Isles, Scotland

A steam train crossing the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Photograph: Christophe Boisvieux/Corbis

Running from the base of Ben Nevis to the port town of Mallaig, the Road to the Isles is a 46-mile scenic drive that takes in historic sites as well as beautiful Scottish countryside. At Loch Shiel you can stop by the Glenfinnan Monument – where Bonnie Prince Charlie launched his campaign for the crown in the Jacobite rising of 1745 – then at Morar you can enjoy the white sands of the almost tropical beach. Adding to the picturesque nature of the route is the occasional sighting of the Jacobite steam train – a world famous railway ride in that takes you over the Glenfinnan Viaduct, best known for its role in the Harry Potter films. All in all, it’s pretty magical.


This feature originally appeared in The Guardian.





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