“Drive? To Greece? Are you insane?!”
That used to be the stock reaction on hearing my answer to the time-honoured ‘what are you doing for a holiday this year’, usually followed by a disdainful look and the ‘what’s wrong with catching a ‘plane?’ comment.
But attitudes have certainly changed a bit. Suddenly, flying hither and thither at the drop of a sunhat is no longer considered to be quite what it was cracked-up to be, not now that so many of us have become scared stiff of spending a few hours sitting in a metal tube filled with other people’s re-cycled emissions.
Even newlyweds Princess Beatrice and Edo Mapelli Mozzi have abandoned the skies in favour, reportedly, of heading to France ‘in a small car, absolutely packed to the roof with stuff…’ How intrepidly romantic….
Possibly as a result of (previously) having to catch planes too often in order to carry out assignments for work, the charm of taking commercial flights is entirely lost on me and, whenever practical and for as long as I can remember, I have always preferred to drive or motorcycle to destinations in mainland Europe – and how far away they are has never bothered me in the slightest because, as the great round-the-world motorcyclist Ted Simon sagely observed “the interruptions ARE the journey….”
My most recent long-haul road trip took place towards the end of June as soon as the easing of lockdown allowed. Needing to collect an old car from the south of France and take it to Corfu (another story), I motorcycled to Montpellier, swapped bike for car, drove through Provence and the Luberon, crossed the Alps and northern Italy and caught the first passenger ferry for three months to run from Ancona to Igoumenitsa.
Despite travelling only on toll-free, mostly country roads (plus a 24 hour diversion to Agde to spend a day pumping-out a friend’s flooded boat) I made it from home in Devon to Greece in five easy and hugely enjoyable days, camping all the way in virtually deserted official sites that, partly due to the lack of people, were immaculately clean.
One thing this way of travelling does demand, however, is the luxury of time. One sure fire way to turn a pleasurable and relaxed road trip into an angst-ridden journey to hell (and back) is to try to cram it all in to a tight time frame that necessitates hours of high-speed driving on endless boring motorways and therefore missing all of the most attractive and interesting places to stop.
Another thing to consider avoiding is booking accommodation – it imposes a time and distance limit that eliminates spontaneity. Essential, however, is to begin the quest for somewhere to stay well in advance of dusk – no later, I would say, than 4 or 5pm. With a smartphone, GPS, a traditional map and a reputable guide (such as Sawday’s) it is seldom difficult to find a decent place to stay wherever you find yourself.
Perhaps most important, however, is to ensure that the people you intend to travel with fully appreciate the type of adventure you’re embarking on – if they’re the type, children or adults, who constantly ask ‘Are we nearly there yet?,’ you might want to consider leaving them behind….
And once you’ve chosen the right companions, all that’s left is to decide where to go. Here are six destinations to inspire, and the cars to go in.
1. The Medoc Vineyards in an Aston Martin DBX
Take a ferry from Plymouth to St Malo, pick-up the small roads heading for Rennes, Nantes and La Rochelle and pretty soon you’ll be at the bustling port of Royan where a regular ferry plies the Gironde estuary to the Medoc peninsular, home to the ‘route des chateaux’ . There you’ll find easy driving roads flanked by miles and miles of vineyards – and signposts to some of the most celebrated wineries in the world, including Margaux, Latour, Lafite and Mouton Rothschild.
2. The Mille Miglia Route in a Fiat 124 Spider
The annual Mille Miglia classic car rally usually takes place in May, but has been postponed this year until September. The original Mille Miglia of 1927 started and finished in Brescia, just like nowadays, and the modern route remains close to the original, skirting Lake Garda before taking in Sirmione, Mantua, Ferrara and Ravenna. Stop overnight at Milan Marittima, then pass through the mediaeval town of Urbino, the hilltop city of Macerata and on to Amatrice. Find more heavenly sites in Siena and the walled city of Lucca before cross into Emilia-Romagna and ascending to 1,040 metres in the Appenine mountains before dropping back down to Parma, Italy’s 2020 capital city of culture.
3. The Norwegian Fjords in a VW Camper
As a child, I was always amazed that my parents liked nothing better than to take their Rover car and go for a drive – in Norway. Sadly, the days of the Newcastle to Bergen ferry are gone, but if you’re prepared to make the drive to northern Germany and across to Denmark, some of the most scenic roads in northern Europe await. A gentle week’s tour will take you to some of Norway’s most stunning fjords, including Aurlandsfjord, Sognefjord and UNESCO-ptotected Geirangerfjord. Start in Bergen, overnight in quaint villages, navigate the serpentine Gaularfjellet road and marvel at waterfalls including Seven Sisters and the Bridal Veil.
4. The Coast of South West Ireland in a Bentley Continental GT
Cork, Kerry & Clare offer everything from rugged, mountainous beauty to spectacular castles and timewarp villages – not to mention some truly authentic pubs and as warm a welcome as you’ll find anywhere in the world. Start in County Cork and head for the coastal town of Kinsale, home of the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle. See Cobh harbour – last stop for the Titanic – and make the most of Kinsale’s foody reputation before heading north from Bantry to Killarney, past the Caha mountains, up to the beautiful Dingle Peninsular and on to the famously pretty village of Adare.
5. Germany’s Black Forest in a BMW Alpina B3
The drive from the historic town of Baden-Baden to Freiburg cuts through the heart of the magnificent Black Forest – and the roads are curvng, undulating and as smooth as silk. It’s a driver’s paradise, flanked all the way by scenery that almost seems too good to be true – dense pine forests, verdant pastures, historic towns and villages, giant waterfalls and, everywhere you go, incredible food.
And beyond Europe…
6. Morocco in a Jeep Wrangler
Africa! A different continent, but entirely accessible from the UK. Take a ferry to Santander, keep driving south through Spain and, after a couple of days, you could be boarding a ferry from Tarifa to Tangier Med. From there, head through Tetouan and into the Rif Mountains, in the valleys of which you can find fabulously rustic stone lodges in which to stay the night. Carry on to the absurdly picturesque ‘blue city’ of Chefchaouen before completing a gentle, 150-mile day by striking a ‘wild camp’ near the well preserved Roman settlement of Volubilis. From there, explore a network of dirt roads and dry river beds that head towards the eastern High Atlas.