THE TOP TEN Classic European Road Trips
Chris Colin

From the Black Forest to the Isle of Skye

With all due respect for the Great American Road Trip, a day behind the wheel in the Lower 48 has a way of leaving you in the same state of mind -- and, generally, the same state too -- as where you started. There comes a time when one must awaken next to a quiet Venetian canal, lunch beneath the pristine Slovenian Alps and watch the sun set from over a frothy Melange coffee in Vienna's Ringstrasse.

Sure, Europe’s legendary trains can help get the job done -- but how often is a Eurailpass going to put you in the driver’s seat? Road tripping in Europe is an odyssey all its own, where shopping detours and croissant breaks happen on your schedule. And in your zippy little European set of wheels...
Chris Colin From the Black Forest to the Isle of Skye With all due respect for the Great American Road Trip, a day behind the wheel in the Lower 48 has...  more


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Yorkshire, United Kingdom

The old stone walls, atmospheric villages, fog -- this is the sort of drive where you learn about, dales, mores and swales up close. Best to do so in comfort, though. European Car magazine's Robert Hallstrom endorses the Bentley Flying Spur; anything less than the "fastest production-based luxury sports sedan in the world" would be uncivilized. Added literary value: Yorkshire, not far from London, is James Herriot country, says Karen Brown, of the eponymous guidebook series. All creatures great and small will appreciate these idyllic country vistas.


Burgundy, France

The winding Route des Vins -- aka the Burgundy Wine Road - spins you along the loveliest parts of the famed region, and yet many of the best sites -- Abbey de Fontenay, one of Europe's oldest Cistercian monasteries, or Beaune, the region's beautiful walled capital -- are unexpectedly crowd-free. But it still pays to make detours. Says Karen Brown, "Pop into the small wineries. Follow that little sign with the picture of grapes. If you had a great dinner the night before, the next day's drive can be about finding the tiny vineyard whose wine you enjoyed."


Amalfi Coast

Some of the world's great car chases were filmed here -- do with that information what you will. The classic Mediterranean coastline threads along sheer cliffs and through unaccountably narrow roads. Every few feet a new vista opens up. Sure, you could take a drive through gorgeous Tuscany instead. But as Castleton notes, "There's some street cred that comes with driving the Amalfi Coast." Presumably there's extra cred for driving a cherry-red Ferrari 430.



When was the last time your road trip involved visiting a clockmaker? The Black Forest, birthplace of the cuckoo clock, boasts memorable souvenirs as well as winding roads straight out of the Bros. Grimm. Karen Brown recommends picking up a car in Stuttgart, home of the Porsche, and meandering through the castles of the Neckar River Valley, on into the spa town of Baden Baden and up to Freiberg. If your gas foot's been feeling heavy, hop on the Autobahn for the last leg of the trip.


Central Europe: Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Berlin

Any of these capitals is worth hunkering down in for several days -- Central and Eastern Europe got short shrift from American travelers for far too long. But the thrilling network of roads and mountain passes between these places is its own adventure, says Patricia Foulke, author of Exploring Europe By Car. From Vienna, a Balkan detour adds just a few hours.


Northern loop of the Peloponnese, Greece

Zip along the coastal road outside Patras, sandwiched between high mountain ranges and the peacock-green water of the gulf. At Pirgos, cut inland to Olympia: "It's an amazing sensation to stand on the track where the first Olympic race was run," Amanda Castleton says. From there, race on down to the ancient fishing town of Navplio -- perfect for a delicious lunch of octopus and roasted peppers with feta cheese.



"There's nothing more striking than those curvy roads running along the fjords," says Patricia Foulke. "They're well-paved, well-organized, and have just wonderful views -- you're looking out at the mountains, and also their reflection on the clear water." Foulke recommends Copenhagen to Stockholm to Oslo to Bergen, and being prepared to go amphibian: Not infrequently, you'll be putting the car -- a sporty and decidedly non-boxy new Volvo V50, perhaps? -- on a ferry. If you come in the early summer you can soak up the midnight sun. And keep the headlights switched off.


Porto loop, Portugal

History's great explorers departed from here, the country's second-largest city, and you would be advised to do the same. Follow the tranquil Douro River past fragrant olive, grape and almond orchards. Vineyards terrace up from the banks and ancient cathedrals dot the region. Royalty watchers will appreciate the small town of Vidago, where kings once came for their coronations.


Vienna to Salzburg

From the meandering Danube to the high Alpine lakes outside Mozart's hometown, this is where Heidi would drive if only she had a license. (She might also stop at a local jausenstation for a farm family's homemade cheeses.) Cozy villages huddle along babbling brooks and postcard meadows. Karen Brown recommends hitting the breathtaking Salzwelten Hallstatt, the oldest salt mine in the world. Having whipped around all day in your Mercedes AMG or Audi S8, you'll be ready to ride the 200-foot-long wooden slide deep into the mine. Later, a spa awaits in the gorgeous old resort town of St. Wolfgang, beneath Mt. Schafberg.


Isle of Skye, Scotland

"It's a barbaric, rugged landscape," Castleton says, "the rock ripped from the earth and everything windswept." Roll on down to the coast and you're amidst tiny fishing villages, or check out the Neolithic and Viking settlements of the Orkney Islands. When it comes to settling down yourself, authentic pub lodging has its charms -- meaty pot pies downstairs, rivers of beer. Then again, so does renting an actual Highland castle from the National Trust. With plenty of free parking.

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