There’s a lot to be said for the vacation spent doing little more than reclining on a sunlounger beside the swimming pool of an all-inclusive hotel or lazing on a sun-kissed beach, but it’s not to everyone’s taste. Loose-footed and inquisitive holidaymakers who prefer a break filled with diversity, fun, excitement and interest should consider the joys of a European road trip where the journey itself can be every bit as memorable and enjoyable as the destination.
Arranging a European road trip is straightforward; picking up the perfect car for your family is easy as major holiday rental firms such as Alamo Car Hire can be found in almost every city, and accommodation to suit every budget is plentiful. Europe offers a wealth of historic sites, natural beauty and attractions and entertainments that will delight holidaymakers of all ages and, depending upon your chosen destination, you can still spend time on a fabulous sunny beach if you wish.
Iceland Ring Road
As a taster of the joys that this kind of holiday can offer, here’s a selection of the best road trips in Europe.
The Flower Route (Bloeman Route), Western Holland
Rural Holland has long been famous for its abundant spring flowers and a road trip along the Flower Route in April or May offers visitors vast expanses of blooming daffodils, tulips, hyacinths, crocuses and irises at their brightly coloured best.
Beginning in the culturally and historically rich Amsterdam is recommended as the city’s countless attractions deserve at least a day’s exploration. Haarlem, a thirty-minute drive east, is an equally entertaining city and marks the northern starting point of the Flower Route.
Heading south, the charming town of Lisse boats one of this road trip’s major highlights; the Keukenhof Garden. Standing opposite the town’s historic Castle Keukenhof, fourteen kilometres of pathways wind through ‘the most beautiful spring garden in the world’ where around seven million flower bulbs are sown to create spectacularly colourful displays.
Continuing south, the ancient university town of Lieden contains several notable landmarks and museums including a traditional eighteenth-century windmill dating and an exquisite botanical garden where, in the sixteenth century, early specimens of the tulips with which Holland is indelibly associated were cultivated.
Journeying southwest from Lieden through yet more stunning flower fields, the Flower Route road trip ends in the village of Naaldwijk, in which visitors can gain a fascinating insight into Holland’s flower industry as this is where the country’s largest flower auctions are held.
Route 1 (the Iceland Ring Road), Iceland
The antithesis of your typical beach holiday, a road trip around Iceland offers a diversity of unforgettably stunning landscapes punctuated by interesting and entertaining cities, towns and villages.
The beauty of a road trip which follows the 832-mile long, circular National Route 1 is that you can start and end your journey exactly where you please. Almost entirely paved dual-carriageway, Route 1 is the only major road that connects east and west Iceland, taking in on its way seven National Parks and traversing terrain that encompasses everything from striking turquoise lagoons and fjords and ancient lava plains and volcanic craters to lush, green mountain valleys dominated by lofty snow-topped peaks.
The thoroughly modern and cosmopolitan Reykjavík, the world’s northernmost capital city, is an exciting place to start and end and offers plentiful accommodation, car hire and entertainment options. Whether you choose to head north (clockwise) or south (anticlockwise) from the city along Route 1 it won’t be long before the hustle and bustle of Reykjavík and its suburbs are replaced by solitude, tranquillity and seemingly endless natural beauty.
Dinkelsbühl, a town on the Romantic Road
Romantische Straße (Romantic Road), Germany
Following the path of a medieval trade route in southern Germany, the Romantic Road stretches southwards for 350 kilometres from the ancient and picturesque city of Würzburg, ending at the town of Füssen close to the foothills of the Alps and the Austrian border.
A road trip along the Romantic Road is intended to capture the essence of traditional Germany by showcasing some of its most picturesque towns and villages, typical – and stunning – German scenery and magnificent medieval castles including the iconic Schloss Neuschwanstein which featured in the classic children’s film ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and inspired the castle in Walt Disney’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’.
This easy-to-drive road, clearly signposted from start to finish and regarded as the ‘grandfather of Germany’s scenic routes’ offers a succession of highlights natural, cultural and historic highlights at every step including medieval walled cities with cobbled streets and half-timbered buildings, splendid castles, mansion houses and palaces, Gothic cathedrals and landscapes which alternate between river valleys, open farmland and vineyards, wildflower meadows and dense forest and which are often backed by spectacular mountain ranges.
Aptly named, Germany’s Romantic Road is at its most inviting and vibrant during the summer when the many towns and villages along the way host a variety of festivals, but is equally enchanting in the autumn, and at least five days should be allowed for a road trip to appreciate and enjoy this inspiring and much-loved scenic route.
The Basque Circuit: Bilbao, Spain to Biarritz, France
This is the European road trip that offers everything; abundant history and culture, magnificent scenery, modern cities, superb cuisine and some of Europe’s best beaches. Beginning in the city of Bilbao, Spain the return journey to Biarritz over the French border covers around three hundred miles and should be allowed at least one full week in order to maximise the experience.
Bilbao is an exciting and diverting destination in its own right and is home to one of the world’s most architecturally stunning buildings; the silver, fish-like Guggenheim Museum of Modern Art. A haven of Spanish culture, the city also features a beautiful cathedral, Maritime and Archaeological museums and a funicular railway which climbs to the Artxanda peak overlooking the city.
Leaving Bilbao and heading south then east toward Pamplona, the first of the Basque Circuit’s spectacular scenery is soon encountered via a series of scenic mountain passes. Pamplona, famous for its annual bull run is a beautiful and historic city whose cobbled streets are rewarding to explore at any time of year.
Perhaps the most memorable views on the entire circuit follow the departure from Pamplona onto the national route N-135 which, at an elevation of more than 1,000 metres above sea level snakes through the western Pyrenees along the Roncesvalles Pass, the site of an historic battle in 778 AD.
Descending into the foothills of the Pyrenees, the circuit enters France and as the route heads northeast the open sea of Bay of Biscay comes into view and the glamorous beach resort of Biarritz is reached. After relaxing a while on Biarritz’s superb sands and admiring the city’s wealth of Art-Deco architecture the Basque Circuit road trip is completed by heading west along the superbly-scenic Bay of Biscay to Bilbao.
License: Creative Commons
License: Creative Commons image source
John is a freelance travel writer who has travelled extensively across Europe.