Something I really like is to receive emails from people who have driven roads that they have found through this blog. That makes me feel like I have done something right – shared a story of a road so someone else can find it, and later I get to hear that they enjoyed it as much as I did. I also get emails from people who ask me that if I could recommend just one road (or a few in the same area) to drive, what are the best driving roads in Europe? I understand they probably wish I had one short answer to give – just the name of one road that is above all the others. “Drive this”. Instead my replies are often “drive this, and this, and if you want to visit another country – you should – drive this also…”.
How can I give one answer when I have fallen in love with more than one driving road? What would make that one road so special that I should put it on a pedestal?
Personally I worship Stelvio Pass. Ever since I sat on the top watching a sunrise for the first time that road has had a special place in my heart. I have seen beautiful in many places around the world, but that sunrise over Stelvio Pass was magical. But is it the best driving road, the one you should drive in Europe if you could just experience one? Yes and no. I think Stelvio should be experienced if you love good driving roads. But I also think there are 10-20-30-40 (my list goes on and on) more roads that are amazing!
However what I can try to write here is a list of ten of the best driving roads in Europe that I definitely think everyone should drive at least once if they get the opportunity. I can not really rank them to be honest, so they are in a random order. It was not easy to try to narrow it down to only my TOP 10 list of the best driving roads in Europe, I have a lot more I could recommend (perhaps I will do a part two later). But if you can not drive them all, try some. This list is a good start, and you can still find a lot more driving road recommendations here: www.getpalmd.com/cars/roads + www.colcorsa.com/driving-roads.
Best driving roads in Europe – My Top 10 of the greatest driving roads
1. Stelvio Pass – Italian Alps, Italy
I have featured Stelvio Pass several times on my blog. I first drove it in 2012 and after that I have returned at least once every year, except this year (!), but luckily the season is not over yet. I hear from so many that they think it is overrated as a driving road, but the key really is perfect timing. And with perfect timing I mean that either you drive it late evening, or very early morning. I have driven it in complete darkness at night and I have driven it during sunrise, which in the summer is around 5-6 AM depending on which month you are going. Of course if sunrise is 5 AM, it starts to get beautiful already after 4 AM. So as said, perfect timing is important. I also enjoy it daytime, but perhaps that is because I always overtake if necessary and I already know the road very well. If you let yourself get stuck behind another car and do not even attempt to overtake, no wonder you drive home grumpy. Because if you get a good drive up and down, without interruptions that would slow you down, how could you not fall in love with Stelvio Pass?! It is fantastic.
2. Transfagarasan – Carpathian Mountains, Romania
I have only driven Transfagarasan once and this was back in 2013. After that I have each year said I am going to return, but I never get that far – it is quite a long drive. The first task would be to bribe some person in charge of an exciting press fleet to give me a car for the road trip, unless I drove with my own of course. Romania is not the word these press people really want to hear, but in 2013 BMW was actually kind enough to give me a Z4 for my trip there. I did that road trip alone (with the dog, of course), and I had both family and friends telling me “please do not drive to Romania alone”. They thought it would not be safe – I disagree.
This drive was one of the best adventures ever, so I have no regrets that I went. First I am going to praise Transfagarasan as a driving road, because it is an epic drive, although you really need to keep your eyes open for large potholes and rocks on the road. But the hairpins are breathtaking. It was so nice that I had to drive it up and down in both directions. However I also want to praise Romania as an eye-opening travel destination in Europe. It is very different from the other countries I have been to, like a travel back in time when you drive through the small towns, but ever since I was there I have been wanting to return. Because it is exotic, and beautiful. Make sure to add Transalpina to your list as well. If you are going to drive all the way to Romania – possibly through a less interesting Hungary (if someone has good driving road recommendations for Hungary, please share, I found zero) – make sure you get to experience not just one but two of the best driving roads in the country.
3. Grossglockner High Alpine Road – Austrian Alps, Austria
Grossglockner is a mountain pass in Austria, and it is amazing. Not only do I love the landscapes, but the whole road is such a great drive. What I appreciate here is that most likely because it is a toll road they can afford to maintain it and the road is in very good condition. First time I drove it 2014 the price was €34 for a car, this year it is €35, so they have luckily not increased prices a lot. Probably still the most expensive toll road in Austria. However what I do there is drive it in one direction, make an U-turn before I get to the tollbooth on the other side, and drive back… And I could go on and on the whole day just doing that, that is how much I love this road. I would need some coffee and some lunch, luckily I can find everything on the road, and possibly also some canisters with fuel with me. But a day on Grossglockner is always unforgettable, and you never really want to leave.
Luckily there is a solution for that too. Inside the toll gates are hotels. What if I told you that you could drive in on a toll road, and when the sun sets you do not have to even leave. You could keep driving all night if you wanted to, and most likely not have to share the road with a lot of other drivers. Think about that… Just you, your car, and Grossglockner.
4. Colle del Nivolet – Gran Paradiso, Italy
Colle del Nivolet is a dangerous road to drive fast if there is traffic, and in the summer, daytime, there most often will be. But it is such a gorgeous location, even if the road is narrow with many blind corners. This mountain road is located in the Gran Paradiso National Park in Northern Italy, and Colle del Nivolet is featured in many scenes in the movie “The Italian Job”. The final bus crash, for example. It is tight and it is challenging, especially if you have to share it with cars, motorbikers and cyclist. Colle del Nivolet is definitely not the greatest driving road, because it is busy (unless you go very early in the morning, of course – you should). But the views really make up for it – just look!
5. Nockalm Road – Austrian Alps, Austria
Nockalm Road in Austria is a fairly new road on my list. I drove it the first time last September thanks to some friends who showed me the way. We were on a road trip with a Porsche Cayman GTS and two Porsche 918 Spyders in Austria and first we drove Grossglockner, which I was already familiar with, but then the journey continued to Nockalm Road, which is another toll road in the Austrian Alps. And what a great road it was. It is quite challenging, some parts remind me a lot of Stelvio with the tight hairpins, but who does not like a challenging road? It is however a good combination of everything – tight corners, and loong straights. Remember what I wrote earlier – before the tollbooth, make an U-turn. Why drive the best driving roads just once if you can drive them twice?
6. Col de Vence + Route de Thorenc + Route Napoleon – Alpes-Maritimes, France
I put these three of the best driving roads in the Alpes-Maritimes together, as you can experience all three in one drive, since they are located close to each other. If you drive from north to south you would drive Route Napoleon first, but if you drive up from the coast of Côte d’Azur it is Col de Vence you will drive first. Col de Vence and Route de Thorenc were the roads I drove with the Porsche 991.2 Carrera S earlier this year. There you have the most amazing views from the road and tunnels carved into the rocks. There is a term called balcony road and especially in France you can find some of the most beautiful balcony roads in the world. Balcony roads are roads that are cut into the sides of cliffs, so the road hangs like a balcony from the mountains. Looks dramatic, you can get some beautiful photos as well – but more importantly, these are in my opinion some of the best driving roads you can find in South of France. A mix of great curves, and great straights.
7. Bernina Pass – Swiss Alps, Switzerland
Although Switzerland has a lot of great mountain passes I would like to fill this list with (Grimsel Pass, Susten Pass, Furka Pass, and so on), I want to give Bernina Pass a little extra love this time. The reason is that when all the other high mountain roads are still closed (the majority of the most popular ones will not open before early June, perhaps late May if we are lucky), Bernina Pass stays open all year. In the winter you of course have to go with appropriate equipment, which means you need to have snow chains with you. But early April and late October I have experienced dry roads there (with dry roads I mean you could go with summer tires). For that reason it is a road worth keeping in mind if you travel early or late in the season, and you struggle to find scenic roads that are open. It is a nice drive also in the summer of course, but with winter landscapes it is breathtaking!
8. Port de Larrau – Pyrenees, Spain and France
I wanted to add a driving road from the Pyrenees here, but also when it comes to this region of Europe I have so many I would like to recommend. In fact I could make a TOP 10 of best driving roads only in the Pyrenees, and that list would not even include all the good ones! That is how good this region is for the road trip enthusiast. Since I need to make a choice I am going to say Port de Larrau, which was a pass at the border between France and Spain. It was perhaps not the most picture perfect I have driven there, but what I liked about it was that it was really quiet. I drove in the Pyrenees so late in the season – end of September – that I did not experience much traffic on any of the mountain roads there. But I remember this was extra quiet, probably because there are main roads nearby that people are more likely to use if they want to cross the border. There really were no special stops worth mentioning on Port de Larrau either, but there are some fantastic corners and views. Sometimes that is enough to make it one of the best driving roads in Europe!
9. Valparola Pass – Dolomites, Italy
How to pick one favourite from one of the most beautiful driving regions in Europe – the Italian Dolomites. What is my criteria when all of the roads are very different, but most of them great fun? I picked Valparola Pass because of the scenery, from all the drives there I think Valparola Pass is one of the roads that stands out the most. You are surrounded by rocky scenery that almost makes it look like a different planet. The unique landscape combined with a good driving road makes it my personal favourite there. But do not worry – to even get to Valparola Pass you will have to drive some other scenic roads in Dolomites as well, and most certainly see a lot of different landscapes. One day is realistically not even enough in the Dolomites, unless you drive non-stop. But if you have a few days to spend in this beautiful region of Italy, you could experience nearly all the best ones.
10. Col du Mont Cenis – France and Italy
What I really wanted to do was to pick a road in the French Alps as the final road, something from the famous “Route des Grandes Alpes”. But instead I am going to say Col du Mont Cenis. A great driving road is not always about reaching the top of a very high mountain in the middle of nowhere. That is a great feeling too, but the roads that stand out are also the ones that offer unforgettable landscapes. Col du Mont Cenis between France and Italy is one of those roads. When I drove it I was so amazed by the views that I had to stop several times in different places just to look around. Driving probably was second priority, because I thought it was more fun to admire the gorgeous landscapes. Col du Mont Cenis is however a great drive and one of the best driving roads in this region. You get two in one, really – eye candy and driving pleasure.