Twists and turns: 9 testing road trips
Didn’t road trips used to be relaxed, long-distance cruises across a continent? Today, more time-starved drivers are searching for awe-inspiring short routes instead. Adventurers are also looking for great driving roads that make the journey the destination while challenging their nerve and driving skills. I’ve selected nine of the world’s most thrilling driving routes that are sure to take your breath away.
Former Top Gear writer Simon Heptinstall specialises in travel and adventures. He once broke the road trips world record by driving to 12 different countries in 24 hours and captained the British Travel Writers team on BBC TV’s Only Connect quiz show.
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Stelvio Pass – SS38, South Tyrol, Italy
Located in the municipality of Bormio, Stelvio Pass is one of Europe’s highest mountain passes and was a strong favourite of the old BBC Top Gear trio of presenters. Many drivers make a detour on their road trips just to tackle Stelvio’s 48 hairpin bends in quick succession climbing up the northern side of the pass. The road is narrow, steep and largely intimidating – but a really great test for driver and car.
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Road to Heaven – Country Road 104, Guan Men Yu, China
If you’re prone to car-sickness, China’s ‘road to heaven’ is probably not for you. In other words, if ordinary roads tend to make you slightly queasy, this one must certainly be avoided! But, the serpentine route up Tianmen Mountain is still one of the most awe-inspiring driving routes in the world. It may only be six miles long but it’s so amazingly bendy that it’s become a popular tourist attraction and a road certainly not to be missed by driving enthusiasts.
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Three-level Zig-Zag – East Sikkim, India
From a distance, you’d think this stretch of the lower Himalayas in East Sikkim were striped like a tiger. Get closer, however, and you’ll realise that the stripes are actually roads repeatedly crisscrossing the steep slopes. Closer still and you’ll notice it’s all just one road. This extraordinary mountain route may look like a mysterious squiggle, but the views are stupendous and the driving experience exceptionally unique.
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Strada Della Forra – SP38, Lake Garda, Italy
Some call this route the planet’s most scenic road. Not the locals. They’re probably fed up with how this twisted tagliatelle-like route turns a three-mile distance into around 10 miles of bends. The road spirals up from Lake Garda through narrow gorges and sheer cliffs to a village high above the water. Nevertheless, James Bond tackled it at tyre-squealing speeds in The Quantum of Solace.
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Serra do Rio do Rastro Road – SC390, Santa Catarina, Brazil
This eight-mile stretch of seriously wiggly road can provide the road trip of your life. Some drivers travel hundreds of miles to experience the thrill of these 250 continuous hairpins rising steeply through the waterfalls, colourful plants and screeching monkeys of a mountainous rainforest in southern Brazil.
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Strada Cristo Redentore di Maratea – Via Castello, Santa Caterina, Italy
Maratea’s white statue of Christ the Redeemer is a more casually dressed 60s version of the famous one in Rio de Janeiro. It stands on a mountainous pinnacle of rock overlooking the Mediterranean. Getting to the top involves a memorable drive up a cartoon-like road of switchback bends standing on concrete pillars jutting from the cliff for over 6.5 kilometres.
Hardknott Pass – Cumbria, UK
Welcome to what’s been called the UK’s ‘most outrageous stretch of road’. Some take huge detours to avoid this notorious Lakeland pass but others are increasingly driving all day just to find it. The narrow mountain road offers all the gradients and bends any keen driver needs to test themselves; just watch out for wayward sheep.
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Grosser Oscheniksee – Corinthia, Austria
With gradients of up to 20 percent, this Austrian road is a quick way of climbing almost 5,000ft in the Alps. In the winter, however, it’s usually impassable. In the summer, enthusiastic drivers love the challenge of more than 40 hairpin bends in a few miles. As you whizz past, spare a thought for the monumental efforts of cyclists trying to conquer the hill too.
Lombard Street – San Francisco, USA
Okay, it’s only a short section of a busy urban street but San Francisco’s Lombard Street has become one of America’s must-drive roads. The iconic one-block section involves eight steep hairpins and is dubbed: ‘The most crooked street in the world’. Not surprisingly, there’s a 5mph speed limit and it’s one-way only: downwards.