Who doesn’t love a road trip? Now more than ever, after two years of Covid-19, we are all feeling the urge to expand our horizons and succumb to the lure of the open road. But where to go? If your idea of a driving adventure is getting stuck in a jam on the A303 bound for the Westcountry, think again.
Here, Mark Hodson, editor of 101 Holidays, selects 12 of the world’s most exciting self-drive holidays. From Scotland to Malaysia, Croatia to Namibia, you’ll find culture, nature, great food, charming places to stay and, of course, the chance to wind down the windows and put your foot on the floor.
The historic Spanish region of Extremadura may be unknown to most tourists, but its beautifully preserved medieval cities and hilltop towns are packed with palaces and monasteries, Moorish fortresses and Roman theatres. Sunvil’s eight-day self-drive tour, Exciting Extremadura, begins in Seville and strikes north, with stays in historic government-owned paradores, then finishes in the capital, Madrid. The many highlights include the city of Cáceres, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with its labyrinthine streets, Arabic walls and fortified houses.
Namibia is arguably the best country in Africa for a driving adventure. Along with endless natural wonders and wildlife encounters, it also has a reputation for safety and an impressive road network, a legacy of German colonisers.
In two weeks you can cover all the key sights on a circular route without spending long days behind the wheel. Rainbow Tours has a 14-day Classic Namibia Self-Drive Holiday that includes the Cheetah conservation project at Okonjima, game viewing in Etosha National Park, rhino and elephant tracking in the desert at Damaraland and climbing the dunes in Sossusvlei at sunrise.
The key to driving in Tuscany is to steer clear of the busy cities and stick to the scenic back roads and timeless landscapes. Sardatur Holidays lets you take a 10-day tour behind the wheel of a classic car, such as an Alfa Romeo Duetto or convertible VW Beetle. You’ll stay at three historic hotels including Grotta Giusti, a secluded 19th-century villa set in an enchanted garden with its own natural thermal grotto and underground thermal lake.
Along the way you can visit wineries, olive estates, Leonardo’s birthplace at Vinci and Montepulciano with its historic palazzos and churches. You can even opt for a hot-air balloon ride over the beautiful countryside that surrounds the walled city of Lucca.
Alaska by motorhome, USA
The vast and remote wilderness of Alaska, with its mountains, forests and epic skies, are perfect for a self-drive adventure. Rather than rent a car, take up residence of your own motorhome, staying in well-equipped campsites or – if you feel in need of a treat – a hotel.
Discover the World offers Alaska by Motorhome, 11 nights of driving out of Anchorage where you can follow the suggested route and overnight camps, or strike out on your own itinerary. Whichever you choose, you won’t want to miss Denali National Park, six million acres of forest, high alpine tundra and snowy mountains. Other highlights include Copper River, the Richardson Highway, Worthington Glacier and the waterfalls of Keystone Canyon.
Croatia’s northern Adriatic coast is perfect for a road trip with winding coastal roads and car ferry hops between small islands and mainland ports. Explore the hill-top villages of Istria and the marble streets and tree-lined waterfront of Zadar on a 10-night self-guided tour, Istria, Kvarner and Zadar, from Inntravel, staying in characterful four-star hotels. It’s a trip rich in culture as well as natural beauty, and there are countless places where you can stop to swim in the limpid blue sea.
With a rental 4WD you can embark on an independent tour of Iceland and see most of the key sights in two weeks. Go in summer, when the roads are much more manageable and the sun barely sets. Regent Holidays has an Iceland Full Circle Fly-Drive that features the waterfalls at Seljalandsfoss, puffins at Dyrhólaey, a glacier walk in Skaftafell National Park, plus hiking, hot springs and a boat trip amongst icebergs. In Húsavík you can take an electric boat trip into the fjord and sometimes see hundreds of whales. You won’t get bored!
South Africa is driving country par excellence. The Western Cape is so gorgeous you’ll struggle to keep your eyes on the road, while the Garden Route is much more exciting than its name suggests. Even Cape Town is easy to navigate by car.
Mahlatini’s 16-day self-drive holiday, The Best of the Cape, includes overnight stays in the Winelands, the Oudtshoorn and Knysna, and three nights at the Amakhala Private Game Reserve where you can take a break from driving to enjoy encounters with the Big Five, before completing your journey at Port Elizabeth.
The opening of the North Coast 500 has renewed interest in driving holidays in Scotland, although the route itself has become increasingly congested during the peak season. The Scotland specialist McKinlay Kidd has an alternative suggestion: its 10-night Premier Scotland Road Trip takes in the Isle of Skye, Dornoch and Cromarty, the Cairngorms National Park and the Trossachs, staying in the finest accommodation. It begins at Loch Linnhe in Argyll, and ends in Dunblane, with overnight stops in grand castles and family-owned gems.
The Portuguese cities of Lisbon and Porto are so handsome and beguiling that it’s tempting not to stray from their centres, but if you drive north of Porto you’ll find a region of history, culture, great food and astonishing natural beauty.
Wexas has a six-day self-drive tour, Porto and the North, that takes in the Costa Verde running up to the River Minho, including the charming towns of Viana do Castelo and Vila Nova de Cerveira. You’ll stay in historic pousadas including the hilltop Pousada de Guimaraes Santa Marinha, a converted 12th century Augustinian monastery. And, yes, you will have time to taste the port wines on the banks of the Douro River, with a stay at Palácio do Freixo in Porto itself.
Puglia and Cilento, Italy
Everybody knows about the Amalfi Coast, but Cilento lies just to the south and offers miles of unspoilt Blue-Flag beaches, national parks and limestone caves – don’t miss a boat trip to the Blue Grotto cave. Known throughout Italy for its buffalo mozzarella, Cilento also offers hiking trails and ancient Greek sites. It’s about three hours by road from there to Puglia, known for its pretty whitewashed towns and traditional trulli.
Explore the baroque city of Lecce and the conical roofs of Alberobello. See it all on Citalia’s 10-day self-drive Cilento and Puglia tour.
Not all of south-east Asia lends itself to driving a rental car, but peninsula Malaysia has a network of well-maintained and safe roads with signage in English and driving on the left. Selective Asia’s 10-night Malaysia Beach and Adventure Self Drive heads north from the capital Kuala Lumpur to the vast Belum-Temengor rainforest for an organised trek before heading west to the foodie capital of Penang. Then it’s a flight to the sensational beaches of Langkawi where you can hang up your driving gloves and relax.
Fancy a road trip in California? Of course you do, but where to go? There are so many options, but Turquoise Holidays suggests you start in San Francisco and head east to the Napa Valley, on to Yosemite National Park then to the spectacular mountain landscapes of Mammoth Lakes before visiting Death Valley and Las Vegas.
Its 13-day Wine Country and Wilderness tour includes stays at Carneros Resort and Spa set amidst California’s vineyards, and Yosemite Valley Lodge at the base of the vertical rock formation, El Capitan.