During my year in Italy I traveled by plane, train, taxi, car, bike and bus. I saw Italy through more windows than I can count and yet one particular journey stands out in my mind. It was a warm Saturday morning in April, when me and my friend, Julianne, decided to travel to Volterra.
I sat with my face pressed to the glass, a citizen of Italy for over 10 months and yet still enamoured with the view. It was like driving through a postcard – endlessly blue sky, grass green enough to make the Irish jealous and fields of grapes and history flanking us on either side.
If what you seek is natural beauty and an escape from the typical, rev that engine and get moving to these fantastic locations…
1. Grande Strada delle Dolomiti – SS 48
Journey through the “Heart of the Dolomites” for views of the Alps that will steal your breath away. This road takes you through hairpin turns at the legendary mountains before giving way to views of ancient coral reefs. The reefs are thousands of feet above sea level and weathered into craggy peaks. Break the trip up by stopping in local towns, where you’ll usually find locals speaking both Italian and German. If you seek unforgettable views, the Dolomiti is the place for you.
2. Via Aurelia – SS 1
Constructed in 241 BC, this road leads right to Rome. It winds and dips with the earth, spanning the coastline of the Italian Riviera. Watch the sun glisten off the Ligurian Sea, explore the many cliff-hanging villages at your leisure and maybe even stop at a beach to get some sun. Camogli is certainly worth a visit. Parts of the road are tight to drive down, including a section that has deep ravines on one side and the ocean on the other. So in between gazing at the wildflowers lining the grass and the waves lapping on the rocks, keep focused on the road.
3. Strada Chiantigiana – SS 22
For a classic version of Italy, take this back road between Florence and Siena. Pack a picnic lunch and ride along slowly until you find that perfect spot, right in the middle of rolling hills dotted with medieval towers and vineyards to step out and enjoy the scenery. It’s also the perfect time to search out wineries and pick up a freshly made bottle of vino. With the cypress trees lining the road and the Tuscan landscape spread out before you, what could honestly be better?
4. Amalfi Coast
If you aren’t ready to fall in love, keep this place off of your list. The Amalfi Coast, or Costiera Amafintana to the Italians, stole my heart the moment I looked out and saw that unbelievable turquoise water. Located in the southwest, this route is home to is a mix of 13 celebrity resort towns and quaint fishing villages with traditional food and more limoncello than you can drink! Some of the more mountainous roads aren’t for the faint of heart or height-fearing, though are always rewarding for any who brave the journey.
The region of Umbria holds no shortage of picturesque roads to travel on. Settled in the heart of Italy, you become surrounded by the art of the Renaissance and the romantic views of fortified towns nestled between cypress trees, vineyards, lavender and sunflowers. Make your way through the back roads to places like Gubbio, Urbino, Todi and Spoleto. Don’t forget a stop in Perugia for some chocolates. Whether you seek the intimate slow pace of ancient towns like Le Marche or the feisty passion of Rome, the roads in Umbria will lead you there.
6. Gallura Coast
Straying from the mainland, if you find yourself in Sardinia the coast of Gallura is not to be missed. Frequented by Italians, this slice of ravishing landscape is unknown to most tourists. Skim the outline of the island for panoramic views of the coastline. Take a jaunt inland to find local farmers guiding their sheep along mountain trails. The best advice for this and all of the trips is to just keep exploring – never be content with face value.
The amazing thing about Italy is that you don’t need to follow a guidebook to find fantastic routes like these. Ask the locals for travel tips, risk taking the back road, trust your instinct – it could be the best thing you ever do.
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So what are you waiting for? Grab a travel buddy (preferably one who prefers to drive and leaves you to window-gaze), fill up that tank and get rolling. Then share your best (or worst!) driving experiences!
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