To mark the launch of our latest Best Trips book we asked Lonely Planet staff to share their stories of times spent on the road. Ever the adventurous bunch, these daring drivers recall time spent navigating hairy mountain paths, drifting down coastal roads on the hunt for brilliant beaches and driving into the downright bizarre on off-the-beaten track escapades.
Inspired to get behind the wheel yourself? You can find all of these routes in our new book: Europe’s Best Trips.
A well-deserved picnic in the Pyrenees, France
I can confirm, hand firmly on steering wheel, that the craggy beauty of the Pyrenees is unimpaired by vertigo and a carload of terrified loved ones. As a student living in the south of France, I was the naive host of a family road trip through the range. Setting off from my hometown of Pau, picnic blankets in tow, we climbed through the foothills breakfasting on local pâté and bread, and remarked on the farmers drinking red wine at 9am. Rising higher, we spotted marmots gambolling in the grass, bought sheep’s cheese at a roadside stand, and started to see patches of snow.
Even higher, as an eagle hovered alongside our car, my mother closed her eyes and started clinging to the seat belt. Crawling around the switchbacks, the mountain dropping away below me, I had my own Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter moment: ‘What if I just turned the wheel?' Somehow we made it over the border to Spain, the landscape opened up in a glorious green valley and we had our picnic, delicious chunks of cheese trembling in our hands.
Dora Whitaker – Destination editor for Southeast Asia. Follow her tweets @dorawhit
Searching for the edge of the world on the Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is a terrible place for a road trip; every five minutes or so, you have to pull over… to gawp, goggle-eyed, at the grandeur of your surroundings. Provided you’re a fan of such stop-start journeys, though, the most myth-steeped island of the Inner Hebrides delivers Game of Thrones-style spectacle at every turn.
At a push, you could drive around Skye in half a day; but that, in my mind, would be a mistake. For while such a bat-out-of-hell tour would give you a glimpse of the major sights – the Old Man of Storr, the Quiraing, Uig Bay and, of course, the awesome Cuillin Hills – you’d forgo a host of lesser-known marvels. Far better to linger, as we did for three days, exploring every back road in changing light as we searched for the edge of the world.
James Kay – Editor, lonelyplanet.com. Follow his tweets @jameskay123
Sweaty palms and scenic routes in Sicily
Driving through Sicily’s golden-tinged landscapes past sweeping valleys of Greek temples and Roman ruins, you only need imagine that your car is a horse-drawn chariot and it’s like you’ve travelled back in time. Alongside these magnificent monuments, understated historic towns, stunning national parks and coastal hilltop towns all make for some pretty scenic stop-offs along your route.
The driving here is breathtaking, both because of the diverse landscapes and the hairy, cliff-hugging coastal roads that literally steal your breath for a second as sweaty palms increase their grip on the wheel. One of the best experiences we had was driving up Mount Etna. You could have heard a pin drop in the car as gentle sweeping turns suddenly became very, very steep roads indeed. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief when we got to the public car park near the top – that is until we saw the monster of an off-road vehicle we would be taking the rest of the way.
Louise Bastock – Assistant editor, lonelyplanet.com. Follow her tweets @LouiseBastock
Gear up for a peculiar ride around the Ring of Kerry
A highlight of navigating the Ring of Kerry was witnessing a dog sat on top of a donkey in Dingle. This compensated for a failed attempt at seeing Fungi, Dingle’s resident wild dolphin of over thirty years. Before this bizarre encounter, we drove through Killorglin, where annually they crown a goat to reign over the town for three days. It’s safe to say this is a road trip into the peculiar.
As expected, each hairpin bend revealed another panoramic seascape and a reason to stop the car. One of our pit stops was Cahersiveen, a town on the northern tip of the Iveragh Peninsula and home to crumbling castles that we cautiously clambered over due to the liberating lack of restrictions in this part of the world.
Joe Davis – Online marketing coordinator. Follow his tweets @joedavis_
Travelling back in time along England’s A30
Heading west from London, I’d planned the perfect British must-see road trip to Bath via Stonehenge, but before we’d even left the capital one kid cried ‘car sickness’ and we had to stop. Amazingly that was outside Chiswick House & Gardens, a classic neo-Palladian mansion, and the perfect bookend for our final destination: Bath. A 45-minute pit stop later, and we're back on the road skipping the motorway for the A30, the London-Winchester road, because we're here to see England (and I haven’t yet nailed The Highway Code).
Thanks to a thoughtful redevelopment in 2013, Stonehenge had a significant ‘wow’ factor as we summited the hill by foot, but the kids loved exploring the mock Neolithic village more (what do you do?). We hit Bath after dark, but with the city centre lit up it had a fairy tale atmosphere, and the streets were busy with Saturday night revelry. Even the swans on the River Avon were in high spirits.
Tasmin Waby – Destination editor for Australia and the Pacific. Follow her tweets @TravellingTaz
Riding the coastal roads of Portugal’s Algarve beaches
In a beat-up, run-down dump of a hatchback, rented from a shifty out-of-town car hire company, me and my Mallory Knox rolled down the windows and cranked up the Captain Beefheart as we headed west from a forgotten Faro backstreet to the furthest southwesterly crag of Portugal’s Algarve region. We forewent the fever of the toll roads and trailed smoke-choking tractors down pockmarked lanes. That’s the freedom that freewheeling affords: we could second-guess a route that roughly rambled between the area’s show-stopping selection of honeycomb beaches.
We drove at dawn to have the limestone fins of Praia de Marinha to ourselves, only to be beaten by a barefooted sun lounger seller. We even abandoned the car upon wild-looking cliff tops and scanned for safe passages down to the sands below. Like Bonnie and Clyde we skirted the state line between sea and civilisation until we ran out of road and were stopped by the dramatic booming abyss of the Atlantic at Cabo de São Vicente.
Dan Fahey – Destination editor for Western Europe. Follow his tweets @FaheyDaniel
Chasing castles with the kids in tow in the Loire Valley, France
One way to keep small children occupied on a road trip is to turn everything into an ‘adventure’ or a ‘fairy tale’. This is easy when you’re road-tripping through the Loire Valley with its beautiful countryside and astonishing châteaux. Blois was our base and our first stop was Château de Chenonceau, where my daughter was delighted by the similarities between the turret and Rapunzel's tower in the film Tangled.
In Amboise we visited Leonardo da Vinci's home Le Clos Lucé. Here we faced endless questions from our daughter about each and every invention, prototype, model and contraption that was on display. Hooray for the peace of the playground! At Château de Chambord we ditched the car and hopped in a horse-drawn carriage for a rainy tour of the estate – there's no better way to make the fairy tale come to life.