Today is World Tourism Day and the motoring enthusiasts in us have been scurrying franctically over the past few days to zero in on some of the best motoring routes across the globe. We are not saying these are the best. There will always be bigger, tougher and more scenic routes but the list that we have tried to bring together will offer you one of the widest range of roads, surfaces and terrains around the world.
1. Manali-Leh highway, India (479kms)
The almost 500km route from Manali in Himachal Pradesh to Leh, Ladakh is one of the most scenic routes in the India. With an average altitude of roughly 4,000m from sea-level, the Manali-Leh highway leads you to the highest motorable road in the world at Khardung-la. As you enter the Ladakh region of Jammu and Kashmir from Sarchu-la you are welcomed by the famous Gata loops (22 hairpin bends) at a height of almost 14,000ft enroute the highest pass on the highway at Tanglang-la towering at 17,500ft above sea level.
The Ladakh region is unique for its cold desert at 15,000ft above sea level, with snow-capped mountains always in sight and occasional oasis of green. In spite of being called a highway, there is a maximum of two usable lanes with river crossings, broken bridges and impending landslides adding to the adventure quotient.
2. The Stelvio Pass, Switzerland, Italy (300kms)
If snow-capped mountains is what you love, the Stelvio Pass that bridges Switzerland and Italy is the place you should head to. Listed as the best road for motoring across Europe by many, it is a difficult road to manoeuvre especially in traffic because it is narrow. It is the second highest pass in the Alps known for its beautiful mountain peaks and the green valleys around. It takes you through the breathtaking scenery and more than 70 hairpin bends from Switzerland to Italy.
The road becomes easier to deal with and better to drive on the Swiss soil. Except for the scary Furka Pass, which is scarier than Stelvio, come Grimsel Pass and Susten Pass which are a driver’s delight in terms of road conditions, traffic and safety. Just remember to check out for the blocked Stelvio Pass in August end before you head out for the road trip.
3. Barcelona to Valencia via Aragon, Spain (611kms)
Spain has four racetracks, one in Barcelona, one in Aragon, in Jerez and another one in Valencia. The good news is, apart from Jerez, if you plan to drive down from one track to another, they are hardly a couple of hundred miles away from each other. And if you can afford a spin on a racetrack, you can choose either or all of the three on your Spanish sojourn.
On the way to Aragon from Barcelona, you have Sitges – a beach town known for its Hispanic beauties. You can drive by the sea through Tarragona to Calaceite, a beautiful laidback town in Matarrana region and then to Cretas to get a flavour of the Spanish Tuscany. If you aren’t stopping over for the racetrack at Aragon, you can head straight to Carinena. The Carinena vineyards are one of the oldest protected growing areas in Europe and is known for its wine. On the way from to Valencia from Carinena, is the high altitude town of Teruel known for its unique Mudejar architecture.
4. Australian outback (2000kms)
The Australian outback is one of the remotest parts of the island nation and spreads across thousands of kilometres in north and northwest Australia. The red centre is located in the middle of the outback and usually refers to Alice Springs and Uluru/Ayers Rock. With temperatures ranging from -10 degrees to 50 degrees Celsius and the scarcity of water and supplies means you have to be really prepared to traverse across the continent.
The ultimate motoring adventure would be to explore the outback but for that, you will need a 4×4 – a utility vehicle that has capabilities of tackling tricky situations. You can hit the outback only when you have a good amount of time to spare and have expertise in navigation if you plan to ditch the regular highways. The outback has a lot to offer – the canyons, springs, lakes and even some beaches along with mountains and desert.
5. Isle of Man, England (500kms)
If you are a motorcyclist, the Isle of Man is your Mecca. Home to one of the maddest road races on two wheels, the Isle of Man off the British coast is a serene place for the rest of the year. Located in the Irish Sea, you can ferry your car/bike to the island. You can drive/ride on the TT course but within the laws of the land. If you want to go full blast, the Jurby Autodrome on the island will let you belt it out for a fee.
The Isle of Man is not only about the speedy TT. It boasts of almost 10,000 years of Manx history preserved in the numerous museums across the country. Known for its cleanliness and maintained landscape, the beaches, harbours as well as the mines are worth a tour. You also have huge castles, churches and gardens for some historic trips across the island.
6. Route 66, United States of America (4000kms)
The Route 66 has been the backbone of American travel. It runs through eight states from Los Angeles on the West Coast to Chicago. Almost 4,000kms long, Route 66 started the concept of motels and drive-ins in America and was probably of the first places where the neon signs were seen aplenty. After the inception of the interstate highways that cut across the landscape and replaced the original road, the Route 66 lost its sheen.
With the story featured in the animated movie Cars, the old Route 66 will drive you through American history. There are numerous attractions over the eight states of Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California. It also drives through a variety of terrains including mountains, plains and plateaus through the land of native Americans.