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Long and Winding Roads

In the summertime, there's nothing quite like the feeling of the wind in your hair and the open road unfolding before you. Here, our street-smart guide to the world's most rewarding drives.


Image – Michele Falzone/Photolibrary

THE AIRPLANE IS THE ULTIMATE TOOL FOR taking you from Point A to Point B—as close to a sci-fi-style teleporter as mankind gets—but sometimes the journey continues and other vistas beckon: Think bizarre magnesium-shaded purple sand at California’s Pfeiffer Beach or Costa Rica’s orchid-filled Paraíso garden. Of course, as rush-hour commuters know all too well, not all roads are created equal. Here, we steer you toward the world’s most breathtaking interstates, eye-popping thoroughfares and awe-inspiring byways, all guaranteed to take you somewhere spectacular. Drive safely, but travel without a care.

PACIFIC COAST HIGHWAY

90 MILES // The smooth strip of blacktop snaking along the Pacific Ocean may be the single most awe-inspiring scenic road in the country, if not the world. Start your journey with a cappuccino on the sandy shores of Monterey, and then head south. Along the way, stop at Nepenthe Restaurant for its incomparable Ambrosiaburger, hit the Esalen Institute for a dip in the hot springs and a massage, browse the eclectic collection at the Henry Miller Library, go for a swim at Pfeiffer Beach (the magnesium content makes its sand purple), and finish the day by communing with elephant seals at the Hearst Castle.

THE SPOKANE LOOP

845 MILES // Get into a meditative groove on this mountainous cruise from Spokane through Idaho and Montana to British Columbia, Canada. Stop in Wallace, Idaho, for a ride along the Hiawatha Mountain Bike Trail (rentals available at the trailhead), then stay the night at the elegant Whitefish Mountain Resort, in Whitefish, Montana. Afterward, check out the Buffalo Jump, a precarious cliff (never mind why they call it that), and finally get wet in some hot springs in Banff, Alberta, where you can lounge in pools that look out on the Canadian Rockies.

COLORADO’S OFF-ROAD MEANDER

100 MILES OF DIRT, 50 OF ASPHALT // You’ll want four-wheel drive to traverse the 100 miles of dirt road that wind out of Lake City, Colorado. Start at dawn in this sleepy town, then go west, young man, on Country Road 20, from Rio Grande National Park. There’s little out here but you and the great outdoors, so plan to stop often to soak in the scenery. In Ouray, wash off the dust in the sulfur hot springs, then head through the Uncompahgre National Forest to Telluride, where you’ll check into the Euro-style Alpino Vino chalet for some victuals and shut-eye.

THE MARITIMES

225 MILES // Fishermen have made the shores of Nova Scotia and Cape Breton home since the Basques first arrived here in the 15th century in search of cod. The countryside is just as rugged now as it was then, but much more inviting. Travel a straight shot from Halifax to the bustling crossroads of Truro and sample the day’s catch from the Salmon River. Then cross onto Cape Breton Island, where you’ll pass through old Acadian villages before stopping for the night at the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish Beach. Here, you can sample a strong ale as a local combo unwinds the jig-and-reel.

THE LAKE SUPERIOR CIRCUMNAVIGATION

1,210 MILES // The drive along the entire coast of this massive, picturesque and historically rich Great Lake takes you through two time zones and as many border crossings. Starting in Minnesota and driving counterclockwise, take a glass-bottom tour of early 19th century vessels wrecked along the shores of Munising, Michigan, catch a view of the Grand Portage National Monument, ogle the ancient Agawa pictographs and, before you reach the Lighthouse B&B in Two Harbors, descend the half-mile Alpine Slide.

SANGRE DE CRISTO MOUNTAINS TRAVERSE

80 MILES // The Sangre de Cristos— named for the reddish hue the snowcapped peaks take on around sunset— are among the longest mountain chains on earth. Luckily, you only have to drive around 80 winding miles to really experience them. Start in Santa Fe at the Tune-Up Café, with a breakfast burrito, and then head northeast toward Chimayo, a tony Spanish-era town where you can pick up handwoven vests, handbags and rugs. The road sometimes narrows to one lane as it winds between the dozens of 13,000-foot peaks, but by the time you get to Taos, you’ll want to turn back for more.

BARCELONA TO BASQUE COUNTRY

450 MILES // Start in fashion-forward Barcelona and trace the Mediterranean coast south to Tarragona before heading inland. The breadbasket of Spain awaits! Once over the breathtaking foothills of the Pyrénées, in the wine state of La Rioja, stop in tiny Paganos, where you’ll eat a 30 euro five-course meal at Héctor Oribe restaurant before passing through Pamplona and visiting the famed corrida. Bilbao and its shimmery sea creature of a museum follow. Then snake through the harbor towns toward the French border until you arrive at glitzy San Sebastian. Have a delectably fishy pintxo. You’ve certainly earned it.

THE UPPER TOHOKU REGION, JAPAN

445 MILES // No need to linger in the flashy bazaars of Tokyo when the sparkling beaches and crisp mountain air of the upper Tohoku Region—the wild northern quarter of Japan’s main island—are calling for you. Wind along the coastal route’s seaside cliffs until you hit Miyako and munch on the freshest sushi in the world (hands down). Then turn inland and climb into the stunning Shirakami Mountains, where you’ll stop at Lake Towada for a dip before finishing at Aomori. Kunichiwah!

BUENOS AIRES TO IGUAZU FALLS

1,045 MILES // Start in the Parisian-style Argentine capital before making your way north into the jungle-lined roads toward Brazil. Stop in San Ignacio, and gaze at the ancient ruins of a Jesuit monastery. Pass through Puerto Iguazu, with its rain forest theme park. Come across Parque Das Aves, a zoo known for its giant walk-in cages holding toucans of every stripe, along with its caimas and slithering snakes, and soon you’ll come upon the roaring, mist-enshrined colossus—actually 275 different waterfalls—that make up the mysterious Iguazu Falls.

THE GREAT OCEAN ROAD

225 MILES // The Southern Ocean can be a bitter, windswept place. Luckily, you’re going to be on dry land, winding along the craggy, dramatic coastline along the southern edge of Australia. Start in the Victorian capital of Melbourne and roll straight to Geelong, where you can dip your feet into the waters at Eastern Beach. From here head west toward Portland, stopping along the way at whale lookouts, rain forests and the dozen gargantuan limestone formations known as the Twelve Apostles.

COSTA RICA BY FOUR-WHEEL DRIVE

210 MILES // Some of the roads from San Jose, Costa Rica, to the Caribbean coastal town of Limón are bumpy, but the scenery is well worth the jostling. For instance, you’ll see the sublime beauty of Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles in Cartago; the Lankester Botanical Garden in Paraíso, which houses 600 varieties of native orchids, various microhabitats and hundreds of birds; and Laguna Madre de Dios, one of Costa Rica’s only nesting sites for the rare Agami heron. There are also ziplines, jungles, jaguars, ocelots and quetzales galore, and, once you reach Limón, a leisurely swim on a white-sand Caribbean beach.

4 Responses to “Long and Winding Roads”

  1. Mike Gerrard Says:
    July 1st, 2010 at 1:45 am

    There are no walruses at or near Hearst Castle. There is a beach where elephant seals breed, though.

  2. brian Says:
    July 6th, 2010 at 1:34 pm

    Great article about Big Sur and the Pacific Coast Highway except those aren’t walruses around Hearst Castle. Those are elephant seals. Walruses are found only in the Arctic, far from Southern California beaches.

  3. Bill Says:
    July 23rd, 2010 at 5:32 pm

    Noticed a mistake in your description of the drive along the Pacific Coast Highway. There are no walruses along the California coast. The beach north of San Simeon hosts a colony of Elephant Seals. The best time of year is February through March when there are literally thousands of animals on the beach, giving birth, mating ,etc.

  4. eddy ancinas Says:
    October 18th, 2010 at 11:27 pm

    I like your articles about what to do in a country once you arrive–great drives, cool/romantic/unusual places to stay–activities. other towns in a country that you fly to, besides the city you land in–i.e. there’s more to Argentina than BA

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