The romance of packing a suitcase, planning the route, downloading your favourite driving tracks and hitting the road is still one of the greatest thrills of travel. Even more so now that flying has become such a burden.
Travelling under your own steam on one of the world’s epic road adventures leaves you in charge of the schedule — stopping to soak up a great view, or checking in to a gorgeous guest house that you may never pass again.
Many memorable road trips are a perfect blend of inspiring landscapes, a convivial driving companion and a never-ending highway that twists and turns to the horizon.
The Wild Atlantic Way is an epic route that wriggles madly around Ireland’s wild west coast. Pictured is Mayo, a county on the route
Planning a grand tour dates back to the golden age of travel. These days it’s much easier to follow in the tyre marks of others, thanks to the internet. But wherever you set as the destination in your satnav, always leave time to get off the road and explore.
As Jack Kerouac put it in On The Road: ‘Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road. There was nowhere to go but everywhere, so just keep on rolling under the stars . . .’
I’ve just returned from driving Ireland’s spectacular Wild Atlantic Way (WAW).
Launched in 2014, this epic route wriggles madly around Ireland’s wild west coast from quaint Kinsale in the south to Malin Head in the north. The 1,500-mile trek is one of the world’s greatest drives. As Atlantic breakers crash along Galway Bay beyond, two men are kneeling by the roadside and causing a traffic jam.
The Daily Mail’s Jeremy Taylor says the 1,500-mile trek is one of the world’s greatest drives. Pictured is Slea Head
Padraig and Eoin are expert road bowlers — a sport that involves hurling a 2lb metal ball for miles along a country lane, with the winner making the least throws over a set distance. There seems to be a story at every turn on this panoramic route amid archipelagos and inlets. Dramatic cliffs, surf waves and characters, as well as kamikaze sheep and never-ending rainbows.
A few miles around the coast is the arty town of Roundstone, a straddle of pubs, cafes and galleries blended together by the sweet smell of a peat fire on a brisk westerly. O’Dowd’s bar has set up outdoor tables. A local tells me the WAW lures people off the main tourism routes to explore towns and villages rarely ventured. So, instead of stopping at Clifden — the self-proclaimed capital of Connemara — he points me towards Omey Island while the tide is out.
Forty minutes later I understand why. The tiny island off Claddaghduff is only accessible across a rugged causeway of sand.
Pascal Whelan was a professional stuntman who had a stellar career in Hollywood but ended up here. He worked on set with Paul Hogan in Crocodile Dundee and taught Peter O’Toole how to sword fight. Whelan spent his last years living in a mobile home on Omey, growing vegetables and entertaining guests with tales of the island.
The serene Lough Corrib, pictured, which is close to Ashford Castle in County Mayo
Further north, Paddy Coyne’s pub in Tully Cross serves muscles and crab claws. It would be tempting to doze off over a pint in St Ann’s snug.
Instead, I’m heading due east via Leenane — film location for John Hurt and Richard Harris’s powerful drama The Field — to another famous film set in Cong. John Wayne was best known as a swaggering cowboy, but in 1951 he visited west Ireland. The Quiet Man was a tale of an American-made-good, returning home to his Celtic roots only to fall for actress Maureen O’Hara’s terrible ‘Oirish’ accent.
Wayne stayed at Ashford Castle, on the shores of nearby Lough Corrib. The 800-year-old mansion is the former ancestral home of the Guinness family.
The castle’s lodge is the ‘newer’ bit, tucked away by the waterside on the 350-acre estate. There’s a country house vibe and the styling’s more contemporary.
Upstairs, make sure to ask for a lough view in Wilde’s restaurant and the scallop starter is legendary. Time to reflect on one of the world’s greatest road adventures.
And here are 10 other epic road trips from around the world…
The route from the Costa del Sol to the sun-soaked hills of Andalucia runs through the stunning Parque Natural Los Alcornocales, pictured
The sun-soaked hills of Andalucia are a stone’s throw from the Costa del Sol but a world apart. Head south from Seville through the Parque Natural Los Alcornocales towards Ronda, with its bridge spanning a deep ravine.
Surrounded by lush river valleys and the scent of olive groves, the roads meander through rugged hills, offering spectacular coastal views at every turn.
A favourite with motorcyclists, the route to Marbella is an adrenaline rush.
Length: 150 miles.
Must see: Ronda’s historic bullring and cliff-edge Cono Balconies view. Visit andalucia.org.
Kicks on Route 66
Delgadillo’s Snow Cap roadside restaurant in Arizona located on Route 66. Here, the arid deserts reveal old-town America at every diner and deserted gas station
The iconic road trip along Route 66 in America originally stretched 2,400 miles from Chicago to Santa Monica across eight states.
The inspiration for songwriters and film directors alike, the best place to get your kicks on Route 66 is arguably the portion in Arizona, between Flagstaff and Needles.
Here, the arid deserts reveal old-town America at every diner and deserted gas station, with vast vistas as the backdrop.
Length: 225 miles.
Must see: Historic towns of Oatman and Seligman. Visit route66guide.com.
Lord of the roads
The Great Alpine Highway in New Zealand stretches for 190 miles from Christchurch to Greymouth
Road builders had a job on their hands when they cut a path from Christchurch to Greymouth to create the Great Alpine Highway in New Zealand.
There are staggering views as it crosses the Canterbury Plains and then rises towards Arthur’s Pass — the Tolkien peak of this adventurous journey. The weird Pancake Rocks are a highlight of this spectacular drive.
Length: 190 miles.
Must see: The amazing Otira Viaduct and Waimakariri Bridge. Visit newzealand.com
South African escape
South Africa’s famous Garden Route stretches for 200 miles from the Western to the Eastern Cape. Pictured is the route in Cape Province
Stretching from the Western to the Eastern Cape, the Garden Route is a wonderland.
It offers the best of South Africa’s coastline and dissects myriad landscapes, from winelands to beaches, rugged mountains to arid desert.
Length: 200 miles.
Must see: Addo Elephant National Park and Klein Karoo desert region. Visit southafrica.net.
Glaciers and waterfalls
Iceland’s Route 1, pictured, circumnavigates the country and connects towns and villages with the capital, Reykjavik
Icelanders travel along Route 1 on a regular basis. It circumnavigates the glacier-packed island and connects outlying villages with the capital, Reykjavik.
In the winter, the loop is for four-wheel-drives only, but the unearthly landscape remains mind-blowing at any time.
Length: 830 miles.
Must see: Skogafoss waterfall and Jokulsarlon lagoon. Visit inspiredbyiceland.com
Warthogs and wilderness
The 300-mile Arid Eden Route in Namibia crosses wilderness regions as well as the Etosha National Park, pictured
Head off the beaten track along the Arid Eden Route in Namibia, south-west Africa. It crosses one of the country’s last remaining wilderness regions and includes the Etosha National Park.
With towering mountains and warthogs by the roadside, this drive from Windhoek to Galton is a genuine adventure.
Length: 300 miles.
Must see: Cheetah Conservation Fund as well as the Okahandj a Craft Market. Visit namibiatourism.com.na
Gilson’s Pond near Mount Monadnock in New Hampshire. The Monadnock Region Loop skirts around the mountain
The Monadnock Region Loop in New England, U.S., is a haven for leaf peepers during the autumn.
This day-long drive through New Hampshire takes in historic towns and skirts Mount Monadnock itself, but the vibrant displays of colour in the forest are unforgettable.
Length: 80 miles.
Must see: Antique shops in Keene and Marlow. Visit disovernewengland.org
Strada Statale 163 stretches for 32 miles from Sorrento to Salerno along Italy’s stunning Amalfi Coast, pictured
Italy’s most scenic stretch of coastline, along the Amalfi Coast, is set in a Mediterranean landscape of undisputed beauty. Strada Statale 163, from Sorrento to Salerno, can be a white-knuckle ride — mostly because of enthusiastic Italian drivers.
Despite the challenging curves, this is a route that will appeal to everybody.
Length: 32 miles.
Must see: Chic Positano and Amalfi’s cathedral. Visit amalficoast.com
One of the twisting Highland roads on the North Coast 500, a 500 mile route in Scotland
Scotland’s epic road trip, dubbed North Coast 500, lives up to the hype. This monster circular drive is littered with fairytale castles, dramatic beaches and roads to rival anything in the U.S.
The twisting Highland roads are sensational.
Length: 500 miles.
Must see: The beaches of Sutherland and romantic Easter Ross. Visit northcoast500.com
An epic 1,800 mile drive from Darwin to Adelaide takes in the spectacular Uluru, pictured
An epic drive across the Outback, from Darwin in the Northern Territory to Adelaide in South Australia, this is a week-long adventure featuring vast open landscapes scorched by the sun, a scattering of fuel stops and plenty of quirky little towns.
Careful planning is required because some of the route has no phone reception. Expect 35-mile straights, road trucks and an unforgettable sunset over Uluru.
Length: 1,800 miles.
Must see: The Devils Marbles rocks glowing in the sunlight. Visit northernterritory.com