Hit The Road!
Remember the old days when packing the household into a car and driving around was the best way to discover the world?! We coax you to take to the highway again and drive where your heart meanders. Raul Dias brings you the world’s most iconic and glamorous drives across five continents.
The Garden Route, Western Cape, South Africa
Languorously hugging South Africa’s southern coast from Plettenberg Bay in the east right to Mossel Bay 300km in the west, the Garden Route is one of those drives that almost beg you to slow down and take it all in—one spectacular sight after the other. With the mountains of the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma ranges dividing the Garden Route from the arid Little Karoo, the Tsitsikamma National Park is a great place to relax. This fecund paradise is where you can enjoy a picnic with typically South African treats like spicy pork-beef boerewors sausages, fragrant rooibos tea and koeksisters (plaits of fried dough drizzled with sugar syrup) after a long day’s driving. The adrenaline junkies can perhaps try their hand at bungee jumping off the iconic Bloukrans Bridge that extends over the Storms River and which is the world’s highest bungee jump at 216 metres.
A small compact little harbour town, Knysna should be your definitive pit stop along the route thanks to its relaxed vibe, punctuated by its quaint cafés and boutiques selling bric-a-brac and funky apparel. The placid 13-square-kilometre Knysna Lake is perfect for kayaking or for a gentle cruise along its calm waters that are framed by The Heads—two sandstone cliffs from where the views are stunning. From here, continuing along the N2 highway towards Oudtshoorn, you will drive though pastoral landscape dotted with farms perched on the foothills of the imposing Swartberg Mountains. The enchanted story continues as you pass through the beautiful Munro Bay where the surf-crested waves of this rather calm bay are often broken by pairs of show-offish humpback whales all indulging in a mating dance of sorts, for your viewing pleasure of course!
For those with a yen for history, the high point of the Garden Route experience is at the very end, at Mossel Bay, where the Dias Museum Complex pays homage to Bartolomeu Dias, the first Portuguese navigator to land on South African shores. But undoubtedly one of the best parts of the entire Garden Route experience is the abundance and variety of accommodation options on offer. From the posh Park House Lodge at Mossel Bay and the modest Oakdene Guest House in Oudtshoorn to the downright bohemian Island Vibe Hotel at Knysna, you will be spoilt for choice.
Rohtang Pass, Himachal Pradesh, India
Those in the know would agree that nothing quite sums up the experience like the word unique to describe the rather challenging drive along the Rohtang Pass on the Pir Panjal mountain range! Laid out before you like a snow-speckled carpet interspersed with treacherous boulders, this mega highway—at an elevation of 13,054 feet—that goes on for 51km from Manali, connecting the Kullu Valley with the Lahaul and Spiti valleys of Himachal Pradesh, isn’t for the faint-hearted. But scratch beneath its rubble-ridden surface and you will find it offering up an adrenaline-drenched thrill ride with jaw-dropping sights of glaciers, rivers and peaks such as the twin peaks of Geypan.
But it would be prudent to stop every now and then to trek through the fragrant pine forests with gurgling brooks flowing through craggy ravines. Or perhaps try your hand at fly fishing in the Beas River to catch dinner in the form of the abundant Himalayan trout that come to spawn in the river’s northern banks. For those looking to sample the world on a platter there can be no better place than Manali with its many eclectic restaurants and cafés serving everything from Israeli shakshouka to the crimson-hued Russian beetroot borscht along with local Pahari specialities like auriya kadoo or pumpkin with mustard and bhey (lotus stems).
While finding mid to high-end accommodation along the drive might be a challenge, many of the locals have cottoned on to the idea of opening up their homes for a down-to-earth homestay experience that you should not miss. The New Tree House Cottage in Jong-Katrain near Kullu is a cosy homestay in the middle of an apple orchard with friendly service and great food. Also in Kullu and equally popular is the Simsa Home
Stay in Khundan with its generously sized rooms and great mountain views.
Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia
At 243km, snaking its way past treacherous cliffs, sandy beaches and secret coves, the Great Ocean Road is not just a mere coastal highway linking the Victorian cities of Torquay and Allansford, it is the world’s largest war memorial. Built by soldiers back from the war between 1919 and 1932 and dedicated to their comrades annihilated in World War I, this is one important slice of Australiana.
The scenic drive is punctuated with stops affording spell-binding vistas of natural wonders like the Twelve Apostles rock formations that have sadly whittled down to eight thanks to years of erosion. But others like the Loch Ard Gorge, The Grotto and London Arch are no less imposing, making a drive up to ogle at them imperative.
But do take a detour from the drive and indulge in a top Aussie passion—bushwalking. The Great Otway National Park—that forms an intrinsic part of the whole Great Ocean Road experience—is dotted with superb hiking and biking trails along with thunderous waterfalls, affording you the chance to pitch a tent in the woods and camp for the night.
The town of Lorne with its salt-laced sea air, white beaches and buzzing arts community is a great place to get some R&R after a long day’s driving. With pretty inns and B&Bs, there is never a dearth of good accommodation here with places like Allenvale and Lorne Bay View topping the list. Equally, if not more charming, is Cape Bridgewater that has some of the highest coastal cliffs in Victoria overlooking the deep-blue waters of Bridgewater Bay from where one can get an eyeful of the large breeding colony of cute fur seals that lie basking in the soft sunlight.
For food and wine enthusiasts, this is the region. Enjoy the local cheese from producers such as Apostle Whey and Timboon or vineyard sojourns to places like Dinny Goonan Wines in Bambra (that is part of the Geelong wine region) for glasses of refreshing Shiraz and Riesling. There is no better way to take it all in!
Pacific Highway, California, USA
While the epochal Route 66 is considered to be the ‘Big Daddy’ of all great road trip routes that criss-cross the huge length and breadth of America, it is the Pacific Highway or California State Route 1 that gets our vote. Either top-end your 200km drive at San Francisco driving south or start at the very bottom at San Diego flagging off at the Torrey Pines State Reserve heading north. But whatever direction you choose, you’re sure to pick a winner. Just make sure to juice up your playlist with plenty of The Beach Boys classic hits and you’re all set.
As one of the most picturesque places on the route, Carmel-by-the-Sea is a tiny village offering you a veritable slice of the relaxed Californian life with its small and colourful cottages, inns, shops and art galleries. For a bit of history don’t miss the Mission San Carlos Borroméo del Río Carmelo, second of the California missions, founded by Padre Junípero Serra in 1770. Driving south, you must pay heed to the call of the Big Sur with its impressive Point Sur Lighthouse from where the views of the craggy rocks that line the coast are both eerie and soothing in a bizarre oxymoronic way.
And you won’t be blamed for eschewing the in-your-face brassiness of Los Angeles for the more staid and classy Santa Monica that abounds with trendy weekend farmer’s markets, cosy B&Bs and its tony marina dotted with yachts bobbing on the calm waters of the bay.
For a glam pit stop, hit the posh towns of Malibu and Santa Barbara where you can not only kit yourself in the latest in beach chic, but also marvel at the fabulous Spanish architecture. And if you ever decide to swap your four wheels for two, there’s nothing better than renting a Harley, BMW or Honda to indulge the biker in you from the many bike rentals like Eagle Rider and US Motorcycle Rentals. But for those to whom downtime is a sacred ritual, restaurants like Fandango in Monterey and the burger haven Nepenthe in Big Sur are cult classic places with the road trip crowd.
Amalfi Coast Drive, Salerno, Italy
Che sarà, sarà accompanied by a nonchalant shrug is one phrase that seems to exemplify the very spirit of this great drive. Simply meaning ‘whatever will be, will be...’, this mantra echoes off almost every single one of the 1,000 bends that give the Amalfi Coast Drive its official name of Strada Statale 163 or ‘road of 1,000 bends’. Fashioned out of the stuff epics are made of, this meandering and often vertiginous drive lives up to every single cliché you’ve heard about this stunning part of Italy’s Sorrentine Peninsula in the province of Salerno. While it may not be a very long drive with just about 50km or so stretched out before you, what it offers you is big on everything else.
Here you can drive past the jagged coastline to reach the Grotta dello Smeraldo for a spot of diving and pass through the perfumed lemon groves in quaint little villages and towns with mellifluous names like Furore and Ravello. Stop by La Praia for a lunch of ricci di mare (sea urchins) and grilled swordfish at one of the many trattorias and chase it with a chilled glass of limoncello made from the local lemons. Boutiques like Lo Scrigno di Brunella in Positano help you channel the sun-kissed, casual chic look of the glamorous locals with its fine silk and chiffon ensembles.
For the sun worshippers, beaches such as Laurito and Arienzo are dotted with tiny shacks serving up fruity sundowners and nibbles, while the three-island archipelago of Li Galli is imbued with plenty of Greek mythology thanks to the legend of the Sirens unsuccessfully attempting to lure Odysseus to a rocky death. And with plenty of trendy boutique hotels like Hotel Santa Caterina in the town of Amalfi and Casa Angelina in Praiano offering you stunning sea views along the coast to Capri, you’re never short of places to simply park and rest before hitting that winding road back again the next day.
This article first appeared in June 2014 issue of Hi! BLITZ magazine.