Landmarks: World’s 10 Greatest Roads

From a leisurely coastal jaunt in the Southern Hemisphere to a ride with a hidden stop-off along an all-American classic, these 10 journeys will get your engines revving.

By Aarti Virani

Pacific Coast Highway

California

The ultimate California road trip unspools along 650 miles of the Golden State’s shoreline. Must-stops include the charming resort town of Half Moon Bay, a mere 30 minutes south of San Francisco, and the late newspaper bigwig William Randolph Hearst’s eponymous castle, folded into the San Simeon hills. If you’re up for the path less traveled, venture five miles south of Lucia. Here you’ll encounter Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, surrounded by thick oak groves that lead to the Mission San Antonio de Padua, an impeccably preserved 18th-century church and monastery.

Great Ocean Road

Victoria, Australia

Sea kayaks, mist-encased waterfalls and beachfront farms—there’s something for just about everyone on this 151-mile road Down Under. The twisty ride begins in the seaside town of Torquay, the birthplace of iconic surf brands such as Rip Curl and Quiksilver. Farther along, stroll the raised walkways of Great Otway National Park, an ancient rain forest with giant ferns, or stop to admire the three roaring cascades at Triplet Falls. Foodies can spend an afternoon nibbling on award-winning Warrnambool Heritage Cheddars at Cheese World, in Allansford.

Route Napoléon

Côte D’Azur, France

Retrace a portion of the notorious general’s sojourn, circa 1815, from Golfe-Juan to Grenoble, by beginning in the spectacular Gorges du Verdon, France’s answer to the Grand Canyon. Head southeast toward Grasse, a hillside hamlet with violet fields—and, fittingly, the world’s perfume capital—and visit the Musée International de la Parfumerie, a mansion that houses three millennia of fragrance history. Then spend the rest of the day in the French Riviera town of Cannes, where Napoléon set up camp on the beach. You can wander the old quarter and indoor market, stocked with fresh fish, handcrafted pastas and local produce.

Hana Highway

Maui, Hawaii

Escape Maui’s mammoth resorts on this mountainous 64-mile stretch dotted with tropical-fruit stands, black-sand beaches and plunge pools. It may be tempting to pull over at every suggested stop, but be judicious with your breaks so you can return to your resort before nightfall, as this narrow highway isn’t recommended after dark. En route, pause at Kahanu Garden, a lush 464-acre botanical marvel with upward of 120 varieties of breadfruit. And make sure you stop for more than a photo op at Waianapanapa State Park. Sandwiched between mile markers 32 and 33, its freshwater caves and massive black boulders make it an oceanside wonderland.

Chapman’s Peak

Hout Bay, South Africa

Situated along the side of a rocky peak, this roadway, half an hour south of Cape Town, is only six miles long. What it lacks in distance, it more than makes up for in curves: There are a whopping 114 of them along “Chappies,” as the road is affectionately called by locals. Drivers who brave the cliffs are rewarded with picturesque picnic areas with sweeping Atlantic Ocean views. Fuel up on supplies at Mariner’s Wharf, a harbor emporium in Hout Bay, before embarking on the drive. End in Noordhoek, a rural village nestled at the bottom of the peak that’s known for its guided horse-riding excursions.

Going-to-the-Sun Road

West Glacier, Montana

Mountain goats and bighorn sheep make frequent appearances on this slender ribbon of road in Glacier National Park. The two-hour, 50-mile ride cuts through glacial lakes and cedar forests. It ushers you to Logan Pass, regarded as the park’s crown jewel, which towers at more than 6,600 feet high. In the warmer months, its meadows are blanketed with wildflowers and lilies. Other highlights along the way, not including the awe-inspiring views of the Northern Rockies, are Lake McDonald, the biggest in the park, and Virginia Falls, accessible by a 3.6-mile trail lined with dense conifer forests.

Ruta 40

Cabo Vírgenes, Argentina

Meet the quintessential “driver’s drive,” a legendary 3,194-mile stretch that practically runs the length of Argentina itself. Those who dare to tackle the wilderness—large swaths of the road’s southern portion are unpaved—will be treated to UNESCO World Heritage sites such as Cueva de las Manos, a series of prehistoric caves splattered with handprints that were made over 10,000 years ago. For an otherworldly experience, visitors can walk on the Perito Moreno Glacier, a three-mile-wide ice mass. Catch the Andes at their prettiest at Parque Nacional Los Alerces, a scenic spot with creeks, peaks and lakes.

Hai Van Pass

Da Nang, Vietnam

Mist from the South China Sea often swirls around the mountaintops of this steep but striking route, so it’s only fitting that the road be named for an ocean cloud. It’s situated just outside a major port city, but you’ll feel an instant hush as you snake up the hairpin curves of the Annamite Range and the Marble Mountains, a collection of five limestone outcrops that are home to pagodas and Buddhist caves. Only one, Thuy Son, is open to visitors. An impressive rampart and fortified gate, remnants of the 19th-century efforts of Emperor Minh Mang, await those who reach the pass’s summit, which sits 1,627 feet above sea level.

Ring Road

Reykjavik, Iceland

Iceland’s single main road wraps around the entire island nation. See the fabled northern lights (most appealing during the winter months) as you take a dip in one of the many geothermal pools in Akureyri, a city on the country’s longest fjord. The Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet—the fault lines are actually visible—at Thingvellir National Park. And you can follow in James Bond’s intrepid footsteps at Jokulsarlon, a glacial lagoon that served as the backdrop to parts of the film Die Another Day.

North Coast 500

Inverness, Scotland

With the fertile Black Isle peninsula on one side and rocky Munro mountains on the other, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more breathtaking drive along the Scottish Highlands. Start on this rugged coastline (the brand-new route is just over a year old) and stop at Dunrobin Castle, once used as a hospital during World War I, where you can take a tour of the lavish grounds, or Ardvreck Castle, a set of 16th-century ruins that stand on a rocky promontory. Continue on to the Smoo Cave, a timeworn limestone grotto with a lofty 50-foot entrance, the largest of its kind in the entire United Kingdom.

  • NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
  • Published: Fall 2016