Italy is a driver’s paradise, with an extensive network of roads traversing both up and down the peninsula, more often that not driving is the only viable way to get from point A to point B. Though if you are a motorsports enthusiast just getting there is never really enough is it? Something the Italians understand, designing superb driving roads that really allow drivers to flex a cars muscles and hone their driving skills. It’s the lure of the open-road and it’s something the Italians have been doing well over a century now. Sure the towns and cities might be chaotic and congested but once you slip those bonds of urbanity and set-out on the open roads there are few better places in all the world to be. With this in mind we’ve compiled our own list of the top five must drives on any Itlalian/European vacation. It’s not the autobahn but it is the sort of driving experience that only arises maybe once in the average American’s lifetime.
#1 Stelvio Pass
In the upper Alps between South Tyrol and Bormio in the Province of Sondrio, the Stelvio Pass was originally built to link the Austrian Province of Lombardia with the rest of Austria. More than 46 miles of twisty windy-winding, uphill-downhill hairpin bends and steep climbs rise over 6,000 feet, it is a drive that will push your steep hill, handbrake start, clutch-holding skills to the limit. You might miss the breath-taking scenery as your attention will be on the road, but you won’t get a better chance to test your tires and brakes. typically impassable in the winter months this scenic vista is best enjoyed in late spring or early summer. Easily one of the best driving experiences in the world if you drive any road in Italy this should be it.
#2 The Amalfi Coast
The main challenge on driving the Amalfi Coast is to not get absorbed in the stunning scenery as you pass from one picture postcard town to another. Expect the unexpected as you teeter along the cliff-hugging road as the locals careen along on blisfully unaware on Vespas (often times traveling on the wrong side of the road around blind corners). Among other obstacles to contend with are tight tunnels carved out of the rock and vendors who’ve setup pop-up shops on blind corners selling lemons, as well as some of the most bizarre parking decisions ever made. But it is one to get the blood pumping among the beautiful chaos of Italy’s southern heart.
#3 Cisa Pass
A mountain that marks the division between the Ligurian and Tuscan Apennines it is a concrete mega super highway on stilts that runs along the natural valley of the River Magra as it winds its way towards the coast. With some truly terrifying bends to contend with the main obstacle is the Milanese playboy millionaires in their supercars who drive at mind-boggling speeds in their haste to make it to Forte dei Marmi for the weekend. Arriving at the sea has never been so life-affirming.
#4 A24 Rome to Pescara
Cutting Italy in half the A24 from Rome to Pescara cuts inland over the Gran Sasso mountains right through the heart of Abruzzo, past the earthquake-affected Aquila, through the Gran Sasso and Monti della Lago National Park before hitting the coast where you back-track to Pescara. Definitely the scenic route, but definitely worth it as the countryside varies from lush forest to mountainous lunar landscape and back again. Traveling this road gives an idea of how impenetrable Italy must have been in the Roman and Middle Ages. No wonder it took so long to unite. The driving is easier going and less treacherous than our previous journeys but well worth it none the less. It’s also the sort of easier drive that necessitates taking your time and making stops along the way to discover some hidden natural gems and charming rural communities.
#5 Como to Gravedona (Lake como)
Running the entire picturesque west side of Lake Como the road is an even and usually pristine surface, apart from in the winter months. You’ll encounter a lot of Swiss drivers heading home on this stretch who are just as thrill-seeking as their Italian counterparts. Again you’ll have to expect the unexpected at nearly every corner, as it gets RV and tourist heavy in the summer months, but if you get a clear stretch, it’s James Bond caliber driving at it’s finest. Stop at a seemingly unending string of picturesque villages to refuel…man gas is expensive by the liter. 🙂