The most romantic road trips in Europe
Where better to spark up romance than on the road? Racing through the landscape of a candy-coloured postcard, Weezer on the radio – the carefully orchestrated Spotify playlist placed into the hands of destiny – drowning out the fading rumblings of the Maserati’s engine. The delicious dichotomy between stacks of gnocchi served by a local nonna on a chipped, worn-out plate and the crisp-white tablecloths of Michelin-star experiences.
Fly into Munich and check into the Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten Kempinski, where you can comfortably chart your upcoming route – and, crucially, make use of the spa. Take an evening stroll around the Old Town before booking Restaurant Atelier, the city’s only three-Michelin-star restaurant. The next day, hire a classic convertible to work your way around the green mountains of Austria, stopping at the medieval village of Kitzbühel. A 15-minute drive from town is the Stanglwirt Hotel, a hushed retreat carved from reclaimed Swiss stone pine that’s been in the same family since the 1700s. Don’t miss the traditional dining experience at the Gasthof Stanglwirt – come at the right time and you may be able to bottle-feed the calves in the adjoining cowshed. Next up, drive south until you reach the farming villages of the Dolomites. Stay one night at Castel Fragsburg, where you can unwind in a wooden bath of goat’s milk on a panoramic terrace with views of the Texel mountains. Just 20 minutes away is the Miramonti hotel, with its slick infinity pool, which helps organise nature walks to the surrounding waterfalls. Finally, wind your way back north, stopping at one of the many abandoned castles for a picnic lunch until you reach Hotel Jagdhof, the perfect spot for a final night or two, and supper in a candlelit refurbished ski gondola.
THE AMALFI COAST
This trip races along the Blue Highway, a 43-mile road with some of Amalfi’s most scenic and glamorous seaside towns. The drive itself isn’t long, but take every opportunity to pull over to explore the bustling cafés and photograph the widescreen views. Start by flying into neighbouring Naples and spend the first night on the volcanic island of Ischia, famed for its thermal spas. Book into the Mezzatorre hotel, set in a 16th-century former watchtower peeking over the sea. Back on the mainland, drive down the coast to the bustling beach town of Sorrento (not forgetting to stop in Pompei for lunch and a visit to the Antiquarium museum), where you can sip cocktails with views of Mount Vesuvius from the verandahs at the Grand Hotel Excelsior Vittoria. Head on to Positano to stay at the legendary Sirenuse, a terracotta and turquoise Slim Aarons dream overlooking the sea. Hike the Path of the Gods, sniff out antiques or take a day trip to Capri. Drive to the town of Amalfi, booking a room at the Santa Caterina for lunch in the cooling terraced gardens surrounded by lemon groves. Along the coast in Furore is the vineyard of Marisa Cuomo for wine tasting with the waves crashing into the rocky cliff below. Finally, head on to Ravello, a glitzy hideaway in the hills, to check into the Belmond Caruso, an 11th-century palace with an horizon-edge pool that hangs over the Mediterranean.
THE ENGLISH COUNTRYSIDE
Head out from London, passing through rolling hills, green landscape and charming villages, to reach the Lake District, the UK’s first national park to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Along the way stay at The Clive Arms in Ludlow – we recommend visiting in September to catch the brilliant local food festival. Drive on to the Yorkshire Dales, filling the boot with cheeses from Wensleydale Creamery for picnics in leafy valleys. Spend the night at the edge of the dales in The Devonshire Arms, which has a spoiling spa and pool set in a barn conversion. Finally, drive through to the Lake District and stay at Another Place, The Lake on Ullswater, with a private lakeshore, impressive views over the fells and incredible activities, including paddle-boarding, kayaking, fishing and trekking on horseback.
Circle the entire island on a 13-hour drive, taking in icebergs, geothermal springs, waterfalls, volcanoes and the magical northern lights. Dedicate at least a week, to fully immerse yourself in the dramatic landscape – it’s best to rent a sturdy four-wheel drive to manage more challenging terrain. Spend the evening in Reykjavík at Hotel Berg, calling ahead for supper reservations at cosy Torfan restaurant. Drive to the Golden Circle to visit Thingvellir National Park, see geysers at Haukadalur, a geothermal area that frequently erupts, and head to Gullfoss waterfall and its eye-catching rainbows. At Hotel Grímsborgir, the staff will arrange sightseeing tours and show you all the secret beauty spots. Wake up early and travel to Seljalandsfoss waterfall to witness the most incredible sunrise (don’t forget to pack hiking shoes as the spray from the water can make things slippery) and dedicate the next few days to exploring the famous black beaches, East Fjords and Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon where two James Bond movies were filmed. In these more isolated areas, we recommend finding a Superhost on Airbnb and staying in one of the many traditional cottages available. When circling back up the Ring Road, bed down at smart Deplar Farm on the Troll Peninsula, a converted sheep farm that blends into the natural landscape, where you can participate in activities such as fly fishing or simply take a step back and enjoy the views from the geothermal outdoor pool.
THE PORTUGUESE COAST
Fly into Porto and spend the night at The Yeatman, which has mesmerising views over the city and a 25,000-bottle wine cellar, as well as a two-Michelin-star restaurant and rooms named after historic wineries. On day two, move on to Douro41 Hotel & Spa on the banks of the River Douro where staff can organise a picnic, a soothing massage in the garden or an aromatic-oil workshop. Then hit the Atlantic road, making Aveiro your first stop – this town is often described as the Venice of Portugal because of its canals. Explore it in a brightly painted moliceiro, Portugal’s answer to the gondola. Continue further south, stopping for lunch at Nazaré, a seaside surf town with a beachfront of colourful fishermen’s houses, before driving on to Lagoa de Obidos, a vast saltwater lagoon where you can kayak or paddleboard in the afternoon. Stay at Quinta da Foz farmhouse, with its stable and 16th-century chapel, where peacocks roam the grounds. The next day drive to the bustling seaside town of Cascais – don’t miss the red pyramid-like towers of the art museum dedicated to Portuguese-British artist Dame Paula Rego. Stay at Pousada de Cascais, built within a 17th-century fort with rooms overlooking the marina. Spend the next day exploring all Lisbon has to offer, and don’t forget to visit Pastéis de Belém, a delightful bakery with white-and-blue tiles that claims to hold the original recipe for pastéis de nata. Your longest driving day should be between Lisbon and the Algarve – make sure to stop at Zambujeira do Mar, a sleepy fishing village with whitewashed buildings with blue details and terracotta roofs. Bed down at Hospedaria, an effortlessly chic hideout in a converted post office and general store where rustic style meets a clean-cut, modern aesthetic. We recommend a sunset boat tour of the Ria Formosa lagoon to visit unspoilt beaches, see the thriving marine ecosystem and even spot the occasional dolphin.
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