Undaunted, let’s step on the accelerator for a whirlwind trip around some of the world’s greatest drives. Some of them scenic, some challenging and some pure curiosities. So many factors feed into this question that a definitive list of the best roads on the planet will always elude us.
1 – The Stelvio Pass, Italy Located in the Italian Alps, the Passo dello Stelvio – at 2,757 metres – is the highest paved mountain pass in the eastern Alps, and the second highest in the Alps as a whole. The original road was built in the 1820s by the Austro-Hungarian Empire to connect the former Austrian province of Lombardia with the rest of Austria. The route features no less than 60 hairpin turns that present a serious challenge to motorists – During a vintage vehicle event in the 1990s, even Stirling Moss went off the road here. The Stelvio Pass was named the greatest driving road in the world a few years ago by the BBC’s popular motoring show, ‘Top Gear’.
2 – The Grossglockner High Alpine Road, Austria Named after Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road was constructed in 1935 to link Salzburg with the state of Carinthia. Thirty miles long, it features hairpin after hairpin as it snakes to some 2,500 metres above sea level. Not surprisingly, the scenery is utterly spectacular and well worth the obligatory toll. The road normally opens in early May, snowploughs allowing!
3 – The Yungas Road, Bolivia Linking the Amazon rainforest of Bolivia with the country’s capital, La Paz, the Yungas Road is a 43-mile-long white-knuckle ride. Nicknamed ‘El Camino de la Muerte’ – ‘Highway of Death’ – the road was created in 1932 when it was carved into a cliff. Some 200 to 300 people are killed on this road each year – most of them lorry drivers – due to its narrowness, uneven surface and the tendency for the road to disappear in mist.
4 – Route 163, USA Boasting spectacular scenery, the 64-mile Route 163 was built in 1910 and straddles the border of the states of Arizona and Utah. This stretch of road was the setting for the iconic ‘Marlboro Man’ adverts of yesteryear. If you can withstand the rough terrain, the reward is undoubtedly Monument Valley, a region of the Colorado Plateau characterised by a cluster of vast and sandstone buttes, the largest of which towers at some 300 metres above the valley floor. As the backdrop to many famous movies, these features make this landscape instantly recognisable, including movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Easy Rider and Stagecoach.
5 – Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road, Canada Ice roads form a vital link to the mines of Canada’s Northwest Territories, with convoys of trucks taking essentials to the remote mining communities there. The Tibbitt to Contwoyto Winter Road, open during February and March, is perhaps the most famous of these ice roads, with nine tenths of its 353 miles being across frozen lakes. Constructed in 1982, the road has a stringent speed limit of just 16 mph for fully laden trucks and 37mph for unladen vehicles. 6 – The Pan-American Highway, The Americas Beginning in Alaska and ending in southern Argentina, this road probably features the greatest variation of ecologies in the world, ranging from dense jungle to freezing mountain ranges. Almost 30,000 miles long, the Pan-American Highway, built in stages since 1928, is officially the world’s longest road, although it is not complete. The Darien Gap – Between Panama and Columbia, a 54-mile section of swamp and rainforest – has not yet been breached.
7 – The Great Silk Road, Asia Maybe this is a bit of a cheat because the Great Silk Road is really one road at all, but rather a network of ancient trade routes across Asia. The 4000-mile route was originally established to supply silk, spices, jewels and other valuable commodities (including slaves) to their markets, with goods generally changing hands along the way so that no single trader had to brave the whole route – although Marco Polo famously managed it! The section through the stunning landscapes of the High Atlas Mountains in Morocco is definitely a highlight.
8 – Trans-Amazonian Highway, Brazil At 3,293 miles long, the Trans-Amazonian Highway – otherwise know as the less catchily pallet shipping quotes titled BR-230 – is Brazil’s third longest highway. The road has been the main artery through which the lifeblood of Brazil (the timber from its rainforest areas) has been extracted since it was built in 1972. Originally designed to be paved, spiralling costs precluded the extra expense and the result is clouds of dust in the summer and quagmires of mud in the winter.
9 – The Sani Pass, South Africa With unbelievably challenging terrain, the 5-mile-long Sani Pass is a dirt road that links Kwazulu-Natal in South Africa with Lesotho. If you have any doubts about the difficulty of crossing it, you only need to glance at the landscape, which is littered with vehicles that didn’t make it. Snaking up to the 2,874-metre-high summit, the scenery is incredibly beautiful. If you attempt it from South Africa, the border control staff insist that you drive a 4×4, but the Lesotho authorities, however, will let you take your life in your hands behind the wheel of any old vehicle!
10 – The A82, Scotland Yes, there’s a road from the UK in the top 12 – Scotland’s ‘Road to the Isles’, also known as the A82. Travelling 99 miles, the road stretches from Invergarry to Uig on the west coast of Skye. An indescribably beautiful landscape awaits you, if you can brave the M1, M6 and M74 to get there!
11 – The Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road, United Arab Emirates
Stretching for almost 7.5 miles, the Jebel Hafeet Mountain Road in the UAE climbs nearly 1,300 metres, has 60 corners in just this short distance and boasts a super-smooth surface. UAE’s highest peak which spans the border with Oman has the road cut into the Jebel Hafeet mountain. Bizarrely, nobody seems to know when the road was built or at what cost but the presence nearby of a huge palace which belonged to former President Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan may be a clue to who paid the bill!
12 – Nevada State Route 375, USA Also known as the Extraterrestrial Highway, Nevada State Route 375 is one of the quietest roads in the US, connecting the ghost towns of Crystal Springs with Warm Springs. However, it passes close to Area 51, where a supposedly secret military testing ground is located, and there have been hundreds of claimed sightings of UFOs along the road. Built in 1932, the highway is 98 miles long and can be a pretty lonely ride for those brave enough to drive it.