Rising temperatures, later sunsets, dry roads and the thought of annual leave we booked months ago finally approaching has our attention drifting to the temptations of a classic road trip.
A staple of any summer holiday, the perfect road trip combines beautiful scenery, thrilling roads, an exciting car and a lucky passenger or two.
It opens up your sense of adventure (even if the sat-nav will probably get you there just fine) and, with the wind in your air, sun on your face and perhaps an evocative exhaust note tickling your ears, is a far more visceral, tangible experience than hopping on a plane to the nearest sunny beach.
Before setting off, don’t forget to read our guide on the essentials to pack for your next road trip.
North Coast 500 - Scotland - Ford Focus RS
This 516-mile route starts at the northern Scottish city of Inverness before weaving along the west coast to Applecross, then north towards the towns of Torridon and Ullapool. From there, drivers (and particularly hardy cyclists) trace the northern coast of Scotland, passing Caithness and John o’Groats before heading south back to Dingwell and returning to Inverness
The tourist board reckons you’ll need between five and seven days to do the route properly – and stop to admire the magnificent views, naturally – so that rules out driving anything too exotic unless you plan on packing incredibly light.
Given the northern tip of Scotland is prone to a rainy day or two no matter when in the year you go, we’d recommend the Ford Focus RS, a hot hatch which is as quick as you will ever need, has four-wheel-drive for when the weather turns Scottish, and there’s enough space for luggage and three friends.
Route Napoleon - France - Morgan Plus 8
Mostly following the route nationale 85 in south-east France, the Route Napoleon follows the 200-mile journey taken by Napoleon on his 1815 escape from Elba to Grenoble. It took the French emperor and his thousand men a week to complete the journey on foot, but today it could be done in five or six hours if photo opportunities and comfort breaks aren’t your thing.
Hugely popular with tourists looking for a more scenic drive to the south of France, the route begins (or ends) in Cannes and winds its way through towns and villages, before climbing to the mountainous Prealps at Grenoble.
For the car we’ve chosen a Morgan Plus 8, for no particular reason other than it just feeling right. You’ll have to strap your luggage to the rear deck because there’s no boot, but with the roof down on a summer’s evening we don’t think you’ll mind.
The Atlantic Road - Norway - Land Rover Discovery SVX
When viewed as a satellite image, you’d be forgiven for not realising there was a road down there. Only when you zoom in does national road 64 appear, skipping its way across a series of small rocky islands on Norway’s west coast. During its 5.3 miles the road crosses no fewer than eight bridges as it teeters its way from one rock to another.
It might not be needed for the road itself, but if you fancy heading even further north we reckon Land Rover’s most hardcore Discovery, the SVX, is the car for the job with its 517bhp V8, chunky tyres and uprated suspension.
Grimsel Pass and Furka Pass - Switzerland - Aston Martin Vantage
A certain TV motoring show once declared the Stelvio Pass as the greatest driving road in the world, but in reality it’s a tight, narrow, poorly surfaced route cluttered with caravan-driving tourists.
Instead, if you find yourself in the Swiss Alps, you should hunt down the Grimsel Pass, which begins as Grimmelstraus at Lake Brienz and winds its way to Gletsch. The most stunning mountain views will greet you in every direction, and when you turn left onto the magnificent Furkastrasse, or Furka Pass, they might eventually become familiar, because this is where James Bond chased down Goldfinger in his DB5.
Naturally, we’ll pick the new Aston Martin Vantage for this journey.
Buttertubs Pass - England - Caterham Seven 160
Also known as Cliff Gate Road, Buttertubs Pass might only be 5.5 miles long, but getting there, right in the heart Yorkshire Dales National Park, will be a roadtrip in its own right. Connecting Thwaite with Hawes, the road mixes steep climbs and rapid descents with tight corners and scenery that will make you want to stop for a new Instagram post every half-mile.
We’d take the Caterham Seven 160, the classic sports carmaker’s most affordable and least powerful offering. Leave the roof, fabric doors and perhaps even the windscreen at home, and we’re willing to bet the Seven’s mere 80bhp will feel like plenty on this winding moorland road.
Sarn Helen (ft. Devil’s Elbow) - Wales - Volkswagen Up GTI
The Brecon Beacons National Park in south Wales is littered with excellent roads, but Sarn Helen is perhaps the most outrageous. It’s the sort of road where you’re amazed to find Google actually has it on Street View, because surely the only vehicles capable of navigating it are more often found buzzing around a Scalextric track.
Featuring a particularly twisty section called Devil’s Elbow, Sarn Helen connects Heol Senni with Cefn y Garreg. It is a thin and twisty ribbon of tarmac reminiscent of someone photocopying a normal moorland road at 75%.
Our equally diminutive car of choice is the Volkswagen Up GTI, a warm-ish hatch which makes more than a few nostalgic nods to the Mk1 Golf GTI, and whose cheeky character matches this fairground ride of a road perfectly.
Col du Petit St Bernard - Italy/France - McLaren 570GT
Used during the opening scene of The Italian Job, the Col du Petit St Bernard is one of the most beautiful Alpine passes you could ever hope to find. A well-surfaced and quiet stretch of road, the ‘Little St Bernard Pass’ snakes its way up to almost 2,200 metres above sea level as it connects France with Italy, not far south of Mont Blanc.
While a bright orange Lamborghini Miura was the car of choice for The Italian Job, we’re going for the McLaren 570GT instead. With its slightly softer ride, calmer steering, extra sound deadening and useful storage space beneath the side-hinged rear hatch, the 570GT is the perfect car for jaunts across the Alps.