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Gardesana Occidentale, Lake Garda

Four of the best European road trips

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14 August 2019 by Norire Arakelyan

Below, I’ve picked out a selection of the finest Continental self-drives. And, whether you’re after the headlines with the Italian Lakes or the lesser-known charm of northern Spain, expect the best in shore-side scenery and spectacular routes. Each is accompanied by a bookable itinerary.


Northern Italy and the Lakes

12-day self-drive

Gorgeous mountain drives, pretty lakesides and stays in grand Belle-Époque hotels characterise this comprehensive introduction to the beauty of northern Italy. You’ll begin with Milan’s historic extravagance before following in the footsteps of Europe’s aristocracy to the Italian Lakes – Maggiore, Como and Garda. With stays in each, snow-capped peaks look down on island-dotted waters fringed by vineyards, sun terraces and idyllic fishing villages. My tip? Make use of the local ferries to explore the islands. I had the best octopus I’d ever had on Isola Bella, right in the middle of Lago Maggiore. Whatever you choose, you’ll end with Verona, whose rich heritage is evidenced by everything from Roman wonders to medieval grandeur.

Self-drive in the Italian Lakes itinerary

Road alongside Lake Garda, Italy
Lake Garda


Southern Italy: Calabria & Basilicata

12-day self-drive

While I’ve gone for some of the Italian icons above, I thought I’d also take you on the road less travelled to the country’s south. The Calabria and Basilicata regions are a vision of medieval castle towns, fishing villages and spectacular beaches. It’s all linked together by super-scenic coastal drives and stays in hand-picked hotels, from seaside villas to boutique spas. You’ll relax on golden sands, take in Greek necropolises and explore Matera’s ancient cave churches to learn why it was named European Capital of Culture 2019. I also have happy memories of tucking into pizza and salads in its backstreet osterias. And, on this drive, we’ve included plenty of food tastings, as well as a trio of private, archaeologist-led tours of the regions’ important sites.

Self-drive in southern Italy itinerary

Matera – European Capital of Culture 2019
Matera, Italy


Northern Spain Road Trip

10-day self-drive

Northern Spain is characterised by both its mountainous interior and the beach-sprinkled seaside towns of its coast. This itinerary starts with Bilbao’s Guggenheim modern wonder and tapas bars; I can’t recommend the sun-dried peppers enough. Then, after exploring the walking trails of Picos de Europa National Park, you’ll head for Gijon’s pristine beaches and Oviedo’s medieval old town. Like the pilgrims of the Middle Ages, it all culminates with Santiago de Compostela’s thousand-year-old cathedral, set among arcaded streets. Be sure to do your exploring in the morning, before the crowds roll in. Throughout, you’ll stay in historic parador accommodation, which ranges from converted monasteries to a 15th-century royal hospital, reputed to be the world’s first hotel.

Self-drive in northern Spain itinerary

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, Spain
Santiago de Compostela


Pousadas of Portugal: Alentejo & the Algarve

12-day self-drive

Taking in both the rural charm of Portugal’s Alentejo interior and the wild coastal beauty of the Algarve, this is a truly gorgeous road trip. One moment you’ll be driving along sun-kissed beaches and the next stopping off at charming villages and medieval towns. Throughout, you’ll stay in historic pousada hotels. Destinations and national monuments in their own right, my favourites include the medieval castle in Alcácer do Sal and the 16th-century convent at Arraiolos, now complete with terraced gardens and a superb spa. However, it’s perhaps the off-the-beaten- track intrigue that lingers longest in the memory, whether that’s a clifftop walk in the Algarve or a visit to Alentejo’s whitewashed artists’ towns.

Pousadas of Portugal self-drive itinerary

Sagres on the Algarve
Sagres, Algarve

Related offers

Como lake, Italy

Northern Italy and the Lakes fly-drive

12-day tailor-made self-drive from £1,545 pp incl. flights

Calm blue lakes, snow-crested mountains, grandiose villas and some of Italy's finest Belle Époque hotels provide the backdrop to this tailor-made driving holiday through beautiful northern Italy. Its bookended by stays among Milan's ultra-fashionable repose and Verona's fabled past.

Matera, Basilicata

Southern Italy: Calabria & Basilicata

12-day self-drive from £2,345 pp incl. flights

Let scenic coastal drives knit together everything from medieval castles and Greek ruins to golden beaches and Matera’s ancient cave dwellings. It’s all brought to life by luxury stays and included guided tours.

Canton Street, Santillana del Mar

Northern Spain self-drive

10-day tailor-made self-drive from £1,045 pp incl. flights

See the best of northern Spain, linking lofty mountains, gorgeous vineyards and spectacular seascapes on a gorgeous road trip. Along the way, you’ll stay in historic parador hotels, taking in everything from national-park idylls to Bilbao's modernism and Santiago's medieval wonders.

Sagres, portugal

Pousadas of Portugal: Alentejo & the Algarve

8-day tailor-made self-drive from £495 pp incl. flights

This unique road trip will see you along dramatic coasts and a rolling interior, all the while staying in unique pousada hotels, from grand castles to historic convents.

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At Wexas, we specialise in bespoke travel experiences. Our itineraries are just samples of what we can arrange, and can be changed depending on your precise needs, finances and ideas by our experienced destination specialists.

Contact one of our consultants on 020 7590 0610 to discuss how we can tailor your holiday.

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