Stacks Image 17
Beauty may well be in the eye of the beholder - but that doesn't stop Michelin and other mapmakers happily designating stretches of scenic road; and there's little disputing the common elements that make for an aesthetically satisfying drive: wide horizons; interest and appeal in the middle distance; an attractive immediate environment.

The jury may be out on whether a landscape needs to be wild and untamed or neatly tended to get the maximum marks for 'scenicness'; but there must be consensus about what undermines that elusive quality - first and foremost must be commercial clutter, neglected buildings, ugly fencing and of course litter. We would add to the positive side a preference for the road itself being neat and in good condition - and ideally with as little clutter - signposting, and in the UK the dreaded yellow lines - as possible.

Picture: lake at Riano, Leon province, northern Spain - Tour 5, Picos de Europa


Here's an entirely subjective selection of some scenic gems across Europe, numbered on the map below and focusing on the less obvious:

1: Combe Laval:
67km a spectacular stretch of minor road (D76) in the Drome Department, some 30km up from Valence on the main French A7 autoroute to the Med. The narrow carriageway clings high up on the almost vertical side of a sub-Alpine valley: you'd never believe you could get your car into quite such an exposed position - and stop to take a photo.

2: Gerbier de Jonc: 96km from Privas to Le Puy also in south central France, in the Ardeche, the D122 on the other side of the Rhone Valley runs for an exhilirating 30km or so north-westwards from Privas towards Le Puy, across beautiful ridges and past the approach to the distinctive peak of Gerbier de Jonc.

3: Gesause National Park: the B146 heading east from Admont in central Austria has stunning views of the Ennstal Alps before working through the Gesause gorge; circuit length 94km.

4: Almunecar to Granada: the backroad alternative to the main A44 autopista, the A4050 in Andalucia makes for an exciting 78km drive with sweeping views back down to the coast and to Granada.

5: Picos de Europa: the combination of the N621,N625 and minor road AS114 make for a lengthy (192km) circuit around the highest mountains in northern Spain that is a pleasure to drive. There are some gorgeous views, particularly around what may be Europe's most beautiful reservoir at Riano.
4: Almunecar to Granada
- enlarge
Stacks Image 18
5: Picos de Europa - enlarge
Stacks Image 19
and finally, perhaps the most impressive scenic driving in all Europe,
6: The Dolomites: a 180km circuit just to the north of Bolzano in north-eastern Italy, starting from Bressanone; heading over the passes to Cortina d'Ampezzo makes for a fantastic day's drive. A series of stunning vistas, although not exactly undiscovered (it's a particular favourite of German motorbikers).


6: Dolomites
- enlarge
Stacks Image 93
1: Combe Laval - enlarge
Stacks Image 21
2: Gerbiers de Jonc - enlarge
Stacks Image 22
3: Gesause National Park - enlarge
Stacks Image 23
And down a tier, it's worth noting a few roads which aren't exactly gems. but provide decent through routes to where you want to get to with some added scenic appeal as well:

the
N4 through the Ardennes (7) in Southern Belgium: a high-quality main road, far less trafficked than the duller, more direct A4 motorway.

the B108 in Austria through the
Felbertauern Tunnel (8) (toll): great as a quieter alternative to the main Autobahnen to Italy and Slovenia.

the new
A71 Autobahn through the Thuringian forests (9) in central Germany, connecting the fascinating cities of Erfurt, Bamberg and Coburg.

the
A7 Autobahn between Crailsheim and Ulm (10), cutting through the Swabian hills - an attractive alternative to the better established (and much busier) highways to the Alps.

the combination of the
E42 route (11) south-eastwards from Verviers into Germany, and the old Mosel valley route it feeds into near Wittlich: the most direct, and rewarding, route for British drivers heading for central Germany.

and en route to southern Spain and Portugal, the
N-110 through the Valle del Jerte, the eastern approach to Plasencia: stunning at cherry blossom time in March, and again when all the tress are weighed down with fruit in June.


Stacks Image 535