The best way to see to visit any area is to get off the beaten track. It’s only then that you can see the best of what an area has to offer by way of its people, it’s customs and of course, the scenery. That’s a great deal of motivation when planning a vacation, as so many resorts are customized around a sense of sameness and familiarity. Finding just the right off-road to take, however, isn’t always easy, especially if you’re on foreign soil. Sometimes, you just have to let your instincts take over, and sometimes, you need a clear destination in mind.
One of the most spectacular areas in the world is along the Amalfi Coast, along the steep southern shoreline of the Sorrentine Peninsula, Italy. Although paved, the fifty mile road is narrow and winding, cutting straight into the sides of cliffs that tumble into a blue crystal sea. By winding, that is to say, there are absolutely no straight stretches. Neither are there any true flat patches of land. The buildings grab little knolls and hilltops. Parking anywhere is at your own risk as there is no true “side of the road” unless you count the sidewalks. The most convenient access point is Solerno, a busy port town best known as the beach head for the Allied forces invasion during World War II. The road, first carved into the cliffs by ancient Romans, will carry you through three of Italy’s most famous towns; Amalfi, Ravelli and Positano; towns so beautiful, they have captured the imaginations of artists for centuries. You’ll also receive a chance to see ancient Roman ruins, an eleventh century cathedral, wild, heart-stopping gorges and a steep ravine dotted with antiquated watermills once used to make paper. Despite its difficult navigation, the road is heavily used during tourist season. Locals advise planning your vacation near the beginning or end of peak time. The winters are mild and the summers warm, so the weather is pleasant nearly all year long.
If you really want to get away from it all, try the region of Provence, France. The area is dominated by the fabulous Mediterranean coastline, meanders into lavender fields, gentle villages, sleepy vineyards, floral landscapes and eventually into the rugged French side of the Alps. Provence is heavily marked with off-roads, many of which are unpaved. Your choice in roads can bring unexpected surprises; tiny towns the busy world seems to have forgotten, startling views of gorges and canyons to rival America’s own, fabulous out-of-the-way kitchens featuring the best in culinary arts, early Roman architecture and bridges. Provence history is ancient, containing the sites of some of the earliest known human habitation, stretching as far back as the Paleolithic period. For all that the back country roads have to offer, tourism is primarily centered around the big cities of Nice and Marseille. While the Riviera may be on your list of places to go, it’s comforting to know that as soon as you want to escape the crods, all you have to do is tour the back roads of Provence.
Banff and Jasper Park, Canada
Discover the best that nature has to offer by visiting Banff and Jasper Park in Alberta Canada. Although these two adjoining parks have strict regulations against creating your own back road, they have several hardy, challenging off-roads, including Bow Valley Parkway and Tunnel Mountain Drive. An extension of the Rocky Mountains, Banff Park is a magnificent wilderness, with passes taking you through breathless ice fields, alpine lakes and thundering waterfalls. If those craggy, snowcapped mountains are making you feel chilly, warm up at the Upper Hot Springs near Sulphur Mountain. Open all year long, sports include snowboarding, skiing, swimming, kayaking, canoeing, and hiking. You’ll need your camera and binoculars. Not only are the sights amazing, the national park is resplendent with wildlife. Drivers can spot bears, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, wolves or caribou.
If you really want an International off-road tour, Central Greece is the place to go. While its reputation may be for great weather and a history rich in civilized antiquity, those blazing hills and emerald mountains are nothing short of rugged. You’ll feel like a warrior as you take a seven day tour through Central Greece to gaze on ancient battlegrounds and ruined temples. For the in the know, a stop-over at Thermopylae provides a natural water park with sulphur springs steaming out of the mountainside and into pools, where locals and visitors enjoy their free health spa. The great part about off-road driving in Central Greece is the enormous enthusiasm the area has for it. They want Central Greece to become a world-class off-road experience, so what better way to top off a tour from Athens to Sparta than knowing you’re being welcomed with open arms.
Off Road Drive in New Zealand
New Zealand is a small country. Made up of two main islands, it is about the size of England or Japan. The people are a blend of Maori, European, Pacific Island and Asian cultures. Geographically, three quarters of the 4.4 million inhabitants live in the North Island with one-third living in Auckland. That leaves a lot of back country to explore! As a young, robust and sparsely populated country, New Zealand is covered with off roads. Many of them are gravel, some are dirt and others no more than a trail in the wilderness. You can blast through giant sand dunes on Ninety Mile beach or enjoy the wilderness of the high country. Outdoor activities include back-packing, camping, cannoning, caving and boating. With its miles of coastline, there is plenty of opportunity to view penguins, seals and whales. When you have finished touring one island, just hop on a ferry for a tour of the other. New Zealanders advise caution on the secondary roads. Weather conditions can go to extremes, off road bridges are narrow and the terrain very rugged.
About the Author: Karla Fetrow is an experienced off-road driver tackling some of the toughest terrain in the U.S in Alaska on a daily basis. Having been raised in the remote areas of Alaska, it is common knowledge to the rural inhabitant that there are places you just can’t go without a Jeep, Jeep Wrangler or other sturdy off-road vehicle. Karla frequently writes on behalf of Extreme Terrain.