Italy’s varied geography makes for countless memorable detours, and with all that stunning scenery there’s never a reason to go directly from Point A to Point B unless you’re really in a hurry. But while on vacation you should slow down and savor all you can – especially if you’re up to the challenge of taking on one of Italy’s scariest drives.
No, we’re not talking haunted highways, but we do want to tell you about a few hauntingly beautiful stretches of asphalt that open a window onto some of Italy’s most glorious locations. Of course, the definitive “scary drive” in Italy is the Amalfi Drive – scary to some, stupendous to others, but there are more. So fire up the Ferrari and get ready for some Italian road trips you won’t soon forget.
1. Amalfi Drive
If ever there were a stretch of highway that invited superlatives, this is it. Officially SS 163 (Strada Statale 163), the Amalfi Drive snakes along the spectacular Italian coast for more than 50 miles between Sorrento and Salerno. The ancient Romans were the first ones to chisel out a narrow roadway here, where hairpin curves are the norm and mighty, verdant cliffs plunge precipitously to the blue Tyrrhenian Sea below. The approach to Positano in either direction is particularly stunning – and the driving potentially perilous. In fact, the only factor mitigating against total driving danger (in addition to the guardrails) is that the curves are so tight that speeding for any length of time is not really possible. But to take in the views, make sure you’re the one on the passenger side.
2. Stelvio Pass
Who could forget that Italy has Alps? Certainly not us, and you won’t either if you have the wherewithal to take on the famous Stelvio Pass Road. This scary and sometimes blustery drive has some history to it, albeit not as ancient as the Amalfi Drive. Its construction was started in 1820 when this northern area was part of the Austrian province of Lombardia. The purpose of the road was to connect Lombardia to other parts of Austria, and it’s still one of the highest paved roads in the Alps. You’ll be climbing more than 6,100 feet on this route, negotiating 60 hairpin turns as you do.
3. Liguria: Valley of the Two Boundaries Road
In Italian, it’s the chief byway of the Valle Dei Due Confini…some 40 miles of scenic switchbacks that traverse the rugged country between Ventimiglia, Breil- sur-Roya, Tende, Valico di Tenda and Limone Piemonte. On this road, you have to cross through a little wedge of France, but don’t worry, because once you make it through the land that pizza forgot – scary! – you’ve got 100 percent pure Italy on either side.
4. Campania: Cilento Coastal Route
As elsewhere in southern Italy, the almost scary thing about the stretch of road between Palinuro and Maratea is how scenic it is – the shimmering turquoise blue waters of the Gulf of Policastro (between the Campania and Basilicata regions) contrasting with the lush green cliffs and hills you’ll encounter while motoring around Camerota, San Giovanni a Piro, Altieri and even – scary name alert! – Scario.
5. Umbria: The “Lunar Highlands” Road
As you navigate the twists and turns that embroider the stony topography between Spoleto and Norcia, don’t be scared – you haven’t landed on the moon. But the views of the stark Umbrian hinterland are truly out of this world, especially in the vicinity of the Monti Sibillini national park. The route twists and turns for some 77 scenic miles.
6. Off-road Sardinia
Don’t forget, Sardinia is Italy too! The rugged west coast of this mesmerizing island is home to a partially off-road route that straddles the shimmering sea, the Piscinas dunes and the abandoned zinc mines of Naracauli. Starting in San Nicolo d’Arcidano and continuing through Sant Antonio di Santadi, drivers will pass Porto Palma and Montevecchio before arriving at Marina di Arbus some 44 winding miles later.
These are just six of Italy’s many memorable roads – have a favorite route (scary or otherwise) we’ve missed? Tell us about it!