If you have holidayed in Europe then the likelihood is that you’ve visited the Mediterranean Coast. Stretching from the south coast of Spain to sun soaked Cyprus, the Mediterranean coastline encompasses some of the most beautiful parts of Europe. But if you only explore it one beach at a time can you really say you’ve seen it in its full glory? With dazzling stretches of shoreline road and cliff top views, why not take to four wheels and explore one of these fantastic routes:
Cassis to La Ciotat, France
At just 12 miles long, this short but sweet jaunt hugs the shoreline of the southern French Coast. Navigate your way between two of the region’s most unspoilt seaside towns Cassis and La Ciotat and negotiate the high altitude Route des Crêtes over Cap Canaille. Cap Canaille is one of the tallest maritime cliffs in Europe and the views from the top are truly spectacular.
Cassis itself is perhaps one of France’s best kept secrets. Charming, quaint, and picture perfect, it has maintained the appeal of a coastal fishing village whilst succumbing the laid back lifestyle of its Rivera counterparts (minus the crowds). Cassis is full of character so be sure to take a leisurely stroll through the old streets that offer a quintessentially ‘South of France’ experience.
Whilst it may be tempting to fill your camera’s memory card with pictures of Cassis remember to save some space for the drive! Les Route des Crêtes offers panoramic views over some of the most superb scenery in Provence. Whilst the route is only 12 miles long, the roads are steep and winding. They can be narrow in some places, so adopt the laid back Riviera attitude and take your time. The slower pace will give you more opportunity to enjoy the beautiful views of the coast, the mountains and the countryside in between!
Hiking trails lead off the road at a number of viewpoints. Why not break up the drive with a short stroll? Stretch your legs and get a closer look at some of the unusual rock formations that make the landscape so striking. Your vantage point up high on Cap Canaille also gives you a chance to experience a different perspective of the coastline and the hidden seaside gems of Cassis and La Ciotat. Rather than seeing things from ground level, your bird’s eye view puts this stunning section of coastline in perspective geographically. It’s an opportunity to experience the area as a whole, in all its natural glory.
But the beauty doesn’t stop there! La Ciotat is a truly authentic French town, having so far managed to side step the influence of tourism. Home to an array of unique boutiques and a lively market on Sunday mornings it is the perfect place to pick up a souvenir or two to complement your bursting holiday photo album. Like Cassis the centre is made up of winding streets and shady squares dotted with relaxed cafes and delicious restuarants. Finally, enjoy a day on the beach at L’Ile Verte. Take the ferry from the port and make the short 10 minute crossing to this picture perfect spot. Pack a picnic and admire the breath-taking shoreline from the beach or explore the island and uncover the range of fantastic viewpoints.
Otranto to Santa Maria di Leuca, Italy
The region of Puglia makes up the heel of Italy’s boot. The landscape is characterised by rugged hills dotted with whitewashed buildings and crystal clear waters lapping against the sun scorched coastline. The drive itself meanders between the seaside towns of Otranto and Santa Maria di Leuca along a road that has been dubbed the ‘Little Amalfi Coast’. With its jagged coastline and secret beaches this stretch of the Puglia region is perfect for exploring by car and without doubt one of the most beautiful drives in Europe.
Otranto is a harbour town and is as gorgeous as it is historic. Before you embark on your scenic drive along the coast be sure to visit its unusual Cathedral. It is well known for the monumental mosaic which covers the entire floor of the Cathedral and dates back to the 12th century. Despite being hundreds of years old the mosaic has stood the test of time and the mythical illustrations which depict man’s struggle between good and evil can still be clearly deciphered.
If you get the chance take an evening stroll around Otranto. The town’s architecture is particularly impressive at night, especially the castle. Locate the turrets and walls open to the public and make your way to the top for breath taking views of the city. You will likely find yourself struggling to leave this picturesque town. Rest assured there are even better things to come. The drive runs past mile after mile of spectacular ocean views and is one of the most underrated attractions of the area.
The cliffs, grottos, ancients fishing villages and hidden beaches along the way are numerous, offering plenty of opportunity to take breaks, hike, picnic and swim. Don’t miss the ‘Grotta Zinzulusa’ which is famous for its stalagmites and stalactites. Be sure to take the guided tour of this ocean-side cave and hear the fascinating story of the cave’s discovery as you swim in the warm clear waters. As the midday heat beats down on the dramatic limestone cliffs of Puglia’s coastline, stop for a picnic beneath the shade of the abundant olive groves.
As you approach Gagliano del Capo you’ll come across a sea inlet spanned by an impressive bridge. Here you have two choices: descend the stone steps to access the water for a leisurely swim, or join the daring divers as they scale the cliffs and jump from heights of up to 50ft! Whichever you decide, the inlet is an idyllic place to cool off in the afternoon sun.
Leuca is framed by the Regional National Park of the Costa Otranto. Before you reach the town, stop and enjoy the view of the wild flower and shrub covered slopes as they cascade down the rocky hillsides. Round of your scenic tour of the Puglian coastline and climb the headland to the lighthouse. Here you will be greeted by a staggering vista where the Adriatic and Ionian Seas meet. As you relax in the Marina with a gelato or sit down to dinner at one of the delicious restaurants in the old town and reflect on the highlights of the drive, you wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking you had found your own piece of paradise.
This article is brought to you by Zest Car Rental – the largest independent car hire broker in the UK.
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