June 15, 2009 -- Love the great outdoors? Want to see sights that will make you swoon? Or maybe you just really like being behind the wheel.
Whatever your reason, here are ten of the world's most spectacular drives, so good they're worth getting on a plane to get to.
Karakoram Highway, China: Kashgar to the Kunjerab Pass
Nestled at the foot of the Himalayan Mountains, winding its way from desert landscapes to snow-capped peaks, the Karakoram Highway is an otherworldly ascent into a rugged paradise.
Not for the faint-hearted, the alpine highway reaches up to 15,000 feet above sea level. It starts in the Western province of Xinjiang, China, and ends in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Some of the show-stopping sights include Karakul Lake, a 12,000-foot-high lake at the foot of the Tian Shan mountain range, whose crystal clear waters perfectly reflect the alien purple, pinks, and whites of the never-ending peaks of Mt. Kongur. If the thin alpine air doesn't take your breath away, the sight of blue skies and clouds on both ends of the horizon will do the trick.
Western Desert, Egypt: Cairo to Kharga
Egypt's Western Desert could be the epitome of stark desert beauty. Running between the Nile River in the heart of Cairo, Egypt, to the Libyan border, it is home to a string of five oases, Kharga, Dakhla, Farafra, Bahariyya and Siwa, but in between, lie undulating sand dunes, dry lake beds, and ancient lava flows. Scattered, also, are millions of years of history. The region is also known for its mummies, forgotten cities and tombs, and rock paintings.
However, the highlight is the alien landscape stretching out on either end of the drive, including the White Desert -- a spectacular white rock quarry, carved into impossible shapes by the wind. Spend a couple days on the drive here, and treasure the nights staring up at the star-studded night sky.
The Grand Canyon, U.S. -- Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon
The U.S. is full of beautiful drives, but even amongst them, a trip to the Grand Canyon is a sight to see. The canyon's dimensions are staggering: 277 miles of river bed, more then a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide.
The most popular drive to see the canyon is from from Las Vegas, Nev., 180 miles away.
The south rim is the most accessible -- and the most crowded. The sparse north rim, which is closed in the winter, is more interesting and, time permitting, allows you to swing by the stunning Zion National Park in Utah, which was also carved out by a river, (the Virgin). Park your car and hop on a shuttle bus for the breathtaking Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, which meanders along the bottom of the canyon.
Along the way, picture this: azure skies peering above snaking ruby red mesas, white clouds casting crimson shadows against twisting blue river beds and tufts of spring blooms. Enough said.
Alsace Wine Route, France: Strasbourg to Mulhouse
This is not so much a drive as a stop-and-gape tour, as this lovely wine route takes you through the Vosges Mountains and the poppie-lined Rhenan plains, twisting past majestic castles and idyllic villages peppered along twisted rivers.
Start at Sauverne with its fairy tale-like old city, and lazily make your way south; be sure to stop at the medieval gates of Dambach, the panoramic views of Mont Sainte Odile and Kaysersberg (in the heart of the vineyards).
Speaking of vineyards, a visit to Alsace wouldn't be complete without the wine -- but, please, don't mix it with the drive.
Dalmatian Coast, Croatia: Zadar to Dubrovnik
It is tricky to choose a single coastal drive, but it is time to shine a spotlight on Croatia's spectacular Dalmatian Coast. Hugging the Adriatic Sea, and spanning 1,000 miles, the highway offers views of the green-blue glassy waters of the Mediterranean, while you precariously perch over white-rocked cliffs. Nestled in the nooks are beautiful fishing towns.
Drive on this highway in the afternoon, and marvel as the sun sets over the water, casting pink rays of light across white-rocked cliffs, and the tiny white-walled houses that hug them.
Savannah Way, Australia: Cairns to Broome
The official Web site designates the Savannah Way "one of the ultimate adventure drives." It is more like THE adventure drive: the 2,200-plus miles of the Savannah Way start from the rainforests of Cairns, takes you through 14 national parks, and ends with the seas of the Broome's white-sand beaches.
Impressive on paper, and impressive in person: red earth meets sapphire sky as every outback fantasy comes to fruition -- witness jagged peaks and watering holes, all while roaring along on a 4x4. Not to be missed, mate.
Causeway Coastal, Ireland, Belfast to Lame
There's always space for another beautiful drive along a coast. Here you'll find the epitome of untamed landscapes, the land of the nine glens, where ferocious green leaps over the road and where cliffs cut into the wild Atlantic sea. As a bonus, it is largely ignored by tourists.
Stop by gorgeous seaside villages, and it is worth visiting some of the area's hidden treasures: Giant's Causeway (go at sunset), Mussenden Temple (balanced over green cliffs, and inpired by the Temple of Vesta in Rome), and the distillery at Bushmills.
South Africa: Cape Town to Mpumalanga
This is another country drive with a twist, spanning over 1,000 miles of gardens, peaks, and terracotta plains, and ending with the safari of your dreams.
Be sure to take enough film (or several memory cards) to capture the yawning depths of Blyde River Canyon. See Mozambique from the cliff at God's Window (on a clear day). Save one last awed breath for Kruger country and allow someone else to drive, while you liberally stare at rhinos, zebras, and elephants as they lumber along the dusty plains.
Southern India: Cochin to Kovalam
Heart-stopping and serene, the drive through South India covers it all. Channel your inner E. M. Forster: Starting at beautiful and historic coastal Cochin, the palm-tree lined road quickly descends into mystical forests that line the mountains like velvet.
Here, you'll find tea gardens and mists, rivers and wildlife sanctuaries punctuated occasionally with the explosive sounds of monkeys.
Beach Highway, Mauritania: El Mamghar to Nouakchott
Perhaps this shouldn't count, as it isn't exactly an official highway, but it is a lovely drive, nevertheless.
Located between two towns, the "highway" is simply a flat white sand beach stretching into the horizon, and can only be driven at low tide.
Find an open-top 4x4 and some sunglasses, and embrace the wind-swept mane that will no doubt result.