In the golden age of transport – Art Deco trains, uber-luxurious private jets, even trips into space – the classic road trip remains peerless in its euphoric, freedom-chasing allure. Evoking a sense of both old-school romance and timeless adventure, the thrill of the open road beckons us, again and again. This time, to the best scenic drives in Spain.
Somewhat unorthodox compared to the reigning tradition of Americana, the Spanish road trip is less motels, more moats. And yet anyone who has ever been driven around Spain can vouch for the magic and majesty of the country’s vast terrain. Whether powering across the sun-soaked, mountainous mainland or roaring beside the dazzling turquoise of the Balearic Islands, Spain’s scenic drives are an unforgettable experience – and absolutely saturated in national history and culture, too.
“All the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see,” Jack Kerouac, perhaps the most famous road tripper of them all, wrote in – what else? – On the Road. The glory of the open skies and the greatness of the Spanish terrain: here is our selection of the best scenic drives in Spain.
Crossing through the hills of UNESCO-listed towns of Ubeda and Baeza, this drive takes you through some of Spain’s most beautiful landscapes. One particularly breathtaking route is to leave from Seville before driving south towards the Parque Natural Los Alcornocales where you can drive through one of the region’s phenomenal green spaces before driving along the coast and up to Málaga. In this part of the world, the sunsets are especially extraordinary, casting the mountains in vivid gold and conjuring dramatic shadows across the terrain.
If you’re looking to make a day out of the trip, Elite Traveler would recommend leaving Seville mid-morning before heading through rolling Andalusian hills and stopping off at Ronda where you can enjoy a lunch booking at the Michelin-starred Bardal. Alternatively if you want to set off a bit later you can finish your trip at Málaga’s most opulent eatery – José Carlos García. A Michelin-starred restaurant sitting on the bay of the city where guests can enjoy views out across the ocean.
Cantabria and Picos de Europa
A 30-minute drive from Santander sits Picos de Europa, one of España Verde’s most breathtaking sceneries. With winding roads, gorges and snow-capped mountain peaks, Picos de Europa is easily one of the best areas for a drive in all of Northern Spain.
The route Elite Traveler would suggest is to leave from Santander, heading southwest through the lush greenery of Cantabria before making your way through Picos de Europa and finishing your journey in Gijón. For a full guide on España Verde and the best places to stay, eat and visit while in the area make sure to read our definitive guide to the area.
Madrid to Murcia
Offering slightly more varied landscapes when compared to our previous two entries, Elite Traveler recommends starting in the Spanish capital before driving 155 mile towards the cuevos de Montesinos where you can make your way through 1,000 acres of beautiful lush greenery in Quebrada del Toro. This beautiful bit of landscape encompasses a series of winding roads that cut through the mountains and take you alongside a series of natural lakes.
If you’re feeling adventurous you can park up and go for a walk through the cavernous paths or take a trip through the neighboring caves of Montesinos. Before finally making your way towards Murcia where we recommend staying in the Intercontinental Mar Menor Golf Resort & Spa, which is situated just over six miles outside of the city center and is easily one of the region’s most luxurious properties.
[See also: A Guide to Madrid’s Greatest Museums and Galleries]
Barcelona to the French Border
Perhaps the shortest drive on our list at roughly three hours, Elite Traveler recommends setting off from the Catalonian capital before driving along the coast towards Figueres (the final reasonably sized city before the French border). Your journey will then continue as you drive alone the Gulf of Roses and through the Aigumolls de l’Emporda, one of Girona’s most beautiful wetland nature reserves which is famed for being home to some of the world’s rarest species of birds.
As you continue round the coast, Elite Traveler would recommend booking out the Surrealist Suite at the five-star Hotel Vistabella. The suite is filled with several pieces of traditional Spanish surrealist art and offers beautiful sea views from one of its three terraces.
Castellon to Valencia
The fifth drive on our list of best scenic drives in Spain comes in the form of a journey through the beautiful landscapes of the Valencia Province. While the eponymous city is the third largest city in all of Spain, the region itself is the fourth most populated area after Andalusia, Catalonia and Madrid.
To begin with we recommend starting off in the port town of Castellón de la Plana where you will be able to drive along the Mediterranean Sea before heading inland and going to the Parc Natural de la Seera d’Espadá, the region’s largest and most expansive park with rugged mountain sceneries and winding roads that cut through the mountain peaks and valleys. Afterward, you can either cut through another piece of the region’s beautiful greenery by going through Parc Natural de la Serra Calderona or you can head back towards the coast to take in the spectacular beach views.
Either way, an hour and a half later you will find yourself in the center of Valencia, where we would recommend staying in The Westin Valencia, the city’s finest five-star hotel with a spa and three restaurants, as well as making a booking at El Poblet, the city’s best Michelin-starred restaurant where head chef Quique Dacosta has carved out a niche for himself as one of the city’s greatest contemporary chefs.
Valencia to San Sebastian
Clocking in at over five and a half hours, this cross-country journey loops from the Mediterranean coast and up to the Basque region, concluding in the enchanting coastal town of San Sebastian. An absolute treasure trove of culture and a bastion of Spanish – especially Basque – cuisine, San Sebastian is especially alluring in July, when it plays host to the annual San Sebastian Jazz Festival.
Drive up from Valencia to the A23, a pleasant journey that winds its way through the country’s majestic mountainous terrain. A testament to Spain’s investment in its byways, the trip is studded with visual wonders designed by Spanish artists. It’s worth stopping through the town of Olite, in Navarre. The town was founded by the Visigothic King of Hispania in the 600s, and today is celebrated for its wondrous medieval Royal Palace. Saturated in layers of regional history, the perfectly restored Palace is a charming experience that feels akin to a fairytale.
The enchanting island of Mallorca is a major tourist hot spot, and for good reason: the largest of the Balearic islands is somewhat of a Mediterranean paradise. From Michelin star restaurants to some of the most luxurious hotel experiences across the whole of Spain, Mallorca has become synonymous within the international community for gorgeous vistas and a thriving tourist scene.
Yet lest we ignore the former for the latter: Mallorca is, first and foremost, a strikingly beautiful island of turquoise waters, soft golden sand, elusive coves and a mountain skyline so characteristic of the region. Throbbing with Mediterranean charm and Spanish character, we would be amiss to leave Mallorca off our list of best scenic drives in Spain.
We recommend starting in Carretera del Port and driving up the northern coast to Cap de Formentor, for one of the most scenic drives not only in Europe, but arguably in the world. Saturated in curving, mountainous roads and romantic ocean views, the dramatic scenery climaxes in Cap de Formentor, the northernmost point of the island, of which its awe-inspiring cliffs over the sea have inspired artists for centuries.
[See also: Top Adrenaline-Inducing Adventures in Spain]
Valle de Jerte
White cherry blossoms and lush green valleys abound in Valle de Jerte, a province located just under three hours west of Madrid. Spellbinding in the spring, and still dazzling any time of year, this is nature at its most spectacular, boasting olive groves, sparkling waterfalls, rock pools and a spectrum of flora across the “Kingdom of Spring”.
The route passes alongside the river Jerte, weaving its way through a collection of colorful villages and timeless vistas. Take lunch at the Medieval city of Plasencia; the “Pearl of the Valley” is rich in history, as made evident by its layers of age. Remains include a 16th-century aqueduct, city walls built in 1197 and churches dating back to the 13th century. For thrill seekers, the mountains and forests of the Garganta de los Infierno are best viewed through an afternoon’s worth of hiking.