On the road

The world’s most spectacular roads

From glittering inner-city expressways to panoramic mountain roads to entire island circumnavigations: BMW Magazine’s new series of articles presents the one hundred most spectacular experiences that a person can have on this planet while sitting behind the steering wheel. Chosen and described by the editors and local experts.
Part 1: The 25 most thrilling roads in Asia and Australia

Almaty to the Tien Shan Mountains, Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is synonymous with steppe and desert in the popular imagination. In reality, though, the central Asian country contains nearly every vegetation zone on the planet. You’ll experience most of them while driving from Almaty to the ski region of Chimbulak. Within a scant 25 kilometres, the mountain road snakes upwards from the low-lying steppes to heights exceeding 2,200 metres. Any higher than that and you’ll need to take a chairlift. The tallest peaks here are over 7,000 metres in elevation.

Length: 25 km
Where to stop: In Medeo. At the drive’s halfway point lies an old open-air ice skating rink situated in the middle of a valley, like something straight out of a James Bond film.

Yan’An Elevated Road, China

“There’s nothing like Shanghai seen from the Yan’An Elevated Road. It’s a highway on girders, six lanes wide and 15 kilometres long, cutting straight across the city. Especially at night – if there’s no traffic – the drive is spectacular: illuminated 60-storey skyscrapers flash past, treetops sway in the breeze beneath you. Suspended 32 metres in the air, barrelling along at 80 kilometres an hour, the city of 20 million lies at your feet like a promise from the future. Megalomaniacal. Dazzling. Hopelessly addicted to higher, faster, further. It’s easy to get vertigo up there, to start imagining you’re in a science fiction film. But it’s really just Shanghai.”

Xifan Yang is a BMW Magazine correspondent. She lives in Shanghai.

Chalus Road, Iran

North of Tehran rise the Alborz mountains, a massive chain including several peaks over 4,000 metres, and Chalus Road snakes its way right through their midst. Approaching from Karaj to the south, the road initially leads through jagged cliffs, then on the north side of the range through endless old-growth beech forests that wolves, lynxes and bears all call home. Then, at last, the Caspian Sea appears on the horizon. How much more can you ask of a road?

Length: 160 km
Where to stop: The last 30 kilometres before reaching Chalus, home to the tallest beech trees in the world.

Jiaozhou Bay Bridge, China

The best thing about driving over the ocean is the sensation of floating. You’re on asphalt, flying above the waves. On the Jiaozhou Bridge this sensation continues for 42 kilometres. The bridge links the cities of Qingdao and Huangdao and spans an entire bay in the northeast of China. The longest overwater span in the world, it took 450,000 tonnes of steel, 2.3 million cubic metres of concrete and four years to build.

Length: 42 km

Stuart ­Highway, Australia

A classic trans-Australian crossing, but rather than east to west this route follows the Stuart Highway, which connects Darwin and the Northern Territory with Port Augusta far to the south. The road’s namesake is John McDouall Stuart, who in 1862 became the first person to traverse the continent from south to north. On foot, that is, for which he needed nine months. These days the journey doesn’t take quite as long, but it remains an adventure nonetheless, promising endless skies, barren landscapes, and a visit to Wycliffe Well, the city with the highest number of UFO sightings in all of Australia.

Length: 2834 km
Where to stop: The Daly Waters Pub, a legendary watering hole known for its steaks and rollicking parties.

Great Alpine Road, Australia

Stretching from Canberra to Melbourne, the Australian Alps reach elevations of up to 2,228 metres, and this road – officially the B500 but nicknamed the “Great Alpine Road” – neatly bisects the mountain range from north to south. The road reveals the continent’s lesser-known geographical features – steep slopes, icy mountainsides and breathtakingly high alpine views.

Length: 303 km
Where to stop: In Mount Hotham, at least in winter – it’s one of Australia’s top ski areas.

Viti Levu Highway, Fiji

Probably the longest continuous road in the entire South Sea region, the Viti Levu Highway is dubbed the King’s Road in the north and the Queen’s in the south. Together, both halves enable a complete circumnavigation of Viti Vetu – the main island of Fiji. The road links the cities of Suva, Nadi and Lautoka and offers marvellous views of Pacific beaches and fields of sugar cane reaching deep into the country’s interior. Portions of the road aren’t fully developed, which can occasionally render the drive slow going. But so what: when you’re in paradise, how much difference can a couple of potholes make?

Length: 472 km
Where to stop: On the Coral Coast in the far south of the island – for a spot of diving.

Byblos to Baalbek, Lebanon

“The views between the Mediterranean Sea and the Bekaa valley are certainly magnificent, but the Lebanese roadside restaurants are an even better argument for venturing along this route: nowhere else do fattoush and falafel taste as good as they do here. Starting at the ancient coastal town of Byblos, the road crosses the more than 2,000-metre-high coastal range, continues past the country’s last remaining cedar forests in the Beqaa valley, and ends in Baalbek with its magnificently preserved Roman temple complex. The sparsely populated inland-facing slope of the coastal range is especially memorable.”

Jan Kirsten Biener is a freelance writer for BMW Magazine.

Tokyo Expressway System

“Some might consider it an unusual choice for a dream road, but in their own way these routes are absolutely spectacular: some of Tokyo’s expressways cut through the city centre with uncanny precision, often right between people’s living rooms. Greater Tokyo has several hundred miles of expressways – with the most spectacular being the inner ring commonly known as ‘C1’.”

Roland Hagenberg has been BMW Magazine’s Tokyo correspondent for many years.

Old Burma Road, China and Myanmar

Two years was all it took to build the narrow, winding roadway plying the borderlands between Myanmar and China. As the only route from China to the Indian Ocean, the Old Burma Road was hotly contested in World War II. Thanks to Myanmar’s opening itself up to tourism, the historically significant road is once again available to adventurous motorists. Via a series of vertigo-inducing hairpin turns, the road reaches remote villages inhabited by the Lisu and Kachin ethnic groups. Friendly gesticulation is the language of choice here: English as well as Mandarin are completely useless.

Length: 1150 km

Liwa Oasis Road, United Arab Emirates

Now this is how a highway through the desert ought to look: straight as a ribbon across rocks, sand, and gravel. Sighting other cars is a rarity, sighting other people on the roadside an impossibility, a wandering herd of camels is a much more likely phenomenon. Then, just when you’re nervously starting to wonder if the road continues into infinity (because the contents of your fuel tank most definitely won’t), palms suddenly appear in between the sand dunes: it’s the famed Liwa Oasis, the ancestral home of the Nayhan family that rules Abu Dhabi. Dates never taste better than when served inside a cool mud-walled house, accompanied by sweetened tea.

Length: 110 km
Where to stop: A few kilometres past Liwa, near Tal Mireb, is a magnificent stretch of desert landscape dominated by sand dunes.

Dadabhai Naoroji Road, India

Driving down Dadabhai Naoroji Road is like motoring through a museum. Many of the neoclassical and neogothic buildings along the way are world heritage sites. Over here beats the heart of Mumbai, over there India’s rich history is revealed – and the Victorian era vividly springs back to life as you drive past.

Length: 1.7 km
Where to stop: The Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, formerly Victoria Terminus, is an incredibly beautiful train station.

Kennon Road, Philippines

The road to Baguio is over a hundred years old, and at 1,500 metres above sea level the climate here is always pleasant. That explains why Baguio was once the summer capital and why the Philippines’ rich and famous continue to maintain residences here. The road that winds its way to Baguio is not as refined, however. In common parlance it is known as the “zigzag road” and has a tendency to transform into a slippery, mud-filled flume ride during rainstorms.

Length: 42 km
Where to stop: Just outside the Baguio city limits, where a 12-metre-high lion’s head has been carved into a sheer rock face.

Central Cross Highway, Taiwan

Driving on the Central Cross Island Highway in Taiwan can make you believe that all of Asia’s remarkable beauty is concentrated right here on this tiny Pacific island. Although originally intended to link the island’s eastern and western coasts, the highway’s split personality became permanent when an earthquake rendered the section near Guguan impassable. No matter – the western section alone is absolutely breathtaking. Its centrepiece is Taroko National Park, a name which essentially means “amazing and beautiful”. What more need be said?

Length: approx. 120 km (not continuously navigable)
Where to stop: In the Taroko Gorge, where the river has scoured a pathway deep into the snow-white marble.