Joy-riding: exploring the world's most dangerous roads
The editorial team
Posted on 09/03/2015
WARNING: These roads are not for the faint-hearted. Packed with hair-raising bends, impossible cliff edges and treacherous weather conditions, the following list will take you through some of the world's most dangerous roads...and the views are simply spectacular.
1. The Tremola, Switzerland
This ancient Alpine crossing, Gottard's Way, connects northern German-speaking Switzerland with the southern Italian regions. This ancient passage was in use even as early as during the Roman Empire. Nowadays, those in a hurry can opt for the 15-mile tunnel that takes you straight through to the other side - but you'd be missing out on one of the world's most extraordinary roads. The modern-day Tremola is a paved version of the ancient path, snaking up and down the mountains with 37 hairpin bends, each with its own name.
Airolo is the nearest town, and a good place to rest before or after the journey. As with other Alpine roads, the Tremola is only open in the warmer months, and conditions can nevertheless be difficult. Those up for a real challenge can rent a bike in Airolo and take it on.
2. Yungas Road, Bolivia
Better known as 'Death Road', Bolivia's Yungas Road is one of the country's largest tourist attractions and one of the most famous routes in the world. As many as 300 people have reportedly died per year since the path was carved along the cliff face the Yungas region. Its fearsome reputation has turned the Yungas Road into a major tourist destination in its own right, as mountain biking expeditions began to take thrill seeking travellers. Despite modernisation projects, the road nevertheless remains dangerous.
Running from the Bolivian capital La Paz to the beginnings of Bolivia's Amazonian region, the road is easily accessible for daredevils looking to add a notch to their belt. Numerous tour agencies run biking expeditions along a 60km stretch of the road, lasting for approximately three hours. Try Gravity Bolivia for a well-established tour.
3. Stelvio Pass, Italy
The Stelvio Pass is considered one of the best driving roads in the world, and was indeed famously voted so by Top Gear some years ago. The iconic Alpine pass is the second highest after the Col de l'Iseran but is every bit just as majestic. World famous for its dramatic 15 miles of switchback turns, climbing up the mountain face (there are 48 turns in all). In the stunning Alpine region of Sud Tirol, the main sections of the road are only open in the summer, though it's worth visiting in the winter for skiing.
The road is accessible from either Italy or Switzerland (and at some points the Stelvio Pass gets as close as 200 metres from the border.) See the official website for more details.
4. Guoliang Tunnel, China
This dramatic road, tunnelling through the cliff face, links the remote Chinese village of Guoliang with the outside world. Prior to its construction, the only access route was a treacherous set of steps carved into the mountains. The five-by-four metre-wide tunnel was completed over five years in the 1970s by a group of villagers, several of whom died in the process. It has since become a tourist attraction in China, for its wonderful views of the surrounding forests and ravines, and has put this formerly isolated village on the map.
Situated near Huixian, in the province of Henan, this remote area is not easily accessible for tourists, but the best route to the village is via bus from Xinxiang. Check out the Henan province travel guide for more information on the region.
5. Col de l'Iseran, France
Col de l'Iseran is the highest paved mountain pass in Europe, passing through the French Alps in Savoie. It runs between the popular ski resort Val d'Isere in the north and the town of Bonneval-sur-Arc in the south. The path is only open in the summer, and even then weather conditions can be precarious - so be prepared. On a good day though, there are few things more beautiful than winding gracefully through the magnificent Alpine landscape on motorbike or bicycle. The road has indeed hosted the Tour de France numerous times, most recently in 2007.
The Col de l'Iseran is sometimes closed to motorised vehicles, so be sure to get on your bike and enjoy the peacefulness of the serene landscape all to yourself. For more details and updates on opening dates and weather, visit Climb By Bike.
6. Trollstigen, Norway
This Norwegian road's unsurprising translation of 'Troll's path' gives only a small indication of what can be expected from the 106-kilometre stretch. With 11 hairpin turns, majestic mountains and cascading waterfalls, you really could be in depths of Middle Earth.
At peak season, around 2,500 cars pass along its treacherous serpentine bends every day, bracing themselves against the 9% incline of the hill. Connecting Lake Longvatret on Strynefjell and Sogge Bridge in Romsdal, the Trollstigen gives spectacular views onto the Kongen, Dronningen and Bispen mountains. To see the views for yourself and for more information, check out the Visit Norway website.
7. Khardung La, India
Some claim that it is the world's highest driveable pass and at 17,582 feet, India's Khardung La certainly feels like the top of the world. Located in the Ladakh region of the Himalayas, the pass is a vertigo-inducing 90 minute climb from the town of Leh. Though it is passable by car, Khardung La is first and foremost a major caravan route, always teeming with horses, camels and their varying cargo of wares.
At the very top of the pass, you'll find a canteen, a souvenir shop and a viewing point a short walk from the pass. As you descend, don't miss the Tsolding Buddha Park - a small, high-altitude lake with stunning views onto the Saser Muztagh mountain range. To make the journey, tourists require a permit which can be acquired in Leh. For more information on permits and preparations for the journey, head to the Travel India website.
8. Ice roads, Canada
Home to a network of never-ending lakes, Canada's Northwest Territories have a mere 570 miles of paved road to their name. Most of the villages and settlements here are, for the majority of the year, only accessible via plane. But when freezing winter temperatures bring an impressive three-feet-thick layer of ice to the lake surfaces, snowploughs are sent out to clear the snow covering and create ice roads.
Unfortunately for Canadian-bound adrenalin junkies, these roads are almost exclusively the domain of enormous articulated lorries hauling tons of diesel to the region's diamond mines. However, you'll find similar ice roads in Finland and Estonia during the winter months which, though heavily regulated, are open to the public.
9. Passage du Gois, France
The passage du Gois in Western France is a sandbar linking the small island of Noirmoutier with the mainland town of Beauvoir-sur-Mer. Twice a day the 2.58-mile road is flooded at high tide, effectively stranding those left on the island.
Visitors have only a three-hour window to make the crossing around low tide, passing rows of moored fishing boats and avoiding clumps of treacherous seaweed. Extremely slippery conditions during the 1999 Tour de France actually saw a peloton crash which wiped out much of the leading riders in a domino-effect accident. Take a look at accommodation and activities in Noirmoutier on the island's official tourism website.
10. Transfagarasan highway, Romania
Unlit tunnels, impossibly narrow viaducts and endless hairpin bends characterise Romania's most insane road. Built under the orders of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, the road was initially designed to facilitate a rapid military response in case of a Soviet invasion. Now, the road winds its way quietly between Transylvania and Wallachia, taking in incredible views across craggy mountain ranges, Dracula-inspiring castles and ever-so-slightly worrying cliff edges.
The road is usually forced to close between late October and late June due to snowfall but summer provides fantastic weather for roof-down cruising. There are several villages along the route with basic accommodation and food supplies, though the 55.8-mile stretch is also easily completed in a day. More information can be found on the Romania Tourist Office website.