Ten Essential Road Trips

Stuck behind your desk? Longing for the great outdoors? Rhiannon Batten tells you how to get a new lease of life
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The Independent Travel

1. Truck through the Middle East

On the Go's new Middle Eastern overland journey takes 35 days to rumble through Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, packing in most of the best-known sights. The truck hits the road in Istanbul, heads south to Gallipoli, Ephesus and Cappadocia, then swerves into Syria and Jordan. After a paddle in the Dead Sea and trips to Petra and Wadi Rum, the tour rolls into Egypt with a felucca cruise on the Nile and train to Cairo.

The Essential View: Watching the sunrise from Mt Sinai in Egypt (where Moses received the 10 commandments).

The Essential Stop: Egypt's Valley of the Kings, home to Tutankhamun's tomb.

The Package: Trips cost £500 per person, based on two sharing, plus a local payment of $330. Excludes flights, but covers transport, camping fees, two meals per day and an overnight train from Luxor to Cairo in first-class Pullman seats. Contact On the Go, 020-7371 1113, onthegotours.com.

2. The wine trail in Bordeaux

Gourmet Touring's new Barrique road trips combine foodie holidays with the chance to fill up your wine cellar (any wine you buy on the road can be shipped to Calais and stored for collection by car later in the year). Self-drive routes, with satellite navigation, are personalised to your palate. Most include visits to bastide towns,oyster farms and antique markets.

The Essential View: From the top of Europe's largest sand dune, the Dune de Pyla, west to the Atlantic and east to pine forests.

The Essential Stop: The town of St Emilion, for its cobbled streets, famous wines and great food.

The Package: Itineraries cost around £860 per person, based on two sharing, including three nights' b&b, three days' hire of a Fiat Barchetta convertible, one day's hire of a 1969 Mercedes Pagoda convertible and a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Flights extra. Contact Gourmet Touring, 00 33 632 800 474, gourmet-touring.com.

3. High road to Honduras

If you're looking for a good first trip to Central America you could do a lot worse than Explore's new Central American Explorer escorted overland tour. Starting in Panama, the route snakes up through Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Honduras to Guatemala. You can loll on some spectacular beaches, watch dolphins, climb a volcano and explore ancient towns and steamy rainforests.

The Essential View: In Costa Rica, from a hill a few miles away from Arenal volcano. Watch the red lava bubbling and bathe in the nearby thermal springs.

The Essential Stop: The ruined Mayan city of Copan, Honduras, with its intricately carved altars and temples.

The Package: The 25-night trip starts from £1,869 per person, including flights, all transport, hotel or lodge accommodation, some meals, a tour leader and a local payment. Some excursions cost extra. Contact Explore Worldwide, 0870 333 4001, explore.co.uk.

4. Booze cruise along the Cape

Seeing the wild side of South Africa doesn't just mean going on a safari. Guests of the Grand Roche Hotel in Paarl can now climb on to a Harley and set off on Route 62 - South Africa's answer to Route 66 - and explore the Western Cape's winelands with the wind in their hair.

If you think that might cramp your drinking style, you can also choose the chauffeur-driven option.

The Essential View: Take a detour down the scenic Swartberg Pass.

The Essential Stop: The hot springs at Montagu.

The Package: Three-night self-drive itineraries start at R9,372 (£800) per person, including airport transfers, accommodation and two four-course dinners. Contact The Outposts, 01647 231007, theoutposts.com.

5. Australia's open road

The Great Ocean Road between Melbourne and Adelaide may be the best-known route, but the 1,000km coastal drive linking Sydney and Melbourne is offered as an equally scenic alternative by Bridge and Wickers.

From lakes and rivers to vast national parks, forested mountains, rolling green hills and pretty seaside settlements, this one-week journey is the perfect introduction to the Australian bush, withplenty of time for swimming, surfing and shopping along the way.

The Essential View: Wilsons Promontory national park, the southernmost point on the Australian mainland.

The Essential Stop: Walhalla, once one of Australia's richest towns, now has a population of 15 and is a great place to get to grips with the gold rush.

The Package: 10-nights, from £430 per person, with two nights' accommodation in Sydney and Melbourne and six nights in a two-berth camper van. Flights with Qantas start from £680 (16 January to 31 March 2006). Contact Bridge and Wickers, 020-7483 6555, bridgeandwickers.co.uk.

6. Blue skies in Mongolia

More off-road than on, Audley Travel's 17-day route through Mongolia takes in desert, steppe, forest, mountain trails and lakeside drives. So it's lucky it's undertaken by hardy 4x4. Starting in Ulaan Baatar, the route winds into Siberia via the towering dunes of the Gobi desert, the glacial canyons of Yolyn Am and the "flaming cliffs" of Bayanzag, the Horzo volcano and the Tuvkhun monastery.

The Essential View: The scene from your yurt tent by Lake Khovsgol, the deepest lake in Central Asia, surrounded by bear and moose-filled forest.

The Essential Stop: The ancient capital of Genghis Khan's Mongol empire at Kharakorum.

The Package: Prices for the Land of Blue Sky tours start at £2,450 per person, two sharing, including flights, accommodation, 4x4 transport, driver and guide. Contact Audley Travel, 01869 276266; audleytravel.com.

7. On England's back roads

If the thought of caravanning tends to bring up visions of white plastic and motorway tail-backs, it's time for a rethink. White Horse Gypsy Caravans offers peaceful three-night breaks in Pewsey Vale, Wiltshire, in the comfort of traditional vehicles. Covering about nine miles a day, there's plenty of time to enjoy the picturesque countryside.

The Essential View: The White Horse on the hillside at Alton Barnes.

The Essential Stop: Avebury stone circle is nearby but previous guests have been more taken with the food at the Seven Stars pub in Bottlesford.

The Package: Three-night holidays start from £300 for a two-berth caravan including bedding, training, a stove and access to a groom. Contact White Horse Gypsy Caravans 01672 851119, pewsey-uk.co.uk/white-horse.

8. Next stop, the Arctic Circle

Coach tours have stepped up a gear since the days of group sing-a-longs. At least they have if Leger Holidays' new trip to the Arctic Circle is anything to go by. Taking place in the summer to make the most of the midnight sun, these circular 16-day trips start with an overnight stay in Belgium before travelling through Denmark and Sweden, crossing the Baltic to Finland and entering the Arctic Circle at Rovaniemi and doubling back through Norway. Travellers ride in the company's new silver service coaches, with wide leather seats, extra legroom and headsets.

The Essential View: The North Cape and Polar Ocean, from Honningsvag in Norway.

The Essential Stop: It may be tacky but Finland's Santa Claus village is one of the most popular stops.

The Package: "Arctic Circle, the Land of the Midnight Sun and Spectacular Scandinavia" tours start from £1,345 per person, including 15 nights' accommodation, most evening meals and several excursions. Contact Leger Holidays, 0845 458 5599, legerbreaks.info.

9. Fly-drive to the Baltic

So far off the beaten track they're practically off the map, Regent Holidays' new Baltic Coast fly-drive tours start in Vilnius, Lithuania, before heading north to the pretty fishing village of Nida and then along the coast road east into Latvia. Here the route swings by Ventspils and the picturesque windmills and lighthouses of Saaremaa Island, before crossing into Estonia and the coastal town of Haapsalu, with its Railway Museum. Then the tour sets off south again to finish up in the country's lively capital, Tallinn.

The Essential View: The windswept sand dunes of the Neringa Spit.

The Essential Stop: The historic Baltic cities of Vilnius and Tallinn are the biggest attractions, but the abandoned Soviet missile base and its empty rocket silos on Muhu (en route to Estonia) draw the crowds.

The Package: Prices start from £885 per person, including return flights from Gatwick, 11 nights' b&b, car hire and ferry tickets. Contact Regent Holidays, 0870 499 0911, regent-holidays.co.uk.

10. The American dream trip

It's not often you get to step down from a truck and hop into a limo, but on TrekAmerica's new month-long Americana Road Trip, that's all part of the mix. This quirky trip travels from coast-to-coast on the trail of the country's wildest, wackiest and most beautiful attractions.

Starting in New York, with a brief diversion to Niagara Falls, the tour heads south and west, taking in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Kentucky's Bourbon distilleries, Elvis's Graceland, Amarillo's Cadillac Ranch, the International UFO Museum, Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park, the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas. The trip finishes up in San Francisco by way of Lake Tahoe and Yosemite.

Travellers will also camp at Monument Valley Tribal Park, where there'll be an option to take a tour with a Navajo guide and gain a unique insight into Native American customs.

The Essential View: Sunrise from the Monument Valley campsite.

The Essential Stop: Rachel, Nevada, the self-styled UFO Capital of the World.

The Package: Prices start at £1,034 for the 28 days, excluding flights but including transport, tour leader, camping fees and equipment, admission to most attractions and Las Vegas limo tour. Contact TrekAmerica, 0870 444 8735, trekamerica.co.uk.

The best winter trip: Snow-mobile safari

Covering just over 100km a day, the Laurentian Raid, in the Quebec region of Canada, makes for an unusual winter road trip. Stopping at snowmobilers' relay stations, log inns and cottages, the six-night journey crosses a region of spectacular forests and lakes. Prices start at £875, excluding flights but including snowmobiles, guide, "extreme cold" clothing, accident insurance, accommodation and 11 meals. Contact Activities Abroad 01670 789991, activitiesabroad.com.

The best grand tour: Kiwi hike and drive

What makes these popular 11-day Essential New Zealand tours different this year is a night at the Franz Josef glacier. The self-drive 4x4 tours start in Auckland, head south to Wellington, via Rotorua with its bubbling mud and Maori feasts. Then it's on to the South Island. Don't miss the stunning helicopter trip (extra) to the glacier. Prices, from £833 per person, exclude flights but include vehicle, room and ferries. Discover The World, 01737 218804, www.discover-the-world.co.uk.