Review 2014: Tornio to Gibraltar, Innsbruck to A Coruna.

2014 was a great year at @DriveEurope with three big trips covering more than 12,500 miles, from northern Sweden to Gibraltar and Austria to north west Spain. All in our ace new car.

We’re drawn to the Carpathians in 2015. And Jersey.

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Grimsel Pass: excuse the splats on the roof and the dodgy parking - the driver was given every opportunity to correct it - otherwise this is definitely our best picture of the year, on top of one of Switzerland's most spectacular roads. The otherworldly Albula - also in Switzerland - made it a hard choice but the hairpin ascent, unique grey-green rock, infinite views, massive lake, sinister local goings on (nuclear research), and the intriguing Hospiz hotel meant grimsel is the one we both look back on most fondly. Absolutely breath-taking.

Grimsel Pass: excuse the splats on the roof and the dodgy parking – the driver was given every opportunity to correct it – otherwise this is definitely our best moment of the year, at the top of one of Switzerland’s most spectacular roads. The otherworldly Albula – also in Switzerland – makes it a hard choice but the hairpin ascent, unique grey-green rock, infinite views, massive lake, sinister local goings on (nuclear research), and the intriguing Hospiz hotel means Grimsel is the one we look back on most fondly (and it isn’t even that scary). All pictures @DriveEurope. More photos below.

2013 was quiet by our standards, just one epic trip – around Greece and the east Balkans in May – then a couple of days at the Belgian Grand Prix in August.

At least that meant lots of left over holiday to take this year.

The best part of ‘Race Around The Baltic’ in April – through every country except Russia – was that we didn’t plan it, or even know if it was possible within a week.

A particularly good bit was it being the first trip in our freshly delivered Range Rover Evoque. What a car it turned out to be, a worthy stablemate to its continent-crushing elder brother.

The sad part was catching the fantastic DFDS boat back to Harwich from Esbjerg in western Denmark. Shortly afterwards it was withdrawn, and with it the last ferry link between the UK and Scandinavia.

One big gap in our European road trip repertoire had been the Alps. We had driven a few mountain passes but on an ad hoc basis. June’s ‘Tall Order’ was intended to put this right once and for all in a two week orgy of classic Alpine roads.

It was a fortnight of sickening fear and permanent anxiety. Heights are not a strong point.

Having said that we did pretty much cover Austria, north east Italy and south central and east Switzerland, culminating in the incredible Loop – the six super-high passes centering on Gotthard.

However, we hardy touched the French Alps save for a whizz up N205 Route Napoleon from Grasse to Grenoble.

Another shameful gap in our Euro driving experience had been southern Spain and Portugal.

Combining this with a four day stay in an isolated cottage in northern Holland in mid-October was madness. The average distance travelled per day on ‘Iberia Circumnavigation’ was 510 miles (actually 75 miles less the Baltic trip).

Apart from wondrous, ancient Granada (and groovy Lisbon) the highlights – surprisingly – were Gibraltar – i.e. the palm-fronded Rock Hotel where John Lennon and Yoko Ono got married, as immortalised in The Ballad of John and Yoko – and the quiet, undeveloped north Spain coast.

On the subject of great hotels, special mention must be made of the Seehotel Waldstatterhof in Brunnen, Switzerland – looking out over Lake Lucern (Vierwaldstattersee), perfect for The Loop – and the Seehotel Am Kaiserstrand at Lochau near Bregenz, Austria, because swimming in Lake Constance, off their super-luxe bath house, was just the best way to start each day.

An honourable mention should go to the Park Inn in Kaunas. Not because it’s particularly flashy but because the best room cost €60 – at 22:30 after an exhausting drive across Poland – and it had views of the city’s two spectacular churches. The welcome – and the beer – were the best we had all year.

Kaunas, in south central Lithuania, was definitely the biggest find because of all the 1930’s modernist architecture. In second place was classical Szczecin (aka Stettin) – designed mostly by Paris builder Haussmann y’know – covered in a thick layer of Commie grot. Third was Esch-sur-Sure because it looks like something out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Now we’re looking forward to a couple of days in Brussels, mainly to drop Christmas dollars in the antique crystal shops and check out Hotel Amigo. Hopefully we’ll have time to cruise through western Belgium on the way back.

So what about 2015? It’s unlikely we’ll get as much time on the road as we did this year. The (now few) remaining places on our list will have to be especially well targeted.

Norway is the obvious choice – because it’s the only major European country we haven’t been to yet – but we’ll leave that until the ferry service starts again.

More France would be good, for another crack at the Alps, Vosges, Massif Central and Pyrenees, maybe in combination with a chill out in the Channel Islands (especially since Condor has a swish new ship).

The strongest pull however is to the Carpathians. Southern Poland, (Belarus!), western Ukraine, Black Sea, northern Romania (maybe Moldova), north east Hungary then straight through Slovakia and Czech Republic to the interesting bit of east Germany around Chemnitz, Dresden (and the Silberstrasse).

That sounds great doesn’t it?!

Happy New Year.

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Puling up to the Park Inn at Kaunas after a fantastic but exhausting round-the-clock drive on rural roads across northern Poland. That's St Michael the Archangel Church at the top of the city's 1km long shopping street, but it's dwarfed literally and figuratively by some of Kanas' other buildings. You must go.

Pulling into the Park Inn at Kaunas after a great but exhausting round-the-clock drive on rural roads across northern Poland. That’s St Michael the Archangel Church at the west end of the 1km long shopping street but it’s dwarfed literally and architecturally by many other Kaunas buildings, especially the monumental, Metropolis-style Christ’s Resurrection Church on the hill overlooking the city. You must go.

Granada. We weren't driving at this point but we would have been, up in the old town beside the stunning Alhambra Palace roads winding back into the mountains behind the city, awesome plain stretching out in front.

We weren’t driving at this point but we could have been, up in Granada’s old town beside the stunning Alhambra Palace, roads winding back into the mountains behind, awesome plain stretching out in front.

Grimsel Pass from Furka Pass, another road on The Loop, six amazing and very high mountain roads centered on Gotthard in south central Switzerland, all doable in one day.

Grimsel Pass from Furka Pass, another road on The Loop, six amazing and very high mountain roads centered on Gotthard in south central Switzerland, all doable in one day.

Viveiro: we searched for hours for a place to stay in this almost completely tourist-infrastructure-free north west corner of Spain, eventually lucking in at a Best Western, 100ft above this beach.

Viveiro: we searched for hours for a place to stay in this almost completely tourist-infrastructure-free north west corner of Spain, eventually lucking in at a Best Western, 100ft directly above this beach.

The bath house at the Seehotel Am Kaiserstrand. An attendant stood at the top of the stairs with a fluffy white bathrobe ready for when we finished our morning swim in the crystal clear Lake Constance, Bregenz and the mountains in the background. There is no better way to start the day.

The bath house at the Seehotel Am Kaiserstrand. An attendant stood at the top of the stairs with a fluffy white bathrobe ready for when we finished our morning swim in the crystal clear Lake Constance, Bregenz and the mountains in the background. There is no better way to start the day.

The sun sets on the DFDS Esbjerg-Harwich ferry between courses on our last night celebratory dinner in the very good on-board restaurant. A few weeks later DFDS announced they would withdraw the service - the final UK-Scandinavia boat - at the end of the summer. Especially gutting because we spent most of the voyage conjuring up ace new trips, to the Arctic circle and beyond.

The sun sets on the DFDS Esbjerg-Harwich ferry between courses on our last night celebratory dinner in the very good on-board restaurant. A few weeks later DFDS announced it was withdrawing the service – the final UK-Scandinavia boat – at the end of the summer. Especially gutting because we spent most of the voyage conjuring up ace new trips, to the Arctic circle and beyond.

Tremola, another one of the roads on the Loop, also known as the St Gotthard pass (as distinct from the H2 Gotthard Pass).

Tremola, another one of the roads on the Loop, also known as the St Gotthard Pass (as distinct from the H2 Gotthard Pass).

The view from the Seehotel Waldstatterhof in Brunnen, south central Switzerland, just off the A2 motorway near Altdorf. Rossini's Sunrise over the Alps from the William Tell Overture was inspired by this view.

The view from the Seehotel Waldstatterhof in Brunnen, south central Switzerland, off the A2 near Altdorf. This view inspired Rossini’s ‘Sunrise over the Alps’ from the William Tell Overture.

The fairy tale village of Esch-sur-Sure, on a tight turn in the Sure river. In the UK this place would be full of antique shops, gastropubs and boutique hotels. Because it's in no-one has ever heard of it northern Luxembourg, surrounded by wooded hills, it's cheap as chips and only a maximum four hour drive from Calais on Belgium's scenic and fast N roads.

The fairytale village of Esch-sur-Sure, on a tight turn in the Sure river, surrounded by wooded hills. In the UK this place would be full of antique shops, gastropubs and boutique hotels. Because it’s in no-one-has-ever-heard-of-it northern Luxembourg it’s cheap as chips and only a maximum four hour drive from Calais via Belgium’s scenic and fast dual carriageway N roads.

The first thing you might expect to see crossing the Finland-Sweden border is in fact the first thing you do see: an Ikea. The best

We didn’t need any light furnishings so the best bit about crossing the Finland-Sweden border at Tornio-Haparanda was the hour we gained. It meant we could make Umea that night and get our ambitious, six-day ‘Race around the Baltic’ back on track (every second counted by this point). The other great thing was not needing to clean the windscreen for a week. Even in late April it’s too cold for bugs.

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