European natural parks you can ride through on your bike

The most beautiful Motorcycle Diaries roads through Europe's natural parks  

Aah, natural parks! You’ve got to love them: devoid of all civilisation, pulchritudinous scenic views, nearly perfect roads, and nothing but the sound of the wind and birds as a soundtrack. Although there are plenty of European natural parks that allow the sound of growling engines and barking exhausts to top it off. And you know what? We’ve just selected a handful of them and merged them with some of our best Motorcycle Diaries roads, especially for you. You’re very welcome.

Triglavski Narodni Park (Slovenia)

First protected in 1924, officially renamed in 1961, Triglav National Park is the only National Park in Slovenia. Only one? Yep, but does cover nearly four percent (838 square kilometers) of Slovenia's total land mass, while being covered almost entirely by the eastern Julian Alps. Named after its highest mountain 'Triglav' (2,864m), its exceptional beauty and pristine nature attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year.

If you’re not really into mountain views, Lake Bohinj will most likely provide you with the eye candy you so desperately needed. Other lakes of equal beauty are dotted throughout, along with numerous waterfalls, gorges, rivers, creeks, streams, and mountains of staggering beauty. Bordering Italy on its north-western side, Triglav National Park Slovenia is a treasured safeguarding area of Slovenian flora, fauna and culture.

Our road starts in the western section of the park and carves straight through the green and mountainous heart of Slovenia. The road conditions during the 68 kilometer Triglov-section from Kobarid to Kransjka Gora might not be the best you’ve ever witnessed, but the environment will without a doubt drop your jaw to carter level.

Cut the gas back for a while, feast your eyes on the turquoise Isonzo river splitting the landscape in two equally stunning pieces of nature and take your time to shoot some pictures to show your grandkids later on. The more active of heart will have a blast grinding knees at the Kugyjev spomenik: 23 fenomenal hairpin bends await in the first section, with dozens of others a few miles up the road. Truly marvellous stuff.

See the road 206 across the Triglavski

 

Dovrefjell-Sunndallsfjella Nasjonalpark (Norway)

The Aursjøvegen is a bit of an oddball in this shortlist, as it offers a magnificent ride, but only if you have the right tyres mounted on your bike: the tour is nearly 100% covered in gravel. It should be doable on normal road tyres, but a bit more profile never hurts. The road was originally a construction road from the early 1950’s, which leads from the stunning Eikesdalen valley in Finnset, over the Finnsetlia mountain to Sunndalsøra. This one doesn’t quite cut through a natural parc, but it does take you along and over the western border of Dovrefjell-Sunndallsfjella Nasjonalpark.

Driving up the Finnsetlia, you’ll find yourself enjoying several 180 degree hairpin turns and stunning nature that might just take your breath away for a while. Don’t forget to breathe though, as the road further on has a lot to offer: tons hiking trails if you decide to park your bike for a while, dazzling mountain lakes, sensational viewpoints and a never ending string of lovely places for picnic.

The road takes you in towards the dam at lake Aursjøen and on down through the Torbudalen and Litldalen valleys to Sunndalsøra. Tip of the house: don’t forget to turn on your high beams for the ride through the unique tunnel at Finnsetlia, as the road circles inside the pitch black mountain. An experience you must’ve tried once in a lifetime. Mind you that the road is closed over winter and most years opens from june till september - maybe october in warm years.

See the Aursjøvegen.

 

Parc des Volcans (France)

The ‘Parc des Volcans’, also known as Auvergne Volcanoes Regional Park, is Europe's largest regional park and also one of the oldest, as it was established in 1977. The huge park just south of Clermont-Ferrand consists of truly marvellous landscapes, fauna and flora -

no wonder we consider it one of our favourites in the country. Which is exactly why you’ll find a wide variety of roads on Motorcycle Diaries through the region. We’ve selected two (see bottom of this paragraph) that carve all the way through, and take you along most of the must-sees of the park. Although you’ll find breathtaking views all over the park, we would suggest you to pay a visit to three specific parts of the park.

Starting off with the majestic ‘Chaîne des Puys’ - as the name suggests a massive chain of more than 80 domes and craters which erupted here tens of thousands of years ago, and which today form a chain spanning around 30 km. You’ll be able to spot their distinctive shapes from miles away, so no need to worry about missing any of the fun. Sadly, there is no road leading up to ts highest point, the Puy de Dôme (1.465 m), but there is a parking lot at the bottom of the Puy, next to the railway. That specific ‘Panoramique des Dômes’-train will take you all the way up there for a panoramic view of the volcanoes.

Some 50 kilometers south, you’ll find the Massif du Sancy, a steep-sided range of hills littered with volcanic lakes, as a result of the harsh geological movement millions of years ago,  with the Puy de Sancy (1,886 m) as the tallest point of the Massif Central. Again, you won’t be able to take your motorcycle all the way up the mountain, but we’d suggest you park it at Station du Mont-Dore and take one of the many télésièges up for immaculate some of the most beautiful views of Europe.

Another 100 kilometers further south, you’ll notice the erosion of Europe's widest volcano led to the creation of a number of superb radiating valleys. The volcano peaks at the Plomb du Cantal (1.858 m), although the most distinctive is the Puy Mary (1.787 m). Stunning views as you ride around the volcanos, but again, if you want a peak from the top, you’ll need to leave the bike behind at the foot of the mountain - this time we’d suggest Le Lioran as a starting point.

See the D203 in the parc des Volcans

See the D978 in the Parc des volcans

 

Bardenas Reales Natural Park (Spain)

The Bardenas Reales Natural Park is situated just north of Tudela - only 70 kilometers away from the Pyrenees - and will surprise you with its magnificent semi-desert landscape covering a mere 42.500 hectares. During millions of years, erosion of its clay, chalk and sandstone soils has sculpted capricious forms in the landscape to create almost lunar effects, full of gullies, plateaux and solitary hills - an absolute must-see whenever you’re planning on riding through Spain. The good news: there's a road that crosses the entire desert!

Entirely covered in gravel, it might look like a wet dream for off road riders, but as it remains a natural park, the park rangers will only stay friendly as long as you stay on the roads... Nevertheless, you’re in for an absolute treat.

The best time to visit Bardenas in between September and June. But beware: due to the extreme temperatures and the special conditions of the land, we recommend that you avoid riding through the park when it is raining, or when it has rained during the days previous to your trip. If you want to know why watch the movie: Lost in La Mancha...

See the road crossing the Bardenas Reales desert

Peak District Natural Park (England)

From the high, moorland plateaus in the north, to the steep-sided, deep dales and rolling green hills in the south of the area: the Peak District & Derbyshire has just about any landscape you can imagine in Britain, making it one of the finest areas in the country to go riding your bike.

Grab a map, and you’ll notice it is split into the northern Dark Peak, where most of the moorland is found and the geology is gritstone, the southern White Peak, where most of the population lives and the geology is mainly limestone, and the South West Peak, with landscapes similar to both the Dark and White Peaks. In order not to run into too many people while rolling the throttle, we’ll gladly focus on the northern section.

And boy, have we pinned out two magnificent rides for you to enjoy. Take for instance the A57, which dissects the northern part of the Peak District from east to west. From Ladybower, a nice straight section steers you towards Rowlee Farm and the beginning of a tight and wavy section that takes you through farmland and a wood to the Snake Pass Inn.

After that, the road dares you to ride faster as it ushers you along through forest, a tight valley and finally out onto the moor. If you rather single-trackers with stunning views, you might want to consider turning right on the A57 after 7 kilometers - the second right after Hollow Meadows. That section has recently be repaved with asphalt, making it an absolute joy to ride. Before heading to Midhopestones, you cross three magnificent stream valleys, buried in dark and dense woods. Breathtakingly beautiful - and short enough to want to ride it more than once, while you’re at it.

See the A57 Snake Pass

See the Mortimer road to the Ladybower reservoir

 

Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela (Portugal)

Fairly famous for its natural and cultural history, the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela was one of Portugal’s first designated parks - and with almost 900 square kilometers to enjoy, it remains the country’s largest protected area.

The fauna and flora at Serra da Estrela might be very diverse, but the mother lode must be the stunning scenery: drenched in green meadows, massive rock tops scraping the sky, rivers and lakes mirroring the vastness of the mountains, glacial valleys and - during winter months - white blankets of snow. The 1.993 meter high Torre – Portugal’s highest peak – at the park's centre forms a majestic backdrop, and an ideally paved stairway for motorcyclists to enjoy.

My god, is it a peach to steer through, sitting tucked behind your steering rod... The N339 we’ve picked as a Motorcycle Diaries road is a 44 kilometer stretch of perfectly ironed asphalt, which curls diagonally from west to east through the Parque Natural da Serra da Estrela.

From Covilha to Seia, it never ceases to offer you breathtaking views over rugged boulder-strewn meadows and icy lakes of the Portuguese high country. It's a glorious, seasonal beauty: the upland area is stunning in the morning or evening light.

As you won’t ride past too many ‘cafeterias’ or coffee shops along the way, you might want to consider bringing a thermos filled with the black gold yourself. Enjoy a cup after you’ve parked your on top of the Albufeira da Barragem do Covão - just after the dammed lake - which offers a view over the small lake and the valley below. Breathtaking.

Just remember to check the weather - as the mountain range is 2000m high (actually 1998, but the stacked a heap of stones two meters high to get to the 2000). Whenever you visit Portugal - you can't miss this road.

See the N339 Serra da Estrela

 

 

Where next?!

Explore the best roads around and plan your next trip based on those roads.

 

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