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Great Road

North Cascades Highway, Washington State, USA

Let’s be honest here: when it comes to all out, take-your-breath-away roads and scenery, few places on earth can compare to the western United States.

While many areas, such as Yosemite and Yellowstone, are overrun with visitors and congested roads, there are some areas that are less travelled but equally spectacular.

The North Cascades Highway, or State Route 20, is a breathtaking road that runs for 75 uninterrupted miles from Mazama to Marblemount in Washington State. Departing Mazama and heading west, the road climbs out of the Methow Valley and starts to wind uphill through mature Douglas fir and ponderosa pine.

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After ten miles, the highway enters an enormous cirque surrounded by glaciated peaks that climb to nearly 9,000 feet, and then does a sweeping hairpin as it makes its way up to the base of Liberty Bell Mountain.

It’s an imposing peak that rises more than 5,000 vertical feet from the road (and it’s impossible to not stop and take in the view – it’s spectacular). The highway then crosses the 5,500-foot Washington Pass and then Rainy Pass.

From that point on, the road is 50 plus miles of beautifully smooth tarmac that winds its way through the dramatic Cascade Mountains. Snow covered peaks rise on either side of the road, and the drive – on a weekday – can be surprisingly free of slow-moving campers.

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As roads go, this is as good as it gets: a well maintained, relatively modern highway (completed in 1972) with predictable curves, clear signs, no potholes, and several long straights.

Expect to see many waterfalls, several lakes and miles of streams and rivers. The road is closed in winter (late November to April) as the Cascades own the world record for snowfall at 1,100 inches in one season.

Few roads in the world can compete with this 75-mile long stretch for sheer beauty and uninterrupted views. With the exception of a few campsites, lookouts and hiking trails, it’s just you, your 911 and a big stretch of stunning wilderness.

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Drive Tuscany’s greatest roads with the Porsche Travel Club

 It may be the homeland of the Maranello’s prancing horse but that doesn’t mean that Zuffenhausen’s own stallion finds itself out of place on the roads of Italy. In fact, if this new video from Porsche is anything to go by, the Tuscan landscape is the perfect place to explore behind the wheel of a 911.

The start of the 2017 Porsche Travel Club season may be four months away but, thanks to this official teaser video, we’re already counting down the days until the first Porsche Tour of Tuscany kicks off on 29 March next year.

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That particular weeklong trip may already be sold out but there are still places available for the same event a week later, starting on the 6 April in Siena and finishing in Florence on 12 April.

Taking in some of Tuscany’s finest driving roads across the seven-day tour, the route even traces part of the famous Mille Miglia road race course, all at the wheel of one of Porsche’s latest sports cars.

To explore more of the world’s finest driving routes, check out our full Great Roads portfolio now.

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Elan Valley, Powys, Wales

The Elan Valley has long been a favourite road for Total 911 staff. Thanks to its fast straights and technical bends, the route is often used for road tests in the magazine, the latest of which was our C2S v C4S test in issue 144.

But we’re here to talk about the road itself. Set among an idyllic landscape in the centre of Wales, the route largely avoids the tourist traffic found at Snowdonia in the north, while the variety of major trunk roads nearby ensures quicker routes are available for any parties wishing to get there from the south.

The road is enjoyable to drive from both directions but we prefer to travel from west to east, starting at Devil’s Bridge and finishing in Rhayader, the town with the greatest number of pubs per capita in the UK (an ideal stop-off then!).

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Begin by joining the B4574 from Devil’s Bridge – the road was resurfaced in 2014, so it’s as smooth as a snooker tabletop to drive on. The corners come thick and fast, switching from left to right as you negotiate the steep hill.

A new steel barrier runs along the route here, preventing the possibility of a dramatic tumble if you get it wrong as the road narrows. Once you roll over a cattle grid you’re on an unnamed road, as the B4574 officially stops here according to the road maps.

The road surface is older but it’s of high quality and serves as the ultimate chassis test as the road weaves along the valley. Eventually, you’ll cross the valley and continue up and along the southern face, where the road is at its narrowest.

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A short stop at the Cwmystwyth lead mine is recommended, before climbing back into your 911 for the second – and faster – half of the route.

Now you can really pick up the pace: the road is wider, corners are well sighted and there are huge straights to open up the throttle, your 911’s flat-six bark bouncing off the hills all around.

At Rhayader a T-junction marks the end of a dramatic route that’s brimming with character. We recommend driving it a few times to really get the best of the various challenges it offers.

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Rouen-Les-Essarts, Haute Normandie, France

You’d think that the site of Porsche’s solitary Grand Prix success as a manufacturer would be easily identifiable. Today, all that marks out the location of the old Rouen-Les-Essarts course though, is a bus stop sign – entitled ‘Circuit Auto’ – a few hundred yards away from where the start-finish line used to be situated.

However, despite this lack of pomp and ceremony, you can still follow in Dan Gurney’s wheel tracks; the circuit’s infrastructure may no longer exist (all traces were demolished in 1999) but the public roads can still be driven.

Situated halfway between Calais and Le Mans, you ideally want to be heading east along the N138 in order to drive the majority of the Les-Essarts track in one go. This section of ‘Route Nationale’ traces the path of the circuit’s northernmost straight, the slip off onto the D938 – signposted towards Elbeuf – the location of the ‘Scierie’ right-hander (the 11th of Rouen’s 12 turns).

400m further down the D938, a roundabout marks the spot of the final ‘Virage du Paradis’. The first exit takes you onto the old pit straight, the road’s two lanes segregated by white bollards, preventing you from taking the racing line (although the 70kph speed limit and reasonably high level of traffic also ensure you won’t be needing to use all the tarmac).

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As you drive past the bus stop, the road disappears downwards, providing a daunting setup for the first corner, a super-fast, lightly banked right-hand sweep that must have had the drivers in 1962 holding their breath.

The old track continues to carve downhill, running through a similarly sweeping left-hander before the infamous right at ‘Six Freres’. After another fast left, you’re suddenly on the brakes and down through gears for the ‘Virage du Noveau Monde’.

Cobbled in the days of Gurney, the road here is now tarmacked but it’s hard not to still imagine the hordes of spectators who used to gather at this vantage point, packing the steep bank on the hairpin’s exit to cheer on their heroes. The tight right takes you onto the D132 and it’s here that the circuit becomes narrower, more technical and more fun to drive.

Bereft of traffic, you can push your 911 a bit harder, fighting against the surprisingly steep gradient through a right-hand kink before a medium-speed curve at turn seven.

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Essential info
Location: Rouen, France
Latitude: 49°20’07.4” N 1°00’43.9”E
Length of drive: 6km
Points of interest:
Rouen Cathedral
Jardin des Plantes de Rouen, rouen.fr/jardindesplantes
Food and accommodation:
Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, hotelsparouen.com
L’Auberge de la Pomme, laubergedelapomme.com

There’s little time to relax now as you cut through the tree-lined hillside, pitching into the ‘Virage du Samson’, the camber hugging you into the apex before spitting you out through ‘Virage de Beauval’. A final right-hand kink takes you over the brow of the hill and onto the back straight.

Unfortunately, if you pass under the A13 link between Caen and Paris, the super-fast curve that would have taken you back onto the N138’s path no longer exits, the Grésil Forest (after which the corner was named) having reclaimed the land after the national Autoroute was built.

Your best bet is to retrace your steps and drive back along the straight, turning left onto the D132A (known as the Chemin de l’Étoile), which follows the route of the shorter Rouen track raced in the early 1950s.

This brings you out just before the ‘Circuit Auto’ bus stop, allowing you to drive the major portion of the circuit over and over again, which is just as well as one lap simply isn’t enough to soak up the atmosphere of this once spectacular venue.

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Marrakesh to Merzouga, Morocco

Morocco is a nation socially at odds with itself; western, multicultural, cosmopolitan views combined with a strong, traditional Arab way of life.

Nowhere is this cultural divide more apparent than on this nine-hour thrill ride, as the densely populated urban areas of Marrakesh fade away into the far reaches of the desert on our drive out of the city, through the plush Atlas Mountains, and onto the desolate surroundings of Merzouga.

Rather than a single great road, this ancient trade route takes in three of the world’s most stunning ‘highways’, with stark differences in the challenges and scenery between each stretch of tarmac.

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The N9, which spans the 280 miles from Marrakesh to Mhamid, winds precariously through plush mountainsides in an endless succession of dramatic bends, sheer drops and tight hairpins.

Instead of following the N9 to Mhamid though, the R108 is found 100 miles short of its conclusion, just before Tansikhte. This road stretches through wide, flat valley plains before picking up the N12/13, a sweeping byway that goes straight into the heart of the desert.

It’s not one for the faint of heart – driving in Morocco never is. The use of the ‘loud button’ is essential for any sort of manoeuvre and the white lines in the middle of the wider stretches appear to have no purpose. Stuttgart-built sports cars aren’t an uncommon sight in the capital.

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In fact, they seem to be a common choice of hire vehicle. But public reaction to any kind of exotica is far more ‘enthusiastic’ the further into the desert you travel.

Suddenly you’re piloting an extreme machine in the Dakar Rally and adults and children from the Berber villages quickly descend and cheer you on.

Just like the reception on this route, the payoff is tremendous. Merzouga is the gateway to the Sahara Desert; just 35-miles from the Algerian border and verging on the dunes of Erg Chebbi, it is one of the natural wonders of the world. Not unlike the 911 itself…

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