Whether or not you're a big fan of motor racing, the 2014 Austrian Grand Prix is big news. Formula 1 is returning to Austria for the first time in more than ten years, and the Red Bull Ring (formerly the Österreichring and the A1-Ring) will host a leg of the Grand Prix as it has done so many times in the past.
I've already got my summer holiday booked for this year, so I'll be getting to grip with the racing at Silverstone rather than heading to one of the continental Grands Prix. But if you're heading off to Austria to witness Formula 1's historic return to the land of Niki Lauda, Gerhart Berger and the rest, my top recommendation for your trip is to stop off in Germany and visit the Nordschleife, the most exciting destination in the world for fans of fast driving. In fact, I think I'd rather go back there than see the Austrian Grand Prix!
A race in progress on the Nürburgring
The Nordschleife or 'North Loop' is one of two race tracks that make up the Nürburgring, located near the Belgian border and directly on your way to Austria. The legendary Jackie Stewart called it the 'Green Hell', and despite its picturesque surroundings it's one of the most difficult racing circuits in the world. So what makes it worth detouring across Germany for? Simple:
you can drive on it
A few years ago a friend of mine and I made a special four-hour drive to the Nordschleife for one of its legendary 'Touristenfahrten' or 'tourist trips'. These are days when anyone with a road-legal car or motorcycle is allowed to take on the legendary course, tearing round with no oncoming traffic, no junctions and no speed limit. I've never had more fun in a car, and if I ever go again I'm going to take a helmet and pretend I'm a real racing driver.
One of the wonderful things about Europe is just how far you can drive in any one direction, watching the scenery change as you go. And happily, living in the UK is no longer any barrier to enjoying the freedom of four wheels and an EU passport. Eurotunnel Le Shuttle takes just 35 minutes to whisk you from England to France and back, so you can make the most of exploring the continent in your own car and your own time.
The drive to Austria from Eurotunnel Le Shuttle is a beautiful one which takes you through France, Belgium and Germany. The full journey takes around eleven to twelve hours if you really want to attempt it in one go, but when I've visited Austria with the kids we've always enjoyed having a couple of stops along the way. If you want to check out the Nürburgring, you'll find it 100km south of Cologne - take the 555 autobahn to Bonn, then follow the 565 to its end and pick up the smaller 257 road to take you straight there. If you'd prefer to head straight for Austria, set your sights on the southern city of Graz - Spielberg, home of the Red Bull Ring, is only 50km away and you'll see the signs in plenty of time. Happy racing!