On the road

When the jour­ney is as im­por­tant as the des­ti­na­tion, you want to travel in style. And choos­ing an Alfa Romeo in Tus­cany or a Honda to cross Canada means you’re al­ways on the scenic route »

Red - - CONTENTS - ALEXAN­DRA FRIEND

Take the scenic route for these out-of-this-world road trips

FROM VAN­COU­VER IS­LAND TO THE SUN­SHINE COAST IN A HONDA CIVIC 182PS SPORT PLUS

Ididn’t go to Canada to start a love af­fair with trees, but look­ing back through my travel diary (okay, iphone notes), it started from day one. I’ll spare you the free verse, but I prom­ise you’ve never seen forests so vast and un­fath­omable, or quite so many shades of green. And did you know that trees have ghosts? They do here, or so the Cana­dian First Na­tions peo­ple call the chalk-white skele­tons that dot the moun­tains, long dead but held for­ever up­right in wood­land so densely packed there’s nowhere to fall.

Road-trip­ping along the coast of Bri­tish Columbia, I had plenty of time to soak up the deep peace of the jewel-green forests. With two sleep­ing chil­dren in the back of our bor­rowed Honda Civic 182PS Sport Plus, my boyfriend and I trav­elled past un­ruf­fled lakes per­fectly re­flect­ing the snow-capped moun­tains above, and ferry-hopped across teal-blue in­lets, spot­ting seals, or­cas and even a hump­back whale. The panoramic sun­roof kept our com­fort­able Honda stream­ing with light, and the mas­sive boot space made it prac­ti­cal for a trav­el­ling fam­ily of four with­out feel­ing mid­dle-agey. The Ap­ple Carplay meant we could flip be­tween Dis­ney sound­tracks and Joni Mitchell playlists with­out miss­ing much, and we also ap­pre­ci­ated the gen­er­ous leg room.

When the road is that no­table, the stops have a lot to live up to. Tofino, a sleepy surfer town on the windswept coast of Van­cou­ver Is­land, needn’t have wor­ried. We stayed at the Wick­anin­nish Inn, which was that clever mix of luxe yet homey – we trooped in bare­foot from the glo­ri­ous beach ev­ery day with­out ever feel­ing out of place, and sat through an in­cred­i­ble five-course tast­ing menu, tod­dler and baby in tow. From the deep­est bath­tub built for two, to the gen­tly clink­ing wind or­na­ments and slat­ted wooden arm­chairs set in sandy out­door nooks, we loved ev­ery­thing about this place. If the best hol­i­days are mea­sured in de­li­cious things eaten, then Tofino was for the win, with food plugged into a wild (and oc­ca­sion­ally hip­ster) vibe: fish tacos with kim­chi, net­tle pesto, and fid­dle­heads – baby fern tops, pea-green and crunchy. (Dis­claimer: we also ate our fair share of pan­cake break­fasts.)

Next stop, West Coast Wilder­ness Lodge on Canada’s Sun­shine Coast. Here, the air was fresh and pine-y and we drank crisp BC Sau­vi­gnon Blanc on the pri­vate deck of our wooden cabin as we watched bald ea­gles swoop across the fjord. “Mind your lit­tle ones, there are bears,” warned owner Paul – jok­ing, we think, though one had tum­bled away from the side of the road as we drove in (we’d seen sev­eral on a bear-spot­ting boat tour in Tofino, but this seemed some­how more mag­i­cal). We swam in de­serted lakes, boated over swirling rapids and ate black­ened hal­ibut burg­ers in the ho­tel’s wooden-framed din­ing room, with panoramic views across the wa­ter be­low. Look­ing up at those an­cient firs, I won­dered (as is the rule on hol­i­days like these) how to take the be-here-now mind­set of our road trip home with us. Per­haps stop­ping to look up at our own trees once in a while may help… and maybe the oc­ca­sional pan­cake break­fast.

FROM ROME TO BORDEAUX

MIN AN ALFA ROMEO STELVIO

y hus­band pro­posed to me on a road trip. We drove to the south of France in our lovely old MG, and atop a hill in Lyon, with sweep­ing views of the city, Jaron got down on one knee. It was the most ro­man­tic thing that has ever hap­pened to me. This sum­mer’s ad­ven­ture on wheels may not have been as whim­si­cal and spon­ta­neous, but it was ev­ery bit as heart-soar­ing.

Start­ing in Rome, we col­lected our

Alfa Romeo Stelvio – a typ­i­cally Ital­ian beast, all sleek and glossy with fe­line head­lights but, as it’s an SUV, big enough to ac­com­mo­date two fairly small chil­dren and their plethora of books and toys.

After a few days stay­ing in the sleepy vil­lage of Sutri, we headed north into the hills of Tus­cany, where cy­press trees proudly line the road. Out­side, it was a swel­ter­ing 40 de­grees, but the Stelvio main­tained a crisp cool­ness. In fact, we only re­alised the in­ten­sity of the heat when we stopped in Siena for gelato, and the kids grew faint in the mid­day sun. We reached the vine­yards and olive groves of the Pied­mont re­gion as night fell and, weary from travel, greeted the Re­lais San Mau­r­izio, a beau­ti­ful 17th-cen­tury hill­top monastery, with wel­come re­lief. It turned out to be the per­fect place to be re-en­er­gised. Our mar­ble bath­room had views for miles and the bed in our suite was vast. Be­yond our room, the grounds were equally charm­ing – laven­der and rose­mary scented the air and a sign lead­ing to an an­tique wooden wine press read “squeeze the grapes, make your own wine”. The spa fea­tured a salt cave with min­eral-rich plunge pools and wine ther­apy treat­ments. It was too good for a pit-stop, but we re­turned to our car after break­fast and spent the ma­jor­ity of our morn­ing be­ing swal­lowed by tun­nels, built into the side of the moun­tains as we passed Turin and headed up to the French bor­der. It was dur­ing this leg of the drive that the Stelvio came into its own; Jaron com­pared it to driv­ing a sports car. Un­like our hatch­back at home, it was pre­cise to drive and seemed at­tuned to our sur­round­ings, vi­brat­ing if we crossed lanes with­out in­di­cat­ing, beep­ing ur­gently when the car in front sud­denly braked. We were in France by af­ter­noon and passed through our much-loved Lyon a few hours later.

Our next dwelling, Château de Bag­nols, turned out to be the most beau­ti­ful place we’ve ever stayed. An im­pos­ing me­dieval fortress, our room was ex­quis­ite: gilded with faded mu­rals, it had colos­sal shut­tered win­dows, an or­nate cor­ner room for the girls and a bath­tub we could hap­pily share. There was mag­nif­i­cence around ev­ery cor­ner: enor­mous fire­places, dra­matic stair­cases, op­u­lent foun­tains, a Miche­lin-starred res­tau­rant. Our small ap­pendages meant we didn’t ex­pe­ri­ence the full Château de Bag­nols won­der, but what we missed out on in the taster menu, we made up for with a few hours’ splash­ing in the sunken cir­cu­lar Ro­man pool.

Be­fore fi­nally head­ing on to Bordeaux, we took our daugh­ters into Lyon, to the spot where Jaron pro­posed. It was at this mo­ment, with our girls’ arms looped around our necks, all cling­ing onto each other and grin­ning madly for a selfie, that I re­alised our ad­ven­ture had been worth ev­ery mile.

FROM LON­DON TO THE COTSWOLDS IN A CITROËN DS 4 CROSSBACK TERRE ROUGE

With the sum­mer hol­i­days upon us, we de­cided to es­cape the big smoke for some fresh air and coun­try liv­ing. This was the first time our lit­tle fam­ily – the new­bie be­ing a minia­ture dachs­hund, Bluey – were away to­gether. Head­ing to the Cotswolds via Ox­ford seemed the per­fect jaunt. Not too far from our home in north Lon­don, but far enough to feel like an ad­ven­ture.

We jumped into our Citroën DS 4 – there was plenty of room, so we threw in ev­ery­thing (in­clud­ing the dog bas­ket), switched on the fancy touch­screen sat­nav (you can also plug in a smart­phone), mar­velled at the se­cret lum­bar mas­sag­ing chair and cruised our way up the M40.

We ar­rived at The Artist Res­i­dence in Ox­ford, a beau­ti­ful choco­late-box pub, a few hours later. At­ten­tion to de­tail is ev­ery­thing here, each of the pub’s five stylish bed­rooms was filled with com­fort­ing touches – li­nen sheets, piles of arty books, a wel­come box filled with Ro­coco choco­lates and or­ganic snacks (in­clud­ing some for Bluey). Ours was such a cosy room we didn’t want to leave, but even­tu­ally man­aged a trip into Ox­ford and a long canal walk be­fore din­ner.

The Artist Res­i­dence has a small res­tau­rant, Mr Han­bury’s Din­ing Room, with a sim­ple, clas­sic menu, plus a more ca­sual pub (pa­pered with Wil­lam Mor­ris wall­pa­per and full of cool art­work). We opted to have din­ner in the res­tau­rant and de­voured our monk­fish, mus­sels and steak be­fore head­ing up to bed for a well-earned rest.

After a great night’s sleep we were on the road again. We stopped for a mooch at Blen­heim Palace, and then drove on to the Cotswolds, about 40 miles away, dig­i­tal ra­dio on full blast and a sleep­ing dog on the back seat. The drive felt easy due to the clever ‘Dy­namic Hyper­com­fort’ fea­ture in the DS 4, which means softer sus­pen­sion set­tings and a smooth ride on the in­side, even if the road out­side is bumpy.

We were ex­cited to fi­nally reach

The Rec­tory, tucked away in the Cotswolds vil­lage of Crud­well, with its Far­row & Ball paint shades, an out­door pool and a cool pub, The

Pot­ting Shed, across the road.

Our hand­some room (one of 18) still smelled of fresh paint and boasted a larger-than-life bed in navy vel­vet; it felt very grown-up but main­tained a low-key vibe, thanks to a cute hon­esty bar, where you can pick up fresh milk (or some­thing a lit­tle stronger). To shake off the day, we headed to the pool for a quick swim (okay, I had a cock­tail on a sun lounger over­look­ing the pool) be­fore din­ner.

We left Bluey in our room while we went out for our meal – carpac­cio of oc­to­pus, hake and more steak – and then moved on to cof­fee and a quick round of Scrabble in the draw­ing room.

After an­other whole­some break­fast, com­plete with buf­fet-style farm­house treats in the con­ser­va­tory, and a scenic walk rec­om­mended by the ho­tel, we sunk back into the DS 4’s leather seats, cranked up the eight-speaker sound sys­tem and popped on cruise con­trol for a smooth ride back to the cap­i­tal. Look­ing back, it was a great week­end – has­sle-free and not too far from home – and we’re al­ready plan­ning the next one.

Let the miles melt away as you take in spec­tac­u­lar views

LEFT AND ABOVE: The Wick­anin­nish Inn perches on the tip of Van­cou­ver Is­land FROM TOP: The sporty Honda Civic was a fam­i­lyfriendly choice; the West Coast Wilder­ness Lodge; shar­ing the lake with the bears

CLOCK­WISE, FROM TOP: Laid-back lux­ury at the Re­lais

San Mau­r­izio BE­LOW: The prac­ti­cal yet stylish Alfa Romeo Stelvio

RIGHT, IN­SET: Sarah and Jaron re­vis­ited ro­man­tic mem­o­ries on their fam­ily road trip through Italy and France

Op­u­lence abounds at the Château de Bag­nols

FROM TOP: A vel­ve­ta­dorned bed at The Rec­tory; Bluey en­joy­ing his week­end break; the out­door pool; the Citroën DS 4’s smooth sus­pen­sion makes for a com­fort­able road trip

TOP AND BE­LOW: The Artist Res­i­dence com­bines both lux­ury and in­di­vid­u­al­ity

The Rec­tory in Crud­well of­fers an es­cape from city life

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