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 »
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