Too often the car rally is a needlessly long, mindlessly planned and overly automotive centric event.
Yes, we love cars. But we love the places they take us, the food that follows a day on the road and people we meet on the way just as much. The best road trips are greater than the sum of their parts, and best when shared with others. So, we're doing things a bit differently. We don't care what car you own, what watch you wear or what you do for a living. No exhausting driving days, no bullshit, just the good stuff. The only pre-requisites are an ingrained spirit of adventure, a hard-wired thirst for the road less travelled and a desire to be part of a collective of like-minded individuals. Whether you're firmly embedded in the car world or a keen newcomer, our membership is judged on merit not garage size.
London to Bordeaux
Belgrave Square, 10am: a flock of eager drivers with their vehicles gather ahead of a 10:30 departure. The cars are varied in age, value and genre, but share a commonality in their owner’s desire to hit the road. These owners are also not cut from the same cloth, a mix of ages, professions and automotive experience, but again this common purpose unites them. Conversation turns to the next three days and our trip from London to Bordeaux taking in city, country, main roads and back roads. Before long, it’s time to move.
A hop to Portsmouth is handled quickly and we arrive at the ferry port. As the boat hits the seas, the owners hit the bar. Again, the conversation flows to the road ahead, roads travelled, and before long beyond cars into further topics and our group moves to the restaurant. This half travel day serves as a gentle start to the trip, removing the slog of many boring miles and offering a chance to rest up before the driving days ahead.
Arriving fresh in Saint-Malo the following morning, our group gathers and gets on the road. Our eclectic gaggle of motors proves captivating throughout the morning drive, with spirted flybys from the Fiat 500 cut against the metallic overrun of the 458 Speciale and seemingly silent waft of a passing Bentley Arnage. The island of Île De Ré moves into view as we traverse the famous bridge that connect this haven to mainland, and as tyres touch sand and the coastal air hits we realise we could have gladly left the cars and set up camp for some days. Local delicacies by the beach coupled with regional wine has our crew further convinced that this is a lunch stop we shan’t soon forget. Replenished, we get going – further untamed French beauty awaits.
Saint-Émilion, specifically. While one would likely struggle to declare any section Bordeaux less than pleasing on the eye, this medieval village is truly a sight to behold. And behold we do, as our table for dinner at 2 Michelin starred Hostellerie de Plaissance overlooks this World Heritage Site. Quite how this fair region commanded such a firm and finessed grasp of gastronomy, never mind the breath taking wine that accompanies, we can only begin to imagine, but needless to say cars are no longer at the forefront of our minds. Grateful though we are they brought us here, our focus is on food, wine and company – the hallmark of a beyond ordinary road trip.
The following morning spirits are high, boots are filled with wine and we’re back on the road. The prior planning of this ECC outing promised no early starts, and this is well received on this day especially. A road trip should never feel like a chore, despite a need to reach new locations. Of our pack the Mini is definitely best suited to this twisting walled town, delighting residents with its tuned engine tone and British flair. Today we move from country to city, heading to central Bordeaux to visit a building somewhat juxtaposed to the more traditional architecture that punctuates the town. Designed by Philip Stark, the contemporary setting of our lunch location at Mama Shelter offers a distinctly different environment to the day before, and the day before that – variety is the goal, and this trip is delivering. Our lunch on the rooftop gives us our second view of Bordeaux, a view we are not growing tired of.
Our final French destination is Brittany’s capital, Rennes. We leave the opulent confines of our hotel and hit the bustling streets to locate our fitting final French meal, a traditional delight from Renne’s oldest restaurant. Our pack then moves to the Penny Lane, a local late-night hotspot and for a night cap. The ferry back to reality beckons tomorrow, we reluctantly accept, though gladly only a very short distance away back at Saint-Malo.
Arriving back in London is a harsh reminder that a new journey doesn’t await tomorrow, and the trip is over. A great road trip is greater than the sum of its parts, and this trip was certainly that. After all, modern travel has lost its lustre and glamour of yesteryear and is now merely common part of life, a way of reaching a destination in a painless and often passionless manner.
Long live the road trip, then, and its ability to allow us to actually experience the places we pass through. If that’s with great cars, great friends and great food, then all the better. On to the next…
London to AMSTERDAM
Road tripping to a city is a slightly alien concept at first. We’re used to a herd of motors running to the hills, off to some country retreat for a day of luxury pursuits, but we’re heading from city to city. Culture, bars, food, architecture – we’ll be heading to Bordeaux on our next trip for a country fix, anyway. A route from London to Amsterdam via Bruges and Ghent, by tunnel and by ferry, awaits our posse of cars lined up at Belgrave Square. As this is an ECC trip the modus operandi is epic food, drink, locations and driving all packed in to a couple days, removing need for monumental driving days and noted absences from commitments at home. Rather, our trip will be a small but perfectly formed escape from such mundanities.
A quick coffee eases us in further to our mercifully reasonable start time before which the burbles of our eclectic mix of engines bounce off Belgrave Square - noughties German straight six, seventies and eighties Italians and the especially peppy nineties Brit. We power down to the Eurotunnel with a level of excitement and eagerness that only a beer tasting in Bruges could rouse from a group of grown men.
Rolling into Bruges sees locals beaming at the sight of our old machinery, a look that’s reciprocated by us at the sight of their globally renowned beer. Dinner at a bustling local night spot rounds off day one in fine fashion. The buildings are stunning, the beer menus long and the locals friendly as our cars rest ahead of tomorrow’s leg.
The short hop to Ghent is a joy but our lunch location is the real treat. Pakhuis is a gem within a converted warehouse, with a local menu instilled with classic brasserie cool. We’re prised from our chairs after our fine feed to hit the road once more. Our route to Amsterdam is coastal and dramatic with inclement, challenging weather jostling with the industrial architecture, making our arrival onto the calm cobbles of Amsterdam and that first beer all the sweeter. As enjoyable as our dinner at Joya was it could never have prepared us for the night ahead at Vesper Bar, which saw our crew somehow infiltrate a locals-only lock-in full of secret agent-strength cocktails and memorable moments.
Though the Thai delicacies of last night’s dinner are a staple of Amsterdam food culture, it feels only right that our breakfast be truly authentic. The quaint Ommeleg sets us up for a leisurely day reluctantly aiming back towards London. Loaded up on the ferry from Hoek van Holland we cruise back to Blighty and we’re back in no time. It’s a strong start to the ECC calendar, but it is indeed just that. More is yet to come, with Bordeaux booked in and further plans afoot. Stay tuned…