I have hope that things will get better this year with the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccines and that by September or October a road trip will be possible. In great anticipation, I reached out to a group of friends with whom we have been doing road trips for over a decade now to gauge interest. It’s a great group of people and all have extensive track or racing experience (Road Trips & Driving Talent). We call these trips, the “Epic Drives” because, well, they are (Epic Drive 2017 Pt 1). The response was immediate and spectacular. Everyone was in and the excitement was palatable. The idea of not just being able to go out for a great drive, but also to stay in a wonderful place and enjoy both great company over great food is incredible enticing. Pulling it off will not be easy but where there is a will there is a way.
As the Epic Drive Group is ten couples/cars coming from 5 different countries, the logistics of just getting everyone together can be daunting. The trips normally run 5-6 days including the day’s drive to the meeting point, and a day’s drive home. In the past, the mix of cars has included a few Ferraris, McLarens, a Lamborghini, and on occasion a Porsche. Throw in Brexit, a pandemic, and it gets even more interesting. As 8 out of the 10 participants are based in Europe, it was a fairly easy call to decide this year’s Epic Drive would be on the east side of the Atlantic. In the past, we have held the Epic Drives in Wales, Scotland, Switzerland, Germany, France, and Italy. For 2021, given all the uncertainty, we decided that a new destination is out and that it’s better to go back to one we know. Choosing from the past list isn’t easy as they have all been terrific destinations. However, a few have been dropped as options for a range of reasons. Switzerland is out as the Alpine passes are likely to be closed by Sept/Oct. Italy and Germany are the most difficult for the majority of the group to get to, and so were also eliminated. The remaining contenders are France, Wales, and Scotland with France or Scotland likely to be the final choice. Both offer a combination of great lightly trafficked roads, excellent accommodations, great food, and spectacular scenery.
If we do choose to go to France, the itinerary will most likely take us across Normandy to Brittany and then down into the Loire Valley. When setting the daily routes, I try to target 200-300 miles per day over 5-6 hours of driving. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but on back country “D” roads that require high levels of concentration, it can be quite taxing. This type of trip will involve multiple different hotels as we move west, south, and then back east across France. We will likely stay at a number of Relais & Chateaux properties as they are consistently excellent in terms of both accommodation and food. The upside to this sort of trip is you do see a lot more places and get to sample a variety of great hotels. The downside is more complicated logistics and lots of packing & unpacking. Having spent a fair amount of time in the past driving through the area, there are some excellent back country roads, lots of historic sites to stop at, and wonderful hotels. The food is outstanding and in general the reception to the cars is on the positive side. The weather can be a bit of a challenge and the logistics for those coming from the UK is still a bit of an unknown. The French also drive on the proper side of the road which makes things much easier for the majority of the group (the British Government originally decreed in 1773 that one should ride/drive on the right as it allows you to keep your sword hand free, they then never bothered to update the practice when carriages became horseless and the public wearing of swords was outlawed).
Scotland would be a bit of a different type of trip. For Scotland, instead of being a moving caravan from hotel to hotel, we would pick a central location and then do day trips out from there. Our base would likely be in the Inverness area, as it’s easy to plan great day trips looping east, south east, south west, and finally up into the great north west peninsula from there. There are fantastic roads devoid of traffic in every direction, and as long as you are being sensible, the police seem to be understanding. On a past trip, we rented out a castle on Loch Ness which was both spectacular and spectacularly expensive when a large part of the group decided to do a tumbler tour of rare Scottish whiskies one night. The upside to this sort of arrangement is the logistics are much easier, you don’t need to worry about packing/unpacking and checking in/out of a new hotel every day. In addition, if one of the group decides they want to take a day off from driving, they can. The downsides are far less gastronomic variety and loss of the adventure of landing someplace new every night.
Where we finally decide to go, if we can go, will likely be driven by what the local pandemic rules are at the time. While I would hope and expect everyone in the group to have been vaccinated by the time we go, that isn’t a given. As we are coming from 5 different countries, each will have their own system of priority and different levels of vaccine supply. What the entry requirements for France and the UK will also likely play a key role in deciding the location as any on-going testing requirements both at the border and in hotels could complicate matters. If you need a Covid-19 test that’s no more than three days old before you check into a hotel, the logistics of getting everyone in the group tested repeatedly will likely rule out France given we would be moving hotels on a daily basis. Another complication will be sorting out what the car insurance and documentation requirements are now with the UK having left the EU.
While it’s all definitely a lot more complicated than it has been in the past, the idea of getting together with wonderful friends and going on a great road trip is absolutely tantalizing. The key is to be able to do it safely in an environment where we are all comfortable. So many of the things that we used to take for granted, now we simply can’t. If we can pull off an “Epic Drive” this year, I suspect it will be remembered as our best yet, even if it really is not just because everyone is so excited about the possibility. As one of guy’s said, “Oh to be more than 5km from home… right now I’d go anywhere, and in any car!”
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Speak to a Pete at `Petrolhead Tours and he can manage the tour or even give you the sat nav routes for Spain/Portugal or one of the many other routes he runs. I went with some very quick cars and drivers and Pete in his M2 competition led the way and gave out constant feedback on the road ahead.
Going on a true Drivers Trip in Europe has to be a car persons dream vacation. Hopefully we all see some normalcy this year.
Sounds very exciting and hopefully every happens as planned. Curious what you do in terms of vehicles for this type of trip. Do you borrow a friends, rent or ship a vehicle of your own over to Europe for the trip?
Go for it!
I look forward to reading the post Epic Drive blog.
If you do decide to do Scotland again then try to arrange a trip on the Sir Walter Scott on Loch Katrine. This is one of the unknown gems in Scotland, a beautiful loch that’s unspoiled because it’s Glasgow’s drinking water! They only allow a few boats, and the Sir Walter Scott is a steam ship that sails the length of it dating back to Victorian times. They built it on the Clyde, then split it up dragging it with horse to the loch before reassembling it. Check that it’s running, and give yourself plenty of time if you’re approaching from the west, the east road is easier but less fun (read scary!).
But the smooth sailing and stunning scenery, plus the hot chocolate with brandy they serve, makes it one of those places worth searching for.
You might also wish to try the Isle of Bute and a tour around Mount Stuart. That it’s owned by Johnny Dumfries, the former racing driver, is a bonus.
If you head up to the Isle of Skye I’m told the Three Chimneys is the place to arrange a meal, if you can get a booking. It is apparently that good. I’ve not been, but I trust friends who have.
Edinburgh it’s La Garrigue I’d head to, the owner and head chef is considered by Chef (one of the best chefs) to be outstanding and they’re good friends. In Glasgow, I would have recommended the Wee Curry Shop but the one at Buccleuch Street hasn’t managed to survive the lockdowns, but it was one of the best you’d ever have. Other “Mother India” (not quite a group, but related) ones are still good. Another place I’d recommend is “Straviagin”, for mid-range, or “The Ubiquitous Chip” for bit higher up. They’re not “Michelin Stars” but the food is excellent and atmosphere more relaxing.
And do try the Irn Bru. And a roll & slice.
Sound like a epic journey if things work out pandemic wise. Wondering what you do for a vehicle when you travel from the states to Europe? Borrow one off a friend, rent a supercar or possible even a extended test drive on a vehicle if you were lucky enough?
I am fortunate to live in a very small village in Surrey, UK, but with a disproportionate number of Petrol Heads (in fact the auther has been on a Sunday run with the group in his F40 a few yeras ago). We have had a similar trips for the past eight years which are massive fun. Sadly last May’s trip was cancelled due to Covid and this years trip which is all booked for France, Switzerland and Germany for May is not looking good. We are going to move it hopefully to the first week in September for all the same reasons and really hope it happens.
As one of your guys said, we will now settle for anywhere in any car.
Fingers crossed for you that the trip comes off – please do keep us posted. I’m looking to have my first experience of the North Coast 500 at the end of Sep, so particularly keen to hear any further details/suggestions if you do end up around Inverness.
Given your experience in organizing Epic trips like this one, would love to read an article on the do’s and don’ts of such a trip (especially the don’ts, actually, as Catherine and I are thinking of organizing something similar with some friends going forward.