Sooner or later any sports car owner that knows his stuff is going to want to take his car for a spin around the Nürburgring, the German race track generally considered to be the toughest and most dangerous race circuit in the world. The Nürburgring remains the benchmark by which car manufacturers measure the performance of their cars and unsurprisingly remains a mecca for car enthusiasts, chancers, wannabe racers and bona fide race drivers the world over.
Such is the level of interest in the Nürburgring that Aston Martin has a permanent home there for testing their cars and for customer driving events, though anybody can turn up and race during specially held public sessions for what is a fantastically modest fee (around €22). It’s arguably the most demanding purpose-built track there is – Jackie Stewart nicknamed it “the Green Hell” – but its lack of intersections and oncoming traffic make it a compelling proposition for people who want to drive very, very quickly, not to mention the lack of a blanket speed limit. But be warned. The “Ring” is notorious for a reason. It is 12.9 miles long and has 33 left and 40 right turns, as well as very little run-off, which means if you get into trouble, you’re extremely likely to hit the barrier regardless of speed. This is one reason insurers are becoming increasingly wise to people driving it on regular car insurance. It’s also worth noting that the Nürburgring is still a public toll road when opened to the public and is policed as such.
Located some 12 miles north-east of Carpentras in the Provencal region of Vaucluse, Mont Ventoux is famous these days for being one of the most gruelling stages in the Tour de France cycle race. Yet before its cycling notoriety, it was more famous for hill climbing – one of the oldest forms of motorsport – where drivers compete against the clock to complete an uphill course. Before WWII, hill climbing was a highly prestigious motorsport event and still remains popular amongst a hardcore group of petrolhead aficionados.
One of the first records of an Aston Martin competing at Mont Ventoux was a DB3 in 1958, and today it remains a mecca for Aston owners, hill climbers, car nuts in general and for those who just want to test the capabilities of their sports cars and their own driving skills. A climb of roughly 6,000ft to its summit, driving Mont Ventoux is spectacular and exhilarating.
Mont Ventoux has a choice of three different roads up. South from Bédoin is the most famous and difficult ascent with the steepest gradients (up to 8.9 per cent). What’s more, strong, violent winds can make the drive even hairier – venteux means “windy” in French – and it can get so windy at the summit that the road is sometimes closed. With less wind, try the drive north-west from Malaucène. It’s about equal in difficulty to the Bédoin route but is more sheltered.
Otherwise, east from Sault, the average gradient is only half as steep (at a mere 4.4 per cent). We recommend taking the first route.
Take the D19 to Flassan, then on to Bédoin before heading up the mountain. Stop off for coffee at Chalet Reynard and then head down via the D164 to Sault and take the D30 towards Rustrel. And if you're looking for somewhere particularly luxurious to stay, the Hotel la Bastides de Gordes is a great place to rest up. www.bastide-de-gordes.com
LE MANS PILGRIMAGE VIA CHAMPAGNE
One of the most thrilling fixtures on the motorsport calendar is the annual 24-hour Le Mans endurance race. Every year racing fans make a pilgrimage to this most alpha of races and many take their cars on the circuit to test their and their car’s capabilities, before the race proper. Make a grand tour of it and take in some wine-tasting along the way. Take a diversion through Champagne – it’s an easy and leisurely five-hour cruise from Calais on the A26, and a great opportunity to let your car stretch its legs.
The major Champagne houses are based in the town of Epernay. There you can taste champagne and get a tour of the kilometres of underground “caves” of a major producer like de Castellane. If you’re looking for something more rarified, then do your tasting at C Comme, a bar that specialises in showcasing small champagne producers. (www.c-comme.fr)
If you really love your champagne, however, you won’t want all of it to end up in a spittoon. Indulge yourself with a stopover at Hotel Royal Champagne. It has a staggering 360-degree view across the vineyards, and you’ll be able to choose from more than 300 wines and champagnes to go with your gastro-feast. (www.royalchampagne.com)
Scotland has some of the best drives in the UK: long stretches of well-maintained, twisting and empty roads, winding through beautiful, wild countryside. Book yourself a room at the super-luxe Barony Castle just outside the picturesque town of Peebles as a base from which to cruise through the border hills (www.devere.co.uk). Set out on the A72 from Peebles for a bucolic one-and-a-half hour drive that follows the river and takes in winding roads, glassy lochs and pretty bridges across gurgling rivers, plus the odd cattle grid.
First you’ll navigate through the village of Innerleithen where you’ll take the B709, before taking a right onto the A708 to Moffat when you hit a T-junction. Weave your way past St Mary’s Loch, and through sharp bends and bumpy roads to Moffat, and then head on the A701 towards the villages of Tweedsmuir and then Broughton. Then you’re on the home straight when you hit the A72 again.
There are plenty more gorgeous places to visit while you’re up there, including Rosslyn Chapel, made famous by the Da Vinci Code, and Floors Castle on the magnificent Roxburghe estate, where you can go salmon fishing or play golf. Edinburgh is close by, and you can even hit the slopes at the Midlothian Snow Centre. (www.midlothian.gov.uk)
ICE DRIVING, ST MORITZ
What could be a better finale for a winter road trip than the opportunity to learn how to drive an Aston Martin on ice in St Moritz?
The journey there takes in the scenic countryside in northern France, then skirts round Germany before taking you into Switzerland. It’s a 12-hour plus route, but there’s a convenient pit stop in Rheims (great for fans of the bubbly stuff). Or drive via the Swiss Jura mountains – it is also an amazing route and you could drop in for a VIP appointment at watch-maker Jaeger-LeCoultre in Le Sentier.
When you get to St Moritz, you’ll be staying with Aston Martin at the luxurious Kempinski Grand Hotel des Bains. Check-in, wrap up warm and make your way to the illuminated Aston Martin igloo outside the hotel, where you’ll be greeted with a glass of Bollinger Special Cuvée. After a briefing, you’ll be able to get know the other ice drivers while you’re all whisked away to a picturesque mountain retreat for a traditional Swiss feast.
The next day you can make like James Bond, haring around the ice as fast as you dare in a V8 Vantage, V12 Vantage, DB9, DBS or Rapide.
Aston Martin’s professional instructors will give you one-on-one training and show you how to get the best out of the the cars, giving you the kind of professional instruction that will mean you'll learn on the job and enjoy the thrills immediately. It’s also a good excuse to do some skiing after. The Aston Martin On Ice event runs daily from 3-10 February 2011. For further details call +49 (0) 69 770 752 002.