THE GRAND TOUR BEGINS…
Nobody tells you how pretty Wallonia is. Probably because nobody really talks about Wallonia. And for British drivers, that’s a major miss.
Belgium’s hilly southern half, punctuated by picturesque villages, forests and fortress towns, is a wonderfully exhilarating drive. We’re deep in the wooded bosom of the Ardennes within three hours of arriving in Calais, and well en route to our first destination: Durbuy, the smallest (and quite possibly the prettiest) city in the world.
It’s day one of the MINI Grand Tour and team spirits are high. Our mission over the next month is to drive our six door MINI Clubman through no less than 30 European countries - all 28 EU States plus Turkey and Albania, which we'll need to cross in order to make the necessary ferries. On the road, our aim is to explore some of the continent’s quirkier corners, made considerably more accessible without an over-reliance on the nearest airport.
We reach one such stand-out destination on the evening of day four: Angavellen - a unique eco-hotel near the Swedish town of Malmo, with 26 guest cottages scattered among its sprawling fields. Justifiably lauded as “a living Utopia” by Gourmet magazine, it also boasts an award-winning restaurant, only serving organic ingredients grown on site. The hearty field-to-fork menu is a major treat, and the perfect pit stop before driving the 400 miles north east to the Swedish capital, Stockholm.
This drive too - much like the winding road through the Ardennes from Brussels to Durbuy on Day One - is astonishingly beautiful. We pass vast, glittering lakes and picture-perfect wooden houses, coated in a riot of vibrant colours. By the time we reach Stockholm Harbour and our idiosyncratic accommodation for the night - former navy ship the AF Chapman, now converted into a popular floating hostel - we have all fallen a little in love with Sweden.
Parking up on the dockside next to our buoyant boarding house, we reflect on the first 1,800 miles of our 10,000 mile continental circumnavigation. All of the team - the Clubman included - are still in top form as we prepare to head East across the Baltic Sea towards Finland. And, as far as the route ahead is concerned, the best is yet to come.
OUR WEEK ON THE ROAD.
From Dover, we sailed with Aferry.co.uk to Calais, before driving 250 miles south to our first destination, pretty Durbuy in southern Belgium - the smallest city in the world. Day 2 began with brunch in Luxembourg City, before an evening spent in the lively Dutch town of Den Bosch. From here we pushed across the German border to Hamburg for lunch on day 3, overnighting in Denmark’s hip second city, Aarhus. The following day we reached Malmo in southern Sweden via the epic Oresund Bridge. The first stage of the MINI Grand Tour finished with an enjoyable 400-mile drive through the picturesque lakes and villages of southern Sweden to the capital, Stockholm.