the mini grand tour. a clubman road trip.
There’s a long list in the glove compartment of our MINI Clubman. It’s marked “places to go back to”, and as of this week there’s a new destination at the top - Thessaloniki.
Greece’s second city is a wonderful fusion of breezy beach vibes and lively café culture, with a hefty helping of history and the arts thrown into the mix too. In fact it’s nigh-on impossible to find a box that Thessaloniki doesn’t tick. After an excellent day spent here in the ancient Aegean port town, soaking up the vibes and sampling the local restaurants, it’s something of a wrench to hit the road once again.
From here our route - designed by British adventure travel specialists The Flash Pack - takes us through the alien landscape of Albania. Peppered with mushroom-shaped concrete bunkers from its Communist past, it’s still outlandishly beautiful - all mountains, lakes and fields, with horse-drawn carts still a frequent sight on its major roads.
From the Albanian port of Durres, we cross the Adriatic for Italy, and one of the best sections of the entire trip: Sicily. Here, the winding coastal roads and graceful ancient towns like Taormina, Catania and Syracuse make for outstanding driving - and the near-permanent sunshine bathes everything in a caramel-like glow.
After Sicily and Malta beneath it, we head north to the Italian port of Civitavecchia, boarding the big overnight car ferry for Barcelona. Here, in the Catalan capital, we have what is indisputably the finest meal of the entire trip, at the outstanding Fàbrica Moritz - a restaurant inside the city’s oldest brewery, on a leafy street in hip Sant Antoni.
Time seems to fly over our final few days, as the Clubman’s mileage ticks ever closer to 10,000, and our finishing line in Dublin. We’ve been to no less than 30 European countries in one calendar month, taking in 14 ferries en route (courtesy of the superb aferry.co.uk). We’ve driven as far as Cyprus and back again, taking in everywhere from Finland’s remote Åland islands in the north to Malta’s golden beaches in the south. And the whole way, all 30 days, two things have been consistent. Firstly, the warm welcomes we’ve received everywhere en route, and secondly the car herself. Our trusty Clubman has not let us down once.
Now, back in Britain, it’s time to fish that list out of the glove compartment - Thessaloniki, Brno, Turku, Durbuy, Szeged - and all the other destinations we want to go back to. There’s no time like the present for planning the next Clubman road trip…
OUR FINAL WEEK ON THE ROAD
From Tasucu, we crossed to and from Cyprus on the local car ferry, before driving up Turkey’s west coast, through Gallipoli and into Greece. Here, we had to tear ourselves away from the outstanding second city, Thessaloniki, before crossing Albania to make our next aferry.co.uk connection - from Durres across the Adriatic to Italy. Next was a straight shot down Sicily’s eastern side to Malta, before ferry-hopping via Palermo and Rome to Barcelona. From here our route took us through beautiful Catalan countryside to reach pretty Braganca in northern Portugal. Finally we turned north, through San Sebastian, Bordeaux and La Rochelle to make the 14th and final ferry of our challenge: the Irish Ferries connection from Cherbourg to Rosslare. From here it was a three hour drive to Dublin, and our finishing line!