International eXcellence Magazine took the Aston Martin Volante DB9 convertible in Bronze on a British Luxury Tour to experience Britishness at its best.
We combined great British automotive design, classic British Luxury hotels, Michelin starred restaurants, sky diving and country scenery in a five day extravaganza.
The Aston Martin DB9 Volante is a magnificent, sleek, desirable beauty of a car. One covets it immediately. Even stationary it looks like sex in motion. If money was no issue it would be wonderful to have it on a pedestal in the living room, as it is a veritable sculptural masterpiece. We were taking this Bronze beauty on a British Luxury Tour and the weather could not have been more perfect.
We started early in the morning as the mists were lifting and hit the road for Winchester, one of the oldest towns in England and home to the imposing gothic Cathedral and Winchester College. We were immediately impressed with the power of the car as it takes some skill merely to pull out of a side road without a throaty wheel spin. Some may argue that it is not quite powerful to be in the supercar category but we say tosh. It may be less powerful than the Vanquish but it really has more than enough for any situation.
The DB9 has a torque of 620 and 517 PS reaching 62 MPH in 4.6 seconds. Now this is admittedly half a second or more behind other supercars but who are we to quibble over half a second. Plus whatever it lacks in raw power it more than makes up for in style.
And it is the style of the car where it truly excels. Car manufacturers over the last decade have really come to know their niche and their audience. Aston Martin have done an excellent job of modernising one of the greatest style legends in the automotive world. The designers of this beautiful car took a risk in creating a modern classic dash board with push button gears. That’s right, there is no gear stick. Now at first we thought this seemed like a brash and risky move, leaving out one of the masculine macho tenets of driving, the gear stick, the manipulation of which separates the skilled driver from the pack. Of course we all know that automatic gear boxes and paddles are far superior. However the gear stick has been left in most cars as a respectful nod to the past, even if it merely serves as a large button. So all the drive choices are sleek buttons up on the panel and whilst it took a little while to accept, now when I see a gear stick it strikes me as somewhat anachronistic. It's the final acceptance of the fusion between cars and computers, the buttons should be easily accessible and be truly functional and we loved this move which dispensed with dropping the arm down to ones side to shift a lever.
The shape and feel of the car continues the modernisation of this legendary British style icon. The body is a sublime futuristic evolution of the classic DB design. In a nutshell this car is the epitome of style and this is where its niche lies. It is a gentleman’s car, of whatever age, true style is ageless and timeless. It manages to convey an understated but serious luxury finesse that any one who drives it will feel, “Yes, this car was made with me in mind”. It reminds you of this as you drive with an engine sound that surely must have been created by an orchestral composer, the acoustics from this V6 are pure jazz growl with the soul sound of Louis Armstrong.
We rumbled into the old town of Winchester and pulled into the Hotel Du Vin which is a superb little boutique hotel and restaurant with an interior walled garden that would not be out of place in the South of France. The service and decor match and we enjoyed a lovely lunch in unseasonal sunshine. Once refreshed we headed off to the hills above Winchester to push the car through a few country lanes and see how she performed. This is where I personally fell in love, not the careless, immediate first lust that I experienced when I initially sat in the car, but a more thoughtful and deep ardour that comes from recognising a fellow soul. The car drives like a real classic. It has not been computerised to such a degree that you have little or no involvement in its performance beyond pushing the pedal to the metal. It is a driver's car, in that it has fabulous raw power and yet you are still responsible for how it handles. One hundred miles an hour feels fast, you are not so cosseted that you have no feel for the acceleration or its speed and both are a pleasure to experience. Its movement and road holding really remind me of the great classic cars, infused with all the modern technology to make it safe and more powerful.
Our next port of call was the legendary luxury hotel Cliveden House in time for a short stroll by the river before dinner. The journey was far too short and we regretted not planning much longer as we were seriously enjoying the car, but a few hours later we purred into the famous long driveway past the ornate neo-greek fountain and statue. The view of the house is superb as the sun sets and we had barely stopped in front of the entrance when our bags were whisked away as the porter took the car keys with evident relish.
I’m trying not to use the Bond reference but here’s where I fail. This hotel is where many of the leading politicians, celebrities and musicians of the 60’s enjoyed a network meeting or a hopefully discreet frolic with friendly ladies. Not so discreet as some famous rendezvous hit the press in spectacular fashion. To get back to Bond, this is somewhere he would definitely have come for a little r&r between missions, obviously with someone unsuitable he would not have taken home to M.
The hotel grounds are sumptuous and much visited, it is part of the National Trust, and they even have two classic wooden tenders, lovingly hand crafted, that can glide you up and down the river for a wonderfully relaxing evening. Dinner was excellent though the service a little bemused as they are going through some changes. The chef is André Garret who is really making a name for himself using the freshest local ingredients and for combining them in perfect harmony to bring out the very best flavours.
The next day we wandered over to the new Spa and Pool which is magnificent, first accompanied by a little light rain, swiftly followed by blazing sunshine, which was much enjoyed in the hot tub followed up by a full body massage to ease the non existent tension of our weekend.
After a hard morning in the walled garden we reluctantly left the exquisite surroundings and friendly service to speed over to Marlowe for lunch at The Hand and Flower which is the only two Michelin starred pub in the UK. Quite a boast, which we were keen to see if it was deserved. It's located bang on the main road into Marlowe and from the outside looks like any other nice little English pub. However there is a lovely atmosphere when you walk in and whilst it is very nicely decorated it is clear that they have concentrated on the food and the service. It is here they excel, this is no ordinary pub, even in this rapidly growing fine gastro pub country. This 4 Rosette pub is owned by Tom and Beth Kerridge, with Tom as the chef, and Beth, a sculptor, who designed the warm and welcoming front of house. Our meal was a wonderful combination of modern traditional dishes finished of with a sumptuous desert served with a specially brewed fine beer that beautifully complimented its flavours. You can even get a beauty treatment before or after your meal, just to get those juices flowing, as long as you are staying there!
Our Aston Martin tour would not be complete without a truly Bondesque bit of adventure and we had plumped on skydiving. The very best way to start in this sport is indoor skydiving with Airkix who have the nearest venue to London, with three locations in the UK. We parked the Aston outside the building with its giant fans whirring away inside and suited up with our instructor who was brilliant throughout. The best thing about indoor skydiving is that you get as much time in the air as you like, instead of a measly one minute with all the kerfuffle of getting up there in a plane etc. It is the most extraordinary fun, apparently I was a natural and I do admit that it seemed the most relaxing sport in the world. Much akin to swimming at depths, you feel very comfortable and weightless. After our session our instructor G then showed us how it was done with an aerial ballet, spinning upside down, soaring upwards, somersaults, air voguing and generally making birds look clumsy and like they really could have taken the whole flight thing much further.
After the excitement of flying we raced along the Hog's Back towards the old market town of Guildford for a little drive by up the iconic cobbled streets where we stopped for some luxury shopping. The parallel high streets undulate upwards to overlook green meadows that scintillate in the sunset. Guildford is a mere half hour from London yet boasts some of the very best country landscapes and views over the Surrey hills, perfect for enjoying the Aston with its roof down. Once the boot was full with the necessary requirements from Gerard Darel, Links of London, House of Fraser and the like, we headed for home, Moneypenny in the driving seat insisting this was not solely a gentleman's car and I have to agree, this car looks the “Couilles du chien” with a pretty lady at the wheel!
See the video here: http://youtu.be/5_mKqLCbGrI