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Rich People’s Problems: Leave the airport hordes behind, take a road trip to the sun

Flying is no longer a glamorous travel option. I’ve gone on a proper road trip instead. The electric vehicle is range inhibited, so it’s time to bring out the big guns. Fire up the Aston! It’s going to be a petrol-powered holiday with three other couples. 

Some may shudder at the thought of an epic car journey. But think about how air travel has changed. I used to love airports but they’ve become intolerable. They’re often overcrowded and expensive. I hate the queues. The security screening processes would be inhumane to cattle, let alone humans.

I bristle at those dressed up to the nines because they think they’re better than everyone else. And when I see red trouser-wearing men and pearl-clutching ladies travelling abroad with hats, I ask myself: who needs a hat in an airport? I’m infuriated by flyers with massive suitcases masquerading as hand baggage and flinch at those who lack spatial awareness. And that’s before one’s walked 18 miles to get on the plane. 

Added to the post-Covid travel chaos and domestic rail strikes, the government and aviation regulator have written to carriers telling them to ensure schedules are “deliverable”, resulting in multiple cancellations. With the queues to get off planes and a long wait for your bags, I’m left wondering if it is worth the bother or expense.

In a car, you literally are in the driving seat. Pack what you want and there’s always room for a cheeky purchase made along the way. But there are downsides. A few years ago my trusty Aston Martin ended a road trip on the back of a low-loader. Not wishing to repeat this disaster I sent it for a pre-trip once-over. £3,150 later, he’s ready to go. There may be a cost to owning a 20-year-old car but in this case it’s still a fantastic ride.

The ignition key clicks, there’s an electronic “bong”. Pause. Press the illuminated “Start” button and with a delighted roar, the car kicks into life. The sound of an Aston Martin’s engine is joyous. If it was food it would be an apple flan, the kind made by a chef. A familiar tasty classic but a special treat.

After the original hi-fi buttons went spongy and sticky, I’d installed a £129.99 Kenwood Bluetooth stereo system (no need to spend more, apparently). Its factory-supplied speakers emit a deep bass reflex, should I ever decide to pump out some banging dance tunes. 

A Eurotunnel ticket costs just £229 for a return non-refundable fare, for the car and two passengers. There was hardly a queue in sight at Folkestone and the automated check-in and passport control is a breeze, contrary to the “project fear” Brexit warnings. The only trip hazard is that you will need to have a “UK” identification on your number plate, as some bore-o-crat has decided that we’re no longer “GB”.

And off we set. I did think about calling the police after we were mugged at a French service station. But I was told by the other half that the price of fuel had risen substantially and it’s the same for everyone. Despite the French government’s intervention, petrol costs €2.20 a litre for the E5 “super”. Well, the Aston needs a treat. Inexplicably, in the same way that the French cannot make a decent cup of tea, some of their filling stations limit the amount you can take in a single filling to €150.

If you fly, in addition to being frazzled when you arrive, you’ll miss out on the benefits that proper travelling can provide, like a fantastic overnight stop in a picturesque village. We’d settled on a pretty three-bedroom hotel called Le Bailli de Montsaugeon near Dijon. On a walk we meet an octogenarian resident who keeps bees. He’ll happily sell you his best acacia honey for €8 a jar. At the commune-run bar, they serve a locally produced rosé that’s off the chart good. Just €9 a bottle. We quaffed two. 

The hotel cost €145 a night (including the most amazing breakfast) and for €30 a head, they’ll give you dinner. We returned to the bar for an impromptu rock concert, clattering through another bottle of rosé while playing pétanque. It’s 28C, the sun is beginning to set, there’s a light breeze and the wine is going down a treat. You don’t get this unplanned joy on a package or destination holiday. 

We were en route to a remote villa with an infinity pool in the hills above the town of Fayence. Satnav is a brilliant thing. I’d like to think we’re not too stupid to end up following it blindly. After the Aston and our neighbour’s Bentley ended up off-road on a rocky path that became steeper, narrower and increasingly precarious, we had to question our intelligence. Because the last piece of road to get to the villa wasn’t mapped, the satnav knew a “better” route. 

Amazingly, the Aston made it without any apparent damage or concern. The Bentley fared worse, with warning lights flashing on the dashboard necessitating a trip to the nearby dealership in Mougins. They were brilliant, checking over the car while suggesting how it should be driven to last the rest of the adventure — with no charge for either the service or the once-over. Bravo Bentley. I’m almost tempted to return to the brand!

If the concept of renting a villa is alien to you, reconsider. Yes, staying at hotels where washing, cleaning and everything else is done for you is all very well. But often a hotel falls short in service, delivery, pillows or it’s just unbelievably expensive. 

In this age of austerity, will a fancy hotel or well-appointed villa provide better value and a more enjoyable holiday? Ours cost us £4,000 for the week, or £142 per couple per night. If I’m looking for somewhere to razz it up for a few days, I’d rather go to a villa than a blow-the-budget hotel. You can fix the itinerary and the activities with your friends — and get to see and do more, experience better restaurants and, to my mind, have more enjoyable memories. 

Travel is changing, again. Jetting off for a few weeks might be accessible but unless it’s long haul, it’s no longer the way to travel in style. As I write, we’ve started our winding journey home, via stops on the Côte d’Azur. Although La Reserve in Beaulieu-sur-Mer was tempting, €1,350-€1,650 a night for one of the cheaper rooms is a bit steep. I’d rather go to the four-star Carlton with rates at €160 including an epic buffet breakfast and super friendly staff and splash the money “saved” on lunch and an afternoon at the pulsating Anao Plage beach bar, followed by dinner at the nearby Hotel Royal-Riviera. What a view!

Fly if you want. But I won’t be booking a ticket any time soon. I’d rather stick to four wheels with my friends and the fabulous Aston. There are interesting places to stay and wonderful villas to rent. It will cost you less and you can go away for longer, avoiding the crowds, strikes and queues. 

James Max is a TV and radio presenter and a property expert. The views expressed are personal. Twitter @thejamesmax 

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