Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Driving in Basque Country

Exploring a foreign land by road is a joyride, especially if a luxury car comes into the picture

Kunal Purandare
Published: Oct 6, 2015 06:37:41 AM IST
Updated: Oct 6, 2015 07:58:05 AM IST
Driving in Basque Country
Image: Courtesy Jaguar
The all-new Jaguar XE. The use of electric power steering gives excellent control even when negotiating razor-sharp turns

If Paris is synonymous with love and romance, Spain has become a byword for adventure. And here, Bollywood has played its part, too. Who does not want to get his own fix of adrenaline after watching actors Hrithik Roshan, Abhay Deol and Farhan Akhtar skydive in Zoya Akhtar’s 2011 hit Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, most of which was shot in Spain? Or get down and dirty with tomatoes? The popularity of Spain’s La Tomatina can be gauged from the fact that Google marked the festival’s 70th anniversary this August with a doodle of the ‘world’s biggest food fight’.

While there are many such major tourist attractions, there is another way to discover Spain’s beauty: By hitting the road.

Jaguar’s global media drive for its all-new XE in the north of Spain in May was therefore a double treat: The opportunity to drive a luxury sedan on some of the best roads, and a racing track, as well as bask in the glory of Spain’s countryside.

On a warm, sunny Friday in May, journalists from across the world landed at Vitoria Airport in the Basque Country of Spain. After a brief description about the drive and a validity check of our international driving licences, we got the first glimpse of Jaguar’s latest offering, scheduled to be launched in India next year.  

Lined up next to each other at an angle of 45 degrees were the XEs in purple, red, blue, silver-grey and white. “Here are the keys; each car will have two occupants. Enjoy the drive,” said a company representative even as we gawked at the beautiful cars. And just like that, we were in the vehicle, ready for the two-day trip.

About 10 minutes into the hour-long drive to Circuito de Navarra, it was evident that we were on a different terrain: Smooth roads devoid of traffic, the luxury of not having to apply the brakes and nobody to overtake you. It was difficult to judge what was better—the car or the stunning locales along the way.

At a consistent speed of over 100-120 kmph, the ensuing drive was a breeze. And though it was hard to resist the desire to floor the accelerator, we had to adhere to speed limits in the narrow lanes leading up to some villages. It was here that we got a glimpse of a few locals sitting outside their quaint one- or two-storey homes with wooden doors and tiny balconies.

Driving in Basque Country The XE has an aluminium-intensive monocoque and comes equippped with an infotainment system

If the sturdiness and driving dynamics of the Jaguar XE played a huge part in making the long drive comfortable, they came into play even more on the racing track at Circuito de Navarra (near Los Arcos), an approximately 4 km-stretch that has hosted the Superleague Formula Series and the FIA GT1 World Championship.

The auto giant’s use of electric power steering for the first time gives excellent control even when racing at 150 kmph or taking razor-sharp turns. The brakes are powerful and the balance is near perfect.

It was easy to get carried away during the two rounds of four laps each at the circuit; thankfully, there was a trainer in the vehicle to remind us that we weren’t even close to being a Schumacher or Vettel.

The exhilaration lasted long after the experience, but it was time to travel again, this time to the hotel in Elciego, a predominantly wine-producing region in the town of Alava. The long, unwinding roads gave the impression that they were meant only for leisure driving. As a cool breeze filled the air in the evening, swathes of grass swayed happily on the green fields on the left; yellow flowers dotting the top of the slope added colour to the landscape and mountains near the horizon kissed the dark clouds. A painting had come alive.

With its skyline ablaze with bright yellow lights, Alava shimmered in the night sky. The town’s chapel, in particular, stood out. The break from travel lasted only a few hours though. Early next morning, we set off for Bodega Otazu, an hour-and-a-half drive, through the countryside. Old-world charm was on full display during this leg of the journey with many Gothic structures vying for attention.

While the Jaguar XE, with its well-functional infotainment system, helped us seamlessly navigate the convoluted paths, there were scores of cyclists who covered the same distance on two wheels. A quick break for brunch preceded the last drive of the trip back to the airport.

The best was reserved for the last. The accelerator was used to good effect during the most difficult stretch, which had sharp turns every 100-200 metres. If there was an equivalent of a roller-coaster ride, this was it. And the lightweight XE, with its aluminium-intensive monocoque (vehicle structure in which the chassis is integral with the body), comfortably passed the test.

With each passing kilometre during the nearly 500-km drive over two days, we had absorbed a little bit of Spain. The skydiving and deep sea diving experiences can wait.

(The writer had travelled to Spain on the invitation of Jaguar.)

(This story appears in the Sept-Oct 2015 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)