1500 miles across Brittany

Our Hotel in Vezelay, which also received a visit from President Sarkozy while we were there. He arrived in a magnificent Citroen C6, surely the most elegant of all modern cars, even flanked by hundreds of BMW riding Gendarmes!

Last year we had a holiday in June and by September we wished we could have another, so this year we did. Friend Peter Boxer was meeting up with a few other Rolls-Royce, Bentley and Bristol enthusiasts at Chateau de Silly and very kindly invited the James family to join him. Rich and Sally took JTM 50 (B227JN) and Caroline and I drove the Bristol. We crossed the channel on an LD Lines Ferry (About £100 cheaper than Brittany ferries) and set off cross country from Le Havre the following morning. Silly is a 168 mile journey and about 35 miles NE of Paris and we chose to avoid Motorway, which is probably not the best idea as over half the journey is through a densely populated urban and industrial region, so slow going with endless traffic lights, traffic calming measures and 30KPH limits. However we eventually hit fast open roads and were able to make better progress and we arrived in plenty of time and good shape at what is a magnificent and comfortable Chateau in a lovely part of France.

We stayed at the Chateau de Silly for four nights, during which time we drove the Champagne Trail, tasted Champagne, visited an excellent Michelin guide restaurant, the spot where the Armistice was signed, various ruins and the odd other restaurant too. The Champagne trail proved quite a challenge; Primarily driving rain, grape harvesting that meant white vans parked everywhere on a very narrow road and often reversing unexpectedly into our path and finally because Anthony's Garmin made us retrace our steps several times before eventually getting us to our destination an hour late. Sadly (not very) we missed the guided tour, but were happy to settle for much needed tasting.

Four days later, we set off for Vezelay, which is another 160 miles due South and perhaps 100 miles SE of Paris. It's a world heritage site with a magnificent Basilique, plenty of gift shops, one offering an old fashioned doormat in ranbow patterns with Bonjour written on it, plenty of restaurants, at least one in the Michelin guide and our Hotel http://www.laposte-liondor.net/index.htm that sadly was more expensive and less good than the Chateau at Silly. Breakfast was average buffet, the coffee stewed, but the rooms were fine. We didn't have dinner, so I can't comment.

Vezelay is in a magnificent area with lots of medieval towns and superb, empty, open roads meandering through beautiful, barely inhabited valleys. They produced the sort of driving our old cars were designed for. We often reached speeds of over eighty MPH as we proceeded from one destination to the next, it was a magical experience and very like it must have been in the early fifties when our cars were new. It also showed how closely matched the MKVI and the Bristol 400 are in every respect but comfort and silence, where the Bristol is significantly worse. The whole world is obsessed with sports or racing cars and completely ignores what I believe is the greatest of all Classics, the MKVI Bentley. What else is there of that age that can cruise all day at eighty in relative silence, astonishing comfort (in the back it's better than most moderns) and corner just as fast as the more firmly sprung Bristol? Or would do if it had the Harvey Bailey dual anti-rolls bars to match the single one fitted to the 400 that overcomes the rather unpredictable oversteer of the standard model.

After another four nights, we drove the 280 miles via Autoroute to Caen stopping only for fuel and lunch and then on the overnight ferry for Portsmouth. It was a short and enjoyable trip in the company of good friends and it was a wonderful drive, even in the noisy, bumpy old Bristol. France is so much better for motoring than the UK, but it has become unbelievably expensive and restaurants are not as predictable as they were, but the wine is still by far the best in the world in my opinion. The accompanying pictures fill in the gaps in my brief story.

ashley james