There are a few superlatives which are painfully overused in modern marketing. Scarce few “iconic” images are anything of the sort, and if everything hailed as “legendary” was indeed so then we’d have nothing normal left in the world.
With so much being routinely promised but rarely delivered, it is entirely forgivable for us consumers to become so jaded by the constant hyperbole that language itself begins to lose all meaning.
Thankfully, some brands still pay due attention to the true definition of words - step forward Bentley, and its new programme of once-in-a-lifetime driving holidays which entirely live up to the title of Bentley Extraordinary Journeys.
The premise of these Journeys is actually relatively simple: guests meet at a prescribed location, pick up a fleet of Bentleys and head off together on a meandering route to a designated destination, given the opportunity to drive magnificent automobiles along some of the most picturesque roads on the planet.
This may sound like something your average petrolhead could arrange themselves, with the help of a few like-minded mates and a basic command of Google Maps. The devil is in the detail, however, and Bentley has used its vast network of partners and consummate knowledge of the luxury market to create adventures which are truly Extraordinary. That, and you get to drive a brand-new Bentley, of course.
So far a total of six experiences have been planned across the world, from New Zealand to New Mexico. The original, and arguably the one most unobtainable without the assistance of Bentley themselves, takes place right here in Britain, beginning at the home of Bentley themselves and ending up hosted by one of their most long-standing partners, The Macallan.
From the moment I stepped off the train at Crewe and into the Flying Spur waiting to collect me, I was amazed at every turn.
The Extraordinary Journey UK starts with a coffee and croissant, but not in any usual confines. The venue for this, and a brief commencement address by the team who will be looking after you in the next few days, is Bentley’s own CW1 House. This state-of-the-art showroom is where Bentley explains their vision to clients, displays new prototypes, and recounts the story of their history to the world.
Once caffeine-filled and energised, the Journey proper begins with a tour of the factory (it’s five minutes across the street from CW1 House, but naturally your chauffeur will take you) which lasts well over two hours and leaves nothing out. Two things are noticeable throughout the experience: firstly, this is a REAL tour of a real working factory, not a sensitised visitor centre.
The work being done in front of you is on genuine orders which will be driven sometime soon by happy Bentley customers. The second is the passion and joy displayed by the people you meet: hand-crafting these luxury cars is something they are proud of, and it shows.
After the tour comes lunch, back at CW1 House, before a little time to freshen up at a local hotel. Dinner on that first evening is truly a special, and surreal, occasion: dining in the factory itself, with the bodywork of partially-completed vehicles surrounding you and an eerie silence having fallen over the bustling floor you crossed just a few hours previously, is something which the vast majority will never experience. The rare opportunity to do so really does bring you closer to the heart of the brand, and builds excitement for the days ahead.
For all there is to savour and enjoy about that dinner, it’s important not to have too much fun with the wine, for the next day starts early and begins the long, winding drive to Speyside. Our fleet was made up of Continental GTs and Flying Spurs – sadly the Bentaygas were all at Goodwood, and the “summer” weather made GT Convertibles redundant – which could easily have completed the trip a dream in just one easy stint, but our route called for driving shifts of no longer than a couple of hours, and plenty of luxurious stops. A roam through the Peak District brought us to lunch at Grantley Hall, a spectacular estate in the Yorkshire countryside now run as a luxury hotel and spa, and it was here the benefits of travelling with Bentley really became apparent.
I had already become used to abandoning my luggage – leave it in your room each morning and the team will see it safely to your next room that night – but had not yet banked on abandoning the car as well. Upon arrival at each scheduled stop we merely had to bring the car to rest in the proximity of the front entrance and the support crew took care of the rest – upon departure the car was turned, sat-nav updated, water bottle refilled and engine running. Each evening they were cleaned and fuelled while the group had dinner so your ride the next day felt showroom-fresh. It’s amazing how difficult that perk was to recover from when returning to reality.
Upon arrival at Middleton Lodge to round off the first day, my luggage was indeed safely waiting in my cottage upon arrival. After a quick dip in their outside pool came a sumptuous tasting menu with a delicious wine pairing. A full day of driving meant that these wines were a little harder to resist, but the outdoor jacuzzi in the cottage garden blew all the cobwebs away before hitting the roads for Day 3. Travelling north from this rural Yorkshire setting is when the roads, and the experience, really starts to come into its own.
A route through the winding and undulating B-roads which lead through Northumberland, across the border and into Scotland is the perfect opportunity to let a Continental GT loose, and hear its engine sing. The rolling countryside around you is as breathtaking as the rush of whipping your car through the corners, and by the time you have arrived in the Perthshire wilderness to post up at the ultra-secluded Treehouses at Lanrick your heart will be racing. Fortunate, then, that there are few places better to bring your pulse back under control than this sheltered forest hideaway. Bentley hires out the entire venue for the night, meaning no other guests are wandering around to disrupt your tranquillity, and the outdoor bath followed by indoor log fire in your treehouse will help bring your feet back to the ground.
The River Teith flows just past the entrance to the Treehouses, and provides an astonishing backdrop to the first Scottish dinner of the trip. The sounds of the river flowing and the sight of the setting sun marry with the smell of the open fire used to cook venison shot on a neighbouring estate – the overall sensation is one of true peace, and ultimate luxury. After dinner the support team will again chauffeur you back to the door of your personal woodland lodge, where you can have one last nightcap under the star-filled night sky before taking advantage of the fresh country air and utter rural silence to enjoy a restful night’s sleep.
The final leg of the drive is without question the most spectacular, as the convoy roars into the Highlands and through the Cairngorms National Park. Lunch is served at Braemar’s The Fife Arms – sibling of The Audley Public House and Mount Street Restaurant in Mayfair – where a piper greets the convoy at the door before the group is led on a tour of the hotel’s expansive art collection. The best haggis I’ve had in years, and easily the most unusual setting of the journey so far, contribute to a real sense that a crescendo approaches.
One last stretch, down roads which barely seem big enough for these grand tourers to comfortably use and through landscape which borders on dangerously distracting, confirms that sense was justified.
The Macallan Estate is an area on Speyside on which whisky has been produced (officially) for just shy of 200 years. In 2018 a brand-new, cutting-edge distillery was opened next door to the historic one, and it is here the Extraordinary Journey reaches its climax. The relationship between Bentley and The Macallan has grown strong over time, meaning the experience offered at the end of this trip really is second to none.
A guided tour of the archives and an in-depth look at the active production of this new distillery emulates the beginning of the journey back in Crewe; a tasting in a working warehouse at the other end of the complex (naturally, you’ll be driven there in Macallan’s own Bentley) allows you to sample some of the more rare Macallan expressions.
Dinner is back at the distillery, a setting reserved for scarce few meals every year, and showcases the best of northern Scotland’s larder. As if all that wasn’t a fitting enough end to the trip, a nondescript door opens to a hidden bar where a bottle of the exceptional Macallan 30 year old waits to provide a final digestif.
When I saw the details of this trip, of the cars and the stops and the roads and the destination, appear in my inbox I became – justifiably – excited. The reality was an even more enjoyable experience than I had imagined it would be. Many superlatives are painfully overused in modern marketing, but “extraordinary” is the perfect word for what Bentley has done here.