HOW DOES ONE still ‘holiday’ while abiding by all the endless rules – avoiding greens that might turn to amber, or ambers to reds? How can we jet off across open water on an actual airplane that takes off from an actual airport and then take the road untravelled – yet still remain within the UK?
How about Northern Ireland? A location that happens to be refreshingly unknown to me despite its geographic proximity. DRIVEN co-founder Michael Shelford and I set off from London Heathrow (a proper airport) and flew to Belfast (on a proper plane) and landed brimming in anticipation of our trip – the first on ‘foreign’ shores for far too long.
Now, my editor commissioned this trip as an automotive feature, so we would be needing some wheels. The weather was, somewhat remarkably for Northern Ireland, more akin to Capri than Camlough, so a convertible made sense. This was a three-day break so, as we were travelling light, we didn’t need anything practical. The queues at Hertz and Avis seemed unusually long so we stepped aside and hopped across to meet the kind people at the Charles Hurst Ferrari dealership to see if they could help.
Fortuitously, they had a sparkling Ferrari F8 Spider sitting waiting for us. (It saddens me to tell you, dear reader, that this is not a service they offer to everybody. I know a man who knows a man…)
The F8 Spider is a replacement for the 488 Spider, which was a replacement of the 458 Spider, which was the replacement of the F430 Spider.
As you can see, this is a car with real pedigree; each of the models preceding it were game-changers and extremely popular models for a brand not short on them. It combines genuine performance credentials with enough creature comfort to make it an everyday drive – or at least an every-weekend drive. One with a zero-60mph of 2.9 seconds and a top speed of 211mph. Gulp.
We had drawn a simple circular route around NI and thankfully as it’s not that huge a place, that would take in most of the hot spots without rushing. We left Belfast and not before long I was working my way through the 720 horses sitting just behind my head.
The F8 continues Ferrari’s uncanny ability to make a mid-engine supercar that’s biblically powerful, ferociously fast, yet is as easy to handle as a BMX.
As you climb down into the cockpit – ergonomic and artistic in equal measure – you’re ensconced in the Italian marque’s trademark finesse and finish. We’ve become accustomed to encyclopaedic central screens in cars now, much like a TV sits at the centre of every living room.
It’s just how things are. But with this being a more performance-focused machine where weight is key and generally less is more, Maranello has instead squeezed all driver info onto the left and right screens within the driver’s dial cluster.
It just about works – the ever-present Carplay adapting to the new environment, the good minds at Apple inventing another way to display their all-conquering apps. (Will manufacturers eventually just give up with built-in sat-navs? I’m not sure I’ve used one in years.)
The irony of the screen-streamlining is that they’ve then added an extra one for the passenger so, I assume, they can keep an eye on your speed.
By now fully acclimatised, we cruised along the stunning Causeway Coast – a road that in most places sits as close to the water’s edge as the Tarmac physically allows. The sun was out, the roof was effortlessly folded away, and we wouldn’t have been surprised if round the next corner Portofino came into view.
As we pulled over to take in the next ocean vista, we were instantly set upon by a very enthusiastic local man and his many, many children. I know the Ford Galaxy is a spacious car but, in this instance, it appeared to have been blessed by Mary Poppins as it proffered a bottomless stream of children. This was not the last time we were beset by enthusiastic locals. The Ferrari turned so many heads over the three days that we may have inadvertently boosted the local physiotherapy trade. After much wrangling, we managed to prize the kids away from their £327,000 climbing frame and headed on our way.
We felt, like good tourists, that visiting the famous local sites was a must. One doesn’t go to Paris and not visit the Eiffel Tower or Rome the Coliseum. The Giant’s Causeway is probably the most iconic attraction in Northern Ireland – a natural phenomenon, visited by millions and photographed by more. We headed for it with earnest intentions and on arrival were met with car parks, ticketing and a large modern building which, it seemed, we had to go through to get to the attraction. I know it’s blasphemous to say, but we gave it a miss.
‘Philistines!’ I hear you cry. If you’ve ever driven an open-top Ferrari, you’ll know it’s very hard to beat and even harder to leave, so I decided to sack it off and press on. I opened the taps on the prodigious 3.9-litre V8 engine, employing all 770Nm of its torque to whisk us off and away towards Derry. I mean Londonderry. Or do I mean Derry? We arrived in this famous city not entirely sure what to call it and found ourselves being suddenly very aware of our Englishness – not to mention the ever so slightly conspicuous Giallo yellow Ferrari F8 we were arriving in. Way to make a quiet entrance, guys.
But once we were cosseted by the warm embrace of the Everglades Hotel bar, all was well with the world again.
Day two, and we packed up the adequate front boot with our weekenders plus the camera gear, and headed inland through the hilly Sperrins on our way to Enniskillen for lunch. There was an almost eerie quiet to the rural roads of Northern Ireland, a feeling of emptiness that our brazen exhaust cut through like a bandsaw through brie.
Lunch in Enniskillen proved as simple as turning up at The Fat Duck without a booking. Turned away by three bustling restaurants, we finally stumbled upon The Bees Knees – a frankly Fulham-esque café serving millennial brunches and oat-milk lattes.
Tanks full of fairtrade coffee and vegan bruschetta, we cracked on to a series of waterways and lakes I spied due south, which I thought would be worth a visit.
‘Worth a visit’ turned out to be the understatement of the century. This remarkable string of islands was the highlight of our trip. It was here we met softly spoken Tim, the ferry driver for the island of Inis Rath – home to a Hare Krishna temple and its small community. Tim was very entertained by the idea of putting our supercar on his ferry and pretending to his congregation that he’d used the money they had been raising for a new roof on a new Ferrari instead.
With room for barely a Ford Focus, we loaded up and went out for a ride. The only issue was getting the car off again. You’d think with a price tag akin to a three-bedroom semi it’d have a nose lift button? Nope. Cue a Top Gear-esque period of plank wrangling, nervous hand signals and a little light excavation before we finally got it off.
Once back on the mainland, I switched the trademark Manettino dial to Sport and hit the gas – blasting us straight towards Belfast and our final stop at The Titanic Hotel.
The iconic H&W cranes stood out on the Belfast skyline like a Northern Irish Empire State Building with the nearby Titanic Hotel almost as impressive, a mixture of antiquarian red brick and modern glistening glass.
It wasn’t long before we were in the stunning high-ceilinged bar and ordering drinks, flicking through photos from the weekend. The barman (the most attentive barman ever, by the way) encouraged us to have a Guinness to kick things off – when in Rome etc. We had two and headed through for an unexpectedly haute-cuisine dinner, surrounded by pictures of the ill-fated ship. Negronis were sunk next – and we chatted until our words started to slur.
So, did we manage a proper holiday? Well, as we said goodbye to our extraordinary ‘hire car’ and strolled through airport security with a hint of a tan (on our foreheads at least), it certainly felt like it.
Go to Northern Ireland (in a Ferrari ideally); it’s a fascinating place and if you’re interested in a three-night yoga and meditation retreat at a Hare Krishna temple on a remote island, I know a guy.