The Rolls Royce Dawn two-door convertible in Powder Blue is sleek, attractive and comfortable. The ideal car for a luxury tour of the Loire Valley, via Paris and Fontainebleau.
Rolls Royce are shedding their chauffeur-driven image, producing luxury tourers that are comfortable on long journeys. So I decided to test it with a thousand-mile plus drive across to France.
Everything was planned at the last minute as Covid restrictions in the UK were bouncing up and down faster than a bumbling Prime Minister caught on a zip wire.
The Eurotunnel was booked late Sunday evening for the next morning. I reserved the single deck space to accommodate the large wheelbase of the Rolls and made last-minute calls to confirm lunches and overnights stays.
The next morning I slid into the soft leather seats and glided out of the drive heading for Folkestone. The August sun did not disappoint so I kept the roof down the whole way. The Rolls Royce Dawn looks magnificent topless, particularly as it has a special Aero Cowling which sits over the rear seats, conjuring the illusion of a sports two-seater while improving airflow.
Due to Covid, boarding the Eurotunnel has been made even simpler. You arrive twenty minutes before, the machine reads your licence plate and you drive down the ramp onto the platform, then into the train. You are completely isolated and never closer than two metres from anyone. I have done this many times, but I still get a thrill rolling a two and a half-ton supercar into a train compartment.
35 minutes later and I was gliding the Rolls Royce out in Calais, heading for Paris. It takes longer to cross London on the District line!
My first destination was Chaumont-Sur-Loire in the Loire Valley, so from Calais, you take the A26, then the A1 to Paris, followed by the A10 south.
The Rolls Royce Dawn is a delight on long journeys. As comfortable as sitting in your favourite armchair and as fast as a jet. It accelerates from 0-62 mph in a mere 4.9 seconds. Thankfully it has a heads up display so you can see both the speed limit and your speed without taking your eyes off the road. The car is so silent inside and so smooth on the road that every speed feels like ten miles per hour. This is the very essence of a Rolls, the utter comfort and luxury.
The journey through Paris was a breeze. It is an odd contradiction that whilst you can go at supercar speeds in a Rolls, you are so comfortable that there is no hurry.
Even with a swarm of Renaults and Citroens buzzing around you, flitting across seven lanes, desperate to gain an inch over each other, a Rolls keeps everything calm and relaxed. Parisians drive extremely well, but they treat every journey as a competitive rally where indicating is for the weak.
My favourite adrenalin rush is driving around the insane Arc de Triomphe roundabout at the top of the Champs-Élysées, which has ten lanes (all ignored), twelve exits and a hundred lunatics. Plus the priority is to the cars coming into the roundabout. It is the most glorious, excellent chaos. Cars are so crammed together that you can see the fear and excitement in the other drivers’ eyes. But everything is pure serenity in the Rolls Royce Dawn!
The Rolls is like being the fastest heavyweight in the ring, everyone gives you a wide berth. Also, every colour has its correct surroundings, and Powder Blue is perfect for Paris, even in the rain. Parisians are used to seeing supercars all the time. But not Rolls Royces, these are rare here and receive a lot of attention and admiration.
I drove through my old haunts, over the Pont Neuf, through the Sixième arrondissement, then up past Montparnasse, south towards the Loir-et-Cher.
The further you get from Paris down the A10 the more beautiful the scenery becomes. As I approached Chaumont-Sur-Loire along the Loire River the torrential rain abated revealing architecturally rich rural villages. The sun finally burst through as I crossed the Loire Bridge highlighting the river in all its picturesque beauty, with the renowned Chateau de Chaumont perched up high on the cliff ahead.
The fortress of Chaumont-sur-Loire was built around the year 1000 to keep watch over the border between the counties of Blois and Anjou. It also serves as a prestigious art gallery showing the finest artists in France, a must-see. It boasts 32 hectares of grounds, 55 contemporary art installations and exhibitions, plus 30 new gardens for the International Garden Festival. The stables are amongst the most magnificent in the world, built-in 1877 by Paul-Ernest Sanson, the architect of the prince and princess de Broglie. They were considered at the end of the 19th century to be the most luxurious, most modern palace in Europe; the saddle room contains magnificent harnesses, made by Hermès.
I was visiting an artist friend of mine, Robert Mann, who lives in a stunning old house next to the Mairie, set deep into the chalk cliff below the chateau, yards from the river bank. A beautiful and inspiring location where he works on multiple projects including the soundtrack to the latest Toyota advert, the score to Brad Pitts last film “Ad Astra” and numerous pinhole photography exhibitions. Bob used to print all my black and white photography when I worked as a fashion photographer in Paris. His time-lapse pinhole work is exceptional and currently exhibited at all over the world. Brad Pitt is a keen collector of Bob’s photography and a big fan of his music.
We spent a superb evening wandering along the banks of the Loire, appreciating the old boats stranded in the mud, catching up, and admiring Bob’s high tech recording studio. He even hand-makes many of the instruments he uses for the sound samples and they are marvellous works of art in themselves.
The next morning we leapt into the Rolls for the trip up to Paris. I dropped Bob off in the ninth and then headed over to the Rue du Bac in the seventh for lunch with my aunt, the Comtesse d”Harcourt, my uncle Gaspard and his wife Nathalie. Lunch at the Lao Tseu was marvellous, followed by family reminiscences at my aunt’s. Both my aunt and her mother (my grandmother) have lived exceptional lives and tell magnificent stories, both at 92 had a better memory than I ever had and could recall details of events and names of people to an extraordinary degree. There is a book covering my grandmother’s life here: https://www.lelivredart.com/project/la-begassiere-au-gre-du-vent/
Eventually, Gaspard and I set off in the Dawn for the Château de Montmélian in Fontainebleau, a stunning castle that has been in the Orlowski family for three generations. The entrance to the estate is a gorgeous tree-lined road that is beset with potholes, which the Rolls just glided over as if they weren’t there. Soon, the woods gave way to a large immaculate lawn and the castle loomed into view. Four elongated chimneys tower over the grey slate roof of this magnificent 19th-century marvel. The sun is just setting behind us as we pull the Rolls onto the terrace. The golden light flowed like honey over the red brick and yellow stonework that make up the front facade of the chateau.
The Orlowski family and friends are taking aperitifs on the upper garden terrace, around a large wooden table. I attempt to catch all the names as they are thrown at me and fail dismally. The atmosphere is relaxed, informal and convivial, the very definition of warm hospitality. We spend the evening, laughing, eating and drinking whilst they tell stories about the family and growing up in such sublime surroundings.
In the morning Gaspard and I made plans for touring around Fontainebleau, aiming for the best beauty spots and areas of architectural interest. We drove down to the beach they own on the River Seine opposite the Château De La Rivière A Thomery. This castle was built in the early 17th century by a friend of Henri IV, Roch Le Baillif. It then belonged to the Comte de Toulouse, the illegitimate son of Louis XIV and his married mistress Madame de Montespan. Now owned by family friends, the Fabre-Luce family, for over three generations.
Another gorgeous spot of note is the canal that flows along the Route des Fours du Roy which follows the Seine south past some lovely villages with some great cafes and restaurants. The Canal du Loing brims full of boats and barges with quaint bridges scattered every few miles.
Next, we pulled the “roller” up to the Chateau de Fontainbleau, one of the largest French royal chateaux. This medieval castle dates back to 1137 and served as a residence for French monarchs from Louis VII to Napolean III. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and a museum. Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, consecrated the chapel in 1169 and Henry IV made many additions to the chateau and gardens. The chateau is simply stunning and one of the richest historical locations for sheer wealth and intrigue. It’s worth reading up on Henry the Great, who lived a fascinating life, jumping between religions and mistresses with deft skill. The museum dedicated to Napolean is fascinating, he restored the chateau to legitimise his ascendency, redesigning the gardens and Grand Apartments. There is a masterful portrait of him in red and gold ermine robes, where he is visibly thinking “oh yes, it’s good to be the king”.
We took lunch outside in the town square at La Bella Sera cafe next to the chateau and a glittering wooden horse carousel, watching the world go by. Fontainebleau is a wonderful student town with a stack of renowned colleges and schools, and its proximity to both Paris and so many places of cultural interest make it an ideal base from which to explore the area. Fontainebleau also has some sensational patisseries, and a huge amount of Eclairs, Mille-Feuilles and Religieuses were purchased for friends back home.
Another chateau of note in the area is the Chateau de Vaux-Le-Vicomte, which is the largest private estate listed as a Historic Monument of France. The antique carriage museum is a supercar exhibition of horse-drawn magnificence and the gardens are majestic in scale and design.
The early evening was spent swimming in the Seine back at the chateau, crossing from one side to the other and back, whilst dodging the barges and yachts. The river is wide and deep, and the water is clear, fresh and clean. It evokes strong memories of childhood holidays in France, as does the chateau, which sprawls over 90 acres, with a farmhouse and adjacent houses. Dinner was lovely chatting about family and friends, the food divine and the company warm and welcoming.
I highly recommend a stay at the Château de Montmélian, they rent out apartments and houses and you could not find a better welcome anywhere in the world.
The return journey in the Rolls back up to Paris was delightful as the sun gave up its last August rays. Roof down with MC Solaar (the godfather of French rap) pumping through the Bespoke Audio speakers, with a little Patrick Bruel thrown in (Pas Eu Le Temps). The last 250-mile leg of the tour to Calais was a breeze as was the train under the channel. I’m still amazed at what two countries can do when they work together. Building a tunnel under the sea is an extraordinary feat of engineering. It was only when I returned to the UK that things got hairy as the motorways were all closed for repairs, so the last two hours of the trip became four.
If only Rolls Royce made roads…
I’d driven over 1300 miles in four days, but it felt like I’d been chauffeured. The Rolls Royce Dawn is the ideal car in these unsafe times to tour French chateaux and catch up with family and old friends. The Great Covid-19 luxury tour of the Paris & Loire region was a terrific success.
Full review of the Rolls Royce Dawn here: https://internationalexcellence.co.uk/luxury-magazine/travel/cars/lifestyle/rolls-royce-dawn-drophead-v12-review