By the time summer comes around, the people of Britain have endured hundreds of short days, buckets of icy rainfall and bitter cold winds. Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? But we hardy, ‘stiff upper lip’ Brits will put up with anything if it means we can talk about the weather.
So why, after months of misery, did I decide to go to Wales for a weekend away: a nation that appears to receive more rainfall than any other place in Britain and where sheep outnumber humans. The answer has something to do with a 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6, miles of open roads and an obscure Italian-Welsh village called Portmeirion.
Allow me to explain. In 1925, a Welsh architect called Clough William-Ellis purchased a rocky plot of land on the Welsh coast. He wanted to show the world he could develop a site without spoiling it and committed vast sums of money and half a century of his own life to make his point. Investments don’t get much heftier than that, so we thought we’d better take a look. With that, I found myself behind the wheel of a Maserati Ghibli S in Cardiff with 200 miles, two national parks and very many sheep ahead of me.
Wales is a sparse place. Towns are few and far between, separated by hills and hedges and connected only by thin, twisty tarmac roads – bliss. Perhaps it was an inspired move by the Welsh authorities but they’ve created one of the best driving environments in Europe, well suited to a fiery Italian sports saloon. The snaking passes lead to lakes, snow-capped mountains and deep, wooded valleys – it’s easy to forget this beautiful landscape borders the back gardens of industrial centres like Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.
Heading north across the Brecon Beacons and Snowdonia National Park is where the Ghibli’s sporting side comes out to play. With Sport mode firmly engaged, the Ghibli S forgets it was ever a stately saloon and offers up performance that would shame many two-door sports cars. And so it should: its 3.0-litre twin-turbo V6 was developed in conjunction with Ferrari.
The run to 62mph from standstill takes just 5 seconds, which helps when exiting tight corners or on the odd occasion you can plant your right foot on the narrow lanes. But best of all is the menacing rasp and burble from the exhaust – it’s hugely impressive, particularly at high revs. And aside from letting the locals know you’re in a hurry, it will have you fumbling for the stainless steel paddles to feed your downshift addiction.
Several hours and many hair-raising hairpins later, and I’m on the approach to my destination: Portmeirion. The entrance is deceptive, but then again, nothing can prepare you for what awaits. This enchanted toy town, made up of interlocking Baroque-style buildings, is awash with soft, pastel shades. The sunlight, bouncing off the waves as they gently wash into shore, creates an almost mythical, sleepy haze over the town. Here, it seems, time stands still – or doesn’t exist at all. It’s easy to see how this became the setting for the eerie 1960s TV series, The Prisoner, with its manicured lawns and ornate facades – a stark contrast to the bleak, Welsh wilderness that surrounds it.
Waking up in the Portmeirion Hotel the following day, with the town clock tower gently tolling and waves lapping beneath, William-Ellis’ masterpiece is a home from home for my Maserati. Its elegant yet aggressive styling looks at one with this little Italy, far more than any four-wheeled German equivalent would. It may sound like the beginning of a painful dad joke, but this English exploration into a Welshman’s life-long project was made possible, as well as pleasurable, by an Italian. Sure, there are other routes, means of transport and areas to explore, but how many other British adventures can claim to be quite so delightfully international?
The Maserati Ghibli S starts from £63,805. Model as tested £79,372. Click here for more details.