Want to sparkle like a Kardashian diamond? Drive a Rolls-Royce through Europe
Parisians aren’t easily impressed by celebrity status but there’s no denying the Rolls-Royce Wraith’s A-list presence. A grand tourer of mammoth proportions, it tells the world one thing: that you’ve made it.
Hugely expensive, fantastically fast and suitably imposing from any angle, the Wraith is a throwback to an era of bespoke luxury. Back then, the only sound in the leather-clad cabin of a Rolls was the tick of a dashboard clock.
There’s still plenty of glamour inside the latest Wraith too. It’s been harvested from 12 free-range Simmental cows, raised in a moist region of England to keep their skin especially subtle. It’s that sort of attention to detail that puts a Rolls in a league of its own.
It seems almost vulgar to talk about engines and performance in a car this gorgeous but somewhere under that bonnet is a 6.6-litre V12. With such a powerful beating heart, the Wraith will gently stretch its legs to 60mph in 4.4 seconds, then on to 155mph without pausing for breath.
How does it drive? Well, to put Rolls-Royce’s ultimate coupé to the test, I’ve set up a 1,500-mile adventure across some of the most diverse roads on the Continent. My grand tour of Europe will include fine cities, a few of the fastest roads – and rather too many potholes.
Even cool Parisians can’t resist a peek at £242,000 of automotive exotica
The start point four days earlier is the Peninsula Hotel – a stone’s throw from the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. George Gershwin composed An American In Paris while in residence here and Germany used it as their French HQ during the Second World War. The Vietnam peace accord of 1973 was supposedly signed on the bar.
Steeped in history, it underwent a £600 million refit two years ago and now boasts an eclectic collection of vehicles, all waiting to be discovered in the underground car park. They range from a restored 1934 Rolls-Royce Phantom II, to a classic Citroen 2CV.
It’s not difficult to spot the Wraith in the line-up. The Salamanca Blue bodywork sparkles like a Raoul Dufy painting of the sun-scorched Mediterranean. Inside, the cream leather is stitched in navy blue. Tuscan ash veneer dominates the dashboard and chrome detailing is the icing on the cake.
The plan is to leave Paris and follow one of the great touring routes of Europe. The journey will cross France to Strasbourg, then on, via Vienna and Budapest, to the Romanian capital, Bucharest.
Rolls-Royce wince at the term ‘sports car’ but the Wraith is as close as it gets. A dynamic fastback, it’s the fastest and most powerful car the company has ever produced. It was built for this kind of trip – cossetting passengers in unbelievable levels of luxury.
And that means even cool Parisians can’t resist a peek at £242,000 of automotive exotica. Finding my way out of the city centre and onto the Peripherique involves countless pedestrian ‘selfies’ and a paparazzi-style entourage on scooters.
The A4 to Strasbourg then is a welcome relief. It’s a chance for the Wraith to do what it does best – cruise in a straight line for mile after mile. I’m averaging just over 17mpg, not bad for 2.3 tons of handcrafted metal and ash that barely makes a whisper.
You know when a hotel concierge is good at their job because they understand the workings of every car. Matteo, at the Regent Petite France in Strasbourg, is half Italian, loves engines and therefore has a distinct advantage.
He passed the basic Wraith test by knowing how to open the doors – unusually they are hinged at the front. It’s raining, so Matteo pops out one of the two Teflon-coated umbrellas hidden discreetly in the door-frame like swords in a sheaf. Brilliant.
There’s not much time to explore the half-timbered buildings that line the streets of central Strasbourg before sunset. However, the Gothic grandeur of the Notre Dame Cathedral is a must, topped off by leering gargoyles and a 142-metre spire.
The next morning, Matteo draws me a route map out of the cobbled central district and pops up the Spirit of Ecstasy (it can be hidden inside the grille to prevent theft). He thought it best to retract the bonnet mascot the night before, ‘just in case’.
Day two is a 500-mile, east-to-west slog across Germany. I’m not looking forward to it but the autobahns have unrestricted stretches and what better place to power on in a Rolls-Royce?
Perhaps it’s obvious but what’s interesting about the Wraith is that unlike supercars sporting harsh suspension and noisy tailpipes, there is absolutely no impression of speed. You can be crawling at 20mph through Baden Baden, or racing past Munich at 150mph completely unflustered. The same cannot be said about the drivers waiting in a five-mile tailback, coming in the opposite direction on the German-Austrian border. The migrant crisis has tightened national security for those heading west – but not if you are motoring east like me.
It’s late when I reach the Palais Coburg Hotel in Vienna. The interior of the Wraith is now illuminated with thousands of tiny lights in the roof lining. The Starlight Headliner is a pretty frivolous extra but somehow makes you feel good – even after eight hours behind the wheel.
The Austrian capital straddles the Danube and is known as ‘The City of Music’. Graced with winding cobbled streets and imposing palaces, Vienna feels steeped in opulent history.
A visit to the Kunsthistorisches Museum is an absolute must. It’s brimming with works by the best painters and sculptors in Europe, including the Old Masters and art collected by the Habsburgs. The nearby Belvedere is also worth the walk – if only to see the works of Gustav Klimt.
The next day it’s only a short drive to Budapest. Judging by my welcome, I’m not sure there are many Rolls-Royces in Hungary. Even so, the Gresham Palace Hotel must be one of the world’s finest art nouveau buildings. It only just survived a German siege in 1944 and is now flanked by wrought iron peacock gates.
Budapest turns out to be lively and welcoming. It’s a warm summer evening and there are still crowds around the Royal Palace – destroyed and rebuilt seven times since the 13th century. It looks down on the Szechenyi Chain Bridge, constructed in 1849 to provide the first permanent link between Buda and Pest.
The next morning I rise early to visit the Szechenyi Baths at the northern end of the city park. Here you find Hungarian locals enjoying 15 indoor pools – and the unusual sight of men and women playing chess on floating boards for hours on end.
It’s the perfect rest place before the final, ten-hour journey across Romania. And from here on in the roads are far more demanding. The Rolls has to negotiate horse-drawn carts and countless construction lorries, all vying for space on well-worn tarmac.
The Wraith corners better than you might expect, it’s almost nimble. Then the steering tightens up at speed and the suspension irons out any rough stuff. Transylvania passes in a flash, I power on down the steep wooded valleys and make it to Bucharest by nightfall.
The high-rise tower blocks of Communism are still crammed into the city centre, drab, soulless buildings only topped by the bizarre Palace of Parliament. Officially the world’s second largest administrative building (after the Pentagon), it was built in 1984 by former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu.
It’s been an exhilarating journey, sat in the most luxurious car on the road – well, Romanian roads for certain. Perhaps it’s no wonder that the average age of a Rolls-Royce owner has nosedived to 43 in recent years. There’s nothing old-fashioned about the appeal or performance of the Wraith.