Running with the Cannonball
A Thrillseeker's Paradise
Three words was all it took. ‘Top’, ‘secret’ and ‘supercars’. My first encounter with the Cannonball Run Europe was through a banner ad that popped up out of the ether a couple of years ago. My other half and I were, and still are, proud owners of an Aston Martin Vantage S. But back then, something was missing.
Our thoroughbred wasn’t brought onto this planet to cruise small town shopping centres or to mope in the garage yearning for the yearly jaunt to the Scottish Highlands to visit eccentric auld Aunty Emelda.
Nope, she was born to ride the open road, wind in her sails, fire in her belly and adventure coursing through her hydraulics. It was high time to hit the highways. It was time to answer the call of the Cannonball.
So, what is Cannonball Europe exactly? It is an exhilarating, adrenaline fuelled week. A week of not knowing which country you will end up in, but not worrying about it, because it’s always luxurious, unique and all taken care of. A week in which every day involves stunning scenery and luxurious hotel stays with surprises around every bend, such as the Spanish workmen who decided to dig up the road near the finish line in our first Cannonball, stopping traffic and unknowingly destroying our finish time.
That year, we finished in the second half of a 20-car league, but we treated it as a learning gradient. Having a laugh, getting to know what Cannonball was all about. But the second year?
We wanted to win.
Now to win anything, you need to get to grips with the rules. With Cannonball, each day is a separate stage, so you can win the day but not necessarily the week. It’s all about the average speed, baby. Oh and applying strategy and staying sharp at all times. Especially in the morning.
Mornings are particularly manic. Despite how hard you partied the night before, there’s no sympathy for the devil in you. You need to wake up, pack up, grab breakfast, pass the breathalyser, check-out, grab your Top Secret envelope with the day’s destination revealed, and hope you can exit the hotel car park in pole position.
Then the thrill really begins. As every country has its own police laws, you need to be on the ball or have a Call Saul number stashed somewhere. In one country, we had police following us, checking us out, while in another, we were pulled up by cops just for them to have a selfie with the car. In these instances, it helps to repeat the mantra that ‘the Cannonball is an experience not a race’.
Obey the country laws and you will be fine. Flaunt the rules and the local law can impound your car then and there.
Avoid this and your day will end well. A sensational dinner awaits at the hotel, or in the town (the organisers’ get it so right every time), while for the night [Rider] owls there’s normally a bar, club, or other destination highlight to indulge in while experiencing the local flair.
As for my favourite dining experience, I still can’t decide between sipping champagne high above the Croatian coast, savouring clam tagliatelle with the Duomo in Milan as a backdrop, or breakfasting like royalty on the terrace restaurant of the Six Senses hotel, overlooking the golden river and vine-covered hills of Portugal’s Douro Valley. For the cuisine itself, San Sebastián’s local Basque fare is simply incredible, while the members-only party in Eclipse on the top floor of the skyscraping W Barcelona Hotel was one for the memory banks!
All in all, the Cannonball is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that becomes quite addictive. Maybe it’s the locations and cuisine. Or maybe it’s the thrill of the chase and the camaraderie of the participants. Whatever it may be, I’ll never forget driving level with the white glowing pyramids and domes of the Grossglockner High Alpine Road, the setting sun illuminating the snow-capped peaks, casting them in a hazy, otherworldly glory.
Lucky I was the navigator, those bends up there were well hairy!
(For more information about Cannonball Run Europe, visit the official website at www.cannonballruneurope.co.uk)