All was fine, and then through no fault of our own – an important note for any Gendarmerie reading this – one of the protesters blocked us from paying for the toll, took our ticket and we were away free, having saved a good €20.
Our first hotel stop was in the stunning town of Fontainebleau. A requirement for every hotel I booked was free car parking, but what I didn’t know was that this hotel had an underground car park with an acutely narrow entry and exit. We escaped unscathed but with plenty of hand directions from my co-driver and some enthusiastic horns from delightful French drivers behind us.
The next run was towards the heart of the Loire valley, on a mixture of country roads and motorways. Plenty of flat, open lanes with great visibility gave the perfect chance to gently test the impressive dynamism of which I’d been assured the GT is capable, despite its heft – 2250kg – and my anxiety at keeping a £210,000 car pristine.
I kept things relatively tame but can absolutely see the GT’s potential. And despite many tweaks to the driving modes (Sport, Comfort, Custom), I can confirm that ‘Bentley’ mode is the best. Cruising effortlessly through forest-filled country roads with the odd rond-point, I noticed the GT’s intelligent coasting system kick in a few times. Cleverly, the engine and gearbox ECUs are linked to the sat-nav, meaning the car selects a gear and engine control based on the road ahead, speed limits and so on.
For the next couple of days we ambled from chateau to chateau with only one grumble: amid a heat wave, I returned to the car and was greeted with the message ‘stop-start engine fault, function unavailable’, which then seemed to rectify itself almost immediately. Talking of the heatwave, the GT deserves a gold star for the rapid efficacy of its air-con, making the cabin a welcome retreat on many occasions during our trip.
Onwards to the motorsport haven of Le Mans. First stop was to see my nine-year-old godson, who spent a full 30 minutes looking at every line of the GT. A post-dinner treat was a brief demonstration of the GT’s straight-line acceleration, which, suffice to say, left him thrilled. The next day we headed to the Mulsanne straight, part of the famous Le Mans 24-hour track.
In case you don’t know the connection, 96 years ago, at this very place, WO Bentley refused to watch one of his customers take part because his cars weren’t designed to race. The car set a lap record and would have won had it not been for a hole in the fuel tank. With Bentley’s support, the marque won the next year, 1924, and again from 1927-30.
Ours was a brief visit, and one sadly done at a sedate speed, but the thought of 1920s Bentleys tearing down this strip was enough to thrill this modern-day Continental driver. After another chateau stay (yes, it’s a tough life), our final sojourn was Le Touquet and the Westminster hotel, an art deco residence favoured by the Bentley Boys, who escaped to the seaside town from London for weekends of revelry and gambling.