The Opel and the MINIs

Beastmaster and Peanut Adventures

Bonette or Bust September 2005

Bonette or Bust – The First Three Days

(Boulogne to the Cote D’Azur)


Bonette or Bust is a 2500 mile circular road trip through Europe, starting and ending in Boulogne. It is a mini adventure organised by Stuart and Jane members of MINI2 for new mini drivers. The organisation was done from their own website, which specialises in European tours for the new mini - Sadly the website is no longer active but nonetheless  a special thanks goes to these guys for their monummental efforts arranging this trip. The route runs anti clockwise and runs down through France, across Switzerland and into Italy and Austria. The trip then turns north heading home via Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium.

We joined the adventure for the 3 day journey down to the Cote D’Azur and this is our diary of the first 3 days.

The Runners – The Magnificent Seven

v     Wigley (Stuart Wigley and Jane Goodman)

v     Paa100 (Andy Williams)

v     Matt 18 (Matthew Cartwright)

v     Spaci (Erich Mangold)

v     RVW (Ray and Gail Westfield)

v     Beastmaster and Peanut (Adrian Ainsworth and Chrissie Gates)

v     Matrog (Matt Rogers)

 Day One – Sunday 4th September

After a sumptuous breakfast cooked by Mum we had a civilised start, leaving Ashford at 9.15. When we arrived at Dover Port, Wigley, paa100 and RVW were already there, and the two Matts came after us.  The ferry crossing passed in no time with much time given to the great debates between the sat navers about the route. Our first destination was Reims and this took a little longer than anticipated, so much so that Spaci, who was joining us at the old Grand Prix racetrack, was there over an hour before us and he came from Switzerland!  But it was worth it as the track buildings were still in fairly good repair and easily climbable.  Some of the old track is now a public road, much fun for racing on as Spaci soon showed us. Although he should be running in his new works kit and assured us that he did not do more than 4000 revs, he certainly made a lot of noise as he flew past the stands!

The route to Reims was done mainly on motorways but from the Grand Prix circuit to our hotel for the evening was an hour of cross country motoring. The minis quickly felt at home on the kind of roads that they were clearly made for and the hour dash to the hotel from Reims was exhilarating. We arrived at our hotel at Montmort, parked the minis in a safe courtyard opposite the hotel and quickly settled in.  Thinking there was a pool at this hotel, Beastie persuaded me to don my cossie and set off in search, so you can imagine how daft I felt trawling through the hotel reception and bar to discover it was the next night’s hotel that had the pool!

At 8 o’clock we met up for our evening meal, a very pleasant and leisurely affair in a lovely panelled dining room. We suspected that the pattern for the rest of the trip was set there and then, as we all sat at a long table and recapped the day’s event, all clearly enjoying the camaraderie of the adventure. The boys stayed in the bar for a while longer, so I was asleep when Beastie came up.  The only downside to the hotel was that our room was on the front and if you had wanted to, you could have reached out and touched the artics going past the window. The church bells on the hour every hour didn’t help either!

Day Two – Monday 5th September

The first job of the morning was washing flies from the windscreen – definitely man’s work. There was a lot of driving to do today, but to make it more pleasant we felt it would be nice to do the first bit off motorway, which was much more fun (in places) but probably took longer. As a rough idea we headed from Troyes towards Dijon across country, following this with a motorway dash to Lyon from where we headed East towards Grenoble and then on to La Mure just north of Gap.

While still heading cross country, we tried to find a small shop in a village to buy something for a picnic lunch, but it seemed like that part of France had been abandoned and the only shop we found was closed. Napoleon referred to Britain as a nation of shopkeepers, but clearly he got this impression not because of our proliferation of shops but rather because of France’s lack of them! Getting hungry by now and needing a break we encountered a small restaurant in the middle of nowhere, and although the idea of 10 mini drivers seemed to throw them a bit, they found us some room at the back of the restaurant where no-one else could see us.  After a brief discussion about our food the waitress vanished and we weren’t sure what she had said, although it seemed obvious that something was being prepared for all of us. 

Charcuterie was mentioned and that was fine - cold meaty things - but no-one seemed to know what she had said for the main course, which was a shame (or maybe not). The starter was duly eaten and soon enough the main course arrived. At first glance it looked good - small roast/fried potatoes and slices of rare beef, and beef it may well have been.  However, it didn’t taste like any beef I’ve ever eaten and I wasn’t the only one, but if it wasn’t beef, what was it?  We joked that it was horse; that they had had it in the freezer for months and no sucker had eaten it yet and “look here are some English idiots who won’t know what we are saying if we speak fast – they’ll eat it”.  Well they were right we did!

Anyway, we galloped away to the motorway and fought our way through Grenoble (not as pretty as you might think) and eventually found our hotel at Le Mure. Some of us had very pleasant rooms on the front of the hotel with balconies, and Channel 15 on the TV was different to what you might be used to.  Our meal that night was at the hotel again, and again we were sat out of the gaze of others. On the charitable side this could have been due to the large table we always required but nonetheless we were beginning to get a complex about this!  Our lunchtime experience came back to haunt us, as they had a local speciality of Donkeys Ears as a starter. The elderly waitress with little English did a wonderful animated explanation of this course, by wiggling her hands on either side of her head, while loudly shouting “eeeh awww, eeeh awww”! Despite the waitress’s indubitable talents at Charades no-one took up the challenge!

We were turned out of the restaurant at 10.15 and the bar was shut, so we mooched about the town for an hour or so, but it was too cold to sit outside for any length of time, so before long we all retired to bed or Channel 15.

Day Three – Tuesday 6th September

Today should have been an easy day with not too much distance to cover, but things never go to plan, and what should have been an interesting drive through some spectacular scenery became a lorry overtaking epic.  For some reason there are cheapskate lorry drivers who choose to drive through these steep roads and presumably pocket the tolls themselves, whilst causing mayhem behind them.

We had the advantage of radio contact, and although we were often split up by other fed up drivers wanting to get past, we could move as one when Wigley gave the call.  It must have been a sight to behold in a line of traffic to see 2 or 3 minis all move to overtake synchronously, especially on blind bends!

Unfortunately having battled our way past the lorries and slow cars we felt the need to stop for a stretch and a “comfort break” and whilst parked up, they all hurtled past us again!  So the game of cat and mouse (or chess perhaps?) would begin again and so it continued. At one point an Alfa was stuck in our midst and thought he could play too. However, when four minis shot past him on a solid white line on a blind bend, it truly was “checkmate” in four for the minis. The radios were an invaluable tool on Day Three!  We had stopped at a supermarket for picnic food for lunch before we even left La Mure and the wisest of us (Paa100) suggested we stop and eat because the sky looked a bit forbidding.  Fortunately we did and had only just finished when it started to rain.  This rain continued almost non-stop for the next 24 hours, to the accompaniment of wind, thunder and lightning. 

It was a great shame to have the views at the Gorges du Verdon shrouded in rain and cloud, as they would have been spectacular on a sunny day, but as it was pouring so hard we couldn’t really get out of the car for long and when we did we couldn’t see much!  To cap it all, what was proving to be a very interesting road along the edge of the Gorges du Verdon suddenly became one-way at the top so we had to turn round and come back. 

Driving on to Le Muy the weather seemed a little brighter so a plan was hatched that they would drive down to Gassin and join us for a meal at 8 o’clock.  This all went well, and the weather held off for the evening, giving everyone a chance to see the views that this hill top village offered. Nonetheless, it was windy in Gassin so we dined indoors - it was just the walk to the restaurant that nearly blew our hair off. A lovely evening was assured the minute that we were seated in a prominent position in the room and not hidden away in some hidden corner, thus removing our paranoia about always being kept out of sight!

However, a very pleasant evening was spoilt by someone trying to break into Spaci’s car which we discovered on our return.  The door handle was wrenched off and there was a scratch on the paintwork. We were told that he should report it to the Police the next morning in St Tropez, so the plan for the next day had to change a little. To try to end the evening on a high note we led everyone on a slow, late night promenade through St Tropez past its glitzy yachts and then brought them back to our apartment for a drink and a natter. We arranged to meet them the following morning at 9.00 am in St Tropez, with a view to leading them to Monte Carlo for lunch, before finally saying au revoir. 

Day Four – Wednesday 7th  September

During the night the real storm began, the rain became harder, the thunder louder.  Andy and Matt in their hotel on their own, with shutters rattling and a storm overhead lost their electricity sometime in the night, and somehow had a hot flask of coffee for breakfast, provided by “mine host” (not really a chain-saw murderer).

The planned trip to Monte Carlo failed miserably before it even started. As we waited in the car park at Le Port for the other minis to join us, the rain lashed down like it was driven by the devil!  Time passed and no Minis, so we eventually phoned Wigley who was stuck with the rest at the Shell Garage in Ste Maxime. Apparently half way through his refuelling the pumps had stopped working due to a power cut, neither could he pay -no doubt some electrical glitch caused by the storm.  But at last they came into our view through the torrential rain into the car park.  Spaci went in search of the Police Station, whilst the rest of us sat in our cars and tried to think of ways to pass the time. Hide and Seek seemed a sad game in a more or less empty car park and coffee would have been nice, but most of the spaces at the top end of the car park were taken and it was a long walk even with an umbrella.

It became obvious that the plan to see Monaco would not work out anymore and a drive there and back in the rain was no fun, so we reluctantly decided to say our goodbyes to the mini gang, move nearer the town and try to find some breakfast for ourselves until the rain eased off. Suddenly it seemed strange to be on our own and driving became a lonely business with no mini mates to look out for, but ideas were beginning to form for future mini adventures maybe next year.

We had the advantage of an umbrella each which made the dashes between shelters easier to plan – at least the top half of us kept dryish, but by the time we reached the haven of Le Café de Paris on the harbour front we were totally soaked below the knees. We have never been in here before, usually because it is warm and sunny, but this was a deliciously plush café in the old Parisian style – red velvet curtains, chandeliers and polished wood, but not as expensive as I thought it might be and in any case today it didn’t matter.  We needed food and shelter!

As we walked around later, we saw a man standing in the road up to his ankles in water, as by now the water was lapping the kerb, talking to a policeman and holding an umbrella in front of boats worth millions, and I bitterly regret not taking a picture on my phone – it’s not a sight you see often in St Tropez.

By now my wet feet were rubbing on my wet shoes and getting sore, so we came homewards and called in at Geant where we bought our first instalment of cheap wine and a selection of Chinese nibbles and rice, which we ate in bed as we warmed up. I then spent an hour or so writing up our diary, while Adrian put the bicycle, which had been in the back of the mini throughout our road trip, back together. We then went back out again as the weather seemed to have improved and bought a lock for the cycle so we could put it in the garage. We were both pretty tired by evening so we treated ourselves to a meal at Vega downstairs and wondered how our mini friends were doing.

Just before bed we shared a beer and reflected on the road trip from Boulogne over the last three days. We have made the trip many times before, but the usual format has been a motorway dash broken up with a stop close to Dijon. This took a lot longer and showed us a different France, but in truth, it wasn’t the countryside and the scenery that made this road trip special – it was the people and the minis. We will look back on it as the Magnificent Seven – Three Cooper S Works, a Cooper S GTT, and three Coopers. Ten people in total and one great team! Were we envious of the adventures they still had ahead of them? You bet we were – in spite of having a week in the south of France to soften the blow for us!