Motoring

Vogue On The Road: A Gourmet Tour Of Wales In The Aston Martin DBX

Image may contain Human Person Vehicle Transportation Automobile Car Hot Rod and Tire
Condé Nast/Getty Images

The Brecon Beacons is home to walkers, views, grass, sheep… and some of the finest culinary experiences in the UK. Michelin-starred chefs jostle for position in the valleys, towns and villages, which groan under the weight of locally sourced and home-grown vegetables, cheeses, meat, bread and cider. Down every unprepossessing side street you’ll find creative menus, rare ingredients and extraordinary talent on display.

None of this will come as a surprise to those familiar with the Abergavenny Food Festival, which is taking place again from 18 to 19 September. The Welsh Borders town festival attracts foodie names including Monica Galetti, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and José Pizarro and its legacy has spawned a cluster of fabulous restaurants to rival anything found in major cities.

We shot up there from Kent for a long weekend this month in the perfect car for Wales: the Aston Martin DBX. This four-wheel-drive SUV is built in St Athan, just over an hour away from Abergavenny. It’s almost as if the car sensed it was going home: it whipped us all the way up the M4 from England to Wales under the power of its mighty V8 petrol engine, quiet (except when you select the snarling Sport mode), serene and noble, massive wheels spinning beneath us, that famous Bond grille gunning for the bridge to Wales.

This is the car upon which the troubled British luxury car maker has staked its future: SUVs have proved cash cows for Porsche, Bentley, Lamborghini and Rolls-Royce so far, and now it’s Aston’s turn. Fingers crossed.

From the outside, Aston looks to have a winner on its hands with the DBX – the ice-grey paint work is a beautiful combination of matt and sparkle, and there is simple “Aston Martin” script along the boot in place of a detailed badge, for a more contemporary design. The surfaces are cleanly sculpted and bold, and everyone turns and stares as you growl past.

The interior is not quite such a hit; this must be the only car in the world now whose touchscreen is not touchable (you have to twirl the circular dial beneath it to access Apple CarPlay functions, which is painful), and all that graceful simplicity has been upended, with seats that are covered in every possible pattern of stitching under the sun; circles and lines are stitched in the leather with all the abandon of a five-year-old with an Etch-a-Sketch.

It’s a shame, because this is otherwise a stunning car to drive. We arrived at the Angel Hotel in Abergavenny after nearly a four-hour trip feeling exhilarated and smiling. The DBX clearly has no idea it’s meant to be a practical family car, and has decided it’s an overgrown Vantage – an assumption we don’t wish to correct. No other luxury SUV truly feels like a sports car to handle.

Good job it’s a big car though, because your waistline will expand by two jeans sizes over the course of this Welsh mini break. In one 24-hour period in and around Abergavenny, we had a fresh, towering seafood platter at the Angel for dinner, followed by blue cheese and pumpkin scones and a grapefruit brioche from its delectable bakery the next morning as a little sharpener (where the girl behind the counter is of course a model who has just finished a Gucci campaign for Vogue). We topped up with one of those Welsh lunches that feels like the best-kept secret: a restaurant called The Gaff, tucked away down an alley opposite Morrisons supermarket on the outskirts of town (see what I mean? Gastronomic secrets everywhere you turn). We ate sea bream ceviche, burrata with tomato, chilli and hazelnuts, and summer vegetable tart, and shuffled back to the Aston, feeling guilty.

Luckily, there is stern walking to undertake everywhere in the Brecons. If you manage only one, make it Skirrid Fawr. We spun the DBX out of Abergavenny (it’s a joy to trickle round narrow roads and tight spaces, with delicate steering and plenty of visibility) and whipped along the A465 to the National Trust carpark, from where it’s a short but very steep mile or so to the top. The views are jaw-dropping: 360-degree sweeping vistas along the ridge, towards Symonds Yat, the sea, Cardiff and the Black Mountains.

Although a two-mile trek burns little more than half a breadstick in reality, we bravely pushed on to supper, and thank goodness we did, because our destination delivered the finest meal I have eaten in the UK.

We piloted the DBX out of Abergavenny, past the castle ruins, along the A40, a pretty 40-minute route that curls through villages, past fields and under the shadows of big green hills, towards Brecon, and a pub called the Three Horseshoes Inn, just outside Brecon, hidden up a cul-de-sac among houses, in an unremarkable village. Inside, the smell of very good cooking filled the airy dining room, with soft lighting and decent decor. Beach huts crowded the small paved garden, bunting and fairy lights making the most of a Covid situation. But the food… my God. (Friends said it was good. That’s the understatement of the year.) Crab scotch eggs, monkfish scampi, wild garlic and truffle pappardelle, Cornish plaice and baked yoghurt with strawberries and pistachios for dessert. Everything was perfect and beautiful, and we even had a glimpse of Pen y Fan, the highest peak in the area, through the door. Go now, before everyone knows about it.

The next morning, we took one final drive, which turned out to be the prettiest road in the area: the B4520 that runs over the hills between Brecon and Builth Wells, dodging sheep, followed by birds of prey, blasted by the elements rolling in over the gorse and grass. The skies are big up here, the air fresh, and we gasped and gulped and ran with the weather over the peaks in the Aston Martin, marvelling at Wales in all its finery, and this St Anthan-bred luxury SUV, a very 21st-century Welsh dragon. We called in briefly at the Black Bear Inn near Usk for yet another fine lunch (smoked trout croquettes and wisps of lard on crunchy thin toast), and rolled out afterwards, into the DBX and homeward bound, longing for the simple pleasures of a bowl of cereal or perhaps a 24-hour fast.

The car: Aston Martin DBX

Price: from £158,000

Engine: 4.0-litre V8 petrol

Features: Apple CarPlay, heated front and rear seats, ambient lighting (64 colours), 360-degree parking camera, four USB ports, electronic tailgate.

Design yours here: https://configurator.astonmartin.com/#/

Refuelling stops:

https://www.angelabergavenny.com/

http://threehorseshoesgroesffordd.com/

https://www.thegaffrestaurant.co.uk/

https://www.theblackbearinn.co.uk/