This trip had been in the making for a while and stepping outside on a sunny morning in July to greet our companion for the upcoming journey through Europe was a most welcomed experience. Like a perfect gift box, arriving at our doorstep, the Volvo XC60 was delivered on time to our home. What is there not to like about such a treat, presented by a knowledgeable instructor familiarising you with the many aspects of this wonderful vehicle and how to operate it. And for all its sophistication and technical possibilities it wasn’t complicated.
When growing up in the sixties, a boy in old Reykjavik, I was fascinated by the Swedish ball bearing maker SKF, found in my parent’s music cabinet manufactured by another icon of Scandinavian design, Tandberg of Norway. My dad was keen to demonstrate the workings of the bearing, so important to overcome friction in modern-day machinery. Much later I learned how SKF and Volvo were linked through the initiative of Volvo’s founder, Assar Gabrielsson, as he saw an opportunity for car manufacturing in Sweden after having observed the growing auto industries in the US and Europe from his position within sales at SKF, an important supplier to the car industry.
Pointing towards Sweden’s readily accessible steel, cheap labour and skilled engineers, he managed to convince SKF to invest in a spin-off car business called AB Volvo. I came to admire the elegant Volvo Amazon in my childhood, albeit from afar as my family enjoyed its weekend excursions in a modest Volkswagen. So, the prospect of driving the new and luxurious Volvo XC60 through Europe was indeed a dream come true.
The model we drove was an XC60 T5 Inscription in Pine Grey with blonde leather interior. We agree with what has been claimed, that Volvo's XC60 Inscription is the perfect premium family SUV for outdoor pursuits. The design caters for those who love to travel, with plenty of room for tents and prams alike, while the Pine Grey exterior and the blond interior embody sophisticated, Scandinavian design.
With a string of successful productions in recent years in the competitive SUV and 4x4 market, Volvo has managed to gain a strong foothold at the luxury end of the market, with technically advanced safety features complementing high end interior quality, allowing Volvo now to count itself among the best in the business. In fact, it was very reassuring to learn before embarking on our tour through Europe that the new XC60 is one of the safest cars ever made and offers the latest in safety technology, including the new Oncoming Lane Mitigation system which uses a steer assist to help mitigate head-on collisions. Volvo’s semi-autonomous driver assistance system, Pilot Assist, which takes care of steering, acceleration and braking on well-marked roads up to 130 km/h, is available in the new XC60 as an option and featured in our car, although we opted to control all our acceleration ourselves!
But it wasn’t really until we had crossed the channel from Dover to Calais after a most comfortable ride with DFDS, mind you, on tumultuous waters (the strongest winds of the year) that any real acceleration could take place. The superbly engineered ‘autoroutes’ of France provided a better platform to enjoy our Volvo’s luxurious comfort than the somewhat bumpy roads of Kent. Over the next two weeks, our Swedish friend made for the perfect trip companion travelling through France, Switzerland and Italy.
Reims was our first destination, allowing us to get first-hand acquaintance with the production processes of the regions drink of choice. Around the corner from our hotel, Chateau Les Crayeres, we found the cellars of our favourite champagne, Taittinger, and learned about the art that goes into making a bottle of champagne, going down 18 metres below ground level into the breath-taking Gallo-Roman chalk quarries, which are part of the ‘Coteaux, Maisons et Caves de Champagne’ included on UNESCO's list of Cultural Heritage.
Of the other many destinations waiting for us throughout the trip, our Volvo first really met its match when arriving in the picturesque village of Laveno confronted with the most elegant of Riva boats tied to the small stone dock. After an exhilarating ride across the lake to the beautiful island of Isola dei Pescatori we found the perfect place to enjoy our aperitif before settling in for the night at Casetta delle Palme, a 16th century house in nearby Besozzo bursting with authentic and simple charm.
At Volvo they say the future is electrifying and sustainable. Having managed to steer away from difficulties in the industry with Scandinavian steadfastness and stay on course for nearly a century we are inclined to believe them. Wouldn’t it be just grand to visit Besozzo without friction in one of their vehicles for the future. We think so.