Stuttgart, Germany - Luxury carmakers have come up with a great idea for a sumptuous holiday that also helps manufacturers sell their cars, or at least goes a log way towards hooking well-heeled potential buyers.
Customers are whisked away on exclusive trips, with luxury hotels, good dining and virtually new, luxury cars to drive.
Be it Audi, BMW, Land Rover, Mercedes or Porsche, all are operating as package-holiday companies. Here's an overview of what the car companies are offering. The deals are only bookable on the carmakers' hotlines or internet sites:
The Weissach sports-car maker is actually a veteran in the field, with its “Travel Club” going back some 20 years. The focus is on some exceptional routes on which travellers can put, say, a Porsche 911 through its paces.
Options include conquering Alpine passes, navigating the winding roads of Germany's Black Forest or back-country routes in Portugal, Scotland, Tuscany, the Cote d'Azur or Croatia.
The larger, sturdier Porsche Cayenne is the vehicle of choice for photo-shooting safaris on the dusty and sandy back roads of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa.At the other extreme are ice and snow-bound routes along the periphery of the Arctic, as well as tours in China, Japan and Russia.
Often, Travel Club offers only two or at most three dates a year.
Porsche Driving Experience head Catja Wiedenmann explained: “The aim is to make the experience of driving a Porsche in places around the world something attainable.”
The company provides the cars, a travel guide and local contact partners along the route, as well as help with bookings, visa arrangements or planning special itineraries.
Of course, it comes at a price. A 12-day tour of Namibia in a Cayenne, including overnight stays in exclusive hotels and lodges, will come to more than €11 000 (R185 000) - but the tours are completely booked out far in advance.
Besides such classic offerings as driver training on race tracks and snowbound roads, Audi also offers one fixed expedition. With the top-of-the-line SUV, the Q7, the company organises tours to the Arctic Circle. The five-day trips cost about €4000 (R68 000).
Mercedes calls its guided tours “Driving Events” . One of them leads from Alaska all the way down to Mexico, a trip of 49 days. More modest, but also scenic, is a 10-day driving tour of Ireland. Then there is a tour driving around the Baltic Sea, lasting 15 days and costing about €5000 (R85 000).
Fans of vintage Mercedes cars can book an SL Roadster for driving tours through Tuscany or Provence. Four-day trips with these classic cars cost about €2000 (R34 000).
Several times a year the the BMW subsidiary in South Africa offers customers a safari in that country or in Namibia. With four-wheel-drive SUVs such as the X5, drivers will be seeing the countryside while conquering high sand dunes, salt or gravel roads, and dried-out riverbeds.
Solihull’s “Land Rover Experience Tours” offer drives through Iceland (six days, €3000), Botswana (14 days starting at €5000), Namibia (11 days starting at €4000) and Australia.
Here, a tour of nine days including the trademark Outback site Ayers Rock will cost about €5000 (R85 000).
IS IT FOR YOU?
So how rewarding are such driving tours? The debate boils down to personal tastes. Some people like having a route already mapped out for them, being part of small groups, driving top-line cars and having all the other details handled for them.
The hotels are reserved in advance, the cars virtually new, and one drives in a convoy behind the tour guide.
Those vacationers who enjoy driving a lot while on vacation will be pretty satisfied. In fact, the whole point of such tours is sitting for hours at a time, day after day, in a great car. Passengers can simply take in the passing landscapes.
The downside is that most such tours take place in faraway lands, and so are relatively expensive. And, driving in convoys, and sitting a great deal, is not everybody’s idea of a great time.