As the sun dips and adventure awaits, it’s time to try your hand at the Alpine A110: It’s the perfect sports car to zip around the sweeping bends of the CÔTE d’Azur
You know what the Monaco Grand Prix misses out? Monaco. It takes you nicely around Monte Carlo, the glitzy resort that makes up half this tiny principality, but it fails to visit the beautiful cliff-top old town of Monaco-Ville. No doubt that’s because those delicate F1 cars would cry when faced with winding steep hills and cobbles.
Not so the Alpine A110.
No, this little burst of aluminium and post-Porsche 911 sculpting has the mountains of southern France in its DNA as well as its name. And the nippy two-seater is flying me up and through the inclined roads and laughing at how easy it all is.
When Renault announced they were resurrecting the Alpine brand, the industry was a little sceptical. But there’s no doubt that Renault’s detractors are now eating their words because the A110 is a delight to drive. So light you can practically pick it up and sling it over your shoulder, powerful enough to outrun an angry love rival in a Porsche Cayman it’s the sort of machine that you dream of. So long as your dreams mostly contain French rear-wheel drive sports coupes.
How does it weigh in at 1,103kg for the top of the range model with fluids included? Well, it’s mainly down to the almost religious reverence for aluminium in the construction. You get the impression that the designers would have made the tyres out of the metal if they could find a way to do so. (Write to them with a plan for how to do it and they’ll make you their monarch.)
Looking through the other specs, you begin to get an idea of their overall game plan: if the car itself is light enough, you don’t need an especially powerful engine to make it a powerful car. So the engine’s a 1.8-litre turbocharged four-cylinder model with 249bhp and 236lb ft of torque at 2000rpm and the gearbox is a seven-speed Getrag double clutch affair. According to Thierry Annequin, one of the design leaders, “If we have low mass, we can have moderate power, so we don’t need super wide tyres or big, heavy brakes and so on.”
For the same reason, you won’t get a model with a manual gearbox – the designers decided to get rid of the clutch pedal to save a few precious grams on the weight.
Well, the strategy is paying off for me. I’ve had a nice little run over from Cannes and while the light weight of the machine can make it a touch unstable on an uneven road – especially if there are high winds attacking from the side – overall it’s just a blast to drive.
Anyway, I’m about ready for pit stop of my own. So I descend from the old town and zip over to the Place de Casino. If you’re going to break the bank at Monte Carlo, there’s only one place to dine beforehand.
Le Louis XV is Monaco’s only three-Michelin star restaurant and the lightly Mediterranean-themed cuisine is striking in its simplicity – especially when contrasted with the Belle Epoque beauty of the surroundings. And since it’s a warm night, I sit out on the terrace with a desert wine to watch the people and cars passing. Every machine is a top-of-the-range model. And I wouldn’t swap the Alpine A110 for any of them.
Best restaurants in the area
La Palme D’Or, Cannes
With a name like that, you can guess they’re pretty confident about their dishes in this two-starred restaurant. Pick your time right and you’ll be dining among the world’s most celebrated actors.
Of course, that may not be a recommendation.
Le Chantecler, Nice
On the Promenade des Anglais, Le Chantecler has a lot to crow about. The decor is a little more reserved than the Belle Epoque glitter that other establishments revel in: oak panelling and turned-down lighting surrounds you, and yet the cuisine exhibits an admirable lightness of touch when it comes to the food and its flavours.