Gallic gallivanting: Driving trip a test of the Ford S-Max MPV's ability

The giant Ferris wheel (far left) looks over the Place Bellecour in Lyon (left). The trip in the Ford S-Max started and ended in Paris.
The trip in the Ford S-Max started and ended in Paris. PHOTOS: EDRIC PAN
The giant Ferris wheel (far left) looks over the Place Bellecour in Lyon (left). The trip in the Ford S-Max started and ended in Paris.
The giant Ferris wheel (above) looks over the Place Bellecour in Lyon.PHOTOS: EDRIC PAN
The giant Ferris wheel (far left) looks over the Place Bellecour in Lyon (left). The trip in the Ford S-Max started and ended in Paris.
The giant Ferris wheel looks over the Place Bellecour in Lyon (above). PHOTOS: EDRIC PAN
The giant Ferris wheel (far left) looks over the Place Bellecour in Lyon (left). The trip in the Ford S-Max started and ended in Paris.
The magnificent Fourviere basilica stands at the highest point of Lyon.PHOTOS: EDRIC PAN
Looking out onto the Mont Blanc peak in the Alps (left) and a hot chocolate topped with cream that is named the Mont Blanc (above).
Looking out onto the Mont Blanc peak in the Alps.PHOTOS: EDRIC PAN

A driving trip from Paris to Lyon and the French Alps was a test of the Ford S-Max MPV's ability to negotiate twisty and icy roads

If you enjoy a good road trip, try France. With its vivid and varied scenery, quaint mediaeval towns and abundance of delightful, out-of-the-way restaurants waiting to be discovered, the country is full of gems to reward the committed explorer.

And the roads are a petrolhead's delight. Every corner of France is connected by a network of wide, well-surfaced and usually lightly trafficked autoroutes, and the B-roads, particularly in the more mountainous south, are thrilling to drive and distractingly scenic.

As a 15-year-old, I spent three happy weeks in Lyon on a language immersion programme, staying with a local family and attending school. The warm memories of my stint have far outlived my tenuous grasp of the French language.

A return visit was long overdue, so I pencilled in a few days in Lyon as part of my family holiday in France last month.

Lyon is four hours south of Paris by road, but the long drive was made immeasurably easier by our mode of transport, Ford's latest S-Max MPV.

There were seven of us (four adults and three children), plus so much luggage that even the S-Max's ample carrying capacity would have fallen short. So Ford thoughtfully fitted a Thule roofbox and, with this packed to the hilt, the boot stacked to the headlining and some smaller items stuffed in the children's footwells, we were able to fit two mid-size suitcases, a large duffel bag, three cabin bags, several soft carrier bags and backpacks, and a large stroller.

The magnificent Fourviere basilica stands at the highest point of Lyon.
A hot chocolate topped with cream that is named the Mont Blanc (above). PHOTO: EDRIC PAN

The model was a 2-litre 180bhp turbodiesel, but the Singapore- bound version, which was launched at the recent Singapore Motorshow, is a punchier 2-litre Ecoboost turbocharged petrol version with 240bhp.

Even with the lesser engine, the fully loaded S-Max shrugged off the kilometres of autoroute, overtaking swiftly, hauling up inclines without a whimper and cruising at high speed in silence. If only the kids in the back could have kept as quiet.

The ride also proved superb, even on the cobblestone streets of Vieux Lyon, and the car's handy size made it easily manoeuvrable in the narrow lanes where our hotel was.

Lyon may be France's second- largest city, but it exudes a cosier, more low-key air than the opulent but tourist-clogged capital Paris. The mediaeval old town is particularly charming with its centuries- old houses and narrow lanes, overlooked by the magnificent Fourviere basilica which stands, sentinel-like, at the highest point of the city.

We spent three days wandering the streets, riding the giant Ferris wheel at the Place Bellecour, walking the banks of the Saone river and eating well (dining out is much cheaper here than in Paris).

Lyon is located an easy two- to three-hour drive from the ski resorts of the northern French Alps, which was the next leg of our trip. The twisty mountain roads to our destination, the town of Les Menuires, proved a test of the S-Max's handling - which it aced.

An atypically warm start to the winter meant that natural snow was thin on the ground in December. But the proliferation of snow cannons on most slopes ensured that there was abundant powder on the pistes and we spent the next six days exploring the mountain's numerous runs with our ski instructor.

The view was spectacular. At the summit on a clear day, you can see the peak of Mont Blanc and, beyond that, across into Italy.

On a couple of nights, wanting a change from the local fondue, raclette and crepes in Les Menuires, we treated ourselves to a two- Michelin-star restaurant in the town of Val Thorens farther up the mountain.

At an altitude of 2,300m, Val Thorens is noteworthy for being the highest ski resort in Europe, while Jean Sulpice, 37, owner and chef of his eponymous establishment, Restaurant de Jean Sulpice, is best known for being the youngest chef to be awarded a Michelin star at the age of 26.

The late, post-dinner drive back down to Les Menuires on the pitch-black, twisty and occasionally icy roads could have been fraught with risk, but the S-Max took care of us. The car's Dynamic LED headlights proved their worth, casting their throw left or right in sync with the steering and dipping automatically in the face of oncoming traffic. Despite not having all-wheel-drive, there was ample grip and traction, and the set of snowchains that I had bought as a precaution remained unused.

Never has a week passed as quickly as ours did in the mountains, but after six days of gentle skiing, wonderful food, crisp cold air and blue skies, it was time to reload the wagon and head off.

It was a long trek - a more than eight-hour drive out of the Alps, across the flat expanse of central France and back to the pomp, lights and traffic jams of Paris.

It says a lot for the car's comfort and distance-shrinking abilities that we survived that marathon run unscathed, without so much as a backache.

Driving holidays and France are a heaven-made match. Even after two weeks and 1,700km on the road, we were left pining for more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2016, with the headline 'Gallic gallivanting'. Print Edition | Subscribe