Volvo XC40 Recharge | The Green Lane
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Volvo XC40 Recharge | The Green Lane

Driving through Provence in an all-electric car

Comfy and cool – that’s Volvo’s all-electric family car, the Volvo XC40 Recharge. Motoring editor Jeremy Taylor and sustainable fashion expert Jessica Saunders pootle about Provence in a petite SUV.

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Car Review: Volvo XC40 Recharge

Volvo XC40 Recharge

JS – Sacre bleu! Hold on a minute, didn’t I just read the XC40 Recharge is no more?

JT – Sort of. Volvo has announced the ‘XC’ bit is being dropped in favour of ‘EX’ – in keeping with the company’s other electric models. And just to confuse readers more, plug-in hybrid XC40s will be badged T6 or T8, depending on performance, while the bog standard XC40 petrol will continue. Simples.

OK, moving on. The XC40 Recharge we took to France is essentially the same as the freshly badged EX40 then?

That’s right. The outgoing XC40 Recharge, currently costs from £39,000 for the single motor two-wheel drive, or from £50,000 for the twin motor all-wheel drive we tried. The latter’s larger, 82 kWh battery officially travels 334 miles on a single charge.

Or more than enough to explore the delights of one of France’s most popular wine region, as it turns out. Even celebrity wine lovers seem to enjoy a vine romance these days. So many of them have bought into wine, they could probably use a stylish, under-the-radar car like our Volvo to escape the crowds.

Volvo XC40 Recharge

Well indeed. A classic Citroen 2CV would be way too obvious. But you’re right, Provence has been a long-time favourite with the rich and famous – great food, quaint old villages and a laid-back atmosphere that help create the ultimate rural road trip.

According to Google, here are some big names with French vineyards: George Clooney, Brad Pitt, John Malkovitch and Leonardo DiCaprio. I blame that popular Russell Crowe movie, A Good Year.

Ironically, the Provence location for that film, Chateau La Canorgue, in tiny Bonnieux, isn’t keen on visiting film fans, instead offering tours to serious wine buffs only (chateaulacanorgue.com). So, where can you visit in Provence to sample the flavour of the region and wine-making success?

The pretty town of St Remy de Provence is a good starting point. The epic scenery of vineyards, olive groves and hills moved Vincent Van Gogh to paint some of his greatest works.

The all-electric XC40 is no masterpiece but it’s so comfortable, tackling the uneven country roads between vineyards and cafes with aplomb. Some rivals may have more space for packing in the duty free but with the optional panoramic roof, Harman Kardon sound system and sustainable wool trim seats, the Volvo cabin is a great place to sit.

And any celebrity hoping to hide in plain sight should definitely steer towards five-star Beaumaniere, part of the Relais & Chateaux collection (relaischateaux.com). The family run hotel and spa houses a three Michelin-starred restaurant that’s been welcoming well-heeled guests since the 1940s. The property is hidden away in the Alpilles mountains, tricky to find and pronounce but well worth the effort.

Beaumaniere hotel

Beaumaniere

Yes, an epic collection of stylish building, surrounded by picture-perfect gardens, terracotta terraces and water features. Dining at L’Oustau de Baumaniere is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, supported by one of the largest wine cellars in Europe. My advice therefore is to book a sumptuous, follow-up bedroom in the hotel too!

Quite an evening and definitely worth a post supper sojourn – you can use the excuse of staying to charge your EV in the car park overnight. And our final stop?

Chateau de Fonscolombe – a hotel that could genuinely double as a movie set. Tucked away in a lesser-visited corner of Provence, this fairytale castle dates back to the 18th century and is a riot of turrets and towers.

Chateau de Fonscolombe

Chateau de Fonscolombe

It wasn’t that far either, just 40 minutes from Marseilles, the parkland grounds are surrounded by vineyards as far as the eye can see, with mature trees offering shelter from the midday sun.

This was the place to park the Volvo, switch to pedal-power and explore the surrounding lanes on a hotel bicycle. Afterwards, enjoy supper and the wine list under an ancient cypress tree, or in The Orangerie restaurant. If there’s still time, stroll around the formal gardens, take a peep inside the hotel’s own chapel, or enjoy the shade of the arboretum.

Provence can definitely be addictive. Even if you aren’t bequeathed a French vineyard, like Russell Crowe’s character in A Good Year, the region is a charming montage of everything that is good about France. The relaxed pace of life, historic chateaux and, of course, the exceptional wine, are a potent blend that will make any Volvo vacation a vintage stay.

DISCOVER

Discover more about the Volvo XC40 Recharge at volvocars.com

Jessica Saunders is Director of Programmes at London College of Fashion, studying for a PhD in sustainable e-textile design.