10th – 11th October 2017
Myself, along with 4 other Uk based photographers/Instagrammers (@johnedwardjames, @jeremybomford, @raulcaramizaru, @buxtonc) had been invited out to Valencia to drive the new Audi SQ5, whilst taking photos and documenting the trip through our Instagram stories. The whole experience sounded like an incredible opportunity and one that we’d all surely value for a long time.
I was collected from my house long before sunrise by an Audi driver in an A8, and was driven down to London Gatwick for our rendezvous in the No.1 Lounge at 9AM. I slept for most of the journey South, waking as we left the busy M25 and made the final approach to the airport. It was cold as I stepped out of the car; a typical October morning in England, and I was looking forward to getting some warm Spanish sun later in the day. After breakfast and small talk with the other guys in the lounge, we were soon boarding our flight and getting settled into our short flight south to Valencia.
We walked out of the airport into the warm dry heat of the Spanish summer, and were met by a row of Audi SQ5s along the concourse of the airports arrivals. We looked amongst ourselves awestruck, when a friendly Audi employee called us over in a strong German accent, urging us to approach as he gave us a run through of the car. Following the brief demonstration of the controls, and special features we were off – two to a vehicle, making the 2 hour journey out of the city and into the mountains to find our hotel.
As the city roads gave way to motorway, the mountains on the horizon became closer and closer, until I found myself turning off the main road and taking the mountain pass. After passing through a few sleepy towns the road began to climb with much more severity, as it snaked it’s way up the side of the mountain. The warm evening sun began to cover the land, changing the hue to a beautiful golden light, and I felt compelled to pull over to take in the view. It’s on roads like this that you can really begin to enjoy driving, especially when driving something like the SQ5. Tight switchbacks and undulating corners, with intermittent straights made for one of the best driving experience I’ve ever had, and I don’t think there was a single one of us that didn’t have a smile beaming from ear-to-ear when we eventually made it to the hotel.
Our accommodation for the trip was the Vivid Landscape Hotel, which was one of the most picturesque and idillic locations for a hotel I’ve ever seen. Set half way up a wide mountainous valley, under the backdrop of a large rock formation it seemed the location couldn’t get much better, and as we’d arrived in the dark, we hadn’t yet seen the area in all its glory. We spent the evening eating out on the terrace and sitting around a fire, chatting and getting to know some of the other people who were out there. As well as the 5 of us, there were a couple from magazines, a host of German videographers, and the Audi organisers. Conscious of the time difference, and another early start we all slowly drifted off to our individual sleeping cabins, to get some sleep.
The following morning we awoke to a low cloud that had filled the valley, a temperature inversion caused by the cooler air getting trapped in the bottom of the valley. After eating a quick breakfast we headed out just as the sun began to rise over the low sea of mist. We spent the first hour or so of the day driving the SQ5s along the mountain road, embracing the sport mode and playing with the paddle gearbox, as we cruised through the landscape in a caravan of three vehicles. After stopping a few times for photo opportunities and completing a small loop around the surrounding area we found ourselves back at the hotel in time for our second activity of the day, an offload drive in the surrounding hills.
As with the rest of the trip, I was unsure of what exactly the off-road experience would entail, but it definitely surpassed all my expectations. We diverted off the tarmac and onto an uneven dirt road, meeting up with some of the other groups we soon found ourselves in a convoy of 7 vehicles. Climbing steadily we passed through a layer of cloud that had been absorbing all of the morning sun, causing light flares and adding a warm yellow hue to all around us. Passing through the clouds we emerged above a solid sea of white, with a few mountain peaks poking through as we looked across the landscape. It certainly felt like we were a million miles away from the tarmac roads we’d been driving only an hour earlier, as we rounded the last corner and found ourselves at the summit of the mountain. We stopped here for a while, exploring the area around the 4X4 track, and trying to take in the incredible experience we were having, but before too long it was time to get back into the cars and begin the descent back down to civilisation.
We arrived back at the hotel and had a short time to appreciate the buildings, take photos of our rooms as well as filling up on a large lunch layed out for us. Sitting down on the terrace whilst eating was the first time we’d really been given any time to think since we’d arrived, and it was really nice to take a moment to appreciate where we were and the experience we were having. After we’d eaten we were back in the cars, all packed up and heading back to the airport; despite being on the ground for only a 24 hour period it really felt as though we’d experienced so much more than could be achieved in a single day, although I don’t think any of us were ready to head home quite so soon. The 2 hour drive back to the airport, as well as the our time on the flight I spent a lot of time reflecting on the experience and the things we’d seen – with so much compressed into such a short space of time I was eager to get home and take a look at some of the shots I’d captured, and relive the trip again through my photos