Needn’t have worried about the Fiat’s ability to climb the mountains during planned five-day trip exploring the highways and byways of North Wales.
Snowdonia National Park, Wales – This is mountain goat country so a Fiat 500X was not the first choice to scale its heights.
Confession One: Asked for a Jeep and was horrified when the Fiat spec sheet arrived, showing it to be a front wheel drive version, powered by a 1.4-litre engine. Gulp.
Confession Two: Needn’t have worried about the Fiat’s ability to climb the mountains during planned five-day trip exploring the highways and byways of North Wales. And it was roomy enough for four adults and the luggage space needed for a trip – liked the cooler box!
The Snowdonia National Park is a compact region by our standards, covering just 2,132 square kilometres. It is best covered at a leisurely pace – the odometer showed just 402 kilometres clocked as we crossed the English border into the start/finish point – historic Chester.
This adventure was more about nostalgia than putting this compact crossover vehicle through its paces. It’s closing in on 50 years since I took a school trip to Rhuddlan, just outside the resort of Rhyl, where we stayed in retired railway carriages, sited on a long disused siding, and sampled our first illicit booze at age 14.
Most of the 60-kilometre route, via Prestatyn, was modern highway and posed no challenge to the 140-horsepower four-banger beneath the hood (9.5L/6.9L/100km -city/hwy), or bonnet as they say here. Prestatyn is a resort favoured by folks from the north of England, best described as quaint. Rhyl, at the mouth of the River Clwyd, is the big city next to tiny, nearby, Rhuddlan and its 13th. century landmark castle.
The coastal road passes through a series of resorts, where elegant Victorian era homes still stand proudly on the sea front. The ooh-aah prize goes to the 15-kilometre stretch between Colwyn Bay and Llandudno, about 17 klicks beyond Rhyl. Some beautifully preserved homes – now hotels – on one side and the open sea to the right in my case. The season is short here but a cool spring visit and a brisk walk along the promenade is rewarding.
The traffic mimics the speed of the horse drawn carriages from a bygone era. The start-stop function in the Fiat was put to severe test!
The Great Orme loomed. A hilly – a highest elevation of 207 metres is hardly mountainous – out crop. It’s home to large here of Kashmiri goats, descended from a few goats given by Queen Victoria, no less. Though not mountainous, the road is winding, narrow and drops off unexpectedly. The six-speed manual gearbox got a workout. I’d like to tell you I saw colourful puffins fly by but the rain and wind kept them home.
The gradual descent wound its way to Conwy of impressive medieval castle fame and a natural place for a stopover. A must visit is Britain’s smallest house, which is less than two metres wide and barely three metres high. Think of what that would rent for in Vancouver.
Opened up on the almost 35 ks of open road to Caernarfon, on the eastern shore of the Menai Strait, opposite the Isle of Anglesey, in whose castle the Prince of Wales was invested.
You won’t break land speed records in the 500X but the turbo powerplant gets you there and at cruising speed has no problem finding that quick blip need to pass on a narrow Welsh highway!
A slowpoke road took us through Criccieth and by yet another castle and a treasure to behold. On to Portmeirion – now off my bucket list – a Mediterranean village built on the estuary of the River Dwyryd, a few minutes out of the town of Porthmadog. This amazing spot has been used for numerous movies, most notable the 1960s era cult TV series “The Prisoner” featuring the late Patrick McGoohan.
A 100-km return side trip to the falls at Betws-y-Coed in the national park was the first test of the car’s climbing abilities but the real test would perhaps come on the final day back to Chester.
Confession Three: Mt. Snowdon tops out at 1,085 metres – seemed Everest-like in my teen years. Ahem, that’s 635 metres below the Pennask Summit in southern B.C., which I regularly traverse to the Okanagan valley in similarly powered vehicles!
While roaring up a steep incline in fourth (yes), I was reminded of home when I spied bison roaming almost freely in Corwen. Stopped frequently to take pictures and video of baby lambs for my grandson Francis.
A 2.4-litre engine matched to a nine-speed auto transmission (11.0L/7.9L/100km – city/hwy) would be my choice for BC and AWD would be a must. But this was a fun drive and showed that small can be big, given today’s technology.
Base model starts at $22,995 back home. The Sport with the larger engine starts at $27,495 but load it up and the top trims can top $40,000-plus.