2007 Mini Cooper S

Chris Harris
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Tom Salt

We nose it away from the airport, Salt briefly attempting to make sense of Barcelona's erratic series of ring roads before we give up and take what I like to call the penultimate resort: a general heading based on signposted information. France is north of Spain; we want to go north, so France it is. The last resort, by the way, is always the sun. This means that only competent amateur astronomers should dare take on Barcelona environs at night.The Mini isn't intended to be an especially relaxing cruiser, and this 172-hp Cooper S is true to form. It has a slightly confusing set of ambling attributes, most notably a chassis and steering mechanism a bit at odds with the character of the powertrain. The new Mini, just like its predecessor, has a very fast steering rack--but it makes for an irritatingly responsive multilane tool. There's no sneeze factor here: twitch your left index finger and the Cooper S has eyes for the next lane, and possibly the one after that. And all this liveliness is juxtaposed next to a delightful new turbocharged (not supercharged like its predecessor) four-cylinder engine, whose gutsy delivery belies its weenie 1.6-liter capacity.

This creates an odd physical sensation for the driver: upper body braced between the bolsters of the excellent front seat, in a permanent effort to control any extraneous wheel movement, and everything south of the pelvis relaxed, with all that midrange flexibility available at the flinch of an ankle.

The curiously named town of Vic is to be our overnight stop. It sits on the final flat Catalan landmass, just before evidence of the lengthy geological ruckus between Spain and France begins to rise in the distance. Vic is remarkable for one reason only: it is either so heavily industrialized that the macro-climate surrounding it is saturated with methane, or it has the most flatulent human/bovine population in southern Europe. Either way, we leave the stench behind and head for the clean air of the Pyrenees.

It's still too dark to enjoy any scenery, so we aim southwest on the C25, cursing the colossal, centrally mounted speedometer that, even with its lighting dimmed, still looks like a 1970s electric fire at night and proves to be an unwanted distraction. As the C25 nears Sallent, we head due north to the C1411 and Berga. Then, as the first signs of impending daylight arrive and shortly after we have amused a local gasoline vendor with our quite pathetic attempts to communicate using his language, it dawns on us that we've made a significant find.

Significant finds are the elixir of travel. They are the things you happen across or stumble over: stuff missed by generations of cartographers that still feels undiscovered. We've wended our way over some rotten surfaces to a point about twenty miles outside Berga--a village called Sant Lloren de Morunys, whose correct pronunciation is so tricky even indigenous folks suffer a bruised tongue each time it's attempted. Two roads run from this place, one north and one west. All traffic is naturally cajoled by the signs to head north, but we aim for the westerly route--and straight into some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable. Why did I not know of this place until now?

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