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Climbing a via ferrata in Gran Canaria

Recently I visited the Spanish island of Gran Canaria off north-west Africa whilst working alongside car manufacturer Hyundai. Not only was it an opportunity to experience some highlights of the island, but it also served as a great excuse to test drive the all-new Hyundai i30 Fastback N (pictured here outside our hotel) – part of the i30 family which has been doing very well indeed, with over one million already delivered across Europe. Designed, built and engineered in Europe, this is very much a European car (despite Hyundai’s South Korean roots) that has already picked up 14 major awards. To add to this, the Fastback N is a more sporty model that has made a very strong entry into the market, with nothing else out there like it, and has been billed by the UK media as a ‘game changer’. The origins of the naming of the ‘N’ range, by the way, are two-fold, inspired by both Hyundai’s R&D centre at Namyang, South Korea and by the Nurburgring in Germany where the car was developed. After a brief introduction to this hot hatch and some of its features, we set out on the roads of Gran Canaria, and were fortunate enough to be given access to a private road in the mountains where we could put the car through its paces without fear of oncoming traffic. For those who are curious, the whereabouts of the road can be seen in this Google Map.
And despite the twists and turns of the road, the ride was surprisingly comfortable and very smooth.  As well as the seat, the steering wheel position is easy to adjust which means you can turn the wheel better without removing your hands on tight hairpins.  And then came the fun part – putting the car in ‘N mode’.  This is achieved by clicking on the chequered flag on the steering wheel. In ‘N mode car’, the car set-up changes completely – the steering is stronger and more precise, you get a throttle kick when you shift down a gear and generally a better connection when you move from one gear to another. The car pulls you into the corners more; it’s sharp and responsive, and you get an attention-grabbing exhaust ‘pop’ that adds to the feel of the car’s performance. Our first stop after our enjoyable morning drive and a spot of lunch at La Punta Yacht Club (more on that in a later blog post) was to attempt a via ferrata in an area known as Berriel. For those who don’t know, a via ferrata is essentially a secured, cabled pathway that climbers can clip onto to ensure a safe traverse of a given route.  When you first think of via ferratas, you might typically think of climbing routes in the Alps – places such as the Dolomites where they were originally used to help with the mobilisation of troops during the First World War. Nowadays, though, via ferratas can be found the world over, including on Gran Canaria which has built on its growing reputation as an adventure destination. If the island’s exceptional climate and endless beaches were not enough to tempt you, then maybe one if the many unique experiences afforded to you by the beautiful natural landscape of mountains, volcanoes and ravines will tempt you. From where we parked our Fastback N, it was a good 30-minute walk to where the climb begins, passing through a unique landscape and mix of flora and fauna that will help you appreciate why the island was recently declared a World Biosphere Reserve, before finally we were there at the foot of the rock face that we were going to be ascending. Note the people in the bottom left hand corner of the picture to get a sense of scale. Now, before you read on, don’t make the assumption that I’m some kind of adrenaline junkie forever in pursuit of the next extreme fix. Whilst I enjoy the outdoors, climbing isn’t really my thing. In fact, it’s somewhat out of my comfort zone (you can tell by the nervous smile!), but I’m not against occasionally doing something that pushes my comfort boundaries. Ahead of the climb, I had filled out a form where the options were ‘beginner’, ‘intermediate’ or ‘advanced’. My previous climbing experience was limited (in fact, one of my last climbing endeavours was a few years ago when also working with Hyundai), and I’d never done a via ferrata before, so I took the cautious approach of opting for ‘beginner’. As it turned out, we were grouped with others who had selected ‘intermediate’ so it maybe didn’t make too much difference! The climb itself was certainly a little challenging in places but nothing most people couldn’t cope with so long as they have a head for heights and a little bit of suppleness. (Unfortunately, I have very little of the latter!). Thankfully, though, we were in the very capable hands of Marcos, Mauricio and Chris, who were all very patient, supportive and encouraging, regardless of ability, and this was very re-assuring. It was just as well because when we got to the top of our climb, they then revealed what we were going to do next. By this point, we were roughly in the middle of the long, dark patch you see on the right hand side of the earlier photograph of the rockface.  And what we were going to do was a pendulum swing from one side of the rock to the other and back.  It might not sound like much but we were already quite high up at this point and it took quite a leap of faith to do it.  I have to say I was pretty nervous and uneasy about this part but glad that I did it at the same time. We took a slightly faster route down and I think there were quite a few relieved faces among us by the time we were back on ‘terra firma’.  Even if you’re not a climber yourself but have a reasonable level of fitness, I’d urge you to give this a try if you are faced with the opportunity to do this with a supportive team around you. The reward of the experience and sense of achievement will ultimately outweigh any apprehension. The walk back to the car passed very quickly as we all talked about what we had just done. On reflection, it had been quite testing but a very memorable outing and one that came with a great sense of accomplishment. Disclosure: Our trip to Gran Canaria was sponsored by Hyundai UK.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. Gran Canaria is a great place to put the Hyundai i30 Fastback N through it’s paces. For a small island, sat in the middle of the Atlantic, it sure throws up some testing terrains, not to mention heat and dust. There’s some very challenging but enjoyable driving on Gran Canaria and it sounds as if the i30 Fastback was more than up to the challenge.

    1. Yes, it was a great location for the trip with lots of interesting but challenging driving as you say. The private road we went on was a great example of this – very winding, with steep drops to the side, so you have to have your wits about you. The car was great, though, would pick up speed easily on the inclines, and felt very sporty.

  2. I find that buying a new car is always a big decision. Even though I tend to change them every two years it’s still a long time and a lot of miles if you make a bad call. I had read a few reviews on the Hyundai i30 Fastback N but it’s always useful to get another perspective and it’s interesting to see how the car reforms in a different environment. Useful info, thanks.

    1. Hi Bob, the i30N has been billed as a ‘gamechanger’ in Europe and you’ll see that used as a hashtag quite widely, thanks no doubt to it winning the Game Changer Award from Autocar. And with the i30 Fastback N model, it’s being widely recognised as one of the hottest hot hatches on the market right now. I read Clarkson’s review on it before I went out and even he struggled to find much to criticise.

  3. Gran Canaria is my favourite Canary Island. It’s not that promising as you leave the airport and you think that it’s just going to a Costa Plastico with all those poly tunnels and then it just looks like it’s going to be Spagheti Western Desert. Then it perks up. It’s got such a variety of microclimates and there are all sorts of plants growing, even coffee and pineapples. You really do need a car to make the most of seeing the island and it needs to be a good one as there are some steep inclines and sharp turns.

    We’ve had some great holidays on Gran Canaria. Usually my husband has a golf day and I just chill out by the pool.

    1. I’d been to Tenerife many times, and briefly to La Gomera once, but it was my first time on Gran Canaria. As you say, it certainly has plenty of variety and interest and the roads we went on – particularly the private road as you’ll see from one of the pictures – had plenty of twists and turns!

    2. Totally agree with you Sue! My sister in law lives there and you are so right – you really need a car to experience the best of it don’t you. It’s a shame when visitors don’t get to see the island’s true beauty. Such a lovely holiday place.

  4. Also Gran Canaria is a good place for some Top Gear style testing. If you drive across the island from south to north you can start out in a semi-dessert climate and then as you climb through the mountains you can be hit by torrential downpours. It’s a place where you need a car for all seasons.

    1. Thankfully there were no downpours during our visit, but I can well imagine, Brian! With such varied topography and altitudes, it’s inevitable that there will be the odd shower from time to time on at least some parts of the island. That said, being that little bit closer to the equator than mainland Europe does tend to mean that temperatures are reasonably consistent year-round.

  5. Although we tend to take it for granted today’s cars are submitted to some pretty rigorous testing. Hyundai will have put a poor test model or two through perhaps half a million miles of motoring across varied terrains – Brazilian railroads are particularly jolting – and the car will have been baked in high temperature chambers as well as tortured in humid rust chambers to see how it copes.

    Consequently, after your car has been driven in countless figures of 8 at high constant speeds, you can be assured that by the time you take to the wheel, Hyundai will have every confidence in the car. But spare a thought for the relentless wear and tear on the test drivers too!

    1. Hyundai has its own technical centre at the Nürburgring racetrack so prototypes are tested both there and on the surrounding public roads. I don’t know much about what’s involved but, as I understand it, this particular model underwent a fairly lengthy testing period there.

  6. From the pictures it looks as if there were two battles going on against the Gran Canaria landscape. The Hyundai taking on the via ferrata and Paul taking on the mountains. Which finished in better shape?

  7. I’m not someone who does hours of research before I buy a car and I would never thrash a car like a Top Gear presenter but it is very reassuring to find out that a car is safe and reliable with good roadholding. I like to visit old friends up in the Dales and if the weather’s against you the roads can get a bit hairy.

    1. Thank you, Jessica… it is a lovely car! Looks good in red, hey? :-) And yes, Gran Canaria is beautiful whatever the time of year… such wonderful scenery.

  8. Paul Johnson,
    Nervous smile indeed. Yet you are strategically set for the gruelling climb ahead of you. The nice description of the vehicle doesn’t seem to come from a nervous person! Excellently described. I have taken a ride here in Via Ferrata, so picturesque.

    1. Climbing is a little out of my comfort zone, hence the nerves! I’m usually OK with heights, but when it’s heights combined with my own climbing ability (or rather, inability!), then that’s a whole different thing!! :-)

  9. I have the Hyundai i10 and I certainly wouldn’t say no to an i30, especially this Fastback. Looks a little Audi-esque. I love it! I can think of worse things than to spend an afternoon driving around Gran Canaria in that car. Love the photos and the climb sounds amazing! I would have wanted an option for ‘total beginner’ as I’ve not attempted climbing before. I’ve seen indoor places to try it though I imagine they pale in comparison to doing it ‘for real’ in this kind of landscape. The team there sound like they would fab for novices like myself, and it’s good they were able to put you at ease. Definitely a great accomplishment! Would you want to go back and do it all again?

  10. Yes, it was a great place to drive and the i30 both comfortable and sporty at the same time. The private road we took it along was also really fun. I would imagine it gets regularly hired out for this kind of purpose.

    Would I do it all again? Of course! It was an amazing experience. I don’t think I would want to go any more technical with the climb, though (not that it probably was all that technical)… I think I know my limitations!!

  11. Love the car! And that road… amazing!!

    Actually I’ve been sorely tempted by the Hyundai N series for a while now and reading this just makes me even more tempted. I have driven it once and love how sporty it feels.

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