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We get behind the wheel for a trip to Whitstable

We test drive the new Alfa Mito TwinAir on a day trip from traffic-packed central London to the seaside tranquility of Whitstable
Whitstable harbor is an easy get-away from London by car.
Photo by Scott Nunn.

As a Londoner I used to think I didn’t need a car. And then I had the chance to drive an Alfa Mito TwinAir for the weekend and I completely changed my mind.

London is without doubts one of the most amazing cities in the world but it’s also a trap – once in, it is very hard to get out. And every now and then you need the chance to escape.

So early on a Sunday morning my partner Scott and I grabbed a couple of espressos, jumped in the car and headed out of town for a taste of the British seaside.

Whitstable, just an hour and a half drive from central London on the easternmost stretch of the Thames Estuary, is a pretty seaside town, famous for its oysters.

The little, independently owned fishing trawlers tied up to the quay qualifies this as a proper fishing village. There are, of course, bohemian craft and gift shops, galleries, delicatessens and fashion retailers on the charming high street.

But they trade side-by-side with butchers and bakers and beside the harbor you can buy top quality seafood and fish.

Oysters have been harvested here since Roman times at least and Henry VIII even gave them his royal seal of approval, granting a patent to the local manor to fish the oyster beds.

Delicious raw with a just a drop of firey Tabasco, the tiniest squeeze of lemon or plain, they are the real taste of the sea – as well as being a famous aphrodisiac of course. And there is no better place to eat them than on the harborside with the salt-air in your lungs.

If just one oyster isn’t quite enough to fill you up, there is plenty of great food to choose from, including the whole range of seafood options in the waterside restaurants.

It’s also a great place to stock up on local produce which is what we did, buying not just fish for dinner but some juicy Kent strawberries from the harbor market.

But it was the fun of driving there and back I actually enjoyed most. Even when the biggest rainstorm I have seen in years pelted down on us (it was British summer after all) I found the Alfa Romeo Mito car tires had amazing traction and I was able to drive happily through it.

Actually, its safety features are pretty impressive. There are braking systems to make hill starts easier, reduce over or under steering on corners and some of the best anti-lock brake technology you can get. Plus, if all else fails, seven airbags are included as standard.

The car’s Italian style with a sporty twist makes you feel pretty cool when you are driving. And I instantly felt at home behind the wheel – as a non car-owner I’m used to driving lots of different hired and borrowed vehicles but the Alfa Mito was one of the easiest to get used to.

It’s a good performer on the open road, with enough boot space to make a weekend or even a week away for a couple of people no problem, but it’s back in the city when the Alfa Mito makes most sense.

That’s because it’s designed for eco-friendliness. The revolutionary MultiAir engine delivers high power levels with 10% less emissions and lower fuel use. A gear shift indicator helps you make the most of this fuel efficiency and when your stuck in traffic the engine will pause too, saving even more.

All this means it only puts out 95g/km of CO2. And while that and the high-tech engine systems may be a bit baffling anyone can appreciate the effect on their pockets – UK drivers won’t have to pay road tax on it and you even skip the London congestion charge. But the biggest plus will be at the gas pump and with fuel prices rising all the time this is not just a new car but an investment.

That all got me to thinking. While public transport is the best way to get around London, even during the Olympics, there are plenty of times when I miss having a car – like when I do a weekly shop or want to visit friends in the more distant suburbs. But most of all I miss the chance to get head out into the countryside, blow away the cobwebs, see something amazing and come back refreshed. Perhaps having a car in the city is a good idea – provided it’s the right car.

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Oysters have been harvested here since Roman times at least and Henry VIII even gave them his royal seal of approval, granting a patent to the local manor to fish the oyster beds. Boat Fishing

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