Grabbing a slice of mid-winter sunshine, with golf, biking and a Ford Puma

Yes, a short break to the sun at this time of year is an indulgence — but it's one which will do wonders for your state of mind, says Toby Keel.

Right now, it’s raining so hard that the hammering of the raindrops is loud enough to obliterate the gentle click of the keyboard. It’s been raining so hard in Britain for the last week or three that rivers have burst their banks, and bank holiday excursions have been… well, not ‘ruined’ exactly… but made considerably soggier and more fractious.

But it’s okay, because I can still remember what sunshine looks like. No, not from those few days we enjoyed last June, but from a trip to Andalusia at the end of January, where it was as warm and sunny as a May Day Bank Holiday.

Spanish weather in January > British weather in January

It’s not as if was even a long trip — barely 36 hours from wheels-up to wheels-down — but an injection of sunshine in the middle of winter goes a long, long way to lifting your mood. It’s almost literally medicinal: there’s a huge amount of evidence showing how vitamin D, made by our bodies when exposed to sunshine, boosts our health. Scientists say that you must live no further north than 37 degrees latitude in order to avoid the need for supplements; Malaga and Marbella, as it happens, are both at 36.5 degrees. It might just be the placebo effect, but I could almost feel my mood lift with every fresh moment of light and warmth.

Picking up the keys to a brand new Ford Puma didn’t exactly hurt the feeling of wellbeing. It’s a cute little hatchback (based on the Fiesta floorplan) with nippy and economical engines, pleasantly upholstered inside and fine to drive.

It’s also — unusually in this day and age — a distinctive-looking car, with a sort of slung-back posture that makes it look like it’s accelerating hard, even when just sitting in the car park. I happened to sit next to the car’s designer, Thomas Morel, at lunch; while chatting he professed his love for the original Audi TT design (he has a 20-year-old model with 200,000km on the clock), and while the Puma clearly isn’t in that league of beauty you can see the influence.

The Puma is a far more practical proposition than an Audi — not least because you can fit a couple of bags of golf clubs in the boot. Bizarrely, and brilliantly, the clubs stand upright, rather than across the boot, thanks to an extra-deep well in the boot which they bombastically call a ‘MegaBox’. You have to love it when a major corporation gets a passing nine-year-old to name a key feature of a major new product.

I have to admit, I winced as I shut the boot, half-expecting the driver to smash through the back windscreen. (It didn’t.)

Pulling the clubs out to hit a few balls after a superb lunch on the terrace (On the terrace! In January!) at Villa Padierna was a joy, all the more so when a brilliant tip from the pro, Gonzalo paid dividends — in the space of mere moments I went from marvelling at his resemblance to ex-F1 driver Fernando Alonso to marvelling at how he’d sorted out my slice.

The Puma is — at least for now — available only with hybrid, rather than full-electric engines. Ford are playing something of a waiting game, it seems, before jumping on the electric bandwagon, though if the Puma makes it to Mark II model we’d imagine that would change. Of course, you could consider this a Mark II already: the company made a Ford Puma back in the late 1990s, again derived from the Fiesta, and brilliantly entertaining to drive.

This car is a different beast to the former model. These days, the ‘baby coupé’ market doesn’t really exist, however, and the name — so Thomas told me — was suggested in a focus group after the car had already been created. This car is best described as a sporty crossover rather than a hot hatch — a distinction probably won’t harm the insurance bills, either, unless you opt for the fire-breathing ST-X model, tuned to 155bhp.

No, we didn’t take the car down this path… but the mountain bikes were brilliant.

After the golf, a late afternoon mountain bike ride to top up the sunshine quota helped build up an appetite for dinner at Marbella’s Nobu Hotel, where my bathroom alone was bigger than some hotel rooms I’ve stayed in before now.

The room rate — around €400 for a suite in January —  is an extravagance, but if you’re only going for one night there’s not much point in roughing it. And they know how to treat you well: a morning yoga session followed by one of the finest hotel breakfast buffets I’ve ever seen left me feeling truly spoilt.

A morning drive put the Puma through its paces on the switchback roads of the Montes de Malaga range was a joy, but probably more telling — and more realistic for most buyers — was its ability nipping through the backstreets of the beautiful old city of Malaga itself on the way to lunch at a harbourside restaurant before the flight home.

It’s a crying shame how many tourists come to this part of the world but fail to visit Malaga, a city which is full of authentically-Spanish character and about as far from the popular image of the Costa del Sol as it’s possible to imagine. And also, coincidentally, as far from mid-winter Hampshire as it’s possible to imagine.

Ford Puma

  • Power: 125bhp (95bhp and 155bhp models also available)
  • Acceleration: 0-100kmh in 9.8 seconds
  • Economy: 42.8 mpg, 124g CO2
  • Price: From £20,495
  • More info: www.ford.co.uk/cars/new-puma