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Knight Shift

Following in Don Quixote's hoofprints in the Mini Cooper S convertible

Author Geoffrey Gray

Along the way, Sancho and I drew intrigued glances—the quintessentially British-looking late-model rally car, zipping past old tractors chugging along watermelon fields. Sancho was speedier than I’d thought, yet held the road firmly, and we passed many cars, often two at a time. An hour later we arrived at Campo de Criptana, home to those molinos, or windmills, that Quixote deemed “monstrous giants … to engage in battle and slay.”

The day was growing cloudy as we emerged at the top of the town, and there they were: more than half a dozen windmills overlooking the valley, each at least 30 feet tall. One windmill, I’d learned, was open for visitors to see. I left Sancho in the parking lot, walked up to the door and pulled on the handle. The door wouldn’t budge. There was another sign out front.

“Closed until 4:30,” it said. My Quixote road trip was proving … quixotic.

I considered waiting with Sancho until I could get inside that windmill, but we had to get to Carmona that night. The drive would take us the rest of the day, and there were many stops ahead of us and plenty to see. Soon we would be in the dry, desertlike outskirts of Córdoba, then the jagged mountains of Jaén, and later Cádiz, along a bay rich with chiringuitos (beach restaurants) and sherry bodegas.

So for now it was time to leave the windmills and tilt back toward the highway. Trusty Sancho knew the way.

“Prepare to make a sharp right turn,” he said.

GEOFFREY GRAY is a writer and varsity-level hispanophile. His first book, Skyjack: The Hunt for D.B. Cooper, a New York Times bestseller, is now out in paperback.


The bells and whistles


ENGINE: A 1.6-liter, 16-valve turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers 181 hp and 177 lb-ft of torque, making passing cars (two at a time) a cinch.

PERFORMANCE: The combination of wide stance, small size and big engine (zero to 60 in 6.8 seconds) makes for an agile machine capable of dealing with Europe’s old cities and newer highways with élan—all without breaking the bank at the pump (26 mpg in the city, 34 highway).

PERKS: An onboard infotainment system with smartphone integration, voice-activated navigation and HD radio; Harman Kardon speakers; four air bags; optional six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters; and a fully automatic convertible top that not only opens in 15 seconds, but also has a sunroof (should you want to reduce your dose of Spanish sun without blotting it out entirely).

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