The barren tree trunks are charred and withered. The soil has turned an inky black. What was once a thriving forest is now just an ashtray where wildfire has turned nature into dust.
A solitary sound reverberates off the now naked valley walls and that’s the unmistakeable burble of a Mercedes-AMG V8 climbing through the revs, letting out a fierce crackle on the downshifts and responding angrily with every minor adjustment of the throttle.
“So you want to write a story about how the E63 burnt down the trees?” quizzes the photographer in his thick German accent, a wry smile appearing on his face.
Model: Mercedes-AMG E 63 S 4MATIC+
Engine: 4.0-litre twin turbocharged V8, petrol
Performance: 612hp @ 5,750-6,500rpm
0-62mph: 3.4 seconds
Top Speed: 155mph (limited)
Economy: 31.2mpg (combined)
Buy one: Mercedes-Benz.co.uk
Where to stay
Hotel class: Five stars
Price range: £150-£500 per night
Nestled in amongst the gargantuan golfing resorts and hotel chains that are scattered around the Algarve is the brilliant Bela Vista Hotel and Spa.
It’s an architectural diamond in the rough, as the mansion which houses the hotel dates back to 1918 and the owners have preserved much of the original building work to capture a distinct aesthetic.
This is before you consider the imposing building sits on the Praia da Rocha in Portimão, which is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful little beach coves in the region.
Book some time in the L’Occitane spa and admire the tiny mosaic tiling that covers most walls, or simply pull up a seat at the brilliantly bejewelled bar, which is stocked with some might fine spirits.
The current scene of destruction may not be the fault of this uber-powerful German saloon but with every gear change thumping the kidneys and the neat digital head-up display revealing frightening speeds, it may as well be leaving a set of flaming elevens in its path. If Satan needed a new daily drive, this would be it.
The AMG E63 has always upheld a reputation for being a truly hairy-chested experience, with previous generations concealing a monster 6.2-litre, naturally-aspirated V8 under the bonnet, yet offering its owner enough room to transport business associates and family in style and comfort.
As is the trend with many of today’s machines, the latest generation ditched the huge capacity, naturally-aspirated format for a cleaner and more refined turbo engine a few year’s ago, with today’s car sporting a 4.0-litre twin-turbo V8.
It produces a heady 612hp in the most powerful S models, yet manages to keep CO2 levels to around the 200g/km mark.
Like the downsizing or loathe it, this is the most powerful E-Class of all time and the new 4Matic+ all-wheel drive system means that grunt can be transferred to the blacktop with maximum efficiency.
On top of this, it remains on of the most intelligent cars on the road today, with a plethora of cutting-edge tech and driver assist packages that see the bruiser settle down to an extremely comfortable Autobahn-stormer at the flick of a few switches.
Our drive begins at Faro airport in Portugal, where we first drive through the sleepy villages of the Algarve, many of the shops, hotels and golf resorts closed or half-empty after the summer influx.
First impressions of the car are beyond positive: this is clearly a modern Mercedes-Benz, its interior festooned with tech, hand-stitched leather and classy swathes of carbon fibre trim.
The old dash has been replaced with a widescreen digital cockpit, which consists of two ultra-crisp TFT displays that can be set up as the driver wishes. The screen on the right, which sits beautifully in its leather surrounds, deals with navigation, radio and entertainment.
The screen on the right – or the area where analogue binnacles would typically sit – gives read-outs on speed, revs and gear selection data, with numerous other fields available and fully customisable to suit the occasion.
Keener drivers can even download track data and maps from the new AMG Private lounge, while the infotainment system syncs with a smartphone to record lap times and upload footage from a GoPro to social media accounts.
But we haven’t reached the infamous circuit at Portimão just yet; instead we peel off the beautifully smooth but slightly boring A22 motorway and make a beeline for the N267 – a road that we know from previous experience features some more challenging twists and turns.
We flick the AMG Dynamic Select rocker switch down into Sport+ mode, which adds weight to the steering, firms up the suspension and increases the throttle sensitivity.
Immediately, the exhaust system comes to life, letting out a ferocious snarl that has the driver behind us jumping out of their skin.
Press a button on the centre console and the E63 hands responsibility for gear changes over to the driver, who pulls on a pair of paddles mounted to the steering wheel to swap cogs.
Where to eat
There is no menu at Adega Vila Lisa, the small restaurant hidden away from the beaten path in the village of Mexilhoeira Grande, a 15-minute drive or so from the centre of Portimão. Choosing from around 15 different possible dishes (including fresh local squid griddled with a sauce of its own ink), owner, José Vila instead serves all diners with the same courses.
Unknown to most tourists, Vila Lisa is instead a frequent haunt for locals and the trendier types from Lisbon who choose to sun themselves on the Algarve coast during the summer. The atmosphere is regularly convivial and the food itself is honest, keeping true to local traditions.
With floor space at a premium, and a renowned reputation, a reservation is essential. With no website, you’ll instead have to call direct: +351-282-968-478 is the number. Thank us later.
The car has just demonstrated its best Mr Hyde impression and proceeds to pulverise the demanding route.
Previous generations would be kicking the rear out at every opportunity but this new 4Matic+ system cleverly distributes torque where it’s needed.
Turn off the traction control, enter Race mode and then dial in a special ‘Drift Mode’ and the E63 will happily send all power to the rear wheels for true hooligan antics but on this route and with the current settings, the system is helping us make efficient progress.
We slice across the hills in and around Alferce, braking hard for tight corners, pulling on the levers and marvelling at the speed and efficiency with which the new nine-cog ‘box changes gears.
The reward at the end of the first stint is a spike in adrenaline levels and a breath-taking view out across the Barragem de Odelouca lakes. This region of Portugal may not rival the north of the country in terms of scenery but it doesn’t fail to deliver killer vistas if you’re willing to hunt for them.
What to do
Benagil Cave Tour
Geography may have thrust Portugal into the Atlantic Ocean but the Algarve’s famous beaches bring a little bit of Mediterranean flair to the region. Unfortunately, they also bring a huge number of holidaymakers during the summer season.
To escape the hordes, you could book a boat tour around the Benagil Caves and explore some of the coastline’s most incredible natural architecture, only accessible by the Algarve’s azure sea.
There are various companies running tours (with most taking around ten passengers at a time). Yu can secure your spot at seabookings.com.
A trip in a new AMG product wouldn’t be complete without a stint on a race circuit (AMG’s big cheese Tobias Moers practically demands it), so we punch the Portimão race circuit into the sat-nav and race towards our slot on the track.
The former testing facility is part of a new breed of circuits – one that borrows elements from other renowned tracks but throws in elevation changes, blind braking markers and stupidly quick corners. It is not for the faint-hearted.
However, the new E63 does its best to gently guide a driver around the course, distributing torque evenly when and where grip is needed, offering ESP and Traction Control intervention without spoiling the fun and supplying fierce stopping power if all else fails.
Of course, a specific Race mode strips things back to their bare bones and Traction Control can be deactivated for the full fat experience. It’s a mightily capable machine and mind-bogglingly quick around this wide and fast circuit.
More impressive still is the fact it settles down into a practical and enormously comfortable limousine when the fun is over… trusting you haven’t completely munched the rear tyres.
The sun begins to dip behind the hills and as we head north from the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve, the earlier scene of charred devastation catches our eye. This formerly thriving forest has clearly been hit by a catastrophic wildfire and reduced to ash.
Mother Nature has been cruel enough to the region but that doesn’t stop us from flicking the Dynamic Select switch into Sport+, nailing the throttle and grinning with every explosion from the exhaust.
The urge to give in to our inner Edward Hyde is just too strong.