This a great article for all those who love Ferraris, Lake Como and all things Italian.
It seemed an innocent question: “Any chance you’ll be in Italy this year?”
As a matter of fact, yes, I said, wondering if winter would ever end and if there’d be enough pasta left in Rome by the time I arrived. This was in June and The Trip to Italy was definitely on, albeit pretty loose. “Unstructured,” I guess you’d say, a personal euphemism for poorly planned.
As I said, it was a straightforward exchange but the context is important; she was Our Lady of Ferrari. And every woman associated with Ferrari is a potential angel, granter of wishes, fulfiller of fantasies.
“Would you be interested in the Esperienza Ferrari?” she asked, “the Ferrari Experience”. Now the conversation was getting a little dirty. And does a bear relieve himself in the woods?
As a matter of fact, I would be interested in the Esperienza, whatever that meant. I would plan my holiday around it, as a matter of fact. I would rent a car and drive from Rome to Ferrari’s near-mythical home at Maranello to make sure it happened, actually. I would swim buck-naked in the Trevi fountain in front of 10,000 Chinese tourists and spend the night in the grungiest catacomb the carabinieri could find, if that’s what it took.
Yes. I was available. My designated navigator and co-traveller simply had no say. But it did prompt the question: what, exactly, is the Esperienza Ferrari?
It’s the kind of question only a Ferrari neophyte asks.
Oh, says Our Lady of Ferrari, you tour the factory, visit the museum, lunch in the Ferrari restaurant, and then we put you in a new car for a nice little drive to Lake Como, where you stay at an outrageously beautiful hotel, have dinner in the flash restaurant, sleep like a tot under the spell of a gentle breeze rising from the direction of Casa Clooney on the opposite shore and then head back to Maranello, secure in the knowledge that there are many, many people in this world who live considerably more glamorous lives than your own.
(Now, I love Italy; cars almost as much. I love driving, eating and drinking in Italy; and, with only the occasional stylistic foot wrong over the 70-year history of Enzo Ferrari’s motor company — you won’t see a 1980 Mondial 8 in its museum, for example — I love just about everything that ever came out of his little factory, near the lovely city of Modena. I’ve driven a few Ferraris; getting out of one and resuming normal life is like going from Beluga to Peck’s fish paste.)
“Yeah, that all sounds horrible. Where do I sign?”
Key “Esperienza Ferrari” into a search engine and you’ll land at a page requiring a log-in you don’t have. This is an exclusive club. It’s for prospective clients; it’s for existing clients. And, occasionally, for grown-up little boys who always dreamt of something with a prancing horse on the bonnet in their own garage.
“These events are designed to offer clients the opportunities to experience the Ferrari lifestyle,” says Our Lady of Ferrari. Pearls before swine in my case, we punt the rented Fiat 500 over to Maranello the night before we are to experience our Esperienza, putting up at a little agriturismo and eating at a local restaurant — Ristorante Cavallino — that, it transpires, is run by a former Ferrari F1 team cook. His pasta is excellent. So is the Brunello di Montalcino.
But by 9.30 next morning, we’re sipping espresso, reclining in Poltrono Frau leather (they supply the hides for Ferrari interiors and make nice chairs, too) and have joined a (mostly male) group getting Part A of La Esperienza, the factory tour and museum visit. The girls who lead us wear calf-length Capri pants and Tod’s loafers. We’re not at Toyota.
I mention to a fellow traveller, a nice Mexican bloke, that later in the day we’ll be handed the key to a GTC4 Lusso — “the hatchback”, I say, tongue in cheek — for a fang up the autostrada to a hotel outside Como.
Wonderful, he says warmly, and pulls up a picture on his phone of his “hatchback” being assembled, delivery due next month. “I wanted a more practical Ferrari than the one I’ve already got,” he says, with considerable humility.
We tour the factory, which is more interesting than it sounds. We’re told not to touch; it turns out one enthusiastic man experiencing The Ferrari Lifestyle recently had climbed into a car on the production line and hit the starter button. Not cool.
We — OK, I — fall to my knees with emotion at the sheer beauty of some of the museum cars, like the 1964 275 GTB. And we back that up with some of the best handmade tortellini in brodo I’ve ever had, in the Ferrari restaurant.
It’s all just an appetiser.
About 2pm we’re invited to transfer our luggage from another Italian icon, our Cinquecento, to the back of Ferrari’s latest grand tourer, a 6.3-litre naturally aspirated V12 with all-wheel drive and, yes, a very, very useful hatchback.
This is when the truth of the Esperienza Ferrari dawns: driving someone else’s obscenely valuable, seemingly five-metre-wide car on the wrong side of the road around unfamiliar streets and autostrada is terrifying. Bring a navigator.
It’s only later, back in Australia, that I learn a similarly — fully — optioned GTC4 Lusso will tip the scales about $745,000.
Five times more power than my Golf with a guttural howl to match when you even think about pressing the throttle, the GTC4 shares at least a little DNA with the legendary, late 60s front-engined V12 grand tourer the 365 GTB/4, or Daytona as it was better known. In its latest incarnation, this is the Louis Vuitton travelling trunk of our generation: all stitched leather luxury and effortless intercontinental Euro-chic as fellow travellers whisper “who are they?” and callow roadside youths leap out with their phones for a snap.
Yes, even in their homeland, Ferraris are a rare sight.
And so, with a mix of sweaty palms and childish joy — a car that accelerates from 100-200km/h in about five seconds does that to you — we head for the ridiculously expensive and mind-numbingly beautiful historic Castadiva Resort, at Blevio.
Three hours, inevitably several speeding fines and about €110 ($167) worth of fuel later, we land with a queer mix of exhilaration and exhaustion. But what a landing. Crikey! If the late Peter Sarstedt could rewrite a contemporary Where Do You Go To My Lovely, it might include a line about George Clooney, Lake Como, Castadiva and a GTC4.
The “hotel” — Roccabruna Villa was once the home of the marvellously named opera singer Giuditta Pasta — is the sort of place where your average Rich Lister will feel inadequate.
We do our best to fit in, drinking prosecco on our balcony overlooking the lake, the floating pool, the timber motor launches cruising by and wondering if George is home.
My goodness it’s beautiful.
Dinner is fancy. Jacket fancy. Sleep (our suite is a duplex, of course) very sound; breakfast by the lake a mixture of pinch-yourself and pathos: a few more nights of this could be really useful. But an experience — even an Esperienza — is a finite concept. This is a taste of The Ferrari Lifestyle, not an indefinite degustation.
The reluctant return to Emilia-Romagna is a repeat performance of multiple navigational errors leading ultimately to high-speed motorway paradise. There may have been a little Top Gear-esque full-throttle reverberation nonsense in one of the tunnels surrounding Como before finding the right Direction Milan autostrada.
And when we get this magnificent piece of history — for how much longer will Ferrari build naturally aspirated 12-cylinder engines that emit bad gases like a bloated herd of Chianina cattle? — safely home there is a massive sense of relief. Too much responsibility. Too conspicuous. And way too much fun.
But I will be in Italy again next year, as it happens. And I’ll be lighting a candle for Our Lady of Ferrari, just in case. Every now and then, a touch of The Ferrari Lifestyle is a rather good thing, no matter how fleeting the esperienza.