My name is Steffen and I spent all of May '16 on a supposedly epic 10.000 km roadtrip through France, Monaco, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. I planned this trip well ahead with the first apartment booked in August '15. However, matters should turn out differently. This is not going to be an instruction on how to attend the perfect picture-book-euro-roadtrip.
Day 0 - Hamburg to Frankfurt
My initial plan was to stay the night at home and leave one day later to drive from Hamburg to Grenoble, our first stop, in one go. However, my girlfriend suggested to leave one day earlier after quitting time to go as far south as possible before we needed a rest. So after I packed up the car with way too much stuff we didn’t need (I took 8 ties with me for heaven’s sake) we left Hamburg heading southbound.
I chose Frankfurt as the stay for the first night knowing this might give me the chance to meet an old friend and visit the “Klassikstadt”. If you don't know what the "Klassikstadt" is, you can watch a short introduction to it on my YouTube channel (in German language): www.youtube.com/watch?v=oKznm9ugFpQ
Of course this didn’t work out, as the next morning my girlfriend was eager to get a move on fearing we might not reach our next destination in time. On top of that the hotel that I had booked was terrible with the mattress being unbearable and the carpet being full of stains from unidentifiable liquids.
Day 1 - Frankfurt to Grenoble
We left Frankfurt as early as possible in the morning and headed further south. Our aim was to cross the border to France at Mülhausen to pay as little road charges as possible. The weather was great which is why we went top down all the way to Grenoble. When we arrived at 4 PM (yes, I could have easily visited the Klassikstadt in Frankfurt) I wanted to check the route we were going. It became apparent that my GPS-tracker stopped working right at the French border. The device I installed to save my car from being stolen in foreign countries didn’t actually work anywhere outside Germany. I still haven’t figured out why.
Day 2 - Grenoble to Nice - Route Napoleon
I guess I don’t have to introduce an automotive community to the Route Napoleon. Even a few of my co-workers knew the road and advised me not to drive it. It's a motorcycle road they said and it would be way too narrow for cars. Rubbish!
In my opinion it’s a nice drive for most of the way. Not more and not less. On the upside, the roads and their environment are very diverse. On the downside there is way too much traffic. It almost seems like the road is some kind of tourist attraction with groups of people on very weird tricycle things we came across. Never mind, the part between La Tuilière and Castellane makes up for everything else. Breathtaking. The rest - meh.
I would now like to show one of my several clips or photos but I can’t. You’ll find out why when you read on.
Nice is beautiful but not noteworthy in an automotive community.
Day 3 - Côte d’Azur
Since we did a lot of boring sightseeing that day I am going to keep it short for you.
The three Corniches (Grande, Moyenne, Inférieure) provide great views but are pretty difficult to find and also very busy.
The village of Biot is very very picturesqe, however its “Collection des Voitures Anciennes” is no more.
I tried to wash my car with a public pressure washer for the first time and ripped half of the Alpina decor of.
Day 4 - Monaco - Col de Turini
Apart from the small incident above the trip really wasn’t all that bad until now and it kept getting better.
We were heading to Monaco for a Cars and Coffee event. I was worried the city would be bursting and it might be a nightmare to get there and drive around in it. However, it wasn’t. When we arrived the grand prix circuit had just been prepared and the city almost seemed deserted. It was so empty, I even managed to have a few practice laps on the track without any interfering traffic.
The Cars and Coffee event was mega. There was an amazing array of cars. From an F40 to a GT2 RS and many more. As with the Route Napoleon, I would like to share images but I can’t. More on that later.
After the event we had lunch with the organizer Jean-Nicolas Rousselot and some other attendees. We had an afternoon to spare and I was wondering whether we should visit the Private Collection of Antique Cars of Prince Rainier III or drive the Col de Turini. Everyone at the table agreed that the latter is superior. And boy, is it good. The way up to the Col de Turini is nice but full of locals. As soon as you reach Sospel though, where the Col de Turini actually begins, traffic clears up and the road becomes a real joy to drive. At the end of the Col de Turini at the Hôtel Les Trois Vallées you definitely need to head in the direction of Lucéram. In my oppinion this stretch of road, although fairly narrow, even trumps the Col de Turini. In fact, it was so good that I came back the next day for another drive.
Although I had everything on camera, I am not able to show you the footage for reasons that become apparent in 3...2...1…
Day 7 - Milan - The Turning Point
I visited Milan for two main car-related reasons. The Libreria Dell’Automobile and the Alfa Romeo Museum.
First I wanted to have a look at the Libreria Dell’Automobile, the worlds biggest car-themed book shop. They have books about any brand in any language at any price. I have never seen a place like it. Being interested in car design I couldn’t resist the temptation from the books pictured below and pulled the trigger on them.
When we returned to the car I noticed the absence of my suitcase on the rear seats. It soon dawned on us and when I opened the trunk I felt like being hit in the stomach. Except for some suit and shoe bags it was completely empty. We were robbed right in the city center of Milan. The thiefs had blocked the signal of my remote control when I locked the car to take all our belongings. Besides pretty much all our clothing that includes one DSLR, two GoPros, one field recorder, one Laptop and an external hard drive with all photos and clips that we had taken previously. All our previous memories were gone in a split second of inattention. Luckily they had left the car and we carried our wallets and mobiles with us. So instead of spending an afternoon at the Alfa museum we got to see Milans police station for several hours and then decided to go to South Tyrol / Austria and buy some of the stolen goods anew.
Day 8 - South Tyrol to Tuscany
After finishing our highly unnecessary and expensive shopping and deciding to continue rather than cancel the rest of our road trip we had to reach our pre-booked apartment deep in the heart of Tuscany later that day.
You can probably imagine our impression of Italy by now. The fact that night fell and we ditched the Autostrada for some dark and narrow backroads in terrible condition didn’t help much. At some point the paved road just completely ended. The only way to our apartment was an unlit dirt road littered with huge pottholes in the middle of nowhere. Judging by her facial expression, I think my girlfriend has never felt such a relief like when we finally reached the place.
Day 9 - Tuscany
The next morning we woke up and were greeted by one of the best views we have had on this trip. When we realized how idyllic the location actually was we couldn’t believe we had such fear the night before.
However, it was still a challenge to navigate the Alpinas low front spoiler around all the pottholes.
Day 11 - Tuscany - SR222 Via Chiantigiana
Due to their terrible condition and the sheer amount of speed cameras, I wasn’t impressed by Tuscan roads yet (apart from the views they provide). The internet however strongly recommends to drive the SR222 from Florence to Siena. So I did, or at least I thought I would. Not even a third of the way passed when there was a roadblock asking us to do a detour. So we did. At the next roadblock they told us there was a damn bicycle race going on and we had to turn around. Of course they let the group of motorcycles in front of us pass through. So we turned around. At the next roadblock we were told to turn around yet again because we were apparently going the wrong way. So they told me how to get to the Autostrada as quickly as possible. If I wanted to go to Siena as quickly as possible I would have taken the Autostrada in the first place, was pretty much all I thought at that moment. But I guess bicycle activists will never understand.
Day 13 - Tuscany to Rome
Another day, another chance to drive the SR222, so we decided to give it another try on our way to Rome. This time we weren’t held up by a bicycle race. This time around two cars of the local police and one Caribinieri consecutively took care of that job by driving well under the speed limit and not giving a damn about the queue that had built up behind them. But even without the traffic the road was nothing special and all we could think about was how much better Andalusia (our trip last year) was. So we moved on to Rome.
All of my friends told me not to take my shiny new car to Rome. The traffic in Rome was terrible they said. And everybody drives like they are maniacs they said. Utter nonsense! Rome is fine. They all might drive a little more ruthless, however they pay much more attention to their driving and share the road in a much cleverer way than drivers in other cities.
Day 16 - Rome - Mille Miglia
This is a big one I had planned for more than one year. I wanted to see the Mille Miglia, have a look at the cars at their overnight halt and then join the convoy the next morning heading north. Did it work out? No.
The Mille Miglia is supposed to be a big event in Italy. However, nobody really seemed to know what it was nor that it was happening that evening. Not even the tourist information could provide any details of the cars’ exact route through Rome. I was lucky to come across a checkpoint by chance. However, in my quest to find the overnight stop I left it behind to follow the Mille Miglia signs along the roads. After two hours of walking along seemingly endless Roman roads and asking several policemen, I decided to take a taxi and told the driver to follow the signs. We asked several people in support cars and even officials from Ferrari and they believed the participants were going to split up and spend the night in multiple hotels. So we called it a night and went back to the apartment, me being a little bit disappointed.
Day 17 - Rome to Lake Como via Genova
Let’s talk about Italian Autostradas. Hell, are they expensive. If you come from a country where your Autobahns are free of charge it is a very weird situation to spend in advance of 200€ for using roads that limit you to 130 km/h. I guess that it is possible to go faster than that. Just make sure you’re not on a part that is observed by the so-called “Tutor”. It took me some time to understand that the Tutor system is a section control...
Anyway, I wanted to go to Genova to buy a perfume called Aqua di Genova which had also been stolen with our luggage. So we accepted this three hour detour and strayed through Genova for even more hours to locate the shop. As it turns out, this Aqua di Genova is only available in Germany and there is no shop in Genua or Italy in general. So we moved on. Sorry for another non car-related anecdote.
Day 18 - Lake Como - Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este
Don’t go there by car! Although I hate it when somebody says that, there has never been a case where this statement is more fitting. As soon as you enter Cernobbio the traffic comes to a halt. But BMW has provided four parking lots for the event or so I thought. However these parking lots are first and foremost tiny and secondly mostly reserved for trucks with trailers. Never mind, after 90 minutes we found a more or less legal space on a road in the next village. After another 30 minutes we finally reached the grounds of the villa. And hell yes, the wait is worth it.
It’s like entering automotive heaven. The park, which is already beautiful itself, is filled with the most exquisite pieces of automobiles including classics, modern classics and concept cars. Best of all, you can sit down anywhere you like in deck chairs that are provided all over the ground and take a break to look at the cars or even talk to the owners. This is an event every car enthusiast should attend at least once in their lifetime.
After all these setbacks finally a successful day!
Day 19 - Lake Como to Verona
Since this is a very short trip and we had an entire day to spend, I decided we should go back to Milan (or Arese to be precise) and visit the Alfa Romeo museum that we had missed out on two weeks ago. It was quite good. The museum itself was pretty standard to be honest but the cars they have on display are anything else but standard. Still, I’m not a big fan of lifeless museums. Especially if all cars are from a single brand. I believe however, this is as good as this sort of thing gets.
Day 21 - Venice
Nothing to see here for car enthusiasts (surprise, surprise)
Day 22 - Verona to Naples
I have to withdraw my statement from Lake Como and admit that there is a case when travelling by car is even worse. Welcome to Naples everyone. After having been to Rome and not being scared to death by traffic I thought Naples couldn’t be much worse. But believe me, it is.
We arrived during rush hour traffic which is more like war. There really are no traffic rules in this city. The bigger car always has the right of way (as long as you are a local). I haven’t seen a single nice car on the roads nor one without a dent or missing body panels. So I ditched all plans and entered the first secure underground parking I could find. Of course beaching the car on entering the garage…
Leaving your keys inside the car is a very weird feeling but seemed to be the usual way in southern Italy so we left our car and our luggage behind once more.
Day 23 - Amalfi Coast
Best place in Italy. That pretty much sums it up. If I’d do the trip again I would change a few things. I would only visit Tuscany for one week and the Amalfi Coast for another, I wouldn’t travel alone but with friends and I wouldn’t take a soft top. Anyway, the Amalfi Coast. Great smooth road, stunning views and not too much traffic except for pedestrians. However it’s impossible to find parking.
Day 25 - Naples to Hamburg via Milan
My girlfriend took the short way home and got on a plane. Initially I had planned to spend one night in Milan. However, when I reached the city it was only 2 PM with the satnav estimating my arrival in Hamburg in another 11 hours. This made me continue my trip northbound through Switzerland. I crossed into Germany near Lake Constance where the weather changed to the heaviest rain I have ever experienced in a car. I was aquaplaning all over the place but carried on. On top of that it seemed like I ate something wrong which made me stop at every third rest area to throw up. The weather changed for good at around Hanover. After 29 hours of straight driving I finally reached Hamburg which made my mega-roadtrip come to an end.
Over the last 4 weeks and almost 10.000 km We had a lot of ups and downs. We will keep this EuroTrip (and especially Italy) with mixed feelings in our minds. After all this trip has definitely taught me one main lesson:
Don't conduct too much at a time.
I wanted everything at once and my expectations were too high. On one hand I wanted the ultimate car holiday with as many driving roads and automotive events as possible. On the other hand I also wanted to do some sightseeing and shopping in Italy's major cities. If you want your holiday to be successful you should make a decision between these two opposites. You should either explore the countryside by car or do a city-trip with public transport.
Furthermore, try to narrow your area where you’d like to spend your holiday down as far as possible. Not only to a country but even to a single region. As I mentioned, we limited ourselves to Andalusia last year for a 10-day-trip and it was much more enjoyable.
On a final note, if you are going to do a roadtrip in your beloved car, for god's sake, take pictures of it. As you might have noticed I returned from this trip with many snapshots, none of which includes my lovely B3 which supported us without any incidents what so ever.
I hope you liked the read. Thanks for making it to the end. Excuse my poor English and please consider to follow my tribe "Exquisite Auto Agents" where I post extraordinary cars from the classifieds as well as some more future car adventures.