WORDS YASMINE CHINWALA / PHOTOGRAPHY LUKE KIRWAN
Aristocrats in the 18th century had their Grand Tour of Europe. Today’s equivalent is taking a thoroughbred Ferrari to its limits between the luxurious playgrounds of St Moritz, Monte Carlo and Paris
When I am offered the chance to pick up a Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano from Geneva for a five-day road trip terminating at Ferrari’s UK headquarters, the question I ask myself is this: what would Ferris Bueller do?
On his day off, Ferris cruised downtown in his best friend’s dad’s 1961 Ferrari 250 GT California and sampled all the delights of Chicago – sporting, cultural, architectural, culinary and musical. While it is tempting to drive to Germany and roar up the autobahn at 150mph, the answer is clear – we must follow Ferris’s example and take in the playgrounds of the rich and famous: St Moritz, Lake Como, Monte Carlo and Paris.
But can a car this beautiful and extraordinary really cope with 1,800 miles of Swiss snow and ice, Italian potholes, hairpin bends and Parisian streets? There’s only one way to find out.
Preparing to see the car for the first time gives rise to sensations not dissimilar to those prior to a first date. I can barely sleep during the week before departure, fretting about the £5,000 excess on the insurance policy (‘It could get wrecked/stolen/scratched/breathed on wrong!’). What will it feel like to drive? Will my panic force me into the slow lane, hunched rigidly over the wheel like my grandmother? And what should I wear?
The last question is not as frivolous as it seems. Packing for the trip poses a serious problem – skiwear is bulky, as is formal eveningwear for the casino, and the car has only a small shelf behind the seats and a boot capacity of just 11.3 cubic feet. My co-driver is over 6ft, so there won’t be much room in the foot well. The most sensible option would be to FedEx luggage ahead to cover every eventuality, but, finally, several rounds of packing and re-packing is distilled into two cabin cases and a suit carrier.
Driving the Ferrari away from Geneva airport was 40 per cent thrilling, 60 per cent terrifying. The possibility of totalling a £250,000 car loomed large. But the nerves soon disappeared and, within minutes, I was happily dropping down to 10mph in Swiss motorway tunnels, engaging paddle shift, then flooring the accelerator with the windows down to appreciate the roar.
And this isn’t the hum of just any fast car. The characteristic purr of the V12 engine is due to the third and sixth harmonics, and those boffins at Ferrari have created a signature sound that raises a smile in the sourest onlooker.
It is not long before we face our first challenge: the Julier Pass up to St Moritz. Shortly before we begin the ascent, it begins to snow. I slow right down and am overtaken repeatedly around tight corners by fist-waving 4x4 drivers. But the car is thus far holding its own. It has five traction settings: race, for use on a track; CST, which deactivates both the stability and traction-control systems; sport, for general driving; low grip, for wet and dry conditions; and ice, for exactly the situation in which we find ourselves. Arriving at the underground car park near our chalet provides some heart-stopping comedic moments while the car flounders on the icy slope, but we have made it. Who needs a 4x4?
The stress of the drive is soon forgotten on entering Chesetta, an immaculately renovated luxury chalet in the village of Silvaplana, five minutes from St Moritz, that will be our home for two nights. The decor is beautiful – warm, comforting and traditionally alpine. Staying here is not like a break in a five-star hotel – it’s akin to staying with wealthy relatives who can’t do enough to make you happy.
The following day, snow continues to drift through the Engadin valley. Leaving the car garaged, we abandon the slopes and opt for a leisurely walk around the lake, with a stop for tea at Hanselmanns Kaffeehaus in St Moritz. An inside tip leads us to dinner at the Hotel Bellavista in Silvaplana (a favourite spot of Roger Federer) where we indulge in a venison feast – the restaurateur shoots the deer and cures the meat on site.
Day three brings glorious sunshine to accompany our drive through the Maloja Pass into Italy and our descent to Lake Como. The growling engine echoes off the spectacular mountain backdrop and, without a car in sight, I top 150mph despite some less-than-even road surfaces.
Winding cross-country to the heart of the Valpolicella region, we stop for the night at the Byblos Art Hotel Villa Amistà, just outside Verona – the modernity of the Ferrari on the forecourt providing a stark design contrast to the 18th-century architecture. The concierge directs us to the Trattoria Tre Marchetti, tucked away behind the amphitheatre, for authentic regional cuisine and we cannot resist a glass of Valpolicella to accompany our gnocchi di patate con pasticciata di cavallo – gnocchi with horsemeat stew, to the unititiated.
Day four holds some of the best driving yet. But, first, we partake in another joy of owning a supercar – washing it. We become so engrossed in lovingly caressing the bodywork with a piece of chamois leather that we don’t notice that an hour-and-a-half has passed.
After continuing cross-country, we hit the coastal motorway from Genoa to Monaco. Taking corners at 90mph down the scenic winding road as the sun sets ‘feels like playing Gran Turismo in an arcade’ according to my co-driver. ‘Or like being Grace Kelly in To Catch a Thief,’ say I, fervently wishing he was Cary Grant.
We descend the hairpins of Monte Carlo, so familiar from the Formula 1 circuit, and pull on to the forecourt of the Hôtel Métropole next to a Lamborghini with its doors pointing to the heavens. After a quick change into evening wear, we are back on the road and heading towards Château Eza, in the medieval village of Eze on the Moyenne Corniche between Nice and Monaco, perched on a cliff 427m above the sea. The views are absolutely extraordinary, thanks to its position as is the tasting menu in its Michelin-starred restaurant.
The advantage of not drinking at dinner is that I get to drive back without any argument from my co-driver. The maître d’ warns me not to speed – the mountain road, where the reverberations of the V12 off the cliffs are intoxicating, is well policed. I take the car around the familiar F1 course of the hairpin, the tunnel and the harbourfront as fast as I dare, terminating in the Ferrari car park that is Casino Square.
Day five is a pretty gruelling nine-hour motorway drive from Nice to Paris, broken only by fuel stops and a race against a TGV train (I win, bien sûr). The Boulevard Périphérique is rammed, but the tension of driving through the heart of Paris in a quarter-of-a-million-pound car abates as even the French yield to the power of the prancing Italian stallion. Our journey ends at Hôtel Le Bristol in the fashionable 8th Arrondissement. All we want is a proper French steak frites, and the Art-Deco surroundings of the brasserie Le Boeuf sur le Toit lend the perfect ambience in which to enjoy it.
Our final day with the Ferrari has arrived. Outside the hotel, actress Eva Mendes gets out of a taxi and flicks her eyes over the Ferrari with a smile, much to the delight of my co-driver, who is leaning nonchalantly on the driver’s side as I supervise the expert layering of our luggage into the diminutive boot for the last time.
The drive to Calais is uneventful and even a coachload of gawping French schoolchildren in the Eurotunnel en route to Folkstone barely permeates our misery at the prospect of relinquishing the Ferrari. Journey’s end is Ferrari headquarters in Slough (yes, Slough). Handing back the keys is heartbreaking.
Sure, it’s not a practical car. Yes, it costs a fortune to run. Of course it’s totally unsuitable for a mountain road trip in the snow. But that’s not why anyone drives a Ferrari. As Ferris Bueller said: ‘I love driving it. It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.’ I couldn’t agree more.
The Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano has 612 bhp, a maximum speed of more than 205mph and does 0-62mph in 3.7 seconds. ferrari.com
Chesetta has picture-postcard views from seven bedrooms, two living rooms, two kitchens, a gym and a home cinema. chesetta-stmoritz.com
The Byblos Art Hotel Villa Amistà is a riot of colourful modern art and design and no two rooms are alike. byblosarthotel.com
The Hôtel Métropole epitomises the understated, five-star glamour for which Monaco is renowned. It is traditionally luxurious without being stuffy. metropole.com
The Bristol is on high-end shopping street Rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré. Be sure to book the three-Michelin star restaurant well in advance. hotel-bristol.com