For the last five years one of the most consistently popular trips that I sell to clients has been ‘Driving a Ferrari in Italy’. This is ironic, given that I’m not a petrol head. Actually I prefer history, art, architecture and geography to cars. However the power of the Italian brand of Ferrari and the quality of the cars has created its own mythology. Who am I to interfere with that……………
Recently I found myself heading across the green, verdant fields of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy bound for Maranello and Modena. This is home to Italy’s most luxurious and prestigious car makers. Home to Ferrari, Maserati and Lamborghini. It is also an area of rolling hills and fertile farmland and is one of the most important agricultural regions of Northern Italy. There are emerald green fields and carefully tended vineyards, herds of dairy cows and beef cattle. This is the heart of the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese production area, that’s Parmesan to you and me. Modena is the centre for Balsamic Vinegar production, the finest of which is aged in oak barrels for decades. The city of Bologna is just up the road – it is regarded as the gastronomic capital of Italy. The region of Emilia Romagna is famed throughout Italy for the quality of its beef. Funnily enough the car industry grew up here out of the many workshops and garages that built tractors and farm equipment for the dominant economic activity of this area – farming.
FERRARI – CREATING THE LEGEND
However there was one man born here in Emilia Romagna who single-handedly created one of the most exceptional and iconic brands known the world over. That man was Enzo Ferrari. Ferrari was born in Modena in 1898, the son of a working class family. He developed a passion for cars and for racing having visited the Bologna Circuit with his father in 1908. Both his father and brother died in the influenza epidemic that swept Italy in 1916. Enzo himself was invalided out of the Italian army after the First World War. He was a gifted driver and drove initially for the small Italian company CMN and later for Alfa Romeo. Ferrari had great success as a racing driver in the 1920s. Then in 1929 he set up a racing team with Alfa Romeo. In 1939 after a dispute with Alfa, Ferrari left to set up his own company, although contractual constraints meant that he couldn’t make cars in his own name for four years. During the war his automotive business was bombed and he was forced to relocate from Modena to Maranello, 20 kilometres down the road. As soon as the war was over it was all systems go. By 1948 he’d designed and built the first Ferrari badged car. It went on to win at Lago di Garda in 1948 and then in 1949 at the 24 hour race in Le Mans. In 1950 Enzo Ferrari enrolled his Ferrari Team in the brand new Formula 1 Grand Prix Racing Category and went on to win the British Grand Prix at Silverstone in 1951. Enzo Ferrari started building luxury sports cars in the early 1950s as a means to finance the company’s racing activities.
Ferrari competed in the Mille Miglia through the 1950s, until a terrible accident in 1957 led to the death of eleven people, including nine spectators. The race was suspended shortly afterwards on safety grounds. At Le Mans Ferrari were incredibly successful with six consecutive wins from 1960-1965. Team Ferrari or Scuderia Ferrari, as they are known in Italy, is the oldest and most successful Formula One team. They have competed in every world championship since 1950. During this time they have won 16 constructor’s championships and 15 driver’s world championships. Currently Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen drive for Ferrari.
Just a few years ago there was nothing much to see in Maranello for casual visitors. The Ferrari Factory was only open to the select few who had recently purchased a brand new car. That small handful of people could opt to pick up their magnificent, gleaming motor car straight from the factory. This enabled buyers to bask in the warm glow of being able to afford one of the most sought after and expensive cars in Europe. Beady eyed visitors might have spotted the Fiorano Circuit. This is the private race circuit owned by Ferrari and used to test their cars on the track. That was about it.
But you know Ferrari has always been a dynamic and unique brand. Back in the 1980s they started selling inexpensive branded items globally. From Shanghai to Rio de Janiero you could buy a baseball cap, polo shirt, key ring or tea towel – all branded with Ferrari’s famous prancing horse. These souvenirs enabled the fans to buy into the Ferrari brand whatever their financial means. Smart move from the guys at Ferrari. Ferrari’s presence in Formula 1 has been vital to the development of the brand too. As Formula 1 became a global passion with races screened on TV on every continent Ferrari fans grew in number especially in emerging markets like Brazil, India and China. Millions of fans follow Ferrari – they are known as ‘tifosi’. Even this year’s Mille Miglia (2016) started with a tribute to Ferrari. These guys do not miss a trick.
Today in Maranello visitors can start off by visiting the official Ferrari Museum, the romantically named Galleria Ferrari. This impressively designed building introduces you to the history,legend and myth of Ferrari. In true Italian fashion there’s a smart little cafe selling delicious coffee, sandwiches and cakes. A short stroll down the road, passing the Ferrari factory buildings on both sides is Il Cavallino Ristorante a fully themed Ferrari restaurant…….
Not to be outdone just up the road in Modena is a brand new exhibition space – it is called the Museo Enzo Ferrari. It incorporates the building where Enzo Ferrari was born and lived and worked until his move to Maranello. Now it is a futuristic gallery where Ferrari, Maserati and the occasional Lamborghini are displayed side by side. Again there is a smart cafe area and you are right next door to the Maserati Factory! Then a short drive out of town is the Modena Motor Racing Circuit where you can drive a Ferrari around the track and really see what these amazing cars can do. Just to prove that you really are in the heart of Emilia Romagna, the city of Modena is home to one of the best restaurants in Europe, if not the world. It is called Osteria Francescana. The chef Massimo Bottura is one of the most famous chefs in Italy. I haven’t eaten there myself, however I’ve had clients eating there and the 9-course tasting menu at lunch time – it’s the ‘degustazione menu’ is apparently sublime. Nine perfect courses each accompanied by a perfect wine, beer or spirit…..
The piazzas and arcades of Modena are thoroughly Italian and an ideal destination for lunch or an aperitivo. Just down the road you can enjoy balsamic vinegar tasting, parmesan cheese-making and wine tasting. It is all in Emilia Romagna! Even the fashion brand Max Mara is down the road in the cute little town of Reggio Emilia – very close at hand. So even if you are not a car fan you can’t help but be impressed by the style, vision and glamour that Ferrari has brought to this part of Italy. Even the factory units are handsomely branded. The perfect example of the Italians, doing what the Italians do best, design, style, beauty, elegance and passion. I strongly recommend a visit!
- Janet Simmonds is a tour guide and director at Grand Tourist tailor-made travel
- Enzo Ferrari Museum, Modena is well worth a visit and is next to the Maserati Factory
- To book a truly exceptional tailor-made Ferrari experience contact Janet@grand-tourist.com
- Osteria Francescana is in Modena, it is one of the finest restaurants in Europe.
- For more on Parmesan Cheese – The Making of Parmigiano (Parmesan) Cheese
- To discover more of Emilia Romagna visit Ferrara – a perfect, small city in Italy
- The Mille Miglia means 1000 miles -it is a famous road race that has been run in Italy since the 1920s. The race starts and finishes in Brescia. The route varies each year.
- Posted: 01-07-2016
- Updated: 21-12-2016