To Italy With Giulia
Those of you interested in Classic Cars may remember the article I wrote in August 2009 about the Alfa Romeo Day in Ripon, North Yorkshire that I attended with my husband Steve. Steve (a bit of a petrol head) has spent the last six years rebuilding a 1967 Alfa Romeo Giulia Sprint GT from a bag of bits (literally - when Steve purchased the car everything had been stripped down to its component parts!) Well, this year is the centenary of Alfa Romeo (1910-2010) with big celebrations being held in Milan. Of course my darling beloved was determined to attend and this gave him a huge incentive to complete the restoration of Guilia, his Alfa Romeo, before we left. (Personally, I never thought he would have enough time!) To keep me happy he cleverly planned a holiday to Lake Como, Italy, to coincide with the events being held over the weekend of 26-27 June 2010. This is a diary of our holiday:
Thursday 17th: We set off in our beautiful little red car around mid-day, heading for Folkestone, Kent where we have a room booked at the Holiday Inn Express virtually next door to the Channel Tunnel crossing. Guilia has already taken us on a 200 mile round trip to Cornwall with no problems and Steve has been using her daily to get to work, so we are (fairly) confident she is capable of the long journey to Italy .
Right: Lake Como (view from apartment)
Friday 18th: Up bright and early, an early Channel Tunnel crossing and we are on our way! Guilia behaves perfectly and we arrive at Puttelange Aux Lacs in North-Eastern France at about three o'clock in the afternoon. After a pleasant wander around the town we enjoy a delicious evening meal in the stunning restaurant of our hotel, then off to bed. We have another long day's drive ahead of us tomorrow.
Saturday 20th: After a yummy French breakfast we set off to our destination for the next week - Stazzona, Dongo, Italy . We finally arrive around six in the evening having been delayed by a couple of lengthy traffic jams before the long tunnel through the Alps. Thankfully our two driving days have been quite cool due to the weather being overcast and raining - there's no air conditioning in a 1967 Alfa! The apartment is lovely and the mountain views over Lake Como absolutely wonderful. Yes, we are quite happy to make this our home for the week!
Left: The dramatic Stelvio Pass
Sunday 21st: It is still a bit drizzly today but we can see the mountains from our apartment and the rain has obviously fallen as snow on the tops - it's beautiful! Due to the weather we decide to potter round the top half of Lake Como in the car for the day and very pleasant it is too. A word of warning though - if you are not a confident driver or a good passenger then Lake Como is not for you - the roads are very narrow and full of hairpin bends!
Monday 22nd: The sun is shining - hurray! This is how I envisaged an Italian holiday should be. Now we can really see how stunning the scenery is. The mountains are absolutely gorgeous!
Left: Varenna (view from the lake)
We decide to drive over to the Stelvio Pass which is apparently the best driving road in Europe. Well, the best road it may be but again, it is not for the faint hearted! We drive up the Italian side of the pass with Guilia taking the steep hairpin bends all in her stride. At the top - well, I don't think I can describe it adequately in words! We left in bright sunshine but here the snow must be three feet deep and the other side of the pass is closed. We are unable to continue so we return the way we came - breathtaking to say the least. What a day!
Tuesday 23rd: After five days driving we decide to leave Guilia at the apartment and head out into the hills on foot. Armed with our map we are looking forward to a nice leisurely walk. After about half a mile we decide that perhaps Italian maps are not quite up to the same standard that we are used to in the UK! Eventually we give up with the map and let our sense of direction take over. We had been climbing steadily for a couple of hours so we thought as long as we head downwards we can't really go wrong! It works (phew) and we end up where we want to be.
Wednesday 24th: Ok, enough of the car and walking isn't too easy if you can't follow the maps so, today, it's a boat trip on Lake Como - definitely a must! Guilia takes us to Menaggio, a town about half an hour South of Dongo. There we hop on the boat which takes us to Bellagio, a very pretty little town with several stunning villas hidden in the trees. (Apparently George Clooney owns one but sadly I didn't see him!) If you are a shopaholic then this is the town for you - the beautiful, steep cobbled streets are full of wonderful designer boutiques. We had our first taste of real Italian Tiramisu at the Hotel Du Lac on the water front - superb!
Left: on Lake Lugano
Thursday 25th: Today we head over the border to Switzerland to visit Lugano, another beautiful town. This is our last day in the area and a boat trip on the lake makes it a very relaxing one. Later, feeling very tired and lazy from the heat, we decide to hop on one of the delightful little road 'trains' for a tour of the town. When we get back to Stazzona in the evening we visit the Resturant La Trave for a final treat before heading out to Milan in the morning. At the restaurant Gabriella introduces us to Grappa - an Italian after dinner liqueur which washes down an Espresso very nicely. Of course, we've made sure we have a bottle of that to bring back with us (Grappa not Espresso!)
Right: Vittorio-Emanuele II Gallery
Friday 26th: After a morning packing and cleaning we say goodbye to the apartment and the mountains and head off to Milan for the weekend. This is what Steve has been looking forward to for months and excitement mounts with every kilometre. After passing what must have been hundreds of classic Alfa Romeos on the road accompanied by a running commentary from Steve (Wow, look at that! Hey, it's a Spider! What a Cool car! etc, etc) we arrive at our hotel at about two in the afternoon, which is good as we miss the dreaded Milan rush hour. We park Guilia safely in the garage and, having heard horrendous stories about Italian traffic around Milan, we decide to leave her there for the weekend. We spend the afternoon mooching around the city and you can imagine our awe as we go through Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II and then out the other side to see Duomo, the world's largest Gothic cathedral. Superb! We have dinner at one of the restaurants in the Galleria Vittorio which is out of this world and then retreat for the night to our hotel, exhausted but happy.
Saturday 27th: The Big Day has arrived and Steve is very excited at the prospect of seeing hundreds of Alfa Romeos all in one place! We head out mid morning to find out what the arrangements are. The cars are expected to arrive at around three o'clock in the afternoon, just outside the castle (Sforzesco) and the police are going to close the road to all other traffic. So, after a little more of the touristy stuff and wandering the streets of the city we go the castle to watch them arrive.
Left: Duomo di Milano
Well, we expected hundreds, but there must be thousands of cars here, all varieties of Alfa Romeo. At one point there is actually a traffic jam of Alfas as they queue up to find a parking place. We are very glad that we decided not to join the crowd as it is a particularly hot day and without air conditioning I suspect we both would have melted!
We spend several hours admiring all the different cars (old and new). We are a little disappointed that we only saw one or two cars from the UK - we know at least thirty were going so goodness knows where they ended up - we must have missed a crowd somewhere! A party has been arranged for later in the evening but we need our beauty sleep for the long day's journey tomorrow back to the UK so after another delicious meal we decide to return to our hotel.
Sunday 28th : It's time to say goodbye to Italy. It has been an amazing holiday, one I will remember for a long time to come. We set off on our journey up through Italy, Austria and France to arrive in Calais around dinner time - perfect timing some would say!
Right: an Alfa-Romeo 8C Competizi
Monday 29th: Onto the train for the Channel Tunnel and back home. Oh, if only it was that easy. Having behaved perfectly for 2000 miles, Guilia decides to spring a leak in a brake pipe just as we are boarding the train to cross the Channel! We reach the other side, Steve manages to coax her off the train and we limp into Folkestone. Thank goodness Guilia waited until we were (almost) safely back in the UK . It would have been a lot worse if we had been stranded in France or Italy but a couple of hours later all is fixed, we are on our way again and home by mid afternoon. Not bad for an old lady of considerable age (Guilia that is, not me!)
Contributed by Maria Goddard