Just very occasionally an invitation will arrive in my inbox which is so extraordinary that I just stare at my laptop screen in disbelief.
Oh and would I like to bring a guest?
This was to be this year’s inaugural GT Tour of the Passione Ferrari Club Rally. Membership of which allows Ferrari owners to drive their cars in extraordinary locations all over the world on a choice of Iconic, Sport or GT tours.
Where do I even start with the GT Tour Tuscany? Driving a Ferrari is a glorious thing, even in the arse end of England in rain, in January. To offer one up to be driven in the spring sunshine of ravishing Tuscany seems almost vulgar in its excessive wonderfulness.
The proposed itinerary was quite something. We would fly to Florence and then spend the next three days driving a Ferrari Portofino through a series of challenging and panoramic road routes between different Tuscan towns, extraordinary restaurants and points of interest.
After arriving in Tuscany, we would be driven south for about two hours towards Siena for lunch at the Belmond Castello di Casole, before receiving our wheels, and a road tour to Il Borro, a medieval hamlet hotel estate owned by the Ferragamo family.
Then we would drive to Castel Monastero Resort & Spa, another medieval hamlet hotel, where we would check in for two nights. Supper would be at the hotel’s Il Cantino, before an early-ish night and a drive the next morning to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of San Gimigiano where we would have a private tour.
Then another panoramic road tour to Siena, where we would park in the Piazza del Campo and have lunch at Osteria Le Logge. Another road tour would take us back to the Castel Monastero where we would change for a transfer to Cantine Antinori for a tour of the winery and dinner at its acclaimed restaurant Rinuccio 1180.
At this point in reading the itinerary I was becoming a little lightheaded. Day three would see us enjoying a ‘Surprise activity’, before another panoramic road tour to Località la Velona and lunch at Castello di Velona, a resort, thermal spa & winery in a historic medieval fortress overlooking the vineyards of Brunello di Montalcino.
Reader, I picked my jaw off the keyboard, accepted the invitation, rang Hannah to tell her to find her passport, and started wondering what one wears on a Ferrari Club Rally.
Sadly Hannah doesn’t have a driving licence. I say sadly, but it’s bloody marvellous for me because I get to do all the driving. The only drawback of her fervent non-driving mindset is that her co-pilot skills aren’t quite as fine-tuned as one might like on the navigation front. But what she lacks in anticipating turn offs and roundabouts, she wins in snack provision, lack of criticism of near death driving experiences, and general all round excellence of person.
So. Day one.
We arrive at the Belmond Castello di Casole estate and hotel near Siena, a little rumpled from the very early start and long drive from Florence, in the middle of lunch. We are ecstatic to see food as Hannah and I most definitely travel on our stomachs.
I don’t know whether to concentrate on the delicious spaghetti pomodoro or gaze slack-jawed at our surroundings – Castello di Casole is one of the largest private landholdings in Italy, a country estate embracing 4.500 acres of exquisite Tuscan countryside, and the hotel itself is ravishing. I make a note that I need to return.
After lunch we have a briefing in the old chapel from the team from Maranello to ensure we don’t do anything stupid whilst on the rally, and pick up some driving tips from the professional Ferrari drivers who will be accompanying the rally. (They are very keen on driving position – nice and upright and close to the wheel, no leaning back in your seat)
And then it’s time to work out which of the twenty-three cars in the car park belongs to us. I go for the tried and tested manoeuvre of clicking the key fob to see which one winks at me.
Hello my darling.
AH, THE FERRARI PORTOFINO *insert purring noise here*
I realise that the concept of an affordable entry-level Ferrari may well be mystifying to anyone who’s seen the entry price sitting around £166,000, but this is indeed the car that is intended to lure in the prospective first time Ferrari owner who doesn’t want to shell out over £200k on a new set of wheels before they’ve added on any bells and whistles from the Ferrari Configurator. The one who likes the idea of a GT, and who may also be looking at a DB11 Volante, or perhaps a Bentley Continental GT.
There are many reasons to be very enthusiastic about the Portofino: a replacement for the California which did not inspire so much of the affection, it’s both lighter and faster, and looks far more refined. In short, it’s far more ‘Ferrari’ than the California could ever have been.
For anyone reading this who speaks fluent car, you’ll also want to know that the Portofino has an F1 dual-clutch transmission, 7-speed gearbox and, a maximum speed of 320 km/h. If letting the next village know you’re on the way is important to you then I can confirm that the twin turbo hasn’t compromised that classic Ferrari sonic signature. Oh and it goes like the clappers.
Prospective purchasers who intend to make good on the GT side of things (that’s a car designed for a high speed long distance combo) will appreciate the very comfortable seats, surprisingly capacious boot, and would no doubt make use of the two compact back seats for more luggage. Or the dog.(Technically it’s a 2 plus 2, I’d say it’s more of a 2, plus 2 picnic hampers.)
HOW ROAD RALLIES WORK
For those of you are unfamiliar with road rallies the way that they work is this: Before the drivers and teams arrive, routes are planned down to the nth degree, taking into account the raison d’etre of the rally.
In the case of this GT Club Tour, the routes need to be sufficiently challenging for talented amateur drivers (lots of curving roads, gradient, hairpins), present a variety of road conditions to allow the cars to really get put through their paces (autostradas, country lanes, hills, towns etc ), and, because this is technically non-competitive, it needs to be through sufficiently stimulating countryside for both driver and passenger. Especially if the passenger is more interested in the scenery than the map.
On arrival one is given a road book which details the entire rally route. I learnt how to navigate using one before the days of sat nav, and still enjoy driving and co-piloting with a road book. They are an OCD wet dream: the entire route is laid out in exhaustive detail. Every single junction, turn, POI, bend, and slip road is marked, along with its KM on the route. Using a road book requires a lot of concentration and an ability not to throw up when simultaneously reading and travelling at high speed.
These days, whilst one still has a road book for emergencies and tradition, sat nav is where it’s at. The rally organisers provide everyone with a custom screen-mounted device which downloads the rally route from the cloud, and which is tracked by the back up van. Go off piste, or break down, and they will know within seconds where to find you. They also have a magic get home button, so if you need to get back to base quickly it will give you the most direct route.
Each drive takes about 90minutes (if you don’t get lost, ahem), and then the cars stop at a waypoint somewhere lovely. Our first drive was from Castello di Casole to Il Burro, and an introduction to the beautiful Tuscan scenery through which we would be driving over the next three days.
I realise very quickly that amongst our twenty-three Ferraris there are a lot of male drivers who are very very excited to get to play amongst other Ferrari owners in their very very rare cars. They are very fond of overtaking multiple cars, driving bumper to bumper, and accelerating through villages. Hannah and I make an immediate collective decision that we will potter along at the back and let them get on with it. Well, in as much as one potters in a 3.9 litre V8 Ferrari which does 0-60 in 3.5seconds.
We stop at Il Burro to take a tour through the ancient medieval village that lies at the heart of the Ferragamo-family-owned estate. If we hadn’t been told we would never know that this is actually a luxury hotel whose accommodation is spread throughout the village in thirty-eight suites. (Operated by Relais et Chateaux, guests can also stay in various farmhouses, villas and the original main house.)
At around 1800hrs we walk back to the cars, parked in the long line of low slung cars that we will soon become accustomed to, and set the sat navs to take us to the day’s end point: our hotel for two nights, the Castel Monastero Resort & Spa. Another ninety minute drive follows where I get to put the car through its paces yet again, particularly enjoying its fearsome acceleration out of corners, and Hannah gets to grip white-knuckled onto her far-more-comfortable-than-it-needs-to be seat, too engaged with the worry of imminent death to do any navigating.
Castel Monastero Resort & Spa
After a thrilling (for me) drive, I manoeuvre the Portofino under a tree, give it a pat goodnight, and head up the road to check in. (Ferrari Tour efficiency has already transported our bags to the hotel from lunch, and placed them in our rooms.)
The origins of the hamlet of Castel Monastero are lost in the history of medieval Tuscany. (The castle is mentioned for the first time under the name of Sarna in 1044.) Radiating out from around the central piazza, its seventy-four hotel rooms and suites are fitted higgledy piggledly into the fabric of the medieval buildings which are spread across the hamlet’s twelve contrade, or quarters.
That is however, the only higgledy piggledly thing about this extremely luxe hotel. Even the entry level rooms are large, and my Junior Suite with a Piazza view was certainly bigger than my old West Village apartment in New York.
With a sitting area, steps up into an ante room containing a bath fitted into the open corridor, and a huge bedroom all to myself, I have rarely slept in a hotel room with quite so much potential for cat-swinging.
Thankfully, because we were feeling quite wrung out by this point from the early start, and then three hours of high performance driving, the welcome dinner took place under the vaulted ceilings of La Cantina, the restaurant hidden away in the medieval wine cellars of Castel Monastero, where the estate’s Chianti has rested for centuries.
Of course, it was all done out in Ferrari red.
And so to bed…Parts two and three, and more detailed review of the Ferrari Portofino to follow. (Otherwise this post would thousands of words long.)
Sasha is wearing Cefinn’s Isabel Maxi Dress in Navy (gifted)
Belmond Castello di Casole
Address: Località Querceto, 53031 Casole d’Elsa SI, Telephone: +39 0577 961501
Resort Borro, 1/A 52024, Italy +39 (055) 977053
Monastero D’Ombrone 19, 53019 Castelnuovo Berardenga – Siena