travel story - classic car travel in southern italy
a triumph of italian dreams
Ever wished yourself back to the Classic days of Sixties sportscar Continental travel? One travel operator has ensured that with a fleet of classic Triumph Spitfires in Southern Italy, you'll find it alive and well. Jonathan Crouch reports from Naples
If I could turn the clock back, one of my dreams would see me at the wheel of a classic British Vintage roadster flying through the switchback roads of Southern Italy some time in the sixties. A beautiful woman would be at my side, her hair flying in the breeze, and we'd be wining and dining on the best that Napoli's chefs had to offer, basing ourselves at a small but very comfortable mountaintop hotel. It's a dream I never imagined I'd actually experience. But I was wrong.
Last week in the mountains South of Naples, that's exactly what I was doing. The car in question was a perfectly restored Triumph Spitfire. The hotel was the Locanda Severina in the hilltop town of Caggiano. And the beautiful woman? Well of course that was my wife. The occasion was an opportunity to sample one of a very exclusive series of tours that European and American travellers have been enjoying for some time run by German operator Meridianosedici (www.meridianosedici.de) Using a growing fleet of classic British sportscars, the company has set out to recreate the spirit of exclusive Sixties travel. With four or seven day itineraries that use only the finest hotels and restaurants and take guests beyond the tourist spots into the heart of rural Italy, this is truly one of those once in a lifetime trips - the kind of thing you've always promised yourself.
Our programme was one of Meridianosedici's most popular - the 'Old Timer Tour' - a description I was pleased to find referred to the cars rather than the participants. Like other itineraries the company runs, it runs through a choice of gorgeous Southern Italian locations. Choose between the Amalfi coast, Maratea, the hidden coast of Campania, Cilento's back country, Puglia, Calabria and the landscape around Rome. Whatever you choose, there's the option of completing the journey on a classic sixties Vespa Scooter if you don't fancy doing it in the early Seventies Triumph Spitfire we tried.
Mind you, you'd have to be brave to do the journey on a scooter if, like we did you start your trip from Naples via affordable budget airline travel from London. Traffic-wise, it's a crazy place - as indeed much of urban Italy can be. Even out of town, finding your way through the picturesque maze of secondary routes that are gateway to this country's undiscovered pleasures can be a challenge. But not on this tour. Meridianosedici guests travel in convoy with expert leaders in front and behind, radio links in all cars preventing any possibility of getting lost and keeping everyone informed and interested in the gorgeous scenery they're travelling though.
Stops to seek refreshment or simply to admire the beautiful views are frequent, with undiscovered restaurants for lunch and dinner along further high points for each day. There's a surprise around almost every corner - a town built into a cliff, a lake resting in a valley and friendly guides there to encourage you to experience as much or as little of it all as you wish.
Adjusting to life behind the wheel of a Sixties sportcar takes a little time, but it's worth it. From the moment you clasp the wooden steering wheel and hear the classic exhaust burble, it's clear that this is going to be a unique experience. As is the dining on offer. Every meal is an event, with each chef along the route seemingly competing to somehow surpass the previous meal. For connoisseurs for fine food and wine, this trip will be heaven.
Though the cost is hardly inexpensive (from around 1,380 euros per person for the four-day tour we tried, with the option of seven-day tours if you want one), it does include absolutely everything from meals, to car hire, and insurance right down to coffees en route. So you don't have to think about anything. You've only to enjoy it.
This then, is a dream that you can do more than just dream about. It isn't cheap - but then no once in a lifetime experience ever is. And it's a journey that'll stay in your heart forever.