I’ve got to be completely honest and up front here. If the Rally Italia wasn’t happening on Sardinia, you wouldn’t find me on the island.
Much as this will frustrate the life out of my friend, colleague and Sardegna native Marco Giordo, Alghero and Olbia – and the bits in between – are not really for me. I’m not good in the sunshine and slightly mistrusting of places which don’t demand a pullover.
Actually, I take that back. I would go to Sardinia, but I wouldn’t go in the summer. South of the sun, it’s not natural for places to get that hot.
I do, however, love Sardinia at either end of the day; the Alghero harbour at sunrise, with the fish market just opening and espresso machines being fired up is a fabulous place. Similarly, Saturday night’s service has to be one of the most atmospheric of the season. Arriving late after the long run in from Monte Lerno, the cars queue up with the sun setting behind them. It’s bloody fabulous. Especially when you know you’ll be settling down to a plate of wood-roasted suckling pig within the hour (just to be clear, vegetable-type options are also available at the Quarté Sayàl – I’ve just never heard anybody ask for them).
But once the sun’s up and there’s any danger of a Magnum ice cream melting within a minute of liberation from the freezer, I’m not so keen.
So, maybe we widen this one slightly and include the mainland. Especially the mainland between Sanremo, Turin, Milan, Modena, Bologna and Siena. If you can’t find something to love between those points, there’s genuinely something wrong with you (unless you happen to be there in July or August, of course, when like Sardinia it’s ridiculously hot…).
I know we’re not really on the right rally, but it’s also worth considering that – as the crow flies – Monaco is only 20 miles west of Sanremo. So, if you’re a crow, you could be in Casino Square in a matter of moments (NB crows, you’re not welcome in Casino Square…). Hopefully, we’ll be done with these kind of features when January and Rallye Monte-Carlo comes around again, so let’s treat ourselves to a trip to the principality while we’re in the right part of the world.
Firstly, walk the circuit. That’s an obvious one. Secondly, take a deep breath financially and sit down outside the Café de Paris for a hot chocolate. They’re amazing, horrendously expensive and come with the added benefit of a small bowl of peanuts and an outstanding view of the finest supercar collection in the known universe. Thirdly, a beer in Tip Top to remember Hunt the Shunt and then a burger in Stars ‘N’ Bars – a stone’s throw from Rascasse – for the best collection of motorsport memorabilia around.
Then, point yourself east on the A8 (E80 once you cross the border). Sanremo’s great for a bit of faded seaside glamour Italian style, but if you’re on a limited time schedule, put the Ligurian Alps at your back, crack on past Imperia (town just off the autostrada famous for suspension change when the cars were going from gravel to asphalt or vice-versa), do a left at Savona and head for the higher mountains in front of you.
When you get to Turin, you’re bound for the former Fiat factory in the Lingotto building. Take the lift to the top floor and have lunch in the restaurant overlooking the city and a test track terrorised by Charlie Croker and his fellow Mini Cooper-driving mates.
Turin and Milan just ooze automotive style and time spent there is never wasted. And, regardless of religion, the Duomo di Milano is an absolute must. It’s a building of quite magnificent proportions and the fourth largest church in the world. But, get this, if you thought your extension was taking a while to get finished, the first stone was laid on the cathedral in 1386. And when was it finished? Try 1965. That’s a lot of tea breaks.
Milan done, head south. Now, a choice: Genoa, the coast road through Pisa and a leaning tower or follow signs to San Marino and take in two of motorsport’s most iconic locations either side of Bologna.
Bologna, exactly. Come off the E45 at Modena and head for Maranello. You know what to do there. Tifosi or not, you have to pay your respects. Back on the main road, past Bologna and off at Imola. Again, you know what to do. Set in a park, Tamburello and the Ayrton Senna statue is easy enough to find. Think back to that fateful Sunday in May, 1994 and take a moment.
After that, it has to be south-west in the direction of some of the world’s finest pasta and red wine. Montalcino and Montepulciano are the perfect places to start a Tuscan tour. But it’s vital to take in San Gimignano, where you can marvel at Fiat 500s squeezing through gaps made for mopeds, before landing in Siena.
Piazza del Campo’s the place here. If you’re lucky you’ll be there one of two weekends when Il Palio happens – this is the most mental horse race in the world. But it’s the only horse race that matters. If the horses aren’t in town, climb the Torre del Mangia and look down on the central square. It’s from that very spot that McKlein’s finest took a picture of the 1981 regroup on the Sanremo Rally.
Then it’s time for coffee. So, go see Alessandro. Nannini coffee is some of the best in Italy.
Italy, what’s not love?