Monday, 3 November 2008

Porsche Club GB, Italian Tour - 2008

Italian Journey (by Sarah Harmer 2008 and not by Johann Goethe 1786-88)
September 2008

The people

Ask any of the twenty-five participants on PCGB’s Tour to the Italian Lakes what was the best thing about their holiday and I can guarantee that to a man (or woman) the answer will be ‘The people on the tour”) . Yes we all had superb cars to drive; we visited fantastic places; stayed in some fabulous hotels; consumed sumptuous food with adequate liquid refreshment and in spite of the mainly awful weather, we all had great fun. The animated conversation over drinks at the pre-dinner gathering at our first hotel was an obvious indication that we were all going to enjoy the rest of the twelve day holiday. Here was a group of enthusiastic Porsche owners of all ages – adventurers not afraid to add another 2000 miles on the clock and using the cars for what they were intended – exciting driving.

Although some were acquaintances from previous holidays or regions, most were strangers but with the common factor being Porsche it didn’t take long to establish new friendships. With participants from 10 different counties - from Scotland to Dorset, occupations past and present including retailers in bikes and party products ,dental professionals, accountants, teachers, engineers in motoring, heating and oil industry, financial directors, motor factor, deep-sea diver, librarian, jeweller, furniture supplier . There were interests ranging from walking to exotic reptiles, photography to rowing. All this enriching information plus the shared experiences of the holiday led to many a late night in the bar!

The cars

There were cars of all ages from Robert & Elspeth’s Pinckney’s classic dark blue 1988911 Carrera - proudly owned by them since almost new to Sean & Paula’s Pinkney’s (no relation nor a spelling error) brand new silver RS60 Boxster S with its distinctive red upholstery, purchased only one week before the holiday and now properly run in!

Four other Boxsters confirmed the popularity of this open topped tourer. Pearl & Phil Sharland (ROs of Kent region and organisers of this tour) entertained us all with their tales of buying their first Boxster S (with RHD) in France and were continuing to enjoy this “Fantastic touring car” with their second one purchased last year.

Iain and Janis Cameron – organisers of three PCGB tours in Scotland – brought their S tiptronic MY2002 all the way from Aberdeenshire. Iain, well known as an entertainer with his ‘Hey Jimmy’ hat, waited eight years after seeing the concept car details in 1992. He wasn’t disappointed with the real thing and “loves it to bits”

After experiencing 993 and 994 models, Bedfordshire resident, Arthur Jones (who states that he’s “promiscuous with Porsches but not with women….!) brought his wife of many years, Pamela, in his Boxster 987.They reckoned that they qualified for an award for furthest miles travelled due to various detours courtesy of the lat/long reference points provided in the route instructions!

Finally, Richard & Angela having previously owned a 1971 911 2.4s also extolled the virtues of the Boxster, theirs being a 2004 Spyder 550 Anniversary model. Richard’s only complaint was that he had to keep slowing down on the German autobahns “to let the Pinckneys catch up” Sorry Robert, that’s what he said!

I have to apologise to all these Boxster owners - I have really tried, but the fact that they were all silver yet all slightly different confused me throughout the holiday and still does!

Easier to pick out and causing many an envious look was quiet John Wilson’s mean looking black GT3. John’s wife had been unable to accompany on his first ever overseas driving trip and though Sat-Nav wasn’t quite the ideal partner, John’s face sported a boyish grin from ear to ear every time he got near his beloved car!

Nigel and Angela Dilnot-Smith, another of the Kent crews, enjoyed their holiday in their silver 933 Targa while Andy (2FAST4YOU) and Stella Dorrington’s 2 year old silver Carrera 4S was another Porsche at home on the limitless roads of Germany - and one of several tunnel entertainers with their noisy button!

Bill & June Foreman from Kent came in their unusual VW Eos. Bill later explained that he was between Porsches as he and his wife were currently building themselves a new house and surplus cash was required. In establishing his Porsche credentials he admitted to having owned SEVEN of them to date!

Joining the tour via the Hull-Zeebrugge ferry, Ian & Sharon Gilmour, R0s of Yorkshire region, travelled in one of the three Guards Red cars on the tour. This was their first trip abroad in their 2004 997Carrera 2S, though they have driven Porsches on the continent before – a Boxster S and a 944S2. They were more than pleased with their fuel consumption figures despite the 130mph thrash in Germany!

Enjoying their first Porsche holiday in their red 1990 Carrera 2 (964) were Steve and Jackie (Jac-Nav) Walker from Kent. The car is Steve’s childhood dream come true (another man with a permanent grin on his face!) and despite performance problems, which were later sorted on the return journey when they put some decent quality fuel in it, they’re looking forward to the next trip.

Finally, there was me and my beautiful 1989 Carrera 3.2 (red has always been my favourite colour) , purchased five years ago and in doing so achieving my life’s ambition . After several of the multi-hairpin alpine roads I had my arm muscles felt and asked if I’d had spinach for breakfast! My husband, and navigator, John, has got used to this!

The route and the hotels

With Travel Destinations providing the assurance of ABTA protection, route instructions and an itinerary tweaked by the Sharlands, we were all looking forward to a relaxing holiday enjoying half-board accommodation in quality hotels. Most of us were conveyed by Eurotunnel to Calais from where the route took us 300 miles across rain-sodden Northern France for the first stop at the Hotel L’Oree du Bois, just outside the spa town of Vittel in the Vosges Mountains. This hotel was not up to the usual standard of Logis de France hotels giving us all a bit of concern as to what there was to come – thankfully we needn’t have worried. The following day we continued south east through the Alps across the Swiss border for our two-night stay in the beautiful skiing and walking resort of Grindelwald. The luxuriously appointed 4-star Sunstar hotel with its ski-lodge atmosphere was a welcome sight after a further 220 mile drive in absolutely dismal conditions. With the cars tucked safely in an enormous underground car park we were all able to have a well-earned rest day. For some this was to be a real day to remember (See later).

The morning of the fourth day dawned bright and clear, (finally those soft tops could come down) and the route to Lake Como was given added interest with train transportation through the mountain tunnel from Kandersteg to Goppenstein. This drive-on, drive-off road-train bears some resemblance to Eurotunnel but comprises open, metal, flat-bed trucks with arched corrugated roofs – somewhat noisy and smelly for those topless Boxsters! Back in the sun the route followed the glorious winding Simplonpass. Today’s distance was only 140 miles, giving more time to stop and admire the breathtaking views or drive back and forth around the hairpins and through the multitude of tunnels with the LOUD button on! Having seen the narrow and congested roads on our journey around Lake Mag via Locarno and through the town of Como to our lakeside hotel in Moltrasio, we were somewhat cynical of Travel Destinations’ claim that you could ‘complete a tour of Lake Como in a day’. As a result I don’t think one Porsche left the garage of the excellent, hospitable Grand Imperiale Hotel (other than to be washed on the hotel forecourt) for the three night stop here.

After two days enjoying Lake Como’s delights under blue skies and endless sunshine we left Moltrasio for a leisurely drive around the congested western and northern shores of Lake Como then east along more winding roads and through many busy tunnels towards Lake Garda. (100 miles). The highlight of today’s journey was the Passo Croce Domini between Breno and Bagolini combining tight challenging hairpins one side, photo opportunities and an absolute blast down the other side as the road opened up into wide sweeping bends. Here were Porsches at their very best! Our three night stop in Riva del Garda, which lies at the northern tip of the lake was at the Hotel du Lac et du Park - a vast, a bit commercial, four-star hotel set in magnificent parkland with excellent food. A fascinating trip to the Lamborghini factory filled our first day here but the second day’s activities were somewhat curtailed due to bad weather. During our stay here there was a great deal of debate as to whether or not we should deviate from the recommended route to the next stop in Austria. The hairpins of the famous Stelvio Pass beckoned but with the appalling weather conditions most of us chicken-livered drivers opted for the shortest, safest journey across the Rezia Pass and Through the Arlberg tunnel. The few who opted for a more challenging day vetoed the Stelvio but still encountered driving snow at 2500metres on an exhilarating drive across the Timmelsjoch Pass Rombo. Everyone arrived safely at the rather strange 4-star Hotel Martins Park in the pretty, non-touristy town of Dornbirn. (250 miles) The hotel restaurant being closed that evening, arrangements had been made for us to experience a traditional style meal at a nearby hostelry. It was interesting!

The weather continued to be disappointing though it did brighten up a bit as we passed along those amazing autobahns through Germany into France and after 225 miles we returned to that hotel in Vittel. This time however, we had all got to know each other, we knew what to expect, knew we were on our way home and that tomorrow most of us were going to have to decide whether or not to ignore advice from Britain to avoid Eurotunnel and opt for the ferries instead due to the tunnel fire a few days earlier…..On top of this it was Pearl’s birthday. The food for our final meal together was a great improvement over the first, and the hotel excelled themselves with a delicious birthday cake with firework candle brought in to the accompaniment of a well known birthday song. ‘Hey Jimmy’ Cameron presented a surprised Pearl with flowers and gifts and thanks from her fellow travellers and husband Phil wasn’t forgotten. He received a Lamborghini hat as a thank-you gift from us all (we just couldn’t manage a car)

And on the last day? The wipers were given another 300 miles workout, Euro tunnel was no problem at all and back in Britain it continued raining all the way home!

The places


What do you do on a grim, grey, wet Sunday when you know that the north face of the Eiger is up there somewhere and just down the road is the terminal of the cog railway to the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe? Well if you’re mad enough, you part with your 130CHF (£80), ignore the remote cameras showing pictures of cloud at the summit and board the shiny yellow train to Klein Scheidegg. Which is precisely what eight of us did – returning later in the day with smug grins and tales to make the rest green with envy! We continued our journey in a scarlet train and during the journey to the top at 11,333 feet, we watched video of the construction of the railway, stopped twice to view mainly cloud from holes cut into the Eiger but emerging from the tunnel and holding our breath in anticipation, found brilliant blue sky, sunshine and glistening white snow. Clouds drifting past revealed bit by bit, the Eiger and the summits of the Monch & the Jungfrau . It was breathtaking We laughed with a group of Australian students experiencing snow for the first time, wandered along snow trails and through tunnels with ice carvings of birds and animals and stood in awe looking down on the 22km Aletsch glacier as it swept like a mighty river out of sight. This was a truly emotional experience bringing some of us to tears. We ate and shopped in The Sphinx observation area before returning exhausted but exhilarated to the still grey Grindelwald.

Lake Como
Thanks primarily to Richard’s research and organisational ability we were soon all armed with ferry time tables and for the two days based in Moltrasio, on the southern shore of Lake Como, we relaxed on the boats that criss-cross the lake. On the first morning the mood for the day was set at breakfast with a glass of Fizz, followed by a short walk to the jetty where despite non-existent Italian, Richard had a good go at negotiating a group discount but without success! On board an old steam boat ferry we were soon taking in the breathtaking scenery. Here forests provide a back drop for quaint villages with narrow, stepped streets of pastel coloured buildings, with terracotta roofs, scrambling up the mountain sides from the water’s edge. Bellagio which lies at the junction of the three arms of the lake is probably the jewel in the crown with its mediaeval layout and commanding views in all directions. A bustling market with stalls selling everything from fruit and vegetables to luxury handbags and kitchenware sprawled among the cobbled streets alongside quality shops, cafes and delicatessens – a great place to pick up supplies for an impromptu, alfresco picnic lunch. Past visitors to this stunning town include Churchill and JFK and more latterly George Clooney who has a holiday home in the area…..

Two days in this area is definitely not enough – aside from Bellagio there are many other beautiful places to choose from, all with their special charms - we were spoilt for choice.The 18thc Villa Carlotta at Tremezzo; is described in my guide book as ~ a vast neoclassic pile graced by over 14 acres of gardens and famous for its collections of azaleas and rhododendrons” It is absolutely stunning. Varenna is memorable for its home made gelati and the Villa Monastero’s lakeside gardens with palms, enormous cacti and trees of every citrus fruit imaginable. In Lenno, the Villa del Balbianello, used as a location in the Bond movie Casino Royale nestles on a wooded promontory where ancient oaks, cypresses and candelabrum plane trees reveal stone terraces and pergolas. The wonderful vistas from the loggia at the top are well worth the climb. As an added attraction, for those who miss the last ferry back to Moltrasio I can recommend upgrading to and using the fantastic catamaran service which proceeds Porsche-like to Como at the end of the day……..!

The free tour of the Lamborghini factory at Sant’ Agata is a must for any petrol head. Within its walls is a museum displaying some of the many models of the marque, some rebuilt in the factory restoration facility itself, and a souvenir shop for those in need pf retail therapy. The female tour guides are not only pretty but extremely knowledgeable, interesting and mega-enthusiastic. If your current order is for a Murcielago in matt black, then you need to contact the factory now and change to the new IN colour - matt white. There was no answer to how do you polish it? And if you want a Reventon you’ve no chance if you haven’t previously owned three Lamborghinis and got 1 million Euros to spare. As we walked around the immaculate factory floor we saw crankshafts partially machined, rows of gleaming camshafts and other components ready for assembly; completed and tested engines waiting for allocation to one of the waiting bodyshells. There are no robots here, every car is hand built. With the aroma of leather filling our nostrils we watched skilled cutters at work preparing the patterns for stitching. (Five hides are used for each car and not a single scrap is wasted – even the off-cuts are used - for purses, wallets etc.) We met the chief test driver (a position only achieved after at least seven years with the company and with experience of every department of the production line). And the test track? – we don’t have one they told us with a grin, we use the local roads……. But what about the police ?– no problem we’ve just given them a new Gallardo to play with!

Lake Garda

Once again the weather deteriorated and we were unable to take full advantage of the largest of the italian Lakes, where the mountains scoured by ancient glaciers drop fjord like in sheer cliffs into the wind swept lake – popular for the sailing fraternity. The more optimistic of the group took a morning ferry to Malchesine with hopes of taking a unique revolving cable car ride to the top of Monte Baldo IF the weather improved – which it didn’t. While the rain lashed down outside they explored the interesting castle with natural history museum , Andy Warhol exhibition and learned about the German poet Goethe, author of ‘Italian Journey’ while residing in Malchesine in the 1780s. The streets were like rivers so refuge was sought in warm and inviting restaurants and eventually returned Soaked to the skin to Riva del Garda. Battling against gale force winds they encountered a very dry Steve emerging from Reptile Land where he’d spent a happy three hours interacting with venomous snakes and spiders….. certainly different. Other more intelligent members remained dry by relaxing and enjoying the hotel’s excellent facilities.

I like to think that Pearl, the co-organiser of this years PCGB tour, saw ‘Intelligent Literary Talent’ printed on my forehead when she asked me to write a report on our Italian holiday, but I rather suspect it was ‘MUG’ This was confirmed when I heard 24 sighs of relief and saw 24 gleaming sets of teeth. (They might not be grinning so much now, after reading my efforts, especially as I don’t recall 24 drinks at the bar in compensation!)This wasn’t a perfect holiday. Some of the roads chosen were not very appropriate - Iain lost a wing mirror courtesy of a German E class Mercedes on a very narrow but busy mountain road which could have been avoided); some of the directions were very ‘iffy’ - though we all managed to make dinner every evening – eventually; some meals were a little strange and one hotel could have been better. Too much time was spent searching to buy vignettes (compulsory annual road tax for all visitors to Switzerland and Austria) and it was such a shame about the weather. HOWEVER, I think that all my newly found friends will agree that it was as near perfect a holiday as you could possibly get - so much seen and enjoyed and so much fun - and would recommend anyone with a taste for adventure in like-minded company, that they should be signing up for the next tour.