I may be a bigger car junkie than I am a travel junkie. And Formula1 car racing is a real passion. So what better trip than 2 weeks in the Italian and French rivieras? And a weekend in Monte Carlo, Monaco for the annual car race extravaganza.
Italy in the springtime is normally sunny, warm, and delightful. But not this year. The trip began with daily rain showers, and quite cool temperatures only in the mid-50′s. Sure glad we brought a lot of short sleeve shirts and very little cold weather clothing. At least we did pack folding umbrellas…they got used a lot. I guess early May can be a weather surprise no matter where you go.
The first part of the trip began in Bellagio, on Lake Como. A place not to be missed. Awesome mountain scenery, cute small towns, and a great ferry system to make exploring easy. And the ferries had inside rooms so wimpy travelers like us don’t get too wet. Our favorite hotel is high above Bellagio, and is called Il Perlo Panorama. As you might expect, the panoramic views are spectacular, with amazing lake views and a stunning look at the imposing Swiss Alps that frame the lake. In fact you can take your car on the car ferry to Switzerland in about 15 minutes, and avoid the 1-hour plus drive around the lake on narrow winding roads. Since the Perlo is a small family run hotel, and only listed as a 2-star (should be rated higher), the atmosphere is very, very friendly and the rates great. Be sure to get a view room with balcony to really enjoy the location.
Hoping the weather will improve along the Mediterranean coast we head for another perfect spot, in a town called Bordighera. This is the perfect place to stay and explore the Italian Riviera. Within easy reach by car or train is San Remo, the Cinque Terre, and Monaco. Bordighera has a small train station that is less than a 15 minutes ride to Ventimiglia where you can link up with trains all over northwestern Italy, and direct to Monaco. What better way to get to the Monaco Grand Prix with no traffic and parking hassles? And for 7Euros round trip, a bargain. Bordighera has beaches, some shopping, and delightful but small old town. Great food in old town.
The Monaco Grand Prix is another of those experiences you just have to do. Even if you’re not a car nut. It is the ultimate 4 day “happening” packed with people, media, and excitement. The race is on Sunday, but the most fun and best viewing opportunities happen on Thursday, called a practice session. Tickets for the grandstands are about $100 versus $750 for race day, not very packed with fans, and seating is not assigned. So you can move around and get some amazing photos and video. And from some of the stands you can see the pits and the mechanics working on the cars. A must for all car fanatics! So I would never miss Thursday
And Friday is also not to be missed. There are no Formula1 sessions Friday, but in the morning they have the GP2 race event. Pretty much the same car types, but a smaller, shorter event and the same street track. Oh, I forgot to mention that the race track are the streets of Moncao…they are closed off for all the sessions and the races. But on Friday after lunch a real treat happens. They remove some of the barricades and us race fans can walk the track and get up close to the pit areas, and some of the auto mechanic operations. And the media trailers, and what’s called the paddock area, where each race team has their temporary on-site headquarters. So Friday is amazing, with a morning GP2 race, and the opportunity to explore the track and the race activities. Another day not to be missed. And Free!
Saturday at Formula1 events is qualifying day to determine the starting order of the cars. It’s an interesting and exciting session, but frankly you can’t see much since the cars tend to be isolated trying to get fast times…no racing or passing. And the grandstand seat prices are pretty high and seats are reserved so no ability to roam around. Sunday is race day, and unless you pay big for the prime locations you again can’t see much of the race. There is a lot of high speed, and cars do pass, but only in certain areas. So for me this day is not as up close and personal, besides being really expensive…and really crowded. My thrills come from getting close to the cars, drivers, and track, and not from being crammed in with a million screaming race fans. Anyway, that’s just me.
So the bottom line is the Monaco Grand Prix is one of the most colorful and exciting excursions for the travel, car, and photography enthusiast. And the Italian and French Rivieras are jewels. Lots of beautiful coastal towns like Nice, Cannes, Juan-les-Pins, etc. in France, and San Remo, the Cinque Terre, and of course Bordighera in Italy. Stay in Bordighera, rent a car, and make use of the trains for easy day trips. A lot to see and enjoy.