Organising the first European Tour for the GTROC is not a matter undertaken lightly and, being the GTROC, it’s not something we leave to chance. Whilst we don’t admit to getting it all right we do at least try to get everything confirmed before we start. So, having spent hours poring over maps, many more hours contact hotels, stop offs and other venues it soon came down to ‘two blokes in a car driving across Europe’. To keep costs, and time, down Geetak and I set about doing the entire nine days in five! Add to that the fact we did a lot more miles all in the name of research then you soon get to realise just what a challenge finally putting the tour together was going to be.
Long before we got in the car the work had been split between Geetak finding places to stay, evening events, dinners and other activities and Fuggles planning the route, picking the best roads and arranging any daytime stopovers.
With forecasts for the week being decidedly cold we set off with some concern over whether we would actually be able to research the full route but, with shovel in boot and ample supplies of warm clothes, de-icer and everything else we could think of. The 8am Channel Crossing was an early start but no matter how early it was going to be a late finish anyway.
Soon we were in France and heading for Paris by way of Chateau Gaillard, Monet’s Gardens and some other planned stop offs. As it turned out the Chateau was a great photo opportunity but it ate so much into travel time we decided the benefits were outweighed by the costs. Similarly trying to do two stop-offs on the way to Paris made it a long start so we opted instead just for the fantastic place where Claude Monet lived and the famous gardens and grounds he painted. Perhaps it’s not for everyone but the tour will be set so that it’s lunchtime and, for those not enamoured with the founder of French Impressionist painting, a spot of lunch and then early departure to Paris is always the option.
The hotel we have chosen in Paris has good parking and easy access to the centre of the city. As the first night stopover there is plenty of time to explore the nightlife of Paris before day two begins. For Geetak and I this was only half our day over as we set off in the afternoon for what would be day two of the tour.
We had several visits arranged in the afternoon and will announce the full details to the tourists but we found what we were looking for in a small vineyard where the owners will provide a full tour of the vineyard and winemaking facilities before a wine-tasting lunch! Sadly our time on the research mission was limited so we had to make do with just one glass of nice crisp dry white before we hit the road again.
Heading south we stopped off and met the owners of the Chateau that we hope to use for the two night stopover in Clermont Ferrand. Here we will stay whilst those that want go and play with Michelin’s Test Track Facility. Others can enjoy some fantastic local scenery, famous Vichy spas or a host of other local attractions. However, we suspect everyone will want to go to the test track.
Arriving at our hotel at the end of day one we had covered a lot of miles, had multiple meetings and already planned the first two days of the tour. But our day was not over as we sat down for dinner with the people from Bony Automobiles, who would be our hosts at Michelin. After discussions and dinner we rounded the evening off with a few beers before retiring.
The next day began early as we set off before 7am to research days four and five of the tour. Soon we were heading south over the mountains and through the snow. The little hire car we had struggled through as we raced past the cautious locals and on to what would be the lunchtime stop for the tour party.
We found the perfect vantage point and lunch stop for the Millau Viaduct and, having checked it out, logged all the details, soon got back in the car and continued our journey south. For those actually doing the tour a lot more time and a lot later starts will certainly be the order of the day but, for us, it was all about getting the job done, done well and done quickly.
Ever mindful that day five of the tour would involve some amazing mountain roads we wanted to find a place that would be the perfect stopover: near the main road we were on and just near enough to the mountains. After a few aborted attempts to find the right local town and the right hotel we soon landed on what was our fourth choice – perfect in every way.
The plan, if we can get agreement, is to stay in a converted monastery. Walking around the place with its huge vaulted ceilings, grand stone dining areas and breathtaking cloisters we soon felt this was the perfect place. For the umpteenth time we sat down with some people from the hotel and discussed our needs and agreed to conclude the details by email. After a brief inspection of the rooms we once again headed out, this time into the mountains.
After a short drive into the mountains we found the bit we had came for. The Verdon Gorge is as breathtaking as you can imagine. Rugged rocks hanging over the roads, sheer drops that seem to go on forever, twist and turns that you can only appreciate by being there. If that was not enough we had to contend with the fact the road was closed due to snow. Not to be thwarted and, because we believe in doing all our research thoroughly, we bypassed the road closed sign and soon found ourselves high up in the mountains driving along the passes with snow and ice all around. At one point we had to back up for the snow plough but, other than a BMW X5 that had given up trying we were the only car to be seen. Having made it through we then congratulated ourselves on a job well done! If we can do it in that weather then it bodes well for the tour: oh and we even found the most amazing place to stop for a lunch as well!
After the excitement of the Gorge it was now down to some driving through valleys before the main road and onto Monte Carlo. For those taking part in the tour this would be day five, for us it was still only the second day.
We could have simply plotted this out roughly, identified where to go and found the simple route. However, it’s not always the best route and any sat-nav will pretty much do everything you don’t want on a tour like this. So the whole tour comes down to good old fashioned research, maps and detailed route planning not idly following the squawking box stuck to the windscreen.
As we headed into Monaco we agreed that the route in should be different to the route out and take us past some famous landmarks. That achieved we soon found our hotel and managed to park our hire car next to some German exoticar much to the distain of the doormen. We checked into our hotel, had a brief meeting with the Sales Director and then set off for a something to eat.
The next morning was a series of meetings with various high class hotels, where we detailed our plans and told them what we wanted from them. We have a number of options for Monaco and will decide what is best when we have all their final details in.
Day three and the routine was set in stone – up early, small breakfast, check out and straight into the car, maps in hand and pre-prepared route details all laid out.
Originally the plan was to take the tour to Maranello and to the Ferrari Gallery. It was also a chance to meet up with Valerio – a GTROC member living in Italy – and talk about cars, the GTROC and the tour. The day was a long day of contrasts. The morning was exciting, for reasons that will become clear to those who take part, but the afternoon just a long Italian Motorway slog. Having got to Maranello and checked in we then went off to meet Valerio for dinner. The next morning saw us visit the Ferrari Gallery – after we redrew the map the hotel gave us and after we realised it was pointless to follow any signs. The disappointment of the Gallery was palpable. Add that to the 300km extra distance and it soon became obvious to both of us it was a lot of effort for very little return.
Our plans now in some disarray we decided to work our way back on our notes to a suitable pick up point and change the rest of the tour from there. That meant a change in venue for what would have been night six and, as it turned out a much better option all round. Driving as we did towards Lake Como we son found the perfect place to stay high up in the Italian Alps. But though our plans were done for that day our day was far from over; next stop the Stelvio Pass.
Noting that it was February and that there had been considerable snow falls this year our expectations were soon realised when Stelvio Pass was closed. Unlike the earlier road closure we managed to disprove this one was unbeatable.
We had planned not only a route through the pass but also an alternative in case such an emergency happened. As it happened our planning turned out to be a well thought out idea and we were soon heading over the Alps in a different direction before dropping down on the other side. At -7’C we reached our coldest temperature yet, but then it was 8 o’clock at night. Finding our way along the mountain roads gave us an opportunity to see some breathtaking scenery.
After a long day with three routes now planned through the mountains we arrived in Lake Constance. Originally planned as a stopover we have now changed that and added the Alps instead with the final stopover just around the corner from the Porsche Museum in Stuttgart.
And so to our last day. A run on the Autobahn’s to Stuttgart, a brief meeting with people at the Porsche Museum and then back to Calais, the train across Le Manche and then on to home.
The five days proved we can do the tour and still have time for meetings – and we even found time for a 300km add on! Having expended all this effort we really hope those that take part enjoy the tour and all that we have organised and we can only hope that more people see what we’re doing and want to take part. Grand Touring is not for everyone but for Geetak and I, it can’t be beaten!