Image : Sports Car Digest
Lets go way back to 1927 when two friends, Count Francesco Mazzotti and Aymo Maggi, disgruntled by the fact their Grand Prix had been moved from Brescia, the home of the car, to Monza, decided to start a road race which would cross Italy from the North heading down South and back again covering 1000 miles. In the years that proceeded the inaugural race it grew to become quite the event seeing drivers from across the globe. Including the likes of Stirling Moss and Alberto Ascari getting involved.
Image : Petrolicious
The race managed to survive World War II and looking to recover, the Italian government decided to make a big push in promoting “Brescia’s Grand Prix”. What was once dominated by the Italian’s now saw drivers and cars from other countries taking the poll positions. After years of controversy and fatal crashes the MM was ended in 1957.
Image : The Chicane
Between 1958 – 1961 the “race” was still ran but more as homage to the original. Keeping to legal speed limits and only going full speed on special stages. However, this came to an end. Not all was lost though! In 1977 the Mille Miglia was revitalised as the Mille Miglia Storica. Featuring Pre-1957 cars, this rally takes place in birthplace of the MM, Brescia and over the course of a few days heads from the North, down to the South and back again with stop-offs along the way which includes special events.
Now I am not here to tell you stories of how the MM started and carried on. Hell, Who knows if I even read the museo boards correctly!? Instead, I am here to tell you my story, of how the want to complete a collection and a random YouTube video came to create a holiday based around cars that needed to be sold to supportive, but non-car loving partner.
The actual day
Back in 2008, cruising the mean streets of Bournemouth and Poole in my Rover 25 I heard a very distinctive car from my rear. Looking in my rear view revealed it to be the Ferrari F40! Bournemouth has always had a wealth of cars, but back in 2008 it wasn’t quite the same as it is now and to spot something like an F40 on the road was very much a unicorn! Being brazen, I followed it to a local garage and now 14 years later taking photos of cars has become part of how I make a living which all started from that day.
The actual car photographed in 2018
Now my love of cars comes from design and feeling they provide. I am not a big race watcher or anything like that, but one of my car loves is Ferrari. During covid I decided I had too many open projects and needed to set myself a goal. Looking back through my “carchive” I quickly realised I had amassed a fairly large collection of Ferrari photos. I love the brand, I love taking photos, so why not goal myself to take a photo of every Ferrari? At the time it felt like I wasn’t that far off but now I have progressed a few steps it feels like I am miles away from completing my collection. If it was easy to do, would it be worth doing?
Managing to nail down quite a few cars I realised that I wasn’t getting any closer to finding the classics, the cars Enzo himself might have seen leave the factory. Searching through the dealers and collectors I was struggling to find these models. Whilst at a friend’s unit, a famous motor journalist was on their TV, talking about the Mille Miglia. Catching small glances of what was going on I noticed the cars I need were there! When I arrived home I watched the full video an enamored by the event and decided I wanted to go. When you have no friends that are into cars, classic cars or spending money to go to Italy to see them your only option is the supportive but non-car loving girlfriend.
After showing her the event and explaining what I wanted from it, she agreed that it would work as a holiday for her however, chasing them around didn’t. A compromise was needed. When looking where Brescia was placed we worked out that travelling to Milan, Venice, Como and Modena wouldn’t be too difficult. Not knowing exactly what there was in Brescia, we decided to use Milan as our base and work outwards. All booked, we set our arrival for June the 14th to give us one day to get settled.
Booked in January, finally the months had passed and we were two weeks from our date and the bad news started… “flights cancelled by BA”, “Bag issues cripple airlines”, “People waiting days to get out of the airport”. Any other holiday could have been re-booked however, what do you do when your holiday will start with or without you? Panic set in as we looked for other options which there were none. I am not a wait and see person but I had to lament and wait.
Checking daily, the bad news never came. We were off! Ciao Italia! Prior to heading to Miglia, I tried to do as much research on the event as possible but, there is not that much on it or at least I couldn’t find much of anything which wasn't helpful. Reading the race programme I read it as they will start at a place called Viale Venezia. After taking a one and half hour train and 30 min bus ride we arrived at Viale Venezia. Everything was empty like it wasn’t happening. The only thing to note was a pop-up gazebo and one classic car sat inside it.
Had we missed something? After a discussion, we decided to make the 30 minute walk to the Miglia museo. Walking along the Viale Venezia (We later found out was the name of the road) there was nothing, no signs, noise, shops, nothing! Prior to going I was told the city would be in chaos. But it was silent. A few red arrows here or there and that was it. Finally we made it to the museo. A small smattering of people there but that was it. Panic set in. Had I got this all wrong!?
The event itself is not very touristy. You won’t find many native English speakers around so trying to translate “where’s all the bloody cars, mate!” to a not very bothered official wasn’t the easiest thing.
Finally though in the distance the clattering of classic engines could be heard. Drip feed, one by one the historic monuments started to arrive at the doors of the museo and then arrived the flood. Outside of the museo is a tribute roundabout. Within the space of 15 minutes, this dead town had become gridlocked with people coming from every direction. Pieces of automotive history that are so valuable you probably couldn't put a figure on, cutting one another up whilst being cut up by towns folk and on lookers. It was chaos.
Whilst I was like a pig in the brown stuff, my partner managed to get chatting to an Irish family who had been before and explained where we had come from was where we needed to be and they travel further on and around the town before leaving. With the cars arrival now slowing down we decided to take the advice and head back to where we came from. A 30min walk in 30’c heat with no shops open.
Blinded by the light and roasted by the heat of Italian mid-day sun we felt ourselves in the same situation as before with nothing around us or indicating there was even an event on. Stood at the Viale della Bornata roundabout, cursing our guides name for sending us wrong, all too familiar clatter of classic cars came back. In small packs they were heading west, the way we were going! Walking the Viale Venezia, more and more packs went past but yet, the streets were still quite. For this massive event, it was quite. Imagine walking to Glastonbury and it is just you and your camping bag on the main road in. I am not a fly by the seat of my pants sort of person so this was not doing me any good.
Like before we came across a small gathering of parked cars… and then more and more and more and people and finally… the Miglia! As I saw it in the photos there it was, the main podium, the passion, the excitement, and the cars. Completely unadulterated, open for you to experience. Unlike anything in the UK the drivers were there, cars completely open with no cares. Want a seat? No problem! Want a photo? No worries. Hey, can you help me push my car? You bet! ( I actually did do that 4th photo above) If you have a passion for cars and classics, you will never experience anything so free in your entire life.
Regrettably though they do have some control in place around the grandstand/podium which means you are kept at arm’s length unless you have a pass. Personally, if I had known better at the time, I wouldn’t have bothered sitting there for an hour watching the cars. It was hard work and you find yourself fighting for a view amongst others and the ground crew who are stood in your way. Instead, Piazzale Arnaldo provides a much better position, near food and drink. You also get to see the cars do a lap and with the lax Italian rules, sitting on the apex to get photos really isn’t a bother to them. After getting to car 286, we decided to head onwards to the Ristorante Arnaldo. From here we were able to watch the final cars go whilst enjoying a pizza and Aperol Spritz.
It was fantastic unorganised chaos which just worked. Being able to sit there inches from the action as parts of history fly past was an experience you could dine on forever. After we had seen the final car go, we walked back to the train station via Piazza della Vittoria. It was obvious the circus had come and gone with just a shell of the festivities left. With pack down started, spectators (including myself) were grabbing their paid for Mille Miglia merch and ripping up parts of the stage for the memory collection.
Things you need to be aware of if you are coming as a spectator is that the Piazza Della Vittoria, Viale Venezia and Museo Miglia are a fair distance apart. Getting public transport during key times will be difficult as roads get blocked. We watched bus times creep by 30 mins. You will find it hard to get food and drink between these areas, no toilets and some areas require passes to get in, including the museo on race day.
With day two over the first compromise was lake Como. Beautiful place and worth the visit but more expensive than you would expect, full of tourists and kind of the same of the same. We travelled from Como to Bellagio and I am sure if I stop off at any other points, it would have been the same setup. Knick knack shops, cheese, wine, pasta and handbags interlaced with Italian cafes and gelato stands.
Now back to car stuff! Whilst perusing Instagram I noticed one person I followed had been to Imola for the F1 and made a flying visit to Museo Ferrari where they had their super car event on. Well, Modena is only a 2ish hour drive… lets do it! We have previously been to Modena and Bologna to see the Ferrari, Lamborghini and Pagani factories and knew what to expect. For those who have never been you need to be aware that it is an industrial town. There is not much there and it shuts early. Leaving Milan at 8am and being delayed by an hour we finally arrived at our first stop, Museo Enzo Ferrari. Based in Modena the museo is themed on the original Ferrari HQ and Enzo's home features a small exhibit. Worth the visit but be aware all exhibits are rolling and what you see this month might be gone next.
Our next stop and a bus tour waiting for us was Museo Ferrari. Located 30 minutes down the road in Maranello. Much larger than the Enzo Museo, this is Ferrari town. From here you will see Ferrari everywhere. People, streets, businesses, cars on the road, Ferrari! We decided to take the bus tour this time to see behind the scenes and go through the famous gates. It was great to do and provided some additional information I didn’t know but overall, you don’t get to see much and you can’t take photos.
After 1 hour or so you land back at the Museo itself which is just across the road from the factory which makes it easy to walk back or walk on to the Fiorano track. The museo itself is exceptionally modern and just as down the road it has rolling exhibits so try not to be upset in the Ferrari FXXKEVO isn’t there or a GTO. If you love Ferrari, it is all good. The environment here is very moody and dark and really emphasises the cars. Much like the Miglia, that Italian spirit isn’t lost and bar a floor plaque, getting up close and personal is not an issue.
If you are sneaky, having a little touch isn’t going to hurt. During our visit we were able to see the super cars display (288 GTO, F40, F50, Enzo, LaFerrari and FXXKEVO). There is also an extension to this exhibit which has the TDF and P80/C. On the second floor down was Ferrari’s racing hall of fame, covering all their wins, tributes to drivers and the cars. On the final level was a continuation on from their racing which included road cars and track specials. My highlight from this was the 125S. I know there is a replica they move around but I was told this was the real deal, alpha and the omega, Ferrari as we know it. Makes your skin tingle.
For the evening we had booked The Cavalino Ristorante which is located next to the factory gates. However, another kept being bleated in my ear, Montana. Crisis of confidence set in. Do we cancel and go to Montana or keep our reservation? After tying to book a table in advance I struggled to get a straight answer we decided to turn up on the day and try our luck. Set just back from an overpass is the famous ristorante. Sealed until opening, the gates based on automatic timers open allowing you to try your luck. Taking the lead I walked past all the other would be’s and asked. The man from Montana said no.
Thankfully we kept out reservation at Cavalino and headed right there. Being British, we were early for dinner and for a good 30mins the only people there which was fine by us as the staff were able to give us more time. There was Ferrari theming every where with the Cavalino Rampante present on almost every place setting, chair, and wall. You weren’t eating at Harvester, nor did the menu reflect that.
The next day we set sail back to Milan on the idea of heading to Brescia to see the cars return. Prior to us going I had be warned that the Monza part was boring and regrettably to report, it was. As a last minute course correction we headed for Monza. Thankfully I looked into the MIMO (Milan Monza show) and discovered you required a free pass to get in and needed a parking pass. We decided to risk the parking and found a space 15ish minutes’ walk away. Unlike how it had been up to this point, Monza was very marshalled. We saw many people getting turned away. You will also find it difficult to see many cars here as they are cordoned off, food is expensive and there are many VIP spots you peasants are not allowed in or near. I may have went to Monza but I would have never known I was there.
From here we went straight to Brescia and the Mille Miglia museo. Once again, quiet. Like the Miglia never existed. The museo was also dead, it was just us. For a small museo it was a little on the expensive side but well worth the visit. After learning something we headed onwards to the Viale Venezia. Thankfully we were able to get parked on some tow zone area. I can honestly tell you though, as much as we were stressing about finding the car gone we need not worry, the ticket marshal was sat up with a beer watching.
Walking down the road you can hear the thunderous roar of the final cars making their way in. I am not a lover of the XK 120/140. Beautiful to look at but horrible to drive, the sound they produced was unreal, only comparable to the open top Ferrari's.
As the first day, the crowds got denser and denser. Tired drivers loitering the streets with multi million pounds worth of art and history that had seen the wars, abandoned. Bottles of champagne and rubbish chucked across the cars and members of public taking advantage of this. This was the true Italian spirit come alive. The smell of fuel and food loitering in the air, cascaded by the sound of straight piped engines, cheers and music. This is the side of car culture that people who don’t get cars, don’t get. No teams, glory or pride taking over like if you were at a football match. Just genuine people who love cars loving cars.
We stayed until 9 enjoying the atmosphere before heading back. As we headed back down the Viale Venezia we walked through the parade route which days before was pass only. Without hesitation the stage was coming down. With cars dumped all round by exhausted drivers no monkeys were given to dismantling the stage right next to them. Members of the public were also helping in their own way by removing parts of the stage for souvenirs. I did try and join in but then decided I had no need or place to put 28 foot of barrier banner.
After many days of go, go, go we used our final days to deflate. Enjoying Venice and Milan. Sitting in our hotel and over an Aperol Spritz Michelle and I reflected on the holiday and the event. She agreed that the cars didn’t really mean much to her but being in the atmosphere was fantastic. A whole day disappeared without any issues. Finding information and navigating it was irritating. Cost wise, the way we did it hit us harder than we were expecting. Not knowing you needed passes for certain areas was deflating and being more prepared for the distances would have been better.
Would we do it again, absolutely! Knowing what we know now, we would base in Brescia and consider following them to all the locations along the way. With a final few days in Brescia to unwind. All in all, it was truly a fantastic event, and I am glad as a car love to have this notched on my belt.