Get Your Motor Running…..My European MINI Road Trip!

My MINI Roadster for the next few days..

My MINI Roadster for the next few days..

I arrive in to Munich after a long night of travel, greeted by a handsome young man working for MINI Cooper named Andy, who loads my bags into a brand new MINI Countryman.  I always intend to sleep on international flights, especially when I’m so fortunate to have a lie-down bed in business class.  But there are always good distractions, and on this particular flight they came in the form of bottomless champagne and Les Miserables.

BMW Welt, Munich

BMW Welt, Munich

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We go straight to BMW Welt (World in German), and it is truly a world of its own.  An architectural feat of massive proportions, BMW Welt is the center of BMW and receives more visits yearly than Germany’s famed Neuschwanstein Castle.  Here, you can peruse the current and future innovations of BMW, MINI Cooper and Rolls Royce.  I take a tour of the mother ship, along with the BMW Museum across the street, showing the rich history of BMW throughout the years.

At the BMW Museum, across the street

At the BMW Museum, across the street

I’ve always wanted a MINI, and that desire is off the charts now.  I meet my MINI Roadster that I’ll be driving (well, riding in—more on that, later) over the next 2 days, and it’s love at first sight.  This car is the adult-style combo of the three cars that were my ‘dream cars’ as a sixteen year old: it has the cool factor of a Mustang, the ‘beach chic’ and adventurous nature of a Jeep Wrangler soft top and the playfulness of a Cabriolet.  I can’t believe I’ll get to cruise in this beauty throughout Europe over the next few days.

Me and my MINI Roadster-- LOVE this car!!

Me and my MINI Roadster– LOVE this car!!

After an authentic German dinner at Munich’s Landersdorfer & Innerhofer and a good night’s sleep, we head back to BMW Welt the next morning to pick up our cars and embark on our European MINI Road Trip.  With a few other journalists, I decide to start off in the passenger’s seat, as I had only learned how to drive a manual transmission 5 days prior.  I don’t mind- it just means more opportunity to enjoy the gorgeous landscape as we drive through Europe.

Dinner at Landersdorder & Innerhofer

Dinner at Landersdorder & Innerhofer

Top down and the wind whipping through my hair, we cruise through Germany’s lush countryside, the vibrant shades of greens and yellows passing us by as we rock out to Justin Timberlake’s new album.

Absolutely love cruising in a convertible... especially on the Autobahn!

Absolutely love cruising in a convertible… especially on the Autobahn!

I realize this is the first time I’ve ever taken a road trip in Europe: all of my other transportation has been via Europe’s efficient train system.  Cruising in a MINI convertible through Germany, Austria and Italy provides an entirely different experience—one that I would highly, highly recommend.  There is a sense of freedom that comes with having your own set of wheels.  I have always been a bit apprehensive about the thought of driving in a foreign country, with the road signs in a foreign language, different driving rules and super-highways like the Autobahn.  After this experience, I’ll surely do it again: with the navigation system and pick-up that our little MINI has, getting around is super easy and you see so much more of the countryside than when on a train.

We parked for a minute along the route to enjoy the incredible view...

We parked for a minute along the route to enjoy the incredible view…

Of course you can rent a MINI, but the option to design your own from top to bottom and pick it up in Europe, is really an incredible one that I would recommend looking in to when you’re in the market for a new car.  You can pick up your MINI from BMW Welt, drive it around Europe and ship it back to the U.S. as a ‘used car,’ which changes the taxes on the vehicle and pretty much gives you a European road trip at no expense.  Not too bad!

Getting these kinds of views is what makes taking a European road trip really worth it-- and, having the freedom to stop off at incredible places along the way.

Getting these kinds of views is what makes taking a European road trip really worth it– and, having the freedom to stop off at incredible places along the way.

We drive on and land at Italy’s exquisite Lake Garda for lunch at Costa D’Oro.  The beauty of this place is indescribable: it is pure perfection.  After putting the top up on my new set of wheels, I stroll through a tunnel of Cyprus trees that leads up to this elegant Italian villa that is right on the water.  Through a bricked arch, I see people clinking glasses of sparkling white as they sit overlooking the emerald water, enjoying the beauty of this place.  Boats lazily meander up and park along the restaurant’s outdoor seating, the waves of Lake Garda gently lapping up and birds singing their chansons in the sunshine.

The row of Cyprus trees leading up to Lake Garda

The row of Cyprus trees leading up to Lake Garda

Breathtaking view

Breathtaking view

Lake Garda's Ristorante Costa D'Oro

Lake Garda’s Ristorante Costa D’Oro

We head in to the Villa, a comfortably elegant space that makes me feel like I’m in some distant Italian relative’s country home.  Her really, really nice lakeside country home.  I daydream for a minute about living here.  Maybe I do have an Italian relative linked to this place??  After all my last name really is Casteluccio?? ….

Feeling perhaps a bit too at home at Lake Garda....

Feeling perhaps a bit too at home at Lake Garda….

My wandering thoughts are interrupted by mozzerella.  Bowls and bowls of fresh, milky mozzerella balls.  I love Eataly in New York City—but this is the real thing.  The spread set before us is a colorful tapestry of deep green arugula, warm red and yellow olive oil-soaked peppers, golden pastas and aubergine eggplant. I don’t know where to start.

The food at Costa D'Oro was as exquisite as the view!

The food at Costa D’Oro was as exquisite as the view!

I sit by the window, listening to the soothing sounds of the water, drinking an Aperol Fizz and reveling in each and every bite of the Tuscan feast on my plate.

One of the many desserts we had to choose from...

One of the many desserts we had to choose from…

When lunch ends, we hop back in our MINI’s and hit the road.  300 km until we reach our resort in Mugello, a small town just outside of Florence (Firenze), where the MINI International Meeting is being held.

Our caravan of MINI’s makes me feel like I’m on an exciting adventure amongst friends.  We wind through the mountains and twisting roads of Italy, and I stick my arms up roller-coaster style, as if to say, I am all in—in life, in this moment, in this amazing experience.

Through the beautiful Italian countryside...

Through the beautiful Italian countryside…

We pull over to a roadside stop to take in the view and to get me behind the wheel.  Lets just say that my driving skills still need some work.  I had done extremely well in my driving lesson the week prior with my friend George’s mustang, an American ‘muscle car,’ so I thought I’d have this in the bag.  Perhaps it was nerves – or maybe it was just the mozzarella and strawberry tart lingering happily in my stomach—but after stalling out 5 times in a row, we all agree that I’m not quite ready to hit the European highways.  I don’t mind- the thirst to learn how to drive a manual transmission has begun, and I’m happy to be a passenger on this incredible experience.

We make it safely and happily to Mugello that evening, and I enjoy more pasta, bread and custard dessert before happily walking upstairs and drawing a warm bath.  Tomorrow will be a big day, with around 4,000 classic MINI’s at the International MINI Meetup.  Plus, I want to start the day with a run through the Italian countryside.  Not a bad life at all…..

Carpe Diem.

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12 Responses to Get Your Motor Running…..My European MINI Road Trip!

  1. Erin Williams says:

    Ashley, this is amazing! So excited for you that you’re living your travel dreams 🙂

    • Erin, thanks so much! It’s been really incredible to see life unfold for both of us since we first met, just 2 short years ago! I still want to find some time to get together and hear about it– congrats on all of your success, as well. Very proud of you and happy for you!

  2. Aw, I absolutely LOVED reading about this experience…and how tranquil does Lake Garda look? You could be in Italy. I loved the views, am a wee bit jealous you got a Business Class seat (sigh) and loved your Mini experience all in all. I’m in the same boat as you–can’t drive a manual (and hubby bought a VW last year…still haven’t driven…sigh). xx

    • Well you’ll have to learn, and I could stand to take some more lessons with you! I learned before I went with my friend’s boyfriend’s Mustang, and I actually did pretty well. Those skills didn’t transfer over to the MINI in Europe so I definitely need some more practice. 😉 Looking forward to seeing you soon- and have fun on your upcoming road trip up to TBEX!

  3. Natalie T. says:

    What an incredible experience! You look so at home in your MINI and in Europe! I’ve been to Lake Garda and also have been driven through Italy (I don’t blame you for not getting on the highways yet! Driving in Italy is a whole different ballgame…even as a passenger) and it is very different than on the trains. Owning a MINI would be a dream. You look so happy and at peace and I’m glad to have read all about it. Can’t wait to hear more in Toronto! xo 🙂

  4. nctaylor says:

    I LOVED this post! Sounds like you had an incredible adventure and were at peace in Lake Garda! The views are unmatched when you’re driving in Italy (though the train views aren’t too shabby either). I have been to Lake Garda and so glad you got to see it. It’s a lovely little villa town . Keep living the dream darling and cannot wait to hear more about your adventures in Toronto! xo Natalie

    • Thanks Nat! It was such a fun adventure– and so fun that you’ve also been to Lake Garda. I honestly hadn’t even heard of it before this trip, even though I had been to Italy a couple of times before. It’s such a gem! Can’t wait to see you soon- I’ll be in on the 30th for Travel Massive! xo

  5. nctaylor says:

    I LOVED this post! Sounds like you had an incredible adventure and were at peace in Lake Garda! The views are unmatched when you’re driving in Italy (though the train views aren’t too shabby either). I have been to Lake Garda and so glad you got to see it. It’s a lovely little villa town . Keep living the dream darling and cannot wait to hear more about your adventures in Toronto! xo Natalie nearafar.com

  6. Bryan says:

    Amazing! What an experience!

    • It absolutely was! One that I will not only not forget, but one that I can’t wait to have again! Totally made me fall in love with the MINI culture– it’s based on pure FUN and experience, not any kind of pretension. There’s another big road trip happening in Europe as well as one going through the States!

  7. Karmen says:

    What a fun place for a mini road trip! I have heard so many great things about Europe!

    • It was incredible! To be in the hills of Tuscany in such a gorgeous place, with so many people who were gathered to have a good time, was a really amazing experience. Karmen, do you have a top place in Europe that you’re wanting to get to?

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