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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?? ….
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.
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.
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.
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…..