Get in Gear for a Belgium to Italy Road Trip, Motorsport StyleBy Will Hawkes
Between Belgium’s Spa-Francorchamps and Italy’s Monza tracks lie some of the greatest treasures Europe has to offer: outstanding landscapes, vibrant cities, superb food, local charm and culture galore. There’s also a huge amount for motorsport lovers to enjoy, too. You’ll likely have close to a week’s time between races — plenty of time to dig deep and explore.
Start Your Motors: Spa-Francorchamps; Stavelot, Belgium
Few motor-racing tracks are as beloved as Spa-Francorchamps.
This iconic track has changed a lot since its first race in 1922, but race fans still adore it. The most popular stretch of the circuit is Eau Rouge, which — with its legendary down-then-up sweep — is regarded as perhaps the motor-racing world’s most exciting corner. It’s a thrill for drivers and spectators alike.
There is a small but charming museum devoted to the track in Stavelot, while the surrounding Ardennes countryside is considered the most beautiful in Belgium. It’s also a place where that old line about Belgian food, “French quality with German portion sizes,” is often true.
One of the best restaurants in the area is La Menuiserie in the nearby Belgian village of Champagne, where the traditionally meat-heavy local cuisine is presented in elegant, thoroughly delicious form.
When you’ve had your fill and are ready to move on, make your way over the border to Cologne, Germany.
Stop 1: Cologne, Carnival City
Cologne is Germany’s original party town, where the annual Carnival (which reaches its peak on Rose Monday, two days before Ash Wednesday) is merely a highlight in a year-round commitment to pleasure. Courtyard by Marriott Cologne is a great base from which to get the best out of this lively Rhineland city.
You must try Kolsch, a delicate, pale beer that is native to Cologne. The serving ritual is worth experiencing: The beer comes in tiny, 1/3-ounce glasses and is delivered to the table on round trays carried by kobes, Rhineland’s waiters, who make up in efficiency what they lack in politeness.
When you finish a glass, another appears. The best place to witness this is at Lommerzheim, a classic pub that serves Cologne’s best Kolsch, Paffgen, plus its best pork chops, too. They’re as thick as an old-fashioned phone book.
It’s not just beer, though: The city’s giant Gothic cathedral is magnificent inside and out, while the superb Romano-Germanic Museum is not to be missed. Race fans will also love Motorworld, a museum devoted to racing that includes Michael Schumacher’s personal collection.
Next stop? Stuttgart, Germany.
Stop 2: Stuttgart, “Cradle of the Automobile”
Germany is a land of many cultures, and Stuttgart is quite different from Cologne. This is Baden-Wurttemberg, a state that straddles the line between northern and southern Europe. Take the food, for example: The local speciality is maultasche, which is like ravioli but much bigger. The Alte Kelter is a good place to try them.
Check in at Stuttgart Marriott Hotel Sindelfingen and leave the car behind — there’s plenty here already. This city has a rich automotive history; the first automobile, the Benz Patent Motor Car, was invented nearby. Two of the world’s most beloved carmakers, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, have their headquarters in Stuttgart, and both have museums here that are well worth visiting: The Mercedes-Benz Museum is the city’s most-visited tourist attraction.
For the best view of Stuttgart and the beautiful landscape around it, including the Black Forest, take an elevator to the top of the Fernsehturm, a TV tower south of the city center. At 711 feet tall, it’s not for the faint-hearted — but those with a weaker disposition can steady themselves with a drink at the onsite Leonhardts restaurant.
Get in gear and carry on to Zurich, Switzerland.
Stop 3: Zurich, The Little Big City
Zurich Marriott Hotel, in the heart of the city, is the perfect place from which to explore the biggest city in Switzerland. Follow the adjacent Limmat River south from the hotel to Haus zum Rüden, an elegant townhouse-turned-restaurant with an impressive lineup of modern Swiss food. Try the sautéed Swiss perch with leeks and potatoes.
This is a great city for museum-lovers. The The Kunsthaus Zürich contemporary art museum is one of the world’s very best, featuring works by Giacometti, Munch, Picasso and Monet, among others. Then there’s the design-centric Museum für Gestaltung Zürich, which has a superb collection of posters, graphic design and more.
When you leave Zurich, the best driving part of your road trip begins. The route to Milan and Monza takes you through the Alps and, depending on how much time you have, past lakes and through mountain passes. Both Göscheneralp lake and Lago di Lucendro are well worth a detour.
The “Grande” Finale: Milan, Monza and the Prancing Horse
Italy’s fashion capital is also paradise for petrolheads. Ferrari’s museum at Maranello is a must-visit for fans of the Prancing Horse, while Monza — our final destination — ranks second only to Spa-Francorchamp in many race fans’ affections.
Before you get there, though, make sure to stop for a bite to eat in Milan: Risotto Milanese is the classic choice, particularly at Trattoria Masuelli San Marco.
And then there’s Monza, about nine miles outside the city. With its long straights and tight chicanes, this historic track is one for the aficionado. After all that driving, it’s time to let the professionals take the reins.