Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Mille Miglia ~ Italy's Thousand Mile Race

Tomorrow is our last day in Tuscany, and we've been invited to attend Italy's most famous car race, the Mille Miglia.

 Finding just the right spot to stay for our week in Tuscany proved to be the most challenging of all our month-long visit to Italy.  

But we have loved the rustic-but-still-elegant feel of our villa @  Tenuta Santo Pietro, situated just outside the little village of Pienza, which you can see just on the horizon.   This villa ranks in my top 10 favorite places we've stayed around the world.

It's a working farm, part of Italy's agra-tourism program, 
and it produces it's own olive oil and wine.  
Guests are invited to explore and participate in 
any of the ag activities they wish.  

It's quiet and peaceful, and was the perfect respite from 
the busy-ness of Rome and Venice and Florence. 

It is from here that we explored the hills and hill towns of Tuscany this last week; driving down dusty rural roads, pulling over to try (without much success) to capture the beauty of fields full of red poppies dancing in the breeze.  

We dined at little places that I'm sure came out of 
a chapter of some Italian novel;

And we walked hand-in-hand down the quiet streets of little villages that are no bigger than my back yard, so perfectly well-kept that you are sure you must be on a movie set somewhere, so quintessentially Tuscan they are.

Our host, Giuseppe, has really helped maximize our Tuscany experience.  Each morning over breakfast, he would ask politely, what our plans were for the day;  and then make some suggestions about what else we might see along the way, where we might stop off for a bite of lunch, who in the next village over serves the best rabbit or roasted piglet.

He's the kind of host that will sit to share 
a glass of Prosecco with you before dinner, and Mr. C enjoyed a couple of Cuban cigars with him of an evening.   

(These were gifted to us by our Cuban driver on the Amalfi Coast.)

And of course I just couldn't stand to be left out of the fun ~ 

So when he asked what our plans were for that last Saturday, we told him we were flexible.  Then he asked if we liked old cars, and Mr. C was hooked.  

And so it was that we attended, quite accidentally, 
the most famous car race in all of Europe ~ 
Italy's Mille Miglia (pronounced Millie My-ya).

Giuseppe has a group of friends that drive up from Rome to attend this event every year, and they traditionally go to the same little village where we will sit on the steps of the old church in the town square to watch the antique cars zoom by, so close that I could stick my toes out to be run over by the antique tires!  He invites us not just to attend, but to be a part of his group for the day and to dine with them afterwards.  It's my first big dinner party in Italy, and I'm so very excited!

But first is the 'race'.  You need to have a little background to appreciate the event.  The basic facts are this:   The race originally started in 1927, as an 'Open-road endurance race'; it was an annual event through 1957, with a hiatus for the WWII years.  

Then in 1977 it was 'reborn' as a sort of 'car show' for classic and vintage cars of that era.  

There are 350 spots in the 'race'.  Participation is limited to cars which were in the original race (isn't that just awesome!?   They have to be 1927-1957 vintage!); or cars that replicate (and thus replace) one that was originally registered; 

The route is much the same now as then ~  
it's a 1,000 mile run from Brescia to Rome and back.  

So it is definitely a step back in time.

I am totally unprepared, though, for the fanfare along the way to the village, as the car show starts long before the classic 'race' cars arrive.   All of Tuscany turns out for this event, it seems; there are cars and audiences lining the small rural roads along the way, many with families and picnics along.  It looks like what you might have seen in a movie somewhere, but it's real.  

And all the car enthusiasts show up to show off, too.  I counted five Ferrari's in a row zoom by us.  Ahhhh, how the Italians love their sports cars!!!

We arrive and park and find our spots sitting on the church steps 
@ Piazza San Pietro,  our little Mille Miglia flags in hand.
I think Mr. C is looking dashingly handsomely Italian here.

And then, finally,  here come the first of them ~ 

Some of them wearing their leather driving helmets and gloves ~ 
with driving goggles, of course!

Roaring up the little cobblestone streets, 

They burst into the tiny square, ooo-oooogling those old horns.

The crowds all cheer and clap and wave their little flags.......

and then, just as suddenly, he's gone.   

And then the next one arrives in a burst of sound and sight, 

and applause and honking, 

And he, too, is gone around the corner.   

And thus it goes.  We saw some real beauties ~  
Ferrari's and Maserati's and Lamborghini's and Bugatti's.  
And yes, I had to look up how to spell all of them. 

Many of these cars are worth millions of dollars, and their owners ship them in from around the world to participate each year.  

But for me, the real beauty was 
taking part in something so timelessly traditional, 
celebrating with our new Italian friends 
what Italians have celebrated for decades.

And it was special, too, to be so close to these old beauties, 
where we could have literally reached out to touch them!
I'm there in the front (of course!) in the hat (not so common!)

Breakdowns are not uncommon;  but the racer does not get credit unless he finishes (nor does he qualify for next year's race), so if they must push, then push they must.  We heard that one guy the previous year actually hired a truck when his car broke down, loaded it aboard, and sat in it up-top for the the rest of the race 
so he could cross the finish line!  

Finally the last car whisks away, and now it's time to dine with 16 of our newest best Italian friends.   They have a favorite trattoria that is their traditional post-race place, and they are ready for us when we arrive.  

We are starving!  And we are happy to be served 'family style', as it means that we do not have to negotiate a menu in Italian. 

It's a huge meal.  6 appetizers, followed by 4 pasta dishes (that would be lasagna plus ragu w/ pasta plus hand made ravioli's and cannolini's);  followed by 4 meats (also called 2nd course; or mains); followed by dessert and grappa.

Our host was gracious enough to seat himself by Mr. C, so as to include and interpret, and another gentleman who spoke some English next to me to help us navigate the evening.  I remember thinking that was very thoughtful.

When, for example, the main (meat) course was being served, I recognized the chicken, the beef, and the pork.  So what's the other one, I ask him?  They confer for a moment, searching for the word in English.  It's goat!   Oh, then yes please, just one piece, I reply, holding up one finger ~ and they are shocked that I want to try it.   Our host tells them in Italian, and then interprets for us in English  'I told you they were American, but they are not stupid!'  I think he means we're not squeamish.  And we all laughed and laughed.  And the goat tasted like..........pretty much tasted like goat.   But I had oxtail the night before, so.........I already had my courage up for goat.

And we had a blast!  The food was delicious, and plentiful.  There was much conversation we could not participate in; but if someone told a joke or funny story, and everyone would laugh ~ then they would pause politely while someone repeated it in English to us ~~ and then everybody would laugh all over again with us.

And we ended the day with my first ever taste of Green Apple Grappa (which is just as good as it sounds ~ liquor made from fermented green apples!  Must be an acquired taste).   But they served it with such flair and gusto!

So much fun, such a great memory ~ it was one of our best days in Italy.    Giuseppe, we still thank you for a great great day.  And we never fail to refer to Tenuta Santo Pietro as the perfect place to stay in Tuscany.   

We have very few candidates on our 'We would return here someday' list ('cause there's still just so much of the world to see for the first time), but......this is one of them.

Addtional notes:  If you are planning a trip to Italy and want a true Tuscan experience, I  recommend that you  check out Tenuta Santo Pietro.  Their website is:  

Or look them up on Trip Advisor @  They are listed under Hotels in Pienza.

And the Mille Miglia Race this year, the Great Thousand Mile Race, is upcoming May 14-17, 2015.   

If you are planning a trip to Italy, this coming spring, 
I would highly recommend!


  1. I have to say this is one of my all-time favorite blogs so far! I can tell from your photos and your passionate writing that you loved this Tuscan Villa, the hosts, the day trips, the food, the streets, let alone the Mille Miglia! Those cars are amazing and on that tight street! The dinner with the host and friends at the end of the day must have just been the ultimate for you – I recall how you loved your big dinners in Fresno with the gang there! It’s really you. Yes, I think that Mr C looked very dashing and oh my gosh you looked like a boss with that cigar! That is a photo for the keepsake book! Never seen that before! The photo of you setting on the wall, eyes closed, slight smile, sun in your face – pretty much says it all. You are loving life. Thanks for taking us with you!

  2. So much fun! I'm anxious to have Paul see these cars! Great trip!


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