Italy by Fiat
A white-knuckle—and gastronomic—test
Let’s be honest: Touring the Italian countryside by auto isn’t exactly a novel idea—roads were practically invented here, after all. But it is one of those oversold experiences that somehow still lives up to the hype.
I was reminded of this in March while road tripping from Milan to Cinque Terre that pastel-colored conglomeration of seaside villages along the Mediterranean. The trip was a last-minute whim, and so my girlfriend and I hit the road in a rented Fiat with only a rough outline in mind. As we soon discovered, that may be the best way to explore the country.
Any cafe you stop at for a latte will likely whip up the best one of your life. Any random restaurant may lead to one of your most memorable meals. Plus, when you get road weary, it’s probably aperitivo time, that singular Italian tradition of pre-dinner drinks with a plate of cured meats, cheeses, and irresistible little sandwiches.
Driving through northern Italy, with the snowcapped peaks of Appenino Tosco-Emiliano National Park rising above, felt like cruising across Colorado—if Colorado were full of worldclass wines and gelato shops. This dawned on me after my third Aperol spritz on our second night.
The first day, we’d driven from Milan to Parma, birth-place of two of Italy’s most delicious exports: Parmesan cheese and prosciutto di Parma. The city, like any in Italy, is full of ancient buildings a soaring cathedral, and cobbled piazzas. But as a university town, there were no tourists, so it felt like being let into a little secret world. Plus, because Italy is, well, Italy, and everything is just so damn good, there’s no need to double-check Yelp or ask for restaurant suggestions. Just walk and explore, chat and discover.
Which is what we did after dinner and a sampling platter of the city’s namesake cheese. Wandering the narrow streets, we noticed a line of people waiting for gelato at Emilia’s Cremeria. Not one of them was a tourist, so we stood in back. After a five-minute wait, we were handed the most delicious, custardy zabaglione ice cream I’ve ever had.
The next morning, after touring 800-year-old St. Peter’s Church in the coastal city of Portovenere, we headed for Cinque Terre. Most tourists take the train that connects the villages, but I soon realized that nothing compares with navigating the winding, narrow roads that lead up from each town, over a ridgeline full of terraced vineyards, down to the next town. Driving along, it’s easy to understand why Italians are so keen on sports cars: The mountainous roads, with on-high views of the blue water below, were thrilling to speed on, even with an underpowered Fiat.
At each town, we stopped for a cappuccino or croissant, then cruised on. When we pulled into Santa Margherita Ligure, we hardly checked into the hotel before walking out for aperitivo. A spritz was calling, and maybe a tiny sandwich or two. As we left, the bellman asked if we needed a recommendation. “No thanks,” I said. “We’ll be just fine.” — Ryan Krogh
For access to exclusive gear videos, celebrity interviews, and more, subscribe on YouTube!Back to top