Maranello is a southern suburb of Modena, in Italy’s lush Emilia Romagna region. Within a few miles of here, in every direction, they make the world’s greatest balsamic vinegar, Parmesan cheese, Parma ham, prosciutto, and pastas.
But in Maranello, they are known for making one particularly delicious albeit inedible product: the Ferrari.
Enzo Ferrari located his business here in 1947, and began turning out his eponymous racing cars that would win championships, set speed records, and win famous races around the world. For good measure – as something of an aside – Mr. Ferrari would build a few road cars that he could sell to customers. Just enough to fund his racing team, it seemed.
Mr. Ferrari seemed content to operate that way for many years, but as the costs of Scuderia Ferrari‘s competition in Formula 1 began to skyrocket in the 1970s, so too did Ferrari’s production of road cars. The Ferrari operation in Maranello started to grow exponentially; it gobbled up hundreds of acres of land for factory expansion, a test track in adjacent Fiorano, and dozens of adjunct operations such as a wind tunnel, autoclave, computer-aided design, crash-test simulator and even a museum.
Today, Ferrari is a billion-dollar profit machine, making up to 8,000 road cars a year – costing hundreds of thousands of dollars each – and generating almost immeasurable prestige as the halo brand in the Fiat Group’s industrial empire (Enzo let Fiat buy a stake after Ford turned him down in the mid-1960s).
As Ferrari has grown, so has everything associated with it – and that includes once-tiny Maranello.
Maranello is now Mecca, for the Ferrari faithful. And many thousands make pilgrimages here each year to worship at the altar of Enzo.
Could a Ferrari fan make a 36-hour adventure out of visiting Maranello? Certainly. Here are ten suggestions for how to do it.
1. Regardless of when you arrive in town, take a few moments to orient yourself. A gelateria is often a good place to start! Maranello has a few good ones, including a couple that I would recommend on the main east-west road through town, Via Claudia.
2. While sampling scoops of fragola, we also stumbled upon a small flea market that had some interesting Ferrari odds and ends – including what one vendor claimed was an actual program from Enzo Ferrari’s funeral in 1988. Not my taste for collectibles, but there were plenty of hats, jackets, t-shirts and books – some quite rare. There seems to be some kind of flea market going on, in some part of Maranello or another, almost every day.
3. Getting down to business… At the roundabout in the center of town, go a couple of blocks north of Via Claudia to find the old main gate to the Ferrari plant. Here, you will find the gate is locked – and you probably can’t get in, unless you know someone inside. The gate may be manned around the clock, but I’ve never tested it at, like say, 2 a.m.
4. Across the street, you will find the official Ferrari gift shop/souvenir store. There is no tat here; everything seems to be of the highest quality – and priced accordingly. I bought a very pricy wallet here in 2007; it barely shows wear, despite many years of heavy use.
5. Across a side street from the gift shop is the Ristorante Cavallino restaurant. You’ll know it by the enormous silver Prancing Horse statue outside. During the latter years of Mr. Ferrari’s life, this was said to be his favorite restaurant. The good is quite good here – Ferrari wouldn’t tolerate anything less, from an establishment using its logo – on everything, including the dinnerware – but its hours of operation are limited. Reservations are strongly recommended.
6. The Planet Hotel, just behind the gift shop, is as close as you can stay to the factory. The four-story red brick building is not particularly attractive, or Ferrari-like in any way, but from the top floors it is possible to see directly into the Ferrari factory. You’ll probably not see much, but a spy photographer might be on the lookout for heavily camouflaged prototypes of future models that can occasionally be seen roaming the grounds.
7. I highly recommend Maranello Village, which is about two miles east of the factory, as a good choice for lodging in the area. It is clean, modern, beautifully designed and engineered – and a very good value. (50 euro for two, the night I stayed). The rooms are large; the décor is high quality; the beds are comfortable with high-thread-count pressed linens; and the bathrooms are huge. Everything is festooned with Ferrari memorabilia – like a little museum – and some of the pieces on display are quite rare. The reception desk is a mock-up of a fullsize Ferrari racecar. The café serves food that is quite good and very reasonably priced. There’s a gift shop with artisan-quality local food products and some souvenirs.
8. A second suggestion for dinner is La Gazella, which is the top-rated area restaurant on TripAdvisor – for good reason. The food is almost indescribably excellent. Everything served comes from local artisans. The proprietor, Carlo, will welcome you – even if you show up at odd hours (odd for Italian diners; maybe not so odd for tourists). It was the finest meal I’ve had in Italy. And reasonably priced.
9. If your goal is to get inside the inner sanctum of Ferrari, the museum on the factory grounds is your best bet. It is entered from the east side of the property. It is a small museum – so small, a few dozen cars are housed in available square footage in the adjacent engine assembly plant. A highlight is one of Ferrari’s first road cars; the sign says the little dark blue coupe is a 1948 model (but sources tell me it is actually a 1951 – which was almost identical, anyway). But the real highlight of the museum tour is a bus ride through the factory’s main roads. I don’t know how extensive the tour is, but I saw the tour buses frequently, all through the property. (If you don’t get your fill of Ferrari-themed museums, check out the new Enzo Ferrari birthplace museum in Modena; it has a tenuous connection to Mr. Ferrari himself, since he didn’t live there long, but millions have been spent restoring it and designing the lavish displays.)
10. Finally, if you want to have the ultimate Ferrari experience – actually driving one – there are a number of places in town that actually rent them. Don’t expect the newest models, like the California, 458, FF or F12 Berlinetta. Most of the inventory seemed to be 5-15 years old. But they are Ferraris, nonetheless. The prices are steep – one we saw was 95 euro for 20 minutes – but I suppose some Ferrari fans would say the experience was priceless.
October 5, 2012