Mille Miglia, The Most Beautiful Race in the World
One thousand miles of scenic country roads and charming townscapes in the heart of Italy served as the rough and ready race track for the Mille Miglia 2020. Not even a global pandemic could stop this vintage automobile rally from taking place! This year, more than ever, the race’s organizers were determined to shine a spotlight on Italy’s singular beauty and the undeniable pleasures of traveling across the Italian peninsula.
Four hundred vintage cars spent four days, 22nd-25th October, motoring from Brescia to Rome and back again. Only automobiles built between 1927 and 1957 can participate in what is billed “the most beautiful race in the world.” Historically, the Mille Miglia is held in mid-May. Italy’s spring lockdown meant that drivers in the 2020 edition had to deal with autumn weather conditions, as well the strict sanitary measures introduced to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Alfa Romeo, Lancia, Ferrari, Porsche, Fiat and Bugatti are among the classic cars that competed. The racing vehicles were provided by private collectors and car manufacturers’ museums. But there’s no reason that the scenic Mille Miglia route can’t be followed in your own rental car. Read on to discover some picture-perfect locales we think are definitely worth a detour!
Day 1: Brescia to the Adriatic Coast
Every year the route changes slightly but the race always starts in the Lombard town of Brescia. Here the Mille Miglia was founded in 1927. Following the technical car inspection, the procession of vintage vehicles headed east along the idyllic shores of Lake Garda to Mantua, Ferrara and Ravenna.
Few places dazzle like Ravenna. A treasure trove of Byzantine mosaics remains from its time as capital of the Western Roman Empire, 402-476. No less than eight prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Sites are scattered throughout town. And Dante Alighieri, so-called “Father of the Italian language,” died here in exile in 1321. Next year Ravenna is hosting many commemorative events to mark the 700th anniversary of his death.
Day 2: The Adriatic Coast to Rome
The sun had barely risen over the Adriatic Sea when the race cars left Censenatico at the early hour of 6:45am. No time to linger or catch some rays on the sandy beach. Porto Canale, a marvel of Renaissance engineering, cuts through the heart of this lively resort town. In 1502 the sublime Leonardo da Vinci had input into its design.
Around 5:00pm the vintage cars pulled into Ascoli Piceno. Too bad the weary drivers didn’t have time to stop for a quick aperitivo! Our pick for where to do so is the historic Caffè Meletti, shaded by a portico in Ascoli’s main piazza. But the cars pushed on to Rome for the vehicle parade along the glitzy via Veneto. This is one of the annual highlights of the rally.
Day 3: Rome to Parma with a thrilling ride over the mountains
The third and longest leg of the race led north from Rome. After passing through Viterbo in Lazio and Radicofani in the verdant Tuscan countryside, the cars pulled into Siena around lunchtime. The stop in Piazza del Campo, site of the famous Palio horse race, is one of the most spectacular Mille Miglia experiences. Fearing a super-spreader event, the city cancelled this summer’s Palios. The Sienese plan to hold them in 2021 though, with even more enthusiasm!
One of the most challenging parts of the race is crossing the Apennine mountains over the Cisa Pass. At the border between northern Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, the pass is 1,040 meters (3,412 feet) above sea level. Hair-raising to say the least, especially in the dark and the thick October fog. As the drivers pulled into Parma at 9:30pm, it is hoped that a plate of the local pasta, tortelli di erbetta, was waiting for them!
Day 4: Parma to the finish line in Brescia
Parma, Italian Capital of Culture 2020-21, was the gracious host of the fourth and final day of the race. A leisurely starting time of 9:30am meant it was a four-hour drive to beautiful Bergamo. Sadly, Bergamo made headlines last spring as the global epicenter of the coronavirus. Now, conditions in this Lombard hilltown are much improved, and Bergamo is eager to welcome back American tourists in 2021.
The competition concluded on the arrival ramp of viale Venezia in Brescia, where it all began 93 years ago, in 1927, with the first-ever Mille Miglia. This year’s race was won by a father and son team, behind the wheel of a flame-red Alfa Romeo Zagata built in 1929.
Which sites on the scenic Mille Miglia route inspire you the most? Let us know in the comments below!