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At Galleria Ferrari in Maranello, Italy visitors will find some of the most famous Ferraris on display.
At Galleria Ferrari in Maranello, Italy visitors will find some of the most famous Ferraris on display.

Why Italy has it all - from fast cars to slow food Add to ...

Valentino races alongside wheat fields, demonstrating the Spyder's incredible power. The acceleration feels like a roller coaster, my body lurching forward, my eyeballs trailing behind. We find a quiet stretch and Valentino invites me to take the wheel. With an advanced paddle shift transmission, he assures me that I can't make a mistake - the car will automatically adjust. This low to the tarmac on a hot summer day, I can feel the heat radiating from the ground. The convertible's thermometer reads a blistering 50 C. I'm already sweating with nerves, driving a vehicle worth more than I could ever afford to replace. Fortunately, the Spyder is beautifully forgiving, guiding my gear changes, injecting fuel when needed, and sticking firm around corners. For a brief moment, a travel writer owning a half-million-dollar sports car makes perfect sense.

It is a short drive from Bologna to Maranello, the home of Lamborghini's nemesis, Ferrari. Maranello is not so much a small town as a Ferrari theme park. I drive past Ferrari stores, schools, Ferrari-themed restaurants and red-painted hotels. Images of the famous prancing horse logo are everywhere. It is immediately clear that Ferrari is a much larger enterprise than its competitor.

At the Galleria Ferrari, some of the most famous Ferraris are on display for the public. There are original race cars built by Enzo himself, all the way to Formula 1 triumphs, and even an accurate recreation of a pit stop. Upstairs are the road cars: the powerful Testa Rossa, the F40, and Magnum PI's red 308GTS. The Enzo Ferrari, named in tribute, is the only road-licensed Formula 1 vehicle. I notice a marked difference between this display and the sleek tones inside Lamborghini's showcase gallery. Ferraris seem to exude brute strength, with more muscle than finesse. A special showcase houses a 1957 black 250 Testa Rossa, which sold at auction for a staggering $12.1-million (U.S.). It doesn't even have headlights.

Ironically, the 430 Scuderia waiting for me outside is metallic blue, with two racing stripes down the middle. My test driver's name is Gabriel, and we both agree that a job requiring one to drive in a Ferrari all day is a job worth keeping. Gabriel makes the tires scream around the quiet country roads, the engine snarling as he shifts the transmission. I feel like a tiger lurking in the concrete jungle of automobiles, ferociously hunting a Toyota. After screeching past a chicane, I ask Gabriel how fast he was going. With a wry grin, he says it was too fast to look at the speedometer.

It is late afternoon when we drive back to the Galleria in Maranello's rush hour. It seems cruel for the 430 Scuderia - with a top speed of 320 km/h - to trot along at 40 km/h, all the way back to the stable. I thank Gabriel, awkwardly exit the cockpit, and walk over to my Peugeot rental. Like most cars in Italy, it is a tiny vehicle capable of squeezing through narrow cobblestone alleys, barely slotting into minuscule parking spaces, but still exceeding 130 km/h speed limits on the highway.

I had one more item on my agenda, one that easily meets the need of both culinary and car connoisseurs. Located just a few miles from Maranello, the Hombre Dairy Farm is owned by Umberto Panini, who made his fortune designing and distributing trading cards. It has two magnificent collections of wheels, both open to the public. First, one can sample melt-in-the-mouth organic Parmigiano-Reggiano. In a chilled room, I walk among 8,000 rounds of cheese that fetch about $800 each. The smell is rich, the texture creamy, almost like caramel. Just metres away is the world's largest collection of Maseratis. These cars are less flashy than other Italian supercars, but just as expensive. The collection includes automobiles driven by legends like Sterling Moss, and dozens of antique motorbikes and bicycles. I ask Matteo Panini, Umberto's son, how much the collection is worth. He skittishly replies it is worth as much as anyone would pay for it.

Whether you're into sport cars, Italian cuisine, or just Old World countryside, Emilia-Romagna will appeal. And while you might not have the means to attain your own collection of supercars, or even a bottle of real Aceto Balsamico, travellers are invited to sample and enjoy at the source. It's just a taste, but sometimes, that's all one needs to truly indulge.

Robin Esrock is the host of the OLN/CityTV series Word Travels. You can find him online at moderngonzo.com

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