We need to talk about Ferrari, is not just an episode of the Netflix series Drive to Survive, but something we actually must do as Italians telling the stories of our country; the story of Italy is unfinished without mention of “the red one.”
“Give a child paper and colored pencils and ask them to draw a car; they will make it a red one” said Enzo Ferrari, the man who dreamt of becoming Enzo Ferrari and by sheer will eventually built the eponymous icon. The Prancing Horse is not just a dream for car aficionados, it’s an amusement park, two museums, fashion collections, paper goods, a restaurant… because Ferrari isn’t just a car that goes fast, but a legend.
Ferrari is an Italian beacon in the world but above all it is a classic story of the country. Stories that begin in the poor countryside and end with ranking (for the second year in a row) among the top ten global brands in the annual Brand Finance Global 500; above Disney, Coca Cola, and Rolex. For real? – they say in Modena. For them, Ferrari is simply a religion of sorts and a ritual of observance.
Scuderia Ferrari fans are referred to as “tifosi”, and it doesn’t matter who is behind the wheel, if they win or lose, the racing team is like a football team which you follow with blind faith, no questions asked. In Modena and its surroundings, children are reared with stories told by their grandparents about Ferraris purchased with life savings and buffed and shined like the family silver, of races at Imola and afternoons with family or at the local bar in front the TV. In Emilia-Romagna, Ferrari is not synonymous with luxury, but rather it is a shared feeling of belonging. The cult of beautiful cars runs in its blood: it is the land of Ferrari, yes, but also Maserati, Lamborghini and Ducati motorcycles. Racing cars aside, it’s an industry that for generations has employed thousands of families and that cultivated a certain collective aesthetic. In town, cars are parked wherever, in the street you hear the rumble before you see it: vroom, vroom…revving the engine while reining in its power, headed towards Maranello.
Maranello, the Red City
Maranello is headquarters for the factory, offices, and the Ferrari universe. It includes a dealership, flagship brand boutique, museum, and a restaurant designed by chef Massimo Bottura. It also includes car rental dealers, decorated with horse statues three meters tall and bars decorated with memorabilia and trophies. In the streets everyone is dressed in red racing jumpsuits, red outfits, red jackets, because employees are red just like the cars. To cross the street you need to pay attention to red racing cars, waiting for the green at traffic lights exactly like those from the Formula 1 circuit. It looks like a movie set in which tourists walk about: they arrive from all over the world (or rather, they did prior to current events) to visit the factory, to sample a piece of the myth or pick one up in flesh and bone on four wheels to take home.
Slow Food and Fast Cars
Emilia-Romagna, land of Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma, might very well be the Food Valley, but for racing fans it is the Motor Valley, the Mecca of engines. “Land of slow food and fast cars” loves to say chef Massimo Bottura, who has found a way to converge two universes of excellence that grew alongside each other. In the headquarters of what was the company cafeteria since 1950, the most famous Italian chef in the world has revived the restaurant with a renovation preserving the interior and the menu. Beautiful.
In these rooms, Formula 1 was born and Enzo Ferrari loved to stop by for lunch and watch the Grand Prix on TV. Vintage photos from the 1960s show the communal tables, and in the private rooms there are still TVs where today’s drivers and executives do exactly as they did back then. We sit on the original red armchairs designed by Vico Magistretti amidst historical memorabilia, but everything else has been reworked by architect India Mahdavi. Enzo would not have appreciated a lack of nostalgia, so the menu is an updated nod to tradition: Fried gnocco and cold cuts (16€), Tortellini in Parmigiano Reggiano cream (18€), Tagliatelle with meat sauce (15€), but it also features new creations by the young Modenese chef Riccardo Forapani, such as pickled tongue carpaccio, snails, parsley and pork sausage a la Rossini. Lambrusco is imbibed and in the evening important bottles are uncorked. At the lunch tables sit curious customers alongside managers from nearby companies in suit and tie, but in the evening and weekends half of Modena and its surroundings gather at the restaurant for a simple Sunday grill. A bit smokey from the Josper charcoal oven, they have fun as only locals from this area know how.
What Was Missing
There are two types of Ferrari fans. The pathologically loyal ones who have never missed a Monza Grand Prix and have named their children Enzo or Michael (Schumacher). Then there are those who order Ferraris like it’s a utility vehicle, who grow their private collections of one-off designs, and who order the latest models and rather than do it from Dubai or Cologne, they prefer coming in person. The ultra-rich and inconspicuous enthusiasts are parked in front of Casa Maria Luigi on the outskirts of Modena, the new bed & breakfast project by Bottura and wife Lara Gilmore. A country villa furnished with designer pieces, an art collection boasting the works of Damien Hirst and Ai Wei Wei, featuring twelve rooms and Canadian chef Jessica Rosval who prepares Emilian breakfasts and dinners with signature dishes from Bottura’s three Michelin starred Osteria Francescana. The area lacked a hospitality venue of this level; Massimo and Laura have closed the circle bringing together engines, tortellini, and haute cuisine. Where did visitors go before? I ask Massimo Bottura. “They did not stay”. This place has brought about a flow of tourists who want to sleep in a country house, wake up among fields, and have dinner in one of the best restaurants in the world. At Casa Maria Luigia you can also play foosball in the “sports center” which houses Ferrari and Maserati under the watchful gaze of a statue by artist Duane Hanson. It is said that cooking for chefs is a game, but only if you have never seen a (grown-up) kid from Modena talk about cars… “This is for wimps. Come to the garage to see the real stuff,” says Bottura, taking guests on a tour of the property, opening up doors that unveil vintage and limited edition cars. The keepsake photo shoot starts along with the oohs and aahs, as steering wheel detailing is noted and distinguished men caress seats as if they were feminine curves. In the end, the fans who can afford just a signed cap and those who use Ferrari as an everyday car are all the same. If they were given colored pencils and paper they would draw a red car.