Last month the GTspirit Team embarked on a five day GTspirit Tour of the Alps with five Mercedes-Benzes. Today we can finally bring you the second and final part of our journey report! The GTspirit Tour 2014 was organized to celebrate GTspirit’s 8th anniversary and powered by Mercedes-Benz! The GTspirit Team drove and flew from London, Berlin, Nuremberg, The Netherlands and Switzerland to the Mercedes-Benz headquarters in Stuttgart to pick up the keys to five V6 and V8 powered cars. The next couple of days we were following a carefully selected route through Germany, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Italy and Austria crossing the Alps and visiting various famous towns and sights along the way.
The first part of our journey saw us drive through the Alps from Stuttgart to Brescia. With an overnight stop in the Swiss city of Chur, the route included various highlights including the Unimog Museum, Black Forrest, Lake Constanz, Liechtenstein, the incredible Fluelapass, the deserted Ofenpass and the Reschensee. But the absolute highlight of the first part of our journey was the avalanche prone and snow covered top of the Stelvio pass. With so many highlights it would be hard to top this in the second part of our journey from Brescia via Belluno and Kitzbuhel back to Stuttgart. In this report you can read about more surprises we had for the team, one of our favorite passes in the Alps and we also pick our favorite car.
Before we set off from Brescia a quick reminder of the wheels Mercedes-Benz supplied us with for this trip: A black V6 powered Mercedes-Benz E300 Coupe, a black V8 powered CLS 500, a white Mercedes-Benz CLS 500 Shooting Brake, a black G500 and a black S63 AMG. Since we had a team of eleven we drove in four pairs of two and one team of three in the S63 AMG. The back seat of the S-Class was among the most desirable during our journey. Even though there were some true driving roads the luxury of the S-Class is hard to beat! So while others were sweating to steer the fleet of Benzes up the Stelvio pass one lucky guy was in the back of the S63 AMG watching a movie with the hot stone massage on.
Time to pack up and leave Brescia behind us, today we planned two surprises for the team but before we get to that we first took some time to wash the cars on the outskirts of Brescia. The snow and dirt on the Stelvio left a layer of dirt on the cars that even the most experienced photoshop professional would struggle to mask in the photos later.
With all the cars shining again we head to Lake Garda for a few photos and some sightseeing. The town of Sirmione is located on a peninsula that stretches into Lake Garda for several kilometers. In 2007 we already visited this town as part of the legendary Top Run. On this Saturday Sirmione is overrun by tourist and after a quick stop we continue to the next stop at San Bonifacio.
Located along the Italian A4 highway San Bonifacio is also the location of two surprises planned for the GTspirit Team.
Driving the G500 as lead car into San Bonifacio with our photographer Willem de Zeeuw next to me in the passenger seat I will never forget the look on his face as I pull in behind a Pagani Huayra. Our friends at Pagani were kind enough to join us this afternoon for a few photos and passenger rides in the Huayra! We gather near a great mansion in San Bonifacio for some photos and it doesn’t take long until a crowd builds around the Pagani and the five German Benzes.
The reason we met with Pagani in San Bonifacio had everything to do with another surprise: I Tigli! Dubbed as one of the best pizza restaurants in Italy, and possible the world, this was our place for lunch on the third day of our journey. The pizzas I Tigli serves can best be described as what you would imagine a Michelin star pizza to be. The dough is made following a special recipe that includes yoghurt and is left to ferment overnight. The result is a very light and crispy base finished with some incredible and exotic toppings. If you are ever near Verona make sure to check I Tigli out as we can highly recommend it!
After the delicious lunch we return to the car park near the restaurant where the crowds around the car seem to have tripled. The village waves us off as we drive towards the hills near Soave. Escorting the Pagani through small Italian villages is an incredible sight and the responds of the locals makes it even more memorable than the drive alone. As we follow the road into the hills the scenery turns from nice countryside to unbelievably beautiful with panoramic views over the low lands and even the city of Verona in the distance.
We stop in the middle of the small road and enjoy the sight until a local police car stops by. But even the police guys show their appreciation for the AMG powered Pagani and its Mercedes-Benz company. With temperatures reaching 35 degrees+ our photographers sweat as they climb and run to find the best angle for their shots.
The area around Soave is a popular area for wine production and we can see vineyards as far as the eye can see. We continue further North and higher into the hills, the Pagani leads the way with its typical sound, a combination of the 6 liter V8 and whooshhh from the turbo chargers. When the road straightens there is no way we can keep up with the masterpiece from San Cesario sul Panaro. After a beautiful journey through the Italian country side we stop at the town square in Ronca for a group shot. There is a strong link between Mercedes-AMG and Pagani Automobili, for over a decade Daimler has supplied Pagani with the engines that are a vital part of the Pagani Zonda and Huayra.
A few hours later our rendezvous with the Pagani Huayra ends another beautiful Italian town: Lonigo! From here the Huayra returns to its home near Modena and we continue to the city of Belluno at the foothills of the Dolomites. A Grazie Mille to Mr Pagani and the Pagani Team, Luca in particular, for joining us on the GTspirit Tour 2014 with the Pagani Huayra!
From Lonigo we return to the highway and head in the direction of Venice. Our overnight stop is in Belluno, a city about an hour North of venice at the foothills of the Dolomites that will serve as backdrop for the fourth day of our tour. We arrive at Belluno in the early evening and have dinner in town.
The next day is among the longest parts of our journey, driving from Belluno in Italy to Kitzbuhel in Austria. With the lack of time on the second day of our journey still fresh in our memory we change the route and skip a few mountains on the first part of todays journey. As we set off from Belluno the weather is beautiful once again, temperatures climb quickly to a very pleasant 25 degrees.
The first waypoint is set in Cortina d’Ampezzo, a ski resort famous for hosting the 1956 Winter Olympics and its feature in the James Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. It is located in the heart of the Dolomites and surrounding by mountains on all sides.
Cortina d’Ampezzo is the ideal place to discover a few mountain passes and the first one we head up to is the Valzarego pass that leads up to 2,105 meters. Near the top this pass connects with another pass: the Valparola pass. You might remember both passes from our journey with the Audi RS5 Convertible during the Audi Land of Quattro Tour last year.
Both the Valzarego and Valparola pass offer panoramic views of the surrounding areas including Badia on the west side and Cortina on the east side. Limited time prevents us from heading further into the Dolomites and we return to Cortina d’Ampezzo for yet another pass. This time we head east up the pass that connects Cortina with Misurina. Misurina is a small village built around the beautiful Lake Misurina.
With little time to spare we grab a sandwich and leave the lake and the many tourist behind us. It takes less than an hour before we cross the Austrian border and approach the last major pass on our journey.
We saved the best for last, the final pass on our journey is the Grossglockner pass. Named after Europe’s second highest mountain this pass is a must for everybody! Like the Stelvio the Grossglockner formed a divide this winter between the Northern- and the Southern Alps, where the Northern Alps had hardly any snow, the Southern Alps received so much snow that in some areas there was more than 8 meters. The closer we get to the top of the pass the higher the snow walls on the side of the road become, luckily the Grossglockner road is not at risk of avalanches like the Stelvio so we feel more comfortable driving up with the five Mercedes-Benzes.
The highest point of the pass that you can reach by car is the Edelweissspitze at 2,504 meters above sea level and its the second highest point of our journey after the Stelvio pass. At this altitude the temperature has dropped quite a few degrees and its chilly wearing just a polo shirt. The Grossglockner High Alpine Road is normally open from the beginning of May to the end of October. And although the Stelvio pass is higher, the Grossglockner is definitely our favorite of the two.
The last part of our journey on day 4 of the GTspirit Tour 2014 includes the decent from the Grossglockner towards Zell am See. From here it is only a short drive to our hotel in Kitzbuhel. We not only saved the best mountain pass for last but also the best hotel as we check in to the Grand Tirolia resort just outside Kitzbuhel. Grand Tirolia is without a doubt the town’s most exclusive hotel and includes a huge spa, a golf course and luxurious rooms that combine modern chic with traditional Austrian style.
We have a quick swim before dinner and head up to Rosi’s Sonnbergstuben, a typical Austrian restaurant that belongs to the most famous restaurants in Kitzbuhel. We are in luck as on the evening we are there they have a big BBQ outside with a range of meat specialities. This being the last night of the tour already we recap on the roads, the cars and the many stories we have to tell already.
The next day the last journey back to Stuttgart awaits us, once again with sunshine and temperatures that reach tropical values in Southern Germany. Today we have only one short stop planned in Munich to meet two of our team members, Simon and Philipp, that sadly couldn’t make it on the trip this year.
Leaving Austria behind us we return once again to the German autobahn and finish the trip the same way it started on Thursday. The cars all held up well and we didn’t experience any technical issues despite the high temperatures and tough conditions in the mountains. Debating our favorite car of the trip, nearly all of us voted for the Mercedes-Benz CLS 500 4matic. It was praised by the team for its comfort, performance and usability on a daily basis thanks to the 4matic. Its 4.6 liter V8 produces 408hp and 600Nm, enough to even beat the S63 AMG as most desirable car.
From a passenger point of view the S63 AMG was the most comfortable and certainly the most luxurious and therefor the most desirable vehicle to ride shotgun in according to our team. The G500 excels especially in style and sound, this was the head turner in our group. Its V8 produces the most incredible sound, especially in the many tunnels we passed it was a pleasure having this car with us. The only downside was the fuel economy, which in the naturally aspirated G500 is even worse than in the turbocharged G63 AMG. The black CLS 500 sedan was described as the most stylish of the bunch but in the mountains 4matic is a must.
We return the cars to the Daimler Headquarters in Stuttgart amidst a local heatwave recording temperatures close to 40 degrees. With strong regrets we hand back the keys of ‘our’ Benzes to Daimler and get back in our black car that has been cooking on the parking lot for five days. Despite this unfortunate hot end of the journey the smiles and fond memories of the GTspirit Tour 2014 remain.
Special thanks to Mercedes-Benz for supporting the GTspirit Tour 2014! Also special thanks to Pagani Automobili, Elite Garage, the Unimog Museum, Martin, Simon and Philipp for making guest appearances during the tour!
On behalf of the entire GTspirit Team and Andrew, Lawrence, Zaid, Norbert, Matthias, Christiaan, Jasper, Jesper, Thom and Willem in particular thanks for reading!