Pulling out on to a main Surrey road in the Ferrari 488 Spider could not be easier as everyone spots the car from a mile away and lets you out immediately. It’s like having a special pass that says you never have to wait at a giveway. The Ferrari is pretty in matt opaque white and people just enjoy seeing it curve around the corner and swiftly accelerate away.
The route to Folkestone is a breeze, for once there is little traffic and the Ferrari is smooth and luxurious. The sun is shining and the hard top is sealed away in the back, next to the gargling engine. We are in no hurry as we have hours before our Eurotunnel train departs, but it’s fun to play with the acceleration as the turbo jumps in and out with such glorious efficiency.
We’ve reserved a High Car space on the Shuttle as the Ferrari is pretty wide and you get slightly more space, which avoids scratching the wheels. The journey across in the tunnel is pretty smooth and manages to instil that excitement you used to get travelling as a child. A convoy of cars snakes into the vast stainless carriage, lit by green fluorescent lamps and tiny portholes that flicker rhythmically as the train speeds under the sea.
Large arrows point the way out of Calais to the motorway and soon we are speeding along pristine flat concrete roads through open fields of wheat, barley, corn and poppies. Occasional clumps of statuesque white towers or wind towers punctuate the landscape, with the occasional awe inspiring suspension bridge raising you high over large dark green rivers, affording a brief but impressive birds eye view of Nord-Pas de Calais and Picardy.
You can really open up the Ferrari 488 on these smooth French roads, changing lanes with speed and power is a joy in the relentless sunshine. All too soon the graffiti, grim concrete and twisted steel structures announce that we have arrived at the outskirts of Paris. Probably the most beautiful city in the world, it has maintained the quality of the architecture at its centre at the cost of some pretty appalling construction encircling the city like an invading army. The banlieue of Paris as you arrive by road resembles nothing less than the set from a Zombie movie.
The tunnels and spaghetti junctions make for exciting driving as cars pour in from every angle determined to take their right of way, or make one. The Ferrari was honed on the streets of Italy and the track at Maranello, so designed exactly for this kind of action. Let’s go for the cliche, it was born for this. The agility and acceleration in the 488, plus the visibility with the roof down gives an unprecedented edge, you can leap at every gap and take it before anyone else can get their Twingo to react. Just in case you’ve never driven in Paris you should know that indicating is seen as a sign of weakness and will be exploited to gain any small advantage or inch. Be advised that French drivers are brilliant, they have to be, every trip around town is a mini rally with all cars stealing your lane, or jumping in front of you where no space existed.
The Ferrari gives me not just an edge, but royal privilege, if I want that lane or space it’s mine, nothing can compete, though many make a decent effort considering the difference in horsepower and technology. Might makes right and the Ferrari is mighty.
Finally the apocalyptic scenery gives way to L’Arche de La Defense, followed by the Arc de Triomphe where we precipitate into the greatest roundabout in the world, the Charles de Gaulle Etoile where twelve large straight avenues converge. I can’t help thinking that General Charles de Gaulle would be very happy to know that such a rambunctious, troublesome and chaotic junction had been named after him. Amazingly the priority is to those entering this enormous rally stadium, so cars rush in blindly, then stamp on the brakes to allow other daring lunatics to speed straight before them. There are no lane markings, this would merely anger the locals and cause more trouble. They did try, but they were retrieving cobble stones from the surroundings for weeks.
I make a mental list a la Blues Brothers - dark glasses that record video - check, pretentious driving gloves - nope forgot those, roof down - check, Ferrari in Race mode - check.
The Ferrari leaps forward taking its priority as the vast wall of cars breaks like a wave suspended in time, about to crash down but allowing us to pass, something like the parting of the red sea, each engine revving and inching forward to intimidate you from crossing. Accelerator, brake, accelerator, brake, twist the wheel, jump from lane to lane, intimidate the incoming cars and a clean path straight through to the Champs Elysees. The Ferrari 488 Spider takes the Etoile with ease.
Then it’s relax and cruise down the Champs Elysees in style, there are plenty of traffic lights to keep the pace gentle. Mopeds careen off the curbs and cars, bouncing their way down as the road widens and narrows with pointless bollards placed there by cruel and bitter road planners. Plus there is the Maranello effect so people will spot the car as they cross and stop in the middle of the road, right in front of you. People appreciate great engineering, styling and design, but it does slow you down.
From there it’s over the bridge, past the Eiffel Tower and across to the Palais Royal, and then onto the Boulevard St Germain which runs along the left bank of the Seine. A taxi driver leans out of his car and shouts “rev the engine” in French and then challenges us to a drag race, much to the consternation of his elderly passengers in the back. We wisely ignore that though I do spin the wheels a little as we move off, just to show willing. Then we are in home territory (I lived here for ten years), we pass the Rue Du Bac, where many of my family reside and once home to the finest art deco restaurant in Paris, Les Ministeres, that lasted for a hundred years, but sadly closed last year. Famous place names whizz by, Saint Germain Des Pres, Mabillion, Les Deux Magots and Odeon. We turn up the Rue Monsieur Le Prince heading to Montmartre then circle back down to our first luxury hotel, The Victoria Palace Hotel, in Rue Blaise-Desgoffe.
The next day was spent visiting old haunts from the area, the best art bookshop (Taschen) , the best patisserie (Paul), the best cafe (La Palette), spinning the Ferrari 488 around the Eiffel Tower and a gorgeous picnic overlooking the Seine on L’Isle St Louis. That afternoon we checked into our next luxury hotel, the exquisite but simply named L’Hotel, one of the most famous in Paris and for good reason, it is utterly exceptional. See our review of L’Hotel in the Rue Des Beaux Arts, part of A Curious Group of Hotels.