European Grand Tour – An owner’s story

Member Michael Emmett has just returned from a spectacular seventeen day tour of Europe, in his Barchetta, with his wife Tracy.  What an adventure! Some exciting moments which tested his car perhaps beyond the limits.  The Barchetta survived several extreme challenges. Thank you Michael for sharing your experience with us.

I hope you enjoy his story.

Martin Garrad

Our Barchetta Holiday, Italy and Croatia 2019

Michael and Tracy Emmett

This is a short account of our recent European Touring Holiday in our Barchetta. This type of holiday is not for everyone as it consists of a lot of driving and miles in 17 days. It also takes an awful lot of planning and is not to be taken lightly. This is our seventh year of touring type holidays, the last two in the Barchetta and the previous five with our Fiat Coupe. If you’ve never tried this type of holiday before we can highly recommend it for the experiences it brings.

We started planning this holiday approximately 10 months before we actually left. The planning is the most important part. The first thing we did was obviously decide where we wanted to go. After going to Rome last year and the Italian lakes on a previous year we decided on the Abruzzo Region of Italy. Probably one of the least visited regions, certainly by the British, in Italy. We also liked the look of Croatia, so we decided ‘why not go to both?’

Now the destinations had been decided the first thing to do was to book the accommodation. We booked a large house in the mountains in Italy and a small apartment 5 meters from the sea just outside Zadar in Croatia, both through Air BNB. Then it’s on to Google maps to work out routes, mileages and overnight stays for the journeys there and back. We booked a  hotel in Strasbourg and another one in Melegnano which is just south of Milan for the outward journey. On the return journey we booked a hotel in Admont in Austria and another one in Heigenbrucken in Germany. The next thing was to book the overnight ferry from Italy to Croatia. The last thing to book was the Dover to Dunkirk Ferry. We always use the ferry because it gives you a break from the driving and we have breakfast on there and wander around the duty free shop. Obviously the tunnel is quicker and it’s down to personal preference which you would choose. The last thing to think about is which countrys you will be driving through and the various emissions regulations that have increased over the last few years. France has the Crit Air regulations in certain cities, Belgium and Germany also have low emissions zones. You can register your car before you go quite simply via the internet and it’s not as complicated as it seems. You may never go into one of these zones but if you did or had to for any reason this will avoid fines. The last piece of advice is to buy a good  Sat Nav with live data if possible. This has saved us hours by avoiding traffic jams, diversions and road closures, strangely enough nearly always in the UK.

So on to the holiday. The first day was our longest driving day. We were booked on the 4:00am ferry from Dover, so we left our home in Leicestershire at around midnight for the 180 mile drive to Dover. It was mostly trouble free. There were a few issues on the M25 and part of the M20 was closed, but the Sat Nav sorted that out. Then on to the ferry over to France. The first thing to do when arriving in France was to put the roof down and hit the clear French motorways for a 400 mile drive to Strasbourg. With an 80 mile an hour speed limit and very little traffic the miles soon go by. We had a stop for lunch and a break at an aire and it seemed in no time we were in Strasbourg. Time to rest then to get ready for day 2.

Day 2 was a 370 mile drive to Melegnano from France into Germay, Switzerland and then Italy. Once again we had clear motorways without any traffic problems. Driving through the Swiss Alps is an experience in itself. Stunning scenery, clear roads and lots of tunnels. The Gotthard Tunnel being the most impressive, 12 miles long and with the roof down the noise is deafening but thrilling at the same time. Soon we were in Italy at the hotel after a couple of short breaks to refuel and grab a bite to eat. Time to rest again and get ready for day 3.

Day 3 is the last leg to reach the house we had rented in the Abruzzo mountains. Another 370 miles to cover today through Italy. This was where we encountered our only traffic jam around Bologna whilst driving through Europe. The Sat Nav again came to the rescue sending us on a diversion and we avoided most of it. After the short diversion we were back on the motorway and eating up the miles. South of Ancona the motorway is mostly coastal and the scenery again was stunning, it was a pleasure to drive on that stretch of motorway. Once again the time and miles had flown by and we had arrived at the house.

The Abruzzo region is beautiful, this is where they had the terrible earthquakes in 2017. Some of the older buildings are supported with wood and steel frames to keep them up after the earthquake. The house was high up in the mountains with twisting mountain roads to reach it. The Barchetta was brilliant through the tight corners and was great fun to drive. We were there for 6 days taking in the beauty of this region. The villages surrounded by mountains are amazing. We went to a fortified village called Civitella Del Tronto. We can recommend visiting here if you ever visit this area. The main mountain is Gran Sasso and there is fantastic road to drive up to nearly the summit before the road runs out. We strapped the Action Cam to the luggage rack and recorded the drive up. The coastline of the region is also beautiful, miles and miles of sandy beaches and the clear blue Adriatic sea. We had a couple of drives along the coast and also went driving and exploring in the mountains. With every drive we got to love this place more and more and we would definitely visit this area again. At some point early on that week we hit a pothole, the roads in Italy are not in great condition, which knocked the tracking out on the Barchetta and the handling was a bit off for the rest of the holiday, but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment. The last day in Italy was a 100 mile drive to Ancona to catch the ferry to Split in Croatia. The ferry was delayed a couple of hours but made the time up on the crossing.

The morning of day 9 saw us arrive in Split and from here we had a 100 miles or so drive to Bibinje to the apartment near Zadar. The motorways in Croatia are fantastic, quite new, very smooth with very few vehicles. The 5 full days we had here were amazing, thrilling and at times very scary. Croatia is absolutely beautiful, the Adriatic coastline is surrounded by islands and inland there is one National Park after another. It is impossible to describe how stunning this place is.

However, this is where the first of our scares began. On the Monday evening after a very hot day we were sat on the balcony of our apartment overlooking a very calm sea. The Barchetta was parked below us just a few feet from the sea. Out of nowhere and without warning a huge storm hit us like we had never witnessed before. Winds that can only be described as gale force and torrential rain seemed to come from nowhere. The previously very calm sea suddenly turned very nasty with huge waves breaking over the Barchetta’s bonnet and windscreen. Only an 18 inch wall protected the car from being hit by large pebbles that were in the waves. All we could do was watch from the apartment windows as the Barchetta got battered by the sea. We really did think we were going to lose the car and we were powerless to do anything about it. Thirty minutes later and everything was calm again, it was dark now and the damage assessment would have to wait until the morning. To our surprise the Barchetta had escaped any damage, the rain had washed the salt water away and she started first time. We were very relieved and good to go. After speaking to a local the next evening he told us he had never seen anything like that storm in his life time and he had lived there more than 50 years. He also told us there were approximately 150 trees blown down in the area in 20 minutes due to the storm. I think we had had a lucky escape.

The next day we took a 90 mile drive into the mountains on some fantastic roads and through tunnels to a place called Plitvice Lakes. This place is a must see when visiting Croatia. It is picture postcard beautiful, with a series of water falls, too many to count, running into different lakes of crystal clear blue water. It was cooler there also, around 22 degrees, compared to the temperatures we’d had previously which had been in the 40’s most days. The drive back to the apartment was the most terrifying thing we experienced on the holiday. We had stopped for petrol in a mountain village when it clouded over. We decided not to put the roof up because it didn’t look too bad. Shortly after leaving the petrol station the rain started and it was heavy. We pulled over to put the roof up, the car was already quite wet inside within less than a minute. A little further down the narrow mountain road the heavens opened. It was the heaviest rain we had ever seen. Visibility had dropped to virtually nothing. All the lights were switched on including front and rear fog lamps. We were travelling down the steep mountain road at approximately 20 โ€“ 30 mph. There was at least an inch of water on the road running like a river. The road was narrow and we couldn’t stop because of the fear of anyone being behind us they wouldn’t see us, drive into the back of us and push us over the edge. We had no choice but to carry on with the descent. Slow and steady was the name of game when suddenly the Barchetta started aquaplaning. I don’t think the tracking issue helped with this situation. I had no control over the car. This was the most terrifying moment. I have never been so scared driving any vehicle in any conditions as this. I did actually say to Tracy ‘ this could be it for us, we could slide off the road, over the edge and it could be the end for us.’ Obviously we didn’t and we are here to tell the tale. That’s one thing I never want to experience again.

The rest of the time in Croatia was less eventful. We had a day in Zadar exploring the old town, the Roman forum and the harbour. We took a 10 hour boat trip exploring the many islands off Zadar, once again something we would recommend doing when here. The time here had flown by but sadly it was now time to start the journey home.

Day 14. We left Croatia for a 370 mile drive to Admont in Austria. Clear motorways again through Croatia, Slovenia and then into Austria. The drive again was good, the miles were done quickly and by mid afternoon we were at our hotel. A very nice location with views of the mountains and a pretty village where we went for a meal. It was time to rest again to get ready for the next day.

The next day was another 370 mile drive from Austria to Heigenbrucken in Germany. No traffic problems again ( I think that’s just a UK thing ) but the weather was terrible. 150 miles in heavy rain with poor visibility. This was where we had our first problem with the car. We had a headlamp bulb fail. We stopped at the services when the rain had stopped, changed the bulb and soon we were on our way again. We arrived in Heigenbrucken mid afternoon, not much to report from here although the village was pleasant enough. Once again we had a meal and rested for the final long day.

The last day was the drive back to Dunkirk to catch the ferry back to the UK. Approximately 400 miles to cover to get to Dunkirk so we set off reasonably early. We had stopped for fuel and breakfast at the motorway services in Germany when I noticed another problem with the Barchetta. The lens from the centre stop lamp in the boot lid had dropped off somewhere between the hotel and the services. It was definitely there when we left the hotel, if it wasn’t I would have noticed it when I loaded the suitcase onto the luggage rack before we left. Oh well, there was nothing we could do about it so we carried on with the journey. We travelled through Germany, The Netherlands ( very briefly ), Belgium and finally into France to the ferry port.

On arriving back in the UK we were immediately met with road closures and diversions. The first diversion was actually while leaving Dover ferry port and then we knew we were back on UK soil. Half of the Dartford crossing was closed as usual at night but apart from that it was pretty much uneventful. We arrived home at about one in the morning feeling tired but thinking what a fantastic holiday we’d had.

To sum up then. This holiday had taken us on a fantastic journey. We had covered around 3500 miles in 17 days and visited 9 countries in our Barchetta. The car performed brilliantly, and apart from a couple of scary moments we had enjoyed every minute. We have seen and experienced things that you just don’t if you jump on an aeroplane to get to a destination. I’m not saying this type of holiday is for everyone, but  if  you’re feeling adventurous and enjoy driving give it a try. I believe cars are to be driven and enjoyed without worrying about putting miles on the clock. The Barchetta is the perfect car for European touring with the roof on or off. It performs brilliantly on the motorways and is a joy to drive along twisty mountain roads. Plans have already begun for next years holiday and we are looking at driving to the Amalfi Coast  and then on to somewhere else that we’ve not decided on yet. The Barchetta brought smiles to our faces on this holiday and we had lots of thumbs up, good comments and waves from people whilst driving. The Barchetta is a special car so just go travelling and enjoy yours.

Michael and Tracy Emmett

July 2019