When our forefathers rode and took pride in their grand stallions in the past, who would have thought that centuries down the road, man would be fascinated by a different kind of stallion – a four-wheel machine known as Ferrari that continues to fascinate the world with its superb horsepower and engineering beauty. No doubt, many harbour desires of owning a luxury supercar, but the practical layman traveller will be more than happy to have the freedom and convenience of driving a car. Whether or not you like a leisurely road trip, or prefer to chase your dreams of seeing speed demons in action, Quotient has four holiday ideas for you.
So fasten your seat belts, get set, go!
APRIL-MAY: Dutch flower power
Cool weather and beautiful scenery make spring one of the best times to go sightseeing. What better place, then, to go than the Netherlands, famous for its idyllic countryside with windmills and pretty flowers. If flora and a leisurely drive sound like a good holiday combination to you, take a spin along the Netherlands’ famous Flower Route, also known as the Bloemen Route.
Stretching 40 kilometres from Haarlem in the north to Leiden in the south, the Flower Route’s main highlight attraction is the Keukenhof, the world’s largest flower park. Only open for eight weeks every year, a visit to Keukenhof is hard to come by but rewarding. The over seven million bulbs of tulips, carnations, daffodils, orchids and many more varieties of flowers at the garden is a sight to behold. As you journey down the Flower Route, the flower fields form a vast horizon of colour unlike no other. If you visit in early May, be sure to catch the annual Flower Parade (3rd May this year), where a contingent of cars and floats adorned with flowers will travel for 42km from Noordwijk to Haarlem.
Along the Flower Route are various towns to stop over for sightseeing. At Haarlem, take a canal tour or explore its historic centre and art museums by foot, including the iconic Saint Bavo Church, an impressive Gothic-style place of worship. Also pop by Leiden, a university town with a windmill museum and the oldest botanical garden in the country, and the Hague, home to numerous royal palaces and international organisations including the International Court of Justice. There is also the Louwman Automuseum with more than 200 vintage cars, coaches and motorbikes on display.
JUNE: The need for Italian speed
The Silicon Valley of fast cars, Motor Valley in Emilia-Romagna, Italy, is a region clustered with factories and museums of world-famous Italian carmakers that will delight fans of luxury fast cars. A two-hour drive away from Milan or an hour north of Florence, the Emilia-Romagna region is one of the wealthiest places in Europe, which is no wonder why the likes of Ferrari and Maserati have chosen to set up shop here.
Kick off your exploration of the land of fast cars with a visit to the Lamborghini Museum – Sant’Agata Bolognese in Bologna, the capital of Emilia-Romagna. Displayed across two floors are the jewels and pride of Lamborghini — models such as the Countach, Espada and Diablo from the 60s till the present. Augment your experience by booking in advance for a tour of the factory, where you will witness the step-by-step process of creating this supercar. Also in Bologna is the Ducati Museum featuring various models of Ducati motorcycles arranged on an imaginary racetrack. A visit to the Ducati Museum requires prior booking and comes with an exclusive tour of the factory.
In the outskirts of Bologna in the west is the Righini Collection of antique cars and motorbikes located at the Panzano Castle, the private residence of the collection’s owner Mario Righini. Parked around the medieval castle are rare vintage models of Ferraris, Mercedes Benzes, Rolls Royces and more, making the collection one of the most important car collections in Italy.
A short distance away, near the city of Modena, is Panini Museum, an unassuming museum in a cheese farm housing a prized collection of rare Maserati racing cars and prototypes owned by the Panini Family. A visit to this private museum (prior reservation required) also presents a great opportunity to sample the finest Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese that the region is famous for. Also not to be missed is the Ferrari Museum located nearby at Maranello, where one can see a wide range of Ferrari cars, watch films about the racing giant, and live the racing experience at the Formula One simulator. The museum also offers an exclusive shuttle bus tour (advanced booking required) of the Fiorano test-track and the Ferrari Factory.
To put the pedal on more variety to your trip, make a visit to some of the award-winning vineyards in the region, which is famous for its Sangiovese di Romagna wines. Emilia-Romagna is also famous for its pastas, ham and other produces.
If you visit Italy in early June, consider heading also to the touristic island of Sardinia, where the Rally Italia Sardegna will be held from 6th to 8th June this year. An island with beautiful beaches, historical sites and nature reserves, Sardinia is also where one of the toughest races of the Italian Rally Championship is held. The race makes for an exciting watch as drivers race down narrow and twisty mountain roads with difficult twists and high jumps where the cars go airborne in spectacular fashion.
SEPTEMBER: Island explorer
As countries in the north bask in the hot sun and slowly make their transition into autumn, it is New Zealand’s turn to emerge from the chill and usher in the spring warmth. Beat the summer crowd and take a drive around scenic North Island in spring when the days become longer, newborn kiwis and lambs come out to play and the gardens and roadsides become awash with colour as flowers bloom. Driving is a good and popular way to explore the far-flung corners of the North Island, taking you through numerous cities and towns, and past lakes, mountains, volcanoes and other natural wonders that the island is famous for.
Explore the vast island by driving from Auckland in the north to Wellington in the south, and one will find a slew of activities appealing to a wide range of interests during the trip. Known as the city of sails, Auckland is the country’s largest city where sailing is a popular sport, evident from the numerous yachts docked at its harbours. The city is also populated with museums and shopping malls to satisfy both culture buffs and shopaholics.
Thereafter, head to the town of Whitianga at Mercury Bay, a popular fishing area, and also the site of the famous Cathedral Cove where the movie The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian was filmed at. In spring, don’t miss the chance to enjoy good seafood and live performances at the 10th anniversary of the annual Whitianga Scallop Festival (to be held on 6th September this year).
At the Bay of Plenty, try your luck spotting dolphins at Tauranga. Lord of the Rings fans may consider dropping by the Hobbiton Movie Set for a tour of the rolling hills, Bag End, the Green Dragon Inn and hobbit holes that were featured in the film. Art lovers may like the vibrant art scene at the nearby city of Hamilton populated with numerous art galleries and museums. Move on to Rotorua, famous for its lakes, strong Māori culture and geothermal attractions such as geysers and mud pools. Nearby is the resort town of Taupo, home to some of the world’s best volcanic landscapes and also a popular destination for water sports in its lake and rapids. Fans of fast cars may want to catch the V8SuperTourer race from 5th to 7th September at the Taupo Motorsport Park, New Zealand’s premium racing circuit that has hosted numerous races such as the A1 Grand Prix. Nature lovers can go hiking at Tongariro National Park, the country’s oldest national park, while wine connoisseurs can travel further east to Gisborne for a tour of its vineyards.
Finally, end your trip at the capital, Wellington, known for its vibrant nightlife, shopping and beautiful waterfront. At the end of September, catch the unique World of Wearable Art awards show that draws more than 50,000 visitors to Wellington annually. In this two-hour visual spectacle of song and dance touted as a fusion of Mardi Gras and haute couture, where local and international designers tap on their creative juices to design creative, outlandish outfits incorporating art and fashion.
DECEMBER: Cultural road trip
The vast continent of Asia is a melting pot of cultures with many countries offering diverse landscapes, providing a perfect combination for an exciting cross-border road trip. Fancy a drive down southern China through Yunnan province to the Golden Triangle in Laos and Thailand? As you drive past villages and the beautiful countryside, marvel at the ever-changing scenery and be amazed by just how different these Asian neighbours can be.
Begin your cultural experience at Shangri-La, a Tibetan town in China’s Yunnan province with beautiful scenery as its name suggests. In the novel Lost Horizon, British author James Hilton waxed lyrical about a mystical, earthly paradise that he called Shangri-La in China. As the world continued to debate about the actual location of the fabled Shangri-La, China decided that the town of Zhongdian was the said utopia and hence renamed the town Shangri-La in 2002.
At Shangri-La, experience Tibetan culture without having to step into Tibet at all. Visit the old town, Dukezong, where you will find century-old houses with Tibetan architecture housing restaurants and souvenir shops. Although much of the old town has been razed in a fire recently, travellers will still find many gems in and around Shangri-La. Within the vicinity are many picturesque natural sights such as the limestone steps known as the White Water Terraces, mountains including the sacred Wufeng Mountain, the Tiger Leaping Gorge, and lakes such as Napa Lake where you will see herds of cows and sheep grazing on the surrounding pastures. Also pay a visit to the Songzanlin Monastery, one of the greatest Tibetan Buddhist monasteries dating back to the Qing dynasty.
Continue your journey south to Lijiang and immerse in the culture of the ethnic Naxi people. The picturesque old town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with beautiful bridges, weeping willows, well-preserved ancient buildings, a water wheel, and intersected by numerous waterways and canals through which the Jade River flows through. Southwest of the old town is the Mu Palace where the powerful Mu clan once ruled over the Naxi people. Experience the unique Naxi culture at the Baisha Villlage located 12 kilometres away from the city, where one can find murals and souvenirs unique to the ethnic group.
Yet another kind of cultural experience awaits at Shaxi, where the Bai and Yi ethnic people dress up in their traditional costumes and gather at the Sideng Market every Friday selling fresh produce. Formerly part of an ancient tea trading route, Shaxi also offers splendid natural scenery. Admire the surrounding scenery from Shibao Mountain and visit the ancient rock carvings and Buddhist temples there.
The next destination, Xizhou, is an old town with large courtyard houses constructed in the distinctive architecture of the Bai people. Walk through the old town and you will find shrines, temples and a mosque thanks to the religious diversity of the population here. Buy antiques and embroidery, and also savour the local snacks such as the Xizhou baba, a kind of flatbread filled with minced pork or red bean paste.
Farther south, you will pass Fuxian Lake, Yunnan’s third-largest lake, and the town of Xishuangbanna situated within a region famous for the production of Pu’er Tea, after which you will reach the southern tip of China where a whole new country of Laos awaits beyond the border. Step into a new realm of your cross-country drive and head for the small Laotian riverside towns of Luang Namtha and Huay Sai, where you can soak in traditional herbal saunas, sample some Laotian dishes and visit the ruins of the French colonial-era Fort Carnot. Drive across the north-western tip of Laos to arrive at the Golden Triangle, the meeting point of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand. Cross the border straddling the famous Mekong River into Thailand and one will see attractions along the riverbank that are uniquely Thai, such as a giant golden Buddha on a ship, elephant statues and shrines.
End off your journey at Chiang Rai, a city dotted with numerous temples that makes for a nice conclusion to a long road trip filled with various cultural experiences. Admire a unique historical collection of art, bones and jewellery, including houses built in Balinese and Burmese architecture at the Bandaam Museum. See the unusual and modern face of Buddhism at Wat Rong Khun, a contemporary-style temple with an eerie sculpture of 500 arms reaching out for the sky, and quirky murals of the Matrix and Spiderman.