An epic high-altitude road trip through the UNESCO World Heritage Dolomites with the Lamborghini Huracan LP580-2
Just like contemporary Lamborghini models, the region of Alto Adige is a well groomed blend of Italian beauty and German order. A jolly good reason, among many others, to jump in the rear wheel drive 580bhp Huracan LP580-2 and take off for a two day glorious test drive on the legendary Sella Ronda loop; a 55 kilometre stretch of divine alpine roads in the heart of UNESCO World Heritage Dolomites connecting the four mountain passes – ’passi’ in Italian – of Gardena, Campolongo, Pordoi and Sella.
This high-altitude grand tour of northern Italy starts in the flat Padana plain as the red Huracan awaits in the little city of Sant’Agata; home of Lamborghini headquarters. First step; explore the ‘aggressively prone’ dynamic capabilities of the supercar at the Autodromo di Modena; a precious thirty minute shakedown in which to explore the Lambo’s limits before hitting the open road. Once on the race track, sitting low in carbon fibre bucket seats, surrounded by aeronautical details with “corsa” mode on and all electronic aides off, I vigorously step on the throttle and the back of my neck is glued to the headrest.
Meanwhile, the thunderous naturally aspirated 5.2 liters V10 engine is howling with joy. 0 to 60 is dealt in 3.4 seconds and the top speed recorded in the relatively short straight-away is 265km/h. Given the necessary space, one could comfortably exceed the 320 mark. At high revs, from 5000rpm upwards, the sound is simply phenomenal and the same goes for mechanical grip in corners; as the nose hits the apex, the rear stays planted and follows suit. However, if provoked, the tail will start sliding out and the only way to neutralize or hold the drift is to be lightning quick with gas and steering input. Hence, despite the exquisite balance, progressive steering and predictable reactions, in real world fast driving I strongly recommend keeping the stability program on at all times. A ‘white linen shirt drenched in sweat’ later, I conclude that the Autodromo session made me understand how extreme the rear–wheel-drive Huracan is and how focused one needs to be when approaching her sky high limits.
Second step is selecting the city of Bolzano in the very practical and user friendly navigation system.
Pink Alps here I come!
The 250 kilometers highway drive – where not a single soul obstructed the red bull’s path, so to check out the car from every available angle – is an ideal scenario to test comfort and day-to-day usability. The interior is original with a distinctive style and very well put together in terms of general layout, ergonomics and materials. The cockpit and dashboard – with keys, switches and hexagonal patterns inspired by jet fighters – comes with electronic A/C, on board computer, navigation system and connectivity for all sorts of external devices through sockets and a small yet functional and clear digital screen. My only objection to the package are the optional racing carbon fiber bucket seats that are fixed (they only move back and forth) and way too unforgiving on the bones.
Once on the move, just like all uber-performance cars, the Huracan is stiff and thirsty but not as much as one might think. If the surface is smooth the ride – believe it or not – is way more serene than that of many hot hatchbacks or speedy city cars and while travelling at 130 km/h in seventh gear and “Strada” mode, the recorded consumption was around 7.5km/l. At highway speeds it’s also easy to appreciate the excellent aerodynamics and that sense of ‘special occasion’ intrinsic to all Lamborghini models. An experience that applies to the driver, passenger and everyone else outside the cabin. Not surprisingly, each time I look through the windows I see thumbs up, hands that go ‘ciao’ and other signs of appreciation. There are plenty of tourists on the A22 and from the looks on their faces, most of them probably thought that in her red dress, on top of challenging the Ferrari on the chromatic battlefield, the Huracan is a moving sculpture shaped by wind, technology and Italian sensitivity towards proportions and aesthetics.
Emilia Romagna and Veneto are now southwards as I’m entering Trentino-Alto Adige. This is a peculiar special status region where – due to post war settlements and previous borders – residents speak first German then Italian and all information is written in both languages. Very often, despite being still 80km from Austria, employees in public offices or people in general will consider Italian their second language.
Unfortunately, or luckily, depending on the point of view – the San Valentino check-point puts a halt to noise and acceleration as here is where the naturally protected area of Alpe di Siusi begins. In other words it is now time to move quietly and respectfully, accompanied by the silhouette of the iconic Sciliar Mountain – you might have seen it on the Loacker wafers packaging – rising parallel to the line of tarmac connecting Castelrotto to Compatsch. All around the views of the Alps are nothing short of majestic. For this reason, one would think that entering the vastest alpine plateau in Europe, where people come to hike, cycle, play, run and relax among multicolored flowers, driving a 580bhp aluminum and carbon fiber rocket is a bit like walking into the National Library with the Rolling Stones blasting from a Circoloco speaker.
And the same goes for checking-in at the exquisite Adler Mountain Lodge; a luxuriously sophisticated retreat in the middle of the Alpe di Siusi with unobstructed views of Sasso Lungo and Sasso Piatto renowned for exceptional spa treatments, a visually spectacular infinity pool with salt water and classy ethnic inspired interiors carved from local woods. But aesthetics aside and as mentioned at the beginning of this story, contemporary Lamborghinis – and we probably need to thank Audi for that – are now at ease in multiple situations thanks to precise, thoughtful and rational additions that all help improve day-to-day usability. This is very good news as for example, in second gear at 20 km/h, I can quietly cross the only road in Alpe di Siusi and discreetly park in the Adler garage without disturbing the scenery or fauna in any way, shape or form. Apart, ‘ca va sans dire’, from the occasional screams of stupor from kids and adults yelling “wow look at that car, it’s a Lamborghini. It’s so cool”. Yes it is. It is uber cool and one could spend days contemplating her beauty in silent awe. One could of course do exactly the same with Alpe di Siusi and Adler Spa Resort; the latter also being an ideal place to ease all the tensions from city stress, day-to-day pressures or even fast driving sessions. My lower back in fact, feels like a piece of gruyère cheese and to scrub off the tiredness Adler offers an incredibly soothing hay-sauna as well as numerous massages with alpine herbs and remedies.
I go for the hay-sauna heat therapy and since in 24 hours time it will be all about taking by storm the Sellaronda, my activity for this day is a 20km walk through hills, pastures, flowers and secluded paths coasting cliffs, rivers and mountains. If you ever have the chance to hike in Alpe di Siusi – a truly magical place inhabited by witches, gnomes, fairies and dotted with ancient “baite” built with local pines and ‘abeti’ – remember that the sound of bells indicates the presence of cows and when you see them make sure to look for the closest hut for a glass of alpine scented fresh milk; an almost extinct treat.
I return to Adler Mountain Lodge at dusk, have a wonderful six course dinner, admire figures and geometries carved in wood and fall asleep like a brick in my room facing the Sasso Lungo complex. I wake up at sunrise and the soul gets nourished by the slanted angled light on the Alp’s rolling hills and fields creating mesmerizing shadows and shapes.
Time to pick up the Huracan and head towards the Sellaronda. To reach the first mountain pass I have to drive down to Ortisei – probably the most characteristic village in Val Gardena where the local language is ‘ladin’, then pass through Santa Cristina, beside the Sasslong (in winter this is the men’s down-hill skiing world cup slope) and Selva. Here’s where the climb towards Passo Gardena – the first of the four mountain passes that compose the Sellaronda – commences. The Huracan allows for such a quick ascent that the water bottle in the passenger seats crumples with pressure. As the road zig-zags between woods, cities of primordial stones and vertical cliffs, I select “Corsa” mode and at 6500rpm, the 540nm deliver the same kind of explosiveness one would expect from dynamite. Gear shifts from the 7 speed dual-clutch ZDF transmission are instantaneous and now knowing reaction times better and better, I start adoring the feedback from the steering wheel which requires a fair amount of angle in corners fully connecting the driver with the road.
In the meantime I’ve met up with a local young photographer who can’t take his eyes of the Huracan. The same goes for others along the way independent of age, gender and financial possibilities. We stop for pictures at 2121 meters above sea level with the iconic Sella Mountain on one side and the spiky “Gruppo del Cir” on the other. The view from here is something that stays in the heart for eternity; green fields becoming woods from which gigantic monoliths of pastel and cameo pink rocks rise tickling the bluest of skies. The Dolomites uniqueness, and one of the reasons why they have become a UNESCO destination, is their color that no other mountain range in the Alpine, Apennine, Andean or Himalayan range has.
So here I am staring at unforgettable beauty and thinking that the dream of a lifetime – tackling the Sellaronda with a supercar – is about to become reality. I can barely control my excitement as I stare towards the smooth spaghetti like asphalt strip plunging from Passo Gardena to Corvara between mountains and grasslands. Unfortunately the month of July is high season and if in winter the Sellaronda is a superb loop connecting endless ski slopes, in the summer people go for the road experience. Hence, aside from tourist and public buses and suicidal cyclists invading the opposite lane on hairpins, there are hundreds of forgettable cars driven by elderly people. Even though overtaking requires no space at all, you need to have a free lane where to put your wheels in but the traffic flow from both directions frustrates all sporty driving attempts. From Corvara to Campolongo the road becomes too tight too push and the first hint of satisfaction arrives when I take on a dozen of motorbike riders – who highly appreciate the challenge– on the hairpins towards ‘Passo Pordoi’; witness to some of the most vicious battles of World War I and II.
On the mountain pass, gazing at the Marmolada – the Dolomites’ highest glacier – I wait for the caravans and useless tourist buses to disappear from sight but they just keep coming and coming. Perhaps, I reflect, it would have been better to come at night. We stop for more pictures waiting for lunchtime that should alleviate part of the congestion from the road. I’m nonetheless itching to make a move and finally, with the sun descending from its zenith, the last stretch connecting Pordoi with Passo Sella is relatively void of tourist drivers. This part of the road is particularly fantastic and once all the buses and invasive caravans have been overtaken, the Huracan is free to do what it does best; assault each and every inch of tarmac. Corners here come in a huge variety; some are elbow like, others open and fast, some just show up after the edge of the mountain and others emerge from the peak of steep uphills with oh so beautiful views of the Alps once on top. The Lamborghini is planted yet exuberant; with no traffic, just the occasional Desmosedici, Yamaha R1 and a handful of Porsche 911, the Sellaronda is better than any race track I’ve ever driven on.
The only downside of the experience is allowing yourself some margin for error as a mistake here could cost you your life. With adrenaline pumping and the smell of rubber from the tyres intruding on the alpine scents, I drive from Passo Sella to yet another mountain pass called Costalunga and towards the crystal turquoise Carezza Lake. I’m running out of time and looking for every excuse to enjoy these mesmerizing roads and the Huracan as much as possible. The Dolomites – born millions of years ago where once there was an ocean – are one of the great marvels of the world and are now fading in the horizon. I keep descending faster than I would want to – this is what happens when confidence with the Huracan grows – and minute after minute the temperature rises and the road becomes more flat and more straight.
The highway looms ahead and the idea of returning the car in fifteen hours, nightfall included, procures a fit. The plan is to head towards Verona, sleep at the elegantly aristocratic Due Torri Hotel and walk through the city’s historical centre. So that’s’ what I do with landmark stops at Romeo and Juliet’s balcony, Piazza delle Erbe, the ancient roman theatre ruins, the Lungo Adige, Piazza Dante, Ponte di Pietra, Castelvecchio and the Duomo. Despite the undeniable beauty, all I can think of – with a mix of joy, fulfillment and nostalgia – are my two days in the Alps. Back in the room, surrounded by period furniture, Carrara marble and antiquities, I hear familiar notes in the air and open the window. It’s none other than Sir David Gilmour playing at the famous Arena di Verona. A sequence of masterpieces from the Pink Floyd era remind me – just like the Lamborghini Huracan – the power of excellence in moving and enriching our hearts and souls.