The brief was, well, brief. “Get behind the wheel of a supercar and traverse the coast of California, USA.” It doesn’t get much better than an invitation from Italian marque Ferrari to drive its California T supercar – with its turbocharged V8 engine – along the rugged coastline of the Monterey Peninsula (above). The trip starts from Big Sur and ends in beach city Carmel-by-the-Sea where actor Clint Eastwood was once mayor.
I meet my new Italian ‘friend’ at one of Big Sur’s best-kept secrets, Ventana Inn and Spa (above). Hidden from prying eyes by lush forest, where giant Redwoods stand guard, the sight of a deer outside my room draws me into the joys of the jungle. Overlooking the coast of Big Sur, the inn has 59 spacious rooms in the mountains and is spread over acres of earthy, unspoilt greenery.
But first things first. To the uninitiated I’d say, you don’t just plonk yourself into a Ferrari. You settle into it, appreciating every inch of its all-leather interior.
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Coming from Singapore and having driven on the left side of the road for all my adult life, I’m a tad apprehensive about having to drive on the ‘wrong’ side. I needn’t have worried.
Coastal country charm
We have barely left Ventana Drive and, already, I am fearless. Indeed, as I make that sharp right that takes us onto Big Sur’s coastal strip, I am cruising and – I imagine – throwing a heap of dust at any driver who chooses to get too close.
Before setting off, I tried to picture the drive along Highway 1, which I knew from research takes in the Point Sur Lighthouse that sits on a massive volcanic rock hill, and the much-photographed Bixby Bridge (above). A favourite location for shooting car commercials, the bridge looks as young today as it did when it was built in 1932. As for Point Sur Lighthouse, it cuts a lonely figure out there in the distance. The only complete turn-of-the-century lighthouse in California that’s open to the public, it evokes images of pirate ships warned by its flickering light of potential shipwreck on the rocks. Then there are the giant Redwoods, rolling hills and vast Pacific Ocean.
Alas, when the day arrives, the drive in the supercar dictates that my eyes remain locked on the road ahead. You see, Highway 1 is a two-lane carriageway with more curves than an hourglass.
For someone who has never driven a supercar, I find it amazing how in tune the vehicle is with the tarmac. Its grip holds, as does its stability at the bends. Even German race driver Sebastian Vettel would be proud of how little me put this prancing stallion through those bends – not just on the coastal strip, but also further inland along the winding Carmel Valley Road, where friendly drivers in smaller cars pay homage by pulling over and letting me pass through.
With the top down, the wind in my face and The Beach Boys hit California Girls dancing in my head, I lap up every inch of this picture-postcard countryside. The Beach Boys sing of sunshine and palm trees in the sand. Let me say, there’s more. I pass farmyards and vineyards, horse ranches and barns. I see contented cows in the pasture, willow-lined tracks and hiking trails, which seem to lead from the foothills to the heavens.
On to Carmel. After six hours on the road – minus a lunch break at the spectacular Tehama Golf Club – it all seems to be coming to an end too soon. The other drivers in our four-car convoy must feel it too because, suddenly, we aren’t so aggressive on the pedal. So, we cruise into Carmel and, given its quaintness, it’s the right thing to do.
End of the road
Finally with the four Ferraris parked neatly outside the charming L’Auberge Carmel, I ease out of my cockpit, stretch, acknowledge the oohs and ahhs from a crowd of gawkers and proceed to take in the town on foot.
You hear so much about the place, but it’s only when you’re crunching its cobblestones that you appreciate its uniqueness, which the locals have so fiercely sought to preserve.
Dog-friendly Carmel is my kind of town. Most, if not all of its public places are open to visitors and their canines. There’s Dawn’s Dream Tasting Room. It’s a restaurant with open spaces so furry creatures can stretch out while their owners sip local wine. Most establishments also have a separate menu for dogs.
Yes, the town is charming and quirky. Take for instance, Tuck Box, an English tea room that opened in 1927. It is quintessential Carmel with its storybook cottage front. Further down the road, I spy Tickle Pink Inn, which gives an unforgettable view of the ocean.
That night, at the hotel’s restaurant Aubergine, we dine beneath the courtyard in an underground wine cellar that holds 2,500 bottles of fine wine. The food, prepared by the hotel’s chef Justin Cogley, is exquisite. There is dry-aged beef ribeye, gloriously seared and served in a copper pan. On the side, we have scallop enveloped in thick, rich cream sauce infused with lemon peel.
That night, sleep doesn’t come easy. So I stretch out on a hammock strung up in the balcony of my room. There, under the stars, I’m sure I can still hear the rhythmic hum of the engine. I miss the car.
– TEXT BY BRIAN MILLER
PHOTOS: INMAGINE, SUPPLIED
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.