x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

When ordinary wheels won't do

From where I stand Andrea Levy, the president and founder of Red Travel Italia, a travel agency that allows people to experience Ferraris in the natural beauty of the Italian countryside.

Andrea Levy caters to Ferrari enthusiasts from more than 40 countries.
Andrea Levy caters to Ferrari enthusiasts from more than 40 countries.

Andrea Levy, the president and founder of Red Travel Italia I was born in Turin and I first sat in a Ferrari as a child in my father's arms. I loved it then. My father was a lifelong Ferrari owner and very proud of his car. But my wife doesn't really like sports cars, so in order to get her to come in the car with me I had to devise trips I knew she would like, telling her "we're going to a castle, a lake, a restaurant." Then in 2003 I had the idea of setting up a travel agency that would allow people to experience Ferraris in the best possible way: driving in the natural beauty of the Italian countryside, and Red Travel was born.

I spent a whole year planning routes, discovering hidden parts of the country and getting to know every inch of the roads. You can get from Rome to Florence stopping at just two traffic lights along the 300km road if you know how. The routes we plan depend very much on the client. If they want an artistic city, we'll take them to Florence, if they want shopping, we'll go to Milan. Along the way we'll stay in castles, historic villages, special hotels or with friends. Many tour operators just hire out their cars but we go with the clients - usually a tour director and an assistant.

We do all the navigating and when we arrive in a location our assistant parks the car while the guest relaxes. We take all the stress out of driving - for example, it's very difficult to find a petrol station open in Italy on a Sunday, but we know the owners and can ask them to open for a couple of hours if we need to. Even toilet stops should be fantastic. Wherever we stop, we ensure there's a restaurant or a castle or a hotel nearby.

Clients are often surprised by how easy Ferraris are to drive. At first they are a bit afraid of the car, respectful. But after half an hour or so they really get into it. The best part of my job is going on the tours. In the first two years I went on all of them because I wanted to understand what clients really wanted. Now I can't go so often. A Ferrari moving in beautiful surroundings is a wonderful thing to see.

Our best customer is a French gentleman who is 80 years old. He comes every year and brings his wife, who's the same age. They are the youngest couple I have ever met - they have so much energy. He loves to drive the cars himself. The first trip they took was in 2004 and every year we take them somewhere different - Modena, Lake Como, Garda - because he always wants to discover another corner of Italy and drive a different model of Ferrari.

Before starting Red Travel I ran my own marketing agency, so I think I'm good at understanding clients and knowing what they will enjoy. Before each trip we research their personal interests, culture, what they like doing and how fast they like to go. Then we take all the ingredients and put them all together to make a completely personalised trip. One of my most memorable clients was an American man in his 50s. He was quite a tough type, he didn't show any emotion. But he loved Tuscan wine and was really knowledgeable about it. We took him to Montalcino where they make the famous Brunello di Montalcino that is exported all over the world. It happened to be one of his favourites - we didn't know that before. We went on a tour of the vineyards and then Franco Biondi Santi, who is known as the Gentleman of Brunello and is one of the grand old men of Italian wine, came to welcome us and invited us into his house. When we left, the American was so overwhelmed, he started crying. He couldn't believe that he'd actually met the creator of this famous wine. That's what we like to achieve for our clients: something that is not for sale.

People now come to drive our Ferraris from 43 different countries. Many are from China and Taiwan and we're looking for a travel agent in the Middle East to promote our work there. We have to be careful with people that are used to driving on the other side of the road because they need more time to adjust. We have a few female clients - it's definitely not just for men. At their top speed, Ferraris can go more than 300kph. We try to keep to the speed limit - we don't want to take risks and fortunately we've never had a serious crash. Usually it's not so much the speed but the glamour of driving a Ferrari that brings people here. If people really want to correre, or race, we can organise track visits for groups of clients. Some clients do get speeding tickets, though - for us it's part of the job.

If you have just one day to drive in Italy, I'd recommend going to Tuscany. It has an incredible landscape with lots of lush green valleys. I usually go on holiday here in Italy - there are always new places to discover. In the winter I go abroad somewhere sunny, though. I can't stand the cold.