The Mille Miglia, or thousand miles, was an endurance race that was organized 24 times between 1927 and 1957. Participants raced with their Gran Turismo cars over the open roads of northern Italy from Brescia to Rome and back on an 8-shaped route. Due to frequent fatal crashes the race was banned in 1957, but since 1982 it was revived as a touring trip for old-timers. We went to Brescia and followed this legendary route trough the stunning landscapes of northern Italy.
In 1926, two Italians had the idea to hold a motorsport event in and around their hometown of Brescia. They decided to organize an endurance race of about 1500km (1000 Roman miles) trough Italy. To show participants where to go, they designed the now famous red arrow with white letters. The first edition of the Mille Miglia was held on March 26 in 1927 with 77 cars participating.
Since then, the race became a yearly event (with a break during the Second World War) attracting lots racing legends and public. However, with the cars becoming faster and more powerful, open road racing became very dangerous. After a Ferrari crashed into the public in 1957, killing 12 people, the race was banned.
In 1982 the race was revived as a 4-day road rally for cars built between 1927 and 1957, the golden age of the Mille Miglia and Gran Turismo racing. We will follow the original 8-shaped route from Brescia to Rome and back.
Brescia – Verona
We start our trip in the old city center of Brescia. Located at the foot of the Alps, this beautiful city has a very rich history. Several influences of the Roman era, the middle ages and the renaissance can be seen in the many historic buildings throughout the city. We set off at the Via Trieste, right next to the Duomo Vecchio. This old cathedral was built in the 11th century and is known for its circular shape.
We follow Via Trieste eastwards until it joins the Viale delle Mille Miglia, who brings us out of Brescia to Rezzato. The origin of this town name is thought to be the medieval “Regadium”, which meant “royal court”, a term used to designate the area surrounding the city of Brescia. Rezzato is well known for its marble. Stone cutting was the predominant business in Rezzato from the 15th to the early 20th century. On our route we can see Villa Fenaroli. This spectacular setting was built in the16th century and serves now as a luxury hotel. We continue our way on the S114 and SS11 to Desenzano del Garda.
Desenzano del Garda is located on the South shore of Lake Garda, the largest lake of Italy. With its beautiful view of the Alps and its three large beaches, Desenzano is very popular with tourists. In the summertime its main squares are crowded all night long.
We keep following the SS11 to Sirmione. This small commune is located on a peninsula, splitting southern Lake Garda in two. The main historical landmark of Sirmione is the Grotto of Catullus, the best conserved Roman private edifice discovered in northern Italy. Other sights include the 13th century caste that served as a port fortification and the frescoes of the church of San Pietro in Mavino.
We leave the peninsula and head south to Solferino using small countryside roads. On our way we’ll see the 74m high tower of San Martino della Battaglia, a monument erected to honour Victor Emmanuel II, the first king of united Italy. Many fields pass by our window as we drive trough the typical Lombardian landscape.
Solferino itself is an oasis of rest comparing to Lake Garda. This little place is known as the site of the Battle of Solferino. In 1859, a French-Italian army fought here against the Austrians. Horrified by the suffering of wounded soldiers left on the battlefield to die, the Swiss Jean-Henri Dunant started a process that led to the Geneva Conventions and the establishment of the Red Cross.
As we drive back north towards the SS11,we pass trough Pozzolengo. This village located in the hills around Lake Garda has some great scenery. Enjoy a glass of wine on one of the terraces with view on the castle.
We rejoin the SS11 (the old route from Venice to Milan) near Porto Vecchio. We’ll keep following this road trough the papaver fields to Verona. The inner city of Verona is listed as an UNESCO World Heritage site. This isn’t surprising because only Rome itself has more Roman buildings than Verona. Due to its favorable position near the Brenner Pass, the Romans used the city as a base for conquering northern Europe.
Things to see in Verona are the Roman amphitheatre, which is one of the best preserved ancient structures of its kind, the medieval Castel San Pietro, the Basilica di San Zeno and the fortified Castelvecchio Bridge.
Verona – Bologna
The next stage of this trip will take us straight trough the Italian countryside. We’ll encounter lots of little hamlets and villages spread across the endless fields. During this stage there are no real attractions to see. It’s just you, your car and the fabulous Italian landscapes.
We leave Verona by taking the SS12 to the south. After 30 miles, near Ostiglia, we leave the province of Veneto, entering Lombardy again. There we’ll cross the river Po using the old metal bridge to Revere. 8 miles later we’re leaving Lombardy for the second time and drive into Emilia-Romagna. This region is known for its Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. This hard granular cheese is informally known as the “king of cheese” and is often used grated in pasta dishes or soups.
We continue on the SS12 a drive trough Mirandola. 5 miles further we leave the main road at the roundabout, and take the SS5 to Camposanto. There we have to take some narrow country roads to Cento. The name Cento is a reference to the centuriation: the reclamation, deforestation and subdivision of the Po Valley into farmland by the Romans in the second century BC.
Its main sight is the defensive fortress, which dates back to the late 14th century. It was rebuilt and altered over the centuries in the style of more recent military architecture and to withstand repeated assaults by enemy troops. Over the centuries the Fortress lost its original function and came to serve mainly as a prison for political prisoners and bandits. Today it is mainly used to host cultural and gastronomic events.
As there is no main road from Cento to Bologna, we have to take again little roads trough the fields to reach our destination. Bologna’s 350 acres historic centre is Europe’s second largest, containing an immense wealth of important Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque artistic monuments.
Bologna developed along the Via Emilia as a Roman colony; the Via Emilia still runs straight through the city under various changing names. Due to its historical heritage, the car-free central streets of Bologna follow the grid pattern of the original Roman settlement.
Several medieval defensive towers are still visible in the city center. They are the remains of the over two hundred towers that were constructed to keep the city protected throughout the centuries. Two of them, called The Two Towers, are the symbol of the city. They are located at the intersection of the roads that lead to the five gates of the old ring wall. The taller one (97m high) is called the Asinelli while the smaller but more leaning tower is called the Garisenda (48m). The Garisenda Tower was initially 60 m high, but had to be lowered in the 14th century due to a yielding of the ground which left it slanting and dangerous.
The cityscape is further enriched by arcades for which the city is famous. In total, there are some 38 kilometers of arcades in the city’s historical center, which make it possible to walk for long distances sheltered from rain, snow, or sun. The Portico of San Luca, one of the longest in the world (3.5 km, 666 arcades) connects the one of the twelve old city gates with the San Luca Sanctuary, located outside the city proper.