Always eager to create memorable experiences, some of Europe’s best hotels are introducing their guests to some of Europe’s most celebrated motor vehicles.
I first got an inkling of this trend upon exiting the Le Meridien Beach Plaza Hotel in Monte Carlo one morning this past summer. Parked out front was a Citroen DS19 convertible, which, I learned, I could rent from a local company that works with the Beach Plaza and other Cote d’Azur hotels to provide guests with a once-in-a-lifetime thrill.
Yes, thrill. I get emotional whenever I see a Citroen because I owned a 1972 DS21 for seven wonderful years during which the car, although admittedly idiosyncratic and requiring a certain amount of coddling, never failed or stranded me. (I bought it second-hand in 1973 for $2,000 and sold it for $3,000. Even though it was a sound investment, after nearly 50 years I count selling it as one of my dumbest moves).
And I’m not alone in my adulation. The Wall Street Journal’s esteemed automobile writer, Dan Neil, has called the Citroen DS “the most beautiful car of all time.” And Jay Leno calls it “the most innovative car ever designed” and “the most comfortable car ever built” (there’s a great episode of “Jay Leno’s Garage” on YouTube devoted to his 1971 DS).
You've seen this car before: it has starred in countless films and TV shows. Chevy Chase drove one in "National Lampoon's European Vacation," it appeared in "The Pink Panther 2," and most recently in "Call Me by Your Name." And in fact the Citroen I saw in Monte Carlo was the very same car that Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie drive during the opening credits of 2015's "By the Sea," set on the Cote d'Azur in the 1960s. They play a couple on the verge of divorce, ironically. (RentAClassicCar.com; their Citroen DS rents for 429 euros per day including insurance).
For some reason, Le Meridien hotels in Europe hold mid-20th century vehicles in high regard (maybe it's because the hotels' design aesthetic is mid-century modern). At Paris' Le Meridien Etoile, which recently celebrated its 50th birthday, I became acquainted for the first time with 2CV Paris Tours, a company that offers rides in another cultish Citroen automobile, the bug-eyed but adorable CV2, which plays ugly duckling to the DS' swan. Introduced in 1948, nearly 4 million of these two-cylinder cars were sold during a 42-year production run. Prepare to be the center of attention as you cruise past Paris' famous landmarks because paparazzi are going to Instagram you (or at least give you some thumbs up), and with the sunroof rolled back you can stand up and Instagram them. (2CVparistour.com, prices from 70 euros.)
Speaking of the paparazzi, pests that have traditionally driven a Vespa to chase their prey, the concierge at Rome's Visconti Hotel can set you up with My Vespa Tours, a company renting the classic putt-putt made famous in countless Italian films of the 50s and 60s (Rock Hudson squires Gina Lollobrigida on the back of one in 1961's silly rom-com "Come September"); or they'll provide a driver if the idea of navigating Rome's madcap traffic seems too crazy. It's a great way to see a lot of Rome in a short time, snapping photos as you pass the city's historic treasures. (MyVespatours.com, tour prices start at 68 euros.)
You will definitely be the driver, however, if indulging in the "Grand Touring Experience" offered by three classic European hotels. The package includes a five-day rental of a Ferrari 488 GTB (zero to 60 in 3.0 seconds), a Porsche 911 Turbo convertible, or a Maserati GranCabrio MC convertible along with one night at the historic Dolder Grand in Zurich including breakfast, dinner and drinks; two nights at the Chedi Hotel in Andermatt, Switzerland, including a four-course dinner; and a two-night stay at Lake Como's Il Sereno Lago di Como, including dinner with wine pairings. Also included: insurance for that very valuable car you'll be driving ($4,975, thechediandermatt.com).
Four Seasons Hotels also package vintage cars — a 1960 Giulietta Spider, a 1958 Mercedes-Benz 190 SL Cabrio or a 1956 Porsche 356A Speedster — with stays at their properties in Florence and Milan and the legendary Grand Hotel Cap-Ferrat on the Cote d'Azur. Start your grand tour at any of the three hotels, and their concierges will recommend the best stops along the way. (Prices vary, on request, FourSeasons.com).
And speaking of classic cars and the hotels that love them, I’ve just learned that Manhattan’s Baccarat Hotel ferries guests around town, for free, in a pristine cherry red 1972 Citroen DS. Guess where I’m staying next time I visit New York City.