Stendhal syndrome, but for Bugattis

By Colin McFadden
This post is part of a series called Europe 2021
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I started the morning with a gorgeous breakfast at the hotel. In addition to the normal assortment of amazing pastries, they had (very) fresh honey, cheese, meats and all sorts of other delicious items. Then I went for a quick walk around Mulhouse, just to get some steps in before a long day in the car. I stumbled upon the town market, and picked up a baguette and some fancy cheese to have a picnic later on.

Sometimes it’s good not to do a lot of research for a trip. I went to Mulhouse because I google’d “car museums in Europe” and looked at what I could conceivably reach in a days drive from Geneva. I knew that Cité de l’Automobile mostly focused on prewar French cars. That’s about it. I had not grasped the full scale or importance of the place.

Housed in an old textile mill (see the linked article for the sordid history), it houses the largest displayed collection of cars in the world. This includes a hundred Bugattis, a lineup of Ferrari and Maserati LeMans cars, and much more. It was pretty overwhelming. The value of the collection is easily hundreds of millions – there are multiple cars which on their own would fetch upwards of $30 million were they to come to market.

Part of the fun of the museum is seeing the rapid evolution of the motorcar, beginning at the end of the 19th century. Cars in all shapes and sizes, from numerous manufacturers, mostly scattered throughout France. Striking to imagine that some of these cars (the DeDions in particular) did things like the Peking-Paris rally (1907) and the New York to Paris (the long way) rally in 1908. They also have a small track where you can pay to drive cars, ranging from classic Citroens and Mustangs up through modern Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Sadly, my timeline for the day didn’t allow for that.

Instead of driving a Lamborghini around a track, I drove my Lancia to the EuroAirport (which serves France, Switzerland and Germany) for a COVID test (required to re-enter the USA). Then I picked a spot about halfway between Mulhouse and Milan and looked in AllTrails for a nice hike, and set out.

The drive across northern Switzerland was gorgeous and easy. I turned off for my hike and followed the directions up. And up. And up. The road curved through farmland, then up into more rugged valleys. After about 15km, the tarmac ran out and it switched to gravel. then the gravel switched to snow. I kept going, mostly for the laughs of lugging my tiny car up there – the few hikers I passed gave some curious looks.

Eventually I got the end of the road, with a cluster of buildings and plenty of people. But no cars, because (of course) everyone had come up on the gondola. I stopped for some photos, but I wasn’t equipped for below freezing, snowy hiking, so I made my way back down the mountain to a slightly warmer spot for a picnic. I ended up poking around a bit, but the sun dipped behind the mountain and a hike was suddenly a lot less appealing. Instead I got back on the road for Milan. The rest of the drive was smooth and easy, with some monumentally long tunnels (20km). I’m staying in Gallarate, a small town near the Milan airport. Tomorrow, I’ll return the car and head home. A fun little four day excursion, and plenty to come back for.

One thought on “Stendhal syndrome, but for Bugattis

  • Susan November 6, 2021 at 9:23 pm Reply

    Amazing photos of the mountains—glad you had such a good driving day. Dad and I fondly remember European hotel breakfasts.

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