Ferrari Cavalcade: Inside the exclusive invite-only road rally in the French Riviera

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As far as invites go, the Ferrari Cavalcade wasn’t a bad one. Sometimes in this line of work you find yourself spending upwards of 12 hours a day huddled over a laptop, drinking endless cups of coffee in order to keep an editor off your back. Other times, you’re driving a Ferrari Roma through the French Riviera, eating steak tartare in Monte Carlo’s Cafe de Paris, and the only thing on your back is the sun. Life as a magazine journalist can be cruel. But it can also be exceptionally kind.

And so to the Ferrari Cavalcade, a road rally that the Italian marque puts on each year for its top international clientele. Customers fly in from all over the world to take part. This year, life (and the Ferrari PR team) being extra kind, I was offered a press spot.

I met people from Mexico City, New York, Dubai and Iran. Despite living very different lives, they all had one thing in common: a ridiculous collection of Ferraris. Regular, run-of-the-mill models don’t count for much here. Indeed, to get invited to the Cavalcade you need to have bought something special. A 488 Pista, perhaps, or a Monza SP1, or maybe a LaFerrari. Needless to say, I didn’t exactly fit in. I have one car and it’s green, Japanese and very much not a Ferrari.

Ferrari Cavalcade

So, then, what exactly is the Cavalcade? Essentially, it is an organised road rally that takes place in a certain part of Italy or France, costing, roughly, around £30,000 per head. This year, the theme was ‘the Riviera’, with the drive beginning in Sanremo, northwest Italy, before travelling down the coast to Monaco, taking in the mountain passes near Saint Tropez, continuing into the Piedmont countryside and the Col de Turini pass, and finishing in Monte Carlo. In all, 144 vehicles (plus my ‘media’ car) took part, and while it’s not technically a race, things do get pretty spirited. Think part Gumball Rally, part Forza Horizon and you wouldn’t be far off.

Of course, the event is also an opportunity to show off your latest wheels, with cars being shipped in from everywhere you could imagine (the Montana-plated black Ferrari Enzo might have won in that respect). The Ferrari logistics team arrange things so that owners can park their cars between sprints at postcard locations, including the Place du Casino in Monaco and Genoa’s Forte di Santa Tecla.

Ferrari Cavalcade

People stare, crowds form and owners look on with pride from the comfort of a lunch spot booked by Ferrari. Owners can meet up with old friends from previous Cavalcade events, trade news on recent car acquisitions and, I’m reliably informed, strike important business deals. In that sense, the Cavalcade is a sort of roving, ultra-exclusive members’ club that you have to earn (buy) your way into. Once in, you’re part of the Ferrari ‘family’ and will likely get invited to future events. More importantly, you’ll also be invited to buy new, limited-edition models.

The lunches are semi-serious affairs and only act as short, if fairly luxurious, pit stops between driving legs. The dinners are where things get dialled to max. I went to two. The first was at the Monte Carlo Beach hotel, a restored 1930s beach club that looks like it’s straight out of a Slim Aarons photograph. A red-carpet entrance opened to an Olympic-sized pool, which was lined with white-clothed tables and overlooked by a jazz band playing Rat Pack hits. The second night’s ’70s-themed dinner was about as over the top as you can imagine. It transformed Monte Carlo’s Salle des Etoiles concert hall into a Studio 54-like disco, complete with illuminated dance floor, giant disco ball, mirrored walls and sequinned dancers.

Ferrari Cavalcade

This year, there was more to celebrate than usual. As well as Scuderia Ferrari returning to the top spot in Formula 1, the brand is marking its 75th anniversary. And from 275 GTBs to Daytonas, and from F40s to F50s, there was plenty on show to demonstrate just how far Ferrari has pushed the needle, both in terms of automotive design and performance, in that three-quarters of a century.

Ferrari has always been about racing. Indeed, Enzo Ferrari never wanted to build road cars. He only began producing them to help fund his race team, Scuderia Ferrari. “I have, in fact, no interest outside of racing cars,” he once said in his typically abrupt manner. Maybe that’s why Ferrari road cars have always had a special kind of soul. Something intangible, a feeling you don’t always get when you’re behind the wheel of a supercar from one of its rivals.

You certainly feel as though you are part of something special when in convoy during the Cavalcade. It’s one thing appreciating the beauty of a Ferrari when at a standstill, but seeing one on the move is something else entirely. Driving in tandem with five or six is just ridiculous. I was driving a humble Roma. It’s Ferrari’s ‘entry-level’ model and one that’s proved hugely successful. It’s not hard to see why, with its classic lines and sculptural bodywork referencing vintage models from the ’60s and contrasting sharply with the aggressive, aerodynamic styling of other new Ferraris.

Ferrari Cavalcade

There’s also the way the Roma drives. The car is ferociously fast, thanks to it its 611 bhp, twin-turbo V8 engine. And yet it’s also accessible. Anyone can jump in, tease the right pedal and feel like they know what they’re doing, such is the car’s predictable handling, smooth power delivery and clever computer systems.

This is especially important when flanked by a LaFerrari and an Enzo, two multi-million pound Ferrari hypercars that defined their respective generations. The Enzo with its early 2000s tech derived from the Scuderia’s Schumacher-winning F1 cars, and the LaFerrari with its futuristic looks and ground-breaking hybrid powertrain generating nearly 1,000 bhp. Seeing the two side-by-side, weaving through twisting mountain passes, you get a sense of just how quickly cars develop. Only 10 years apart, they are hugely different machines.

Ferrari Cavalcade

But best of all is the fact that they’re both being driven. They could very well be sitting in a heated garage somewhere, increasing in value. Instead, they’re being pushed hard along Route Napoleon. And that might just be the point of the Cavalcade. It clearly encourages owners to forget appreciation and mileage and get out and drive their cars the way they were designed to be driven. And in a world where electrification is slowly killing off the combustion engine, the Cavalcade will only become an increasingly special event. You just need to nab yourself an invite.

Read more: What are the world’s most iconic classic cars – and why are they so collectible?

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