For some, La Dolce Vita has connotations of the swinging 50s in Italy, sports cars, girls and boys in dark shades and smoky bars. For me, this certainly couldn’t have been more fitting for my trip to Italy on a sunny spring weekend around the Umbrian hills, with one of my favorite girlfriends and the new Jaguar F-TYPE – open top sports cars, truffles, glorious earthy wines and a massage in the monasterial ruins of one of the oldest villages in Italy. Jaguar had certainly laid out the ideal backdrop for a weekend away and a test drive of their latest baby, the F-TYPE.
My earliest recollections of the iconic Jaguar E-TYPE in action were as a child when the swinging London smart set was seen draped across the bonnets of these fabulous cars. When Frank Sinatra saw his first E-TYPE, he is reputed to have said, “I want that car and I want it now….”
It has, however, taken Jaguar over 50 years to come up with the next sports car in the alphabet. What would it be like to drive?
Flying past the Vatican from Rome to Perugia in a helicopter was surely a taste of ‘the sweet life’ to come. We were then transported into medieval history and the ancient town of Assisi in Umbria – hometown of Saint Francis, and full of Roman ruins and medieval sites. Our hotel, the 5-star Relais Nun, came about from the restoration of the ancient monastery of Saint Catherine in 1275, and we loved its quiet simplicity and sophistication.
After lunch, sitting in the hotel’s ancient chapel, with the smell of white roses, lavender and rosemary around us, it was hard to be transported to the current day and concentrate on Jaguar’s team briefing for the road trip ahead.
It didn’t take long to get ‘in the mood,’ however. There is no doubt that the sight of 15 or so spanking new two-seater sports cars gets one’s pulse racing, and my girlfriend and I were keen to get going. With a push of a button, this sleek and sexy sports car sounded as though it was going to give us an adventure drive to remember. We were given the mid-range V6-engined S version; 0-60mph in 4.9 seconds with all the engine and exhaust noise needed to show off a shiny new toy!
We had a route combination of twisting roads, B roads, hill climbs and motorways – all planned so we could put the F-TYPE through its paces, which is exactly what we did! For two London lady townies, this sports car certainly didn’t disappoint. Light, powerful and sophisticated, with plenty of brute force when you needed it, we particularly liked the Dynamic Drive system, which gave us more exhaust noise at the press of a button. Oh girls, please!
At the first drop of rain, we were able to put the roof up whilst we were slowly cruising at 30mph. With sleek interiors and carefully designed cockpit, race-car-esque paddle shifters and dynamic suspension system that apparently could be changed, we had little to complain about. We noted that there was very little room to store anything or seats to recline back into, but then one has to remember that that Jaguar has built this as pure driver’s car. The handling was very light indeed, due to the car’s low centre of gravity – despite so much power under your foot.
Umbria is called the green heart of Italy and you can see why. Driving around this region we were struck with the beauty of the landscape – full of vineyards, olive fields and wild flowers – and we visited Lungarotti Vineyard, where they produce the famous Rubesco red wine.
We were lucky to meet one of the only female owners, Teresa Lungarotti, whose passion for this business was clearly evident when she showed us their wine and olive museum. I was particularly struck with their innovation and sustainable approach towards their wine-making and the deep respect for the environment. Working alongside the Biomass Research Institute of the University of Perugia, they are the first company to produce wines using the energy of the vine itself.
Dedication to one kind of craftsmanship, whatever it may be, is clearly admirable and on our final stop for the day, Torre di Moravola, I was able to spend time talking to Jaguar’s Vehicle Line Director, Ian Hoban, who has been with the Jaguar F-TYPE since its inception four years ago, and his passion for this car is only too evident. We were all guests of Christopher Chong and Seonaid Mackenzie, and their dedication to the restoration of this 12th century watchtower is really remarkable. Moravola has seven rooms, each one designed to be towers in miniature, with bedrooms above to optimize the views. The pre-dinner drinks around the fire-pit overlooking the sunset were magical. Definitely a place to consider for a summer escape of peace and tranquility.
The following morning, I took an early morning dip back in history. Set amongst the monastery ruins, the Relais Nun Hotel has created a wellness centre where a 1st century temple to the cult of water once stood. Heaven!
Back in our Jaguar F-TYPEs, we set off deep into the heart of the Italian countryside, to Italy’s truffle-grounds, to meet Olga Urbani, a really extraordinary lady whose company Urbani Truffles supplies over 70% of the world’s truffles. Today, she runs this large company with a passion, dedication and love which she has inherited from her grandfather and father, who pioneered not only the art of truffle-growing in Italy, but were also the first to organize the fine processing of these highly valuable fungi. Olga gave us a tour of the factory and we were able to see the black truffles in all their glory.
At the truffle academy, we were able to savour a delicious array of truffle canapés prepared by her in-house chefs and learn more about the Urbani Group, who produce a wide range of truffle products. They process an annual average of over 100 tons of truffle. For more information, see our film. Seeing it all first-hand, it is very clear why the Urbani Truffle group has the reputation as the absolute world leader in truffles. A ‘must see’ on anyone’s itinerary.
Our finale to this wonderful trip and adventure, before retiring to The First Hotel, was a special British evening – a fitting tribute to Jaguar cars and British design – which was held at the British Ambassador’s remarkable residence. Before dinner, we were able to celebrate on the private lawns in the company of Jaguar’s four iconic sports cars. Seeing the C, D, E and new F-TYPEs in all their glory made me realise that British design and engineering have kept the old flag flying for many years. The new Jaguar F-TYPE is certainly testament to that.
Prices for the Jaguar F-TYPE start from £58,520.