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Elegance In Motion: Ultimate Guide To Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este

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For many, Lake Como conjures up images of Clooney relaxing in a villa, surrounded by the picturesque beauty of northern Italy and an equally-picturesque pack of A-list friends.

But for a select group of automobile aristocracy, Lake Como means something entirely different. For them it means vintage vehicles, high-tech concept cars and sleek motorcycles. It means impeccable scenery, well-dressed crowds and acres of red paint. It means paradiso. It means Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este.

Each year, in the shade of 600-year-old sycamore trees, the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este plays host to the world’s most exclusive and tradition-steeped auto event. Car snobbery abounds, and rightfully so. The Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este’s wheeled works of art are unparalleled in their beauty and rarity. If petrolhead heaven exists, this is it.

A True Historic Gem Of Motoring

The “Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este” – the international Concours d’Élégance for motor cars – was held for the first time on the 1st of September 1929. With impeccable scenery forming the backdrop and over 80 entries of the highest quality, the event was immediately on par with its prestigious counterparts in Paris and Monte Carlo.

“You’re surrounded by the finest vehicles ever to grace tarmac, all in immaculate condition, looking like they just left the factory that morning.”

The Concours miraculously survived the Wall Street Crash two months later and continued for a decade, but by September 1940 Italy had been at war for three months and the event was unsustainable. Civilian car production was suspended and the Concours along with it.

Following the war, the automotive sector was yearning to get back on its feet. The Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este was held on 27-28 September 1947 with a new generation of designers and attendees. For two brief years the event returned to its former glory.

The Concorso d’Eleganza was last staged in its original form in 1949. Two years went by and the show intended for September of 1951 was never held. The event was postponed indefinitely. For almost 40 years, Lake Como’s utopian weekend of motor worship was forgotten.

The Vintage Road To The Future  

The road to revival wasn’t smooth. Italian historian and author Tito Anselmi joined forces with the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este to restore to the Concorso d’Eleganza in 1986, but only one event was held before a further nine years elapsed. The next Concorso was held in 1995, followed by 1996 and 1997. The Concorso was abandoned yet again in 1998 and was nearly consigned to the annals of history.

The saviour in this story is the BMW Group, who became the sole patron of the event at the end of the 1990s. Sixteen years later the partnership between the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este and the BMW Group is still intact, and the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is once again a bucket list item for the automotive elite.

After modest beginnings, today’s Concours is anything but modest. The landscape is breathtaking. The standards of the Grand Hotel Villa d’Este are uncompormising. The selection of vehicles, both old and new, is astounding.

From the strong international presence, to the smooth organisation, to the well-heeled guests, it’s easy to see why the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is the premier concours event in Europe.

What You’ll See

Some would argue it’s all about the cars, but they’re missing an important piece of the puzzle. The cars are the centrepiece, but the Concours would never have earned its legendary reputation if it weren’t for its legend-worthy location.

At the foot of Mount Bisbino sits Cernobbio, a town in Italy’s Lake District so beautiful it could be an artist’s depiction of a town instead of an actual town. Shops, cafes and restaurants line the narrow streets and piazzas, all dressed in the district’s signature muted buttery tones. Ferries come and go in the harbour. Envy-inducing 19th-century villas abound, including the home of the Concorso d’Eleganza.

The Grand Hotel Villa d’Este is one of the world’s leading hotels, nestled in the Italian Alps and perched on the shore overlooking Lake Como’s slate-grey waters. The villa and the park surrounding it began as a summer residence for the Cardinal of Como in the sixteenth century. Since 1873 the magnificent lakeside property has been a luxury hotel considered one of the finest in the world.

The Rule Book

The Concorso d’Eleganza takes place for a weekend in late May. Parts are open only to participants in the event’s three categories: Historic Cars, Concept Cars & Prototypes, and Motorcycles. Those exclusive celebrations take place in the grounds and the rooms of Villa d’Este, while the public “Days of Elegance” event is held in the nearby park of Villa Erba.

The public programme includes exhibitions, presentations and an auction, with participants on hand to chat with guests about their vehicles. The highlight of the weekend comes on Sunday, when all participants in the Historic Cars and Concept Cars & Prototypes categories showcase their vehicles to the public on the grounds of Villa Erba.

At the end of the weekend, class winners are given their awards and an exclusive panel of experts selects the winner of the Best of Show prize. The weekend’s most traditional prize is the Coppa d’Oro Villa d’Este, decided by a public vote at the Villa d’Este. The most recent addition to the awards is a prize for the Concept Car category, elected by public vote at the Villa Erba on Sunday.

What You Need To Know

The public events offer 900 seats that are not numbered and cannot be reserved in advance. Plan accordingly. You may also take up residence on one of the Concours’ distinctive red deck chairs in front of the big screen.

Sandwiches, pizza, focaccia and a selection of beverages are available at concession stands located throughout the event.

Pets are not permitted on the grounds of Villa Erba, nor is parking. Follow the signs to the appropriate parking area and be prepared to shell out €6 for the privilege.

Consider the “Days of Elegance” title and dress accordingly. It is customary for visitors to reflect the spirit of the event in smart casual dress, but take into account its outdoor nature. Wear clothes that are comfortable and convenient for walking. Temperatures are warm during the day but can be cool in the mornings and evenings. Layers are recommended.

Why It Belongs On Your Bucket List

From start to finish, the Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is an extraordinary event. Where else could you see Ralph Lauren’s rare Bugatti Atlantic sharing a lawn with a concept car that looks like it drove straight off the screen of a sci-fi film?

The juxtaposition of old and new, of four wheels and two, makes the Concours a unique opportunity for aficionados.

The automotive crown jewels and their owners are supremely accessible. You’re surrounded by the finest vehicles ever to grace tarmac, all in immaculate condition, looking like they just left the factory that morning. Alongside them are space-age prototypes and concept cars making their world debuts. It’s a staggering combination designed to blow even the most sturdy of minds.

The Concours offers public access to cars most will never have the good fortune to see in a remarkably approachable environment. Yes, it’s over the top and exclusive, but it’s also easygoing. Unlike a regular motor show, you’re never smothered by pressing crowds, restricted by cordened off turntables, or hounded by promotional models.

The Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este is a weekend of Italian escapism at its finest, with glamour, speed and beauty in ample supply.

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