Conquer the Hills of Italy in a Maserati Levante

The twisting roads surrounding the country’s largest lake are no match for the new SUV.

By Hannah Elliott | September 12, 2016
Photographs by Luca Locatelli

In one short stretch of road along the western edge of Lake Garda, where the provinces of Verona, Brescia, and Trentino meet, you can get the full Italian driving experience. One minute you’re climbing rocky hills at cruising speed; the next, plunging down toward water the color of the sky—all while dodging erratic local drivers.

The Maserati Levante ($72,000; maserati.com), the 102-year-old automaker’s first SUV, is just the car to navigate that craziness. With a 350-horsepower V6 Ferrari engine, it can push to 62 mph in 5.2 seconds.

Photographer: Luca Locatelli for Bloomberg Pursuits

You’ll be happier winding your way through this section of Lombardy at a slower pace. The cypress trees, blush-colored tile rooftops, and blooming oleander are a nice complement to the Zegna silk interiors of the Levante, and both offer a luxurious welcome.

Start your drive at the Torre San Marco in Gardone Riviera. The century-old tower is part of the castle that Benito Mussolini famously commandeered for trysts with his mistress Claretta Petacci. Stay on the property at the Relais & Châteaux Villa Fiordaliso (rooms from $279; villafiordaliso.it) and grab a bite at the romantic, Michelin-starred restaurant, or simply relax on the patio with a limonata.

Across the street, the Vittoriale degli Italiani estate (vittoriale.it)—it translates as “shrine of Italian victories”—is open to the public year-round. This is the monument that Italian writer and World War I soldier Gabriele d’Annunzio built to himself: It includes a boathouse, amphitheater, and mausoleum full of war memorabilia.

Explore for an hour and then drive 40 minutes north along the two-lane road, past elm and lemon trees, toward the resort town of Limone sul Garda. This is where the Levante’s additional amenities come in handy. Opt for the panorama sunroof ($1,500), natural leather interior ($3,000), front-seat ventilation ($900), and Bowers & Wilkins surround-sound stereo ($5,200).

Photographer: Luca Locatelli for Bloomberg Pursuits

Residents here are known for their extreme longevity; scientists believe they possess a special protein that fights against high cholesterol and heart disease. So stick to the local olive oils, bread, and vegetables you’ll find at many of the town’s waterside restaurants, such as the bougainvillea-covered Ristorante Gemma (ristorantegemma.it).

After Limone, turn south, taking a right to tackle the hills around the inland towns of Voltino and Vesio on routes SP115 and SP38. Stop for a view of the entire lake from the highest plateau. Have an espresso at one of the small cafes that dot the road—you’ll want caffeinated focus to handle the steep cliffs.

Finally, head back to the water, hurtling past cows as you drive the 35 miles to Franciacorta near Brescia. It’s home to the 1701 Wine Cellar (Piazza Marconi, 6-25046 Cazzago San Martino), which makes only 3,000 bottles a year, mostly chardonnay and pinot noir. Caretakers here harvest grapes along an 11th century walled garden and hillside vineyard and produce their wine in the classic way, using hand-turning and biodynamic agriculture. The proprietress will welcome you at the gate; grab a bottle or two of her 1701 Franciacorta rosé and head back to Gardone Riviera to end your day at the Hotel Bella Riva (from $363 for a standard room; bellarivagardone.com), where you can toast the twilight, reflected off the lake.