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Colours of La Dolce Vita 

Azure, sepia, turquoise shorelines… old cities, villages, lakes, ice capped mountains, cathedrals. This pretty much sums up the ambience of my journey to Cannes, France and Sarnico & Milan, Italy.

Last September, I found my way to Europe again, within a window of a month (last being Netherlands). This particular time, it was France and Italy, and it’s in part courtesy from Ferretti Group. I was slated to attend the Cannes Yachting Festival 2017 and Riva Yacht’s birthplace, a shipyard with a 175-year old history that began way back in 1842. The journey started on a Sunday from KLIA, on a lonesome night flight, arriving first at Schiphol 13 hours later, 6am local time. It was in Schiphol that I was to meet up with Mr. Oh Kean Shen of Pen Marine, to journey together to Cannes for the Cannes Yachting Festival 2017. The next flight to Nice departed at about 9am and would take about 2 hours. There was nothing out of the ordinary, except for the descend to Nice because I got to set my eyes on Côte d’Azur. It is beautiful; mesmerising azure waters lining the contrasting sepia coast of France filled the small view of the window of the aircraft. Sail boats, yachts, super yachts & mega yachts can be seen scattered around, floating about serenely on those blue waters. I even spotted the many occasional private jets circling the airspace, all presumably awaiting their landing. This got me real excited to say the least. Nice welcomed us at about 11am, and Mr. Oh and I proceeded to make our way towards Cannes. Upon arrival about 45 minutes later, familiar sights of yachts welcomed us at Cannes and though the show is deemed to be of a smaller scale in terms of yacht sizes, in comparison to the Monaco Yacht Show, it is still a whole lot bigger than the Singapore Yacht Show we are more familiar with. 

More yachts, more masts with flags, and of course the people, mostly clad in white with fedora, panama and sun styled hats, all embracing the atmosphere of Cannes. We’ve all heard of or probably seen through TV the high society, celebrity ambience of Cannes, but to witness Boulevard de la Croisette lined up with luxury brands, filled with drop-top supercars running about… that is indescribable. Surreal in fact. We then made way to our separate hotels to check in, freshen up and out again for lunch – myself at Hotel Barrière Le Grey d’Albion while Mr. Oh at JW Marriott further down Boulevard de la Croisette. We met up for lunch, where the seasoned show goer Mr. Oh recommended Astoux et Brun. It’s a fun and lively fresh seafood brasserie situated right across the marina promenade. Apparently, it has been around since 1953. I’m personally not a fan of seafood due to an allergic reaction if the seafood isn’t fresh (I sometimes face breathing difficulties as my throat closes up when the seafood isn’t fresh or if it’s overly fishy). 

So, I ordered a safe choice – spaghetti with salmon while Mr. Oh ordered a cold seafood platter to share. To start off, we were served miniature snails and a serving of various bread for starters. Then came the huge servings of mains and to my surprise, the seafood was good and really fresh not to mention juicy. I ate the oysters, the lobster, the prawns and even the snails without any fuss though I was reluctant at first, but I thought why not? Of course, I couldn’t finish the meal as it was too big of a portion even when we shared them out. The entire meal for 3 with a bottle of wine, came up to 100 Euros. Dollar to dollar, that’s actually cheap as something like that in Malaysia (if they have) would cost in the region of at least MYR100++ per pax upwards. After lunch, we did some walking around the alleys of Cannes, before going back to the hotel to have a short rest. I had a Ferretti Group dinner to attend in the night. It was quick, as within a few short hours, it was already time for dinner. I met up with the lovely Ms. Beatrice of Ferretti Group Asia at the hotel lobby, and grouped up with the other media representatives from other parts of Asia. Then it was a short walk to dinner, surprisingly to the same place Astoux et Brun.

By this time, I would have guessed that this is the most popular place in Cannes to have great seafood, and it was confirmed by Ms. Beatrice, mentioning that every year during Cannes Yachting Festival, every manufacturer and clients alike congregates at this small cosy place to eat. The night carried on till about 10pm, where all of us from the media industry were merry in getting to know each other, as well as getting to know the people from Ferretti Group more. Inevitably though, the long travels started to wear in and most of us who arrived the same day were starting to feel the fatigue, hence, we adjourned back to our hotels to get much needed rest. 

The Cannes Yachting Festival was just a distance walk away from the hotel, and the morning greeted us with liveliness of Cannes. The agenda for the day was mainly Ferretti Group’s press conference and a tour of their various models. We headed out to the festival right after breakfast. The show was actually big, with many shipyards participating. However, in my case, I was there on a Ferretti Group invite, hence, the itinerary didn’t have time to go off wandering to the other shipyards present. Nevertheless, the atmosphere was lively, exciting and a gem of an experience.
It started out with a press conference, by the CEO of Ferretti Group – Mr. Alberto Galassi who presented results of Ferretti Group, and exciting line ups in the near future. Also present was Mr. Piero Ferrari, a representing stakeholder from the Ferrari family (son of the late Mr. Enzo Ferrari). The 40th Cannes Yachting Festival was also a record for Ferretti Group, where they exhibited the largest fleet of the event, 25 yachts from 8 meters to 37 meters and premiering six new line ups & one restyled yacht.

The yachts premiered were the Ferretti Yachts 920 and 780, Pershing 9X, Riva 100′ Corsaro, Riva 56′ Rivale & Custom Line Navetta 33 while the restyled yacht was the 550 Restyling. Of the premiers, we had the chance to go onboard the impressive Riva 100′ Corsaro and the Pershing 9X. Both as interesting – Riva 100′ Corsaro for the famed Riva build, and Pershing 9X due to the surface drives, which blends both luxury and performance in one craft. There was supposed to be a sea trial scheduled, but due to the strong waves and winds, it was cancelled. There wasn’t much time after the press conference as well, as we had to grab a quick lunch, check out and make our way to Sarnico, Italy by 2:30pm.

Lunch was nevertheless extravagant at La Plage Barrière Le Majestic, a restaurant at the edge of Cannes beachfront overlooking the Golfe de la Napoule (Gulf of Napoule) with sunbathers on the beach and superyachts moored out at sea. With Le Viex Port on the right, sights of helicopters can be seen landing and taking off every few minutes ferrying guest of the prestige festival. Such is the ambiance of Cannes.

Our much-anticipated journey to Sarnico began at 2:30pm from Cannes. We travelled through the hilly coastal roads, with breath-taking views of the hills and sea. Thereafter, it was plains and fields, before we reached Milan, where the views changed to mountainous landscapes. The journey took about 5 hours, in part due to a traffic congestion at one of the mountain passes nearby. We arrived at the quaint town of Suzano at dusk, where we were to take a ferry across the lake to Monte Isola. Here, everything seemed to have warped back in time to a vintage era of simple living. Monte Isola’s main mode of transportation are bicycles and motor bikes or simply, one’s own two feet. It’s a historic fishing village and one can’t help but feel serene and relaxed upon setting foot on Monte Isola. Our hotel, Castello Oldofredi was just a 5-minute walk from the pier, and we had our luggage ferried on an old, pint-sized 3-wheeler pick up, almost the same size of a Perodua Kancil I reckon.

Just by the very sight of its rustic walls, I could tell that Castello Oldofredi is a historical mansion, with those, big old castle-like wooden doors. It sits atop a hill majestically with old olive trees, overlooking the magnificent scenery of Lake Iseo. There wasn’t much to see in the night by the time we reached, except for the glimmer of lights from the town across the lake. It was blissfully peaceful and serene. After our check-in to the old manor, dinner was awaiting us at the terrace of the hotel. It was a quaint atmosphere each moment; a cool breeze on a fading summer’s night, overlooking the lake with flickering lights across… “I could live here” I thought to myself instantly! It provided the sweetest night cap for a good rest for the next day’s visit to the famed Riva shipyard. 

Breakfast the next day on the terrace of Castello Oldofredi was yet again a sight to behold. Freshly brewed Italian coffee and bread, eggs, ham, sausages with the most important of all ingredients – a view from the top of its hill with the ambiance of cool breeze and bright sunshine as I saw fishermen going about their business in the distance. After breakfast, we headed down to the pier where an Italian boatman awaited us in a Riva Aquarama. That was our vintage mode of transportation to Sarnico, south west of Lago d’Iseo. Upon boarding the Aquarama, I was hit by the same sentimental feeling I get each time I jump into a mint classic car; plush white and turquoise leather, the shine of varnished wood, chromed rear-view mirrors and the nostalgic meters and white ivory like levers and steering wheel. As we began, the sound of twin V8s burbling against the water, oh my, words cannot describe the feeling, and it is just something you’d have to experience in the flesh to fully understand this lifestyle embellishment. And at this point, it was just the beginning of a Riva journey. But wow, the Aquarama is indeed ‘belissima!’. 
The journey to Sarnico on the Aquarama took about half an hour as we cut across Lago d’Iseo without much traffic and it was a smooth ride. We were then greeted by Riccardo Sassoli who then led us on a tour of Riva’s Sarnico shipyard, a place that is of utter importance to the Italian brand, where it all began for Riva.​ During the first section of the tour, we were taken to a spacious hall-like area that was adorned with classic posters of women, both celebrities and models, and also Riva models, from past to present, which struck me as an ode to women and their beauty. We were then escorted to a presentation hall, where Mr. Riccardo Sassoli gave a brief history of Riva, something we at The Grid have covered before, but I was given a face-to-face insight during this tour.

This Sarnico boatyard in the heart of the Franciacorta region near Bergamo, was founded on the shores of Lago d’Iseo in 1842 and represents the driving force behind Riva’s history as the place where it all began, from its legendary wooden hulls to the modern, 27 to 68-foot yachts of today. The heart of the boatyard also used to be the office of the Riva’s founder, Mr. Carlo Riva, which he himself designed personally with particular focus on functionality. Known as the “la Plancia” which in English means ‘the bridge’, it sits under the main beam of the work shed with its 40-metre wide arch supporting two bridge cranes, each capable of lifting yachts weighing over 20 tons. This architectural masterpiece can be seen from the other side of the lake and is protected by the Superintendency for Environmental and Architectural Heritage, along with the entire boatyard. The site covers a total area of approximately 36,000 square meters with about 17,000 square metres of enclosed facilities, and has 10 moorings, 2 jib cranes, 4 paint sheds and a trolley with a capacity of 50 tons used for transporting the finished yachts to the jetty and for the handling of hulls or bulky items. 

The brand also has another production site at La Spezia in Liguria, Italy, setup in order to expand the firm’s production capacity and product range. After starting operations in 2004, it is now a reference point for Ferretti Group because of the technical, logistic and commercial support it provides in the Ligurian and Tyrrhenian region. The boatyard at La Spezia covers a total area of over 60,000 square metres with almost 13,000 square meters of enclosed facilities, including industrial work sheds and office buildings, as well as about 400 metres of piers and jetties that are serviced by a 300-ton travel lift. Not only are the largest yachts in the range built at this state-of-the-art site, it is also the most important centre for the current testing, launching and delivery of Ferretti Group yachts. The site also offers mooring and servicing facilities for customers of all the Group’s brands. Hopefully one day I’ll get to visit this facility as well. What struck me throughout the tour though, is in how the Riva and Ferretti heritage, is tied strongly to the ‘la dolce vita’ era, or ‘the sweet life’.

​ It dawned on me how Rivas were stars in their distant past, and quite a number of films and blockbusters have used Rivas with even celebrities arriving in Rivas becoming a statement of its time. Elizabeth Taylor, Brigitte Bardot, Sophia Lauren, George Clooney and Sean Connery are just some to name the few. Even royalty, princes and sheiks own Rivas. Then we proceeded to go through the shipyard on the various processes on how a Riva Yacht is actually made and put together, most of which are the brainchild of the late Mr. Carlo Riva, a technologically advanced set of methods and processes during its heydays of course.Carlo Riva is known as the pioneer of Riva’s golden age, a true Master shipbuilder who made the brand what it is today and whose boat design became a status symbol to many as I mentioned before. Some of the models that propelled the Riva marque are Ariston, Tritone, Sebino and Florida, and course, the same Aquarama we were ferried in to this tour, that was unveiled in 1962. According to the tour guides, the Aquarama is considered a legend because of how timeless it is. I also learnt here how Riva has a strong affiliation to Ferrari family, as well as with Fiat. As we went through to the end of the production line, there were historic models being displayed, and amongst them was one Riva 32 Ferrari, inspired by the then Ferrari Testarossa. Also amongst the Riva yachts, were Fiat special editions in collaboration with Riva Yachts.

We were then ushered towards the office of Mr Carlo Riva himself. Having to go through a reception area before going up to his office, what greeted us at the reception were countless photos of celebrities that lined up the walls. As I’ve said, the story of Riva is best experienced in the flesh. It was actually an honour to be one of the few to have visited his helm station like office and to sit on the chair where the passionate craftsman & designer once sat. An office overlooking Lago d’Iseo, standing there, I can’t help but wonder the thoughts Mr. Carlo had every time he stood there overlooking the lake. The Riva tour ended at Mr. Carlo Riva’s office, and we were then scheduled for our lunch. As we bade our farewells to Mr. Riccardo, the Aquarama and an additional Riva Aquariva were waiting for us to board back. I of course took the Aquarama because although the Aquariva is a lot more modern, it’s not always that one gets to ride an Aquarama, a boat that is out of production and thereby, truly of great value among connoisseurs. 
We travelled on the west bank of Lago d’Iseo to the northern tip of the lake, a journey that lasted about 45 minutes on water to our lunch venue, Osteria Spirito Di Vino in a medieval town of Lovere. The restaurant overlooks the marina with green mountains at the backdrop and as you can imagine again, it is a stunning picturesque sight. After lunch, we took a walk through the medieval town of Lovere, and spent the afternoon walking through the historic alleys, cathedrals, old clock towers before heading back to Monte Isola via the Aquarama.We went for our dinner that evening on a half-hour walkabout for a change on the island to Ristorante Vittoria Di Bracchi Fiorenzo. There in our casual atmosphere, we mingled further with media and Ferretti Group Asia representative, the flamboyant Ms. Beatrice, to put a great end to our last night in Italy. We also headed to Milan the next morning to visit Ferretti Group’s office for a short bit before touring Milan’s Duomo di Milano, all the time with that one phrase still ringing clearly in my head- ‘la dolce vita’. What an inspiring and fruitful visit this was. Grazie Ferretti Group, Salut!
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