Rediscovering La Dolce Vita at Giro Valle del Liri

Images: Gautam Sen, Anne Castagnos

The preparations were impeccable. As we arrived at the airport, Francesco welcomed us, ushering us into his elegant Volvo S90 for the 90-kilometer journey to the town of Frosinone, the starting point of the Giro Valle del Liri rally. While it wasn't my first visit to Italy or the eternal city of Rome, which I had first explored 33 years ago, and since been to Italy over a hundred times.

The Jaguar XJS Convertible waiting for us at Frosinone

I considered myself well-acquainted with Italy, having driven there extensively, where the rules of the road allowed for a bit more flexibility, much like my home country, India. And I thought I knew the country like the back of my hand—even if I hadn’t visited all the tourist hotspots, I knew the names of ‘em all… or did I?

The cars all lined up at Frosinone at the start of the rally; here we see several Fiats including a Balilla, an 1100, a rare Stanguellini, and another Fiat, a 501S Torpedo

However, Frosinone was new to my ears. This commune, with a population of around 45,000, holds historical significance as an ancient Roman village, which gained prominence in the 19th century as an industrial hub, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry. What made Frosinone special for us was that it's the hometown of my dear friend, Giuseppe Dell'Aversano, and the place where the Giro Valle del Liri rally would kick off.

Another look at the Stanguellini flanked on its left by the Jaguar XK140 of Giuseppe Dell'Aversano

Over the past 22 years, Giuseppe had been actively involved in the rally's organization, but a few years ago he took on the role of overseeing the team and the Circolo Auto-Moto d'Epoca Frusinnate (CAMEF) club, of which he is the President, and which orchestrates this exceptional regularity rally. This event typically unfolds in October when the weather is just right—neither too hot nor too cold.

Some of the other cars getting ready to head out: (from R to L) an Alfa Romeo Duetto Spider, a Jaguar E Type driven by Sabina Spaziani, a Porsche 911, a rare Fiat 130 saloon, and a Fiat Campagnola 

For this 22nd edition of the Giro Valle del Liri, a total of 46 cars were participating, with the majority hailing from Italy. There was a couple from Switzerland, one from Spain, and my wife Anne and I representing France/India.

Our first stop at the historic city of Anagni next to the cathedral: (L to R) a Fiat 1100/103, a Lancia Aurelia B20, a pre-War Fiat 1100, Giuseppe's Jaguar XK140 and his E Type

Giuseppe has a collection of five exquisite Jaguars, and he insisted we participate in the rally with his beautiful 1990 blue XJS Convertible. With its automatic transmission, air conditioning, and superb condition, it was the perfect vehicle for our 48-hour journey through the Southern Apennines, passing through enchanting towns like Frosinone, Anagni, Gaeta, and the remarkable Grotte de Tiberio, unveiling the rich history of the Roman Empire and contemporary Italy, traversing sections of the famed v666666666660ia Appia, and losing ourselves in forgotten towns—all the while savouring the magic of touring in historic vehicles.

Upon our arrival on October 6th, we were flagged off at one-minute intervals, with Anne navigating and me driving. Our route led us through the narrow streets of Frosinone as we headed towards the hillside town of Anagni, which has beautifully preserved its medieval charm. The highlight was the visit to Anagni's cathedral, known for its underground crypt housing 12th-century paintings in a Romanesque-Byzantine style, remarkably well-preserved and breathtaking.

A delicious lunch stopover at Liola in Arpino had the cars parked in the parking lot; we can see one of two Ferraris (a 400i) in the rally

On our way back from Anagni to our hotel in Ferentino, we took a convoluted path and missed a crucial turn, resulting in penalties that put an end to our competitive hopes. Nonetheless, the following day was all about enjoying the drive, which we did wholeheartedly.

Other cars included an Autobianchi A112 Abarth, an Alfa Romeo Giulia saloon, as well as a handsome Jeep Cherokee XJ

Our Saturday journey took us from Castrocielo, located on the via Latina, one of Rome's ancient roads, and along a segment of the famous via Appia, leading to the coastal town of Gaeta, a hidden gem just northwest of Napoli.

Gaeta, with its stunning fortress and a significant naval presence, even hosting the American warship USS Mount Whitney, left me surprised that I hadn't heard of it before. It's also close to one of the world's wonders—a spectacular first-century swimming pool built by Roman Emperor Tiberius, the Grotte di Tiberio. The drive from Gaeta to the Grotte was an exhilarating journey along the coast, with breathtaking views of the Mediterranean Sea on the left, making it hard to concentrate on the winding roads.

Leaving the Grotte di Tiberio, we traversed the hills, making our way back to Frosinone and then to Villa Ecetra for a lavish lunch and the prize ceremony. Giuseppe's Jaguar XJS Convertible performed flawlessly, with the only issue being slight brake fade after a rapid descent from one of the hills.

The car's ride quality and the refinement of the Jaguar V12 engine made it a real pleasure to drive. While the car was large and required careful navigation through the narrow streets of older towns, power steering and automatic transmission made it a breeze.

Finally the last stop for lunch and prize distribution at the beautiful Villa Ecetra

The Giro Valle del Liri Rally has been receiving well-deserved awards and accolades, and it's no surprise. It deserves even more recognition as an ideal way to explore lesser known but captivating parts of Italy.

The dream team of Giuseppe Dell'Aversano, Stefano Magnante and Giulio Molella Pelloni, having a last debrief before the prize giving ceremony

The flawless organization, orchestrated by the dedicated team of Giuseppe Dell'Aversano, Giulio Molella Pelloni, Stefano Magnante, and their associates, makes the Giro Valle del Liri Rally a must for enthusiasts looking to participate in European events. With October 2024 on the horizon, there's ample time to prepare for next year's adventure.

Time to say goodbye to the dream run with the Jaguar XJS Convertible; here at the waterfalls within the town of Isola del Liri

Gautam Sen

Serial concours judge, author, founder-editor of several Indian auto mags, as well as co-conspirator with design greats Marcello Gandini, Tom Tjaarda, and Gérard Godfroy on a few vehicle projects


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