Doing a coast-to-coast road trip in the USA is many a driver's idea of motoring heaven. We instead opted for a variation on the American theme – setting off in search of places named after Italian cities. And we chose to do so behind the wheel of a powerful Ferrari Portofino, itself named after the enchanting fishing village on the coast of Liguria
So many Italian immigrants in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries crammed into this quarter of Manhattan Island that it became known as ‘Little Italy’. Although it is no longer the principal Italian-American neighbourhood, the influence of ‘the old country’ endures with, for example, September’s eleven-day San Gennaro celebrations still taking place along Mulberry Street. The Portofino felt particularly at home surrounded by so many Italian names and customs and attracted a wave of admiring compliments on the vibrant New York streets.
Rolling into Georgia in the USA’s deep south we were surprised to discover that, just like its Italian namesake, the largest town in Floyd County was also built on seven hills. Plus, it boasts a replica of the Italian capital’s famous Romulus and Remus statue of the two little boys that legend says were suckled by a wolf.
They both sit on a bay, but only the Italian version has a volcano as a neighbour. The Florida town – population 20,000 – lies on the more tranquil Gulf of Mexico. Here too the origins of the Italian name owe little to a close affinity to ‘il bel paese’. It seems that early promoters of the town once described it as “surpassing the beauty of the Bay of Naples”. The Portofino cruised on.
In this case, the renaissance Italian city represents one of the world’s most cultured cities, replete with masterpieces of sculpture, paintings and frescoes. Sliding into the little town of Florence in South Carolina - population circa 37,000 – we soon discovered that frescoes were few on the ground. Instead, the Florence that inspired this namesake was instead one Florence Harllee, daughter of the 19th century founder of the Wilmington and Manchester Railroad that made the town the transportation hub for the state that it is today. The convivial southern weather meant that the Portofino’s convertible roof was permanently down.
On arriving in this particular Venice, it soon became clear that although the name is the same as it’s world-famous Italian cousin, the similarity more or less ends there.
California’s version does possess canals – hence the name – but there is a distinct lack of striped-tee-shirted gondoliers. But at least it gave us a chance to stretch the legs of the Portofino’s powerful V8 engine, and the opportunity to admire up close one of street artist Kelsey Montague’s angel-wing wall murals.