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Garden Party

Going mad for tulips in the eye-catching Maserati GranCabrio




HOTEL CONCIERGES, as the seasoned traveler knows, possess a politician’s mastery of beaming on cue. Yet when the concierge at Amsterdam’s Hotel de L’Europe beams, he appears genuinely delighted. And why wouldn’t he be? I’ve just handed him the keys to a convertible Maserati GranCabrio and asked that he park it.

“Of course, madame, it would be my pleasure,” he says and bounds out of the hotel’s revolving door, beckoning the doorman to remove my luggage from the trunk. Meanwhile, a clutch of admirers appears beside the car, with one posing beside it while another snaps a picture.

Yes, the GranCabrio is a very attractive car, but its appeal goes deeper than that. It carries an air of glamour, too. Take a close look and you’ll find Angelina Jolie’s pout in the grille, Sophia Loren’s sloe eyes in the headlights and the curves of supermodel Gisele Bündchen along the edges. And, in classic Maserati fashion, all this outward panache barely hints at the lunatic Ferrari 4.7-liter V-8 under the hood.

Having driven from England via the Eurotunnel and then rather cautiously up through France and Belgium in a torrential downpour, I arrived in Amsterdam—a city of cyclists, trams and pedestrians—feeling somewhat frustrated that I hadn’t yet been able to stretch the Maserati’s legs on the open road. Once situated at the hotel, I strike out to remedy the situation, hurtling under cloudy skies toward Keukenhof, Europe’s largest flower garden, in the town of Lisse.

Without straining at the leash, this 2-ton car moves with authority—and, as it happens, a great deal of noise. When the roadway opens up before me, I stab the sport button and sink the accelerator to the floor. To say the GranCabrio takes care of the bends that I throw at it is an understatement. The suspension instantly stiffens, the steering tightens up and on wet corners the well-balanced chassis handles itself beautifully. I switch back to default driving mode and marvel at how easily the GranCabrio transitions from howling race car to plush touring sedan. It stacks up against the likes of the BMW M6, the Jaguar XKR and Audi’s R8 Spyder in terms of performance, but also has a distinct advantage over the competition in that it’s a rare full four-seater convertible.

Twenty-two miles later, I arrive at Keukenhof ‘s endless swaths of vivid tulips, which make this one of the most photographed landscapes in Europe. I pass numerous enthralled tourists exploring nearby tulip farms on rented bicycles, pedaling leisurely along the canals coursing through the fields. One cups his hands around his mouth and shouts across to me: “Nice car!” I give him the thumbs up.

I park and stroll the gardens for a while, becoming quickly overwhelmed by the colors, the smells. I think back to the early 17th century, when the wealthy Dutch succumbed to “tulipomania,” one of the world’s first speculative bubbles and an enduring object lesson in financial mass insanity. The idea that people would spend several years’ salary on tulip bulbs has always struck me as the height of lunacy—until now. Fortunately, before I can order my broker to plow my life savings into bulb futures, the skies open up. I jump into the Maserati and scoot back to Amsterdam, tulip-less.

Back in the city, after narrowly avoiding being T-boned by a tram, I head to cheese mecca Reypenaer, perched above the Singel canal. In my tasting class there, I’m introduced to six of Holland’s finest cheeses; they pack a real flavor punch, especially when accompanied by a good port. After that, I wheel over to the brown and white striped awning that marks the entrance to the lovely sweets shop Pompadour, on Huidenstraat. The place is packed with exotic treats, but the 4-inch-high chocolate “mini cake” filled with fresh raspberries and chestnut purée stands out.

Still, through all my city wanderings—including a tour of the Heineken brewery, naturally—the memory of those tulips lingers. Perhaps they’re due for a comeback; it has been nearly 400 years since the bubble burst. Maybe tulips are the next Apple. Before pointing the GranCabrio southwest for the trip back to London, I make one final stop: the gift shop at the Amsterdam Tulip Museum. There I buy a bag of bulbs—my first of many, maybe. Over the next five hours, it sits beside me as I ponder a new investment scheme.

CINDY-LOU DALE, a writer based in southeast England, has a good feeling about this one.

The bells and whistles

ENGINE: The six-speed Ferrari V-8 with paddles/automatic transmission effortlessly maneuvers the GranCabrio to its top speed of 175 mph. With 440 hp, it has ample power under the hood.


PERKS: The GranCabrio has all the frills you’d expect—chocolate and caramel leather upholstery by Poltrona Frau, electronically controlled bucket seats—plus room to seat four adults comfortably.

PERFORMANCE: The combination of super sports car and hard acceleration (zero to 62 in 5.3 seconds) generates city/highway fuel consumption of 14/20 mpg.

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