Mention the word Ferrari and three words spring to mind — fast, red and expensive.
Photos of the sleek tomato-red Italian cars frequently grace the pages of glossy magazines and regularly take centre stage at formula one races.
Seen as a symbol of speed, luxury and wealth with a romantic history, the first one was produced by Enzo Ferrari in 1929 under the name Scuderia Ferrari in the town of Marannello.
At first they were built for sponsored drivers and race cars but they moved into production of street-legal vehicles in 1947.
So when a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity comes along to get behind the wheel of three of these cars in one day it is impossible to say no.
We will cover 140 kilometres travelling on the Old Healesville Road, the Black Spur and Lake Mountain Road.
Arriving in the Yarra Valley on a perfect sunny day, we see a crowd gathered where we are to meet.
They step away and there is the gleaming Ferrari trio, polished within an inch of their lives, lined up awaiting their drivers.
I am not a car enthusiast but from the minute I see the top-of-the-range Ferraris up close and personal, I admit I am hooked.
There’s something about the amazing shape of these cars, the soft leather trims, the dashboards and the iconic prancing horse symbol that leaves you lost for words — and that’s before you even turn the key or, in this case, push the start button.
What is a little daunting, however, is the thought of driving a car that is valued at twice the cost of an average house.
“Don’t worry it’s not hard to drive,” says Matt Thio from Prancing Horse, a company that offers great packages for those who don’t have a fleet of prestigious cars in their garage and those who do, to get behind the wheels of these magnificent machines.
After a comprehensive safety briefing and signing of paperwork we are given the keys for our first drive.
We set off in the 2011 Ferrari California, a hard-top convertible with tan-leather upholstery, a 4.3-litre V8 engine with direct-injection and a seven-speed dual clutch F1 gearbox that can reach 100km/h in 3.9 seconds, with a top speed of 310km/h.
My co-driver can’t stop grinning as he slips behind the wheel and takes off smoothly.
I remind him the machine is worth about $550,000.
Matt leads the way keeping in contact via two-way radio advising of dips in the road and other traffic hazards.
We travel in convoy obeying strict instructions about not overtaking the lead car and staying within the speed limit.
The Yarra Valley is looking its pristine best as we travel along winding sun-dappled roads — three Ferraris in a row.
Heads turn as we pass through scenic villages, school children punch the air in excitement, mothers with prams smile and road workers stop and stare at the vehicles.
We follow Matt, carefully winding our way to Lake Mountain where the views are amazing.
“You get used to the stares and they are always a conversation piece,” Matt says later.
“There’s just something about Ferraris that get people excited — even if you aren’t a car enthusiast you have to admire the sleek design and amazing mechanics that make these cars so special.”
Time to swap cars and drivers, I can see my co-driver’s concern as I say to Matt “so this is the brake and this is the accelerator”.
Blame it on excitement or trepidation but I do know the difference.
Later Matt says he’s asked all sorts of questions as people nervously take to the road the first time.
He reassures me it’s just like driving a normal car but the 2013 Ferrari 458 Italia Berlinetta CoupÃ© is far from normal and my palms go sweaty as I clutch the wheel and edge out into the traffic.
Described as a multiple award-winning supercar that does a top speed of 325km/h, I drive along at 40km/h until it’s suggested by my co-driver we should at least do the speed limit.
As my confidence builds I start to enjoy the experience and understand what all the fuss is about.
Valued at about $600,000, as the successor to the Ferrarri F430, it has been described as the F430 on steroids with much more power, torque and the dual-clutch gearbox.
But to me it’s sheer pleasure to drive.
We pull into Healesville for lunch, where again the three Ferraris turn heads and a crowd gathers.
“What’s it like to drive, love,” asks a local.
“Amazing,” I reply as he pulls out his phone, snaps a photo and sends it to his mates.
The last experience of the day is behind the wheel of a 2007 Ferrari F430 spider, which is a favourite with Ferrari lovers.
I am told the “tubi-style” exhaust system gives this convertible such a beautiful snarl and I have to agree. It’s a toss-up who drives this and we swap again and I can see my co-driver is clearly smitten.
On our way back to Balgownie Estate Vineyard Resort and Spa, we stop at the nearby Yarra Valley Chocolaterie and Ice Creamery, set on 16 hectares with striking architecture and picturesque valley views of orchards and wetlands.
Giant viewing windows show chocolatiers creating everything from nut clusters, pralines, chocolate bars, rocky road, macarons, fudge, biscuits and chocolate sauces.
Ferraris and chocolate are definitely a good mix.
Sadly, it’s just a short drive back to our nearby accommodation and we have to return the keys and get back to reality.
Then it’s time for a spot of wine tasting and a toast to Enzo Ferrari for all his efforts.
I have been seduced by his beautiful creations and can’t resist just checking on the price of the last car.
It’s a bargain at about $450,000.
Maybe my lottery numbers will come up soon.
Prancing Horse Ferrari Drive Experiences operate in Sydney, Kiama and the Yarra Valley at different times of the year. The Yarra Valley package features a 140km return trip driving three Ferraris. Packages vary with boutique accommodation options, lunch, wine tasting after the drive and dinner. For details phone 1300 307 050 or 0422 399 983. For more details visit prancinghorse.com.au.
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