The Complete Concorso d’Eleganza Villa d’Este Guide
The Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este is probably the most prestigious Classic Car Concours in Europe if not in the world. The quality of special and unique cars is on par with the Pebble Beach Concours in California which is widely considered the highlight of the year in the classic and vintage car world. Don't expect the same size at Villa d'Este as at Pebble Beach though. The Villa at lake Como doesn't have the vast golf lawn like Pebble Beach. This is also the reason why the Concours limits the number of cars to only 50. Pebble features around 200 cars on display. This doesn't have to be a bad thing though because it gives you more time to closely inspect the cars and talk to the owners. Visitors can admire about 50 cars which are all built between the 1920s and the 1970s and are organized in different categories. Additionally, the event also features a super- and concept car category.
The Italian Concours d'Elegance is held at the beautiful Villa d'Este on the shores of Lago Como. The Villa is located not far from the town of Como which is situated at the southern left leg of Lago Como. It is possible to take the Ferry from Como to Cernobbio and walk up to the Villa which will take about 10 Minutes. Though, the high society arrives in style with the wooden Riva boats that can be hired from Como and Cernobbio which are going directly to the Villa's swimming pool dock. The richest of the rich even arrive by helicopter at the Villas platform or stay at the hotel itself. Since 2011, the event has taken place in the second half of May.
Since 10 years the BMW Group has organised the event in collaboration with the Villa d'Este hotel. Unfortunately, the organisation isn't as good as you'd expect from a German company. When I visited the event in 2022, guests were queueing over an hour at the gates. Once people finally made it in, the champagne welcoming was already over and you could hear the guests complaining about it. If you consider the type of luxury event, low numbers of visitors and cost for a ticket, this is not very professional. I attended with media access and only found out after queueing for an hour that there was a separate media entry. The staff didn't give any information about the event whatsoever even though 6 people were present in the booth, all not feeling responsible to guide the guests. You'll have to find your way around it yourself, although it isn't a very large venue. The Concorso provides you with an app that shows the participating cars, the programme and a map of the premises. It's also possible to vote with the code that was provided along with the entry ticket.
Morning: During the morning the judges are vetting and inspecting the cars and take notes. You'll see them hovering around with their smart uniform, hats and notebooks. Owners have to pop the hoods, start the engine and show the judges all the details. It's a great opportunity to look over their shoulders so you get to see all the action. Just looking at the displayed cars can be a little boring but seeing the owners presenting the cars to the judges is a spectacle. During the morning hours, there is usually also an unveiling of a new BMW model or a Supercar, Luxury car happening. In 2022 BMW premiered the new i7 on Saturday and Rolls Royce presented their new coachbuilt flagship, the Boattail.
Lunch: The Lunch break is from 11:30 - 14:00 and many visitors and guests are heading for the restaurant and the cafe. It's a great opportunity to photograph the cars since there will be fewer people buzzing around them. If you plan to eat at the cafe or restaurant you'll find several gourmet options which also come as expected with a premium price tag: Coffee €12, Orange Juice €9 and Club Sandwich at €35 to name just the most affordable. The media and car owners get access to the Media lounge where you'll be provided with free sandwiches, drinks and a quiet workspace with internet and power sockets.
Afternoon: In the afternoon the parade starts at 14:00. People will be heading to the grandstands in front of the hotel. The cars are fired up and head for the central entrance where the jury has its canopy. Each car is presented for about 30 seconds by Simon Kidston with his infinite wisdom of motorcars. Kidston is a world-renowned classic automobile collector and blue-chip car dealer. The parade takes around 2 hours until all cars have been showcased. At the end of the parade, the class winner is presented and parked in front of the hotel for everyone to see and photograph. Commentator Simon Kidston will be presenting the winner and handing over the trophy.
Evening: The evening events are reserved only for guests who stay at the hotel and for normal ticket holders the event ends at 17:00. Visitors are asked to leave the Villa and the staff is busily rearanging the tables for the evening programme.
Main sponsor BMW and other luxury, supercar and sportscar brands also take advantage of the event to showcase some of their upcoming models. For example, the BMW M4 CSL, the Bugatti Bolide and the Gemballa Marsien were all on display in 2022. The Concorso doesn't emphasise the sponsored cars too much and it's really not the highlight of the event.
Attendance and Tickets
The Villa d'Este Concours is highly exclusive and the one-day tickets will set you back roughly €500 with the weekend package costing around €800. It is also required to register with the event organisers in order to receive attendance approval. You can register with the event through their official website at www.concorsodeleganzavilladeste.com
Keep in mind that tickets are usually sold out weeks if not months in advance. If you are planning to visit the event professionally as a media reporter, it is possible to hand in an application a few months prior to the event. The Concours invites and approves every year a selected group of reporters who write, blog and shoot videos about the event.
The Side Events
At the Villa Erba which is located about 2 kilometres south of Villa d'Este is the public BMW club event called Wheels & Weisswürscht. This is a free-to-the-public event held at the same weekend as the Concorso and many special cars such as Porsches, BMWs, Alfas and Ferraris are shown. Although the quality of cars is not comparable with the Villa d'Este. So don't expect any unicorns there. But it's a great opportunity to talk to club members, choose from fast food options and enjoy the Villa and the lake view. Unfortunately, BMW didn't put the same effort into the Villa Erba event and it feels a little bit like an afterthought. There is no dedicated programme and it looks more like a car gathering. It might be worth to also check out the Fuori Concorso and the public display of the Turin Automobile Museum at Villa Olmo. To attend the Fuori Concorso you'd also need an invite. The event was created in 2019 by Guglielmo Miani, CEO of Larusmiani, an exclusive Italian clothing and high-end luxury brand.
When visiting the Concorso d'Eleganza Villa d'Este, Villa Erba, Fuori Concorso and Villa Olmo, it is also a great opportunity to spend a few extra days in the area. Bellagio, Menaggio and Varenna located in the lakes triangle are beautiful places to visit. There, you can visit Villa del Balbianello, Villa Carlotta, Villa Melzi D'Eril and Villa Monastero. And maybe you'll even see some of the Concorso cars passing by while making their way back home. These places are best visited via the ferry which operates every hour from Como. Unfortunately, tickets for the ferry can only be purchased at the ticket office and not online. Make sure you arrive at least half an hour early to purchase your day ticket. Oh, and it is also not possible to purchase a ticket for the next day... Of course it's Italy!
One photo says more than 1000 words so have a look at this gallery from the 2022 event.
Nils is a Swiss-German engineer who is obsessed with old cars and engines. He is the author of "The Ultimate Classic Car Guide - How to Buy, Maintain & Repair Classic Cars" and the founder of EVC. His passion has always been with old cars and everything that has wheels and an engine.