Flying in to Brussels, you are less than two hours from Spa with its Grand Prix on Sunday, June 17th. This lovely Belgian town of 10,000 is the granddaddy of all watering places. Where you sleep is no problem; Spa is loaded with hotels. Many of the drivers stay at the big hotel in Francorchamps, closer to the circuit, but it's apt to be full. Try the ornate Cardinal across from the Casino in Spa or the modest Hotel Palmier. To mix with the inner circle, get over to the Portugal for dinner about nine p.m. If YQU are eager for haute cuisine, drive two miles north to La Vielle France on the Lake Road-waterfall, quiet elegance and fine food. Dinner with wine is about six dollars.
The Spa-Francorchamps circuit, deep in the Ardennes five miles east of Spa, is a wickedly fast 8.76mile array of long, sweeping turns. Be sure to move around the circuit during practice. On race day you are allowed in the pits until just before starting time. You will probably enjoy the race more in the open stand just after Eau Rouge Bridge. This is a fast uphill right bend where the machines drive through flat out, sometimes lifting off the ground. This fast course has only one slow turn, and it really is slow. If fast turns don't appeal, get yourselves a spot on the fence at La Source hairpin. You can snatch a beer or two at the cafe on the corner.
It's six days and about 500 miles to your rendezvous with the sports cars at Le Mans, so don't rush. Take time for the pleasantly old-fashioned Hotel Brasseur in Luxembourg and the magnificent cathedral at Chartres. You should make Le Mans by Thursday morning. Here accommodations are tight; there are few hotels. Thoughtfully, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest provides attractive girls to help you find a room with one of the many families that take in guests at "24 Heures" time. This is recommended. You will get room and breakfast (rolls and coffee or hot chocolate) for four or five dollars for two, and you run a good chance of meeting some fine people. If this does not appeal, try the Hotel Continental (team Porsche stays there) or drive 10 miles east to the Hotel Chemin de Fer at Beaumont. The rooms are a little stark but the food is wonderful.
The town of Le Mans is on the plain side but you will enjoy sitting at the sidewalk cafe in the Place de la Republique, sipping your cassis and watching the girls go by. If you sit for less than two hours, you're cheating yourself. There are several nice restaurants on the square with the Petit Vatel getting the nod. The not-to-miss restaurant outside Le Mans is La Boite d'Asperges at Guecelard, about 15 miles southward on the Arnage road.
It has become the vogue to make fun of Le Mans, to treat it as a giant French picnic, to pass it off as a freak race. Nuts to that point of view. Le Mans is one hell of an automobile race. Certainly there are lots of eating and drinking spots and thousands of campers and picnickers and entertainment. After all, even the most dedicated enthusiast turns away from the track at some time. But the cars and drivers have no respite through fog, rain and blinding sunshine. The larger cars lap at around 115 mph (hitting 150plus on the Mulsanne straight) and keep at it for 2,500 miles.
The circuit is laid out on public roads-8.37 miles of exceptionally smooth asphalt. At four p.m. on Saturday, here where it all began, the shortest of foot races starts the longest of sports-car races.
Stay around the pits for the first driver changes at least, but then drift back to the Village. No matter your mood or financial state, there will be a stand or restaurant to suit you. You can select local pate or Le ,Hot Dog, champagne in paper cups or wines (including some from Maurice Trintignant's vineyard), or try the Grand Marnier stand where your crepes are cooked to order, sugar-glazed and soaked in brandy for less than two bits. If you're of the less smitten, you'll probably slip back to town for a little sleep. The diehards drift toward the Esses and Tertre Rouge where the view of the circuit is tops and, at night, breath-taking. The smaller of the Dunlop Bridges and an underpass allow you to cross the course. Watch the cars tear through the Esses, slam down the short straight, brake hard fore Tertre Rouge and then rear back as they start the three-mile-long'Mulsanne straight. This is Le Mans at its best.
About three p.m. Sunday, you will want to walk back to the stands. The finish at Le Mans is just as frantic as finishes elsewhere-unruly photographers, an even more unruly crowd and lots of surly gendarmes. If by now you're reacting normally, Spa will have set you on your ears over Formula One racing. The next Championship race is at Rouen in two weeks, but if you can't wait there is the Grand Prix de Reims on July 1st. This is in the heart of the champagne country, so much so that an order of vin ordinaire may bring you the bubbly. Besides, seeing "Toto" Roche flag a race off and watching the red Ferraris boil down Muizon through the wheat fields and into the Thillois hairpin are two of motor. racing's biggest kicks.
The next weekend takes you to Rouen for a Championship even ( the same cars will have been at Reims, points or no-who can resist a 100-bottles-of-champagne prize for fastest qualifier?). You still have a second week to explore France. The beaches of N ormandy and Brittany or Paris itself are mere hours away. A hard 500mile drive and wi thin a day you can be in the Riviera sun or the Alpine snow. The most pleasant journey is right in front of you: the Loire valley and Burgundy, home of the great wines and French cooking at its finest. At a lazy hundred-mile-aday clip you will pass the magnificent chateaux of Chambord and Chenonceaux. Try a lunch at the Hotel Poste in Avallon or the unpretentious Hotel de la Gare in Montbard (try their ham in champagne sauce). If you like these, buy a Guide Michelin and start your own Rallye Gastronomique.
Along about Friday, you pop back to Rouen, a lovely old Norman town with a two-mile circuit. Rouen is a town to walk in. Some of its restaurants seem to go back to the Crusades, but the Couronne and the Relais Fleur are tops. The hotels are also old but the rooms are clean. After Rouen, you may be hardpressed to tour patiently until the British Grand Prix on July 21. You might wander into Germany and catch the F-1 and GT races at Solitude on July 14 and 15; if so, be sure to eat at the Fernsehenturm in nearby Stuttgart. It's atop a television tower and the view is stupendous. Or you might dash south to Sicily for the Grand Prix of Messina for sports cars and Juniors.
When you arrive in England's Midlands for Aintree, you'll be well advised to push north 10 miles to Southport, a pleasant resort on the Irish Sea. The Scarisbrick Hotel is the best bet. The food-well, you can't eat French food all the time. Aintree is a three-mile affair, flat and full of unexpected twitches and odd turns. It is still a pleasing sight, the grass is so green for a race track. The secret is the infield; it's the home of that great British business with horses, the Grand National. If you can still afford grandstand seats ( these run higher in Europe than you may be used to), try Tatts Corner. If not, try sitting on the grass banking near Mellings Crossing. After the races, you can get back to London, 250 miles south, the same evening. Take a Sunday-morning boat ride on the Thames and the afternoon jet to New York. It gets in at seven p.m. and, as a last fling, banquet at Idlewild's Golden Door.