n a few days, I’ll be hosting my two best Los Angeles girlfriends during their Grand Tour of Italia (“cleverly” planned to avoid the summer heat and tourist crush). For the past two months, they have peppered my inbox with Excel spreadsheets detailing fashion and food itineraries radiating from Rome, Venice, Milan, Naples, Florence and Torino.
I’ve been repeatedly asked about tipping customs, taxi truffi (scams), and “local” restaurant tips. They want to know if scioperi (strikes) are really that bad and exactly how dangerous it is to drive from Rome to Naples. They’re less worried about speed and seatbelts and more concerned about highway robbery, literally. I told them to leave the Fendi bags at my house.
As a good friend, I have happily answered every “just one more” question, while trying to help them maintain their integrity and naiveté as “touristas” so that they can have the Authentic Italian experience they so desire. The final question comes just days before their arrival.
“So, how is Bella? We’re bringing Zambi and Butterfly. Do you think you could watch them while we drive around? We don’t want them to get bored.”
I am stumped. These are women well versed in pet travel. They know every pet-friendly hotel, relais and B&B. And Zambi and Butterfly love shopping — they have Louis Vuitton carriers, Burberry raincoats, and custom-made collars. These dogs wear haute couture and wait patiently for their shopping owners. Why would my friends want to leave their dogs behind?
“No. Take them with you,” I type quickly.
There’s a reason for my advice. It’s called Fido Park.
For the third consecutive summer (and into fall), AutoGrill Italia has 17 protected animal playgrounds with shaded watering holes, environmentally-safe and clean cages, obstacle/agility courses, and designated green areas. (Meantime, I can shop at my all-time favorite delicatessen, La Bottega.)
It is the doggone best dog idea to come out of Italy since the milk frother. We all know that dogs get bored after languishing a few hours in a car. My friend’s pug Drexall paces when he wants out. Bella often just throws up to let me know she’s annoyed. And it’s neither fun nor safe to leave dogs in a car (beware the sun!), or tie them up on the side of the autostrada.
The ingenious creators of AutoGrill initially launched Fido Park as a pet “pit stop” where owners could store their pets while they refueled. Now, it has become a dog’s recreational dreamland. Okay, I’ll tone down the hyperbole: These aren’t meadows; they are green areas for nervous owners. Oh, and there’s also ProntoFido, an on-call (and present) veterinarian for pet needs, ostensibly also English-speaking.
I forward this information in a second, people-friendly email to Paulina, who immediately informs me that Italy can’t take all the credit. France has always been a paw ahead. Chien Point, France’s version of FidoPark, is a remarkably designed animal area next to service areas like Le Arches and Autogrill. Storage, dog runs and agility courses are standard. Most visitors can also expect picnic areas, public animal showers, and even tennis courts.
Dog heaven, on the road.