Buying a Benz in Europe
European Factory Collection Turns Car-buying into a Travel Adventure
By Cary Carbonaro
Talk about a test drive: two countries, five cities, German delicacies, and spa treatments at nearly every stop.
My fiancé and I just returned from just such an adventure; a week-long trek exploring the Black Forest Alps of Germany and Austria in our newly purchases Mercedes-Benz, through the Mercedes-Benz European Delivery program. We were setting out to lease a $35,000 car –a fully loaded metallic grey 2014 Mercedes c250 coupe. There were some rewards coming our way for this decision.
Mercedes-Benz European Delivery is an example of a purchase package that offers travel incentives to its participants. Audi, BMW, Porsche, and Volvo also have their own versions; in general, though, these programs allow car buyers to arrange purchase of an eligible model at a U.S. dealership, completing both purchase and travel arrangements at the same time.
Then, arriving at the factory with the necessary documents, buyers take delivery of their cars and travel the highways of Europe, ending at a pre-determined drop-off point. Six to eight weeks later, participants are reunited with their cars in the U.S.
In some ways, European delivery of luxury cars actually saves money that in turn subsidizes the week-long trip, and as a financial planner that’s important to me. We were able to ‘build’ our car in the states and get about 7% off the MSRP. This service is offered on a lease or a purchase, and the dealer is responsible for shipping the car back to the U.S., not the buyer.
The Cradle of Cars
Beyond the financial ins-and-outs of the program, though, this is also a travel opportunity that took us off the beaten path to destinations we might not have considered on our own. The hotels in which we stayed were a mix of elegant and quaint, each with their own niche. There were no large chains on the itinerary, only German-speaking hotels with appreciative, welcoming staff.
Our trip began in Stuttgart, Germany at the Mercedes factory in the summer (Oktoberfest tours are also offered). Stuttgart is most famous for serving as ‘the cradle of the automobile,’ so it was an apt place to start. Lesser known though are Stuttgart’s wine-producing vineyards, actually housed within city limits, producing a variety of red wines and Reislings.
We arrived at the Mercedes-Benz factory immediately after our flight landed, and there was an immediate feel of luxury around us: fresh flowers, chocolates, and glass-bottled spring water waited for us at every turn. After a brief rest and a complimentary lunch, we toured the factory and the Mercedes-Benz museum while hundreds of questions formed in our heads regarding the craftsmanship and technology that goes into the cars.
The attention to service continued as we made our way out of the factory to drive to our first hotel in our own, brand-new Mercedes. Attendants brought our luggage out and loaded it into the car just before sending us on our way with wine, chocolate, and a German navigation system loaded and preprogrammed to guide us to each stop on the trip.
We zoomed off to explore the Black Forest Alps of Germany and Austria equipped with a full tank of gas, 15 days of European roadside assistance, and vehicle shipping and handling expenses settled in advance, in addition to transportation to-and-from airports, Mercedes-Benz museum tickets, and more.
Driving in a foreign country can be a scary prospect, but as we set out on our journey I was pleasantly surprised to find that we weren’t navigating large cities, and traffic wasn’t heavy. We zoomed down the Autobahn at 120 to 130 mph, but didn’t feel the speed. The roadways of Germany and Austria are built to last, and therefore the driving experience is amazing.
Our first hotel was the Steigenberger Graf Zeppelinin Stuttgart. The Graf Zeppelin has three restaurants including Olivo – decorated with one Michelin Star – two bars, and a cigar lounge. We relaxed with the first of many German beers, taking in the scenes from the bustling city center.
The Pinnacle Experience
The next morning, we were on our way to Interalpen-Hotel Tyrol in Austria, a five-star resort that is quite literally at the peak of luxury. Nestled in the heart of the Seefeld high plateau,Interalpenis a full-service wellness spa in the Alpine region surrounded by lakes, pastures and mountains.
From the moment we walked in until we reluctantly checked out, we were surrounded by staff members in traditional Austrian garb, catering to our every need. This troupe of ‘footmen’ only added to the fairy tale feeling of Interalpen: chandeliers hang overhead, hand-crafted wood floors below. ceilings soften the light, and upon entering our expansive room, I was presented with a rose.
A five-course meal was the highlight of our night, and the following day, we opted for a late check-out to take advantage of one of Interalpen’s world-renowned spa treatments. With cocktails and robes it was on to one of the more decadent spa treatments I could imagine: a chocolate-mint massage that made leaving for our next destination bittersweet.
Our next stop was vastly different from sprawling Interalpen – ParkHotel Adler in Hinterzarten, Germany is a small boutique hotel deep in the black forest, and had its own distinct charm. We quickly found some of the more famous offerings of the region, as we expected: Linzer tortes, pretzels and sausage, Black Forest cake, and cuckoo clocks abound at every turn.
What we didn’t realize is Hinterzarten is also a worldwide hub for ski jumping, hosting Summer Grand Prix events annually. Right behind our hotel, we were surprised to find the Hinterzarten Summer Ski Jump underway, with some of the world’s best ski jumpers competing.
We’d also whetted our spa-treatment appetites in Tyrol and were delighted to find a spa garden in Hinterzarten, complete with seven saunas scattered about like a small village. Wandering massage therapists offered treatments in each hut along with hot towels, vegetable juice, and fruit.
Pooling our Resources
The pampering didn’t stop as we departed Hintergarten for Baden-Baden. At Brenners Park hotel, we learned more about Baden-Baden’s famous roman baths. The German word Baden translates as “bathing, to bathe, or baths,” and refers to the hot springs that run into town from artisanal wells, creating therapeutic pools.
Ruins of Roman baths more than 2,000 years old can still be seen, but there’s also the opportunity to experience the springs as they were intended, by immersing in either a modern bath or an older-style ‘bath temple.’
Caracalla has both. Outside, there are two marble pools and two whirlpools, and indoor pools include a rock grotto with hot- and cold-water pools, an aroma steam bath, and a brine inhalation room. There are also saunas, wellness lounges, and quiet areas throughout the property.
Relaxed and rejuvenated, we once again got in our car to drive to our last stop: Frankfurt and the Frankfurter Hof hotel. A beautiful, big hotel near the city’s financial district, the Frankfurter Hof’s Restaurant Francais has a Michelin star and, like many of our stops on this journey, unique spa and wellness packages including a day spa suites and a traditional barber shop.
It was also where I spotted a Starbucks, stopped in for some stateside comforts, and found pretzels with melted cheese behind the counter.
Reflecting at the Finish Line
We dropped our car off for U.S. delivery in Frankfurt as well. Having completed its first voyage, we located the drop-off location, completed 15 minutes of paperwork, and were on our way back to the hotel for a final dinner and rest before returning to the states by air.
After visiting some of the finest hotels in Europe, eating fabulous meals and seeing once-in-a-lifetime sights – the summer ski jump comes to mind – I couldn’t help but put my financial planning hat on for a moment and reflect. First, I believe travel is the only way we truly become rich. But not all adventures are needlessly extravagant. Living our best lives requires planning: finding what we want and getting the best deal for it. With a road map in hand, you’ll be on your own journey in no time.
Cary Carbonaro lives in New York and Florida. She is coauthor of the book TIPS from the TOP: Targeted Advice from America ‘s Top Money Minds (Alpha, 2003), and a contributor to The Wealth Management Manual. Cary has also been seen on “The Today Show,” CBS, Fox News and ABC, and in a variety of publications including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and Money Magazine. Follow her Twitter.
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