Water ripples from fountains into a baby-blue pool, above which towers the name of the city in nostalgic lettering: Sanremo. A petite beauty poses in the midday sun in front of the fountain. She throws her sandals onto the lawn, pulls up her trouser legs and balances for a while on the edge. Then she jumps into the cold water – and it doesn’t take long for a few splashes to head in the direction of the photographer either.
The culprit is singer Mandy Grace Capristo, who was easily persuaded when we offered her a brief trip to Liguria.
The aim of the journey was to explore the coast in an SLK – the young classic from the R 170 model series. And what a coast it is. The Vario roof is having a rest in the luggage compartment while the stiff breeze blows around Mandy Grace Capristo’s hair, and it is presumably here on this section of the Mediterranean that another iconic motif was born: a certain star in her dream car. The SLK Roadster has precisely that glamour for which Sanremo also stands. It might be an everyday car, but more importantly, it’s a car for those special moments – for living life to the full. Mandy Grace Capristo is open to playing with such associations. With a twinkle in her eyes, of course.
The photoshoot with Mandy Grace Capristo doesn’t go unnoticed for long. A crowd of Sanremesi soon forms around her and the SLK, inching forward out of curiosity. The men ponder upon where they know the beauty with the frivolous smile from. Is she Italian? Mandy Grace Capristo became famous as a member of the German girl band Monrose, into which she was voted as part of the Popstars casting show when she was 16. She recorded four studio albums with Monrose and the band made seven top-ten hits in the German charts before announcing their splitting up in 2010. Mandy Grace Capristo, now 27 years old, is a singer, influencer and model, as well as being a well-known face abroad too.
Sanremo is used to VIPs. Maria Callas and Frank Sinatra used to be popular guests. Even earlier than that, Cary Grant met Grace Kelly here for a rendezvous. Occasionally, you could see the Duke of Monaco walking along the beach promenade. Another thing that the Sanremesi are crazy about is music. Ever since the 1970s, the great names of Italian pop, rock and folk music have been coming to perform at the Teatro Ariston. Plus, stars like Ed Sheeran, Gianna Nannini or Eros Ramazzotti have already sung at the Festival della Canzone Italiana. And it comes as no surprise that Mandy Grace Capristo is well known in Sanremo as she recently recorded a duet with Marco Mengoni, a famous Italian star, likewise discovered as part of a casting show. It was the second time that Mandy Grace Capristo has sung a song in Italian. She’s currently in the process of improving her knowledge of the language.
“To me, Italy is all about warmth and friendliness,” she says. The street musicians, the ice cream sellers, the people you meet in the narrow winding streets of the old town. Mandy Grace Capristo likes the unlimited curiosity of the people as they stroll through the town. There’s the local photographer, for example, who asks her for a photo as she walks through the old town of Sanremo. Or the impressively made-up lady sweeping the streets who calls out “Ciao Mandy” after her. A street cleaner who looks as if she’s just come out of a beauty salon? “This is the only place you’ll find something like that,” says Mandy Grace Capristo, laughing. “Everybody has a story to tell, sometimes a bit shamelessly. I love that.”
Mandy Grace Capristo was born in Mannheim and grew up in the small village of Bürstadt in Germany’s Hesse region. Her father, Vittorio Capristo, a sales representative, comes from Calabria. A typical Italian, she says. Loyal, proud and brilliant at making home-made pasta. He was born on the southernmost tip of the boot, in the little village of Calopezzati. The family spent every summer there, and today the singer thinks back fondly to those carefree times. Gutting fish and family barbecues in the evening.
“Sanremo makes me feel a bit nostalgic, to be quite honest,” says Mandy Grace Capristo. But that’s just what makes the city so charming, she says. A number of grand hotels of the belle époque line the promenade, waiters have that obliging courtesy of the 1950s and 60s, and here and there you can see the rendering peeling off many of the pastel-coloured houses. In the little harbour, luxury yachts float alongside antique-looking fishing boats. “I like this atmosphere and sometimes I think I belong to another decade,” says Mandy Grace Capristo.
Today, the SLK Roadster still has that feeling of being a dream car, a young classic that fits perfectly into this scenery. When Mercedes-Benz brought out the SLK in 1996, the R 170 model series was something for a new, young and fun-loving clientele. And it was also a pioneer of innovation: the two halves of the steel roof fold together artistically, turning a Coupé into a Roadster whose roof takes some time out in the boot when not in use – all at the push of a button and fully automatically, of course.
The SLK was the first vehicle to feature the so-called Vario roof, and became a trendsetter for the entire vehicle industry. With this success, Mercedes-Benz repeated its achievements of the 1950s: building an open-topped dream car that would attract a new circle of customers. When the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL started its world career in 1955, Sanremo was also at the height of its career as a venue for the international jet-set.
“The Italians are right at the forefront when it comes to fashion, architecture and design,” says Mandy Grace Capristo. She definitely has a soft spot for aesthetics, and you can feel that when it comes to cars. There’s a certain glamour in driving the SLK Roadster from the first R 170 series through Sanremo, explains the signorina. And here you can see the temperament she inherited from her father. “I love putting my foot down,” she says.
And she can tell a good story about cars. In her new home of Berlin, she recently had problems parking. The Capristo solution is Tetris parking. You locate the smallest parking space on a busy road, ignore the drivers honking their horns and drive in and out of the space 30 to 40 times. “That’s how I learned what to do, and with something like that my sense of ambition really comes out,” she says. And when she tells stories like that, you also notice her thoroughly likeable love of self-irony.
As to her career, she’s a professional today. She was 16 when she had her first hit songs with Monrose. She tells us that she grew up early as a result. That also meant knowing when to say no. “There are people who think you have to live up to superficial clichés. I’ve always rebelled against that,” she says. Now she no longer wants to embody an image dictated to her by other people. She prefers to talk about her search for authenticity in one of her new songs.
“You can never know where you are heading if you don’t know where you’ve come from,” she says, quoting her father. Two of his principles are “Don’t lose face” and “Don’t be ruthless.” She says, “I think about that before making any decisions.”
Her father was conservative with his “Principessa”, Mandy Grace Capristo tells us. “I was taught very early on that as a woman I have to watch out.” Her first alcoholic drink? “When I was 24 – it was champagne and it tasted disgusting.” And as regards her father and his origins: Calabria, isn’t that the home of the ’Ndrangheta? Mandy Grace Capristo smiles knowingly. “My friends always say I’ve got Mafia blood in my veins. My girlish appearance perhaps hides the fact that I possess a certain cleverness,” she says with a wink. Her constant companion in Berlin, by the way, is a pug dog. His name? Don Capone.
The story of the new openness began in Italy. At the 1994 Turin Motor Show, Mercedes-Benz presented the pre-series study of a puristic Roadster that incorporated all the safety features of a modern sports car. Two years later at the same venue, the Mercedes-Benz SLK was on show and ready for series production. The letters stood for “sportlich” (“sporty”), “leicht” (“light”) and “kurz” (“short”).
For all its modernity, the new SLK was laden with brand history. Its model designation bears out the fact that it belonged to the family of Mercedes-Benz sports cars that initially chalked up some spectacular racing victories in 1952 under the name of SL (“super leicht”, or super light) and – as of 1954 – achieved success on the market that was no less remarkable. And after 1996, the SLK was the second Roadster series after the SL to repeat the success of the 1950s. Back then, the exclusive 300 SL also had a second Roadster model at its side, which offered a lower output: the Mercedes-Benz 190 SL.
The SLK sparked a sensation with all of its features, but also because its developers had given it pioneering innovations. The most striking of these was the Vario roof, which set an example for the whole car industry in the years to come. In place of the folding textile roof which had previously been used, the new model series was given a stable steel roof which could be completely folded away into the luggage compartment. After the electrohydraulic mechanism had proved successful in
the SLK, it was also used for the upcoming SL generation of the R 230 model series.
Experts were also very impressed with the return of compressor turbocharging, which Mercedes-Benz had included in the compact SLK model series. It enabled the four-cylinder engine to develop a sporty output with economical fuel consumption and emission values. The four-cylinder unit used in the SLK R 171 model series, which followed in 2004, was also a compressor engine.
The road along the coast of Liguria is an experience in itself. Motorists driving from Nice towards Sanremo who choose the coastal route experience Liguria from its most impressive side. The sea and the mountains literally collide with one another, ensuring that typically spring-like, fertile climate that gives the coast its wealth of flowers and herbs. For centuries, the inhabitants lived from the vegetables they grew, olive oil, and of course, from fishing.
Liguria has retained its original village-like flair to this day. On the route to Sanremo, motorists pass picturesque little villages, young colonies of artists and elegant sea resorts. If you wish, you can take a detour into the mountains, where rock-climbing and hiking routes offer a spectacular view of the Tyrrhenian Sea. So it is not surprising that more than a hundred years ago, nobles from all over Europe chose this section of the coast for their winter residences. Here are six tips from us in and around Sanremo. Don’t miss out!