Let’s celebrate 90 years of women’s rally with le Rallye des Princesses

Road Rug Cars’s crew love Princesses, so we took a look in the biggest annual meeting gathering them, le Rallye des Princesses.

According to the dictionary, a princess is “the wife or daughter of a prince, of a king”. Ok, you already imagine Snow White singing naively in the forest with wild animals dancing around her or Sleeping Beauty… sleeping… But, in our opinion, a princess is much more than a woman with a crown on her head who looks at herself in a mirror.

Pilot Princesses among a men’s world

You know that in the West (and probably in the East as well…), for centuries and centuries women have been slightly excluded from everything that was cool and fun in life (a little bit). Fortunately, during the 20th century everything changed (a little bit). While most French women in the 20s were having children (whether they wanted or not), a handful of them got into their cars and crossed France as they wanted!

roadrugcars road rug cars rallye des princesses 2019 paris saint raphael feminin mme leblanc 1933
Madame Leblanc, 1st place at 1933 edition

Let us remember that wearing trousers for women has been officially authorised in France in 2013 (this 1800 law still existed but obviously was not applied)… The right to vote was granted to them in 1944… Oh yes also, their husbands can no longer read their letters or decide for them on their relations since 1975 (dear readers from other european countries, don’t think you are superior, as almost all the Western states were as backward as France)!

roadrugcars road rug cars rallye des princesses 2019 paris saint raphael feminin cannes 1935
Paris – Saint Raphaël parade in Cannes, 1935

In this context, imagine men’s reaction when could have been when they saw young women drifting with impunity in their beautiful cars at the dawn of the 30s… A woman who drives a machine which symbolizes autonomy and freedom. I’m not sure men were really pleased to see that back in the days. This quote from the newspaper La Vie au Grand Air about obtaining the Uzès Duchess’ driving licence on May 15, 1898, at a time when the automobile was just born is a wonderful illustration :

« The patented Duchess of Uzès! My God yes, and car driver again! This is true news that will surprise many people! ».

Then in 1929, Count Edme de Rohan-Chabot, President of the Automobile Club du Var, had the brilliant idea of launching one of the first car rallies : le Rallye Paris-Saint Raphaël. From 1929 to 1974, he organized an incredible race between Paris and the French Riviera exclusively reserved for women! Hellé Nice, Betty Haig and Christine Beckers won the race at the wheel of the fantastic Bugatti Type 35B, MG PB and Lancia Stratos HF. This makes many men jealous even today. Oh yes, and even Michèle Mouton (famous French pilote) ran her very first national competition at Paris-Saint Raphaël.

roadrugcars road rug cars rallye des princesses 2019 paris saint raphael feminin helle nice bugatti
Hellé Nice onboard her Bugatti Type 35

For 4 to 5 days and for about 1000 kilometres, they were free women at the wheel of their free cars. Far from the portrayal of a Disney princess, even if most of them however came from powerful noble families.

Rebirth of the Paris – Saint Raphael Rally and birth of le Rally des Princesses

Following the Second World War and the return of traditional post-war family values, only gentlemen had the right (or rather the opportunity) to make noise and smoke in beautiful cars. Paris – Saint Raphaël remained the only national rally reserved for women during this period. Unfortunately, Count Edme de Rohan-Chabot took with him the Rallye Paris – Saint Raphaël. It ended definitively in 1974 and quickly fell into oblivion, leaving women’s motor sport in the archives of the history of amateur sport or in the local newspapers.

However, as time progressed and mentalities too, women gradually regained their rights and mainly the right to do what they wanted, as they wanted, when they wanted (mmm as much as possible). While a new millennium full of promises was coming, Viviane and Patrick Zaniroli had the idea to dust off this old title of nobility : “Princess”. Inspired by the work of Count Edme de Rohan-Chabot and his legendary rally, they launched the very first Rallye des Princesses in 1999.

roadrugcars road rug cars rallye des princesses 2019 women rallying

Far from castles, ceremonies and carriages, princesses are women like you and me (I’m not certain about that expression), who have only one desire, drive their favorite car!

« So I launched the first Rallye des Princesses in 1999. Problem, husbands… ” You don’t even think about it, I won’t lend you my car! ” » reported Viviane Zaniroli.

Today everything has changed, most of the competitors come with their own cars, like Audrey Marnay and her 280 SL which she has owned for 19 years. However, the pair that caught my attention is the one formed by a grandmother, Marie-France Gambassi-Triniane, her granddaughter Margaux Tailler, and their Porsche 911 3/2 RUF. What if your grandma was driving a RUF? It would be amazing, isn’t it?


Organized on the most beautiful roads of France, the Rallye des Princesses is a 4-day regularity event of about 1200 km, reserved exclusively for women and their vintage cars. Exceptionally, we were able (even if our crew was not 100% female) to follow the 2019 edition of the rally and celebrate the 20th anniversary of this remarkable event.

Le Rallye des Princesses, a rally unlike any other

As you have understood, the name “Princesses” is a direct reference to the crowned heads who ran on Paris – Saint Raphael roads before the war and not to the cartoon characters. Today, participants aren’t full-time Princesses, they’re business women, craftswomen, shopkeepers, doctors, actresses… The heads are only crowned with scarves and hats.

roadrugcars road rug cars rallye des princesses 2019 hat mercedes benz

This year, for the first time (even if we had covered the beginning of the rally the previous edition), we came with our faithful Alfa Romeo Alfetta Gt to follow the full 20th Rallye des Princesses.

It all started on the Place Vendôme in Paris with a day of scrutineerings that also serves to meet each other’s and celebrate, as it should be, the 20th anniversary of this beautiful adventure.

The next day, serious things begin, at a steady pace. From Paris to the Beauval Zoo, via the Rainville Stables in Villampuy, the regularity stages follow one another under a blazing sun. Everyone is smiling during these first 303 kilometers, most of the participants have been waiting it for a year! Indeed, I realized that many of the crews are not on their first try. I believe that the formula of Zaniroli Classic Events is addictive.

The second day starts in the rain, direction Vichy for 325 km through the heart of France. The lunch stop is at Château (normal for Princesses) de la Crête, which is located in Audes Anyway, the capricious weather doesn’t dampen the general good mood, perhaps because the hundred crews (or so) meet to share good food and exchange their race anecdotes. At the end of the day and after more than 600 kilometres the cars start to understand that they will see the country this week. The sun is back when we arrive in Vichy for some repairs at the end of the stage. It’s around cocktail and dinner, as every evening, that the drivers and co-pilots rank and re-rank the classification.

In the morning, the cars set off for the Alps, objective of the day: Aix-les-Bains. We go through the Beaujolais and then come the first passes to cross. First mechanical difficulties appear as cars are getting a little hot as they aren’t spared by the rise of these pins at fast speed.

roadrugcars road rug cars rallye des princesses 2019 opel gt

The competition that had started out nicely is getting tougher and every second starts to count to keep its place in the overall ranking. This third evening, we feel the pressure has increased a notch. Despiteall the hearts are racing as everybody waits for the classification of this 340 km day, smiles are still there.

When we left for Saint-Tropez, we knew it would be the most difficult day of the week. With 408 km on the Route Napoleon, the arms are suffering and the mechanics too, Fortunately, landscapes are amazing! Oh yes, I noticed something very rare in a race world, we meet competitors who are helping other teams. Sometimes with a simple hand gesture, sometimes with a few encouraging words and other times with a real mechanical hand. In short, we discovered an event where surpassing oneself and conviviality match for once.

Remarkable, remarkable, what is so remarkable about this rally?

It was on the fifth and last day of this anniversary Rallye des Princesses that I understood how remarkable this rally was. We were driving through the Massif des Maures, crossing the pine forests via the tortuous roads of the Var when we arrived at the Château de Saint-Martin in Taradeau. Okay, one more castle you’re going to tell me. Not this time. Former priory turned castle in the 18th century, the property belongs to the Countess of Gasquet and Adeline du Barry, who are respectively daughter and granddaughter of Count Edme de Rohan-Chabot, creator of Paris – Saint Raphaël. In fact, le Rallye des Princesses is more than just a motor sport event for women, it has been an expression of women’s independence, freedom and tenacity for 90 years.

roadrugcars road rug cars rallye des princesses 2019 finish

Viviane Zaniroli: « I wanted to show that women like driving, you proved it. »

By the way, registrations for le Rallye des Princesses 2020 edition are already open and there will not be enough place for everybody…


Rallye des Princesses : much less superficial and much more sporty than you think

  1. Toujours un immense plaisir d’attendre les princesses sur la route chaque année. Toujours le sourire et de magnifique voitures qui nous font rêver. Bravo à vous toutes mes dames !!

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