Destination :: M. & M. Garage, Malosco, Italy

It’s always intimidating traveling overseas in your vehicle, especially when you’ve taken a 2.5 year hiatus (thanks, Covid), and you drive a notoriously temperamental Vanagon Syncro. Nevertheless, I felt confident in my vehicle after a recent mechanical overhaul and was beyond excited to be headed to Northern Italy, specifically the Dolomites.

The van drove impeccably until I hit the mountainous Tyrol region in Austria, where I noticed a sponginess to my brakes and worrying brake fade (puzzling, as I’d recently rebuilt my rears and replaced the front discs and pads). This culminated in a terrifying six kilometer, 16 percent gradient descent, where I lost almost all braking and decided to pull into an HGV (heavy goods vehicle) escape lane. I reached out to my Italian Syncro friends and asked whether they could recommend a garage that could help; the unanimous vote was M. & M. Garage, owned by Matteo Marini.

I have to admit that the pilgrimage to Matteo’s workshop was less than ideal under the circumstances, particularly as the final stage required climbing the 4,469 foot (1,362 meter) Mendel Pass (which blew one of my CVs). It was dark when I rolled into the tiny but historically significant mountain village of Malosco (located at 3,415 feet). I was completely exhausted, and it was hard to believe a garage even existed in such a remote location. Imagine my state of shock as the final turn revealed a fleet of Vanagons (including a 16-inch Doka Syncro) parked in front of a large, well-lit garage. I pulled in, jaw agape, and opened the workshop door to reveal a mint condition Westfalia Syncro Joker, another stunning 2WD Westy, and, of course, the legendary Matteo, who exclaimed with a smile: “You must be Jack.” Here, atop a mountain, I had arrived at Vanagon Valhalla.

Over the following week, we disassembled the brakes and discovered cracked lines, air in the system, and dirty brake fluid. I intended to repair what was broken, but I quickly realized Matteo was one of the most gifted mechanics I’d ever met and wasn’t going to miss an opportunity to make multiple improvements to my van.

So, why is this destination significant? First and foremost, Matteo’s garage is one of the best equipped Vanagon workshops I’ve ever visited. Considering the popularity of these vans in Europe and their questionable reliability, this could be an essential lifeline. Additionally, Matteo does not work exclusively on Volkswagens. He repairs many other overland vehicles (he also owns a Land Cruiser) and has impressive access and space for larger vehicles (rare in rural Italy). If you need parts, he’s well connected with the Italian automotive industry and was able to order almost everything we needed for my van within 72 hours. He even made some smaller components for my Syncro in-house, which could be a lifesaver for those of you with unique vehicles.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s dedicated overnight parking with drinking water on tap, access to a toilet during open hours, and, if you’re lucky, an invitation for espresso. The medieval village of Malosco is a 10 minute walk, and there are many hikes, campsites, and tourist spots, all within a 30 minute drive. M. & M. is strategically located in Northern Italy (two hours from the Austrian border), close to some of the most iconic spots in the Dolomites.

If you’d like to know more, you can find M. & M. Garage on Facebook or reach out to Matteo directly at +39 340 368 5280.

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No money in the bank, but gas in the tank. Our resident Bikepacking Editor Jack Mac is an exploration photographer and writer living full-time in his 1986 Vanagon Syncro but spends most days at the garage pondering why he didn’t buy a Land Cruiser Troopy. If he’s not watching the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, he can be found mountaineering for Berghaus, sea kayaking for Prijon, or bikepacking for Surly Bikes. Jack most recently spent two years on various assignments in the Arctic Circle but is now back in the UK preparing for his upcoming expeditions—looking at Land Cruisers. Find him on his website, Instagram, or on Facebook under Bicycle Touring Apocalypse.