Driving in Italy

Sep 1st, 2010, 05:58 AM
Original Poster
Join Date: Sep 2010
Posts: 2
Driving in Italy

We are two female, recently retiredf art teachers traveling to the Tuscany area for the month of October. We want to have the flexibility of exploring small towns and countrysides so we need to rent a car. Any advice, deals or warnings would be greatly appreciated.
smsarts is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 06:22 AM
Join Date: Mar 2010
Posts: 151
We got our rent a car through hertz. The price was very good - although I can't remember what the exact cost was. We used our Tom Tom GPS and it was very helpful.
chickenlittle is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 06:26 AM
Join Date: Dec 2005
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October is a wonderful time to go.

You will no doubt get more detailed advice, but here are a few things off the top of my head:

1. I hope you are able to drive a standard shift because automatic cars can be difficult to rent, sometimes even when you have reserved one.

2. You must take full insurance coverage in Italy rather than relying on your credit card.

3. Italians drive quite fast. On a superhighway stay well to the right unless you are actually passing another car yourself. On a two or one lane road, expect the car behind you to pass on blind curves or with traffic approaching.

4. Parking lots are well marked, and it is usually better to park outside the town wall or centro historico and walk into the narrow streets. I would do this even if I planned to stay in a town. I would walk to the hotel first and get their directions for dropping your bags and parking overnight.

5. Usually parking is pay and display -- you pay at a machine for a certain amount of time and display the receipt on your windscreen. This is quite new in many areas of the US, so watch for it.

6. Some cities are notorious [e.g.,Florence/Firenze]for having areas restricted to residents only, not just for parking but for driving. When accompanied by hidden cameras, this results in many visitors being surprised by traffic fines when they get home, accompanied by charges from the car rental for supplying the police with your name and address.

7. Diesel cars are cheaper to operate than gasoline cars, but be very careful not to put the fuel for one into the tank of the other. The engine may have to be replaced, and your insurance may not pay.

All this sounds gloomy, but it is quite a good area for driving, and there are pleny of places you can't go without a car.
Ackislander is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 06:35 AM
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This may help.


A. Of course you should if your driving skill & confidence would allow you to drive a rental car in Vermont, Colorado or California. But, be advised of these tips:
* Avoid driving in the major cities except for picking up or dropping cars
* Have good maps—study them in advance—and have a GOOD NAVIGATOR.
* Stay in the right lane except when passing and use your rear view mirrors

A. It is best to rent your car before you leave for Europe. The best source we have found is www.autoeurope.com [800-223-5555] who is a broker for several car vendors. They will quote you prices to include the variables that are often omitted by others, such as unlimited mileage, mandatory insurance coverage with some deductibles, and VAT taxes. It is wise to compare prices and coverage with their sister company at www.kemwel.com. Autoeurope will match any comparable quote, and are famous for their customer satisfaction if problems do arise with the vendor. The best model will depend on your needs, but for best value we suggest you select a compact car with manual transmission. Automatics are available but will cost you about 30% more and may limit your model options & pick up locations.

A. Yes & no! They are certainly aggressive, but they are also more skilled than many USA drivers—both are a function of necessity. Italy is one of the most crowded countries in the world and the drivers have evolved these characteristics
* They are notorious tailgaters. If that bothers you, pull over and let them past.
* On the AUTOSTRADE they will drive fast, but will stay in the right lane except when passing and will use their blinkers when passing—YOU SHOULD TOO !
* They will often pass on 2-lane roads with traffic coming. Frankly, they expect you, and the oncoming car, to adjust to the shoulder and make 3 lanes of traffic.

1. Learn the meaning of the sign “ SENSO UNICO” and take heed [ONE WAY ].
2. Be sure to get your ticket when you enter the AUTOSTADA system & be prepared to pay the toll when you exit it [ rule of thumb—300 km=15 Euro]. You can use your credit card in the VIA lane at the toll both, or buy a debit VIACARD in advance.
3. Do NOT attempt to follow road numbers—that will frustrate you. But, do pay attention to the directional signs that point to your destination [ TO MONTALCINO]. And, be aware if that road leads eventually to a larger city [ ROMA—SIENA ETC.]
4. Unless you have a diesel car, you will want to fill the tank with benzina from the green pump. Most stations will pump gas for you and will take credit cards.

NOTE: As of 2005, an International Drivers Permit[IDP] is required in Italy.
You can obtain them from your local AAA office. You will need a valid US driver’s license, two passport photos, and $15. The photos can be taken at the AAA office.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 07:13 AM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 9,421

You will have a wonderful time! I've driven in the countryside on two trips with really no problems. Don't completely rely on a GPS. Make sure you have detailed local maps too and know how to read them!

I found picking up and dropping in the smaller towns to be very easy, as long as your dates work with their office hours. Be sure to check these in advance as most of the smaller locations are closed Sundays and part of other days, also for the long lunchtimes.

As Bob mentioned above, learn to navigate by knowing the names of the towns along your route and follow the signs to the next one.

Also be sure to head into the first parking lot you see at the bottom of a hilltown (or outside a town) because there may not be another one and you really don't want to be stuck driving in the narrow streets when you don't know where you are going. Parking and walking to your hotel is a good strategy, it's worked well for me many times!

Driving in the countryside is really a joy, but I wouldn't really want to hassel with the major cities.

Buon viaggio!
Dayle is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 07:24 AM
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I'd agree with all of the above. I have driven quite a bit in Italy, despite it being on the "wrong side of the road" for me.

Road signs can be a little chaotic (I recall a traffic circle not far from San Gimignano where 3 out of 4 exits indicated Siena) and for that reason I have found a satnav to be a huge help.

Another problem I have had is small filling stations closed between 12 and 3pm. They have credit card slots, but often my UK cards have failed to work. Most will also have a system for paying in notes, but for set amounts e.g you can buy x amount of fuel for €20.
Another thing I have difficulty with is the general disregard of speed limits on country roads. They will often be signed at 50km/h - but nobody will be driving at less than 80.
willit is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 07:48 AM
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I hope you saw Bob's note at the end of his post about getting an International Driver's Permit. It's required.

Allow a day or two to get over jet lag before you start driving. I always stay in a bigger city for several days at the beginning of my trip.

And it's easier to be sure of an automatic if you pick up at a busy location like a big airport.

We also had problems at a gas station that was unattended at 6:00 in gthe evening. I don't know if this station (in downtown Siracusa) was ever attended. Anyway we couldn't buy gas there with our American credit or debit cards.

But don't let all this put you off. Driving in Tuscany is easy and it's really the way to see that area.
Mimar is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 08:43 AM
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A few more tips - get the best, most detailed maps you can find. The roads in Italy can be very confusing, and turns come up on you very unexpectedly. Also, there are often very few places to pull over when you make a wrong turn, especially with a speeding Alpha Romeo on your tail. Driving in places like Rome and Florence is only for the very brave. Don't let all this scare you however, the driving is a little stressful at times but not really that bad, and you'll see some breathtaking scenery.
zootsi is offline  
Sep 1st, 2010, 10:38 PM
Join Date: Jul 2010
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I received two traffic fines for driving in a bus-only lane while in Florence and the citations arrived one full year after my visit. I say to be aware of these signs, however, the problem was that they were not in English so I had no idea that I was using an improper lane. Just be cautious and follow all the previous good tips. Don't be intimidated, drive confidently and enjoy your adventure.
CYESQ is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2010, 09:17 AM
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The most important advice for driving in Tuscany is not to underestimate driving times. Roads are winding and often narrow, so Tuscan driving is REALLY slow driving. Always add half the time that you would normally calculate for the same distance on secondary roads. Otherwise, driving is easy & fun. Roads are well-maintained, Italians are the best drivers in the world, signage is more often good than not. Of course, driving a gear stick is indispensable - not just because automatic rental cars are rare and expensive, but above all because the Tuscan topography is definitely not made for automatic cars: you need the engine brake effect of a gear stick to enjoy driving there.
As far as cities (which means Florence, in the case of Tuscany), I think all the cautions are a bit exaggerated. I don't know what should be scary about driving in a city whose streets are enormous parking lots for most of the day since there is such an incredible congestion that speed is counted by inches per hour, not miles. Yes, that's Florence! Rather for the patient than for the brave, IMO... Of course, it's true that you're not allowed to enter the "residents only" areas, so if you are planning on driving into Florence, you need to do your homework first and check the maps (available online) that show who is allowed to drive and park in which parts of the city.
franco is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2010, 04:45 PM
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Thank you all for your invaluable advice and knowledge of driving in Tuscany. Some of your comments made us a little nervous, but we are still very excited to experience this adventure. Is there any "must see" small towns or countrysides? Obviously we will visiting Florence (maybe via local buses instead of driving in it), we are staying in Assisi for part of the trip, but other than that we have no definite plans.
smsarts is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2010, 05:40 PM
Join Date: Feb 2003
Posts: 293
I didn't read through all of your replies but I would just add to what I think is the central theme---DO IT!!!! Driving in the Italian countryside is an experience you will always remember. We have taken 4-5 different trips and have always driven---but NEVER in the cities. Exception might be Florence only with good directions to a hotel with parking. One of you (perhaps on varying days) must be navigator and the other driver. We haven't used a GPS but sit in the morning and plot our route using maps and books and make notes. good advice about noting cities/towns rather than route numbers. And if you can drive a standard that will save some money. And you will LOVE every minute of it!!!

as to where you should go, tell a bit more or perhaps post a separate query and you will get wonderful information.
Have a wonderful time.
MaggieOB is offline  
Sep 2nd, 2010, 08:05 PM
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Posts: 4,270
Here's a little trip report I wrote about Assis - we were there three years ago.

We had a happy time there.
Peter_S_Aus is online now  
Sep 3rd, 2010, 03:03 AM
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 10,168
San Gimignano
Greve in Chianti
Sant' Antimo
are all famous tourist sites with very good reason. As art teachers, there are certainly places associated with particular artists that you will want to visit.

Any tiny spot on a back road is likely to be a treat.
Ackislander is offline  
Sep 3rd, 2010, 06:15 AM
Join Date: Feb 2006
Posts: 2,355
smsarts, if you spend some time reading on Fodor's, you'll notice that the concept of "must-sees" is not too well-regarded here. One's must-see is another's nightmare... If you tell us specifically what you're interested in, you'll get plenty of tips. Well, certainly in art, no doubt, but specifically, which art? Which styles? And so on...
franco is offline  
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