Driving in Tuscany tips. Siena? San G.?

Aug 7th, 2003, 10:13 AM
  #1  
cat
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Driving in Tuscany tips. Siena? San G.?

I am traveling to Italy Aug. 27-Sept. 7. We will be flying into Rome and staying for 3 nights. Then we are renting a car and driving through Tuscany. We are spending 2 nights at Locanda Dell'Amorosa in Sinalunga and 2 nights at Villa San Michele outside Florence. We will then return the car in Florence and are taking the train to Venice for 3 nights.

I am a little worried about the driving part. Does anyone have any input on driving do's, dont's, hazards, traffic, rules of the road, helpful hints etc. I am especially concerned about traffic, directions and gas stations as I understand these three things can be somewhat of a problem in Tuscany. Any comments or suggestions?

Also, is it worth trying to actually go into Siena and San Gimignano? I heard traffic is terrible, hoards of tourists and tour buses and you must park outside the walls and walk in. Are these places worth the hassle or should we just stick to some of the smaller, more rural towns and admire these places from afar. We want to sightsee, but more than anything, we want a somewhat relaxing vacation.

Any input would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.
cat is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 10:40 AM
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Siena is worth the hassle - actually not much of a hassle. You don't have to walk very far.
My only problem, that i can recall, with driving in Tuscany last fall was that the signposting left a lot to be desired. You need a REALLY good map and navigator. But I didn't have traffice problems, etc.
Keep to the right on the autostrada - the left lanes are for passing and people driving VERY FAST.
We had no problems finding gas stations.
You will love it! Have a great time.
anotherjudy is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 10:47 AM
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Spend some time at slowtrav.com for answers to most of your questions. I love your hotel choices--the best.
bobthenavigator is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 11:24 AM
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There really isn't a lot of trouble with finding parking. Don't try going into any town with walls, drive around the outskirts for parking. I have a distinct distaste for driving in Italy but it is doable and absolutely worth it! Make sure you have a great map and someone to read the signs while you're driving. It's nearly impossible to get lost but very easy to take the long way. Driving is a sport there I think! The biggest hazard in my opinion are the motorscooters whizzing by. Good luck and enjoy - those towns are beautiful.
gottatravel_europe is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 12:05 PM
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Hi Cat. We drove in Tuscany for four days, based out of Siena, last year and thoroughly enjoyed it.

What, exactly, is your concern about gas stations? Finding them, using them, or both? We didn't have any problem with either of those.

The only problem we had with directions is that there is such an incredible clutter of signs in some places (someone posted a link to some photos on a thread here showing this) that it can be difficult to pick out what you're looking for if you're driving by. We didn't, however, have any problem with signs and directions on the autostrada.

As far as traffic and general driving goes...

. As was already mentioned KEEP RIGHT on the autostrada unless passing.

. On non-autostrada two-lane roads, people may come up close behind you but, for the most part, we found that they passed as soon as possible. There were, on rare occasions, drivers who seemed to delight in tailgating even when they had room to pass. It's annoying but, if it happens, try to not let it get to you.

. One other thing to watch for. Once again *occasionally*, drivers will cut partially across the inner lane on bends in two-lane roads. So if you're driving in an inner lane while approaching a blind bend, slow down and/or hug the right-hand side of the inner lane and/or honk your horn as you approach.

I can't say whether San Gimignano is worth the hassle because we gave up trying to park when we arrived around noon on a Saturday. But it sounds like a wonderful place to visit. My suggestion would be to get there as early as possible to beat the crowds.

Having stayed in Siena for five nights, I'd say, yes, it's absolutely worth a visit. There is a very large pay parking garage right inside the city walls only about a ten minute walk from the main square, Il Campo. The parking garage is also called Il Campo and you want to follow the signs to Porta Tufi, which is the gate on the south side of the city.

Don't fret (unless you're very timid drivers.) We found driving in Tuscany to be far less stressful than we expected.
capo is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 12:20 PM
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San G may not be worth the hassle. I found it to be the most touristy town we visited....flooded with American tourists.

I mad the mistake of taking a wrong turn and driving inside the walls in Sienna....the Sunday before the Palio.
Did I ever feel dumb as all the locals looked at the lost tourist.

NEVER drive inside the walls(unless you are staying there)

I posted a picture I took of a signpost in Montepulciano.

http://img.villagephotos.com/p/2003-7/296007/signs2.jpg

PS It cost us about $50 each time we had to fill our tank.
Dick is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 12:27 PM
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I've driven around Tuscany 3-4 times and don't think it's any big deal, driving-wise. Good map and navigator are useful, but I agree with the poster who said it's hard to get lost but easy to take the long way round. (And that sometimes has its own rewards!)

The parking in Siena, San Gim, and other towns is usually well marked. In Siena, contrary to the former poster, there are several large car parks just inside the walls. Again, well signed. Don't worry about being too far away -- it's only about a 10 minute walk to the Duomo or the city center.

Most of these towns are quite small, so parking just outside the walls is not a big deal in terms of walking in. I have never had a problem finding parking at San Gim, despite being there in June or July, but I know others have.

You might consider some other, less visited towns, that are equally wonderful. I love Volterra, with its interesting geology and superb Etruscan museum; tiny Monterrigioni; Montalcino where the Brunellos are grown; Pienza, a perfect gem that was used for the filming of Romeo & Juliet; Bagno Vinoni with its hot springs and Roman pool instead of a piazza. More than you can possibly do in the time you have!

Gas stations are more frequent than they used to be, and more of them take credit cards these days. But you should be prepared to pay cash if necessary.
Marilyn is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 12:33 PM
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After Marilyn's comment, let me clarify Dick's comment "NEVER drive inside the walls."

Speaking only of Siena, I think what Dick means is that you don't want to get into the heart of the city, not that you can't drive a block or two past the city walls. After all, as I noted above, to get to the Il Campo parking garage in Siena you *have* to drive about a block or two past the city walls/Porta Tufi.

Also, if one is staying within the city walls of Siena one can -- according to the guy who ran our locanda anyway -- drive within the walls to drop off and pick up luggage, which I did without any great problem. In fact, I found it to be rather fun.
capo is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 12:44 PM
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cat
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Thanks to all who have replied. Your responses are putting my mind at ease about driving around Tuscany. I have a few more questions:

With regard to the gas stations, I read that most close up during the middle of day for several hours (as do many other things). What time do they close and reopen?

Also, I have heard it is not wise to drive around after dark. Is this true? Does anyone know about what time the sun sets in Tuscany in early September?

Finally, can anyone reccomend a good road map and/or guidebook of tuscany that would be most helpful with directions?

Sorry, I know, a lot of questions. But, I find all of your answers extremely helpful. Thanks again.
cat is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 01:20 PM
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Dick,

I had planned on doing exactly what you warned against. I am staying at the Palazzo Ravizza in Siena (inside the walls) and arriving the day before the Palio (8 days from now). The hotel says to drive in the walls and they offer free parking. Is following the hotel's directions a recipe for disaster?

Leaving in 2 days!
eschule is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 01:33 PM
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I bought a large scale Michelin map which served me quite well.
Dick's picture of the signposts is pretty typical - and hysterical!
I had no problems driving after dark. We were there in October and it was dark by the time we started looking for dinner, whatever time that was (?).
Have a great time in Tuscany!!
anotherjudy is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 01:35 PM
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Disaster ...no. Getting very nervous...absolutely.

We had large crowds in the street....so the feeling of "oh sh*t, what have I done" may come up. But we actually look back on it as being part of a wonderful experience. We just hung loose and went with the flow.

Few tips. Drive very slowly. At intersections within the walls, look for one way signs or watch people for their reaction. Their hand motions told us we were headed the wrong way.

Also, when you get to town, buy a scarf/kerchief from one of the contradas(neighborhoods). They are cheap and sold everywhere. When you buy them, ask where the contrada is located and go there. You wear the contradas flag as a kerchief and become part of the excitement. It is great fun to become a part of "your new neighborhood"
Dick is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 01:51 PM
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thanks dick. I can picture your expressions and 100% expect to experience them when the time comes. thanks again for the quick response.
eschule is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 02:03 PM
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eschule,

Have a fabulous trip.

We have only been back a few weeks and are trying to figure out how quickly we can get back.

Becuase you may encounter some crowds, you might want to have the name of the Hotel and address writen out so that you can show it to people inside the walls if you get lost.
Dick is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 02:29 PM
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cat, driving at night is not a problem, except for getting lost. You want to have a pretty good idea where you are going. Our worst experience was going round and round some deserted, industrial part of a town unable to find our way to the autostrada and no one about to ask directions.

As for maps, you simply cannot beat the Touring Club Italiano ones.
Marilyn is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 02:35 PM
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As for Dick's very funny signage photo, here are a few tips:

1. Ignore any sign in yellow and black. Those are all ads for businesses. (unless you are looking for a specific restaurant)

2. The brown and white signs are mostly informational.

3. The blue signs and the green signs are the ones to pay attention to!! They are the only actual ROAD signs. The green is the autostrada and the blue is the secondary roads.

So in this case, all the main roads are the same direction out of town. This is very common when leaving these small hilltop cities. You will then reach a point where you hit a main road and the directions will be indicated separately.
Marilyn is offline  
Aug 7th, 2003, 08:35 PM
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Eschule, you'll have no problem driving to the Palazzo Ravizza inside the city wall. Just be sure to enter via by Porta San Marco. To your left as you enter the gates, there is a street you'll take a short distance before turning right to reach the hotel. Once you check in, they'll point out their private, gated lot below the hotel - very convenient and easy to get out of the city to Motorway A1 to reach nearby towns.

Palazzo Ravizza was a great place for us to stay last September. My only complaint was that our room wasn't well lit at night. Romantic, lovely, but not conducive to reading at night.

Cat, we had our own parking in Siena so can't help you there, except to say don't even think of trying to drive inside the walls. At San Gimignano, we had no problem finding a convenient lot outside the walls and an easy stroll inside. We didn't spend long in San Gimignano, but it was well worth the trip, just beautiful and unique.
Mary_Fran is offline  
Aug 8th, 2003, 01:20 AM
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Toll highways have a blue lane for credit card payment.
Gas stations usually open from 7.30am to 1.00pm and from 3.00pm to 7.30pm.
A lot of gas stations have a self service system operating while not manned.
It is compulsory to keep lights always on outside city limits, day or night.
LeCanard is offline  
Aug 11th, 2003, 06:00 AM
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cat
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Just took a look a Dick's photo of the signpost. OH MY GOD! Marilyn, thanks for the tips on deciphering all of this!

Thanks again to everyone for all of your responses and your help. We are looking forward to a wonderful trip.
cat is offline  
Aug 11th, 2003, 06:07 AM
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cat
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Oh, one more question.

In Italy, the steering wheel is on the left (like in US) and drivers keep to the right (like in US). I had a debate about this issue with some friends this weekend and now I'm confused. Somebody please correct me if I'm wrong. Thanks.
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