How to get to Tuscany

Feb 23rd, 2009, 11:54 AM
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How to get to Tuscany

I am a 53 year female planning my first trip abroad to Italy in the May or September, 2009 timeframe. At this point, I have 10-15 days to work with. I will be visiting Venice, Florence and Rome for certain, and I really, really, really want to see Tuscany. My dream vacation is to spend 3-4 days in one place, high on a hill, in a B&B or some similar establishment with a veranda where I can sit and "chill" and walk to shop, eat at restaurants, etc. My problem is that I am not at all comfortable with the prospect of renting a car. I've read so many horror stories about the difficulties of car rental and the drive and since I will be alone, I would rather avoid the hassle. In addition, I don't know how to drive anything other than an automatic.
I will be traveling to Rome after Florence. Is there a train that would get me to a wonderful Tuscan hill town and then to Rome? If so, what town would you recommend that I spend 3-4 days in?
henrietta123 is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 12:11 PM
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Renting a car is not so much of a hassle, but my preference would be to have two to drive, and one to navigate. Siena might work. It is serviced by train and buses. We stayed at a small hotel outside the city center, but many people on this board will give you options for staying in the historic center. There is plenty to see in Siena, and you most likely will be able to take buses to other towns. We stayed at the Villa Scacciapensieri. Here are some photos of the hotel and my trip report to Tuscany.
I hope you are planning on 15 days as you have a lot of ground to cover if you want to stay in Venice, Florence, a Tuscan town, and Rome. If it were me, I would skip Florence, but I don't know what your priorities are.
luvtotravel is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 12:14 PM
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Hi H,

I understand your concerns about driving.

Sorry that I can't help you with a specific place in which to stay.

I also suggest that you consider Orvieto, even if it is in Umbria and not Tuscany.

ira is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 12:14 PM
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I think Siena should be your destination because a)it's 'a wonderful Tuscan hill town' and b) you can take daytrips from there to San Gimignano (another 'wonderful Tuscan hill town'), Volterra, Monteriggioni, etc.

Another stop could be Orvieto, though not in Tuscany, it is en route to Rome. From there, you could try to see Civita d'Bagnoregio.
TuckH is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 07:41 PM
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I totally sympathize with you. I ahve been to Italy many times, and never felt comfortable driving. So I know I will be limited on the places I can get to because of this. It doesn't mean you will not able to, it's just more difficult.

I think Tuck has given you great advise. Also, consider Lucca. It's in a different section of Tuscany , but beautiful nonetheless. And also, it's not considered a "hill town". From there you could do day trips to Pisa and Cinqueterre. The former is very close, less than hal hour. The latter makes for a long day but it's totally doable.
cruiseluv is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 08:27 PM
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Henrietta - congratulations on your first trip to Italy. If you don't want to rent a car the two places mentioned above Siena and Orvieto are ideal. Siena is much busier than Orvieto so if you want a quiet place choose the latter, although the crowds will mostly leave at the end of the day. I haven't been to Lucca so I can't comment on it. If you decide on Siena the bus, rather than the train, is a better option from Florence.

Driving in Italy is so wonderful as long as you keep away from the large cities. There is very little traffic on country roads and I find the Italian drivers to be good. No blaring of horns or shouting out the windows like at home. You can drive at whatever pace suits you and let others pass you by. The narrow wind through the rolling hills and the scenery is just lovely. I think May is a better time for Tuscany as you will see more green after the spring rains. In September the fields will be dry and brown. A car will allow you to visit many more town than you would see using public transport.

If you decide to rent a car buy a good map before you leave and each day plot the route you plan to drive. I write the route on a piece of paper to refer to while I drive, rather than stopping to look at the map.
adrienne is offline  
Feb 23rd, 2009, 11:07 PM
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Apart from your nervousness about the process of hiring, it's worth bearing in mind that:

- It's practically impossible to guarantee a car you book in Italy will be automatic unless you choose the very expensive classes. If you're not trained to drive a manual car, don't even think of driving unless you're 150% sure you will actually get an automatic.
- Rural driving in Italy is indeed wonderful. But by yourself, driving - and more importantly trying to park - anywhere with a population of more than 5,000 can be a breakdown-inducing nightmare, especially the first few hundred times you try it. Getting out of airports is fine - but Italy is an extremely congested country, and the motorway system from Rome or Pisa airports to rural Tuscany involves substantial stretches where driving is an exercise in licensed aggression in a crowded space. Non-motorway routes from the major airports (or anywhere else you can pick up a hire car) are far worse.

Many people from outside Italy love driving there - and (like the idiots who occasionally appear on this board telling snow novices how easy it is to drive without chains or winter tyres on ice-bound mountain roads) simply can't get it into their heads how terrifying it can be for the less foolhardy. You MIGHT actually find yourself loving it. But if this really is your first time outside your native country, and if that country is one with wide, empty roads, dealing with a manual car, foreign-language signs and Italians' deeply unAmerican attitudes to parking, speed and motorway etiquette - all without a companion to prewarn you - is extremely risky.

To the best of my knowledge, without a car, your vision of "high on a hill, in a B&B or some similar establishment with a veranda where I can sit and "chill" and walk to shop, eat at restaurants, etc." is simply unrealistic. Italian rural public transport is awful, and you'll be lucky to find one bus a week to that 500-population village. What you obviously CAN do is stay in Siena or Orvieto. These are substantial - and in Siena's case mostly noisy - towns, where you'll be staying in a small bedroom in a pretty town with lots of neighbours. You might, if you're really lucky, get a balcony half the size of a big bathtowel - but you're not going to have space for much more than drying your washing on it. Even our (very small) dog has never found one big enough for him to sit on

Personally I can think of few things nicer than a week in Orvieto (to which public transport is excellent), where traffic is managed so that in much of the town all you can hear are church bells, rotten programmes on your neighbour's TV and chattering crowds. But's it's an urban, not rural experience.
flanneruk is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 07:07 AM
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Following up on Lucca.

It is a very nice town - quiet and serene.

A great place for decompressing.
ira is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 07:13 AM
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Hi Henrietta,

If you don't drive a stick, I would also recommend not renting a car since so many people report not getting an automatic when they reserved one.

However, I have to disagree with flanneruk, I have loved driving in Italy and France. My first Italy experience was with a navigator who was basically worthless, so I was really on my own. My second experience was in France, totally solo and I speak no French. No problem. The third trip driving was Italy again and solo. Loved it, had a great time. I do drive a stick and loved the country roads. I would not be so foolish as to try and drive in the major cities.

I loved Orvieto (stayed 3 nts) and would recommend it. Siena would also be a good option, especially since it was good transportation connections.

Buon viaggio!
Dayle is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 11:14 AM
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Orvieto is a stunning hill town, and is very close to the border with Tuscany. It's on the train line between Florence and Rome.

Lucca is NOT a hill town -- it is at the base of the mountains. But it's a charming walled city and the walls are so wide that the top is now a park, wide enough for people to walk, bike, lie on the grass, or sit on a bench. The central piazza is an oval, because there originally was a Roman stadium there. It's on the train route between Florence and Pisa.

I think you would probably be OK driving, but you don't really have to. So don't push yourself. Being alone would make navigating a bit difficult.
charnees is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 12:40 PM
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Thanks to all of your for your replies! The information you've shared with me has been most helpful.
henrietta123 is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 12:53 PM
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I don't quite see why (almost) everyone is sending you to Orvieto; it's not in Tuscany, and it's not very small.

There are any number of small Tuscan hill towns that you can get to by bus (not train) from Florence. Greve, for example, is very well connected by bus to Florence.

I can't promise you the balcony (traditional Tuscan architecture did not go in very much for balconies), but you can certainly find a room with a view to die for. I encourage you to spend some time checking out the possibilities at this Web site:
Zerlina is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 01:28 PM
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Zerlina, I checked out the website you attached for Greve and it seems to be exactly what I'm looking for! It's simply beautiful! I'm wondering if I make Florence my base, is there a bus or train to get me to Greve? Or would it be better if I stopped off in Greve on the train to Rome?
henrietta123 is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 01:44 PM
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Greve is not served by train. It is only served by buses from Florence. Here is a link to the schedule:

Zerlina is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 04:04 PM
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You could also stay a few days in Pienza or Montepulciano. You can reach both by bus. If you stay in town, you will have plenty of restaurants and shops. Siena Mobilita has all the buses for Tuscany.

You could spend a couple of days in Siena (bus there from Florence)although it's really a city, not a small hill town. You can take a bus to Pienza or Montepulciano for a day or two on your way to Rome (bus from Siena to Pienza takes about 1 hour - a bit longer to get to Montepulciano). From either of these you can catch a bus to Chiusi's train station to head to Rome, stopping for a night or two in Orvieto if you want.

If you stay in Pienza area, there are many hikes between the towns if that interests you.
kybourbon is offline  
Feb 24th, 2009, 10:30 PM
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lyb is offline  
Feb 25th, 2009, 02:10 PM
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I think you should look for a hilltown that is served by buses and/or trains -- which include more lovely hilltowns than many people who post on Fodor's about Tuscany know about, since it has become almost an orthodox mantra that you "must" have a car to see Tuscany. Not true. Since you are not leaving until Sept 2009, you have plenty of time to do some research. Look into towns like Certaldo in addition to Greve in the Chianti area and the ones mentioned by Kybourbon in the val d'Orcia area.

Instead of spending money on a car, you should spend it on a driver if you really think you are not going to see all that you want using local buses or trains. That way, you can look at the Tuscan scenery for which Tuscany is so famous. You can't do that when you drive on an Italian country road.
zeppole is offline  
Feb 28th, 2009, 07:57 PM
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For those who would explore Tuscany without their own car, there are some good ideas and useful links here:
toscoman is offline  

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