Driving in Italy
We picked up our rental car at Piazzale Roma, Venice, at Auto Europa on Sunday morning. Would have preferred picking up at the train station, but they are not open on Saturday afternoon when we would be returning. The office we needed was hidden away on the right side of the road, behind the tiny bus station, and we went to another agency first. We met two other couples who made the same mistake, or reversed the error.
Everything had been arranged and paid for in advance through www.gemut.com, thanks to a hint from this forum. Clerk spoke English, car was delivered as promised, no extra. charges except the road tax of 12 euros which gemut had told me to expect. They refused to take my credit card because it will expire within six months. First time I had heard of that. In case we absconded with the car and disappeared for six months, the company would not be able to collect extra charges?? Fortunately, we travel with two different cards. We checked out the car and it had no obvious dents. Asked about fuel and learned it took diesel. (ALWAYS check the car and ask about fuel.)
The car was a Fiat Punta, manual drive with A/C and Gemut’s rate was $314 (not Euros) for a week (including necessary insurance) which beat everything I compared it to. The best part of renting through Gemut is that you can cancel at any time. If the rates go down, you can cancel and rebook at the lower rate. I had asked if the class of car we were getting was adequate for the mountains we would drive over and they said it was but it was pretty sluggish on steep roads. My husband does all the driving, because I left my stick shift skills behind when I was 18 and my family got their first automatic shift car. My husband, on the other hand, revels in all that pushing and wrestling of gears, and particularly loves mountain roads, a must if you are driving in Le Marche.
He read up on Italian road signs and important vocabulary covered in the Rick Steves phrase book, and a terrific short guide to Driving in Italy and Southern Europe that I found on this forum. (sorry, don’t have the exact url)
We had printed out Michelin route directions (www.viamichelin.com)to get us to our first Le Marche destination. I decided to save the money and see more of the countryside by asking for a non-toll road version. This version took us through edges of cities, but since it was Sunday, the traffic was negligible. Off the main roads, potholes prevail. We had been warned to follow signs indicating cities ahead on the route rather than route numbers, and it is true that you often don’t see route numbers for hours. The Michelin route, while very accurate, sometimes gave a different set of place names as guides than were shown on the signs and a couple of times we briefly got off track. It takes constant attention when you are not familiar with an area. We also had the excellent map of Le Marche printed by the Touring Club Italiano. Free from www.le-marche.com or from the Italian Tourism Agency. I did not take a road map of all Italy, so for short portions we were off the map, and I wish I had taken a road map of the entire country as well as the regional map.
Sunday: Getting There, Wherever ‘There’ Is
The route took us through San Marino, a very scenic route. We were ready for lunch by the time we arrived at the lower town and stopped in the first restaurant we saw, which turned out to be a very good piece of luck. Although Hostaria Lina was called a Pizzeria and Ristorante, they were not serving pizza. There were large families there, some celebrating children’s birthdays. Obviously a local favorite. They have rooms to rent on the upper floor and an enoteca in the basement. The décor is rustic in the warren of rooms and the menu extensive.
We shared the “priest strangler” gnocchi with four cheeses and raviola with asparagus. My husband also had minestrone. All the dishes were very good. (E21.00)
You will notice that we seem never to order all the courses available, and therefore our meal costs are fairly low. D.H. does not drink and I sometimes had one glass of wine. Even so, having been to Rome, Florence and Venice, we were amazed at how economical Le Marche was.
We did not want to arrive after dark at our first hotel, so opted not to explore the castle part of San Marino, and since it was Sunday we could not buy stamps and mail postcards, one of the major activities of visitors. But we had another country to check off our list, and a trivia question for our friends. We never left the outer boundaries of Italy, but visited three countries. What are the other two?
Now we were in Le Marche and excited to see the electric green hills and the fortified villages off in every direction. I was amazed that Michelin provided guidance right to the tiny village of Caprazzino-Strada, the mailing address of our hotel, Le Torricelle. From there, we followed the directions sent to us by Le Torricelle (www.letorricelle.com) for the road between Lunano and Sassocorvaro that leads up (and up and up) to their agritourism retreat. I had booked directly by e-mail and paid half the cost through PayPal. When we left, they said we could just wait and pay through Pay Pal when we got home if we would rather. Total cost was E 195 plus E12 for breakfasts.
The road is paved (sort of) but very narrow and leads past several quaint places that COULD have been an agritourism. After several, “Is that it?” pauses, we came to the top of a hill with all the world seeming to stretch beneath it, and saw the mosaic symbol from the web site, placed discreetly on the side of a small building. We parked and Suzanne came down the grassy slope from the house to meet us. When we asked about the lack of a sign, she said that in high season, people drive around the countryside looking for a place to stay and if they had a sign, too many people would bother them, so they have no sign—just directions for their guests. Hmmm? Was I supposed to have a secret password, too?
Le Torricelle more than lives up to the quaint and quirky beauty shown on the web site. One of the things that attracted me here was the fact that rather than a bombardment of facts, the site starts with a poem. Since there were no other guests, we were upgraded from the small one bedroom apartment to a two-story, three-bedroom. We had a kitchen, a few steps up from the ground level. Everything here is hilly, so ground level varies from building to building. Up a staircase was a living room with fireplace and windows with great views, our spacious bedroom and bath had wonderful views, also. The two extra bedrooms were closed since we did not need them.
Five people live here permanently. They all came from Bavaria. They spent nine years rebuilding the crumbling old stone farmhouses. The rentals consist of the small apartment, the apartment we were in, and a house that could hold up to ten people. Suzanne says they frequently have families with small children.
Since this place is on top of a hill, you can’t just walk off to town for dinner, but the towns are five minutes away by car. Suzanne recommended La Gatta on the edge of Lunano. No web site. For such a small town, this is a beautiful and sophisticated restaurant. The restaurant is an old farm house with stone walls and vaulted ceilings and fireplaces. A little flower branch lay beside a candle on each table. Dried flowers and copper pots hung from the ceiling. We enjoyed the best pizzas of our trip, and would have loved to go back for another meal, but unfortunately they are only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
I had a glass of Rosso Picino, a good Le Marche wine, and a pizza with two cheeses and spinach. DH had tomato sauce on his vegetarian pizza topped with eggplant, zucchini, and raw salad greens. We shared a huge salad. (E 23.50)
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Driving in Italy