Visiting Villages in Tuscany and Surrounding Areas

The tourist season is upon us and every year, Americans hit the roads in Tuscany. Driving in Tuscany is not like driving in the United States, and if you haven’t seen the sites in the major cities, I encourage you to do that first and use public transportation until you understand Italy a little better. The trains and buses are excellent ways to travel.

Some of you won’t believe me, or just want to be off the beaten path, so be forewarned. I have rented a car a few times so here are some of my travel tips.

I usually rent from a place called sure your rental contract offers unlimited miles. All of the rental car companies are located on my street if you choose the city option vs. the airport, so that is convenient. Get a small car!This one was small enough to maneuver on the windy curvy roads of Tuscany and surrounding areas, but large enough that we didn’t feel cramped. Don’t bring a lot of luggage. It won’t fit.
First of all, I have to say it again…I never recommend driving in Italy (the city or the countryside), especially if you are a new visitor. There are plenty of wonderful hill towns to see by bus or train or taking day tours. These options allow you to look at the countryside, relax, and enjoy yourself for the short time you are here. If you are a seasoned Italy traveler, you might consider renting a car, but prepare yourself! Hopefully these tips will help.

1. Be reasonable in how many places and how much distance you can cover in a day. While the towns might not seem far apart, you will want to use the state routes and not the autostrada. The autostrada will get you there quickly, but you won’t see as much of the beautiful countryside. The state routes are good roads, but are curvy, filled with tunnels and sometimes take you through heavy mountainous areas. You will probably want to stop along the way for photos etc. You will not see many gas stations, or bathrooms, so keep that in mind.

2. The road signs in Italy, along with being International road signs do not give directions or street numbers. It is important you know the next town that you are headed to along your route. We also found the km. count on the signs to be unreliable and just plain wrong in many instances. You will need a detailed map, but sometimes it won’t help that much…and forget about help from a GPS device!.

3. There are large tolls on the autostrada. We paid over 10 euros for one stretch of about 200 km. At the first toll gate you take a ticket and when you exit you pay the toll. There is no way to know (at least I don’t know how) how much the toll will be until you exit
4. Because you are on state routes running between small villages, there may or may not be places to eat/drink. We took lunch meats, cheese, bread, olives, water, etc along to make a picnic lunch. It was usually easy to find a nice scenic place for a picnic.

5. If you are on the road at night, go to the autostrada. The state routes are difficult during the day (depending where you are going), but at night, scary!

6. If you decide to have a home base and travel from there, keep your distances in mind. If you have the luxury of staying overnight, that would be ideal, but it presents other issues around where you are going to be when you end the day. Consider that carefully when you are planning.

7. You do need an International driver’s license. They asked me for it at the rental office, although sometimes they don’t. If you are stopped by the police, they will want the International driver’s license.

8. Be aware that there are cameras and remote speed detection devices all over Italy. You will see signs for them and then about 2 miles after, there will be the camera. If you are speeding, a ticket will be mailed to the rental company, who will charge you 50 euro per ticket and then forward it on to you for payment. They are usually around 150-200 euro additional!

If you do decide to drive, be prepared to see some amazing sites!

8 Comments on “Visiting Villages in Tuscany and Surrounding Areas

  1. Great tips! I have never understood how to know a toll amount uless doing the route multiple ttimes (which doesn’t happen often)

    Just a warning to expats. The Internazional license is null after 1 year of permesso di soggiorno. If the cops pop you, the car gets impounded and they take away the license and force you to driving school with a fine, of course. I have had 2 friends get their cars impounded this way….1 accident and one pulled over for a wrong manuver.

    • I’m pretty sure the international driver’s license expires after one year, whether you are resident/ permesso/ or visa.

      • Right but you cannot have an Int’l license if you are a resident for more than a year. Example….now you’ve resided in Italy for 3 years and think to get an Int’l license. Think again unless you want to chance an incident.

  2. thanks, karen – remember driving in sicily??? you and emily did a great job!! such good memories..

  3. This is great advice and you are the first blogger I have read who cautions about driving in Italy. I have travelled to Italy quite a few times now, but as an Aussie who drives on the other side of the road, I would never consider driving in Italy! I did take a cinquecento tour around the hills of Florence, driving but following others – it was great fun but that was the only time. As you said why add stress, and there are plenty of small towns you can see using the public transport. Plus I have taken some small group tours in mini vans which are an excellent idea!

  4. Driving in Italy isn’t so bad — it’s parking that’s the problem. In many Italian cities, much of the parking is restricted to residents. And don’t think you can get away with parking illegally just because you have a rental car — the agency will track you down and send you the ticket. There’s often some place to park right outside the city center — if you see one of those, park there and walk. Another issue is that many towns have limited traffic zones (ZTL) in the historic central district. If you’re not a resident or staying in a local hotel, and you drive in the ZTL, you will be fined. Bottom line, if you are driving in the countryside, you may want a car. But if you’re visiting just the popular tourist spots, take the train.

  5. One warning – don’t rely blindly on GPS. When driving in Italy on our last visit, I found myself entering a bike path in Rome (subject to quizzical looks from the locals). And in Assisi, it directed us to turn left down a series of stairs! (Then again, I may have been overwhelmed by all that is Italy!)

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