So you want to rent a car in Italy? Lets start out by saying we did. We are glad we did. But just know we got a little lucky just by chance and we survived with only two tickets for the same offence at the same location ten minutes apart. Coincidence? We think not...
Once you have received your car as a rule do not leave the lot before you make sure all your controls are set up in english. Did we mention get a car with GPS. It is a must. We had one in the car that we had the rental car guy change the language from Italian to English because we could not figure it out, and also we brought with us our Tom Tom. We recommend you do the same. Also get a good new map as a backup.
On the road in Italy, signs often won’t indicate north, south, east, or west; instead, they’ll use a city sign. So if you want to drive north from Rome, for example, you might look for a sign for “Firenze” or “Sienna.” As you might expect, this can be incredibly confusing for anyone not intimately familiar with Italian geography (especially when you get to smaller roads, which often indicate their direction with smaller towns and villages).
Roundabouts, intersections, and exits off main roads often have signs indicating restaurants, hotels, and sights of interest… but you’ll have to be a graduate of the Italian Evelyn Wood speed reading College to scan them all let alone figure out where you are going.Then there is the cadence of the driving. What we like to call "road rage" here, with other drivers seeming to be quite upset about your being in their way, is standard procedure on Italian roads, where they see it as a routine part of driving. For many Americans, your concept of courtesy will be seen by Italian drivers as a sign of weakness (we're not joking here)! You better be prepared to get on with it and it is not about speed its more about merging where there is only inches to spare. If you can fit you better go for it. As soon as you see a gap, go for it. Italians expect the unexpected and react swiftly but they're not used to ditherers so whatever you do, do it decisively.
When travelling down the motorways (the only way to cover any distance) stay on the right unless you are overtaking (foreign concept to most Americans) or you may get a ticket for impeding traffic. Most motorways have tolls so you should carry €20-30 in coins to speed your progress through the toll booths. While you can pay with cash or credit cards, follow white signs to booths to pay by cash, blue signs to booths to pay by credit card, cash is the fastest. The lanes with yellow signs are for frequent users that have a telepass.
This series of cautions may make it seem a bit daunting and in some ways it is, but at the same time we would not have changed a thing. Dont drive in Rome. Drive in the country. Have two GPS's and a good map and a designated navigator to aid the driver and a backup navigator for when the inevitable happens. Allow a lot more time than you think for even just finding a park can take a lot of time, yes a lot of time. Get the smallest car you and your gear can fit in and carry a lot of coins for the tolls and parking meters and do your daily pre trip homework.
One more thing. The Italians are more than happy to give you directions. If your Italian is good you are set. If, like us both of your Italian words are not to be used in mixed company you get a lot of gesturing along with the most misunderstood words of our trip. Directions in the best Italian english blend with exaggerated hand gestures... Itsa easy, you cannota miss it ... yet we did most of the time.
Ciao Ciao enjoy your drive.
Happy Wine Adventures,
WineWalkaboutKiwi & Koala