Italy’s big cities have fantastic public transportation. And the inter-city rail system is also wonderful.
But when you travel to wine country, there’s really no other way to reach your out-of-the-way destinations than by motor vehicle.
I just got back from a two-week trip to Italy where my main means of transportation was an Avis rental. Here are some insights that I’ve gleaned over the years and on this last sojourn.
– get an international driver’s permit.
I’ve never heard of anyone having problems when traveling without one but I have heard that some rental car companies are refusing to rent to people who don’t have one. I get mine every year at AAA. It’s super easy and takes just a few minutes. Why risk it?
– manual transmission is the standard.
Many people are surprised to learn that you have to make a special reservation for an automatic transmission cars (and it costs more). Stick shift is the norm in Italy.
– nearly all rentals are diesel.
Every car I’ve rented over the last 20 years has been diesel. Fuel, in general, costs about four times as much in Europe. When you go to the gas station, “diesel normale” (regular diesel) is the way to go and that’s what the attendant will ask you when she/he fills your car (look for “servito” at the pump if you want
Look for the “Carte” sign when you roll up to the toll-booth when exiting the freeway. When you enter the freeway, you’ll be prompted to take a ticket. When you exit, use the lane with the “Carte” sign (like the one above) and just insert your ticket and then wait for the prompt to insert your card (the automated voice will ask you to insert your “tessera,” which means “card” in Italian). You can get a receipt by pressing the button labeled “ricevuta.”
– observe the speed limits and expect hefty fines (that will catch up to you!).
Italy, like all of Europe today, has strict enforcement of speed limits. The limit in small towns is 50 kilometers per hour and the speed cameras WILL catch you. If you do get a ticket, the car rental agency will charge you for a processing fee and you will probably receive a hefty fine (180 euros and above) at some point down the road. It’s a pain to pay it (see this post on speeding tickets). I know at least a handful of people who have been denied at rental agencies because they have outstanding tickets. Here’s a good Wiki with info on speed limits and other traffic laws, in Italy and across the EU.
– use Waze if you have data coverage.
I don’t even go to downtown Houston these days without using Waze. It works really well in Italy and one of the coolest things about it is that it alerts you to speed traps and speed cameras.
– Italy, like all of Europe, has zero-tolerance for buzzed and drunk driving.
A lot of folks probably don’t realize this but buzzed driving is actually legal in the U.S. I learned that when I was in a jury pool on a drunk driving case in Texas a few years ago. Europe has ZERO TOLERANCE for buzzed and drunk driving and there are random check-points everywhere. Even one glass of wine takes you over the legal limit (no joke). I’ve never heard of an American being arrested but I have heard of extremely severe penalties for buzzed drivers in Italy. When you go out to a restaurant and expect to drink, a designated driver is a must.
– Autogrills often have good wi-fi now.
I love Italy and the Italians and I have made a career out being a student of Italian culture (including viticulture). But, man, the wi-fi situation there really sucks. Autogrill is the ubiquitous freeway cafeteria, fast food, and gas station in Italy. And many locations now have solid wi-fi. On this last trip, I ended up spending two hours at the Cantagallo Autogrill just south of Bologna on the A1 freeway after my hotel in Siena left me without wi-fi all morning.
These driving tips are by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. My insights are based on my own travel experiences and are by no means an official representation of driving laws, norms, or best practices in Italy or the EU. Having said that, I hope they are helpful. The last thing you want is for the stress of driving to ruin your trip to Italy this summer. My best advice: observe speed limits religiously and NEVER drive buzzed or drunk.