Our observations of driving in Italy
With 3 months in Italy we decided to lease a car through Citroën EuroPass. This is an amazingly affordable way of hiring a car
- The price is much better than through any of the car rental companies if you need it for more than 21 days.
- All insurance is covered (no excess) – in fact they expect it will be returned with scratches and dents which are all too common in European driving and parking.
We leased a Citroën C3. This is the smallest (except for the DS3 model which is slightly smaller) car they lease and yet we were surprised at how big it is. We easily accommodated our 3 suitcases plus carry-on luggage (with the seat folded down). In fact we could fit in another 2 suitcases if required. It is marginally shorter but wider than our Mazda CX3 and has a bigger boot capacity. All in all a great car for our trip.
Driving on the right
First off, we all know that in most of Europe they drive on the right hand side of the road. Adapting to this has been no problem. Our biggest concern was always round-abouts (traffic circles). Going around anti-clockwise has not been a problem. The problem we have sometimes encountered is which exit to take. We often encounter a round-about when getting off the freeway and it then seems to have many exits and some of the exits then fork into 2 roads straight after. Trying to get the right road when following a GPS is challenging. We have mostly been ok but have certainly got it wrong on occasion requiring a diversion to get back to where we should have been going.
Speed limits and toll roads
Thankfully Italian speed limits are reasonable:
- 130 kmph on highways/autostrada (green signs)
- 110 kmph on non-major highways outside of major urban areas (there are 2 lanes each way)
- 90 kmph on local roads
- 50 kmph in urban areas
- Typically 30 kmph on narrow suburban roads
Problem is there are 2 types of drivers:
- Mostly drive at the speed limit (70% in my opinion)
- Those that drive way above and appear from nowhere anytime you try and pass someone. They also come up and drive really close behind literally pushing you out of the way (the other 30%).
Italy now has many speed cameras, all automatic. I dread to know how many fines are coming our way. It is difficult to spot them all and even to know what the speed limit is at the time – not helped by my pushing the limits a little.
Highways have toll roads. From last time we now know that in most instances you get your ticket when you enter the highway and pay when you exit. A few highways have a system where you pay as you enter.
The single biggest challenge I have found is the narrow suburban roads. These roads are really not much more than single lane and in places widen enough to allow 2 cars to squeeze past each other slowly…that is providing both are small cars. Fortunately we have not encountered a large car in these situations. We have encountered situations in which we have had to reverse to a place where we can squeeze past…oh what fun. We have also discovered what the mirrors mounted on the walls are for…for seeing around blind corners. We have some video footage of our drive from Florence to Grassina…fortunately no cars on the day. 2km out of Florence you are literally in the country. Grassina was only 5km from Florence.
Just outside Florence and the roads are already narrow
A km later near home (Grassina)
Turning onto the dirt road leading to home (lower quality due to file size)
Good old Cilla, our GPS. One word….ensure you have a GPS. Without her we would have not survived to date. It really can be a lifesaver in Italy. Streets, especially narrow ones in cities, can often be poorly marked. That is, if they’re marked at all. When you’re on an adventure, missing a turn becomes an inevitability. What’s worse is when you don’t even know you’ve missed a turn, and you’re halfway towards who knows where before you realize you are lost. So bring a GPS, it is difficult enough with one. We have now learnt to trust Cilla when she tells us to turn down in between 2 buildings in what looks like someone’s driveway.
Parking in Florence
Parking in Florence in not nearly the nightmare we expected. There are a few options:
- Parking Garages, either outside the ZTL (limited traffic zone) or inside if you have booked the parking. We used a garage outside the ZTL initially.
- Metered Parking designated by blue lines. Plenty of these around on the outskirts of the city (5-10 minute walk). Feed the meter, print the ticket and display on your dash. Typically about €1.50 per hour.
- Restricted hours parking designated by white lines which is free. Typically this would be limited to one hour and you need to display your “Disco Orario” available from most “tabacchi’s” showing what time you parked.
The good news is that where you see the crossed hammers symbol, parking is free on Sundays and public holidays.
Finally….don’t be scared to take on driving in Italy. It has been such a rewarding experience.