If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that I’d be driving cross-country Italian style through the hills of Tuscany, I’d have fallen over laughing! Me behind the wheel of a car in a foreign country? HA! But turns out, I actually did it. In fact, I drove from Rome to Tuscany and from Tuscany to Venice all by myself. (Okay I had some navigational help while Jordan played backseat driver… but no matter.) I’m sharing everything we learned out on the roads + several tips to planning an Italian road trip (including our favorite restaurant side stop)!
Keep Reading Planning An Italian Road Trip
We booked our mid-size rental car at the Rome airport. Things to keep in mind when booking your car:
Make sure it’s automatic
Most European cars will come as manual transmissions, and automatics will be an upgrade charge. In our case, the upgrade meant getting an Audi A3 which was fine by me!
Ask if there’s navigation and/or portable wifi available
You will absolutely need some sort of navigation/map system while driving whether it’s a feature in your car or on your phone. We picked up pocket wifi at the rental car desk, so we actually had both car navigation and wifi access during our drives. I cannot stress how much the pocket wifi helped us! Pocket wifi was $15 per day with up to 8 people connecting to it at one time.
Consider the size of the vehicle.
You will notice in most European countries there are no large SUVs or trucks to rent. The reason being that the roads can get very narrow. There were times when it was our car, an 18-wheeler and a pack of bikers all crammed on a very narrow two-lane road… Even the cars that are considered “large” aren’t very big. For example, we reserved a mid-size car and could barely fit luggage for the 2 of us!
The three hour drive to Greve in Chianti (Tuscany) is mostly interstate driving until the last 35/45 minutes. One thing that we had to familiarize ourselves with was the toll system. When merging onto the interstate, you’ll pull up to a booth and receive a ticket, much like you would a parking garage – hold on to that ticket! Depending on where you exit the interstate, you will insert the ticket and pay the fee associated with its origin. We paid each of our tickets in euros instead of a card for ease and speed of the transactions.
You will also get to know Italian drivers very well! That’s because they get really friendly… as in they creep over into your lane uncomfortably close. In fact, the lane lines might as well be invisible, and some parts of the interstate didn’t even have LINES. I also might note that speed signs are just a mere suggestion, and no one else but you will probably be adhering to them.
Getting gas wasn’t so much of an issue. We only had to fill up once, and most gas pumps have service attendants (if you can’t figure the pump out). Pay with euros to pump the gas yourself or pay the self-service attendant with a credit card. (Ask him first if he requires euros only as some might be different.)
And last but not least, we found some really delicious road trip food on the way to Tuscany. Be sure to do your research before you get in the car, so you find the best option depending on where you are on the road at meal time!
We exited for lunch at Ristorante Le Primare in Ponzano Romano after reading its online reviews. (It has a dirt road entrance and a menu entirely in Italian, so you know it’s good.) Our waiter had to communicate with us by holding up vegetables and by making impressive hand gestures, and the food was delicious! We successfully ordered wine, appetizer pizzas, eggplant parmesan and lasagna and dined outside under the pergola. It was our first authentically Italian meal of the trip!
photos by Lainey Reed
More Italy Travel Guides:
Florence Food Tour + City Guide (coming soon)