Driving in Italy: Not for the Faint of Heart

While normally I am a big fan of public transportation, and opt for trains, planes, and buses while on vacation, our trek to Italy and Croatia required covering a lot of ground to remote locations.  A car was a necessity.

Although the driving was left in the hands of the guys, we’ve covered enough ground that I can make a few observations (albeit from the passenger’s seat) about driving in Italy.

  • People drive fast on the Autostrada.  Really, really, fast!
  • Tailgating seems not only permissible, but encouraged.  Even when you’re going fast on the Autostrada.  Leaving any discernible gap between the car ahead of you is an invitation for someone to pass.
  • You need a navigator or two to read the map and watch for directional signs.  When you blowing by them at speeds of 100+ kph, you need some extra eyes reading them.
  • All roads lead to Rome – or so it seemed – as no matter where you are there is a sign pointing you toward Rome.
  • In rural areas, you’ll find lots of narrow roads, frequently on the side of a mountain, and frequently containing lots of switchbacks.  People still drive fast.
  • When you are driving along the steep side of a mountain, you probably won’t find any guardrails or warning reflectors.
  • On these narrow winding roads, drivers will pass on a curve.  And sometimes that driver is in a large bus or truck.
  • In the small, picturesque hill towns, the roads are very narrow and rarely go straight.  People drive on them, even though there is very little room on either side of the car.  We did this once, and in error.  The photo shows the street, a term used loosely, that we drove down.  Most of the time we parked and walked.
  • Don’t expect drivers to stop for you in a cross walk. You’re going to need to dash across the street.

The stereotype of aggressive Italian drivers has some roots of truth, but these observations are not meant to be demeaning.  We soon found ourselves conforming to many of these driving habits as well.

If you’re staying in one of the larger cities like Rome, Florence, or Milan, you’ll probably have no need for a car.  If you want to take a day trip, you can rent one for a day or two.  But, if you’re going to explore the beautiful rural areas of the country, like Tuscany or Umbria, you’ll need to have a car.

Have you driven in Italy?

Photo credit:  personal collection

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Mary Jo Manzanares is a traveler, travel blogger, and podcaster. In addition to her blog, Traveling with MJ, she hosts the Where Else to Go podcast, and is the founder and the editor-in-chief of The Traveler’s Way, an online travel magazine. Her travel ethos is value luxury - luxury for real people - and her goal is to help travelers know when to splurge and when to save. Mary Jo has been a speaker at various industry events around the world. When she’s not traveling, Mary Jo likes lingering over a cup of coffee, wandering in a museum, sipping wine at a cafe, and sharing it all with friends and readers. Her most recent travels were to Stockholm, a Baltic cruise, and Universal Orlando Resort.

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