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  1. #1
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    Driving in Southern Tuscany

    Has anyone has experienced with renting a car in Italy and driving around and exploring the Southern Tuscany region? What was your experience like? How intimidating was it, or was it something a newbie can pick up relatively quickly? I've always wanted to see the iconic landscape of Southern Tuscany, and I understand that you really need our own transportation to see the area. I've never driven overseas before and only drive automatic. Let say I'm able to get an automatic rental and it has a GPS. How hard would it be to pick up the car from Florence's airport and drive to the Tuscany town of Pienza, for example. I've read that streets in Italy don't have numbers on them, just the name of the city that you're approaching.

  2. #2
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    Good luck finding a rental car with automatic transmission, but aside from that, I've never had a problem with GPS anywhere in Europe, including Italy (I've diven to/through Torino, Milano, Venice, Genoa, Florence, and Rome).

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    Yeah, it's going to be hard if you don't drive standard...

  4. #4

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    We were just looking into renting a car in Italy ( out of Milan) for mid-June. Automatics are more expensive ( about $10/day), but are available. However, supposedly they are the first ones to be snatched and there are not too many offered, so my advice would be, reserve now.
    improving my ballad- like lines

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    I have driven there three times now, I rended a car from the local car repair station near the place I am staying, about 50 km south of Siena. At the first time I was surprised how easy it was. The streets in the villages can be very narrow and the visibility on the small roads can be bad, but the traffic is not that bad at all. In the towns like Pienza it is easiest to leave the car in the parking lots outside of the inner towns. Keep enough coins with you.

    I have only driven standard there, an it is better with the steep mountains, I would guess. but I have also driven automatic both here in Finland and Canada, and I just recommmend you to drive it before you leave, if getting an automatic is a problem.

    IIRC they do have road numbers in Italy. I have driven inother regions of the country, too, and have never had any major problems to fiinding my way. I have actually been ok in Toscana for three times with only by myself and a paper map, no GPS. Just take your time and stop whenever needed.

    Pienza is lovely and they make the pest Pecorino there. I would also recommend San Gimignano and Siena, and so many small villages in the area, for example the castle ruins of Montemassi. When are you going?

  6. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by dinakt View Post
    We were just looking into renting a car in Italy ( out of Milan) for mid-June. Automatics are more expensive ( about $10/day), but are available. However, supposedly they are the first ones to be snatched and there are not too many offered, so my advice would be, reserve now.
    On top of this, go with a known company, ideally with a presence in your home country. In Croatia, I rented through Auto Europe months before my trip and reserved an automatic. However, when I got to the airport to pick it up, they had none. Neither did any of the other companies. We had to wait for hours at the city for someone to drive to another rental location, pick up an automatic, and drive it back -- and that was only after fighting with the people at the counter and calling their international 800 number several times and making it abundantly clear that we could not accept a manual (I don't drive one and my friend from the UK doesn't drive right side). It may be more expensive to go with a cheaper European company, but I think Hertz, Avis, and Budget are less likely to screw you.

    Beyond that, driving in Italy is pretty easy. The roads are well-marked and Tuscan maps are pretty easy to follow. You could use GPS or you could arrange for a European smart phone with Google maps or a portable mifi to provide you with a mobile hotspot for a laptop, tablet, or smart phone. The rental can allow you to use internet as well, so it may save you money elsewhere on the trop. (I recently rented a car to drive in Northern California and rented a GPS system from the rental company. In hindsight, it was pointless, because Google maps was just as effective. You don't want to use your regular phone's data, because of international roaming charges, but if it has wifi access, you can use the phone with a mifi device.)

  7. #7
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    as for driving manual, I would consider simply learning it before you go. A lot of my American friends seem intimidated by it, but it is really not that hard. You have to practice a bit, and yes, you will eventually make the car go out somewhere inconvenient, but you just turn it out and go again (when I was learning - top time- middle of busy intersection in Copenhagen). You have to be REALLY abusive to 'ruin' the transmission, even if you mess up shifting at times.

    If you have a friend with a manual, maybe give it a try and see how you feel about picking it up.

    I have been to Firenze, and the city is confusing, but well mapped. Will you have a co-driver who can navigate? that would help a lot

    hope you have great trip, go for it!

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    maat, it may be harder than that, because it actually can be hard to find a manual in the US. I've always wanted to learn, but I don't know a single person with a manual. My brothers had them before I got my license, but since the mid-80s, pretty much everyone I know has a manual.

    I agree that Florence is confusing, but if orbitz is picking up the car at the airport, she will already be on the outskirts of the city, near a major highway entrance. She won't go anywhere near the central city, so I don't think there is any real concern about getting lost or confused.

  9. #9

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    A few years ago, I flew into Milan and rented a car there. I think it was from Hertz. It was fine, but expensive. I have a feeling they may have overcharged me, but I was too tired to figure it out and argue with them. I also rented a GPS and asked the clerk to set it to speak English to me. Well, it turned out there were two places you had to make that change, and she only did one, so my GPS spoke only Italian to me until I got to my hotel near Como. I could understand enough Italian to follow its directions most of the time, and if it babbled too much at me and I couldn't understand, I would just keep driving until I could understand something again.

    I can drive a stick, so I had no problem there. But I have heard from others that even if you reserve an automatic there's no guarantee you will get one, as other posters here have said.

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    I rented an automatic through Auto Europe. They are a little more pricey, but you can get them. And Reckless is right, book well in advance. I had my travel agent get it for me. I book everything via American Express, free travel services. AAA also has travel services. They will contact the big auto rental companies in the area and book for you. They will also go to bat for you, if you have a problem once you get there. Definitely get navigation, be prepared for a British voice saying "round about" (for traffic circles) constantly. Because there are lots of them ! Be aware that the navigation system doesn't work in some areas, like Siena. But, driving in Tuscany is not difficult if you are comfortable on narrow, windy roads. Stay off the autostrada if you want to see the scenery. The drive from Florence to Siena is beautiful. Stop in Greve, Monteriggioni (it is a tiny fortress, hill town that has changed very little in hundreds of years), San Gimignano. If you want to do a wine tasting go to Dievole. They do a wonderful tour and tasting, paired with some foods. You can also stay there, it's a bed and breakfast.

    Also, Reckless made me think of this. If you rent your car at the airport in Florence, bring it back there and take a cab, if you're going to a hotel in Florence. Don't drive in Florence. all one way streets that give "you can't get there from here" a whole new meaning. There are streets that are one way for a block, the other way for a block and then back and forth. Very confusing. They also have restricted areas in Florence where you can't drive without a permit. If you have a permit, you have a transponder, like an EZ Pass. The signs for the restricted areas are barely visible. And often, you can't avoid going into the areas, due to one way streets. My husband got several tickets, just trying to return the rental car. It took us 2 hours to drive to the rental car place, to return the car. It was 1/4 mile from our hotel! They will drop off and pick up cars at hotels BTW.

    You might want to get an International Driver's License. It's easy AAA does it, takes 10 minutes. They do recommend it.
    Last edited by cruisin; 03-13-2013 at 10:55 PM.

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