Renting a Car & Driving in Tuscany
I don’t need to say that Tuscany is one of the most beautiful places in the entire world, its reputation speaks for itself. It is a region of gentle rolling hills covered with vineyards and olive groves, charming medieval towns, rustic (yet succulent) food and world renowned wines. It is without a doubt, a top touristic destination for those who seek to escape the buzz of city life and immerse themselves in a much slower and calmer way of life. Even though I only spent four days in this gorgeous place, I have a lot to share with you, and today I will start with how to move around Tuscany.
Renting a car is the best way to explore Tuscany. There’s just no way to argue with that truth. You can reach the mayor cities and towns by train, and move around by bus, but if you really want to explore the gorgeous Tuscan countryside in a time-efficient manner, then renting a car is the way to go.
Here I’ll share my tips & advice, based on my recent experience.
Don’t complicate things
It’s probable that your first stop in Italy won’t be Tuscany itself. Although some people may fly directly into Florence, it’s more likely that you’ll first step on Italian soil in Rome, Milan or Venice. You might consider to rent a car in one of these cities and drive all the way to Tuscany. Even though the Italian roads are in pretty good condition and has more than enough signs to know which way to go, there’s still a problem. Italy is known for the chaotic traffic in its cities. It’s not like Germany, where traffic rules are observed to the smallest of details. Quite the contrary, traffic in Italy reminds me of my native Colombia.
So, if you rent a car in Rome, Milan, or even Florence, you will still need to drive OUT of the city and into the open road, which can be quite a challenge, or an unnecessary annoyance, at the least.
– So my first tip is: get to Tuscany by train, and rent the car in a minor town, where driving out will be a piece of cake.
Where to rent the car in Tuscany
In my case, we flew into Rome, and from there we would head to Tuscany. We would be visiting Montepulciano, Pienza and Montalcino, all located in central/southern Tuscany, so we decided to take a train to Chiusi (the train station’s name is Chiusi – Chianciano Terme). Chiusi is a small town in central Tuscany, relatively known for its Etruscan heritage. Most trains covering the route from Rome to Florence will stop here, and there are plenty of car rental agencies here to choose from.
Montepulciano is just over a half hour drive from Chiusi, so it’s the perfect spot to rent a car to begin a roadtrip in Tuscany. If you are arriving from the north, Siena could be a good option to arrive by train and rent a car there to explore this part of Tuscany.
In our case, we booked our car with Avis, through www.autoeurope.com, which is an ideal website to search and compare the prices and terms of the different available car rental agencies . We had originally booked the car to pick it up the morning of July 3rd, and return it at the same office in Chiusi the next day at midday. We would eventually extend the rental until July the 5th, but more about that later.
Obviously, you will need your national driver’s license and passport. However, you might be required to present something else: An International Driver’s License, which is basically an official translation into many languages of your national license. The Autoeurope website stated that this license was MANDATORY in Italy by law. However, we have all heard from one friend or relative that has rented a car in X country without having this license, so I read a lot of blogs trying to figure out if it was really necessary to have an International Driver’s License to be able to rent a car in Italy. I didn’t get a clear answer: lots of people said they were never asked to present this license, whereas others narrated how they would not be allowed to rent a car without it. Seems like it all comes down to luck.
We decided to play it safe and get the license. In my country – Colombia – the authorized entity to issue this license is the Colombia Touring & Automobile Club, which is affiliated to the FIA (Federation Internationale de l’Automobile). You should research which is the authorized entity in your country. The cost for this license in Colombia was around 100 dollars, and I received it in a couple of days after emailing the necessary (and relatively easy) paperwork.
Guess what? I was required to present the International Driver’s License at the Avis car rental office in Chiusi. But as I said before, it might be a matter of luck if you will be asked to present it or not. In our case, the roadtrip around Tuscany was one of the parts of our trip that excited us the most, so we decided not to risk any unpleasant surprises. It’s up to you if you choose to roll the dice.
Costs of Renting a Car in Tuscany
The longer you rent the car, the cheaper each day will be. Let me explain: We originally rented the car for just 24 hours, and it cost around 98 euros (taxes included). Sounds like a lot for one day, right? The day we were supposed to return the car, I called Avis to extend the rental for another day, and was able to do it over the phone answering a series of pre-recorded messages.
I was asked to dial my contract number, and then, over a series of successive questions, I verbally expressed that I wanted to extend an existing contract, and confirm the new date & time of return of the car. I was really amazed at the time, since I managed to extend the contract very easily without having to use a computer and without speaking to another human. So a big shoutout to Avis for making it really easy to extend the rental over the phone! The cost of this extra day was 38 euros (taxes included).
So you already begin to see that each successive day becomes cheaper. Renting a car for a day will be relatively expensive, but renting it for a whole week (around 220 euros) is pretty good compared to the price of a single day (98 euros).
You will also need to turn back the car with the “same” amount of fuel it had when you picked it up. If you don’t refuel it, you will be charged a “refueling fee” that generally is more expensive than refueling it yourself, so there’s no good reason not to do it.
Expensive or really worth it?
For those of you who might think that renting a car is expensive I will say the following. In Tuscany you can only arrive by train to the “major towns” such as Siena, Poggibonsi (near San Gimignano) or Chiusi, just to mention a few. If you want to visit towns like Montepulciano, Montalcino, Pienza, Pitigliano, or San Gimignano, there’s no way to get there by train. Of course, you can get there by bus, and in some cases we used buses, but the public buses here are not tailored to tourists’ needs, so you might find yourself having to change buses and waiting long times between buses to get where you want to go. That lost time and extra complications are, to me, more “expensive” in the end than renting a car.
Let me tell you an example: After visiting Florence, we would be visiting Siena and then San Gimignano. Getting to Siena from Florence is super easy: just take a train. However, to get from Siena to San Gimigano, you must first take a bus to Poggibonsi (you can get here by train too), and then take another bus to San Gimigano. In our case, we arrived at Poggibonsi only to find out that the next bus to San Gimigano departed one hour later! When travelling, each and every hour is gold, so it’s not cool to waste hours simply waiting for the next bus.
Having a car gives you complete freedom to move wherever you want to go, whenever you want to go. This will never be too expensive.
Navigation in Tuscany
The roads in this part of Tuscany are in a pretty good condition and there are abundant signs along the road to make sure that you are headed on the right direction. We used Google Maps and it worked perfectly, both out in the countryside roads and in the towns themselves.
The landscapes in this region, especially in the Val d’Orcia are gorgeous beyond any expectations you might have about Tuscany’s beauty. It’s so beautiful up to the point of being a bit dangerous to drive here, because it’s so hard to keep your eyes on the road when the views all around you are so beautiful! Fortunately, there are plenty of spots along the road where you can pull over to a side, step out, and soak in the wonderful views!
Most of the towns in Tuscany have restricted areas, especially in the oldest part of the town, where you will not be able to drive (or it would be too complicated anyway due to the narrow or steep roads). Therefore, it’s best to leave your car in a parking lot outside the “old towns”, and continue on foot. Make sure to check if you need to pay for parking, and in that case, pay for the hours that you will stay there, and leave the ticket on the car’s dashboard, where it’s easily visible.
During high season it can be difficult to find a free spot on the “main” parking lots, especially on the most-visited towns like Montepulciano, and you might need to look for a place on the more distant ones, or on a street where parking is permitted, so it’s always best to leave some time on your schedule for finding a parking spot. Parking prices are reasonable in paid parking lots: about 5 euros for 6 hours.
Drink and Drive in Tuscany?
As much as I would like to encourage you to not to drink and drive, we have to be serious: you are in Tuscany, where some of the world’s finest wines are made. There’s a good chance that you will have a glass of two of wine at lunch or at a wine tasting, which are pretty abundant in these towns. As long as you don’t go crazy and drink so much wine that your driving skills and reflexes are impaired, I believe you will be fine.
Regarding cops, I don’t remember seeing one on the roads during the 48 hours that we were driving around Tuscany. Of course you might encounter police officers inside the towns, but I think it’s highly unlikely that you will see a police patrol in the roads between towns in Tuscany. And even if you do see one around, as long as you are driving well, there should be no reason for you to be stopped and getting an alcohol test.
So my advice would be: whoever’s driving can enjoy a glass or two of wine, or maybe even more, depending on how your body processes alcohol. You have to be responsible, self-conscious, and know your limits.
Recommended place to stay
If there’s one place I can recommend to use as a base to explore Tuscany is Agriturismo il Burellino: a farmhouse located on the outskirts of Montalcino. Besides its optimal location, the agriturismo itself is heaven on earth. I can say with all certainty that it was the best place I have ever stayed in. To learn more and read about my stay here, check out my blog post: 6 Reasons Why You Need to Stay at Agriturismo il Burellino.