Having driven in Italy quite a few times, I am always surprised when people say they just could not do it. They say it’s too mad, too dangerous and too unpredictable, but that is part of the charm I would say. To drive in Italy you have to think and drive like an Italian, and then it’s no big deal. The rules of the road are pretty much the same, but the way they are interpreted or enforced can be very different. Here are some of the things to be prepared for:
Firstly the car; this may be yours but is more likely to be rented and underpowered. Be prepared for the fact that it may be tricky to keep up with the flow of the traffic and some hills may be more of a challenge that you are used to. Often steep hills and slopes are not sign posted on minor roads and can be unexpected. Twice I have been caught out in a Fiat 500, which was not powerful enough to get up a hill, and the handbrake not strong enough to stop it from rolling back. There is always another way. Be prepared that in hill towns these roads will narrow to donkey track width and manoeuvring may take a little care.
Secondly giving way is a sign of weakness; don’t expect Italian drivers to let you out or give way to you. If they do then they are probably a tourist who is as lost as you are; your Sat Nav will get disorientated in these narrow little towns. Expect a roundabout to be a battle when nobody gives way to anyone and you just have to fight you way around. Expect cars to randomly stop in front of you, blocking the road, whilst the driver goes shopping.
Thirdly every Italian driver thinks that they are a racing driver; expect them to want to overtake you, even when there is little point. Italian drivers will tailgate your weedy rental car and grasp any space you offer them. On normal ‘A’ roads they will always assume that there is room for an ‘extra’, overtaking lane in the middle of the road and will queue up to use it. It’s far from unusual for you to be faced by a car coming around a blind bend, in the middle of the road.
Fourthly not every road is a magical driving experience; roads in tourist areas can be so busy that you are more likely to be stuck in the heat, rather than cruising the scenery. The Amalfi Coast for example is spectacular, but try and drive that in the summer and you will get stuck in traffic. Even when you manage to get through the crowded narrow lanes, you will find that there are scant few parking places at your destination. The same can be said of the road around Lake Garda and many other examples.
Fifthly at least mainland Italy is not as bad as Sicily; Sicilians don’t have car insurance and do worry about damage to other people’s cars. Some car rental companies will not let you take their cars there and if they do, there is normally a big compulsory excess. Sicilian drivers are like Italians multiplied by 10. Couple this with the terrible state of a lot of the roads and you have full on chariot racing.
Lastly you will come back home and drive like an Italian; you will be telling yourself off for risky overtaking, and a lack of patience for other road users which you used to have in bucket loads. How do you get this out of your system? Well try driving on a track instead, preferably not using your own car. A good start might be this Saturday’s Abarth Day at Rockingham circuit, which lets you try some Abarth cars on track for just £9. Now that has to be a bargain of a cure and the perfect medicine. https://enzari.com/news/abarth-day-june-30th-the-official-scorpion-meeting-returns/
*Author: Paul Rose