Traveling in Tuscany is not so much about mapping out the perfect itinerary as it is about allowing yourself to enjoy the ride and let the magic happen. A rental car is one essential travel resource for the Italian countryside, and it’s key for discovering small hill towns and wineries and all the dazzling photo opportunities in between. Another great component of a Tuscan vacation could be a rental villa, which is especially ideal and economical for groups and families. We recently returned from a week in Tuscany with both a rental car and a villa at our disposal, so here are some takeaway tips …
Renting a Car in Tuscany
When is car rental right for you?
- If your accommodation is in the Tuscan countryside. If staying in a bigger city like Florence or Rome, then renting a car is not really necessary or advised.
- If you want the freedom to explore the area on your own and see some small towns and sights that can’t be reached by train.
- If you feel comfortable driving on narrow and winding roads with plenty of roundabouts, and also some of Italy’s best views!
- If you can wine-taste and drive. In this paradise of vineyards and renowned DOCs, you’ll almost certainly want to do some wine tastings. It might be a good idea to think about how much you’ll expect to drink before deciding on a rental car.
What if car rental isn’t right for you?
- If you don’t want to drive or rent a car for any reason, you can stay in one of Tuscany’s larger towns, like Siena or Lucca (pictured below), and take small-group day trips into the countryside from there. Designated driver solved!
Picking up the Rental Vehicle
- Be mindful of the Italian concept of time. If you are scheduled to pick up your car at 2pm, for example, the agent may come back late from lunch, so don’t be confounded (this happened to us!). You could try to call the location ahead and confirm your pickup if you need to drive and be somewhere at a certain hour.
- You should be able to charge your phone in the car, but be sure to ask the agent about the charger in the vehicle, as they may need to give you an adapter for the outlet.
- Ask what language the navigation system is in. Our car’s system was automatically set to German, so if you’re not tech savvy it could be difficult to change the language on your own!
- Bring your own universal mobile phone holder for the air vent. Most of the rental cars already come with a GPS, but we prefer using Google Maps or Apple Maps on our phone for familiar navigation that updates with the current traffic situation. Having an air vent or dashboard phone holder with you will certainly help when navigating all the roundabouts.
Rules of the Road
- Don’t turn right on red – this is illegal in Italy, and the rest of Europe, unless you see a sign that specifically permits it.
- Don’t drive into an area marked “Zona Traffico Limitato” (a white sign with a red circle). This is a limited traffic area that you’ll usually find as you approach the historical town center looking for parking. There are also pedestrian areas marked “Area Pedonale”. Even if no one stops you, there may be a camera taking your license plate photo and you can expect a fine later.
- Don’t go over 130 km per hour (80 mph). This is the speed limit just for Italy’s major highways. Pay attention, as speed limits are strictly enforced with the help of speed cameras. In Tuscany, you’ll spend much of your time driving leisurely to enjoy the views anyway.
- Do bring your International Driving Permit (IDP) with you. You don’t need to show this document when you rent the car, but if the police pull you over at any time, you will need to provide it. You can easily obtain an IDP from your local AAA.
- Do have cash and spare change to pay the tolls. Many, but not all, toll stations accept credit cards, but it is always better to be prepared just in case.
Parking in Tuscan Towns
- Be aware that in the summer high season, parking to visit Tuscany’s hill towns is going to be very crowded and in some cases you should be ready to park down the hill and walk up a bit. Or arrive as early as possible to get a good spot!
Renting a Villa in Tuscany
When is villa rental right for you?
- If you have a larger group. Renting a villa is fun for anyone, but is a particularly economical option when you want to visit Tuscany with your family or a large group. There are charming villas and villa complexes to host groups of all sizes, from a couple to a family reunion or wedding party.
- If you want to visit Tuscany at any time of year, a villa can offer you a private swimming pool in the summer or a cozy fireplace in the winter. We recently stayed in a spacious villa for 15 people, and both the rustic fireplace and modern heating system were superb for cold weather.
- If you have the time to spend. During the high season, villas are typically available only on a weekly basis, from Saturday to Saturday.
What if villa rental isn’t right for you?
- If you don’t have a week for summer vacation in Tuscany, or if you are a smaller family or a couple, then a great alternative to a villa is an agriturismo. These popular, authentic farm-style or countryside stays allow you to rent rooms or even self-catering apartments by the night.
- Villa rentals can be self-catering or full service. You can have the option to do all meals on your own, include just breakfast each day, or include some or all dinners.
- Hire a private chef for at least one night. We highly recommend hiring a private chef to come and cook for your group at least one night during your stay. It’s a wonderful experience and you’re likely to have more food than you could possibly eat in one night.
- You can also book an in-home cooking lesson right in your villa’s kitchen (our clients have done this and loved it!) or at an outside cooking school.