Renting a Car in Tuscany, Some Sound Advice

I am a guide of all seasons; biking/hiking in the summer and xc skiing and snowshoeing in the winter. Through guiding, I have met many interesting people from all walks of life; corporate CEO’s, entrepreneurs, housewives, dentists, surgeons,etc. The one question I always ask is, “If you could give me one piece of advice from your field, what would it be?”  Dentists have told me that you should not suck on hard candy, a breast surgeon warned about gaining any extra weight and one mom told me to listen and constantly communicate with teens.  All valuable tidbits that I have gleaned over the years.

So what would be my one piece of sound advice be for those traveling to Tuscany?  Not a hard question. I would say, rent a car. I know it’s simple, but in order to really see the countryside and smaller hill towns, you need to have wheels. The trains only go to major cities and then from there you need to take buses. Don’t waste your time! Buses are sporadic and you will miss so much of the tiny hidden treasures if you try to see Tuscany with public transport. If the larger cities (Florence, Siena, Pisa) are your goal, then trains will be best, since you will not want to navigate Italian traffic nor find parking in the larger cities.

Train fares can add up and if you do the math, renting a car can actually save you money, especially of you are able to share the cost with a friend or two. Other cost savings come from being able to drive to an more affordable argiturismo farmhouse,  which are never in cities but are found in the countryside. The added bonus in an agriturismo apartment is that they usually have a kitchen to cook breakfast and a few meals, saving money at restaurants and inches on your waistline (you will make healthier food and eat less than in a restaurant). Your car will take you to the local market, to load up on those healthy fruits and veg, think you have the picture now.

Who to rent from? Now, that’s not quite as simply. I have researched them all and will have to say I am now down to 2-3 that I will even deal with.  There are many rip offs out there– the big American companies come to mind, these are usually the worst. You can check Travelocity of Expedia, but often those rates are only quotes, and beware of the hidden taxes and insurance fees that they can ding you with after all is said and done.

If you want to rent from a major airport and drive away from there, you may pay more for the airport location but, may be worth it to alleviate the hassle and get out of the city and into the countryside asap. The company that I recommend for a drive away from the airport option is SIXT Holiday Rental Cars.   Their prices are reasonable and you will prepay, so there will be no hidden costs after the fact. The price you prepay is the final price, period, no bull shit. Unless of course you are late in returning your car, even by one hour, you will pay for an addition day, so beware of that fact.

Avoid driving into the pedestrian areas of big cities, the Polizia frowns upon this!

If you must see Rome first and have moxie to drive in a big city, you could rent from a city location, but you better be prepared to drive defensively and perhaps leave the city on a Sunday morning when there is no traffic. That option, I have done, but would not recommend. Even with a good map and navigator, you could run into construction detours or miss the only autostrada entrance for miles and end up in the suburbs of Rome, unable to find you way to any recognizable landmark or highway (again, this from personal experience -oppps!) Best to rent from the airport or in Tuscany and see the city before your flight home, my solution.

If you are not interested in braving the Italian autostrada and want a painless solution, you could take a train to the heart of Tuscany and then drive from there. My very favorite company to rent from is Auto Noleggio Della Giovampaola.  They are a family operated business with some of the nicest cars/vans, best prices and are really sweet people too. The best thing is that they will deliver your car to Chiusi (no fee) or Florence (added fee). You arrive at a set time at the train station and they bring you the car and contract. Tell Marco that Betsy, from Custom Tuscany sent you and he will make sure you are well taken care of.

Investing in a good driving map, before you leave the states is advisable, check out Trek Tools for the Italian Touring Club map series. Or go online and get directions from Via Michelin or Google Map.  For more information about driving in Italy check out SlowTravel’s informative site. Don’t forget to get a international drivers license or you could be fined if you are pulled over.  It’s cheap and easy and your local AAA can help you, here’s the form:

The last word of advice concerning you rental car is insurance. Make sure your personal auto insurance covers a rental car abroad. Also, find out what type of insurance your credit card covers. American Express has really good coverage, but many places in Italy may not accept American Express because of their high fees. Paying extra for the rental car companies insurance will cost you a little extra, but may later save you the hassle of dealing with your personal insurance if you were in an accident.

Notice the flat tire-- happened next to a tire store and we had a picnic that our fabulous friends had prepared... such luck!

Visions of you having a lovely picnic in the Italian countryside courtesy of your rental car freedom verses, shlepping your luggage onto trains and buses, tied to timetables, you choose. Happy trails!

09/16/2010 04:54 am | Share | 2 Comments


  1. I enjoyed your auto rental piece. Thanks for car rental location suggestions. Just wanted to add a suggestion in regard to driving out/into Rome, or Fumincino AP if you happen to be an unfamiliar traveler. I’ve googled “pick up” locations for cars and then using google’s street guide, “drive” the route” of my destination, until I’m familiar with the landmarks, petrol stations, construction problems,etc. Using this method I recently drove into the heart of Rome. It is possible to chart your course, print out difficult areas or signage, and then drive the course with little effort once you’re there. Of course, the driving defensive rule still applies. Ciao


    • CustomBetsy

      Thanks Dale….. Google street map directions… excellent way to travel in any unfamiliar location… just… do you really want to in a city? I am a bit of a wimp driving in foreign countries and go for the path of least resistance. The motorinos in Rome put me over, weaving traffic. Defensive– si, si! Bravo that you are not afraid to drive in Rome! Ciao


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